As an Internet Marketer, utilizing Google search to find information has definitely become second nature to me. Given that the information that you are looking for does exist on the World Wide Web, there are certain methods you can employ to find the material you require. I’ll share some methods that I use or have used in the past to get information while researching in general or when I need to find references for certain narrations or anything along those lines. Most scenarios will assume that you are a non-Arabic speaker.
What You’ll Need:
- Some Time & Patience: research isn’t meant to be easy. It may take some time to find and retrieve certain information.
- Familiarity with Arabic, Persian or Urdu Vocabulary: in order to find information in primary sources, you may have to go to the original books which are most like going to be in Arabic or Farsi. Having a little grasp over their vocabulary will definitely be helpful. I don’t understand Arabic completely, but I can read it and am familiar with the very basic vocabulary and grammar that I picked up when I used to live in Saudi Arabia.
In this case we will assume that there is a specific topic that you need information on. Let us pretend we need some information on the Abbasid caliph Haroon al-Rashid. Now we know that there is a difference of opinion on him amongst the Shi’a and Sunnis about his personality, character and his government. There is a lot of material on him on the internet that presents a Sunni perspective, but how do we get the Shi’a perspective on him? For starters, a list of some well known Shi’a sites might help. Let us take Al-Islam.org as an example in this case. Go to Google and search for:
This search operator will show you all the results from the website Al-Islam.org that have the word Haroon Rashid within the text of that specific page. This operator will pick up variations such as Haroon al-Rashid as well. However, if you wanted specifically the word Haroon Rashid together without any variations, you can put it in quotations when you search for it, thus it becomes site:al-islam.org intext:”Haroon Rashid”. Furthermore, we can assume that people may have spelled Haroon and Rashid in different ways; perhaps Harun Rasheed or Haroon Rasheed or even Harun Rashid. To encompass all these in the search to make sure that any of the variation gets picked up, we can alter our search as follow site:al-islam.org intext:”Haroon Rashid” OR “Harun Rashid” OR “Haroon Rasheed”
Give it a try and see the results that show up.
This will be a relatively easy scenario. In this case we only have the books title in its transliteration: Fiqh al-Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq and we know the author being Muhammad Jawad Maghniyyah. Typing in the book name didn’t help in this case because it is a very generic title that gives us irrelevant results in contrast to what we pecifically need. So let us go to our online Arabic Keyboard and actually try typing up the title in Arabic. If you can’t do that then always go to the Wikipedia page (hoping that they have the Arabic for the word there) and grab the Arabic from there. Do the same with Ja’far as-Sadiq and you have فقه جعفر الصادق.
Unfortunately, once again the search query is very generic. We need to take it a step further and insert the author’s name in Arabic and combine it with our search. Now I may have no idea how to type the author’s name in Arabic. Luckily Wikipedia has his name written out in Arabic as well – if not I would have gone to Google Translate and tried my luck there. Worse comes to worse, try writing it out in the Arabic keyboard even with typos and run it on Google and the search engine should correct it for you itself. I typed in فقه جعفر الصادق مغنية and realized that the second link was the book I was looking for.
Let’s go back to Haroon Rashid. We can assume that because Haroon was responsible for the killing of Imam Musa al-Kadhim (as), there must be mention of him in biographical works of Imam al-Kadhim. Another good Shi’a site to have in your bookmarks for such works will be Maaref Foundation. Voila’, so we found a book on the Imam’s life and it has a whole section dedicated to Haroon Rashid. As we read through the work, we realize that the book says his government was extremely wealthy and some historians estimated the total revenues in about five hundred million, two hundred and forty thousand dirhams. There is a footnote that references Al-Wizara’ wa al-Kittab. Our mission now is to track this book and the page number to verify whether this information exists there.
As we know nothing about this book or even the name of the author, our first natural move would be to search Al Wizara wa al-Kitab in Google. I go all the way to the 8th page and I see no result that even closely matches my search query. Now a little bit of Arabic will help. Let us go to Google Translate to convert Al Wizara wa al-Kittab into Arabic letters. Copy pasting it directly gives us a nonsense result:
However, it is a good start. Let us start modifying this a bit to at least get something out of it. The word “al-Kittab” was not being translated so I removed one T to make it into Kitab. With trivial understanding you can figure out that wa means and, al-kitab means the book (which by the way is not the title of the book – the actual title is kittab not kitab). The first word is Wizara; start thinking hard of what words in Arabic could generate a close translation of that word. One thing to note is that sometimes Google Translate will not translate the word but rather give you a transliteration. If you have a grasp over Arabic root words you can start thinking of different variations, and perhaps you may even know that the word Wizara has something to do with the government. I typed in different variations like vazeer, vizer until I finally typed wazeer and I got this: الوزير والكتاب
Now we can do this two ways. We can go to the Arabic keyboard and fix up the word wazeer and put in an alif at the end or we can just copy paste what we generated onto Google, hoping we may find something similar and look what we have:
It found the correct search variation for us and we can simply click on it to generate results for the correct title. Now we see results for our book and quickly we can determine the author of the book as well (Muhammad ibn Abdus Jahshayari). As a matter of fact, the first link is a forum thread and has the book in PDF format (that didn’t work). After browsing through the various links, I was finally able to find the book here. Now in order to proceed forward, you will need to know how to at least read the Arabic words. Scroll through the book and look for the exact page reference and you will notice that there is a whole section in the book titled Ayaam Haroon al-Rashid (I know that Ayaam is the plural of Yawm – meaning Days, so this section has to do with the reign of Haroon Rashid). The book referenced page 288, so we scan through that book to page 288 and find this:
Now it may be hard to read, but if you do give it a chance you’ll see that all that is written are a bunch of dirham and dinar values. That already gives you a clue that the reference you are reading is correct and you have essentially found your primary source.
Let’s throw in a bit of Farsi as well. Now I run a YouTube channel and some of the videos I post are of an Iranian reciter, Mahdi Samavati. There are a lot of audio and video files for him online but they are all on Persian sites. Now searching for just his name الحاج مهدي سمواتي gives us video results, Persian forum boards and what not. It’ll take forever browsing through these threads and finding a portal with all his files (if it even exists). So let us start getting a bit technical. Let’s say we want audio files – we need to determine what would indicate in Farsi an audio file. I go to Google Translate and insert audio, and the Farsi word for it is صوتی. So now my search query becomes مهدي سماواتي صوتی and all of a sudden there are a lot more refined search results showing up. I went through all the results checking the pages out, until I found this site and there I see tons of audio files uploaded. I have done the same to find video files for him and as well as customized my search to filter out results to see files that may have been recently uploaded.
As I don’t want to keep seeing the same results every time I search for this query, I customize the result page to show pages that have been indexed in Google’s Database since the Past Month.
In this last scenario, let us say we want to find information in a format that is easy for us to download and distribute. For example, you may be looking for actual documents in PDF or DOC formats, or maybe even Power Point presentations. So let’s say we need some material on Tawheed and we would like it to be a PDF file. Search for Tawhid filetype:pdf and you will get a list of results that are all PDF documents. If you want a specific Du’a in a Power Point presentation format so that you could project it at a local mosque or for any other purpose, search for something like Dua Kumail filetype:ppt
To get a combination of results you could search for something like Dua Nudba filetype:pdf OR filetype:ppt.
A Final Word
When searching for academic material, make sure that you utilize these search techniques not just on the traditional Google Search engine, but also on Google’s Book Search. There are a lot of books that have previews available which may definitely help you. Finally, I understand of course that not everyone will be able to utilize these simply because they just may not be familiar with Arabic or Farsi vocabulary. Nevertheless, I hope the few search operators can benefit some of you in other matters.
Also, a list of some of the sites that I use often to scrape information from are: