A tree, sent down from above.

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

One of phenomena that is immediately noticed among learners of Arabic is that its lexicon resembles a tree wherein some words are built on and branch out from others that usually take the form of tri-consonantal roots. This etymological phenomenon in Arabic is known as al-Ishtiqaaq and there are various theories regarding the complexity of it; this post will cover the aspect that all the scholars of Arabic agree upon completely.

The most well-known example in this is the case of the root letters jeem-noon ج-ن, the general meaning of which indicates something that is concealed or hidden to the eye. From this root branch out the words:

  • jinn جِنٌّ referring to the other form of creation that share the world with us whom are concealed from our sight
  • junnah جُنَّةٌ referring to a shield, for it conceals parts of the user from the sight of others
  • janeen جنين referring to a fetus, which is concealed in the womb
  • the verb ajanna أَجَنَّ referring to the act of concealment, as in the phrase ajannahu al-laylu أجنَّهُ الليلُ meaning ‘he was concealed by [the darkness of] the night.’

A less known antithetical root is that of hamzah-noon-seen ء-ن-س, the general meaning of which indicates something that is clear and plain to the eyes. Words branching from this root include:

  • al-ins الإنسُ referring to the human, because they can be seen (as opposed to the jinn who cannot)[1]

  • The verb aanasa آنَسَ which means to perceive something, as in the saying of Musa (‘alayhi al-salaam) in surah Ta-Ha, verse 10,

إِذْ رَأَى نَاراً فَقَالَ لِأَهْلِهِ امْكُثُوا إِنِّي آنَسْتُ نَاراً

When he saw a fire, he said to his family: “Wait! Verily, I have seen a fire!”

  • The verb ista’nasa اِسْتَأنَسَ which means to go out and look for something, i.e. seek that something is made visible to the eyes.

Although this phenomenon existed in the other Semitic languages, it was not to the same depth or breadth as it was in Arabic, and due to this many scholars of Arabic argued that the source of the Arabic language was tawqeefi (i.e. sent down from Allaah), although there was not a consensus on this view.

Those in support of this theory cited as proof the hadith Qudsi, after which it seems little can be said:

أنا الرحمن خلقتُ الرحم وشققت لها من اسمي

“I am The Most Merciful (al-Rahmaan); I created the womb (al-rahim) and derived its name from Mine.” [2]

[1] Note that some linguists argue that this word is derived from another root meaning ‘to forget’ because man is forgetful.

[2] An authentic hadith reported by Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, and Ahmad


17 responses to “A tree, sent down from above.

  1. Assalamu 3alaikum,

    Jazaaki Allahu khairan. I was always taught that Insaan comes from the root ‘nasiya’.. But, all in all, both roots ‘nasyia’ and ‘anisa’ make sense, and it only shows how beautiful this language really is.

    Just a note, your footnotes are reversed.

    Please keep me in your du’a especially this week.

  2. Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatallah.

    Jazakamullahu khairan


  3. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam,

    Wa iyyaakumaa.

    I have fixed the footnotes Billo, jazaakum Allaahu khayran.

  4. Yaser Al-Hotaki

    Yea I always thought it was nasiya also but now there is even more to be amazed about. Alhamdulillah, I love this language, everytime you look into it, theres something else that can suprise you. Jazakallah Khair!

  5. Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatallah.

    Can I ask an off-topic question please? (I’m gonna proceed to ask before recieving an answer, I hope you dont mind!)

    Do the words نادى and ندا have two different meanings? I was told that to find the root of a verb you have to drop the weak letter and it turns into a ya or a waw – do you know when it turns into which? But I was a bit confused about how to do this, so I looked for N Y D then N W D, dropping the alif maqsura at the end but, nothing. Then, after changing the alif in ندا to a waw – N D W was found, which means “to call”.

    I hope you understand my question:$

    Jazakamullahu khairan,

  6. Wa 'alaykum al-Salaam wa rahmat Allaah,

    The verbs نادى and ندا both come from the same root – N D W – as you realised in the end al-hamdu lillaah. The first one – نادى – means 'to call out, shout etc', while the second one – ندا – means 'to meet/gather, call together etc'. The former follows the pattern فَاعَلَ and the latter follows the pattern فَعَلَ.

    Although you are right, that to find the root of a verb you drop the weak letter, when it comes to verbs like نادى where there appear to be two weak letters, you have to realise that one is an 'extra' letter and one is part of the root. One way to know which is the extra letter is through knowing the different patterns that such verbs can follow. If you download this file:

    http://fatwa-online.com/downloads/dow002/0030502.zip and look at 0030502_9.doc, down the right hand side you have the different forms of verb (the letters F-3-L representing the three root letters of the verb). Forms I-X are the most common; XI-XIV will more often only be seen in very classical literature. So if you learn those ten patters, you will know that there is no pattern in which the middle alif is the root and the final alif is 'extra'.

    Also worth noting is that ANY letter that is added to a word and is not part of the root can only be one of the letters that are gathered in the sentence "sa'ltumooneehaa" سَأَلْتُمُونِيهَا ('you asked me it') [note how a single word in arabic can constitute a sentence] or "hal nimta yaa aws?" هَلْ نِمْتَ يَا أَوْس؟ (Did you sleep, O Aws?) [they are both the same letters, just different variations]. So if a 'ayn is found in a word, for example, it HAS to be part of the root letters, because it is not one of the letters in the phrases above.

    In terms of when the weak alif turns into a yaa' or a waw, a general orthographic rule (not hard and fast) is that when the alif is written ى at the end of the word, it was originally a yaa', and when it is written ا at the end of the word, it was oritinally a waw.

    In shaa' Allaah the answer is clear.

  7. Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatallah

    Jazakamullahu khairan, the answer was very clear :-).


  8. Pingback: Arabic Gems ~ جواهر العربية » Two’s company.

  9. Pingback: Arabic Gems ~ جواهر العربية » Strong words.

  10. swrwb.

    “the source of the Arabic language was tawqeefi (i.e. sent down from Allaah), although there was not a consensus on this view.”

    in the above extract, you use the word “tawqeefi” should this be tawfeeqi?

    and also you posted:
    أنا الرحمن خلقتُ الرحم وشققت لها من اسني

    should the last word read اسمي؟


  11. Assalamu 3alaikum,

    The first is correct, the second is a typo.

    Please keep me in your du’a.

    Assalamu 3alaikum.

  12. assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah

    in respect to the Arabic language being tawqeefi… Sh. Musa’id al-Tayyar has written an excellent article in which he argued that Arabic is the most direct and purest derivative of Lughat al-Umm (mankind’s mother tongue)… i dont have the link for it right now nor do I remember the title but it was posted on Multaqa Ahl al-Tafsir

  13. wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa rahmat Allah,

    I did a quick search for the article but could not locate it. If you are able to get the link, please do post it here.

    Jazakum Allaahu khayran.

  14. Jazakum Allaahu khayran. It appears to be the one.

  15. Excellent work…

    May allah reward you for this

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