Arwi: Comments, Questions and Answers:
7/9/'98. Rabi al Awwal 14 1419.
From James J. Saxon, Jr., Ph.D. Psychologist, Swarthmore, Pa.
Tue, 27 Jan 1998.
I saw the web site. Great start.
The material on the Dravidian Islamic language was new to me. Sorry, I forgot the name: I'll have to go back to the web site a few times to remember it. Is the language still alive as an everyday language, or has it only a restricted use?
Muhammad Ma`ruf, Cordoba Institute answer:
The researchers of this dialect and literary medium have not examined it from the point of view of demography. Their point has been to show that Sri Lankan and neighboring Muslims, often counted as Tamil speakers are not in fact Tamil speakers in the same way as the "Tamils" of Sri Lanka, for instance are Tamil speakers: the Sri Lankan Muslim male is typically a multilingual person. Arwi and Arwi like "mixed" tongues are among the ways in which he communicates. Such a "multilingual" nature distinguishes Muslims from the Singhalese and other locally dominant groups such as the Tamilians. This is not uncommon in minority situations in many places. Muslims everywhere have historically assumed that language in culture is instrumental rather than organic. The itinerant trader outlook of Sri Lankan Muslims may also have facilitated the coexistence of many rather than one linguistic medium among them.
As Shu`ayb Alim's new book convincingly documents, the Arwi side of the Sri Lankan Muslim linguistic mix has also developed in some unusual and very esoteric directions. Some kinds of local knowledge understood in only a fragmentary form by everybody who claims to be Muslim in the area, is known in a more elaborate and systematic form in Arwi books. In that sense it is more of a scholarly language. Governmental census takers who ignore Arwi, perhaps unintentionally, also ignore the existence of the philosophical and scholarly sources for the kinds of local adaptations of Islamic thought that have taken place in the area.
Arwi usage is most common among Islamic knowledge specialists among the Muslims of the area, for example in such fields as Qur`an commentary, poetry, a kind of psychology, and sufism. Compositions of devotional songs used in certain Islamic group ceremonies were originally written in Arwi by their authors. The group ceremonies in which the devotional songs are ritualized, however, may be described as cultic, in the sense that not all Muslims necessarily participate in them. The Thalaifathiha - a well known Arwi devotional composition - for instance, is sung only by women in ceremonies usually not attended by men. I believe, however, that it is not an error to say that among all, if not most, of the traditional Muslims there is awareness of the existence and use, among specialists, of Arwi and Arwi like reading, writing, and speaking systems.
The wording of formal and group spoken worship, required in devotions which are binding on all Muslims, is in Arabic.
From: Fauz Rafideen, Chicago, Il. USA.
Tue. 3/ 24 '98. Dhu al Qa`dah 25 1418.
You have not mentioned "lisanul labrawi", its relevance, or how it is related to to Lisanul Arwi.
Is Lisanul Arwi the only dialect spoken by the Muslims in Sri Lanka?
Muhammad Ma`ruf, Cordoba Institute answer:
First, thank you for your encouragement, helpful feedback, and advice that you and your Beruwala friends have continuously provided for this and other related projects of the Institute form many years.
Re your questions:
1. "lisanul labrawi", as far as I can figure out, is a misreading, actually first made as such to my ear by an Iraqi scholar. The way the Arwi letters alif, lam, and rey are connected in the spelling of the name of the language in which the Futuhaturrahmaniyyaa Tafsir is written could lead to such a misreading by someone who does not read Arwi. I agree with Shu`ayb Alim's reading of the name as Lisan al Arwi (also sometimes spelt in English as Arvi).
In Sri Lanka most "Islamist" people do not read books written in that tongue or "lisan" or dialect or language, anymore. In common usage people refer to the distinctive language of the Muslims, their "mother tongue", as Arabic-Tamil or Shonakam.
The popular name "Arabic-Tamil" is misleading as it conceals
(a) the well known considerable Persian influence on the language, and
(b) the possible origin of some of the words used by Arwi writers and speakers in the non-Aryan and non-Dravidian, indigenous or "tribal" languages of the area.
2. a. The orthographic practices adopted by the many authors who have created works in Arwi are not all alike. There may have been different historical and geographic origins of several related Dravidian dialects and/or book writing orthographic systems. The consequent variations are noticeable in the books which have come down to us. Close examination thus reveals a related set of developments rather than a rigidly standardized orthography.
b. Individual and small group authorial preferences may explain the underlying motivation for adopting the general non-Dravidian method of phonetic transcription, as well as for the adoption of variations within it. My detailed studies of the Arwi "cultural" selection history has provided me with important clues toward answering general questions regarding how academic and other Islamization changes may have come about in history.
c. The late Professor Uwise has pointed out that spoken forms of coastal regional Arwi or Shonakam is different from central regional forms. He also has shown that spoken forms of Arwi also contain Singhalese i.e "Aryan" words, not only "Dravidian" words.
d. Arwi as a system is different from Jawi also spoken by "Malay" Muslims in Sri Lanka. Some Arabic, Malayalam, Urdu and such tongues are also spoken by smaller groups of Muslims. Also, in recent years there is increase in the use of English and Singhalese as a Muslim home language.
In summary, the answer to your question regarding linguistic and dialectical variation among present day Sri Lankan Muslims is that nobody knows for sure because not enough research has been done. Shu`ayb Alim's 1993 book is now the most comprehensive book on the subject of Arwi. He has compiled a massive amount of information, but is more concerned and conversant with Islamic sciences, than scientific, linguistic ones, such as the problem of intra-Arwi variation. I do not know whether definitive research to answer all the questions is likely to be funded in the near future. However, many scholars have pointed out the need to collect, maintain, and preserve the books and other materials that are available in Arwi, for future reference and research.