Category Archives: Etymology

Lord, have mercy.

This post is dedicated to my baby Rahma, the joy of my heart, light of my life, and queen of my kingdom,  owing to whom this site has not been updated for a while.

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

Undoubtedly the most oft-repeated names of Allāh are al-Rahmān الرحمن and al-Rahīm الرحيم, due to them being present in the basmala [1] which is mentioned before every chapter in the Qur’ān and which muslims are instructed to repeat before beginning any task.

For two names to so constantly be mentioned alongside the name of Allāh alludes to their status and importance within the Islamic creed, and thus it is important to gain a thorough understanding of their meaning and significance.

Both al-Rahmān and al-Rahīm are derived from the root rā’ – hā’ – mīm (ر-ح-م) and mean to treat or regard someone with mercy, compassion or tenderness. From the same root  stems the word al-rahim الرَّحِم (the womb) for the womb itself can be seen to behave in a tender and compassionate manner towards the fetus which it carries. Continue reading

The secret of happiness

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

So important is the concept of ‘happiness’ in our lives that many people – even dating back to the days of the Greek philosophers – considered its pursuit to be the very purpose of existence.

Indeed, the Qur’an itself speaks of happiness as being one of the rewards of those whom Allah chooses to admit to Paradise. He says of the martyrs in Aal-’Imraan, verse 170,

فَرِحِينَ بِمَا آَتَاهُمُ اللَّهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ
They rejoice in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His Bounty

And of the reward of the pious believers [al-Insaan, verse 11],

فَوَقَاهُمُ اللَّهُ شَرَّ ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمِ وَلَقَّاهُمْ نَضْرَةً وَسُرُورًا
So, Allah saved them from the evil of that Day and gave them a light of beauty and joy.

What becomes immediately apparent upon reading the Arabic text (but once again obscured in the translation) is that two very different words have been used to convey the idea of happiness: فَرِحِينَ fariheena, which is conjugated from the noun فَرَح farah, and سُرُور suroor, and this is prevalent throughout the Qur’an. This is because there are two very different types of happiness being referred to. Continue reading

How the horse got his name.

horseal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

The verb خالَ khaala has two different forms that also differ in pattern and meaning.

The first is the verb خال khaala (perfect tense) يَخُولُ yakhoolu (imperfect tense), خَولا khawlan (verbal noun), and it means ‘to do proficiently’ or ‘to perfect’. One may use it in the phrase خَوَّلَهُ اللهُ نِعمةً مِنْ عِنْدِهِ khawwalahu Allaahu ni3matan min 3indihi to mean ‘Allaah [proficiently] bestowed upon him blessings from Himself.’

This meaning also allows us to recognise the importance and status of the maternal uncle and aunt, and indeed our obligations as maternal aunts and uncles, who are called the خَالٌ khaal and the خالَةٌ khaalah because they are supposed to ‘take care proficiently’ of their family. And this may be one reason why the maternal aunt in Islam is afforded the status of the mother when the mother is absent. Continue reading

Submit and obey.

phpe73upogreyam.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

Sometimes there appear mushtarak lafdhee words in the Qur’an, that sound and are written the same as one another, but appear to be somewhat different in meaning, and it is sometimes difficult to make a link between the various meanings or draw them back to an original meaning. An example of this the word دينdeen‘ in the following verses:


مَا كَانَ لِيَأْخُذَ أَخَاهُ فِي دِينِ الْمَلِكِ إِلاَّ أَن يَشَاءَ اللّهُ

He could not take his brother by the law of the king (as a slave), except that Allah willed it. [12:76]


مَالِكِ يَوْمِالدين

Sovereign of the Day of Judgment [1:4]

The word ‘deen‘ comes from the root daal-yaa’-noon د – ي – ن, and the basic meaning of the word is submissiveness and obedience.

Thus, the word ‘deen دين in its most well-known meaning of ‘creed’ is so called because one submits to the tenets of the creed and obeys them. Continue reading

Don’t be a hater.

peace-dove.gifal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

When Ibn ‘Aashoor (d. 1973/1393) wrote his tafseer on the Qur’an, which he called Tafsir al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir, he followed a number of basic principles in his methodology, particularly when it came to the linguistic exegesis, with which his tafseer is replete. These principles are generally based on the semantic connotations of individual words, and how these meanings relate to the context in which they are found.

This linguistic analysis is perhaps the most outstanding feature of this tafseer, and this is due to the high regard in which Ibn ‘Ashoor regarded such analysis. He himself commented in the begining of this work,


“With regards the Arabic language, then the purpose of it is to understand the intents of the Arabs in the speech and literature of their language…the Qur’an is in Arabic, and thus the rules of Arabic [grammar] are a means by which to understand the meanings of the Qur’an. Without [knowledge of] these rules, the reader will fall into error and incorrect understanding…”

This tafseer is truly distinguished from other tafseers by Ibn ‘Ashoor’s precise linguistic analysis, in the way he shows the meaning of the Qur’anic words and their semantic connotations, and the way in which they are used in their context. Continue reading

The story’s secret.

open-book.gifal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

To look back to the original meaning of a word is to embark on more than just a linguistic voyage; in some cases, tracing a word back to its original meaning is actually the key to unlocking one of the treasures of the guidance of the Qur’an.

For example, Allaah said in the introduction to the story of Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him),

نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ أَحْسَنَ الْقَصَصِ بِمَا أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ هَـذَا الْقُرْآنَ وَإِن كُنتَ مِن قَبْلِهِ لَمِنَ الْغَافِلِينَ

We relate to you, the best of stories (qasas) in what We have revealed to you of this Qur’an although you were, before it, among the unaware.

wherein the real secret behind Allah relating this story to us lies in none other than the word story itself. Continue reading

Eternal regret.

regret-chains.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

There are some commentaries on the Qur’an (tafseers) which have a strong linguistic element, and within such commentaries one may sometimes find that the different types of ishtiqaaq have been used to offer a depth of meaning and insight that would not ordinarily be understood had reference to the ishtiqaaq not been made.

One such example of this can be found in the tafseer of al-Qurtubi in which he commented on the regret expressed in verse 54 of Surah Yunus,

وَلَوْ أَنَّ لِكُلِّ نَفْسٍ ظَلَمَتْ مَا فِي الأَرْضِ لاَفْتَدَتْ بِهِ وَأَسَرُّواْ النَّدَامَةَ لَمَّا رَأَوُاْ الْعَذَابَ وَقُضِيَ بَيْنَهُم بِالْقِسْطِ وَهُمْ لاَ يُظْلَمُونَ

And if every self that has done injustice had whatever is in the earth, it would indeed ransom itself therewith; and they will keep secret [their] regret (al-nadaamah) as soon as they see the torment, and [the case] is decreed between them with equity, and they are not done an injustice.

al-Qurtubi commented that the word used for regret – al-nadaamah – comes from the root noon-daal-meem ن-د-م. He then mentioned that these letters rearranged form the root daal-meem-noon د-م-ن, which means to continue and persist in something.

Such knowledge undoubtedly deepens our appreciation of the type of regret that such a person as is mentioned in the verse will feel – a regret that is continual and everlasting, and from the chains of which they will never break free.

May Allah protect us from being one of these people. Ameen.

The correct combination.

padlock.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

I came across an amusing anecdote in Lisan al-’Arab recently illustrating the dangers of engaging in naht haphazardly.

It is related from Ibn Mas’ood (may Allah be pleased with him) that his wife one day asked him to provide a jilbab (protective outer garment worn outside the house) for her. He replied, “I fear that you will then set aside the jilbab in which Allah has contained you.” She asked him, “What is that?” He said, “Your house.”

To which she replied,

أَجَنَّك من أَصحابِ محمدٍ تقول هذا؟
“Ajannaka from the Companions of Muhammad (peace be upon him), that you say this?” Continue reading

Purity in corruption.

purity.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

There is a long standing disagreement between supporters of classical Arabic الفصحى vs. supporters of colloquial Arabic العامية with regards which should prosper. The former group sought to avoid colloquial words at all cost, regardless of how correct they were or how well they expressed the intended meaning, while the latter group avoided unfamiliar and uncommon words claiming they were difficult to pronounce.

In reaction to this conflict there emerged a number of authors, led by Ibrāhīm ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Mazinī, who deemed it necessary to try and bring these two factions together, by employing in their writings many words that are commonly uttered by the colloquial tongue, but which are actually correct and classical words. Continue reading

Discover your roots.

Rootsal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

A common phenomenon known to linguists is that of semantic shift, whereby a word acquires new shades of meaning over time. This phenomenon is also noticeable when we take a look at Islamic terminology, such as zakat, or Shari’ah, or the Names and Attributes of Allah, or words related to the prayer such as rukoo’, sujood, tashahhud; they all connote a meaning in an Islamic framework that was completely unknown to the pre-Islamic Arabs.

A number of Arabic scholars of the past researched this issue and recorded their findings in books, sometimes solely related to this topic. One of the best known sources in this regard was authored by Abu Hatim al-Razi (d. 322 Hijri) which he called, “al-Zeenah fee al-Kalimaat al-Islamiyyah al-‘Arabiyyah.” Continue reading