Strong words.

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

The last post on Ishtiqaaq saw how the scholars of Arabic agreed that words derived from the same [usually triliteral] root share a common meaning among them.

A number of great classical scholars of Arabic such as al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Faraaheedee, Abu ‘Ali al-Faarisi, and his student Ibn Jinni, understood this idea even further and suggested the notion of al-Ishtiqaaq al-Kabeer [1] (‘the Greater Derivation’) wherein they noticed that three letters within a root – regardless of the order in which the letters are arranged – can also be said to share in a common meaning.[2] For example, the roots ب-ر-ج and ب-ج-ر and ج-ب-ر and ج-ر-ب and ر-ج-ب and ر-ب-ج, along with all their derivations, would all share in one central theme or meaning, due to their being composed of the same three letters.

In his book al-Khasaa’is, Ibn Jinni elucidated on this phenomenon, providing detailed descrptions and examples. To continue with the same root mentioned above, Ibn Jinni says that these three letters combined connote the meaning of strength and power, as in:

1. From the root ج-ب-ر:

  • jabartu al-faqeer جبرت الفقير to mean ‘I restored a man from a state of poverty to wealth.’

  • A King is referred to as the jabar جبر due to the strength and power he holds.

2. From the root ج-ر-ب:

  • One says about a man that he is mujarrab مُجَرَّب if he has gone through a trial, and strengthened by his experiences.

  • A jiraab جِراب refers to a case that protects something else (e.g. travelling provisions, or a sword) because when something is protected it is strengthened.

3. From the root ب-ج-ر:

  • A bujr بحر affair is one which is extremely terrible or momentous.

  • The adjective bajeer بجير is used to refer to something in abundant, copious amounts.

4. From the root ب-ر-ج:

  • A burj بُرج refers to a tower or fortress, due to being self-sufficient in its provisions, and power to protect those inside and within.

  • Baraj بَرَج is used to describe an eye in which the black and white parts are extremely strong and pure in their colour.

5. From the root ر-ج-ب:

  • One says rajibtu al-rajula رجِبتُ الرجلَ if they revere a man, honour him, venerate him, and regard him with awe.

  • The seventh month of the Islamic calendar is known as Rajab رجب because the Arabs held this month in such strong esteem that they forbade fighting in this month.

6. From the root ر-ب-ج:

  • The rubaajee رُباجيُّ is a man who is proud and boastful of his actions more than they deserve.

[1] While Ibn Jinni referred to this phenomenon as al-Ishtiqaaq al-Akbar (in the superlative form), it is usually known as al-Ishtiqaaq al-Kabeer (in the elative form).

[2] Note that they acknowledged it could not and would not apply to every root, just as the regular ishtiqaaq

would not apply to every root.


25 responses to “Strong words.

  1. Asalaam alaikum,
    Does this occur with most of the words? Some? Few? Just a rough idea so that one may get an idea of how common this is.

  2. Yaser Al-Hotaki

    Subhanallah. I’ve only heard of this once, but I didn’t know anything formal about it until now. The only example I’ve heard was the roots with the letters ش – ر – ك . For example,شكر , denotes a root dealing with thankfullness, which is well known but شرك, which is well known at this point, asscoiating partners. Though ‘sharaka’ can be used in regualr sense, like he was partners was with him, but in Islamic Terminology it is the grave sin of associating partners with Allah. The link with thankfulness though comes that true thankfullness belongs to Allah (swt) and by thinking that belongs to another you have associated partners with him. This relationship is used really beautifully in the advice Luqman gives in Surah Luqman when he tells his son be thankful and dont associate partners with Allah (swt). This didnt come out at all as eloquent as I heard it, I am sorry. Perhaps you can clarify or explain. Jazakallah Khair.

  3. Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatallah.

    Akhi al kareem, do you know of any online, vowelled, poems on sarf or nahw? Something like in the format of an “Alfiyyah”.

    Jazakamullahu khairan


  4. Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatallah.

    I have the ajurrumiyyah.


  5. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa rahmat Allaah,

    Arshad, the answer to that is not straightforward, as many factors come into play depending on how a person views and/or defines ishtiqaaq – whether it is restricted to roots, or vowels, or all the root letters, or only two of the root letters.

    Yaser, that was interesting, Jazaakum Allaahu khayran. I haven’t come across the greater derivation of that root yet, but in shaa’ Allaah if I do I will post up the explanation for you. Please continue to benefit us with such comments.

    Yusuf, I know on the net there is “Nadhm Shudhoor al-Dhahab fee kalaam al-‘Arab” (, “Mandhoomah fee Sifaat al-Huroof” (, and also the Sharh of Laamiyyat al-Af3aal ( of which I cannot find the matn alone. They are not fully vowelled though.

    I am interested to know why you are after such poems though. Initially, when Ibn Malik wrote the alfiyyah, he did it to make things easier on this students at the time due to the inclination of the people towards poetry over prose. One of my teachers who has extensive experience teaching the Alfiyyah said that it seems today that teaching grammar using such poems (especially when teaching Arabic as a foreign language) make it doubly difficult for the student because they have to both grasp the surface meaning of the poetry as well as the grammar, thus defying the original point behing the composition of the poem.

  6. Salamu’alaikum wa rahmatallah.

    Jazakamullahu khairan, I hope you are in the best of health and iman.

    See, I’m studying the ajurrumiyyah now with but I want to further my knowledge in arabic grammar(and as you know the ajurrumiyyah is a basic text) – the more you learn the more interesting it gets! A brother once told me that after you’re grounded in a subject, like grammar, usul, mustalah al-hadith etc you should memorise a nadhm in that field which will a)act as a taqwiyatun lah and b)drill the fundamentals of that science into your head, so you never forget; once the nadhm is firm in your head, the other concepts that you learnt will be easy to remember and recall, through it.

    I dont know how true this is but I understand what you are saying. I’m just looking for ways to improve my grammar and arabic and because there are not many teachers around my locality willing/able to teach I’m having to resort to online learning – but sunnipath is actually very good!

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated and maybe one day you could start some online teaching. 🙂

    Barakallahu feekum,

  7. Ameen Inshallah.

  8. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa rahmat Allaah,

    Yusuf, my personal opinion on this is that it seems completely unnatural for a student of Arabic as a foreign language, learning an Arabic nadhm for the sake of drumming the fundamentals of Arabic into him and strengthening his knowledge. If the student is unable to understand Arabic in the first place, he will end up like the one who has memorised the Qur’an and can recite it all parrot fashion but does not understand what he is saying, so it will not help him. If, on the other hand, it is an Arab memorising it, who already understands the meanings of the words and is just trying to learn the rules, it is a different situation.

    I believe that the only way to drill the fundamentals of Arabic into a person’s head is by using and living with the language; exercises in i3rab, nahw and sarf, plenty of reading, composition. My peers who learnt the rules of grammar along with me but did not put importance on using the language later on all but forgot what they learnt to begin with. Memorising something like the Ajrumiyyah may help you in the initial stages when you are unsure all the sisters of Kaana, but eventually this has to be knowledge that you know due to living it.

    The advice that the brother gave you is sound, but only after you are on a level where you can read and understand a text without having to try to figure out the meaning of the words and syntax. And Allaah knows best.

    Perhaps Billo can add some tips for you as well, in shaa’ Allaah.

  9. Assalamu 3alaikum,

    Arabgems: I agree totally with what you said.

    Yusuf: I don’t think memorizing Al-Aljurrumiyyah or any other nathm for that matter will do you any good. I remember trying to memorize poetry back in junior high and highschool when I was in Jordan, and we only we required to memorize at most 18 bayt. Being a native speaker, it was hard enough on me. Al-Ajurrumiyyah is a couple hundred bayts, and its just a basic nathm. I won’t say it’s impossible, because people have memorized it as well as Alfiyyat Ibn Mailk (1003 bayt!), but at the level you are at, you will find that memorizing such nathms is a very difficult and overwhelming task.. I’m afraid this may, in fact, deter you from learning grammar altogether.

    Just think of it this way: The Quran is very easy to memorize, even for non-Arabs, but this is only because Allah has made it easy as stated in the Quran:

    ” وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآَنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِنْ مُدَّكِرٍ”
    “And We have indeed made the Quran easy to understand and remember, then is there any that will remember (or receive admonition)?”
    [Al-Qamar: 17]

    Al-Ajurrumiyyah and the Alfiyyah are not easy because they lack the eloquence of the Quran. They are composed in such a way that all the rules of grammar/sarf are compact in them, and if you are familiar with some Arabic poetry, these nathms aren’t very beautiful. The students back then could handle them, but unfortunately, I don’t think we can.

    If you want to solidify the rules in your head, make your own notes, and organize them. Write them down yourself. Review them constantly. Practice with examples as much as possible and dedicate a certain amount of time everyday for this. Also make your own arabic dictionary/wordlist, and review it and add to it. You can get practice on vocabulary, sentence structure, pronounciation, comprehension, and grammar from many resources:

    1) Any Arabic website: newspapers would be my best advice to you because the language used in newspapers are supposed to be that which is understood by most native speakers (i.e. common to everyone: not too hard and not too simple, and this is probably what you are striving for). Try to find ones that have all the “harakaat” (vowels) so that you can study why things are vowelled the way they were (but probably not many sites with Tashkeel, I can’t think of any. Do you guys know of any??).
    (I just hope you don’t get depressed from news)

    2) Arabic radio station that broadcast news or any other program in Formal (Fusha) Arabic, and try to understand what they are saying, and if you can record it and play it back, and try to see why the words were spoken the way they were. You may find it a bit fast at first, but inshallah I think with time, you’ll be able to understand more and more:
    (the radio streaming link is on the left side of the screen),2142,9111,00.html

    3) Instead of memorizing these nathms (which are about rules of grammar; not very beautiful in my opinion), try memorizing the Quran, and ponder on the Grammar in there. Listen to a Sheikh you like. I would recommend Sheikh Mahmoud Khalil Al-Husari as he has the most clear pronounciation of Arabic letters than any other reciter out there. Get the slow tajweed recitation from here:

    Arabgems: If you have any comments/concerns regarding my advice, please make/express them. Perhaps the resources I gave are too advanced. I’m not sure what Yusuf’s level is. Jazaakum Allahu khairan.

    May Allah bless your efforts, and may He guide you to that which is best.

    Please keep me in your du’a as I am in great need of them.

    Assalaamu 3alaikum

  10. Assalamu 3alaikum,

    I forgot the most important piece of advice: purify your intention (niyyah). If you do everything else, but your niyyah isn’t pure, your actions will be void/worthless/nullified/meaningless.

    Also, make du’a to Allah, and insist that He helps you in your journey to learn Arabic for his sake.

    Be dedicated, and be consistent even if you practice a little everyday. The best deeds/most beloved deeds in the eyes of Allah are those which are consistent even if they are small in amount.

    If your are sincere, and if you make du’a, and make an effort, Allah will guide you to a means by which you can achieve your goal, and he will open doors for you.

    Please keep me in your du’a.

    Assalamu 3alaikum,

  11. Nothing to do with the post, but as there seems to be lots of advice being dished out, I thought I’d ask for some too : )

    My problem is that I have a basic knowledge of arabic with which I can make do with understanding most Islamic texts. However, it is extremely annoying that sometimes I can read a newspaper article and not understand a single sentence properly. I think mainly this is to do with lack of vocab as my grammar is not that bad (although I am going through grammar again- shaykh ibn Uthaymeen’s sharh of al aajrumiyyah).
    I recently borrowed a book ( which has copies of articles from al sharq al awsat covering the topics of international trade, economic growth, trade agreements, world stock and money markets. I have no interest at all in these topics in English never mind Arabic, but everyhing is done very nicely with vocab lists and translations. Should I bother going through this book, or just stick to reading BBC news in arabic and looking up words I don’t know? Are there any other books anyone can reccommend where I don’t have to look up lots of vocab?

    jazakumullahu khayran

  12. al-Salaamu ‘alaykum,

    With the newspaper articles that you do not understand – is it just the vocabulary or also the syntax? You are right that the jargon of classical Islamic arabic texts is very different to modern journalese, but the syntax can also come across as unfamiliar in cases too.

    I am not aware of that specific book you borrowed and there is not a review of it either, but with the vocab lists and translations it seems like it would be beneficial, especially if the material is current. Another book you may find useful is Media Arabic (; although I have not been able to look through this book, from the review I would imagine they used a concordance programme to extract the most common and useful words in journalese. If this is what they did, it would be very beneficial to you, as when reading a text – especially a foreign language one – you do not need to initially aim to understand every single word and construct; but rather to catch the gist and main points of what is being said. As the vocabulary and fluency develops so will the depth of understanding in shaa’ Allaah.

    I don’t know about other books like the one you mentioned (if anyone else does please recommend them), but if thus far your focus has been on Islamic texts and you want to be able to read journalese, it will naturally involve learning the revelant vocabulary. It is much easier to learn vocabulary in context than it is just learning it in list form, so I would suggest you use as many techniques as you can – go through the books you have, read short news items on the BBC or al-Jazeera, and also listen to the news channels recommended by Billo above, so that your auditory sense gets a feel for the contextual relevancy of words.

    I hope this answered your question, and others will add more tips and suggestions in shaa’ Allaah.

  13. Salamu’alaikum wa rahamtallah

    Barakallahu feekum, much appreciated.


  14. Masha Allah, I love reading your posts. Keep them coming.

  15. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa rahmat Allaah,

    Wa iyyaakum, Yusuf. Thank you, Nazim.

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

  17. Question,

    Do you think that by researching the etymology of words in arabic, that we could eventually come up with a “base” set of meanings and words that all arabic words then imply or are taken from?
    I’ve thought about this alot and think that with the right datamining this could be done.
    It might make a good research project for a university.
    Any thoughts?

  18. and Mubarak, i see that you’ve now completed you masters.
    May Allah put barakah in you efforts.

  19. al-Salaamu ‘alaykum,

    Jazakum Allahu khayran. Ameen, wa iyyakum.

    I am inclined to agree with you that it would be possible to find a base set of original roots from which other roots were derived – there are in fact a number of linguists who subscribe to the ‘nazariyyah thunaa’iyyah’ for the roots of words – that historically, Arabic words stemmed from roots that were composed of only two letters, and that as their meanings developed, a third letter was added to the root to put across a greater array of meanings. This was usually the last root letter, but may also be the first or second occasionally. If this theory is true, it would definitely support what you suggested.

  20. i would like to know how to write

    “be strong mara”

    in arabic

  21. as salam wa laikum

  22. Pingback: x!x *Arabic Gems* x!x - LI Islamic Forum

  23. Excellent work…

    May allah reward you for this

  24. I am being greatly benefited by this website.
    Is there any books/website with all examples of Ishtiqaaq (6 combination for every 3 letter root) for English speaking students, presented in a easy way like this article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s