The entire vocabulary of the Quran is derived from a little more than 1725 root words (most of them triliteral, that is, composed of three letters; some four; a couple five). Arabic, being a Semitic tongue, is highly derivative, that is, a few root words can produce hundreds of separate words (as you can read in the Quran), and often the variations of words range in meaning. For example, the root word janana
produces a bevy of words and meanings that appear dozens of times in the Quran but that do not tarry very far from the original linguistic meaning of janana
, which is to conceal or be hidden or exist beyond perception
. From j-n-n (jîm nûn nûn)
the following nouns are generated: Janna
(paradisal gardens or Heaven, and earthly gardens or sown fields); ajinna
) (fetus or unborn child); jinn
(those unseen creatures who have volition, the species from which Iblis or Satan hails); majnûn
(insanity, one possessed); junna
(covering, as when people make false oaths to "cover" their true designs); and a couple of other examples, like the verb jann
, as when the night "covered" Abraham and he saw a star. (This usage is found in the amazing story of when God had revealed the unseen governance of the heavens and earth to Abraham, which completely transforms this great Patriarch who then sees the sacred point of all existence in all that he sees.)
A good number of these root words in the Quran are used sparingly. A couple hundred are used less than three times each. Dozens appear only once each. The point is this: the main themes and core message of the Quran are carried on the backs of several hundred root words that one can make a steady study of. There are a few standard texts that can help with this but they require some knowledge of Arabic. One must resist the notion that one cannot begin a personal study of the Quran until he or she has mastered Arabic. My argument against this is in its circularity. One can learn Arabic as he or she moves methodically through the root words of the Quran and read how they are used in the Scripture.
Of course, to pass judgment on what certain verses mean, especially if they pertain to sacred law, has very high standards. That’s not what I’m talking about. My message today is: demystify how to approach the Quran and its words, and then follow that up with methodical study, whether alone (as we must acknowledge the probability of, given some of the vulgar realities of life and its pressures) or with a group. Either way, get started.