1. A single Arabic word can express a meaning which will take several lines to convey in English.

Consider the following verse:

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

[All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds – [1:1]

The word Hamd is translated as ‘praise’. However, this word doesn’t just denote praise. Hamd is to praise someone who deserves praise no matter what. It is not necessary that they are praised because they did something praiseworthy. Praise itself belongs to them. Hamd also means gratitude. It is gratitude which doesn’t need a specific action from the one to whom we’re showing gratitude. It is just not possible to convey this deep meaning in translation. In fact, each of the words of the verse can be taken by itself and it would take several lines to explain their true meaning.

This is true not just for Arabic but for any other language. If you know another language besides English, you know what I’m talking about. It is not possible to completely translate something from one language to another, because each language has a different make-up. It is especially true for ancient Arabic because of its rich and poetic nature.

  1. An array of different words can give different shades of meaning whereas in English there is just a single word (or its synonyms) to describe the concept.

This was illustrated in one of my previous articles where I listed ten different words in Arabic for friend. Here is a summary:

Wali A protecting friend
Hameem A ‘warm’, close friend whom you love
Sadeeq A true friend who never leaves you no matter what
Sahib A friend who is concerned about you and wants to help you.
Waleejah A friend who is deeply involved in your affairs, whom you can trust with anything
Bitanah A friend with whom you share your secrets
Khadhool A fake friend
khadn Boyfriend/ girlfriend
Qareen A friend with whom you hang out all the time
Khaleel A very deep friend


  1. The same sentence (or phrase) in Arabic could have more than one meaning in English.

Consider the word ‘’as’as’ in the following verse:

وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا عَسْعَسَ

And by the night as it closes in [81:17]

This word can mean either ‘to go away’ or ‘to begin’. Due to this word, the verse gets both the meanings of ‘By the night when it goes away’ and ‘By the night when it comes’. This shows the miraculous nature of the Quran, and its precision, because when night comes in one part of the earth, it is also leaving another part. But how do you translate this concept in one sentence in English?

  1. The various Arabic sentence structures and morphologies are just not translatable.

فَلِلَّهِ الْحَمْدُ

Then, to Allah belongs [all] praise…. [45:36]

الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ

[All] praise is [due] to Allah [1:1]

It is not possible to find any difference between the above two phrases if you read the translation. But there is a difference.

  1. The miracle of the Quran is just not translatable.

Take the following example:

وَرَبَّكَ فَكَبِّرْ

And your Lord glorify [74:3]

The above verse in an example of a palindrome, a sentence which reads the same forwards and backwards.

This is a miracle of the Quran. The Quran was not written down as a whole until long after the Prophet’s (saws) death, and the Prophet conveyed it orally during his lifetime. These linguistic miracles point towards the Divine origin of the Quran. But how do you translate that in English? It’s just not possible.

Learn Arabic at UQ Academy. It’s easy and fast and you can learn on the go on your smart phones and tablets using UQA special Apps. Start with Learning 50% of Quranic Words with grammar in 9 hours!

Tabassum Mosleh



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