Once I was interviewing a Muslim female scientist, I could have sworn that she is a woman but her name is more common with a male name. I had to consult my editor on whether I should refer to the speaker as he or she when writing my story? My editor told me if I am absolutely positive the speaker is a woman, I should use the feminine gender.
What does this have to do with gender in the Quran? The incident above came to my mind when I was studying gender in the Quran. It reminded me of biological feminine which is one of the categories of Arabic gender.
When we talk about gender we are really talking about ‘He’ ‘She’ or it. Yet in the Arabic language and the Quran, there is no ‘It’. Everything is ‘he’ or ‘she ’similar concept also present in the Spanish language.
Every ‘Isim’ (noun) is either he or she, so you have to decide whether a word is either feminine or masculine. So how do you tell if a word is masculine or feminine? As a general rule, all ‘Ism’ in the Quran is masculine unless there are signs that it is feminine. So what are the signs?
There are 5 indications that an ‘Ism’ is feminine.
These are words that are obviously feminine like a mother, daughter or girl. You instantly know that it is feminine by hearing it or looking at it. Once I covered an event where the speaker is clearly a woman but she has a man’s name.
You can normally tell a word is feminine by looking at the ending of a word. Words that end with ي ءا ة tend to be feminine. This is not absolute but it is a big giveaway that the word is feminine
Body parts in pairs
In Arabic, any body part that you have two of each, like eyes, ears, and hands are treated as feminine. I don’t have a clue why but that is just the way it is. When you want to say my hands hurt instead of saying ‘it hurts’ you would say ‘she hurts’. It may sound weird in English but it is normal in Arabic.
Names of places
This is can be easily understood, names of places countries, cities and towns are considered feminine. It is similar to the concept of motherland which is normally considered feminine.
These are words that refer to non- living things or objects like book or chair. When these words are plural they automatically become feminine. The singular version may be masculine or feminine but the plural version of those words will definitely become feminine
There are some words that are feminine Because the Arabs Decided so (BADS). Words like ‘war’ ‘Hell’ ‘well’ ‘wine’ and a whole spectrum of other words are feminine for no apparent reasons other than it was decided long ago by the Arabs.
Shahfizal Musa is the editor of Halalop. He graduated with a Law degree from Thames Valley University London. He is an award-winning journalist covering topics such as human trafficking, Muslim research discoveries, and exceptional Muslims.