al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,
Many languages of the world contain words that reflect certain concepts that are hard to capture by a single word in any other language. One example is the word ‘ilunga‘ in the Tshiluba language, which means ‘a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.’ Such words in a language can help us to understand the ideology and culture of its people, and offer insight into their principles and values.
There are many such words in Arabic, especially when it comes to religiously-orientated terms related to subtle inner emotions. One such example is the word khushoo’ خشوع. It is normally translated in English Islamic literature as ‘submission’ or ‘humlity’, while the English meaning of ‘submission’, for example, is closer to the Arabic istislaam استسلام. The true meaning of khushoo’ is closer to “a state of total humility to the extent of becoming motionless, silent, fearful and subservient. For the Muslim, it carries the sentiments of emotional appreciation of the greatness of Allah, mixed with love, submission and fear.” [*] Taaj al-’Aroos speaks about the word khaashi’ (the active participle) as referring to a herb that has dried up and fallen on the ground; or a wall that has cracked, and so falls then becomes even with the ground.
Deep knowledge of the precise meanings and connotations of such words is vital to the life of the Muslim. For example, Allaah describes the true believers in the beginning of Surah al-Mu’minoon, one characteristic of whom is,
الَّذِينَ هُمْ فِي صَلَاتِهِمْ خَاشِعُونَ
translated as, “Those who offer their prayers with all solemnity and full submissiveness.”
But for the Muslim to take this as their aim in their prayer would be falling behind the mark, because they would not taste the full meaning of how they should be during salaah.
Yet Allaah even gives hints in the Qur’an as to how this should be, by using the same word He used to describe the believers in their prayer, to describe the state of how a mountain would be had it borne the weight of the Qur’an,
لَوْ أَنزَلْنَا هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ عَلَى جَبَلٍ لَّرَأَيْتَهُ خَاشِعاً مُّتَصَدِّعاً مِّنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّهِ وَتِلْكَ الْأَمْثَالُ نَضْرِبُهَا لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
Had We sent down this Quran on a mountain, you would surely have seen it humbling itself and rending asunder by the fear of Allah. Such are the parables which We put forward to mankind that they may reflect. (al-Hashr, 21)
Such is the wonder of Allah’s parables, that even though the words used in their translation do not reflect the full depth of meaning of the original word, yet the parable itself connotes the deeper meaning…that the example of the successful believer, when he stands before Allaah in his prayer, is like that of a crumbled mountain.
[*] Taken from Contemplation: An Islamic Pyschospiritual study by Dr. Malik Badri