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I know that at the beginning of a noun, when the hamzat-al-wasl in the definite article الْ is pronounced, it is always pronounced as "al-" (i.e. with a fatha). However, using Al-Fatihah 6 as an example, the hamzat-al-wasl in اهْدِنَا is pronounced "ihdinaa" (i.e. with a kasra).

Visually, there is nothing to distinguish the hamzat-al-wasl in either case; they are both written exactly the same. How should one know which vowel to pronounce when the hamzat-al-wasl comes at the beginning of an ayah (i.e. is not absorbed into the preceding vowel), or is it just a matter of learning and memorizing how each word would be pronounced when it comes up?

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The pronunciation of hamzat-al-wasl is regular, and can be predicted with some basic knowledge of Arabic grammar. There are three four cases in particular:

  1. The definite prefix "al-" (ال): This is always pronounced with a fatha.
  2. Nouns in general: Any noun which starts with a hamzat-al-wasl (not including the definite "al-" mentioned above) would be pronounced with a kasra.
  3. Regular verbs: All regular verbs which start with a hamzat-al-wasl would be pronounced according to the vowel on the third letter of the verb:
    1. If the third letter of the verb is a fatha or a kasra, the hamzat-al-wasl would be pronounced with a kasra.
    2. If the third letter of the verb is a natural damma, the hamzat-al-wasl would be pronounced with a damma.
  4. Irregular verbs: This is really the same as the regular verbs rule, but you need to know the natural vowel on the third letter rather than the presented vowel. There are five examples in the Qur'an (امضوا ، ائتوا ، امشوا ، ابنوا ، اقضوا) where the third vowel is presented as a damma, but the hamzat-al-wasl is pronounced with a kasra (i.e. as if the vowel on the third letter were either a kasra or a fatha).
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