Glossary

Here you will find a glossary of some of the Arabic terms used on this website, as well as some explanations regarding the translations of certain expressions.

What is interpreting?

The apparent meaning of a term is the meaning that comes immediately to the mind.  All the terms in the list below have an apparent meaning, that is, a well-known meaning, but  when used in specific expressions, they sometimes acquire a different meaning. Examples in English are the words ‘leg’ and ‘arm’. When used on their own, the apparent meaning of these terms is an organ, a bodily part. But when  those two terms are used in a specific English expression such as “I paid an arm and a leg for this”, the meaning becomes ‘I paid a lot for this’. This is called an idiom, i.e. ‘leg’ on its own does not mean ‘a lot’, ‘arm’ on its own does not mean ‘a lot’, but when put together in the phrase ‘to pay/to cost an arm and a leg’, they acquire a different meaning. Now, if you had to explain that phrase to someone else, and you say to someone ‘I paid a lot for this’, you are not ‘denying the original text‘ , you are only explaining this expression according to the references and idioms used by people who speak English well. That’s interpreting: understanding a term within its context.

Another example : someone who does not speak English very well might know the meaning of ‘leg’  as it is quite clear in English. However, they might not be able to identify the different phrases  that this word can be part of. So for example he might hear someone say ‘He is pulling your leg’, and he might think that someone actually came and physically pulled their leg out. They might even argue “but that’s exactly what you said, how could it be otherwise?” And then to his surprise he would learn that “pulling the leg of someone” in English means “to joke” with that person. This is not a meaning that you can easily guess unless you know  the language in question. To a certain extent, those who say ‘We have to say that God has hands because He said ‘hands’ in the Qur’an,  may be compared to this person.  They say ‘Allah has hands’, when truly what they have done is that they took the word ‘yad’ out of its context in Arabic!  However here the consequence is much more dangerous, because they attribute to Allah what is impossible to attribute to Him, and in the end they worship other than ALLAH.

These people need to be told: 1) that the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic and not in English, and therefore technically it is actually WRONG to say that Allah said that He has ‘hands’ (and that’s even with the inverted commas) :  there is no term ‘hand’ in the Qur’an as the Qur’an is in Arabic and  2) they need to be told that  the revealed term in Arabic is ‘yad’, that the word ‘yad’ in Arabic has several meanings, especially when used in some idiomatic phrases  and that they should have a look at what the experts in Tafsir (explanation and interpretation of the Qur’an) and in Arabic language, have said on this issue, starting with Ibn ‘Abbas, the cousin of the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam . Do not forget that the Qur’an has been revealed in  a clear Arabic language, i.e. CLEAR for those Arabs who speak Arabic well and know the intricacies of their own language. The Qur’an has been revealed in a language that the Arabs at the time understood, and they used to know their different expressions quite well ma sha ALLAH.

The aim of this glossary is to familiarise yourself with the fact that  some Arabic terms, when used in certain expressions in the Qur’an, have ANOTHER meaning than their usual apparent meaning, and this is what many excerpts of scholars’ books demonstrate on this website.

  • ayn : the  apparent meaning of ayn in Arabic is  : the eye.  However in some expressions in Arabic it can acquire another meaning. For example, it may mean : ‘protection’, it can also mean : a source of water, as in the phrase ‘ayn al-waadi‘ (literally the ‘eye of the valley’, but here what it means is : ‘the source/river of the valley’. It can bear the meaning of ‘spy’, as in the phrase  ayn al-qawm, literally ‘the eye of the tribe’ but what is meant here is a spy, deriving from the fact that a spy tries to have a look at everything. It can also be used to talk about  the thing itself such as if you were to  say to someone that you have the exact same bag as they do, and that person says  ‘aynihaa?‘ i.e. ‘The exact same one? Are you sure?’ . Also in the phrase fard ayn/a personal obligation, i.e. what is meant is that it falls back on YOURSELF to do it (eg: the 5 daily prayers). So you see, it would be difficult to use just one equivalent  word in English to sum up all these meanings. Actually, it’s quite the opposite; we have to choose a different English word to convey the meaning of ‘ayn‘ in Arabic depending on the context . If you click on the term ‘ayn‘ in the categories, you will find a list of articles where this term is explained by Sunni scholars.
  • dahak: the apparent meaning of this word is ‘to laugh’. But it also has other meanings. For example in Arabic, when new vegetation grows on a piece of land, it can be said that the earth ‘dahakat‘ i.e. literally ‘it laughs’, but actually the meaning is the earth reveals something that was hidden. In effect, laughing does lead the person to reveal the inside of one’s mouth, which is usually hidden. As you can guess this meaning is not suitable  to Allah. Some scholars mentioned that in some cases it means that Allah bestows His mercy. There are some statements by Sunni scholars in this website to explain this phrase.   Category dahak
  • fis-samaa: literally it means ‘in the sky’, but it can also mean ‘a high status’ , and other meanings which you can find out by clicking on this word in the categories. Category fis-samaa
  • ghadab-bughd: the apparent meaning of  ghabad and bughd is ‘anger’, but immediately you understand why, when this word is attributed to Allah, it is not this meaning which is aimed at. For example, when we say  al-maghdubi alayhim in the Fatihah, the well-known known exegesis of this verse is : the Jews and the Christians, who are threatened to be punished by Allah. Anger is a tremendous change in a person. It is a lack of proper control over oneself. The Prophet  sallaLLAAHU ‘alayhi wa sallam warned a companion against anger. Then how could anyone attribute this to Allah? The term ‘ghadab’ when used about Allah has other meanings, such as “punishment”, which you can discover on this website.
  • istawa : the apparent meaning of  istawa is ‘to be established’ or ‘to be seated‘. But the word istawa  has other meanings in Arabic. For example, when Arabs say istawa t-ta’aam, this means “the food is ready to be eaten”. Or when the imam at the mosque says  ‘istawu i’tadilu‘, this means ‘Put yourselves in equal ranks/lines’. When he says that, everyone stands up, no one sits  😉 . This word also means  ‘to become ripe’. All these meanings cannot be attributed to Allah. The scholars gave some explanations of this phrase when attributed to Allah. At the end of the day,  Istawa has several meanings, it’s a simple, easy-to-check fact, we are not under the obligation to choose one. However, we are under the obligation to not believe those meanings which do not befit Allah.  Follow the path of the Scholars of the Salaf! Category istawa
  • mahabba : the  apparent meaning of this word is ‘love’. Scholars did emphasise the fact that when attributed to Allah it was not referring to a feeling or to a change as Allah is not subject to what His creations are subjected to. It has been said that it is permissible however in English to say ‘Allah loves’, because it has been established that in some cases in English ‘love’ does not refer to a feeling or to a change. When attributed to Allah,  mahabba refers to something that Allah accepts and rewards.
  • nuzul: literally this term means ‘to descend’. What you will see in the different articles on this website is that our scholars have always insisted on the fact that movement and being specified with a place are impossible to be attributed to Allah. However because in English the most common meaning of ‘descending’ is ‘to come from the upper direction to a lower place’ we do not translate ‘nuzul’ by a ‘descent’. You will find what scholars said it means in the category nuzul.
  • wa jaa’a : the apparent meaning of this phrase is ‘he comes’. To come implies to have moved, and this meaning does not befit ALLAH. You will see how the scholars have explained this phrase, which is attributed to ALLAH in the verse ‘wa jaa’a Rabbuka‘. Some said it meant that the signs of His Power will be displayed on that day,  not that God would come because we know He is not a body, and not attributed with movement. ALLAH does not change. Category : wa jaa’a
  • wajh : the apparent meaning of wajh is ‘face’. But when it is attributed to ALLAH it is impossible that it would have this meaning. For example if you say that you did something  ‘li wajhillah‘ this means that you did something ‘seeking the reward from ALLAH’. This is a very famous phrase used all over the world. There is absolutely no reason to say ‘I am doing this for the face of Allah’, it would not even make sense, and in English, people would not understand that you do not mean that God has a face. This phrase in English does NOT mean ‘to seek the reward’.Category : wajh
  • yad: the  apparent meaning of ‘yad‘ is  ‘hand’. But the word yad has plenty of other meanings when used in specific phrases. And be aware of the fact that all the English phrases with ‘hand’ do not necessarily match the Arabic phrases with ‘yad.  The two words are by no means equivalent, so they cannot be regarded as referring to the same meanings. Some expressions are similar, but not always! For example if someone says in English ‘this matter is in God’s hands’, this is a phrase which exists in English, and from which English people understand that ‘this matter is under the will of God’,  they do not understand from it that physical hands are being attributed to God. Because this phrase exists in English. But if someone says, in English ‘the right hand of God’, sorry but there is no other meaning for this phrase in English than the organ. There is no other meaning than a meaning which is not suitable for Allah, and this phrase (‘right hand’) is not even among the revealed phrases (as the revelation is in Arabic), so why would anyone say that?  When  we talk about Allah, we can only use words which befit Him, in whatever language we speak.  Therefore, if what you would say in your language does not have a befitting meaning for ALLAH, and it is not part of the revelation, then why would you cling to it and repeat it?  The Qur’an is in Arabic. This is why we have made an effort to show you what Arabic experts have said about these different phrases, and you will see for yourself that when they narrow down the possible meanings, it clearly shows that one should not understand the meaning of ‘hand’, so why would anyone translate it as ‘hand’?

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