Allah (SWT) to the Rescue!

Part of the beauty of Arabic is in how it recycles its set of root letters to produce different words that may have different meanings. For example, the word علم is made up of the root letters ع, ل, م. The words عَلَّمَ and تَعَلَّمَ are constructed with the very same root letters, but in meaning, their differences are like night and day. The word عَلَّمَ means to teach, and the word تَعَلَّمَ means to learn.


Think of a set of root letters as grape juice and families as sets of different containers . If we pour this grape juice into a set of mugs , the grape juice will take the shape of those mugs. If we pour this same grape juice into a set of wine glasses, it will take the shape of those wine glasses. Obviously, it’s still halal ole’ grape juice, but now, the ones in the wine glasses carry a different connotation from the ones in the mugs. The same root letters, I mean, grape juice, now may convey two different treatments, I mean, meanings.


There are roughly 10 or 11 of these families in Arabic. Each family has certain qualities that give shape to the meaning of the words they produce. For example, when a set of root letters (ع, ل, م) are plugged into Family V ( تَعَلَّمَ) , it gives the meaning of an action that takes effort. In the case of the example above,  تَعَلَّمَ, learning, takes effort. Whereas if you plug the same root letters into Family II (عَلَّمَ),  it can give the meaning of something happening gradually, repeatedly and over a period of time, which basically describes the nature of teaching.


In Surah Al Baqarah Ayat 49 and 50, the root letters ن,ج,و are plugged into Family II and IV, and as a result, a deep layer of meaning is conveyed in both circumstances. The background of both ayaat is the early history of Bani Israel, during the time when their male infants were being massacred by Firawn, and at the time when they were trapped between the Red Sea and Firawn and his army.


The word being discussed in Ayat 49 is نَجَّيْناكُمْ. It comes from the Family II (عَلَّمَ يُعَلِّمُ تَعْلِيماً), which gives the general meaning of being transitive (something done on something/someone), repetitive, and long term.

Ayat 49:

وَإِذْ نَجَّيْنَاكُمْ مِنْ آلِ فِرْعَوْنَ يَسُومُونَكُمْ سُوءَ الْعَذَابِ يُذَبِّحُونَ أَبْنَاءَكُمْ وَيَسْتَحْيُونَ نِسَاءَكُمْ ۚ وَفِي ذَٰلِكُمْ بَلَاءٌ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ عَظِيمٌ

Sahih International

And [recall] when We saved your forefathers from the people of Pharaoh, who afflicted you with the worst torment, slaughtering your [newborn] sons and keeping your females alive. And in that was a great trial from your Lord. (2:49)



Here Allah is saying, “Remember when we have been saving you all again and again throughout the years from the people of Pharaoh….”. At this time, Firawn was slaughtering every male infant of Bani Israel while leaving the female infants alone. In this scenery,  Allah uses the word that denotes something that happens over a period of time, and is repetitive. Even though it was a massacre, it didn’t entirely wipe out the Israelites as a nation. Probably because Firawn needed enough Israelite slaves, he also ordered the massacre to be done on alternate years. So, the ‘saving’ from Allah is repetitive and long term in that on those alternate years where no Israeli baby boys were taken and slaughtered, the Bani Israel were somewhat saved from Pharaoh’s manic killing spree.


In the next ayah though, ayat 50, Allah uses the word انْجيْناَكُمْ that falls into the pattern from family IV (أسلَمَ يُسلِمُ إسلاماً) which gives the general meaning of being transitive (something done on someone/something), but instead of being repetitive and long term like in Family II, it gives the meaning of an action that is immediate and complete.


This ayah is talking about the time when Musa a.s. and all of Bani Israel had escaped from Firawn in secret at night, and found themselves at the shore of the Red Sea in the morning. By this time however, Firawn had discovered their escape, and he was furious! He gathered his army and set out after Musa a.s. and his people.


Before they knew it, Musa a.s. and Bani Israel found themselves precariously trapped between the Red Sea and Firawn with his massive army. They couldn’t turn back, nor could they move forward! At that moment, Allah inspired Musa a.s. to strike his staff on the sea and by His will and might, the Red sea parted, cleaving a dry path from the ocean floor for Bani Israel’s epic escape.


Ayat 50

وَإِذْ فَرَقْنَا بِكُمُ الْبَحْرَ فَأَنْجَيْنَاكُمْ وَأَغْرَقْنَا آلَ فِرْعَوْنَ وَأَنْتُمْ تَنْظُرُونَ

Sahih International

And [recall] when We parted the sea for you and saved you and drowned the people of Pharaoh while you were looking on. (2:50)


Obviously, Allah’s rescue here was immediate and complete! The entire Bani Israel were rescued all at once by Allah through the parting of the Red Sea. In fact, even the word for ‘drowned‘ (أغْرَقْناَ) came in this family form, thus meaning, ‘Allah drowned Pharaoh and his army all at once, completely’.


Subhaanallah, indeed, ‘the best of speech is that which is succint and informative’ (خَيرُ الكلامِ قَلَّ و دَلَّ). With one set of root letters plugged into different patterns that have specific meanings to them, different effects and meanings are conveyed without having to resort to wordiness.



1 Comment

  1. Masha Allah

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