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Lesson 5: Introduction To Sifaat

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The Sifat

Ṣifāt is the plural of ṣifah. Literally, it means qualities or characteristics. Technically, ṣifāt are those characteristics which are affixed to the pronunciation of a letter whether intrinsic or circumstantial.


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The ṣifāt of the letters are of two types:

  1. The Ṣifāt Lāzimah – ِ Intrinsic or permanent ṣifāt. These ṣifāt form part of the make-up of the letter i.e. the letter cannot be found without this ṣifāt.
  2. Sifaat A’aridah – Temporary or circumstantial ṣifāt. In some conditions, these ṣifāt are found and in other situations, they are not.

The Ṣifāt Lāzimah

They are divided into two types:

1. Mutaḍāddah – ُthose ṣifāt which have opposites

2. Ghayr Mutaḍāddah –those ṣifāt which have no opposites.

The Mutaḍāddah

Because these ṣifāt are lāzimah, it is impossible that any letter of the Arabic alphabet is found without this ṣifāt, and due to them being opposites, it is also impossible that both opposite ṣifāt are found in any one letter! Thus, all letters of the Arabic alphabet must have one of these pairs of ṣifāt. They are:

1) Al Hams الْهَمْسُ – It literally means a whisper. The breath flows when pronouncing the letters of hams. It has 10 letters found in the combination :فَحَثَّهُ شَخْص سَكَت

2) Al Jahr الجَهْرُ – It literally means to announce something loudly or publicly. This is the opposite of hams. The breath is imprisoned when pronouncing these letters. The letters of jahr are all the remaining letters of the Arabic alphabet besides the letters of hams. 

3) Ash-shidda الشِّدَّةُ – It literally means strength. The sound is imprisoned when reading these letters. Its letters are found in the combination أَجِدْ قَطٍ بَكَتْ. 

4) Ar Rakhawa الرَّخَاوَةُ –It literally means softness. This is the opposite of shiddah. The sound flows when pronouncing the letters which have rakhāwah. 

5) Tawassut or Al baynya البَينية – It literally means in-between. This ṣifah is in-between shiddah and rakhāwah. Its sound does not flow as in rakhāwah, nor is it imprisoned as in shiddah. Its letters areلِنْ عُمَر.

Note: The letters of rakhāwah are all the letters beside the letters of shiddah. 

Note: Tawussuṭ is not an independent ṣifah because it has a bit of shiddah and a bit of rakhāwah. For this reason it is not counted as an individual ṣifah. 

6) Al-istiala الاِسْتِعَلاءُ – It literally means to elevate. The back part of the tongue rises when pronouncing the letters which have this ṣifah. It is found in the 7 letters خُصَّ ضَغْطٍ قِط. 

Note: Due to the back part of the tongue rising, it causes these letters are pronounced with a full mouth/thick sound (tafkhīm).

7) Al-istifal الاسْتِفَالُ – It literally means to lower. This is the opposite of istiʿlāʾ. The back part of the tongue does not rise but instead lays low when pronouncing these letters. It is found in all the letters beside the letters of istiʿlāʾ.

Note: This action (of the tongue) causes these letters to be pronounced with an empty mouth/thin sound (tarqīq).

8) Al-itbaq الإِطْبَاق – It literally means lid or cover. The centre part of the tongue embraces or encompasses the palate. Its letters are ظ – ط – ض -ص. 

Note: All the letters of iṭbāq have istiʿlāʾ in them also. 

Note: Due to this ṣifah these letters are read more fully/thick than the qāf, the ghayn and the khāʾwhich only have istiʿlāʾ in them. 

9) Al infitah الإِنْفِتَاح – It literally means to open. This is the opposite of iṭbāq. The centre of the tongue lies open, not embracing the palate. It is found in all the letters beside the letters of iṭbāq, including the qāf, the ghayn and the khā.

Note: Because the tongue lies open it causes these letters to have a more empty/thin sound in them (tarqīq)

Note: In istiʿlāʾ, istifāl, iṭbāq and infitāḥ, the action actually takes place in the tongue, but metaphorically we say that it takes place in the letters.

The Ghayr Mutaḍāddah

These ṣifāt are also lāzimah i.e. it is impossible that a letter having one of these qualities to be found without it. However, they do not have any opposites and will only apply to some letters of the Arabic alphabet.

1)  As Safirالصَفِير -It literally means a whistling sound. It is found in the ص – ز – س. When these letters are pronounced, there is a whistling sound.

2) Al-leen اللِّيْن – It literally means softness. It is found in the wāw sākinah and yāʾ sākinah when they are preceded by a fatḥah. They are pronounced with ease and without much exertion or difficulty. 

3) Al inhiraf  الإِنْحِراف – It literally means inclination. The makhraj of these letters incline towards the makhraj of another letter. It is found in theل – ر. 

4) At-takreer التَّكْرِير – It literally means to repeat something. It is found in the rāʾ ر . When it is pronounced, the tongue shudders or shivers (because it repeatedly ‚knocks‛ against the palate).

Note: The correct pronunciation of takrīr requires us to hide or minimise the takrīr and not to exaggerate it. 

5) At Tafashee التَّفَشِي – It literally means spread out. It is found in the shīn ش. When pronouncing this letter, the breath spreads throughout the mouth.

6) Al Qalqala القَلْقَلَة – It literally means shaking or disturbance. It is found in the letters qāf, ṭāʾ, bāʾ, jīm, dāl or the combination of قُطُبٌ جَدٍ. When these 30 letters are pronounced, there is a disturbance in the makhraj making it seem as if they are being read with an extra echoing sound. 

7) Al istitala  الإِسْتِطَالَة -It literally means to lengthen. It is found in the ḍād ض . When pronouncing the ḍād ض, the sound is lengthened from the beginning of its makhraj till the end i.e. from the beginning of the side of the tongue until its end (until it reaches the makhraj of the lām – ل.

The Ṣifāt ʿĀriḍah

These characteristics are temporary i.e. sometimes they are found in a letter and sometimes they are not. They are all 11 in number:

1. Iṭḥ-hār

2. Idghām

3. Iqlāb

4. Ikhfāʾ

5. Tafkhīm

6. Tarqīq

7. Madd

8. Qaṣr

9. Ḥarakāt

10. Sukūn

11. Sak


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