Explanation of Some Qur’anic Words

Explanation of Some Qur’anic Words


Qur'anic Exegesis

1. اَلْمَعْرُوف (ma'ruf)

The word ma'ruf in the Qur'an has two meanings:

1. The good and the equitable.

2. The norms and customs of a society.

For example, it is said in the Qur'an that Muslims enjoin the ma'ruf and forbid munkar:

وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنٰتُ بَعۡضُہُمۡ اَوۡلِیَآءُ بَعۡضٍۘ یَاۡمُرُوۡنَ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ وَ یَنۡہَوۡنَ عَنِ الۡمُنۡکَرِ.(71:9)

And believing men and women are friends to each other. They enjoin what is ma'ruf and forbid what is munkar. (9:71)

Since the word munkar means "evil", one can easily conclude that here the word ma'ruf is used in the first meaning (the good and equitable) given above.

In the following verse, it is said that if a Muslim has murdered a Muslim and if the family of the slain person forgives him, then he should pay diyat (fine) to them according to the ma'ruf:

فَمَنۡ عُفِیَ لَہٗ مِنۡ اَخِیۡہِ شَیۡءٌ فَاتِّبَاعٌۢ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ وَ اَدَآءٌ اِلَیۡہِ بِاِحۡسَانٍ.(178:2)

Then for whom there has been some pardon from his brother, this should be followed according to the ma'ruf and [whatever is the diyat] should be paid with kindness. (2:178)

Here the word ma'ruf is used in the second meaning (norms and customs of a society) because first, the imperative verb used is ittiba' (to follow) which collocates with this meaning and second, the latter part of verse 2:178 (pay it [– the diyat –] with grace) becomes redundant if the first meaning is thought to be implied.

Similar usage of the word ma'ruf can be seen in the following verses:

وَ الۡوَالِدٰتُ یُرۡضِعۡنَ اَوۡلَادَہُنَّ حَوۡلَیۡنِ کَامِلَیۡنِ لِمَنۡ اَرَادَ اَنۡ یُّتِمَّ الرَّضَاعَۃَ ؕ وَ عَلَی الۡمَوۡلُوۡدِ لَہٗ رِزۡقُہُنَّ وَ کِسۡوَتُہُنَّ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ.(233:2)

And [after divorce also] mothers shall suckle their offspring for two whole years, for those who desire to complete the term. And the child's father [in such a case] shall have to bear the cost of their food and clothing according to the custom. (2:233)

وَ الَّذِیۡنَ یُتَوَفَّوۡنَ مِنۡکُمۡ وَ یَذَرُوۡنَ اَزۡوَاجًا یَّتَرَبَّصۡنَ بِاَنۡفُسِہِنَّ اَرۡبَعَۃَ اَشۡہُرٍ وَّ عَشۡرًا ۚ فَاِذَا بَلَغۡنَ اَجَلَہُنَّ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَیۡکُمۡ فِیۡمَا فَعَلۡنَ فِیۡۤ اَنۡفُسِہِنَّ بِالۡمَعۡرُوۡفِ ؕ وَ اللّٰہُ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ خَبِیۡرٌ .(234:2)

And those of you who die and leave widows behind, they should keep themselves in waiting for four months and ten days; then when they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you about what they do with themselves in accordance with the custom [of the society]. (2:234)

2. فتنه (fitnah)

The word فتنهliterally means "trial and test".[1] One form of this trial is that people are subjected to torture for following a particular ideology and thereby forced to give it up. Since at the time of revelation of the Qur'an this practice was rampant in the Arab society, the Qur'an used this word in the above sense. When used in this sense it becomes equivalent to the English word "persecution". The following verses bear witness to this usage:

فَمَاۤ اٰمَنَ لِمُوۡسٰۤی اِلَّا ذُرِّیَّۃٌ مِّنۡ قَوۡمِہٖ عَلٰی خَوۡفٍ مِّنۡ فِرۡعَوۡنَ وَ مَلَا۠ئِہِمۡ اَنۡ یَّفۡتِنَہُمۡ ؕ وَ اِنَّ فِرۡعَوۡنَ لَعَالٍ فِی الۡاَرۡضِ ۚ وَ اِنَّہٗ لَمِنَ الۡمُسۡرِفِیۡنَ . (83:10)

But none believed in Moses except some children of his People; because of the fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them; and certainly Pharaoh was mighty on the earth and one who transgressed all bounds. (10:83)

ثُمَّ اِنَّ رَبَّکَ لِلَّذِیۡنَ ہَاجَرُوۡا مِنۡۢ بَعۡدِ مَا فُتِنُوۡا ثُمَّ جٰہَدُوۡا وَصَبَرُوۡۤا ۙ اِنَّ رَبَّکَ مِنۡۢ بَعۡدِہَا لَغَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِیۡمٌ .(110:16)

But surely your Lord – to those who leave their homes after they are subjected to persecution – and who thereafter strive and patiently persevere – your Lord, after all this, is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (16:110)

اِنَّ الَّذِیۡنَ فَتَنُوا الۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنٰتِ ثُمَّ لَمۡ یَتُوۡبُوۡا فَلَہُمۡ عَذَابُ جَہَنَّمَ وَ لَہُمۡ عَذَابُ الۡحَرِیۡقِ . (10:85)

Those who persecute the believers, men and women, and do not turn in repentance, will face the torment of Hell and they will have [to endure] the torment of the Burning Fire. (85:10)

3. خَيْر (khayr)

The word خَيْرis also used in the Qur'an to connote "wealth". Some verses of the Qur'an in which this word is used in this connotation are:

یَسۡـَٔلُوۡنَکَ مَا ذَا یُنۡفِقُوۡنَ ۬ؕ قُلۡ مَاۤ اَنۡفَقۡتُمۡ مِّنۡ خَیۡرٍ فَلِلۡوَالِدَیۡنِ وَ الۡاَقۡرَبِیۡنَ وَ الۡیَتٰمٰی وَ الۡمَسٰکِیۡنِ وَ ابۡنِ‌السَّبِیۡلِ.(215:2)

They ask you about what they should spend. Tell them: "Whatever wealth you spend is for your parents and kinsfolk and for the orphan and the destitute and the wayfarer." (2:215)

وَ مَا تُنۡفِقُوۡا مِنۡ خَیۡرٍ فَلِاَنۡفُسِکُمۡؕ وَ مَا تُنۡفِقُوۡنَ اِلَّا ابۡتِغَآءَ وَجۡہِ اللّٰہِؕ وَ مَا تُنۡفِقُوۡا مِنۡ خَیۡرٍ یُّوَفَّ اِلَیۡکُمۡ وَ اَنۡتُمۡ لَا تُظۡلَمُوۡنَ. (2:272)

And whatever wealth you give shall be for your own benefit and do not spend except to please God. And whatever wealth you spend shall be repaid to you in full: you shall not be wronged. (2:272)

4. صوم (sawm)

While tracing the meaning of this word, Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:[2]

The words صوم and صيام are verbal nouns and literally mean "to abstain from something" and "to leave something". The expression صام الفرس صوما would mean "the horse did not eat its fodder." Nabighah says:

خيل صيامه و خيل غير صائمة

تحت العجاج واخري تعلك اللجما

(Many hungry horses and many satisfied ones were standing in the dust of the battlefield and others who were chewing their reins.)

Imam Hamid al-Din Farahi while presenting his research on the word صوم in his book Usul al-shara'i writes:

The people of Arabia formally trained their horses in order to make them used to hunger and thirst so that they would be able to bear great hardships in difficult circumstances. Similarly they would train and instruct their horses to combat strong winds. This training would be of great utility in times of war and travel when they would have to face strong gusts of wind… Jarir says:

ظللنا بمستن الحرور كاننا

لدي فرس مستقبل الريح صائم

(We stood our ground against the gusts of warm wind as if we were standing beside a horse which was fighting against a strong wind and was fasting)

In this couplet, the poet has compared himself and his companions with a man who is standing beside his horse and training him to combat hunger and strong winds. It should be kept in consideration that the Arabs made comparisons with things which are in common observation; they did not go after rarities for comparisons … in short, there are many couplets which depict the صوم of horses.

5. اَلمُشْرِكُوْن (al-mushrikun)

In the عرف ('urf: conventional usage) of the Qur'an, the word al-mushrikun (اَلمُشْرِكُوْن) is specifically used for the polytheists of Arabia. These polytheists subscribed to the creed of polytheism and worshipped other deities besides the Almighty and insisted that polytheism is the very religion revealed by the Almighty. Accordingly, they were called al-mushrikun (المشركون) because of their declared adherence to polytheism.

In contrast to them, the People of the Book of Arabia (the Jews and Christians) were basically monotheists though they had become incriminated with certain blatant forms of polytheism. The Qur'an points out their polytheistic practices in the following words:

وَ قَالَتِ الۡیَہُوۡدُ عُزَیۡرُۨ ابۡنُ اللّٰہِ وَ قَالَتِالنَّصٰرَی الۡمَسِیۡحُ ابۡنُ اللّٰہِؕذٰلِکَ قَوۡلُہُمۡبِاَفۡوَاہِہِمۡۚیُضَاہِـُٔوۡنَ قَوۡلَ الَّذِیۡنَ کَفَرُوۡا مِنۡقَبۡلُؕقٰتَلَہُمُ اللّٰہُۚ۫اَنّٰی یُؤۡفَکُوۡنَ.اِتَّخَذُوۡۤا اَحۡبَارَہُمۡ وَ رُہۡبَانَہُمۡ اَرۡبَابًا مِّنۡدُوۡنِ اللّٰہِ وَ الۡمَسِیۡحَ ابۡنَ مَرۡیَمَۚوَمَاۤ اُمِرُوۡۤا اِلَّا لِیَعۡبُدُوۡۤا اِلٰـہًا وَّاحِدًاۚلَاۤ اِلٰہَ اِلَّا ہُوَؕسُبۡحٰنَہٗعَمَّا یُشۡرِکُوۡنَ.(9:30-31)

The Jews [of Arabia] call 'Uzayr son of God, and the Christians call Christ the son of God. That is a saying from their mouth; [in this] they but imitate what the disbelievers of old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth! They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords besides Allah, and [they take as their Lord] Christ, the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One God: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: [far is He] from having the partners they associate with Him. (9:30-1)

However, the Qur'an nowhere in its entire text calls them polytheists. A person becomes a polytheist when he openly admits that he is a polytheist. A person who claims to be a monotheist in spite of being involved in polytheistic practices, cannot be regarded as a polytheist. The reason is that such a person might be doing something wrong without realizing what he is doing.

Moreover, the distinction the Qur'an makes between declared adherents to polytheism (the Idolaters of Arabia) and those who were adverse to polytheism yet had become involved in it (the People of the Book of Arabia), can be appreciated in its subtle choice of words for both these religious denominations. While referring to the polytheistic practices of the People of the Book, it always employs a verb; never are they referred to in the form of an adjective. The reason for this distinction is that an adjective qualifies states of permanence and perpetuity while a verb qualifies a temporary or transient state.[3]In other words, the mention of the polytheistic practices of the People of the Book in the form of verbs shows that they at times indulged in polytheism (that too without realizing it) and were not its positive advocates.

6. قَرْءٌ (qar'uṇ)

The word قَرْءٌ is among those words of the Arabic language which are classed as اَضْدَاد (antithetical words). They are words which have two meanings entirely opposite to one another. It is the context which determines the shade of meaning in which they are used. Example of such words are بَيْع which means both "sale" and "purchase", and اَسَرَّ which means both "to reveal" and "to conceal".

While presenting his research on this word, Imam Amin Ahsan Islahiwrites:[4]

After much deliberation on the root of the word and its derived forms, I have come to the conclusion that its real meaning is that of "menstruation". However, since every menstrual period is followed by a period of purity (طُهْر), the word is also used in this meaning. This is similar to the usage of words "day" for "night" and vice versa. Every language has such words.

It is used in the latter meaning in A 'sha's following couplets:[5]

و فی كل عام انت جاشم غزوة

تشد لاقصاها عزيم عزائمك

مُوَرِّثَةٍ مَالاً وَفي الحَمْدِ رِفْعَةَ

مؤصلة مالا و فی الحي رفعة

لما ضاع فيها من قروء نسائكا

(Will you set out every year to bear the hardship of a war traveling to its peak areas with strong determination; such that you gain wealth and earn fame in return for the missed periods of purity of your wives.)

In the following verses of the Qur'an, it is used in the first meaning:

وَ الۡمُطَلَّقٰتُ یَتَرَبَّصۡنَ بِاَنۡفُسِہِنَّ ثَلٰثَۃَ قُرُوۡٓءٍ.(228:2)

And divorced women must keep themselves waiting for three menstrual courses. (2:228)

This is because, as pointed out by Ghamidi,[6] the real issue in this verse is to ascertain whether a lady is pregnant or not. It is the 'period of menstruation' which actually ascertains this and not the 'period of purity'. Moreover, women are asked to wait in this period and this waiting period can only be ascertained through the menstrual cycle because its beginning can be known with certainty.

7. أمر (amr)

In the Arabic language, the word أمرis not always used to connote a command or a directive. It also means "to suggest and to tempt someone about something". Thus, in the expression (268:2) اَلشَّیۡطٰنُ یَعِدُکُمُ الۡفَقۡرَ وَ یَاۡمُرُکُمۡ بِالۡفَحۡشَآءِ it is used in this sense.

An example of this usage can be seen in the following couplet of Ibn Durayd:[7]

أمرتهم أمرى بمنعرج اللوى

فلم يستبينوا الرشد إلا ضحی الغد

(I had informed them of my suggestion at Mun'araj al-Liwa; however, it was only by morning of the next day that they came to understand.)

A Jahili poet says:[8]

أطعت لآمريك بصرم حبلي

مريهم في أحبتهم بذاك

(You ultimately acceded to those who suggested you to break your ties with me; tell them to act on this suggestion regarding the ones they love.)

[1]. Says Ibn Manzur: جماع معنی الفتنه الابتلاء و الامتحان والاختبار. See: Muhammad ibn Mukarramibn Manzur, Lisan al-'arab, 1st ed., vol. 13 (Beirut: Dar sadir, 1400 AH), 317.

[2]. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Tadabbur-i-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 1, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), 444-45

[3]. See: Hamid al-Din : Farahi,Rasa'il fi 'ulum al-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Azamgarh: Da'irah Hamidiyyah, 1991), 252

[4].Amin Ahsan Islahi,Tadabbur-i-Qur'an, 2nd ed., vol. 1, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), 532.

[5].Al-A'sha,Diwan, 146-147.

[6].Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Al-Bayan, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Al-Mawrid: Topical Printing Press, 2010), 242.

[7].Abu Sa'id 'Abd al-Malik ibn Qarib ibn 'Abd al-Malik, Al-Asma'iyat, 7th ed. (Cairo: Dar al-Ma 'arif, 1993), 146.

[8].Al-Tabrizi,Diwan al-hamasah, vol. 2 (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, n.d.), 145.

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