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.”
As Arabic was the language chosen by Allaah for His Qur’an, and as the eternal miracle of Islam lies in the inimitable nature of the Qur’anic language, it is important to study as many aspects and angles of the language as possible, to gain a fuller and more complete understanding of the Qur’anic message. Such knowledge can serve to strengthen one’s faith and bring their hearts closer to the Qur’an.
For example, when we look at words related to Jannah (Paradise):
Jannatu ‘Adn جَنَاتُ عَدن (the Gardens of Eden): al-Asma’i said: The Arabs say ‘adanat al-iblu bi-makaani kadhaa wa kadhaa عدنت الإبل بمكان كذا وكذا to mean ‘the camels chose to remain and stay put in such-and-such place,’ indicating that the root ‘ayn-daal-noon ع – د – ن indicates constancy in one place. Thus, the Jannaat ‘Adn were so called because they are everlasting; when one is entered into them they will never leave.
Toobaa طوبى: The Prophet (may the peace and prayers of Allah be upon him) mentioned in a hadith:
Islam began as something strange, and will return to being something strange as it once began, so Toobaa طوبى is for the strangers.
Allaah said in the Qur’an (al-Rad, verse 29)
الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَعَمِلُواْ الصَّالِحَاتِ طُوبَى لَهُمْ وَحُسْنُ مَآبٍ
Those who believe and work righteousness, Toobaa طوبى is for them and a beautiful place of (final) return.
Toobaa is the name of a tree in Paradise. Some linguists say its name was derived from the root taaba-yateebu طاب – يطيب which means ‘to be pleasant/ delightful’, as though to indicate that it will be delightful for the dwellers of Paradise to take shelter under it. The word Toobaa is of the pattern fu’laa فعلى, and this is a superlative pattern indicating the topmost end of a thing. Thus, Toobaa refers to the most extreme type of pleasure and delight; when one reclines and relaxes and takes shade under this tree it will be incomparable to any relaxation ever taken before – a reward awaiting the believers.
Kawthar الكوثر: It is a river in Paradise, whiter than milk and sweeter than honey, out of which branch out all other rivers. It is specifically for the Prophet (may the peace and prayers of Allah be upon him). It’s name was derived from the root kaaf-thaa’-raa’ ك – ث – ر which indicates abundance and plenty, reflecting the great blessings and bounty that lie within this river, as a reward to the Prophet (may the peace and prayers of Allah be upon him).