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What does Dunya mean?

The word الدُّنْيا (al-Dunya) means the world. But that is only the interpretation of the word – but not the literal meaning!

Last updated: May 2, 2021

Today, we are going to have a look at the structure and pattern of a very common word.

The 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 ofالدُّنْيا is the lowest or the closest or the nearestand 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:

meaningcomparative feminine formcomparative masculine formroot
closer; closestدُنْياأَدْنَىد – ن – و
higher; highestعُلْياأَعْلَىع – ل – ى
further; furthestقُصْوَىأَقْصَىق – 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

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