Last updated: February 20, 2022
Today, we are going to have a look at the structure and pattern of a very common word. The Arabic word dunya/”dunja” (دُنْيا) is usually translated into English as world. The meaning is correct – but the literal translation is totally different. Let us check the root for this word: د – ن – و
The literal meaning of الدُّنْيا is the lowest or the closest or the nearest – and not world.
Grammatically speaking, the word دُنْيا is the feminine form of the pattern أَفْعَلُ. It is the comparative or superlative (elative) form, so called اِسْم التَّفْضِيل. The word دُنْيا is generally used in its definite form: الدُّنْيا. The plural of دُنْيا is دُنْيَيات
Let us check this pattern in detail:
|meaning||comparative feminine form||comparative masculine form||root|
|closer; closest||دُنْيا||أَدْنَى||د – ن – و|
|higher; highest||عُلْيا||أَعْلَى||ع – ل – ى|
|further; furthest||قُصْوَى||أَقْصَى||ق – ص – و|
Notice the feminine form in the last example! It is different, because in the root, there is a و
The meaning of دُنْيا is similar to أَقْرَبُ – meaning: closer.
A long time ago, people were using the term الْحَياةُ الدُّنْيا for describing the life which is closest to us (namely: life in this world) – because the afterlife/the hereafter (الْحَياة الْآخِرة) is something we don’t know. After some time, the word الْحَياة was deleted.
The expression الدُّنْيا is already found in the Qur’an, e.g. 16;30, سُورة النَّحْل (The bee)
… لِلَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا فِي هٰذِهِ الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةٌ وَلَدَارُ الْآخِرَةِ خَيْرٌ…
…for those who do good is a reward in this present world, but the abode of the Hereafter is far better…
Remark: The most famous mosque in Jerusalem, which is also one of the most important in Islam, is called al-Aqsa-Mosque. It is called الأَقْصَى as in old times it was the mosque that was the furthest from Mecca. الأَقْصَى literally means the furthest.
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picture credit: Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay