Sa'id Kaban Sedqi (kurdish: Se'íd Kaban Sidqí, سهعید كابان صدقی) was born in 1866 into a religious family in Silémaní, Southern Kurdistan. He was very young when his father, Mala Hassain, died. He then lived with a relative, who encouraged him to study the Quran as well as Arabic, Persian and Turkish. Kaban studied with Baba Sheikh Kurdistani, a well-known teacher and religious scholar. In those days, Mosques and Maktab "Hujra" (religious schools) were the only place that boys (not girls) could get education.
Sa'id Kaban, after finishing his studies with Mala Kurdistani, entered the Mala Azizi Mofti's Mosque to study and became an expert in Arabic and Arabic literature. At the same time, he also attended Bin Tabaq Mosque where he studied logic, Fiqh (Jurisprudence), mathematics and geography.
Kaban showed a great interest in his studies and graduated as a Mula at the age of 15. This was a great achievement in those days. He received his certificate in December, 1910, wth highest honours in Mosul, the capital of Wilayat Mosul of the Ottoman Empire.
The Young Turks' Mashrotiat revolution helped to open schools in Silémaní, where Kaban became a primary school teacher. Because of his achievements, Kaban was offered a post in Rushdia Military School to teach Quran, religious studies and Persian studies.
After World War II, he became a teacher at the Tashwiqiya School, which was opened by the British governors after they invaded Kurdistan. From 1st January to 5th September 1919, Kaban was a teacher in Saa'dat School; after 5th September, until February 1925, Kaban taught in the Mahmodia School, which was opened after the new Kurdish Kingdom of Sheikh Mahmood Hafid in Silémaní was established.
He taught at the Khalidia School from 1st June 1935 to 1st March 1936, when he retired. He was the headmaster of the Zanisti School for a couple of years as well.
The Ottoman authorities had planted a myth amongst the Kurds, saying that if anyone tried to tamper with the Arabic alphabet and modify it for Kurdish, they would become Kafir (non-believer/atheist). Kaban was the first one to clear this myth. As early as 1920, he produced Gullzar (Flowergarden), a book which explained the rules of Kurdish grammar; unfortunately, due to the lack of publishing houses, it was not published. This did not stop the manuscript from moving around in the intellectual circles, where it had its impact. Kaban is the first person who modified Arabic ( ڕ ), ( ڵ ) and ( ێ ) to give Kurdish a trilled R, velar L and mid-front É.
Sa'id Kaban will be better appreciated once his work on Kurdish grammar is put in a historical context. He devised a Kurdish grammar in the 1920s, a period in which Arabic language was considered the only language of God. Kaban's challenge was not just discovering and writing the rules of Kurdish grammar; he also had to overcome social and religious barriers, and stand up against the claims that enriching the Kurdish language was a crime. For a person like Kaban, with a religious background, this was a great challenge.
Kaban was the first Kurd in the new established British mandate "Iraq" to produce a grammar for the Central Kurdish "Sorani" dialect. He did this despite the many intellectuals who earlier did not believe that Kurdish had a grammar like other languages.
In 1928, Kaban published "Mukhtasari Sarf u Nahwi Kurdi" - Summary of Kurdish Grammar, which was based on Gullzar. This became a school textbook for the fourth and fifth grades of Silémaní province primary schools.
Just after Mamost Kaban's Gullzar and Summary of Grammar, the Ministry of Education asked Tewfiq Wahbi, the well-known scholar and literary figure, to write a Kurdish grammar book. In 1929-30, the Iraqi government published Wahbi's book Rules of Kurdish Grammar.
Wahbi may have modified the Arabic letters contemporaneously with Kaban; that is why on one occasion , he writes that he is the first one who achieved this modification. Kaban calmly challenged Wahbi to prove it . Then Wahbi admitted, with respect, that Kaban had been first . However, Wahbi also stated that in 1892, well before either of them, Ali Taramakhi and Yusuf Ziya Pasha produced their Kurdish grammar in the Kurmanji dialect.
The book is based on Gullzar, which Kaban produced in 1920. He laid down the foundation of Kurdish grammar, albeit based on Arabic grammar, and it is regarded as the first book in the Central Kurdish "Sorani" dialect that tackles several Kurdish grammatical issues. He proposed to use modified Arabic letters with diacritical-like marks instead of Arabic ones. This would have been seen as a great challenge to Islam in that time; it would also have been regarded as tampering with the language of God - by a religious scholar from an extremely religious family.
Kaban's modification lead also to the identified sounds (hence letters) which were specific to Kurdish and do not exist in Arabic (KAL's note: but some existed already in Persian and old Ottoman alphabets), such as:
In this way, he pushed the number of Kurdish letters to 36. Kaban did not come up with a set of totally new characters, which was the beauty of his work. He simply added diacritical-like marks to the Arabic ones and adopted them into Kurdish. For the first time, he talked about the roots of Kurdish words, and he recorded several morphemes in Kurdish language - namely le, pe, te and hal.
Before publishing this book, Kaban had given it to a number of Kurdish intellectuals of his era; they all commented on it and adored it. They were Mala Afandi Hewlérí, Mala Muhammadi Kurdi, Amin Zaki Bag, Said Noori Berzinjí, Shekh Ibrahim Afandi al-Haydari, Abdulla Zéwar and Jamil Sidqi Zehawí.
This is a school textbook which was studied for several years in Kurdish primary schools. It was translated from Arabic.
This is a religious school textbook for the fifth year in Kurdish primary schools. Kaban translated it with Said Fatah Berzinjí and Said Noori Berzinjí from an Arabic book authored by Said Muhammad Sa'id al-Rawi. Muhammad al-Quzliji, a lecturer in Jamia Hussain Pasha (Hussain Pasha Mosque) reviewed the book; his review was published as an appendix of the book.
Kaban also left a number of manuscripts with historical and linguistic significance. Kaban, as a teacher, needed to prepare textbooks; these manuscripts were used for this purpose.
Four of these are the history of Islam, where he talks about the good will of prophets and mercenaries. Kaban finished two of these in 1925 (32 pages and 40 pages respectively) and he finished the other two in 1928 (54 pages and 40 pages).
In 1928, Kaban finished writing a 34-page book on Kurdish geography. Kaban sent this book to the Ministry of Science (Education) and asked them to utilise the book as school textbook, but it was rejected. He receive a letter on 27 October 1928 (No 6327) from the Ministry saying that the topic of geography was not studied in Arabic schools yet, so it was not appropriate to study it in Kurdish schools.
Kaban wrote this 67-page school textbook manuscript in 1927. He says in the introduction: "This consists of moral, religious, literary and patriotic texts. I urge respectable teachers to take care of pupils and teach them with care. After readings and teaching (these texts), explain their use, summarise them and ask the pupils questions in order to help the pupils to understand thoroughly and find the reading useful."
This book can be seen as the start of Kurdish children's literature.
This book has been translated from Turkish and is 16 pages.
When he was transferred to the Kurdish town of Sargallo to teach, Kaban devised 6000 mathematical problems for the pupils. Some regard Kaban, for this work, as the first Kurdish mathematics writer. (Sargallo is one of the cities that was gassed by Saddam's regime in 1987, one year before Halabja.)
Main source of this biography is the original article written by Dr. Rébwar Fatah, "The role of Mamosta Saeed Kaban in devising Kurdish grammar", Kurdish Media , 05/06/1999