What is the root word of excellent?

What do the words "Muslim" and "Kafir" mean?

A single word in Arabic can have many seemingly irrelevant meanings and still be all correct.

There are a few things that you need to understand: 1. Arabic roots as a concept in itself. 2- Islamic terminology and the role of the Quran in redefining words or adding additional meanings to words.

1. Roots: Arabic roots usually denote one or two central concepts, and words derived from those roots often have many shades of meaning that revolve around these central concepts. Sometimes they mean something completely different. Sounds very complex and involved, I know, but that makes Arabic extremely expressive. When it comes to Classical Arabic, very often a single word cannot be expressed in a single English word. Like "Islam", which I explained in your previous question: What does the word "Islam" mean?

There is a conceptual philosophy behind every word. It is not just that a word "means" this or that, but when one studies Classical Arabic one realizes "why" it means this or that and how words are related and how their derivatives are reversed Concepts around developed will and how it can therefore mean many other things. So when you understand the key concepts a root might be dealing with, then you see the common thread that holds seemingly irrelevant words together, regardless of how far semantically distant they look when translated into another language.

2. Words that have a different meaning in Islamic terminology than their usual usage. This actually applies to every field of knowledge. Usually field-specific jargon gives new meaning to ordinary words. As for Islam, Arabic and Islam are very closely related. You can never fully understand Islam without knowing well the vehicle of its revelation through the Quran - that is, Arabic. Nor can you really understand Arabic thoroughly without understanding Islamic ideology. Islam presents a complete worldview in which every existing concept is the product of a source, with the ultimate source and creator being Allah. There are words that generally have their own literal meaning, but have been given a new use in the Quran. Therefore, through the language of the Qur'an, Allah redefined the meaning of some words or gave them a new religious dimension, and this meaning was then used in Islamic terminology to denote certain things.

For example, the word Iman (the opposite of "Kufr" - the noun of KFR) does not mean just Belief / belief. It means belief, but its root (AMN) means reliability, trustworthiness, security and security. To have "Iman" (faith) therefore also means the idea that one becomes safe and secure where faith leads to security and salvation. Because of the underlying concepts, words can have many meanings.

Well, Kafara (the root of which is KFR) is one such word with many meanings, and some of its meanings come from its use by the Quran. One of its original meanings is "to cover up" or "the farmer who sows seeds" (ie, to cover up seeds). Taken from the famous Abbas Ali Nadwi dictionary, its many meanings are translated into English as follows:

  • to hide, to cover up, to deny, to renounce (can you see the logical continuation?)
  • In connection with the Arabic preposition "bi" this means "to reject" (opposite of belief). Kafara bi-Allah means Allah to reject / not to believe.
  • for example, to deny / not believe, the Quran uses it with this meaning in the following verse:

"And one group of the children of Israel believed, and one group did Kufr (incredulously) ". (61:14)

  • ungrateful, negligent (opposite of gratitude). This meaning comes from the fact that God puts "kfr" as the opposite of "sh-kr" in the Quran, which means gratitude. For example in the following verse:

"Whoever thanks, only thanks for (the well-being) of his own soul, and whoever Kufr does (is ungrateful) (is ungrateful only to his own soul). "(27:40)

This results in a conceptual understanding that knowing one's Creator is a form of gratitude to the Source who has given one everything one has in life, from all the mechanisms of the universe that make life on earth possible to the own limbs and intellect and abilities and relationships as well as food and nourishment. This, of course, follows from the idea that it would be some kind of ingratitude if someone gave me a gift and I ignored their existence.

  • reject. For example, the Qur'an uses this word for the great prophet Noah, whom God saved on the ark after spending a good nine centuries of his life preaching to his people who were consistent with him declined would have:

And We carried him on a (ship) of boards and nails, that under our eyes floated , a reward for the one who Kufir (rejected)! (54: 13-14)

  • In one chapter, the Qur'an uses the word "kuffar" (derived from KFR) twice within the same verse, once for those who do not believe and once for peasants who sow seeds.

There is also the word "kaffaarah" which means compensation, like a fine paid to "make amends" or "cover up" if you will. Going a little deeper, there is the concept in Islam that God creates all equally and every human being is born pure and in harmony with nature, in harmony with the Creator and his creation, and is therefore "Muslim" by nature (one who submits) by nature to God). Conversion to another religion is only seen as a product of care. Hence, a person who is confronted with the truth of their Creator and rejects / does not believe it is actually "covering up / hiding" their true inner nature or hiding the truth. (There is another discussion about the difference between someone who totally rejects God (kaafir) and one who believes in God but does so without believing in his true sovereignty and by giving others a share of his divinity, for example by other than God considered with him. But that's another topic).

Now the thing is - if a single word can have so many meanings, you can imagine that it could create communication problems - because one person could mean many things at the same time. So what happens in regular communication is that there is usually a broad meaning conventionally understood. Most of the time, when we deal with religion, "kaafir" simply means "unbeliever" of Islam. This is the most common meaning. Also, most Muslims these days know no other meanings beyond that unless they have formally studied Arabic and Quran at a higher level.


The word Muslim comes from the root "SLM" as I answered in your previous question, which denotes the meaning of peace and security. It also relates to the concept of submission (which is the logical premise for peace. After all, there is no peace in which everyone raises their own head in self-meaning - there has to be a certain "surrender" and "surrender").

Meanings of interconnected words derived from SLM, again from the precious Abbas Nadwi dictionary referring to the Quran, with minor changes:

  • salima: to be in perfect condition / good / without blemish.
  • sallama means to hand over / to send.
  • sallama also means to greet / greet (usually to greet peace. "Assalamu alaikum")
  • Sallama also means to be firm / whole.
  • Sallam also means saving.
  • aslama: submit to someone / something. Usually to accept Islam.

"Aslama" is simply a higher derivative verb form conjugated from a triliteral root by prefixing the root with the letter "a". When doing this to a root, the derivative verb usually means that one reaches the meaning of that root through oneself (not through someone doing it for them). The verbal noun of "Aslama" is "Islam".

The word "silm" means peace, reconciliation, self-resignation, submission, and with the definite article this word is synonymous with the word "Islam" as used in this Quranic verse:

"Oh you who believe! Enter al-Silm entirely." (2: 208)

"Muslim" is the active participle of the verb "aslama" or one who chooses the state "silm" / "Islam". So it literally means to willingly submit / surrender / become in peace / become whole and in Islamic terminology the meaning converges to submit to Allah and thereby achieve peace / security. In short, "Muslim" is one who regards Islam (submission to God) as his religion. This applies to a person no matter what time or place on earth they are. If they were alive in the time of the Prophet Noah, Abraham, Moses or Jesus (peace be upon them all) and followed their original teachings of submission to God, or if they are alive after the time of Muhammad (peace be upon him) - that is, at this time - and follow his teachings of submission to God or if you have never been exposed to a prophet or leader but have really submitted your heart to him anyway.

Larry Harson

+1 Thank you for the effort you put into this very well-informed answer.