Last updated: August 29, 2021
UPDATE: There are English subtitles now for all 31 episodes of the popular Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal series. You will find the link below. (Many thanks to reader C-Y-R-O!)
It is very difficult to find stuff in Classical Arabic online. There is religious stuff, yes, but if you are more into TV series à la Netflix, it sounds like wishful thinking. But there is some stuff that is quite good and very informative.
TV shows and series in Classical Arabic
- Musalsal Imam
- Musalsal Omar
- Bible stories in Classical Arabic with subtitles
- Netflix and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)
The Imam series (مسلسل الإمام) or Ahmed bin Hanbal series (مسلسل أحمد بن حنبل) is a huge historical TV series. It was produced by Qatar Media Foundation in 2017. There are 31 episodes à 50 minutes.
The series tells the full biography of the four imams of Sunni Islam – with a special focus on the community of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Additionally, it sheds light on the political life and culture of Baghdad during the reign of Harun al-Rashid.
How to watch it
You can watch the entire series for free on YouTube! However, as usual with Arabic stuff, there are no subtitles. It is quite challenging to watch it in Classical Arabic.
But there is good news. The Reddit user C-Y-R-O did the English translation of ALL 31 episodes and should get a big shout out for such an amazing work! The translation is really helpful and quite accurate. Here is how you can add the subtitles:
Step 1: Download the subtitle source file.
You will receive 31 srt-files which included the translations and time codes.
Remark: In case the download doesn’t work, try this alternative link.
Step 2: Install a Google Chrome add-on.
The extension I use is called “Subtitles for YouTube”. You can download the extension from Chrome Web Store.
Step 3: Go to this YouTube Playlist: The Imam
Then, please choose episode 1, 2 or 3.
Step 4: Upload the subtitle file
Under the YouTube video, you should see three buttons now. Click on UPLOAD – and choose the file of the episode you chose (1, 2 or 3).
Step 5: Final result: You should see the English subtitles now.
Who was Ahmad bin Hanbal?
Imam Ibn Hanbal (164-241 AH / 780-855 AD) was a jurist and the fourth imam of Sunni Islam. He is the main figure of the Hanbali doctrine of Islamic jurisprudence (المذهب الحنبلي), also called fiqh. Hanbali is implemented in countries with a traditional and conservative view on Islam such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar (where it is the official fiqh).
Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s family was originally from Basra, Iraq, and belonged to the Arab Banu Shayban tribe. His father was an officer in the Abbasid army in Khurasan and later settled with his family in Baghdad, where Ahmad was born. Ibn Hanbal had two wives and several children. He studied extensively in Baghdad and later founded his ideas about Islamic Jurisprudence.
There are many anecdotes about his funeral. Some relate that his funeral was attended by 800,000 men and 60,000 women and that 20,000 Christians and Jews converted to Islam on that day.
Omar and is about the life of Umar ibn al-Khattāb (عُمَر بن الْخَطّاب), the second Caliph of Islam. The TV series – consisting of 30 episodes – recounts details from his life until the moments of his death. The series starts with one of the pilgrimages of caliph Umar where he delivers speeches to the pilgrims.
How to watch it
Omar was first shown in summer 2012 during Ramadan. After that the TV series was subtitled in English. It used to be possible to watch it for free on the official MBC channel – however, it is not possible anymore. I have no idea why MBC does not allow it anymore. The links are constantly changing…
Who was Omar al-Khattab (عُمَر بن الْخَطّاب)?
Born: between 583 and 590 (~ 35 BH) in Mecca
Died: 644 (23 AH) in Medina
Umar (Omar) was the second Caliph of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, the so-called al-Rashidun (الرَّاشِدُون). He was the first to introduce the Hijri calendar and the first who awarded prizes for memorizing the Qur’an.
According to Sunni Muslims, ‘Umar is the second greatest of the companions after ’Abū Bakr. He was taught wrestling and horsemanship. ‘Umar was a trader at the market of ‘Ukāz (عُكاظ) not far from Mecca. He was one of the richest men in Mecca. In the summer he would travel north – in Arabic: al-Shām (الشّام) – and in the winter, he would go to Yemen.
Like many others in Mecca, ‘Umar initially opposed Islam and even threatened to kill the Prophet. Eventually he went to Muhammad with the same sword with which he intended to kill him, and accepted Islam at the age of 39.
This was in the year 616 (6 BH). It was narrated by ‘Uqba ibn ‘Āmir (عُقْبة بن عامِر) that the Prophet said: “If there were to be a prophet after me, then it would have been ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb.”
Source: Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhī 4050 (3686); hasan; AND: ’Ahmad ibn Hanbal (17405)
قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ: لَوْ كَانَ بَعْدِي نَبِيٌّ لَكَانَ عُمَرَ بْنَ الْخَطَّابِ
What is Omar famous for?
‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb (عُمَر بن الْخَطّاب) was the first judge in Islam.
The Qādī (الْقاضِي) is a Muslim judge who decides according to the Sharī‘a, the derived law of Islam. It is debatable if the Prophet himself counts when we talk about the first Qādī because Muhammad, of course, also acted as a judge.
The first Caliph after Muhammad’s death, ’Abū Bakr (أَبُو بَكْر), had put ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb in charge of the judiciary and appointed him as Qādī. However, ’Abū Bakr still supervised the jurisprudence.
Only when ‘Umar himself became Caliph, jurisprudence was formally integrated into the Islamic state. ‘Umar did not want to personally judge every dispute. On several occasions in Islamic history, the Caliph himself appeared before the judge to defend himself in a dispute.
‘Umar was also the first Caliph to fix salaries for judges (which were high). He founded the first “police force” in Islamic history and separated them from the judiciary. ‘Umar bought five houses in Mecca and used them as prisons. Punishment by exile was introduced by ‘Umar for the first time. It is said that he exiled a man to an island – as punishment for drinking alcohol.
His son and alcohol (punishment)
Since ‘Umar was very familiar with the Islamic laws, he occasionally also pronounced the verdict. Imam Mālik recorded the following Hadith: ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb came out to the people. He said: “I have found the smell of wine on so-and-so, and he claimed that it was the drink of boiled fruit juice, and I am inquiring about what he has drunk. If it intoxicates, I will flog him.”
‘Umar then flogged the accused person with the Hadd punishment [most probably 80 lashes]. It is not clear if the man, who was punished by the Caliph, as legend has it, was ‘Umar’s own son ’Abū Shahma (أَبُو شَحْمة). There are many stories indicating that ‘Umar punished his son for drinking alcohol with 80 lashes. The lashes were so severe that he died.
Muslims like to use this story as evidence that the first Muslims did not favor anybody – they just ruled according to Islamic laws.
Military achievements of Omar
He defeated the Sasanians, the rulers over Persia. This victory made it possible to conquest Persia in fewer than two years. The Sasanian imperial dynasty was the last Persian Empire before the rise of Islam, ruled by and named after the Sasanian dynasty which lasted from 224 to 651.
His most famous sword was named Dhū al-Wishāh (ذُو الْوِشاح). The word al-Wishāh means strings of pearls and jewels.
The Sasanian Empire was a leading world power along with its rival, the Roman-Byzantine Empire, for more than 400 years. At its peak, the Empire stretched from Egypt, Yemen, the Caucasus, all the way to Central Asia (today’s Afghanistan). Most people in Persia believed in Zoroastrianism.
In addition, Jerusalem and the al-Aqsā-mosque – also known as The Third of the Two Sanctuaries, Thālith al-Haramayn (ثالِث الْحَرَمَيْن) in Arabic – came under Islamic rule for the first time during ‘Umar’s reign.
Famous quote by Omar al-Khattab
“We are a nation whom Allah has honoured with Islam, if we seek the honour in other than it, Allah will humiliate us (again).”Omar al-Khattab, second caliph
According to a Hadith (al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahīhayn 214): نَحْنُ قَوْم أَعَزَّنا اللّه بِالْإسلام فَإِنْ اِبْتَغَيْنا الْعِزّة بِغَيْرِهِ أَذَلّنا اللَّه
Omar was heading to Syria and was accompanied by ’Abū ‘Ubayda (أَبُو عُبَيْدة), a companion of Muhammad. When they arrived at a creek ‘Umar dismounted from his camel, took off his sandals and placed them over his shoulder, and then led the camel through the creek.
’Abū ‘Ubayda asked: “O commander of the faithful, are you [really] doing this? You have taken off your sandals and placed them on your back and you led the camel through the creek yourself. I do not think it will be easy for me to get the people of this country to honour you.“
Omar said: “If only someone else had said this, O ’Abū ‘Ubayda! I have made this a deterrent for the nation of Muhammad. Verily, we were a disgraceful people and Allah honoured us with Islam, so if we seek honour from other than Islam, then Allah will humiliate us (again).”
Note: Historians sometimes refer to him as ‘Umar I because another Caliph, ruling much later in the Umayyad dynasty, i.e. ‘Umar II, bore the same name.
Death of Omar, the second Caliph
The second, Caliph ‘Umar (عُمَر بن الْخَطّاب), was assassinated in 644 (23 H) by Persians responding to the Muslim conquest of Persia. He was stabbed while praying in the Prophet’s Mosque (الْمَسْجِد النَّبَوِيّ) in Medina and died three days later.
The murderer was a Sasanian soldier, Piruz Nahavandi (Farsi: پیروز نهاوندی), known in Arabic as ’Abū Lu’lu’a (أَبُو لُؤْلُؤة), literally father of the pearl.
The Sasanian Empire was the last Persian empire before the rise of Islam. When the Muslim army of ‘Umar defeated the Sasanians, Piruz was captured and sold as a slave to the tribe of al-Mughīra ibn Shu‘ba (الْمُغِيرة بن شُعْبة).
Religion of the murderer
There is a lot of contradictory information about the religion of the murderer. The Persian historian al-Tabarī (ّالطَّبَرِي) described Nahavandi as a Christian, while others claim that he was an infidel especially because Nahavandi had been referred to with the epithet al-Majūsī (الْمَجُوسِيّ), indicating Zoroastrian beliefs. The Arabic word Majūs (مَجُوسِ) means Zoroastrianism (Mazdaism).
Sunni Muslims claim that he was a Shia Muslim. This led to rumors that Nahavandi was buried in Kashan (Persian: کاشان) in the province of Isfahan where he had fled to after the assassination of the Caliph. According to other sources, however, Nahavandi is buried in Medina.
What Omar said about names
The second Caliph in Islam, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb (عُمَر بن الْخَطّاب), called upon the Arabs to say their name and not their origin as poor Bedouins used to do when someone asked them where they were from.
What did the Caliph mean by name? The Caliph meant the name of the family, the name of the clan or tribe. In Arabic culture, until today, the name of the family or clan bears a lot of information about the person: his wealth, power, courage, hospitality, etc.
Bible stories in Classical Arabic with subtitles
A reader told me about a website called godsstories. The God’s Stories Series is a set of dramatized Bible character stories – in Arabic with English subtitles! Here is the link:
Disclaimer: I feel it would be better not to start a theological debate whether the Bible is right or the Qur’an. I respect all religions and offer this link purely for language reasons.
Netflix and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)
You won’t find pure Classical Arabic on Netflix. But you may be lucky to get at least some movies and series – especially cartoons – that use Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) as audio. Furthermore, you can also add Arabic subtitles which is a big advantage.
So, how you can get all that?
It is easy. It is just a simply trick. Here is how it works.
Still not enough? Not found what you were looking for?
Check out these articles on Netflix and other streaming services:
- Why do many superheros and villains have Arabic or Hebrew names?
- Confessions of a lifelong learner of Arabic
- Alephia 2053 – a dystopian animated film about the Arab world
- How to add Arabic subtitles on Netflix – the ultimate guide
- Dual subtitles in Netflix: How do you watch Netflix with English AND Arabic subs at the same time?
Picture credit: Image by Firas Alkaheel from Pixabay