Ghunnah is the nasal sound which accompanies two of the Arabic letters: م and ن.
It is produced when the air coming from the voice box, which normally exits from the mouth, goes up into the Nasal Cavity and exits from the nose.
With م and ن they have two parts to their مخرج (Articulation Point):
- The Oral Cavity: i.e., tip of the tongue with the gums for ن and the lips for م
- The Nasal Cavity: i.e., الْخَيْشُوم
With ن, air coming from the voice box comes into the mouth and also up into the nose. However, the tip of the tongue in the mouth obstructs the air in the mouth, whereas the air going in the nose continues. This partial obstruction/partial flowing characteristic in ن is known as الْبَيْنِيَّة or التَّوَسُّط, discussed in more detail in this post.
The same thing happens with م, air coming from the voice box comes into the mouth and also goes into the nose. The lips obstruct the air in the mouth, while the air going into the nose continues, so م also has the characteristic of الْبَيْنِيَّة/التَّوَسُّط.
Ghunnah is an inherent quality or characteristic of ن and م, meaning that it is part of these letters, and if we removed this from them they would no longer remain ن and م.
The Rules of نْ and مْ
During recitation of the Qur’an different letters are pronounced together. When this happens, there may be changes in pronunciation based on certain letters coming together.
This phenomenon because it is simply easier, lighter on the tongue and more convenient in speech, not necessarily because it is impossible to pronounce it otherwise.
These changes in the pronunciation make up the 4 rules of ن saakinah and tanween:
- Idh-haar الْإِظْهَار: to make clear, apparent
To articulate each letter from its own articulation point clearly without any effect of surrounding letters.
- Idghaam الْإِدْغَام: to merge, to assimilate
The joining of a letter with no vowel (sukoon) to a letter with a vowel (harakah), where they become one letter with a shaddah (doubled), and are pronounced at once at the articulation point.
- Iqlaab الْإِقْلَاب: to turn over, to exchange
To change a letter into another letter when it comes next to certain letters.
- Ikhfaa الْإِخْفَاء: to hide, to conceal
Pronouncing a letter in a way that is between إظهار and إدغام, without تشديد (adding a Shaddah), with ghunnah remaining in the first letter.
The one thing that all these rules have in common is that they happen in order to promote ease and facilitation in pronouncing letters together that is not needed when pronouncing letters separately.
- Ith-haar happens between letters which are too different and/or whose articulation points are too far from each other, and therefore, it’s easier to say them separately i.e. “clearly”.
- Idghaam happens between letters which are very similar and/or whose articulation points are close to each other, and therefore, they are “merged”.
- Iqlaab happens when it’s easier to “change” a letter into another one more suitable in pronunciation when followed by a particular letter.
- Ikhfaa’ happens when letters are in a state between those of Ith-haar and Idghaam, i.e. they are not so close/similar to each other, nor are they so different/far from each other, and therefore, the letter is not said separately/clearly, nor is it merged into the next, but rather a middle way between the two: it is “hidden” with the next letter.
What concerns us in this post particularly, is the pronunciation of نْ and مْ when they come with other letters, and more specifically, what occurs with Ikhfaa’.
Ikhfaa’ الْإِخْفَاء: to hide, to conceal
Pronouncing a letter in a way that is between إظهار and إدغام, without تشديد (i.e. without adding a shaddah), with ghunnah remaining in the first letter.
Unlike the other three, this rule is only found in نْ and مْ and no other letter. The reason behind this is because of the characteristic of Ghunnah that they have. It is because of this characteristic that it becomes possible for Ikhfaa’ to even take place. Imam al-Qurtubi (d. 461AH) a classical scholar, mentions in his book الموضح في التجويد regarding Ikhfaa’:
فَالتَّشْدِيدُ إِذَنْ هُوَ إِدْخَالُ حَرْفٍ فِي حَرْفٍ، وَالْإِظْهَارُ هُوَ قَطْعُ حَرْفٍ عَنْ حَرْفٍ، وَالْإِخْفَاءُ هُوَ اتِّصَالُ حَرْفٍ بِحَرْفٍ، فَبِالتَّشْدِيد يَدْخُلُ الْحَرْفُ وَيغيبُ، وَبِالْقطع يَظْهَرُ يَبِينُ، وبِالِاتِّصَالِ يَخْفَى وَيَسْتَتِرُ، وَلِهذه الْعِلة لَم يَكُن الْإِخْفَاءُ إِلّا في حَرْفَي الْغُنة النون والميم، لِأَنَّ الاتِّصَالَ لا يَتَأَتّى إِلَّا فِيهِمَا لِأَنّ الصَّوْتَ إِذَا جَرَى فِي الْخَيْشُومِ أَمْكَنَ اتصال الْحَرفين مِن غَيْرِ إِظْهَارٍ وَلَا تَشْدِيدٍ وَلذلك يَنبغي أَن يكونَ النطق بالمَخْفِيِّ بَيْنَ التَّخْفِيفِ وَبَينَ التَّشْدِيدِ، كَمَا أَنَّهُ بَيْنَ الْإِظْهَارِ وَبَيْنَ الْإِدْغَامِ
Its (i.e. Ikhfaa’s) reality is that it is hiding, because the articulation point gets hidden by connecting.
So tashdeed (i.e. Idghaam) then, is inserting a letter into a letter, and Ith-haar is separating a letter from a letter, and Ikhfaa’ is connecting a letter with a letter, so with tashdeed (i.e. Idghaam) the letter gets inserted and disappears, and with separation (i.e. Ith-haar) it becomes apparent and clear, and with connection it is concealed and hidden, and for this reason Ikhfaa’ does not happen except in the two Ghunnah letters ن and م , whose connection does not truly happen except in these two due to its sound, when it runs in the nasal cavity without Ith-haar, nor tashdeed. For this reason, the pronunciation of a makhfee (i.e. the letter which is being hidden) must be between takhfeef and tashdeed, as it is between Ith-haar and Idghaam.
[Dar al-Sahabah Publications, pg. 122]
As he explains, Ikhfaa is only possible with ن and م because of their having Ghunnah, and this is because the sound going into the Nasal Cavity and not the mouth, allows you to connect to the next letter without actually saying the next letter. If you were to actually pronounce the next letter at the same time (i.e. let the air through the mouth also), this would be inserting a letter into another which is Idghaam, and is incorrect when doing Ikhfaa’. However, because you can run the sound in the nose instead of the mouth, you can actually connect to another letter in the mouth while the sound in running in the nose, and you wouldn’t be pronouncing the letter you’re connecting to in the mouth. By connecting to the next letter and prolonging the Ghunnah, you are not saying a clear ن either, so the ن is automatically hidden. If you were to say a clear ن, i.e., without connecting to the next letter and without lengthening the Ghunnah, then this would be Ith-haar.
But as you can see, you are not saying a clear ن nor are you inserting into the next letter. This is how Ikhfaa’ is a way between Ith-haar and Idghaam.
How to Apply Ikhfaa’
In simple terms you are pronouncing the ن and م from the place of the next letter and lengthening the Ghunnah while doing so. Then after you finish from the Ghunnah, you can go on to pronounce the next letter easily, because your mouth is already in that position, just by switching the flow of the air from the nose to the mouth. Note the examples below:
Example 1: مَن فِيكُمْ for the ن, you will position your mouth for the letter ف (i.e. connect to the articulation point of ف) while the air is running in your nose for the Ghunnah. Although the mouth is positioned in the articulation point of ف there should be no “pressure” on its articulation point, only connection. Once you have finished the required timing of Ghunnah you can pronounce the next letter (ف) by letting the air through your mouth now and applying pressure to the articulation point (and thus directing the air here).
Example 2: مِنكُمْ for the ن, you will position your mouth/connect to the articulation point of ك without pressure on it, while the air is running in your nose. Once you finish the timing of Ghunnah, you can then let the air into your mouth and pronounce the ك by applying pressure to its articulation point.
Example 3: أَم بِظَاهِر for the م here you will connect to the articulation point of the next letter which is ب but without applying pressure. Because this happens to be the same articulation point as م, there will be no apparent difference in the articulation point. Therefore, you simply lengthen the Ghunnah in the nose which establishes the Ikhfaa’ of م by placing reliance of the sound in the nasal cavity instead of on the lips. Notice the lips will remain closed while Ikhfaa’ is taking place even though the pressure is in the nose, and this is because you “connect” to the articulation point while Ghunnah is taking place.
“Heaviness” (تفخيم) of the Ghunnah before the Heavy Letters (حروف الاستعلاء)?
As we have seen from the correct method for Ikhfaa’, one must connect the mouth to the following letter while the Ghunnah is coming from the nose. What this means is that there is a slight natural fluctuation in the sound of the Ghunnah with each letter which is natural. Therefore, the Ikhfaa’ of ن will sound slightly different for each letter, because each letter is different from another.
This is most obvious when it comes to the حروف الاستعلاء, because of their having the necessary characteristic of الاستعلاء. This means that when the tongue connects with these letters in the mouth while the Ghunnah is coming from the nose, the Ghunnah sounds “heavy” مفخمة. For this reason some later scholars documented this as part of the rules of تفخيم and ترقيق.
The first scholar to document this was Shaykh Uthman bin Sulayman Murad (b. 1316) in his poem السلسبيل الشافي في علم التجويد, verse 34:
وفَخِّــــمِ الغَنَّــــة إِنْ تَلاهَــــا حُرُوفُ الِاسْتِعْلَاءِ لا سِوَاهَـا
And make the Ghunnah مفخمة (heavy) if follow it (any of…)
the letters of Isti’laa (i.e. the 7 the heavy letters) not other than them
The following piece is a translation from the book لطائف في تجويد القرآن by Sh. Ihab Fikri, pg 36, regarding the Ghunnah for the Ikhfaa’ of ن saakinah and tanween offering more detail on this issue:
Heaviness (تفخيم) of the Ghunnah before the Heavy Letters (حروف الاستعلاء) for example: مِن قَبْلُ and انظُر and the like:
[…] Now we turn to a similar issue regarding the pronunciation of the Ghunnah, the articulation point of which no book of Tajweed neglects to mention: the خيشوم (nasal cavity).
Despite this, from a practical perspective, very few try to bring the Ghunnah from this مخرج, and it is very common to articulate it from the mouth instead of the خيشوم (nasal cavity) even though many of the classical scholars wrote that the tongue is not involved in the pronunciation of Ghunnah.
Some of them even wrote that you cannot check accurately if the Ghunnah is coming from its مخرج unless the reciter holds his nose between his fingers. If he is unable to hear the sound of the Ghunnah, then he can be sure that he has articulated it from its مخرج.
But if the sound doesn’t stop, and the “Ghunnah” comes out even though the nose is closed, then this indicates that he is bringing the Ghunnah from his mouth and not his nose.
Therefore, when the reciter pinpoints the مخرج of the Ghunnah, it becomes easy for him to understand the ruling of Ghunnah in terms of its heaviness (تفخيم) and lightness (ترقيق).
Imam Ibn al-Jazari has written in his book: النشر في القراءات العشر, that the heaviness and lightness of the letter Alif depends on which letter comes before it; so it is heavy after heavy Letters, such as:
…and light after light Letters, such as:
And some later scholars documented* that the Ghunnah is the opposite of that; i.e., it is heavy or light according to the letters coming after it, such as:
- مَن قَالَ
…and is light in situations such as:
- مَن شَاءَ
- مِن وَال
This is what we learned orally from our shyookh, and while I was reciting the following verse upon our shaykh, ‘Allaamah al-Zayyaat:
…in Surat al-Hajj, I made the Ghunnah too heavy in the word يَسْتَنقِذُوه, so he signalled to me to decrease the heaviness, because the letter ق after it is مكسور (accompanied by kasrah), and when I asked him to explain the exact rule, he said to me something on the lines of:
درجة تفخيم الغنة تعتمد على درجة تفخيم ما بعدها
The level of heaviness of Ghunnah depends upon the level of heaviness of that which comes after it.
And I say to those who oppose the heaviness of Ghunnah:
How do you apply the Ghunnah in the word:
- مُقَنطَرَة in Allah’s saying والقناطير المقنطرة in Surat Aal ‘Imraan?
And how do you apply the Ghunnah in the words:
- سَفَرًا in Allah’s saying عَرَضًا قَرِيبًا وَسَفَرًا قَاصِدًا in Surat al-Tawbah?
I challenge them to try to make the Ghunnah light (مرققة) in these words, and they won’t be able to do this except by making the heavy letter before and after the Ghunnah light, or by pronouncing them both with a level of heaviness (تفخيم) which is below their required level!
The reality is that whoever does not make the Ghunnah heavy before the heavy Letters (حروف الاستعلاء), is between two choices:
- He decreases the heaviness of the following heavy letter, and this is what most of them do.
- He does a brief pause (سكتة, or breathless stop) after the Ghunnah so that he can rid the Ghunnah of any heaviness.
And there is no proof for either of these options.
In short: the heaviness of Ghunnah before a heavy letter is necessitated by an unimpaired instinct or disposition and this is so that the articulation body can facilitate the heaviness of the following letter.
*The later scholars documented this rule, but this does not mean that it wasn’t recited orally. They documented it based on the oral chains.
And although we do not find this little detail documented explicitly by the early scholars, it has been implied in their writings when describing the method for Ikhfaa’ such as in Imam al-Qurtubi’s book الموضح في التجويد mentioned above. More importantly, it has been passed down in the uninterrupted mass oral chains connected all the way back to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم (i.e. Tawatur). This is the strongest evidence of this phenomenon.
Although the classical scholars documented oral rulings in writing, it was not necessary for them to mention every single detail because it was understood that the written documentation was only a support for the oral transmission of the Qur’anic recitation, and never meant to be used exclusively. The main reliance, especially for the practical side of it, was upon the oral chains, and so, for this reason, we follow what has been passed down in the Tawatur oral chains.
Additionally, because it is not that easy to capture what something “sounds” like in writing, the scholars differed on how to explain the oral recitation in their writings.
Those who argue that Ghunnah should be light always, do so based on the fact that there is no written proof according to them in the classical works, and so they ignore the oral chains and change their recitation based on their research findings and their use of logic in the recitation. This is a dangerous method of approaching the science of Tajweed because it involves rejecting what is orally authentic and established for that which is derived from logic.
If we remember that the Qur’anic recitation is علم نقلي (not علم عقلي, i.e., not derived from one’s mind), that it can only be learned through oral demonstration from a reputable teacher, then logic has no place in this field and students and teachers should beware of preferring it over what has been orally, authentically, and frequently transmitted.
And lastly, we wanted to touch upon common mistakes reciters of the Qur’an will make when applying Ikhfaa’. It should be understood that applying this rule is a challenge as it is because the Ikhfaa’ of ن for each letter will sound slightly different. It requires precise knowledge of each letter’s articulation point and attributes (heavy vs. light) as well as strong training from a master of Tajweed. Once a student has mastered the articulation points and attributes of the letters with a qualified teacher, then applying Ikhfaa’ becomes very easy. Some of the mistakes that may occur are the following:
- Pronouncing the ن clearly and separately, from its own مخرج, i.e. not applying the rule of Ikhfaa’ at all, applying Ith-haar instead.
- Leaving a gap between the lips when pronouncing م with Ikhfaa or ن with Iqlaab. We featured this issue in this post.
- Pronouncing the Ghunnah from the mouth instead of the nose. You can test this by closing your nose while doing the Ghunnah of Ikhfaa’. If the sound stops when you close your nose it means you are pronouncing it correctly, but if it continues this means that the sound you are making is from the mouth and not the nose and hence is able to continue although your nose is shut.
- Not connecting to the articulation points of the letters ك and ق while doing Ikhfaa’ of the ن followed by these two letters.
- Putting too much pressure when doing Ikhfaa’ with the letters ط د ت. This should be specifically avoided because these letters are very close to the articulation point of ن itself. If pressure is applied, it will sound as if we’re pronouncing a clear ن from its own articulation point.
- Pronouncing the Ikhfaa’ while leaving a big gap between the articulation point of the next letter and the tongue; i.e. not making the necessary connection to the next letter.
- To pronounce the Ikhfaa’ the same way for all the letters, relating to the point above. This happens when one does not shape the mouth according to the next letter, i.e. does not “connect” with the next letter while pronouncing Ikhfaa’ as Shaykh al-Qurtubi described should be done.
And as Shaykh Ayman mentions, this mistake is common amongst non-Arabs, especially reciters from the subcontinent, due to their being far from the Arabs.
And Allah knows best.