Category Archives: Word Wise

Love, oh love.

heart_instant_hot_pack.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

The word ‘love’ appeared as a noun in the Qur’an ten times – of those ten, nine were using the word hubb حبّ, as in the verse,

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَتَّخِذُ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ أَندَاداً يُحِبُّونَهُمْ كَحُبِّ اللّهِ

And of mankind are some who take (for worship) others besides Allah as rivals (to Allah). They love them as they love Allah.

and once was using the word mahabbah, محبّة in the verse concerning Prophet Musa (peace be upon him),

أَنِ اقْذِفِيهِ فِي التَّابُوتِ فَاقْذِفِيهِ فِي الْيَمِّ فَلْيُلْقِهِ الْيَمُّ بِالسَّاحِلِ يَأْخُذْهُ عَدُوٌّ لِّي وَعَدُوٌّ لَّهُ وَأَلْقَيْتُ عَلَيْكَ مَحَبَّةً مِّنِّي وَلِتُصْنَعَ عَلَى عَيْنِي

Saying: ‘Put him (the child) into the Tabut (a box or a case or a chest) and put it into the river (Nile), then the river shall cast it up on the bank, and there, an enemy of Mine and an enemy of his shall take him.’ And I endued you with love from Me, in order that you may be brought up under My Eye,

The word hubb is the original verbal noun of the verb habba حبَّ, while the word mahabbah is what is known as the ‘masdar meemi‘ (verbal noun begining with a letter meem‘) of the same verb. As it is the original verb, it is the origin, the asl, and thus it appeared 9 times. But mahabbah only appeared once. The reason for this lies in the difference between these two words, which can be summed up in the following three points:

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

It’s a hit!

slapal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

The Arabs have a number of words to express specific ways of hitting. When reading the below, pay attention also to any instances of al-ishtiqaaq al-akbar to increase your wonder and marvel at the richness of this language.

To hit on the front part of the head using the ball of the hand الراحة (the palm but not the fingers) : saqa’a صقع

To hit on the nape of the neck using the ball of the hand : safa’a صفع

To hit on the face using the ball of the hand : sakka صك

To hit on the cheek using the palm الكف outstretched (the ball of the hand including the fingers) : latama لطم

To hit on the cheek using the palm in a fist : lakama لكم

To hit on the cheek using both hands : ladama لدم

To hit on the chin and jawbone : wahaza وهز

To hit on the side of the body : wakhaza وخز

To hit on the chest and stomach using the palm: wakaza وكز

To hit using the knee: zabana زبن

To hit with the leg : rakala ركل

Every hit that makes a sound : safaqun صفق

In perfect form.

roseal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

One aspect of the miraculousness of the Qur’anic language lies in the precision of its words. As al-Suyuti said in al-Itqaan fee ‘Uloom al-Qur’aan,

“It is possible to convey a single meaning with a variety of words, some more expressive than others. Likewise for the two parts – subject and predicate – of a sentence; each may be expressed in the most eloquent manner when taken alongside the other. Thus, it is necessary [in good composition] to consider the overall meaning of a sentence, then to consider every single word that may be used to convey that meaning, and then to use the most appropriate, expressive and eloquent of those words. This is impossible for man to do consistently, or even most of the time, but it is well within the Knowledge of Allaah [whose knowledge is boundless], and thus the Qur’an was considered the best and most eloquent of all speech…”

One example of this usage lies in the morphological forms found in the Qur’an, which will sometimes reflect the deeper meaning of the word itself, and upon reflection it can be found that not a single word in the Qur’an can be changed for another without it affecting the depth of meaning conveyed by the original word. Continue reading

Two ends of the same stick.

Stickal-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’. Continue reading

Tales from the riverbank.

giftal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

One of the most fascinating aspects of Arabic in my eyes, is finding the relationship between words that come from the same root but do not seem to have an obvious link in their meaning. The study of etymology in any language is fascinating in itself, but due to the root system in Arabic the findings are more likely to be linked to Arabic itself rather than finding that they are loan words from another language, as is often the case with English etymology, for example.

One such word that I came across was the word jaa’izah جائزة meaning ‘a gift’. The root of this word is jeem-waw-zay ج – و – ز. Ibn Faaris mentions in Mu’jam Maqaayees al-Lughah that this root has two original meanings; one is related to passing through/traversing/crossing, as in Yunus, verse 90:

وَجَاوَزْنَا بِبَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ الْبَحْرَ

And We took the Children of Israel across the sea Continue reading

Kitty, Kitty, sleep sleep sleep.

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

As seen previously, the Arabic language is very precise in its lexical references owing to its rich vocabulary. Often a single concept may be taken – such as love, infancy, bravery etc – and different words found corresponding to the subtle differences in the degrees of that concept. And perhaps this is the basis of the Arabic maxim:

خَيْرُ الكلامِ ما قَلَّ ودَلَّ

The best of speech is that which has the fewest words while retaining the desired meaning

for only one well-versed in the subtleties of the vocabulary would be able to achieve this.

It is especially important to be aware of these subtleties when their words appear in the Qur’an, for only then can one understand the true nature of the message. In this regard, I present the degrees of sleep in Arabic: Continue reading

There’s always a first.

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

Arabic often has the ability to convey a very precise meaning using a single world, due to the richness and breadth of its vocabulary. In line with this, scholars of the language would often compile lexicons based on concepts shared between words rather than alphabetically, and thus the thesaurus genre in Arabic literature could be seen as early as the 9th Century, predating the first English thesaurus by approximately nine centuries.

Early on in his book Fiqh al-Lughah wa Sirr al-’Arabiyyah, al-Tha’aalibee presents an exposition of the words that deals with the ‘first of…’ matters in Arabic. Among these are: Continue reading

Like a crumbled mountain.

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. Continue reading

Too sweet for words.

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

The opposite end of the ishtiraak phenomenon in which a single word has many shades of meaning, is that of al-taraaduf الترادف – synonyms – where many words share the same meaning. There has been much debate among the linguists over whether there actually are complete synonyms in Arabic, or whether every word has its own particular shade of meaning. One of the most famous books written in support of the latter theory is Mu’jam al-Furooq al-Lughawiyyah by Abu Hilal al-’Askari, in which he pointed out the subtle differences between seemingly synonymous words.

The cultural element and sheer vastness of such synonyms can be seen through works such as al-Rawd al-Masloof fee maa lahu ismaani ilaa al-Uloof by al-Fayroozaabaadi (in which he mentioned over 1000 names for the sword), Asmaa’ al-Asad (‘The names of the lion’) and Asmaa’ al-Hayyah (‘The names of the snake’) by Ibn Khalawahy. Also by al-Fayroozaabaadi, Tarqeeq al-Asal li-tasfeeq al-’asal in which he mentioned 80 alternatives for the word ‘asal عسل (‘honey’), these being: Continue reading