There are certain noun forms in Arabic known as siyagh al-mubaalaghah (‘forms of intensification/hyperbolic forms’) that are used to put across a more intense meaning than the original noun form. For example, a liar ‘kaadhib‘ كاذب may also be known as a kadhoob كذوب or a kadhdhaab كذّاب - all carrying the meaning of ‘liar’ but denoting different levels of intensity.
Is there a difference between these forms of essentially the same word? Abu Hilal al-’Askari, author of al-Furooq al-Lughawiyyah, said that it is impossible for there to be two different words in Arabic that have exactly the same meaning, and that those who are unaware of the differences think that the different words are only different hyperbolic forms, whereas they also reflect different meanings.
There are two different types of hypberbolic forms:
i. Those that indicate a different meaning to the other forms, for example the forms al-dahhaak الضحّاك and al-duhakah الضُحَكة which stem from the root daad-Haa’-kaaf ض-ح-ك connoting laughter. To call someone dahhaak is to praise him, as it means he laughs alot. To call someone duhakah, however, is an insult, as it can mean he laughs TOO much (such as when it is inappropriate to laugh for example), or that he laughs at others alot.
ii. Those that indicate a different level of intensity to other forms. Some of the most common siyagh al-mubaalaghah are (more in later posts in shaa’ Allaah):
1. fa33aal فعّال - For example, hammaaz, or kaffaar كفار (Ibrahim, verse 34). This form connotes the repetition of the action time after time, so much so that it becomes like a characteristic of the person, and this is why it is often this form that is used to refer to a person’s trade or profession; for example, a carpenter is known as a najjaar نجار, a tailor is known as a khayyaat خياط, a butcher is known as a lahhaam لحام , and so on.
Thus, al-Razi commented on the word ghaffaar غفار in the verse,
فَقُلْتُ اسْتَغْفِرُوا رَبَّكُمْ إِنَّهُ كَانَ غَفَّاراً
And said, ‘Ask forgiveness of your Lord. Indeed, He is ever a Perpetual Forgiver.
saying ‘As though this was His craft and business.’
And in the following verse,
وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ ضِغْثاً فَاضْرِب بِّهِ وَلَا تَحْنَثْ إِنَّا وَجَدْنَاهُ صَابِراً نِعْمَ الْعَبْدُ إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ
[We said], “And take in your hand a bunch [of grass] and strike with it and do not break your oath.” Indeed, We found him patient, an excellent servant. Indeed, he was one repeatedly turning back [to Allah ].
the awwaab أواب is the one who repents constantly and always turns back to Allah.
And when Allaah refers to Himself as al-Ghaffaar,
وَإِنِّي لَغَفَّارٌ لِّمَن تَابَ وَآمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحاً ثُمَّ اهْتَدَى
But indeed, I am the Perpetual Forgiver of whoever repents and believes and does righteousness and then continues in guidance.
it is as though He is saying that He constantly, time after time, forgives those who turn to Him in repentance.
ii. fa3ool فَعول – This form is originally used to refer to concrete nouns that are used to carry out other thinjgs, such as the wadoo’ وَضوء is the water used to carry out the ablution, and the waqood وَقود is the wood used to light fires, and the fatoor فَطور is the food used to break one’s fast. This form was then extended to be used as a form of intensification, and thus it connotes a characteristic in a person that is concrete within him, as though he is a source and basis of that thing. For example, to call someone saboor صَبور is as if to say that their patience (sabr) represents a type of commodity or fuel within them, their driving force, their motivations, and their drive – i.e. the person in their entirety symbolises and exemplifies patience.
Thus, when Allah refers to Himself as al-Ghafoor,
وَهُوَ الْغَفُورُ الْوَدُودُ
And He is the Forgiving, the Affectionate,
it is as though He is saying that He is full of forgiveness and a source of it.