A ‘ayn for a ‘ayn.

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

As the new student begins to learn Arabic vocabulary, one of the things that immediately strikes them is that a single word will often have many different shades of meaning. This phenomenon is known as al-Ishtiraak (lit. 'sharing', 'association') and such words are referred to as being a mushtarak lafdhee المشترك اللفظي.

Knowledge of this branch of Arabic is important because it often deeply enriches their understanding of the wonders and miracle of the Qur'an, as well as deepening their appreciation for the language of the Qur'an itself. Thus, it is a topic that many scholars dealt with, either in independant books devoted entirely to the subject or as chapters within other books.

One such word is the word al-'ayn العين. Lexicologists differed as to how many meanings this word has precisely; al-Fayroozabaadi mentions in al-Qaamoos that it has 47 meanings, while Muhammad al-Fasee said in his "Annotations on the Qaamoos" that it has over 100 meanings, and 17 of them appear in the Qur'an. Among its meanings are the eye, the spring [of water], the hollow of the knee, the ballista (type of cross-bow), and buds of plants.

One example of this from the Qur'an is the word du'aa' دعاء, among the meanings of which are as follows. The alternate meanings are in bold, and the verse as it is commonly translated is in italics (Saheeh Intl. translation) to show that the variations in meaning are not reflected outright.


1. Worship, as in 10:106:

وَلَا تَدْعُ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ مَا لَا يَنْفَعُكَ وَلَا يَضُرُّك

And do not invoke (تَدْعُ ) besides Allah that which neither b enefits you nor harms you, for if you did, then indeed you would be of the wrongdoers.


2. Seeking the help of others, as in 2:23:

وَإِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّمَّا نَزَّلْنَا عَلَى عَبْدِنَا فَأْتُواْ بِسُورَةٍ مِّن مِّثْلِهِ وَادْعُواْ شُهَدَاءكُم مِّن دُونِ اللّهِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ

And if you are in doubt concerning what We have sent down upon Our Servant, then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon (وَادْعُواْ) your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful.


3. Making a request, as in 40:60:

وَقَالَ رَبُّكُمُ ادْعُونِي أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُم

And your Lord says, "Call upon Me (ادْعُونِي); I will respond to you."


4. A call, as in 17:52:

يَوْمَ يَدْعُوكُمْ فَتَسْتَجِيبُونَ بِحَمْدِهِ

On the Day He will call you (يَدْعُوكُمْ) and you will respond with praise of Him


5. Naming someone something, as in 24:63,

لَا تَجْعَلُوا دُعَاءَ الرَّسُولِ بَيْنَكُمْ كَدُعَاءِ بَعْضِكُمْ بَعْضًا

Do not make [your] calling (دُعَاءَ) of the Messenger among yourselves as the call of one of you to another.


13 responses to “A ‘ayn for a ‘ayn.

  1. Walaikum asalaam,
    With so many variations (in the example you gave, over 100), how is one supposed to know which meaning is intended?

  2. The context is usually the biggest clue. For example, when Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta’aalaa) mentioned the word ‘ayn in surah al-Baqarah, verse 60, it is obvious that springs were being referred to, rather than eyes, or the hollows of the knees.

    One of the beautiful aspects of the Qur’an is when the context allows the possibility of more than one shade of meaning for a word.

  3. aslamu alikum this is awesome stuff. For me this is some high level stuff…as im just a lay man. I was wondering in what context is ayn used in hoor al ayn…as it happens that some modernists try to say that it does not mean the maidens of paradise rather some sort of raisins (fruit)…..

  4. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam,

    Linguistically, hoor is the plural of hawraa’ which refers to a person who has hawar (meaning the white part is extremely white and the black part is extremely black) in their eyes. According to Taaj al-‘Aroos, a person can only be hawraa’ if they have a white complexion as well as hawar of their eyes. This is one example where the context clarifies the meaning of the word – as the word ‘hoor’ itself is related to the eye, it would suggest that ‘een is also related to the eye.

    There is a refutation of the allegation that hoor refer to white raisins at the following link:

  5. Pingback: Arabic Gems ~ جواهر العربية » Too sweet for words.

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  7. hi

    what do you mean by fasee in arabic ???? is there any meaning for it

  8. Assalamu 3alaikum,

    My best guess would be Faasee فاسيّ = from the city of Faas فاس (which is a city in Morroco). The same way you’d say:

    American = Amreekee أمريكيّ = from America
    Canadian = Canadee كنديّ = from Canada كندا

    (Notice the Shaddah شدّة on the yaa’ at the end of each word. This yaa’ is called “yaa’ Al-nisbah” ياء النسبة (Yaa’ of relativeness) which converts a noun into a form that indicates an association/relation/type.

    The relation doesn’t have to be to a place. The noun can indicates a type of people (certain race, certain ideology, certain class, etc), or color, or type of material, or type of anything actually:

    Islamee إسلاميّ = Islamic
    Hanafee حنفيّ = following the Madhab of Abu Haneefah
    Bunnee بنيّ = brown = which litterally comes from Bunn بنّ (coffee beans); hence it means that is has the color of coffee beans (i.e. brown)
    Burtuqaalee برتقاليّ = orange = literally comes from Burtuqaal برتقال (or orange)
    Aristuqraatee أرستقراطيّ = aristoctatic
    Sha`bee شعبيّ = folk = comes from Sha`b شغب (which means “the people”)
    Thahabee ذهبيّ = golden = coming from thahab ذهب (which means gold)
    Jasadee جسديّ = physical = comes from Jasad جسد (which means body)
    Battekhee بطّيخيّ = “watermelony” = coming from Batteekh بطّيخ which means watermelon. 🙂

    (Note: I am assuming there is an “a” missing in “fasee”. I have googled for محمد الفاسي but I haven’t found him to be the author of the book mentioned above. I may be incorrect in my assumption. Allah knows best.)

    Please keep me in your du’a.

    Assalamu 3alaikum.

  9. لا تصلِّ وراء فاسٍ

  10. How would you be able to tell?

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  12. we two females from egypt want to apply for jobs as arabic teacher in any country
    are you need to have arabic teachers
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  13. alamu’alaikum wa rahmatallah

    very nice blog…

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