One of the words I’ve always wondered about is the word نِعْمَة. The word and other words that come from the same root (ن-ع-م) occur in the Quran more than 100 times. It’s frequently translated as “favor”, “bounty”, or “grace”. I’ve even heard it as “blessing”. That gives the jist of it but I’d like to go more into the meanings using what’s found in the older dictionaries.
نِعْمَة and نَعْمَة
The word نِعْمَةٌ is a “situation in which someone is in a good state”. It’s built using the same pattern that is used for single situations. For example, جِلْسَةٌ is used for a single situation of جَلَسَ (“he sat”) when someone sat or رِكْبَةٌ (a single situation when someone was riding). So now you know that words that rhyme with فِعْلَة (with a kasrah on the first letter) can be used to mark a single time that someone was in a certain condition.
The word نَعْمَةٌ (with a fathah on the ن) is used for a single occasion that somebody enjoyed what’s nice and had comfort in life. It refers to the actual enjoyment itself. Words that rhyme with فَعْلَة (with a fathah on the first letter) give the meaning that somebody did something once or a single time. For example, ضَرْبَةٌ means a single strike that somebody did (from ضَرَبَ – “he struck”). شَتْمَةٌ means when somebody gloated once (from شَتَمَ – “he gloated”)
نِعْمَةُ can be used for all kinds of good states, whether few or large in number. Some places in the Quran:
- وَإِن تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَا (“And if you should count the نِعمة of Allah , you could not enumerate it.”) [16:18]
- اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ (“Remember My نِعْمَة that I made you get”) [2:40]
- وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي (“and I completed My نِعْمَة upon you”) [5:3]
- فَانقَلَبُوا بِنِعْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ (“So they returned with a نِعْمة from Allah”) [3:174]
Notice that when the word نِعْمَة is attributed to Allah, it refers to something that only He can give (faith, life, hearing, sight, etc.).
The verbs أَنْعَمَ and نَعَّمَ
ًWhen used with the word عَلَى, the verb أنْعَمَ means to make something good happen for someone, to do a favor for them. You only use it if you’re making it happen for an intelligent, talking being (i.e. humans, jinns, angels).
أَنْعَمَ فُلانٌ عَلَى فَرسِهِ (“Someone did a favor for his horse”) makes no sense because a horse is not a talking being.
- أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ (“You did good for them”) [1:7]
- وَإِذْ تَقُولُ لِلَّذِي أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِ (“And when you said to the one that Allah did a favor for and that you did a favor for”) [33:37] – Allah’s favor on Zayd رضي الله عنه was Islam and the Prophet صلى عليه و سلم did a favor for him by setting him free.
Now, if you use َأَنْعَم without عَلَى it means to “have more” or “to increase”. Some ahadith mention the people in the highest levels of Paradise, and they end with the statement إنَّ أبا بَكْرٍ وعُمَرَ مِنْهُمْ وَأَنْعَمَا (“And Abu Bakr and Umar are of them and will have more favors”)
نَعَّمَ (with a shaadah on the ع) is a verb that means to make someone else be in an easy life full of comfort. As in the Quran, فَأَكْرَمَهُ وَنَعَّمَهُ (“And he honors him and makes him in comfort”) [89:15]
Words with the opposite meaning
نَعْماء is the counter-part of ضَرَّاء (state of affliction/hardship/adversity)
وَلَئِنْ أَذَقْنَاهُ نَعْمَاءَ بَعْدَ ضَرَّاءَ مَسَّتْهُ “But if We give him a taste of نَعْماء after ضَرَّاء has touched him” [11:10]
نُعْمَى is the opposite of بُؤسَى (suffering/distress/wretchedness adversity)
إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا عَبْدٌ أَنْعَمْنَا عَلَيْهِ (“He [Jesus عليه السلام] was not but a servant upon whom We bestowed favor”) [43:59]. This refers to when Allah saved him from the people who wanted him crucified and killed.
From this we can tell that the words from the root ن-ع-م come with the meanings of ease, comfort, and smoothness.
Other words with this meaning
نَعِيْمٌ is used for a large amount of نِعْمَة. When the Quran says فِي جَنَّاتِ النَّعِيمِ (“In the gardens of bliss”) [10:9], it uses this word to refer to Paradise, which is the one place that has all the ingredients of a truly great life. A life full of bliss, indeed!
When it says ثُمَّ لَتُسْأَلُنَّ يَوْمَئِذٍ عَنِ النَّعِيمِ (Then you will surely be asked that Day about the na’eem) [102:8], you can get the idea that you won’t be asked about just one or two favors that Allah did for you, but about all of the favors you enjoyed.
ناعِمٌ is the opposite of خَشِنٌ (something that’s rough, coarse or crude). When a shirt is nice and soft it’s described using ناعِم.
The word نَعَمٌ (the plural is أنْعامٌ) is specially used for camels, because it is the biggest source of comfort and good life among the Arabs. أنعام can be used for all three, camels, cows and goats, as long as camels are part of the group.
وَجَعَلَ لَكُم مِّنَ الْفُلْكِ وَالْأَنْعَامِ مَا تَرْكَبُونَ (“and has appointed for you ships and أنعام on which you ride”) [43:12]
The southern wind
النُعامى – the southern wind that blows easily. It the freshest of all the winds and has the most moisture.
Used for praise
نِعْمَ is a special verb used to praise and gives the meaning of “how excellent” or “how good”.
فَنِعْمَ أَجْرُ الْعَامِلِينَ (“Then how excellent is the reward of the workers!”) [39:74]
نِعْمَ الْمَوْلَىٰ وَنِعْمَ النَّصِيرُ (“What an excellent Protector and what an excellent Helper!”) [8:40]
Its opposite, بِئْسَ is used for dispraising, which is no surprise considering that one comes from ن-ع-م and the other comes from ب-أ-س. You’ll see these two used quite frequently.
نَعَمْ is used for “Yes”
The word نَعَمْ (“Yes”) is also used to answer a question, as in 7:44
It can be used to answer both a negative or a positive statement. If someone said ما قامَ زَيْدٌ (“Zaid didn’t stand up”) and you say ْنَعَم, you are confirming that Zaid did not stand up. If they say قامَ زَيْدٌ (“Zaid stood up”) and you reply ْنَعَم, you’re confirming that he did stand up.
The word نِعمة comes with many feelings, including comfort, ease, joy and goodness. Instead of trying to memorize the meaning of just the word, it will always help us to learn the meanings that the original root comes with, and then letting the appropriate meanings come to heart when we come across one of the words that come from the root.
The last ayah of Surah al-Duha says: وَأَمَّا بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ فَحَدِّثْ (“But as for the نعمة of your Lord, proclaim it”) [93:11]. The scholars of Quranic interpretation say that this نِعمة is Islam itself. So, knowing what you know about the meanings of the word, what does that tell you about how you should be feeling about the religion? Of all the good things that you’ve been given to bring ease and comfort in your life, where does the biggest one of them fall?
If you have other words that you wonder about, I’d love to hear your ideas.
All the good in this post is from Allah, and whatever mistakes are present are from my own flaws.
Until next time, السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته
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