Frustrated perhaps by a lack of grammatical precision in his ‘supposedly’ advanced Arabic students, my professor in this semester’s Language of the Qur’an course has taken us back a step this week into our primary verb conjugation chart, making us (re)memorize all the verb forms and spending each day of our classwork chanting those forms together to reinforce them in our weak and forgetful minds.
While this might seem like the ultimate in dry and unproductive exercises, it does yield some added ability to communicate in a register above common ‘street’ Arabic.
Additionally, as we ran through the Measure III conjugation of the verb h-SH-M, he provided us with an interesting tidbit of historical AND personal revelation. (I’m using lowercase ‘h’ here to separate between the two Arabic H’s, fyi, this one being the softer).
Opening my trusty Hans Wehr dictionary, the root h-SH-M means, in Measure I, ‘to destroy’ ‘to smash’ ‘to crush’ or ‘to shatter.’ Hans Wehr doesn’t offer a verb for Measure III, but the Musdar, or verbal noun, that comes from it yields our modern day Hashemite (as in the tribe, which now rules in both Jordan and Morocco and traces its ancestry back to the Prophet Muhammad). Lest we imagine that Hashemite refers to some ability to smash or destroy in a physical or martial way we must point out that Measure III, from which this Musdar comes, is participatory, changing the base meaning the verb to render something more like: ‘to smash with someone’ or, in this specific case, ‘to break bread with someone.’ Thus, historically, the Hashemites get their name from being the hosts of the sacred area in Mecca, those with whom pilgrims would break bread.
Taking this one step further, my professor’s first name is Hisham. This also comes from Measure III of h-SH-M, but from a variant of the Musdar that differentiates between ‘completed’ and ‘in-process’ or ‘trying-to-complete’ action. So, while (to my knowledge) Professor Hisham isn’t a member of either the Moroccan or Jordanian royal families, fittingly enough for us students, we could at least consider him our definite and complete ‘breaker’ ‘smasher’ ‘shatterer’ or ‘crusher’. He isn’t just trying to break bread here. He’s wholly successful.
I will remember that next time we get a grammar test.