Dealing with extremities.

hurricanenature_140×140.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

There are certain noun forms in Arabic known as siyagh al-mubaalaghah (‘forms of intensification/hyperbolic forms’) that are used to put across a more intense meaning than the original noun form. For example, a liar ‘kaadhib كاذب may also be known as a kadhoob كذوب or a kadhdhaab كذّاب – all carrying the meaning of ‘liar’ but denoting different levels of intensity.

Allaah often uses these forms in the Qur’an, and thus we find that He refers to Himself as al-Ghaffaar الغفار (Ta-Ha verse 82) and al-Ghafoor الغفور (al-Burooj, verse 14).

Similarly, the slanderer has been referred to as a hammaaz هماز (al-Qalam, verse 11), and a humazah همزة (al-Humazah, verse 1).

Is there a difference between these forms of essentially the same word? Abu Hilal al-‘Askari, author of al-Furooq al-Lughawiyyah, said that it is impossible for there to be two different words in Arabic that have exactly the same meaning, and that those who are unaware of the differences think that the different words are only different hyperbolic forms, whereas they also reflect different meanings.

There are two different types of hypberbolic forms:

i. Those that indicate a different meaning to the other forms, for example the forms al-dahhaak الضحّاك and al-duhakah الضُحَكة which stem from the root daad-Haa’-kaaf ض-ح-ك connoting laughter. To call someone dahhaak is to praise him, as it means he laughs alot. To call someone duhakah, however, is an insult, as it can mean he laughs TOO much (such as when it is inappropriate to laugh for example), or that he laughs at others alot.

ii. Those that indicate a different level of intensity to other forms. Some of the most common siyagh al-mubaalaghah are (more in later posts in shaa’ Allaah):

1. fa33aal فعّال – For example, hammaaz, or kaffaar كفار (Ibrahim, verse 34). This form connotes the repetition of the action time after time, so much so that it becomes like a characteristic of the person, and this is why it is often this form that is used to refer to a person’s trade or profession; for example, a carpenter is known as a najjaar نجار, a tailor is known as a khayyaat خياط, a butcher is known as a lahhaam لحام , and so on.

Thus, al-Razi commented on the word ghaffaar غفار in the verse,

فَقُلْتُ اسْتَغْفِرُوا رَبَّكُمْ إِنَّهُ كَانَ غَفَّاراً

And said, ‘Ask forgiveness of your Lord. Indeed, He is ever a Perpetual Forgiver.

saying ‘As though this was His craft and business.’

And in the following verse,

وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ ضِغْثاً فَاضْرِب بِّهِ وَلَا تَحْنَثْ إِنَّا وَجَدْنَاهُ صَابِراً نِعْمَ الْعَبْدُ إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ

[We said], “And take in your hand a bunch [of grass] and strike with it and do not break your oath.” Indeed, We found him patient, an excellent servant. Indeed, he was one repeatedly turning back [to Allah ].

the awwaab أواب is the one who repents constantly and always turns back to Allah.

And when Allaah refers to Himself as al-Ghaffaar,

وَإِنِّي لَغَفَّارٌ لِّمَن تَابَ وَآمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحاً ثُمَّ اهْتَدَى

But indeed, I am the Perpetual Forgiver of whoever repents and believes and does righteousness and then continues in guidance.

it is as though He is saying that He constantly, time after time, forgives those who turn to Him in repentance.

ii. fa3ool فَعول – This form is originally used to refer to concrete nouns that are used to carry out other thinjgs, such as the wadoo’ وَضوء is the water used to carry out the ablution, and the waqood وَقود is the wood used to light fires, and the fatoor فَطور is the food used to break one’s fast. This form was then extended to be used as a form of intensification, and thus it connotes a characteristic in a person that is concrete within him, as though he is a source and basis of that thing. For example, to call someone saboor صَبور is as if to say that their patience (sabr) represents a type of commodity or fuel within them, their driving force, their motivations, and their drive – i.e. the person in their entirety symbolises and exemplifies patience.

Thus, when Allah refers to Himself as al-Ghafoor,

وَهُوَ الْغَفُورُ الْوَدُودُ

And He is the Forgiving, the Affectionate,

it is as though He is saying that He is full of forgiveness and a source of it.


28 responses to “Dealing with extremities.

  1. Jazakallah Khairan for putting up concise english definitions for these. I personally often employ them when explaining certain beauties of the Qur’an, yet I have trouble explaining the differences between fa’ool and fa’al and all I can say is repetitive and there is more emphasis. As always, Jazakallah Khairan for this great work and may Allah guide us and continously keep us on the right path for without his guidance, we would all be lost. May Allah bless you and everyone who contributes to this site! Ameen.

    Please Keep me in your ad’iyyah as well.


  2. My oh my!!
    I am literally dumbfounded at the wisdom hidden in the Arabic Langauge, and even more so at the use of that wisdom in the Quran.
    I also have one question:
    What is the connection between فَطور and فاطر? Do they come from the same root? I am specifically thinking of the phrase:
    اللہ فاطر السموٰت والارض

    Keep up the good work. May Allah reward you for this.

  3. Wa’alaikumus-Salām wa Rahmatullāh.

    Bārak Allāh fīki, but the spelling of “mubaalghah/mubaalaghah” is different in two places, and I don’t know which one is correct. It is spelled in the former way at the beginning (in bold) and in the latter way later (in the section where you mentioned the forms فعول and فعّال).

    Wass-Salāmu’alaikum wa Rahmatullāh.

  4. Bismillah…

    Sheepoo: The ayah you mentioned (I think you are referring to Sura Zumar, Ayah 46) mentions (loose translation): Allah is the originator (Mubdi’ which is what Fatir means) of the heavens and the earth…

    Hassan: It appears to be a typo, mubaalaghah is the correct spelling for Sighah Mubaalaghah (form of intensification/hyperbolic form).


  5. There’s a mistake in this:

    “Abu Hilal al-’Askari, author of al-Furooq al-Lughawiyyah, said that it is impossible for there two be two different words in Arabic that have exactly the same meaning, and”

    You used “two” instead of “to”.

    Great post! Jazak Allahu Khayr

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

    Yaser, Wa iyyakum, and ameen to the du’aa. For most of the information in the post I referred to two main books which would benefit anyone who was interested in knowing more on this topic:

    1. Ma’aanee al-Abniyah fee al-‘Arabiyyah معاني الأبنية في العربية by Faadil al-Saamirraa’ee

    2. al-Huqool al-Dilaaliyyah al-Sarfiyyah li al-Af’aal al-arabiyyah الحقول الدلالية الصرفية للأفعال العربية by Sulayman Fayyad.

    sheepo, that is an excellent and very perceptive question maa shaa’ Allaah. To add on to what Qushayri said, the two words do come from the same root – faa’-Taa’-raa’ – ف ط ر – and the root itself indicates the opening or breaking or splitting of a thing. So when we speak about the fatoor of the fasting person, it is because it is what he uses to open or break his period of fasting.

    Allaah uses the word fUtoor (with a dammah not a fathah on the faa’) in Surah al-Mulk verse 3, according to its original meaning:

    الَّذِي خَلَقَ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ طِبَاقاً مَّا تَرَى فِي خَلْقِ الرَّحْمَنِ مِن تَفَاوُتٍ فَارْجِعِ الْبَصَرَ هَلْ تَرَى مِن فُطُورٍ
    [And] who created seven heavens in layers. You do not see in the creation of the Most Merciful any inconsistency. So return [your] vision [to the sky]; do you see any breaks?

    With regards the word الفاطر, Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said that when he heard the ayah الحمد الله فاطر السموت والأرض , he didn’t know what فاطر السموت والأرض meant until two bedouins came to him to settle a dispute they had regarding the ownership of a well, and one of them said to him أنا فطرتها to mean “I began digging it.” Ibn ‘Abbas then understood that فاطر السموت والأرض meant that Allaah is the One who began to originate the Heavens and the Earth…

    Hassan, I apologise for the confusion. The correct spelling is mubaalaghah, as Qushayri pointed out. Jazakum Allaahu khayran for pointing this out.

    Qushayri, once again, jazakum Allaahu khayr al-jazaa’ for your help.

    mujahid7ia, wa iyyaaki, and thank you for pointing out the error.

  7. what an absolutly brilliant article. thank you for it.

  8. JazakiAllahu khayran, may Allah shower His Blessings and Mercy on you. That was absolutely amazing!

    Is it ok if we forward this to people, of course with the blog as the source? 🙂

  9. Edward, you’re welcome.

    Amatullah, ameen, wa iyyaaki. Of course it is okay.

  10. Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakatuh,

    Jazaaki Allaahu khayran for this explanation of the verb forms. If you are able to mention anything more with regards to Allaah (swt)’s most beautiful names and attributes it will be much appreciated.

    Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullaah

  11. As always, an excellent post. This blog is really a gem 🙂 May Alalh bless you for your good work and kindness in enlighhtening us.

    Ya Haqq!

  12. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam wa Rahmat Allaah wa Barakaatuhu,

    121, wa iyyaakum. I shall try to do so in shaa’ Allaah.

    Irving, wa iyyaakum. Ameen.

  13. Asalaam alaikum,
    Jazaak Allahu Khairan, you have presented some knowledge which subhanAllah reveals the subltleties of the arabic language and I think which all of the readers will bear in mind wheneer they come across these words and insha’Allah will benefit from time and time again. May Allah swt make this a source of continual reward for you everytime that they benefit from this – ameen.
    I had one clarification to request, when you wrote “they are a source to which people return to exert their patience (sabr)”, what exactly did you mean by ‘exert’ their patience in this context.
    Wa salaam alaiki wa alal-jamee3

  14. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam,

    Wa iyyaakum khayr al-jazaa’ – ameen.

    Jazakum Allaahu khayran for your question, my explanation was unclear and I have now corrected it, and perfection belongs to Allaah Alone.

    The meaning of a person being ‘saboor’ is rather that it is as though they represent a type of commodity or fuel, that is their sabr, and this fuel is what drives and powers them.

    And Allaah knows best.

  15. Subhan rabbee al-a’laa, that an attribute such as paitence can be the very driving force within a person that motivates someone to do something, that ‘fuels’ as you put it their actions, is a notion that broadens the horizon of my appreciation for such attributes. I woudl have always regarded patience as a struggle, as something that was done in times of difficulty with gritted teeth. But this is something entirely different, something of a paradigm shift if you like, almost as if a piece of a puzzle has fallen into place. This is really the beauty to knowledge exemplified, may Allah swt reward you for bringing this to our attention.

  16. as-salamu ‘alaykum

    Fascinating, masha Allah.

    I came across the use of the word kadhoob كذوب in the hadeeth regarding aayah al-kursi where shaytan is said as having told the truth but he is a liar.

    Which is very interesting because Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam emphasised (innahu qad) that shaytan had told the truth. You know, perhaps because it’s going to be hard to believe that a liar can speak the truth. And also to emphasise that you should heed this truth. But when the word used is kadhoob, you realise the depth of this liar. So like it’s intense yea. This is a *kadhoob* and he’s indeed telling you a truth! So imagine that. At the same time, it’s also a reminder that shaytan IS kadhoob. Like how you described it, lying is what “drives” him. So he’s telling the truth in this instance, and take it, but remember also that otherwise he is a big, fat liar.

    That part is absolutely lost in the translation. I thought it was just awesome to see the significance of that after having read your post. Wallahu a’lam!

    Jazakillahu khair.

  17. Beautiful post. Jazakum Allahu Khairan

  18. Wa iyyaakum khayr al-jazaa’.

  19. Assalaamualaikum,

    I ventured into your blog accidentally (a blessed accident it was, walhamdulillah) and wanted to say JazakAllahu khairan for your posts/arabic blog.
    It is very enlightening and extremely helpful for a student learning arabic for the sake of understanding the Qur’an better.

  20. Just a humble thought!

    Al-Ghafour does not only mean the Forgiver. Ghafara means ‘To cover and protect’ and also ‘To surpress the Defect’. A Mighafar means Shield and Helmet, and ghafara was used for a harnas. Ghafr means A covering that protects a thing from dirt. Al-Ghafour means The Protector against wrong deeds and the consequences thereof. Al-Ghaffar means The Most Protecting One.

  21. Wa ‘alaykum al-Salaam,

    Warda, wa iyyaakum.

    Ahmed Mateen, jazakum Allaahu khayran for your contribution. Hope to see more in the future in shaa’ Allaah.

  22. Excellent work…

    May allah reward you for this

  23. Pingback: Shouldn't I be a thankful slave? at Forums.IslamicAwakening.Com

  24. Excellent work…

    May allah reward you for this

  25. Very interesting grammar analysis!
    It seems that fa33aal express a state and fa3ool could be assimilate to Fa33aal in action. In resum fa3ool is a kind of present participe. Allâh is eternal Be (Forgiver) and Beeing (Forgiving), a state and an action, thus fa3ool it’s his manifestation in the time rolling.

  26. And yes, the morpheme غ means “to covered”. Like in المغرب The moment when the day is starting to be re-covered (غر) by the night.

  27. As-salaamu `alaykum warahmatullaah.

    Jazaakillaahu khayran. I’ve been searching for something like this for a while!!! Didn’t think to check here at all.

    Question: The other forms of siyagh al-mubaalaghah, such as mif`aal (ism aalah), fa`il, fa`ool… What if anything, do these formations signify?


  28. Pingback: Dealing with extremities [from Arabic Gems] « Al-Taysîr

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