al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,
There is a category of words in Arabic known as al-ad`daad الأضداد. They are a type of ishtiraak in which a single word shares different shades of meaning, but what is special about the ad`daad is that the same word is applied to two completely opposite meanings. For example, the word jawn جَوْن can mean either black or white, and Ibn Faaris mentioned in his book al-Saahibee fee Fiqh al-Lughah that it was among the customs of the Arabs to apply words in such a way.
Sometimes such differences are tribal. For example, the sudfah سُدفة in the dialect of the tribe of Tameem refers to the darkness, while in the dialect of Qays it refers to the light. Similarly, the tribe of ‘Aqeel would use the verb lamaqa لَمَق to mean ‘he wrote it’, while all the other tribes of Qays would use it to mean ‘he erased it’.
It is important to have knowledge of such words to better understand and appreciate the language of the Qur’an, for it was revealed in the language of the Arabs at that time, and in accordance with their dialects. Thus, in Surah Yunus, verse 54 Allaah says,
وَلَوْ أَنَّ لِكُلِّ نَفْسٍ ظَلَمَتْ مَا فِي الأَرْضِ لاَفْتَدَتْ بِهِ وَأَسَرُّواْ النَّدَامَةَ لَمَّا رَأَوُاْ الْعَذَابَ وَقُضِيَ بَيْنَهُم بِالْقِسْطِ وَهُمْ لاَ يُظْلَمُونَ
And if each soul that wronged had everything on earth, it would offer it in ransom. And they will feel regret when they see the punishment; and they will be judged in justice, and they will not be wronged.
The verse assarroo َأسَرُّواْcomes from the root sarra سرَّwhich refers to concealment, however this word is one of the ad`daad and as such, also means ‘to make something clear and bring it out in the open’. By understanding both meanings of the word, we are afforded a truer insight and clearer picture of such people on the Day of Resurrection, in that their regret and sorrow at what they used to do will not only be felt in their hearts but also manifest and shown through their actions and state.
Another example lies in Surah al-Baqarah, verse 26,
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لاَ يَسْتَحْيِي أَن يَضْرِبَ مَثَلاً مَّا بَعُوضَةً فَمَا فَوْقَهَا
Indeed, Allah is not ashamed to present a parable – that of a mosquito or what is above (i.e. bigger) than it.
The word fawqa فَوْقَهَاis one of the ad`daad and can mean both ‘above’ or ‘below’, and in light of the above verse, this knowledge will grant us understanding that Allaah is not ashamed to present any parables at all, whether large or small. Reading the verse with only one of the two meanings may lead us down a different trail of thought.
Yet another example of the ad`daad lies in the verb dhanna ظَنَّwhich is often used in the Qur’an. The most common meanig of this word is ‘to suppose’ something, with an element of doubt, yet at the same time it can mean to have certain knowledge of a thing. Thus, when Prophet Yusuf interpreted the dreams of his two companions in prison his discourse indicated that he was completely certain of his interpretation. It would not then make sense to use the verb dhanna to mean he had doubt, in verse 42 of Surah Yusuf,
وَقَالَ لِلَّذِي ظَنَّ أَنَّهُ نَاجٍ مِّنْهُمَا اذْكُرْنِي عِندَ رَبِّكَ
And he said to the one whom he dhanna to be saved: “Mention me to your king.”
However, due to this being knowledge of the future and hence of the unseen, about which none has sure knowledge other than Allaah, it is possible that dhanna was used here to indicate this angle.
May Allaah grant us insight into the miracles of His words – ameen. As was said by Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami, “the difference between the speech of God and the speech of His creation is the difference between God and His creation itself.”