Among the most fascinating aspects of the structure of the Arabic word, in particular, and Semitic words in general, is that the meaning of its tri-literal root permeates its derivatives. Let us take, as an example, the tri-literal root عَلِم (ʿalima) x knew y, then observe how the different shades of meaning of knowledge color its derivatives: عَلَم (ʿalam) guidepost; عالَـم (ʿālam) the world; عالِـم (ʿālim) scholar; عَلامة (ʿalāmah) a mark of distinction.

Another dimension of lexical coherence is observed when the sequence of the tri-literal root is varied. In our example, عِلْم (ʿilm) knowledge is manifested as proof in our عَمَل (ʿamal) action, which reflects on our faces as لَمْع (lamʿ) light. Admittedly, this is a more subtle approach to the root structure and is more appropriately classified as إشارة (ishārah) spiritual inference than تفسير (tafsīr) Qur’anic exegesis, especially owing to its lack of consistency across the lexicon.

KNOW YOUR ROOTS is an original pedagogy designed to create mnemonic pegs for the acquisition of Qur’anic vocabulary. In its initial phase, our project will span حزب سبح (ḥizb sabbiḥ) the last 60th of the Qur’an, which Imam Mālik recommended for our five daily prayers and includes the chapters that most have memorized of the Qur’an. Through this humble effort, we hope to deepen our understanding of the verses we recite in prayer and more gratefully appreciate the individual words that our Lord revealed.

—El-Hajj Hisham Mahmoud