Category Archives: Word Wise

Love, oh love.

heart_instant_hot_pack.jpgal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

The word ‘love’ appeared as a noun in the Qur’an ten times – of those ten, nine were using the word hubb حبّ, as in the verse,

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَتَّخِذُ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ أَندَاداً يُحِبُّونَهُمْ كَحُبِّ اللّهِ

And of mankind are some who take (for worship) others besides Allah as rivals (to Allah). They love them as they love Allah.

and once was using the word mahabbah, محبّة in the verse concerning Prophet Musa (peace be upon him),

أَنِ اقْذِفِيهِ فِي التَّابُوتِ فَاقْذِفِيهِ فِي الْيَمِّ فَلْيُلْقِهِ الْيَمُّ بِالسَّاحِلِ يَأْخُذْهُ عَدُوٌّ لِّي وَعَدُوٌّ لَّهُ وَأَلْقَيْتُ عَلَيْكَ مَحَبَّةً مِّنِّي وَلِتُصْنَعَ عَلَى عَيْنِي

Saying: ‘Put him (the child) into the Tabut (a box or a case or a chest) and put it into the river (Nile), then the river shall cast it up on the bank, and there, an enemy of Mine and an enemy of his shall take him.’ And I endued you with love from Me, in order that you may be brought up under My Eye,

The word hubb is the original verbal noun of the verb habba حبَّ, while the word mahabbah is what is known as the ‘masdar meemi‘ (verbal noun begining with a letter meem‘) of the same verb. As it is the original verb, it is the origin, the asl, and thus it appeared 9 times. But mahabbah only appeared once. The reason for this lies in the difference between these two words, which can be summed up in the following three points:


  1. In the nine times in which the word hubb appeared, it was mentioned with regards the actions of man towards Allaah, or with regards instances related to life. When Allaah the Exalted used the word in reference to Himself towards one of His Creation – Musa (peace be upon him) – He used a different word (mahabbah), that was only ever used to describe His own actions, as is most befitting of His majesty.

    Thus, when the love stems from mankind, the word hubb was used, but when it stems from Allaah, the word mahabbah was used.

  2. The love that was bestowed upon Musa from Allaah settled in the soul of Musa and began to emanate from him just as light emanates from the sun, and its beautiful fragrance would attract the people to him and make them love him. Thus, Aasiyah, the wife of Fir’awn (among many others), immediately fell in love with him and requested from her husband that he not kill the baby Musa (see al-Qasas, verse 9).

    But when humans show love to one another, it does not penetrate the beloved such that others then begin to love them also. This only occurs when Allaah loves His servant. Thus, it was only right to use different words to express these different types of love.

  3. The word hubb is much more widely used than the word mahabbah. Thus, the more common word was used with a subject that is great in number (i.e. mankind), while the rare word was used with a Subject that is not (i.e. Allaah).


The story’s secret.

open-book.gifal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

To look back to the original meaning of a word is to embark on more than just a linguistic voyage; in some cases, tracing a word back to its original meaning is actually the key to unlocking one of the treasures of the guidance of the Qur’an.

For example, Allaah said in the introduction to the story of Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him),

نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ أَحْسَنَ الْقَصَصِ بِمَا أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ هَـذَا الْقُرْآنَ وَإِن كُنتَ مِن قَبْلِهِ لَمِنَ الْغَافِلِينَ

We relate to you, the best of stories (qasas) in what We have revealed to you of this Qur’an although you were, before it, among the unaware.

wherein the real secret behind Allah relating this story to us lies in none other than the word story itself.

The word being used for story in this verse is qissah قصة (pl. qasas قصص), is derived from the root qaaf-saad ق-ص. The primary connotation of this root is ‘to follow’. This meaning is further evidenced by the verse,

وَقَالَتْ لِأُخْتِهِ قُصِّيهِ

And she said to his sister, “Follow him”

wherein the mother of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) told his sister to follow Musa after the family of the Pharoah had picked him from the river, and the word used by Allah for ‘follow’ in the verse was qusseehi قُصِّيهِ– also derived from the root ق-ص.

Similarly, the juridical term qisaas قصاص referring to the law of equality in punishment, is so called because it involves following in the footsteps of another – doing to one person what they have done to another.

And thus we find that the word qissah قصة (story) as has been used in the Qur’an has been chosen over all other synonyms (such as hadeeth حديث or hikaayah حكاية) because it indicates that the story is not being narrated for the sake of amusement or entertainment, but rather within the word itself lies the explanation that the story is being related for the reader to follow in the footsteps of the one being spoken about in the story… although you were, before it, among the unaware.

It’s a hit!

slapal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

The Arabs have a number of words to express specific ways of hitting. When reading the below, pay attention also to any instances of al-ishtiqaaq al-akbar to increase your wonder and marvel at the richness of this language.

To hit on the front part of the head using the ball of the hand الراحة (the palm but not the fingers) : saqa’a صقع

To hit on the nape of the neck using the ball of the hand : safa’a صفع

To hit on the face using the ball of the hand : sakka صك

To hit on the cheek using the palm الكف outstretched (the ball of the hand including the fingers) : latama لطم

To hit on the cheek using the palm in a fist : lakama لكم

To hit on the cheek using both hands : ladama لدم

To hit on the chin and jawbone : wahaza وهز

To hit on the side of the body : wakhaza وخز

To hit on the chest and stomach using the palm: wakaza وكز

To hit using the knee: zabana زبن

To hit with the leg : rakala ركل

Every hit that makes a sound : safaqun صفق

In perfect form.

roseal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

One aspect of the miraculousness of the Qur'anic language lies in the precision of its words. As al-Suyuti said in al-Itqaan fee 'Uloom al-Qur'aan,

"It is possible to convey a single meaning with a variety of words, some more expressive than others. Likewise for the two parts – subject and predicate – of a sentence; each may be expressed in the most eloquent manner when taken alongside the other. Thus, it is necessary [in good composition] to consider the overall meaning of a sentence, then to consider every single word that may be used to convey that meaning, and then to use the most appropriate, expressive and eloquent of those words. This is impossible for man to do consistently, or even most of the time, but it is well within the Knowledge of Allaah [whose knowledge is boundless], and thus the Qur'an was considered the best and most eloquent of all speech…"

One example of this usage lies in the morphological forms found in the Qur'an, which will sometimes reflect the deeper meaning of the word itself, and upon reflection it can be found that not a single word in the Qur'an can be changed for another without it affecting the depth of meaning conveyed by the original word.

One example of this is in Yusuf, verse 23:

وَرَاوَدَتْهُ الَّتِي هُوَ فِي بَيْتِهَا عَن نَّفْسِهِ وَغَلَّقَتِ الأَبْوَابَ وَقَالَتْ هَيْتَ لَكَ
And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him. She closed the doors and said: "Come, you."

In this verse, Allaah used the verb form ghallaqa غلَّقَto mean 'closed'. Another form from the same root also means 'closed' – aghlaqa أغْلَقَ– yet there is a very eloquent reason for which Allaah used the previous form: the connotations of the pattern followed by the form ghallaqa are ones of repetitiveness and intensity of the action's performance, and thus the word form itself would give the reader who has knowledge of the Arabic language an idea of the intensity of the emotion and desire which drove the wife of al-'Azeez to rush around closing the doors of her house (some mufassiroon (exegetes) commented that there were seven doors that she closed, and hence the form also indicates the repetition of her going to door after door closing it) so she could quickly try to seduce Yusuf. None of this would have been reflected through the use of the alternative word form aghlaqa.

Another example of the same form reflecting repetition is in Surah Aal 'Imraan, verse 3,

نَزَّلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقاً لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَأَنزَلَ التَّوْرَاةَ وَالإِنجِيلَ

It is He Who has sent down the Book (the Quran) to you (Muhammad SAW) with truth, confirming what came before it. And he sent down the Torah and the Gospel.

Although the English translation reflects no difference in the original words that were used to convey the meaning of 'sent down', a look at the Arabic will show us that the form nazzala نزَّلَwas used in reference to the Qur'an while the form anzala أَنْزَلَwas used in reference to the Torah and the Gospel. The reason for this goes back to the manner of revelation – the Qur'an was gradually revealed in a number of stages that spanned the 23 years of the Prophet Muhammad's (sallaa Allaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) Prophethood, as is reflected by the form nazzala which indicates repetition and grauality, while the Torah and the Gospel were revealed to the Prophets Musa (Moses) and 'Eesa (Jesus) at one time, as reflected by the form anzala.

This difference is more beautifully sealed when we look at the first verse of Surah al-Qadr,

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَاهُ فِي لَيْلَةِ الْقَدْرِ

Verily! We have sent it (this Quran) down in the night of Al-Qadr (Decree)

In this verse, Allaah has used the verb anzala – which does not reflect graduality – to describe the revelation of the Qur'an, although He previously used nazzala! The reason for this is clear when the word is considered in it's context, as is explained by Ibn 'Abbas and others,


"Allah sent the Qur'an down all at one time from the Preserved Tablet to the House of Might (Bayt al-'Izzah), which is in the heaven of this world. Then it came down in parts to the Messenger of Allah based upon the incidents that occurred over a period of twenty-three years.''

Thus, it is clear that this verse is referring to Allaah sending the Qur'an down at one time to Bayt al-'Izzah on Laylat al-Qadr, and not to its gradual revelation to the Prophet; a concept so precisely and beautifully conveyed just through knowing the meaning of the forms used in the original Arabic.

Two ends of the same stick.

Stickal-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

There is a category of words in Arabic known as al-ad`daad الأضداد. They are a type of ishtiraak in which a single word shares different shades of meaning, but what is special about the ad`daad is that the same word is applied to two completely opposite meanings. For example, the word jawn جَوْن can mean either black or white, and Ibn Faaris mentioned in his book al-Saahibee fee Fiqh al-Lughah that it was among the customs of the Arabs to apply words in such a way.

Sometimes such differences are tribal. For example, the sudfah سُدفة in the dialect of the tribe of Tameem refers to the darkness, while in the dialect of Qays it refers to the light. Similarly, the tribe of 'Aqeel would use the verb lamaqa لَمَق to mean 'he wrote it', while all the other tribes of Qays would use it to mean 'he erased it'.

It is important to have knowledge of such words to better understand and appreciate the language of the Qur'an, for it was revealed in the language of the Arabs at that time, and in accordance with their dialects. Thus, in Surah Yunus, verse 54 Allaah says,

وَلَوْ أَنَّ لِكُلِّ نَفْسٍ ظَلَمَتْ مَا فِي الأَرْضِ لاَفْتَدَتْ بِهِ وَأَسَرُّواْ النَّدَامَةَ لَمَّا رَأَوُاْ الْعَذَابَ وَقُضِيَ بَيْنَهُم بِالْقِسْطِ وَهُمْ لاَ يُظْلَمُونَ

And if each soul that wronged had everything on earth, it would offer it in ransom. And they will feel regret when they see the punishment; and they will be judged in justice, and they will not be wronged.

The verse assarroo َأسَرُّواْcomes from the root sarra سرَّwhich refers to concealment, however this word is one of the ad`daad and as such, also means 'to make something clear and bring it out in the open'. By understanding both meanings of the word, we are afforded a truer insight and clearer picture of such people on the Day of Resurrection, in that their regret and sorrow at what they used to do will not only be felt in their hearts but also manifest and shown through their actions and state.

Another example lies in Surah al-Baqarah, verse 26,

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لاَ يَسْتَحْيِي أَن يَضْرِبَ مَثَلاً مَّا بَعُوضَةً فَمَا فَوْقَهَا
Indeed, Allah is not ashamed to present a parable – that of a mosquito or what is above (i.e. bigger) than it.

The word fawqa فَوْقَهَاis one of the ad`daad and can mean both 'above' or 'below', and in light of the above verse, this knowledge will grant us understanding that Allaah is not ashamed to present any parables at all, whether large or small. Reading the verse with only one of the two meanings may lead us down a different trail of thought.

Yet another example of the ad`daad lies in the verb dhanna ظَنَّwhich is often used in the Qur'an. The most common meanig of this word is 'to suppose' something, with an element of doubt, yet at the same time it can mean to have certain knowledge of a thing. Thus, when Prophet Yusuf interpreted the dreams of his two companions in prison his discourse indicated that he was completely certain of his interpretation. It would not then make sense to use the verb dhanna to mean he had doubt, in verse 42 of Surah Yusuf,

وَقَالَ لِلَّذِي ظَنَّ أَنَّهُ نَاجٍ مِّنْهُمَا اذْكُرْنِي عِندَ رَبِّكَ
And he said to the one whom he dhanna to be saved: "Mention me to your king."

However, due to this being knowledge of the future and hence of the unseen, about which none has sure knowledge other than Allaah, it is possible that dhanna was used here to indicate this angle.

May Allaah grant us insight into the miracles of His words – ameen. As was said by Abu 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami, "the difference between the speech of God and the speech of His creation is the difference between God and His creation itself."