I was visiting the community in Macon, Georgia yesterday and a friend asked me the difference between two very interesting words in the Qur'an, both of which are used for seeking help:

اِسْتِغاثَة and اِسْتِعانَة . I couldn't answer him right away so I made it a point to study the matter last night. Before I share what I found with you, know that 1 through 6 are words for 'getting help' while 7 and on are words for 'giving help'.

1. ISTIGHAATHAH

اِسْتَغاثَ يَسْتَغِيْثُ اِسْتِغاثَةً

The word istighaathah is used to ask for help in desperate times or to seek help in a desperate manner. The base word Ghayth is used for rain that is timely and much needed. It is appropriately used to ask the Divine for rain during a serious drought or famine and it may also be used to ask a ruler for his help during an emergency circumstance. Allah the Almighty says,

إِذْ تَسْتَغِيثُونَ رَبَّكُمْ فَاسْتَجَابَ لَكُمْ

(Remind yourselves) When you were desperately seeking your Lord's help, then he responded favorably towards…(8:9)

Using another word for help here wouldn't communicate the desperation and urgency felt by the believers as they called on their Lord.

2. ISTISRAAKH

اِسْتَصْرَخَ يَسْتَصْرِخُ اِسْتِصْراخاً

This word is used to ask for help by making a scene, crying, whining and doing so in public. When speaking about the man who asked Musa AS for help the next day, Allah says:

فَإِذَا الَّذِي اسْتَنْصَرَهُ بِالأمْسِ يَسْتَصْرِخُهُ

Then, at the time when the one that had asked him (Musa) for help the day before was crying out to him for help again….(28:18)

This tells us that the man was now convinced that he can manipulate Musa AS by dramatizing his need for help. Another word for seeking help wouldn't expose his cunning tactics.

3. ISTI'AANAH

اِسْتَعانَ يَسْتَعِيْنُ اِسْتِعانَةً

This word for seeking help is based on the word 'AWN meaning assistance. When the task at hand requires cooperation from another, meaning both the seeker of help and the helper will be mutually engaged in the task, this word is used. You already know where the following ayah comes from:

إياكَ نَعْبُدُ وإيّاكَ نَسْتَعِيْنُ

We give ourselves in slavery & worship only to you and ask only your assistance.

By using ISTI'AANAH in this ayah, we acknowledge that Divine help in worshipping Him is one part of the solution and our own contribution and effort is the other. We can't worship Allah on our own without any help and we can't leave it to Allah to make us good slaves without any effort of our own either!

4. A'AANA

أَعانَ يُعِيْنُ إعانَةً

This word is transitive and means to offer a hand. But in the imperative (command form), it means to ask someone for a helping hand or to ask someone to strengthen one's own effort. In Al Kahf we find:

فَأَعِينُونِي بِقُوَّةٍ

Then lend me your hand by utilizing your might (18:95)

By saying this, ZulQarnain gave confidence to these oppressed people that even though they are the oppressed, it still doesn't mean that they are powerless. It is a lesson of strength in numbers.

5. NASR

نَصَرَ يَنْصُرُ نَصْراً

This word is also transitive but just like a'aana before, it can be used to ask for help in the imperative. Nasara means to help someone to alleviate them from suffering, injustice and oppression or to help someone against an oppressor:

وَلَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ بِبَدْرٍ

And certainly Allah already aided you (against the oppressor) at the occasion of Badr. (3:123)

By using this word, Allah SWT takes full credit of the victory at Badr so the believers know that the effort was theirs but the results were only from Allah because without him they were AZILLAH (powerless) as the ayah continues to say. This ayah was revealed in the context of Uhud as a reminder to solidify the psychological outlook of the believers!

6. ISTINSAAR

اِسْتَنْصَرَ يَسْتَنْصِرُ اِسْتِنْصاراً

To ask for help against an oppressor or to alleviate oppression:

إِنِ اسْتَنْصَرُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ فَعَلَيْكُمُ النَّصْرُ

And if they ask your help (in facing oppression) concerning the religion then you are bound to help.

The use of ISTINSAAR confirms that the believers in Mecca were powerless and could not have helped their own situation. Any other word for help wouldn't have communicated this state.

7. TA'YEED

أَيَّدَ يُؤَيِّدُ تَأْيِيْداً

AL AYD means intense power. This is used to help someone by strengthening them.

وَأَيَّدَهُ بِجُنُودٍ لَمْ تَرَوْهَا

And He helped him by strengthening with armies you didn't see! (9:40)

The armies of angels that came to the aide of the believers were obviously unseen. Just because they are unseen and the 'seen' realities seemed so impossible at the battle of AHZAAB, it was critical to communicate the incredible strength of the unseen army by using the word AYYADA. Through it, the believers know that they are not weak, rather incredibly strong because of Divine Ta'yeed!

8. TA'ZEER

عَزَّرَ يُعَزِّرُ تَعْزِيْراً

When you help someone because you respect, admire, honor and look up to them, TA'ZEER is used.

لِتُؤْمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَتُعَزِّرُوهُ

So that you believe in Allah and His Messenger, and you help him (out of regard and admiration for him). (48:9)

The hypocrites felt reluctance in helping the Messenger SAW and even if they did help, their motives were flawed. By using TA'ZEER in this ayah, Allah not only tells the believer what they must do, but what their motives should be too.

9. TA'ZEEZ
عَزَّزَ يُعَزِّزُ تَعْزِيْزاً

When you help someone enough that their weakness or deficiency is compensated for, Ta'zeez is used.

إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَا إِلَيْهِمُ اثْنَيْنِ فَكَذَّبُوهُمَا فَعَزَّزْنَا بِثَالِثٍ فَقَالُوا إِنَّا إِلَيْكُمْ مُرْسَلُونَ (١٤)

When we sent two (messengers) to them and they staunchly lied against both, then we aided (to make their collective strength suffice) by means of a third. (36:14)

This word, TA'ZEEZ tells us that if two of the messengers were being overwhelmed by this rebellious nation, now the odds were evened by the third.

10. RIFD

رَفَدَ يَرْفِدُ رِفْدٌ

When you help a destitute or hopelessly impoverished person out with some charity, RIFD is used. It is used in a highly sarcastic sense in the following ayah:

وَأُتْبِعُوا فِي هَذِهِ لَعْنَةً وَيَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ بِئْسَ الرِّفْدُ الْمَرْفُودُ (٩٩)

And they were even pursued in this life with a great curse in addition to the day of resurrection! What a horrible kind of gift (in charity) they keep on receiving!

This statement alludes to the punishments that keep falling upon them and refers to them as charitable help. Visualize the power of the imagery here. Consider this grotesque example: When a starving beggar asks for help, the helper digs in his pocket. Before the beggar even sees any coins, there is hope in his eyes. Then, out of nowhere, instead of money, the helper pulls out a knife and stabs the beggar. The horror is both physical and psychological. These dwellers of hellfire finish going through one punishment begging for relief and just look at how Allah describes what kind of relief they get!

11. MUDHAAHARAH

ظاهَرَ يُظاهِرُ مُظاهَرَةً

There are two elements found in this word's base DHAHARA : (a) to be manifest, obvious, within plain sight or to come out in the open. (b) DHAHRUN means one's back. DHAAHARA is to empower someone with an ability through which they can accomplish a particular task.

وَأَنْزَلَ الَّذِينَ ظَاهَرُوهُمْ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ مِنْ صَيَاصِيهِمْ

And He brought those who had empowered them from the people of the book down from their forts. (33:26)

By using ZAAHARA here, the crime of these culprits is brought to light as those that were actually behind the scenes.

12. RID 'AN

رَدَأَ يَرْدَأُ رِدْأًا

This word literally means to place a support on a wall. When used for human beings, it means to constantly accompany someone or as we say nowadays , 'he's got my back'. This is a helper who is always there by your side.

وَأَخِي هَارُونُ هُوَ أَفْصَحُ مِنِّي لِسَانًا فَأَرْسِلْهُ مَعِيَ رِدْءًا يُصَدِّقُنِي

And my Brother Haroon, he is more eloquent than I in speech so send him along with me as reliable help (that will always be by my side) confirming the truth in what I say.

This word is much more than helper here. It shows that Haroon AS was to be by Musa's side constantly. He would always be there as his right hand man.

13. IMDAADUN

أَمَدَّ يُمِدُّ إمْداداً

MADDA, the base word, means to stretch, spread out or elongate something while keeping it intact. AMADDA is to enhance someone or something in quantity, for example, extending an army's manpower.

وَيُمْدِدْكُمْ بِأَمْوَالٍ وَبَنِينَ

And he would aide you by enhancing your wealth and numbers in children.

Allah is not just telling us that he helps us, but HOW he helps us by extending our worldly means by using IMDAAD.

SUMMARY:

1. ISTIGHAATHA: to ask for help in desperate times or to desperately ask for help.

2. ISTISRAAKH: to cry out for help and making a scene in doing so.

3. ISTI'AANAH: to seek help in a task that involves input from the helper and the helped

4. A'AANA: when used in imperative, to ask for a lending hand to strengthen your own efforts

5. NASARA: when used in imperative, to ask for help against oppression

6. ISTANSARA: to ask for help against oppression

7. TA'YEED: to help in a way that your help is an addition to their strength

8. TA'ZEER: to help someone because you love doing so out of regard, honor and admiration for them

9. TA'ZEEZ: to help someone in a way that removes the deficiency that was previously found

10. RIFD: to help a poor person out with some charity

11. ZAAHARA: to help by empowering someone with enough strength to get the job done

12. RID': to help someone by always being by their side

13. IMDAAD to help by enhancing the quantity wealth, manpower, weapons etc.

12 Responses

  1. AnonyMouse

    SubhanAllah, this is amazing! A glimpse into the complexity and incredible meanings of the Arabic language… jazakAllahu khair!

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  2. Nirgaz Abdullah

    I love linguistic stuff…how it all connects to each other, how each word has a specific meaning and wouldn’t be right in another ayah and visa versa….Fascinating!
    JazakAllah Khair for the post!

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  3. niamah

    something is wrong with Arabic text, can the moderators pls fix them. JazakAllahu Khairun

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  4. daisy

    salamalaykum,
    i wish we could get more articles like this one. it really helps appreciate the beauty of the Quran and the arabic language.

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  5. Najib Salim

    Al hamdullilah, may Allah continue to reward you and guide you as you are always a reward and guidance to me. Still here insha Allah!

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  6. Ansar

    Great job Br Nouman, keep up the good work of insightful interpretation of this great book called the Quraan. It seems there is a lot more to know about the message contained in it, and as Allah, swt says that the Quraan is for all times, which tells us nothing in terms of how much we have learnt already and how much remains to be learnt, amazing!!

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