Helen Geršman (Tallinn University, Estonia) “Poetic Features of ʾUsāma ibn Lādin’s Speech of March 28, 2002”


The speeches of ʾUsāma ibn Lādin are famous for being in very good Arabic. I would say that they were not only composed in good Modern Standard Arabic but have features of Classical Arabic and furthermore reveal features of rhetoric as explained by ʿilm al-balāġa (‘the science of rhetoric’ of the classical period), rendering the texts almost poetic. Especially eloquent are his words of March 28, 2002, a statement addressed to the Islamic Ummah concerning the peace initiative developed by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at that time, ʿAbdallāh ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, with Israel. The science of rhetoric,ʿilm al-balāġa, developed in stages and became one of the philological disciplines (ʿilm al-ʾadab) during the classical period. Rhetoric with its specific subdivisions crystallized in the encyclopaedical work of Abū Yaʿqūb Yūsuf as-Sakkākī (d. 1226 or 1229) Miftāḥ al-ʿUlūm(’The Key to the Sciences’). According to the treatise of as-Sakkākī ʿilm al-balāġa consists of three branches: ʿilm al-maʿānī (’notions’), dealing with different kinds of sentences and their use; ʿilm al-bayān (’modes of presentation’), art of expressing oneself eloquently and without ambiguity; ʿilm al-badīʿ (’embellishment of speech’) defines a large number of embellishments, decorative lexical and semantic features. The same division is applied on the aforementioned statement by ibn Lādin in the present rhetoric analysis.

The original statement appeared in the London based magazine al-Quds al-ʿArabī. Although many translations of ibn Lādin speeches circulate on the Internet, the quotations included in the analysis, together with the Koranic citations, have been newly translated by the author of the paper for the sake of presenting the rhetoric features as explicitly as possible.