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لسان الأروي அரபு-தமிழ்
Pronunciation Lisān-ul-Arwī; Arabu-Tamil
Spoken in India, Sri Lanka
Total speakers
Language family Dravidian
Writing system Arabic script
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3

Arwi or Arabic-Tamil (لسان الأروي lisān-ul-arwī; அரபு-தமிழ் arabu-tamil) is an Arabic-influenced dialect of the Tamil language[1] written with an extension of the Arabic alphabet, with extensive lexical and phonetic influences from the Arabic language.[2] Arwi was used extensively by the Muslim minority of Tamil Nadu state of India and Sri Lanka.[2] As a spoken language it is extinct, though a few madrasas still teach the basics of the language as part of their curricula.



A stone pillar with Arwi inscription, South India.

Arwi is an outcome of the cultural synthesis between seafaring Arabs and Tamil-speaking Muslims of Tamil Nadu. Arwi has a rich body of work of which little has been preserved. There are historical records of the prevalence of Arwi in far Eastern countries, such as Indonesia and Thailand, up until the 1970s. Even today, there are Arwi schools functioning in Malaysia, Myanmar and Pakistan.

The strength of Arwi as a language is exemplified by the literature that has been produced in, for example, jurisprudence, sufism, law, medicine, and sexology. Arwi was also used as a bridge language for Tamil Muslims to learn Arabic[3] Many authentic hadith manuscripts have also been found. Most of the Fiqh books, particularly those of Imaam Shaafi and Imaam Abu Hanifa have also been found in Arwi. There was even a translation of the Bible into Arwi in 1926. The Arwi language contributed immensely to the education and progression of Muslim women in South India and Sri Lanka. The Arwi educated women were active participants in the social fabric of society playing vital roles in education, medicine and even politics. The decline of Arwi in the latter half of the 20th century has seen a steady decline of the education of Muslim women in that region.

Large proportions of Arwi works were lost in two periods of time:

16th century – The arrival of the Portuguese. This is the most tragic period in the history of Arwi. Amongst other atrocities, their destruction of Arwi literature meant that an entire corpus of knowledge was lost.

20th century – The arrival of the mainstream printing press. Using the Arabic script meant that Arwi could not jump onto print easily. A slow but sure demise of Arwi began.

Presently, there are invaluable manuscripts being eaten away by termites in homes, private, public and institutional libraries. Efforts are underway to halt the decline and revive the language.

Arwi still has a place among the more traditional Indian Tamil Muslim and Sri Lankan Moor families. Today, the Arwi language exists in speech informally as many words unique to it are used in the form of Tamil spoken by these people. Some of the words that constitute daily conversations among Muslims which belong to the class of Arwi are: Museebah,Mowth,janazah,balaah, Raahat, Shifaa, Khair, Wallahi, Ta'lim, Kithaab, Shaitaan, Sharbath, Sahan, Dafs, Baith, Bayaah, shirk, Tayyib and Ikhlaas.


Letters unique to Arwi.

The Arwi alphabet is the arabic alphabet with thirteen additional letters, used to represent the Tamil vowels e and o and several Tamil consonants that could not be mapped to Arabic sounds.[2]


  1. ^ R. Cheran, Darshan Ambalavanar, Chelva Kanaganayakam (1997) History and Imagination: Tamil Culture in the Global Context. 216 pages, ISBN 978-1-894770-36-1
  2. ^ a b c Torsten Tschacher (2000). Arwi (Arabic-Tamil) — A Brief Report. newKOLAM, volumes 5&6. Online version accessed on 2009-08-14.
  3. ^ 216 th year commemoration today: Remembering His Holiness Bukhary Thangal Sunday Observer - January 5, 2003. Online version accessed on 2009-08-14
  • Shu’ayb, Tayka. Arabic, Arwi and Persian in Sarandib and Tamil Nadu. Madras: Imāmul 'Arūs Trust, 1993.

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