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General Issues / Questions => Questions/Comments on the Quran => Topic started by: Wanderer on February 12, 2020, 02:19:19 PM

Title: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Wanderer on February 12, 2020, 02:19:19 PM
Salam everyone

I am a non-Arabic speaker who is studying the Qur'an relatively in depth through several dictionaries. However, I regularly run into the same issue: how much should one rely on the root meaning, since it can sometimes differ rather significantly from the meaning of individual words in particular forms listed in dictionaries (Lane's, for example)? As one who is not very familiar with Arabic grammar and the like, I want to know if it's actually grammatically reasonable to take the root meaning of the word and use it to replace the many, many different meanings listed for a particular root in a lexicon such as Lane's? Is this actually a valid approach, or is it twisting the Arabic language? I also see people applying a particular meaning to a word (for example, those who understand Safa and Marwa to be kinds of animals/fruits/the like), but when I look it up in a dictionary, such as Lane's, this meaning seems to apply to a different word of the same root, whilst the word in the Qur'an is given the more mainstream meanings (rock, stone, pebble or simply a proper noun, Safa/Marwa). I see varying approaches to root words and dictionaries, and wish to gain some insight from a factual, linguistic perspective. I do not wish to gain a completely warped understanding of the Qur'an because I was too 'liberal' or 'strict' in my approach to dictionaries etc. Any help from a knowledgeable speaker of Arabic would be deeply appreciated.

God bless
Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Mazhar on February 12, 2020, 03:38:55 PM
Dictionaries deal with words stemming from Root on various patterns. Root has the Concept.

Arabic words, nouns and verbs, stem from Roots. Root is a cluster of three, in some cases four or rare five, consonants of Alphabet placed in a peculiar sequence. Out of 29 letters of Arabic alphabet, Aleph is not a consonant since it has no sound, hence it is never the part of a Root. All 28 consonants may function as root radicals. However, there are no roots with identical consonants in the first and second position while at the second and third position radicals of a root can be the same consonant. Such roots are termed geminate roots.

Though a combination of three unique consonants can constitute six Roots, for example consonants:

 ح , ب and ر make these Roots:     ب ح ر  -   ب ر ح -   ح ب ر -  ح ر ب -  ر ب ح  -  ر ح ب ; the Roots are determined and fixed. No new Root can be structured.

Roots are comparable to proper names as both are with unique semantic reference. However, there is a profound difference between proper names and roots. The former designate identifiable entities with real existence, whereas root is pure abstraction. The root is the common element shared by its derivatives.

The Root has specific, defined, distinct, conspicuous and apparent concept, phenomenon, perception and signification folded in it. It is the source, the reservoir of knowledge. Roots can be termed as "repertory of frames" of Arabic language if we follow frames approach to semantic analysis.

The amazing fact about the Roots of Arabic is that the perception infolded in them is reflective of physical—scientific realities pertaining both to matter and life. They seem as if they are the baseline for scientific study and investigation. (
Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Wanderer on February 12, 2020, 04:34:44 PM
Salam Mazhar

Thank you for your reply! I am familiar with the things you mentioned, and have also used the website you link to in my study. It has been most helpful! However, my main 'concern', so to speak, is the variance in the way people choose to interpret roots and lexions. Let me use Lane's Lexicon as an example: the way Lane's Lexicon defines words is first: a root; next: a long list of definitions for the different verb forms derived from the root, various nouns, adjectives, etc., with various prefixes, suffixes, vowels and variants etc. that affect the definition - and by that I mean, one word with a particular vowel might mean 'tree' and one with another vowel might mean 'leaf' (just an example to illustrate my point). Is one simply free to completely disregard this and say, 'I'll decide which word means tree and which means leaf based on context, since they both come from the same root as some seem to do? Is this permissible? Can you actually do this? How on earth would anyone know what anything means anymore? Now, the other approach is to take the root meaning and apply that generally. An example here that I just came across today was someone putting forth an argument, based on root meaning, that hillal (commonly taken to mean new moon) did not mean new moon, as the root meaning was something along the lines of announcement - so, hillal thus means announcement in accordance with the root. However, Lane's Lexicon has the Quranic word clearly written out to mean 'new moon' or 'crescent'. Personally, I found the 'announcement' meaning to make more sense in my own interpretation - but is it valid, since the actual word as written in the Qur'an means 'crescent' according to lexicons? Can you just take a root meaning and apply it to whatever derived word you like in whatever way you like?
(note: I do not intend for the specific examples I mentioned to be an object of debate. I simply mentioned them to illustrate my point)

God bless
Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Mazhar on February 13, 2020, 12:50:31 AM
Yes, what you are looking for, it is knowing the reason why the natives use a word in the meaning as they do.

If you see my posts in the Project Root list you will find I am addressing the same point.

I think the reason can be found in the basic concept embedded in the Root.

Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Wakas on February 13, 2020, 03:07:50 AM

In order to minimise subjectivity/bias/issues one should adopt a robust/systematic method when interpreting Quran, e.g.

The root usually contains a core theme/concept which can be seen in most (all?) of the derivatives from that root. A specific derivative could have a specific meaning based on examples cited in Classical Arabic dictionaries and in my view if there is no valid reason for rejecting it then it shouldn't be rejected. If there are still issues, then bear in mind what the word form would theoretically allow in terms of meaning. For an example of what I mean I discuss this in detail with regards to masjid (time/place of sjd) here (
Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Wanderer on February 13, 2020, 11:03:51 AM
Salam Wakas

Yes, I certainly apply all of these methods when studying. The thing I'm not sure about is, aside from grammatical subjects which do not change the fundamental sense of a word itself (gender, number, prefixes and suffixes that denote time/place, such as MAsjid (masjid is still a place or time of prostration/etc., the meaning of prostration is not changed by the MA), how liberal can one be regarding which meaning one 1) chooses from the lexicon 2) how one applies/interprets the root word?
The example I gave with Safa and Marwa for example: some say they mean something related to a stone for slaughter and animals carrying lots of milk, but when I looked in Lane's to verify, these meanings appeared to be listed for another word altogether (compared to the one in the Qur'an) - nothing to do with number, gender or the like from what I could tell (perhaps I was wrong as my knowledge of Arabic is severely limited). But they were however listed under the same root. Can one then simply take these meanings and apply them to pretty much whatever word one wishes as long as one deems it contextually coherent, as some seem to do from what I can understand? Is this a legitimate approach from a linguistic standpoint?
Some also seem to go by the fact that vowel marks etc. weren't added until later on, so as long as the basic letter form is a match, one can include it as the possible correct word and root.
Any input would really be of great help to me.
God bless
Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Cerberus on February 13, 2020, 02:08:09 PM
Well first of all I like how you ask for a "reasonable" interpretation. Unfortunately, that only comes from a reasonable mind and someone with enough self-knowledge and understanding that they can easily spot their own bias.

From what I've seen, people usually use root word re-interpretations in order to change "unreasonable things by today's standards" in the quran and make them reasonable by today's standards, and it produces strange, far-fetched reasonings.

I personally think Quran is very reasonable when you put it in its own context, that is the context of the people of Arabia, 1400 years ago. I also think our reason is evolving through time, which is why we are where we are now after having been in dark ages, as intended. I do not think it was the fruit of Man alone. 
Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Wanderer on February 13, 2020, 02:29:32 PM
Salam Cerberus

I'm afraid you've misunderstood me. I'm not at all asking for reasonable interpretations of the Qur'an in the sense you're referring to, as any consistent, logical interpretation is equally 'reasonable'. My question is purely a linguistical one - that is, what is reasonable from a linguistic perspective in regards to interpretations through root meanings and dictionary/lexicon entries?

God bless
Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Wakas on February 14, 2020, 02:30:53 AM
peace Wanderer,

It's good that you aim to verify, e.g. looking up Lane's Lexicon, but bear in mind that is simply one lexicon. In my view, if the specific derivative in Quran is X and someone assigns it a meaning not found in any lexicon for that specific derivative then the reason must be very good for doing so, i.e. they should be able to provide solid evidence/reasoning for that choice. If not, I would consider it invalid.
As I mentioned, we should also bear in mind the issue of no diacritical/vocalisation of the earliest texts which means that the theoretical word forms (that are able to be derived from the non-vocalised text) would also have to be considered, thus someone could argue even if the meaning they have chosen for the vocalised word we have in the text today is not found in any lexicon it could have been vocalised differently and thus allow the meaning they have chosen. If it matches up, then this is possible. Personally, I would be very careful in using this method and only reserve its use as a last resort.

So to answer your question, yes it's linguistically valid as long as their chosen meaning/derivative could be derived theoretically from the non-vocalised text BUT in my view this approach should be used very cautiously.
Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Mazhar on February 14, 2020, 06:28:55 AM
The example I gave with Safa and Marwa for example

Text does not allow for speculations, except for the people who have tilt in their hearts. So is said in Qur'an about a type of scholars of Qur'an.

إِنَّ ٱلصَّفَا وَٱلْمَرْوَةَ مِن شَعَآئِرِ ٱللَّهِۖ

It is a fact that As-Safa and Al-Marwata are long regarded as amongst Allah's symbolic emblems —

یقینا اللہ تعالیٰ کی جانب سے کعبہ معظمہ کے قریب صفااور مروہ کو تقدس دیئے گئے شعائر (مقدس علامت)میں سمجھا جاتا ہے۔

Root: ص ف و

فَمَنْ حَجَّ ٱلْبَيْتَ أَوِ ٱعْتَمَـرَ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِ أَن يَطَّوَّفَ بِـهِماۚ

Therefore, whoever intended to visit the House (Ka'aba) for annual pilgrimage or affectionate reverent visit, thereby his self imposed affixing of walking around them is not al all blame worthy upon him.

اس لئے جو کوئی اللہ تعالیٰ کے گھرکے حج یا عمرہ کے لئے آیا ہوا ہے تو اس  پر قطعاً  کوئی قابل اعتراض بات  کی گرفت نہیں  کہ   اپنی خوشی اور عقیدت و احترام کے اظہار کے لئے ان  کے گرد طواف کومناسک میں شامل کر لے۔

وَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْـرٙا فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ شَاكِرٌ عَلِيـمٌ .2:158١٥٨

And should someone listen and willingly accept the urge for excelling in righteous conduct; it is good for him since Allah the Exalted is certainly the Recognizer-appreciatively acknowledger;  eternally All-Knowing. [2:158]

مطلع رہو؛ اگر کوئی بھی شخص خود خوشی سے بھلا کام کرنے پر آمادہ ہے تو یہ قابل تحسین ہے۔کیونکہ یہ حقیقت ہے کہ اللہ تعالیٰ ہر اچھے کام کے معترف ہیں،وہ ارادوں کو مکمل جاننے والے ہیں

The choice of prepositions and particular form of verb renders the ellipses explicit.
Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: good logic on February 14, 2020, 06:29:21 AM
Peace All.
My experience with Qoran using lexicons and dictionaries proved more problematic than useful in my early years of study. Many verses were simply not making sense to me even after exchanging different translations of Arabic words. One example below is this verse:

مَن كانَ يَظُنُّ أَن لَن يَنصُرَهُ اللَّهُ فِى الدُّنيا وَالـٔاخِرَةِ فَليَمدُد بِسَبَبٍ إِلَى السَّماءِ ثُمَّ ليَقطَع فَليَنظُر هَل يُذهِبَنَّ كَيدُهُ ما يَغيظُ

I am only just beginning to appreciate the real meaning of the verses that solves the problem for students of Qoran:

عَلَّمَ القُرءانَ

Qoran explains itself according to the intention and sincerity of the student.
Of course one can use all aids possible. More is always better than less, but GOD s help is the most useful and important aid.
GOD bless you all.
Title: Re: Reasonable interpretation of root words
Post by: Wanderer on February 14, 2020, 07:40:11 AM
Salam Wakas

Thank you very much, your response was very helpful and just the kind of answer I was looking for! Lane's was just one example, I often check up to 10 or more different dictionaries, sometimes in different languages as well, and also research different interpretations when trying to understand a particular passage, subject or word. Lane's is usually my starting point though, as it's the most comprehensive dictionary that I've been able to find in any of the languages I speak.
And thank you everyone for your input.

God bless