Much of Islam was taken from Judaism, and Hebrew and Arabic are closely related. It’s fun to compare the two languages, and I’ve done so in the past.
But this time, I’d like to focus on religious terms, working from Islam/Arabic to Judaism/Hebrew or Aramaic. Many of these cognates are obvious to those already familiar with these languages, others, not so much. Most of my readers are not familiar with Semitic languages, so I’ll preface with some basics.
It’s generally accepted that Proto-Semitic, the common ancestor of Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic (as well as a host of other languages) was spoken around 6,000 years ago. The Semitic languages would have branched off from each other shortly thereafter.
Semitic languages form just one branch of the wider Afro-Asiatic language family, which also includes the Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, Egyptian and Omotic branches. Proto Afro-Asiatic was probably spoken sometime between 10,000 and 18,000 years ago.
Semitic languages, having been written since the dawn of recorded history, tend to be very conservative; a modern Arab could probably understand an Arab from the 6th century with some difficulty. Confronted with a Biblical Jew, it wouldn’t take very long for he and I to be able to understand each other. Obviously, there would be hurdles, but these hurdles wouldn’t be nearly as great as those faced by a modern American trying to converse with Chaucer.
Some of this conservatism applies to the wider Afro-Asiatic languages as well. I’ve discovered words in Somali (a Cushitic language) that closely match the Biblical Hebrew I’m familiar with. To the untrained ear, Somali sounds just like Arabic. Ancient Egyptian would have sounded very similar as well. However, It should be pointed out that it’s not the vocabulary that binds Afro-Asiatic languages together, but their structure and grammar – and even that is sometimes controversial.
When identifying cognates between Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, there are certain allowances that can be made. The 3 radicals, which make up a Semitic root, can sometimes change order. For example: ضرب / dˤarab is “hit” in Arabic. In Hebrew, the root is רבּץ / RabaṢ. That final S being a variant of the Arabic dˤ (same letter in Arabic, but without a dot on top). Sometimes, a guttural letter can be exchanged with another guttural letter, or a labial letter with another labial letter.
If we have to go back to pre-Semitic times (in other words, to Afro-Asiatic times) to find our cognate, letter replacements become more common. The Afar tribesmen of Ethiopia speak a Cushitic language. In their language, Afar means “dust” as their land is very dusty. In Hebrew, a similar word (עפר) means soil. Switch the initial guttural ‘Ayin to Alef, and we get אפר (efer), which means ash, but can also refer to dust.
Semitic languages place a lot of importance on double letters. In Hebrew, such a double letter has what is called a “dagesh” (דגש), while in Arabic, it’s called Shadda (الشدة). When you see “ll” or “kk,” for example, it means that the original is actually a double letter.
In most forms of Arabic, the letter جي (jim) is pronounced “j.” while in most forms of Hebrew, the equivalent גּ (gimel) is pronounced as a hard “g.” They’re the same letter. In comparing radicals, I simply used the letter G for both.
Between Hebrew and Arabic, the phonemes sh and s are interchangeable. For example, Arabic Shams (sun) is Shemesh in Hebrew. Hebrew Semol (left) is Shemal in Arabic. Arabic Ras (head) is Rosh in Hebrew and so on. Therefore, for simplicity, I used the letter S when comparing radicals.
It’s also worth noting that the letters P and F are the same letter in Hebrew, and that Arabic has no P; it always appears as F. They are interchangeable.
This is not an exhaustive list. Hopefully, readers will make more suggestions, which I’ll add as time goes by.
Allah (الله) –The Arabic word for “god.”
Hebrew: El (אל) or Ellohim (אלּהים). It means God. Common radicals ʔ/L/L. The last L will sometimes manifest itself in Hebrew (אלילים or as the dagesh in אלּהים). Common radicals A/L/L
Daʕwah (الدعوة) – The spreading of Islam, through proselytizing, outreach, economics or political means.
Literally, this word means issuing a summons or making an invitation. Hebrew Daʕth (דעת). It’s generally translated at knowledge. hence, when the Bible uses it to refer to sexual relations, we find (Genesis 4:1) וְהָאָדָם, יָדַע אֶת-חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ: And the man knew Eve his wife. It seems to me that, as a euphemism, summoning, or inviting, one’s wife would work better. Common radicals D/ʕ. Alternately, the word De’ah (דעה) means opinion in Hebrew. In Aramaic, it’s Da’awan (דעון), which has all three radicals in common with Arabic: D/ʕ/W, the final N is not part of the root.
Deen (الدين) – Judgement, custom, religion
Hebrew Deen (דין). It means judge, sentence or rule. It’s the root of the name Dan, as in (Genesis 30:6) וַתֹּאמֶר רָחֵל, דָּנַנִּי אֱלֹהִים, וְגַם שָׁמַע בְּקֹלִי, וַיִּתֶּן-לִי בֵּן; עַל-כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ, דָּן: And Rachel said: ‘God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son.’ Therefore called she his name Dan. It’s also the root of Dan’s half sister, Dina (Genesis 30:21). Common radicals D/N
Hadith (الحديث) – A traditional account of things said or done by Muhammad recorded by his followers, commonly taught as a part of Islamic theology. الحديث. Hebrew Ḥadash (חדּש). It means new. We find this word in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 1:9) וְאֵ֥ין כָּל־חָדָ֖שׁ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ There is nothing new under the Sun. The th/t and sh sounds are sometimes interchangeable, for example “Tor” is Aramaic for ox, and the Hebrew word is “shor.” In Arabic, it’s “thawr.” Common radicals Ḥ/D/th-Sh
Hajj (الحج) – Pilgrimage
A pilgrimage made by Muslims to the city of Makkah (Mecca), the holiest city of Islam. Every Muslim is expected to to make a religious journey to Mecca if they are physically and financially able to do so. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Hebrew “Ḥag” (חג). It means a holiday, specifically one of 3 holidays where Jews would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Also called “Shalosh Reghalim” (three holidays of pilgrimage), which are Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost. Common radicals Ḥ/G/G. The last G will sometimes manifest itself in Hebrew, depending on usage (חגיגה for example).
Halal (حلال) – Permissible
A term describing something that is lawful and permitted in Islam, according to Islamic law. Often used to described food or drink which is permitted for consumption under Islamic dietary laws. حلال. Hebrew Ḥillah (חלּה). It means to soften, sooth, assuage, mollify or to pray, beg, entreat implore. This cognate is uncertain. Common radicals Ḥ/L/L
Haram (حرام) – Forbidden
Hebrew Ḥerem (חרם). It means a ban, excommunication or embargo/ MaḤrim (מחרים) means to ban, outlaw, ostracize, excommunicate or destroy. Common radicals Ḥ/R/M
Hijab (الحجاب) – modesty covering for women
Hebrew ‘Agab (עגב). It means lust, or the parts of a woman’s body that men lust after. Common radicals Ḥ-ʕ/G/B
Imam (الإمام) – Person or religious leader who leads prayers in a mosque
This word is closely related to the Arabic word Amam (أمام), in front of. Hebrew ‘Ummat (עמּת). It means against, opposite, parallel. Related (possibly) to Aramaic Aman (אמּן). It means to arrange in straight lines, hence Hebrew Amen. Common radicals ʔ-ʕ/M/M
Islam ( الاسلام)
It comes from the Arabic word Salam (سلام), which means peace or subjugation. Hebrew Shalom (שלום). It means peace, and it’s related to the word Shalem (שלּם), which means complete. Common radicals S/L/M
Jihad (الجهاد) – Holy war
This Arabic word is derived from the root Jahd (خهد).Hebrew lost the middle H, and became Gad (גד). See my post on this here. We find this word in Genesis 49:19 גָּ֖ד גְּד֣וּד יְגוּדֶ֑נּוּ וְה֖וּא יָגֻ֥ד עָקֵֽ: Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels. Common radicals G/D
Jizyah (الجزية) – Tax on non-Muslims
Hebrew Giza (גזה). It means fleece. Honorable mention, Gizbar (גזבר). It means a treasurer, especially of a synagogue. Common radicals G/Z
Kafir (كافر) – Non-believer/infidel. A non-Muslim.
Hebrew Kofer (כופר). It generally refers to a Jew who denies the tenets of Judaism. The term is typically not applied to non-Jews. Common radicals K/F/R.
Qur’an (القرآن) – The central religious text of Islam
Hebrew Qore (קורא). It means read. The Scriptures are called Miqra (מקרא). Common radicals Q/R/ʔ
Madrasah (المدرسة) – an educational institution for any kind of learning, especially, a religious school.
Hebrew Midrash (מדרש). It means a school, especially a religious school. Common radicals D/R/S. The M, in both Arabic and Hebrew, is not part of the root.
Masjad (mosque مسجد) – A Muslim place of prayer
Hebrew Segida (סגידה). It means prostration, or genuflection. The Arabic initial M is not part of the root. This word is more common in Aramaic, as in Daniel 3:7 וְכֹ֖ל זְנֵ֣י זְמָרָ֑א נָֽפְלִ֨ין כָּֽל־עַֽמְמַיָּ֜א אֻמַיָּ֣א וְלִשָּׁנַיָּ֗א סָֽגְדִין֙ לְצֶ֣לֶם דַּהֲבָ֔א דִּ֥י הֲקֵ֖ים נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּ֥ר מַלְכָּֽא: all peoples and nations of every language fell down and worshiped the statue of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Common radicals S/G/D.
Hebrew Ḥemed (חמד). It means grace, charm, beauty or elegant. Common radicals Ḥ/M/D. The M in the Arabic name is not part of the root.
This is simply another form of the word “Islam,” using the same S/L/M root. See “Islam” above.
Niqab (النقاب) – Strict covering for women, which leaves holes for the eyes.
Hebrew Neqeb (נקב). It means hole, perforation. Common radicals N/Q/B
Ramadan (رمضان) – The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset
The word Ramadan (رمضان) is derived from ramadˤ (رمض), which is an Arabic word for heat. The same root is used to refer to burnt earth, a hot climate or a lack of food. Hebrew RemeṢ (רמץ). It means cinders, embers, hot ashes. RamuṢ (רמוץ) means covered in hot ashes. Common radicals R/M/Ṣ – dˤ, The Arabic letter ض is a different form of the same letter without the hypercritical mark (ص). They are not interchangeable within Arabic, but they are interchangeable between Semitic languages.
Ṣalat (صلاة) – The Arabic word for prayer
Usually refers to the ritual prayer performed five times daily at specific times; the second pillar of Islam. This word is not used in Hebrew, but is commonly used in Jewish prayers that are in Aramaic, specifically the prayer for the dead (Qaddish). Aramaic Ṣallotha (צלּותא). It means prayer. Common radicals Ṣ/L. The final L in the Arabic word is not part of the root, and neither is the th in the Aramaic version.
Ṣawm (صيام) – Arabic word for fasting
Hebrew Ṣom (צום). It means fast (day). Common radicals Ṣ/W/M
Shahada (الشهادة) – The declaration of belief in the singularity of Allah and the prophethood of Mohammed; one of the five pillars of Islam
Hebrew does not use this word for “witness,” but Aramaic does, and it appears in the Bible (Genesis 31:47): וַיִּקְרָא־לֹ֣ו לָבָ֔ן יְגַ֖ר שָׂהֲדוּתָ֑א וְיַֽעֲקֹ֔ב קָ֥רָא לֹ֖ו גַּלְעֵֽד – Laban called it Yagar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Gal’ed (Mound of Witness). Common radicals S/H/D.
Shariaʕ (الشريعة) – The laws of Islam derived from the Koran and from the teachings and example of Muhammad that regulate the spiritual and secular actions of Muslims
Hebrew Shaʕr (שער). It means gate. In ancient times, the streets of walled cities would lead to, and start from, a gate. Additionally, though it’s not actually a cognate, the body of Jewish Law is called Halakha (הלכה), which literally means path. Common radicals S/R/ʕ = S/ʕ/R
Shia (شيعة) – The second largest denomination of Islam after Sunni Islam. Shia Muslims believe that the rightful successor to Muhammad after his death was his son-in-law Ali
This word comes from the word for “followers” (as in “The Followers of Ali” شِيعَة عَلِيّ). Hebrew/Aramaic Siyyaʕ (סיּעה). It means help, support(ers). A common Jewish (Aramaic) expression is Besayaʕta dishmaya (בסיעתא דשמיא). It means with the help of heaven. Common radicals S/Y/ʕ.
Sunnah (السنة) – A collection of Muhammad’s words and deeds during his lifetime
In Arabic, it means “habit” or “usual practice.” Hebrew Shanen (שנן). It means to teach or learn through repetition. It appears in the Bible (Deuteronomy 6:7): וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ – Teach them to your sons. Common radicals S/N/N.
Sunni (سني) – The largest branch of Islam. Sunni Muslims believe the first four successors to Muhammad after his death were the rightful leaders and not his son-in-law Ali
This is a variant of “Sunnah” above.
Sura (سورة) – One of the sections of the Koran, which are traditionally arranged in order of decreasing length. The Koran contains 114 suras
Surah can mean the foundation of a wall in Arabic. Hebrew Shur (שור). It means wall. The Hebrew word Shura (שורה) means file, line, row, rank, column or series. Common radicals S/W/R
Tafsir (التفسير) – Interpretations of the Koran by Islamic scholars; the Arabic word for exegesis or commentary
Hebrew Pesher (פשר). It means meaning, interpretation. Another variation of this word is Pether (פתר). It appears in Genesis several times. For example, Genesis 40:16: וַיַּ֥רְא שַׂר־הָאֹפִ֖ים כִּ֣י ט֣וֹב פָּתָ֑ר וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־יוֹסֵ֔ף: The baking officer saw that he gave a good interpretation, and he said to Joseph… Common radicals P/S/R or P/Th/R. The initial T in the Arabic word is not part of the root.
TawḤid (التوحيد) – The central Islamic doctrine that dictates there is no other god but Allah
Hebrew EḤad (אחד). It means one. This word is found in the Bible (Deuteronomy 6:4) שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד: Listen Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Common radicals Ḥ/D.
Ummah (الأمة) – The Islamic nation as a whole
Hebrew Umma (אמּה). It means nation, as in “ummoth ha’Olam” (אמּות העולם) “nations of the world.” Common radicals ʔ/M.
Zakat (زكاة) – The giving of alms or contributions to charity as an act of worship, usually about 2.5 percent of one’s annual wealth given mainly for the benefit of the poor and the needy. One of the five pillars of Islam
Arabic meaning: That which purifies. Hebrew: Zakh (זך). It means pure, clean. Also Zakai (זכאי). It means innocent, worthy. Common radicals Z/K. The final T in the Arabic word is not part of the root.