Thursday, June 15, 2006

Vocabulary of the Quran

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 (singular janîn) (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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. I teach Arabic on Saturday nights by going through the Qur'an, starting with page 1, ayah by ayah. For al-Fatihah and the first Ruku of al-Baqarah, the focus has been on recognizing roots and looking to translation and other sources for their general meaning. Now, we're going to start looking up those roots in a dictionary.

Little by little, I teach prepositions and pronouns as we reach them in the text.

Soon, we'll start digging into grammar, ia. But, by the time we complete the first ruku, the students are already able to give loose translation.


6/15/2006 1:45 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

OM, that's the way to go. It's empowering. Best of success with that, ia.

6/15/2006 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Friend,
Many thanks for this insightful post.Do you have any suggestions for a dictionary/lexicon that can assist with your proposed method.

6/15/2006 3:14 PM  
Anonymous Abu Noor al-Irlandee said...

As salaamu 'alaykum,

Have you seen Mohammad Mohar Ali's "A Word for Word Meaning of the Qur'an" published by JIMAS.

It goes through each word and gives the root and form...the definitions may not be extensive but I really think it is excellent for english readers.


6/16/2006 5:41 PM  
Anonymous Abu Noor al-Irlandee said...

Anyone interested can check out the book I mentioned here:

6/16/2006 5:42 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Abu Noor: I read some bits of the book, but it does not consistently give root origins of the words (which is important) and the translations of the words juxtaposed to the Arabic original are not very inspired and are often wooden, and he tends to say stuff like (paraphrase): "No English word can contain the meaning of this Arabic term, but ...," which really says nothing. It's better to define and hold off with typical moralizing. But it is a source nonetheless to check out. I agree. But I'd prefer the sources I mentioned above.

6/16/2006 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Serving Lord said...

Assalam Alaikum
Jazaak Allah Khair for sharing so wonderful thoughts here..
I truly loved to read your blogs here..
May ALlah Reward you for this..

6/16/2006 10:35 PM  
Anonymous Irving Karchmar said...

Thank you for an excellent post :) the blog Arabic Gems has some great posts on the subject also.
It is said that each word of the Torah has 49 levels of meaning, and the reader sees the meaning according to the clarity of his heart, not his mind, which can deceive one. An interesting while studying.

Ya Haqq!

6/17/2006 4:33 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/23/2006 10:48 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

There are two sources that I believe are important, if not necessary: "al-Mu'jam al-Mufahras li alfadh (deep dh or z with a dot) al-Qur'an al-Karim" by the late Sh. Fu'ad Abd al-Baqi, which separates each root word and each of the derivatives that appear in the Quran and cites the verses and suras in which they appear. And also Mufradat alfadh (deep dh or z with a dot) al-Qur'an by al-Raghib al-Asfahani, a dictionary of Quranic terminology that goes according to root words proceeding alphabetically. Also Mu'jam al-Wasit, a dictionary of Arabic. There's also Nadwi's English compendium of the Quran's vocabulary, but this is very brief and does not delve into the original linguistic meanings of the root words, which is very important. So it's quite marginal but useful if one needs a starting point in English. The first two, however, are critical, as far as following a methodology.

I would also add that many commentaries of the Quran of the classical age often define terminologies in the process of exegesis. A basic commentary would be Ibn Kathir's work. That would also help greatly in learning Quranic vocabulary but with the bonus of commentary material.

11/23/2006 10:50 AM  
Anonymous yazen said...

assalamu alaikum,
an amazing new site has both a word for word translation of the entire quran as well as a section on learning the most frequently used words of the quran. check it out:

best wishes

9/17/2007 5:47 AM  
Blogger Tariq, admin at said...

Jazak Allah khayr for those links! InshaAllah, the vocabulary tables will be a big help!

10/02/2007 5:49 PM  
Anonymous Ebad-ur_Rehman said...

Al-Kitaab (Al-Quraan)is purely a book of guidence for the entire mankind.
its teaching & understanding is purely from & upon Allah,The Rehman.
we only need to be honest & sincere in our intentions.
May Allah Guide Us All To The Straight Path,His Path.

12/12/2007 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As salaamu 'alaykum,

Three letter root List ...


2/09/2008 5:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another site that might be helpful


12/26/2008 3:00 AM  
Blogger . said...

excellent thoughts. is actually a site for practice of words taught through a method called Total Physical Interaction, where grammar terms are used very sparingly. These are the same words given in the link above.

The site for this method is Understand Quran

This was telecast (and probably still is) on peacetvurdu, but the method is available in English and many other languages as well.

Many people and I have benefited greatly from this.

Have a look. There are downloable word doc files, powerpoint peesenations, audio and vodeos to teach yourself if a tecaher is not available, but increasingly the method is catching on.

8/23/2010 8:59 PM  

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