Abstract This article explores area studies contributions to sociolinguistics by examining Sunni reformers’ use of the Arabic term al-qā c ida, or a “pragmatic base.” Material is drawn from an audiocassette collection formerly owned by Usāma Bin Lādı¯n. Divergent approaches to the qā c ida suggest that the term functions a base for many forms of spatial, temporal, social, and ethical orientation. Much of the critical leverage of the concept stems from speakers’ sense of Arabic as a template of ethical attunement that cues language users to founding Muslim lifeways and leaders in and beyond the Arabian Peninsula. A review of Western Arabic sociolinguistics shows how scholars have hampered and also enhanced an understanding of the pragmatic resourcefulness of Arabic. Special attention is given to the ways area studies can help situate Arabic as a signifying practice that accommodates diverse textual, historical, and territorial claims.