Transliterating Arabic

There at times comes a need to convert Arabic scripts to English (Latin) script or vice versa. Depending on the objective, the approach differs and as such there are many standards. Although computer conversion is an important consideration, we more often need the transliteration to be easily readable and convertible to Arabic with the human eye.  Hence, rather than transliteration, we opt for transcription. ISO 233-2 and ALA-LC standards best meet these needs.

Transliteration table

The transliteration table maps the conversion between Arabic and English. Read the ISO 233-2 and ALA-LC for direction on how to apply the transliteration.

Arabic ISO 233 Unicode Capital Unicode ALA-LC
أ a, ā 0101 Ā 0100
ب b b
ت t t
ث 1E6F 1E63 th
ج ǧ 01E7 Ǧ 01E6 j
ح 1E25 1E24
خ 1E2B 1E2A kh
د d d
ذ 1E0F 1E0E dh
ر r r
ز z z
س s s
ش š 0161 Š 0160 sh
ص 1E63 1E62
ض 1E0D 1E0C
ط 1E6D 1E6C
ظ 1E93 1E93
ع ʿ 02BF ʿ
غ ġ 0121 Ġ 0120 gh
ف f f
ق q q
ك k k
ل l l
م m m
ن n n
ه h h
و w, ū 016B Ū 016A w
ي y, ī 012B Ī 012A y
ء ʾ 02BE
ى ā 0101 Ā 0100 á (00E1)
Á (00C1)
ــَـ a a
ــِـ i i
ــُـ u u
ـَـيْـ ai ay
ـَـوْ au aw
ـِـيّـ  iy ī
ـُـوّ ūw  016B Ū 016A ū
ة a, ah, āh, at, āt 0101 Ā 0100

Instruction: To type a letter with a diactric, simply type the unicode in a wordprocessor and then press ALT+X

Choosing a standard: ALA-LC vs ISO 233

ISO 233-2 is used in the French-speaking countries which include the North African territories.  ISSN recommend it when cataloguing serials.

ALA-LC is used in the English-speaking countries. The Library of Congress and British Library use it to catalogue content.

ALA-LC naturally has fewer diacritics as English lacks the symbols as opposed to French which ISO 233-2 follows. So, ALA-LC is easier to write, read and convert for a person without the aid of additional tools while ISO 233-2 is more accurate and easier to process for conversion with a computer.

Hence, one may argue that ALA-LC is better for transliteration in books and reading texts while ISO 233-2 is better for cataloguing and databases.

In books and articles that are printed, most professional publishers use ALA-LC standard in English work. But its usage on the web is less consistent. The use of diacritics when searching is cumbersome. Hence, for example, many choose to write u rather than ū so that their content are easier to find albeit now technology exists to address this issue. Even further, especially when readers are unfamiliar with the standards, some choose a phonetic system such as ACA. For example, writing ‘oo’ instead of ū as it is more intuitive and ensures more can find the content.

Nevertheless, it is good practice to use a formal system such as ALA-LC when writing on the web as most modern web automatically remove the diacritics. Hence the result for searching Būkharī and Bukhari will give the same result. So, your writing will show with better quality results rather than informal writing.

Searching the web: ACA

Arabic Chat Alphabet (ACA)  or Arabish as it is also known is the most common transliteration method used on the web although rarely used in an informal setting. Due to its prevalence, most online providers support this standard including Google and Microsoft.  Use the following tips to get more accurate results.

Tip 1: Rather than typing the whole word, try only inputting the consonants such as ‘A L R H M N’ ‘الرحمن’

Tip 2: To type (ء) use 2; (ع) use 3; (غ) use 3’; (ط) use 6; (ظ) use 6’; (ح) use 7; (خ) use 7’; (ق) use 8; (ص) use 9; (ض) use 9’.

Tip 3: To type the vowels type capital A or aa for (ا); w or oo for (و); y or ee for (ي).


I will be remiss If I did not highlight a particular point concerning transliteration. Note that the Quran is not just the meaning (tafsir), sound (qira’at) but also the form (rasm al-khat). All of it is revealed and preserved. One is not allowed to produce the Quran entirely with only the translation and leave out the Arabic. Similarly, it is not allowed to produce the Quran with only the transliteration without the Arabic. The Arabic text form of the Quran is intrinsically part of the Quran and non-replaceable. While there may be technical restrictions in some cases to write an ayat or two within English texts but one should still strive to include the Arabic to the best of their ability in some way.


There is no right or wrong method for transliteration rather only the most efficient. The ALA-LC is best suited for human reading and ISO 233 is suited for machine reading. The optimal criteria is that which is easily convertible to the Arabic script and fast to read accurately. If reading is more important than conversion, a phonetic system may be more suitable such as ACA. This is also more suitable for web search, especially when browsing informal writing.



Muhammad Saifur Rahman Nawhami
2 Ramadhan 1438
28 May 2017

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