Article by Sylvie Denoix, CNRS, UMR 8167 Orient & Méditerranée, "Islam médiéval", Paris

Language Family and Linguistic Characteristics

The Arabic language (al-lisān al-‘arabī) belongs to the southern Semitic language family. The descendant of the four South Arabian languages, it originated around the second century CE in the Arabic Peninsula in a Bedouin milieu, and is first attested in poetry. Like the other Semitic languages, it is based on consonantal roots.

Writing System

The Arabic writing system is alphabetic, although only the consonants, long vowels and semi-vowels are written, except in certain texts which absolutely require the vocalisation to be clear, such as the Qur’an, where a diacritic system is used to mark short vowels. This writing has also served to write several other languages within the Islamic world (Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Kasmiri, Kurdish, and so on). The oldest inscriptions in Arabic date to the third century CE.

Chronological and Geographical Extent

From its origins, Arabic was spoken and written by different ethnic groups in the Arabic peninsula, and the task of unifying the language was realised by Arabic grammarians, principally in the towns of Kūfa and Baṣra in Iraq, from the second/eighth to the fourth/tenth centuries.

Symbolic value

For Muslims, the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic, and this lends a particular emotional and symbolic weight to the language.

Qur’an, Meccan Surah 26: The Poets

192      certainly, it [the Qur’an] is a revelation of the lord of the two worlds

193      for which the faithful spirit [the angel Gabriel] descended

194      upon your [adressed to Muḥammad] heart, so that you might be among those who declare

195      in clear Arabic (bi-lisānin ‘arabin mubīnin)

With the Islamic conquest, the Arabic language was spread, from the seventh century, as far as North Africa in the west, to Iraq in the east.

In the Islamic states which kept their own languages, such as Iran or the Turkish world, Arabic, the language of religious texts, had a strong influence and was for several centuries the scholarly language, existing in parallel with other languages - Persian, Turkish, Berber – although these were not only vernacular languages, but were also used by their own educated elites.

Vectors of Cultural Influence

The Islamic faith and Arabic literary culture developed numerous literary genres written on varied supports: graffiti and inscriptions, administrative documents, accounts and private letters on papyri, archival records and literary and literary manuscripts on parchment or paper.

Documents in the Arabic language cover all literary genres and all disciplines, from religious writings (the Qur’an, hadiths, Qur’anic commentaries, without counting non-Muslim texts in Arabic - Coptic, Melkite, Nestorian, Maronite, etc.) to chancellery records and treatises on the secular sciences (astronomy, mathematics, medicine, grammar, lexicography, the natural sciences, philosophy, etc.).

The importance ascribed to the Arab language was considerable, and lexicographers and medieval grammarians produced a remarkable body of work.

‘Ilm al-lugha, “the science of language”, was therefore highly valued, and many dictionaries (qamūs) and lexicons (mu‘jam) were compiled.

It is worth mentioning here the work of the lexicographer Ibn Manẓūr (1233-1312), who worked in the Mamluk chancellery and was the author of a dictionary of the Arabic language, completed in 1290. This dictionary must have been used for composing verse, since it is arranged in alphabetical order by the final root.

Evolution of the Language and Idiomatic Variation

Despite its development, notably in its lexicon, the Arabic language is considered by most of its speakers as a single language, whether pre-Islamic poetry, the Qur’an, or the vast corpus produced by Arabo-Muslim civilisation during the long Islamic period. The vernacular forms of the language as considered as “dialects”. In all periods, the diglossia between the level of classical Arabic and the dialects was an important phenomenon.

Text Corpus for the study of Peace


Work on the Islamic language, and particularly on its lexicon, by both Arabic and Western lexicographers, is very important, and the dictionaries of all periods may be useful, provided that they situate words in terms of co-text and context.

Several dictionaries meet these requirements:

  • An Arabic dictionary of the thirteenth century: the dictionary of Ibn Manẓūr (1233-1312), the Lisān al-‘Arab, which was influenced by its predecessors:
    • Al-Azharī, Tahḏīb al-luġa
    • Ibn Sida, Muḥkam
    • Al-Jawharī al-Ṣaḫāḫ, al-Qamūs
    • Al-Ḏahabī, al-Nihāya
  • An Arabic dictionary of the eighteenth century: Ibn Murtaḍā al-Ḥusaynī al-Zabīdī’s (Belgram, India,1732- Egypt, 1790), Tāj al-‘Arūs min jawāhir al-qamūs
  • An Arabic-French dictionary of the nineteenth century: Dozy, Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes.

Encyclopedias, such as the Encyclopédie de l’Islam, give the definition of many terms relevant to the lexical field of peace (amān, ṣulḥ, ‘aqd, and so on).

Foundational texts

  • Pre-Islamic poetry was epic poetry, describing above all inter-clan conflict. The lexical field of peace is very rare here, or entirely absent.
  • The Qur’an depicts relations with the adherents of other religions, those who have already been shown the message of Islam and those who have yet to experience proselytism, as well as apostates. For all of these, the relationships are depicted at times through the lexical field of conflict, at other times of reconciliation, trust, and protection.
  • The History of the Patriarchs (Ta’rikh baṭārikat al-kanīsa l-miṣriyya) gives a later version of the Islamic conquest of Egypt. A collection of biographies of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Coptic church from Mark to Cyril II. These lives were probably composed in Coptic, and then translated into Arabic in the eleventh century by the Alexandrian deacon Mawhūb b. Manṣūr b. Mufarrij (v. 1025-v.1100). Two major versions, the “Primitive” and the “Vulgate”, found respectively in eleventh- and a fourteenth century manuscripts (Paris ar. 303).

Historical texts: Narrative sources

  • The Books of the Conquestsare a literary genre which record, two centuries after the events, the Islamic conquests of the seventh century. In these accounts, the conquests might happen with or without warfare, and in the latter case, the vocabulary of treaties, conciliation, pacification and tribute is abundant. They record the manner in which the Muslims managed, justified, and wrote the history of the relationship of domination between Muslims and Dhimmis.
  • In the context of war, it is necessary to maintain commerce and assure the security and well-being of goods and individuals. So called “Peace treaties” (more properly “Truces”) and trade agreements thus use the terms for “goodwill”, “treaty”, “agreement”, and “armistice”. Established between two parties, these treaties are bilingual, and thus are of interest to investigate if there is a correspondance between the different languages, or if the terms are divergent in the different cultures. One example of such a surviving bilingual treaty is that between the Marinid Sultan Abū l-Ḥasan ‘Alī and James III of Majorca .
  • Diplomatic correspondences also record the end of war, the return to peace, and the protection of subjects between two parties. Christians also chronicled the Islamic conquests, as well as the later wars and their cessations, in the History of the Patriarchs (Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria), for those which took place during the lives of the contemporary patriarchs.
  • For Egypt, the Chronicle of John of Niku is a text of which only Ge’ez and Arab translations of a Coptic original survive. Despite a clearly evident tendency to write history from the point of the minority Christians, this text records both treaties and the “protection” of Dhimmis.



  • Badawi and Haleem, Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage, Brill, Leiden/ Boston 2008
    • Al-Khalīl ibn Aḥmad al-Farāhīdī, Kitāb al-‘ayn, Théhéran, Mu’assasat dār al-hijra, 1409H, 18 volumes, Iran.
      Arabic-arabic dictionary from the beginning of the ninth century, called “al-Khalīl”.
  • Ismā‘īl ibn Ḥammād Al-Jawharī, Tāj al-lugha wa-ṣiḥāḥ al‘arabiyya, 17 vol., Beyrouth, Dār al-‘ilm al-mulāyyīn, 1984.
    Arabic-arabic dictionary from the beginning of the eleventh century, titled “Al-Ṣiḥāḥ”.
  • Abū l-Qāsim al-Ḥusayn Al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī, Mufradât alfāẓ al-qur’ân, 1248 p., Dār al-al-qalam, Damas.
    Qur’anic lexicon, from the beginning of the eleventh century.
  • Ibn Fāris, Mu‘jam maqāyīs al-lugha ‘Abd al-Bāqī : Al-Mu‘jam al-mufahras Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-‘arab [The Arabic Language]
  • Arabic-Arabic dictionary of the thirteenth to fourteenth century, inspired by its predecessors:
    • Al-Azharī, Tahḏīb al-luġa
    • Ibn Sida, Muḥkam
    • Al-Jawharī, al-Ṣiḫāḫ
    • Al-Ḏahabī, al-Nihāya
  • Ibn Murtaḍā al-Ḥusaynī al-Zabīdī, Belgram, India,1732- Égypte, 1790, Tāj al-‘Arūs min jawāhir al-qamūs.
    Arabic-Arabic dictionary of the eighteenth century.
    • Dozy, Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes, Leyde, 1881.
      Arabic-French dictionary of the end of the nineteenth century, containing a largely North African corpus of the twelfth to fourteenth centuries.
  • Naṣṣār, Ḥ, Al-mu‘jam al-‘arabī, Cairo, 1956.
  • Encyclopédie de l’Islam
    • Abel, Armand, “Dār al-Ṣulḥ”
    • Inalcçik, Halil, “Dār al-‘ahd”
  • Amir Moezzi, Mohammed Ali, Dictionnaire du Coran, Éd. Robert Laffont, Coll. Bouquins, Paris, 2007.
    • Marie-Thérèse Urvoy, « Guerre et Paix », p. 372-377.
  • Ibn Isḥāq (Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad b. Isḥāq b. Yasār b. Khyār-Médine ca 704 – Bagdad ca 767), Sīrat Ibn Isḥāq, éd. Ferdinand Wüstenfeld, 1858-1859.
    • Wustenfeld’s edition of part of a text transmitted by Ibn Hishām.
  • Translation : Abdurrahmân Badawî, Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad.
    • This text contains the famous “Constitution of Medina”, also known as, “Charter of Medina”. This refers to an agreement which established the relations between a group of Muslims who had emigrated from Medina, led by Muḥammad, with the Medinans. It srrved as the implicit model for other agreements that the Muslims established with conquered peoples.
  • Al-Wāqidī, Kitab al-Maghazi, 3 volumes, 1321 pages, ed. Marsden Jones, London, 1966.
    • Contains the Biography of the Prophet (Sīrat al-nabawiyya) written by Ibn Isḥāq and transmitted by Ibn Hishām.
  • History of the Patriarchs of the Egyptian Church, known as the History of the Holy Church, by Sawirus ibn al-Mukaffa’, Bishop of al-Asmunin (Bilingual Arabic-English edition; vol. 1 edited by Evetts in 1 vol.) : vol. 2/1 edited by Yassa ’Abd al-Masih and O. H. E. Burmester (from Michael II to Shenouda I) ; vol. 2/2 et 2/3 edited by Aziz Suryal Atiya, Yassa ’Abd al-Masih and O. H. E. Burmester (from Michael III to Michael IV) ; vol. 3/1, 3/2 and 3/3 by Antoine Khater and O. H. E. Burmester (from Macarius II to Cyril V) ; vol. 4/1 et 4/2 by Antoine Khater and O. H. E. Burmester (biography of Cyril III).
Peace treaties
  • Bresc, Henri, Rāġib, Yūsuf, Du traité de paix au pacte secret. Le sultan mérinide Abū l-Ḥasan ‘Alī et Jacques III de Majorque, Cairo, IFAO, 2011.
  • Jehel, G. & Jehel, S., Les relations des pays d’Islam avec le monde latin du xe s. au milieu du xiiie s. Textes et documents, Paris, 2000.
  • Holt, P. M., « Baybars ‘ Treaty with the Lady of Beirut in 667/1269 », in Edbury, P. W. (ed.), Crusades and settlement, Cardiff, 1985, p. 242-245. —, « Qalāwūn’s ṭreaty with Acre in 1283 », EHR 91 (1976), p. 802-812.
  • —, « Qalāwūn’s ṭreaty with Genua in 1290 », Der Islam 57 (1980), p. 101-108.
  • —, « The Treaties of the Early Mamluk Sultans with the Frankish States », BSOAS 43 (1980), p. 67-73.
  • Köhler, Michael A., Alliances and treaties between Frankish and Muslim Rulers in the Middle East. Cross-Cultural Diplomacy in the Period of the Crusades, Revised, edited and introduced by Konrad Hirschler, Leiden, Brill, 2013
  • Mas Latrie, L. de, Traités de paix et de commerce et documents divers concernant les relations es chrétiens avec les Arabes de l’Afrique septentrionale au Moyen-Age, Paris, 2 vols, 1868.
  • Weigert, G., « A note on hudna. Peacemaking in Islam », in Lev Y., War and Society in the Eastern Mediterranean 7th-15th c., Leyde, New York, Cologne, p. 399-405.


The concept of peace
  • Bauden, Frédéric, « Due trattati di pace conclusi nel dodicesimo secolo », in Martinez de Castilla, Nuria (ed.), Documentos y manuscritos arabes del Occidento musulman medieval, Madrid, CSIS, 2010, p. 33-86.
  • Buresi, Pascal, « Les plaintes de l’archevêque. Chronique des premiers échanges épistolaires entre Pise et le gouverneur almohade de Tunis » in Martinez de Castilla, Nuria (ed.), Documentos y manuscritos arabes del Occidento musulman medieval, Madrid, CSIS, 2010, p. 87-120.
  • Köhler, Michael A., Alliances and treaties between Frankish and Muslim Rulers in the Middle East. Cross-Cultural Diplomacy in the Period of the Crusades, translated by Peter M. Holt. Revised, edited and introduced by Conrad Hirscheler, Leiden, Brill, 2013.
  • Nachi, Mohammed, Figures du compromis dans les sociétés islamiques, IISM, Karthala, 2011.
  • Pedani, Fabris, M. P., La Dimora della Pace, Considerazioni sulle capitolazioni tra i paesi islamici e l’Europa, Rome, 1996.

To cite this article

Sylvie Denoix, "Arabic", Les mots de la paix/Terminology of peace [on-line]. Translated by Korshi Dosoo. Uploaded 24/2/2016, accessed