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Quran and Sunnah

Quranic Verbs used for Purification and Exoneration


Part of an ongoing series:

  1. The Literary Beauty of the Quran
  2. “Alhamdulillah” – A Linguistic Miracle
  3. Expressions for Giving and Getting Help in Qur’an

On the subject of words that are closely related to one another yet carry slightly different shades of meaning, I am going to be contributing three more posts including this one insha Allah. Thereafter, I’ll attempt to deal with other areas of Qur’anic eloquence. It obviously shouldn’t be assumed that I’m doing justice to the subject in any way. Word by word study of the Qur’an is an ocean and we are just trying to grab at a few drops here and there. While the first installment dealt with words for praise & gratitude and the second with giving and getting help, this, the third one deals with verbs used for purification or exoneration (which is a kind of purification).


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To purify something of flaws, blemishes or impurities. مَحَّصَ الذَّهَبَ is the term used to describe the process used to purify gold of its impurities. Our Lord says in 3:141

وَلِيُمَحِّصَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَيَمْحَقَ الْكَافِرِينَ

So that Allah may purify those who believe of any impurities and that He may deprive the disbelievers.

The choice of the word mahhasa in this ayah is truly profound. To understand it, you need a little bit of context. This passage of Ale Imran shapes the way a believer understands the purpose of loss on the battlefield. Why would the Lord allow for the believers to lose against the disbelievers if He, the Almighty is on their side? The first ‘purpose’ we are taught in this passage is,

وَلِيَعْلَمَ اللهُ الَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا

And so Allah may expose those who truly believe…

On a tangent note, the use of the word ‘alima’ in this part of the ayah is in the sense of exposing, rather than knowing because Allah already knows everything. It is hard to cheer for your team even in sports when they’re down 15 points with 2 seconds to go. It takes a true believer to believe in miracles EVEN in the worldly sense. Now project this psychological state of absolute confidence onto a believer in Islam. The enemies may out number, out equip and out experience the Muslims at Uhud, the hypocrites may walk off the battlefield with their lame excuses at the most critical juncture and their trash talk may render perhaps possibly the most painful blow to the Muslims, but it’s still not enough to waver their confidence that Allah is on their side! The first reason Allah gives loss on the battlefield is to expose those who believe unconditionally.

The next reason he offers is much easier to understand:

وَيَتَّخِذَ مِنْكُمْ شُهَدآءَ

And that He may take from among you martyrs (whose testimony of faith is the sacrifice of their own lives)

of the honors that Allah bestows upon this ummah is that He grants some of its members the noble designation of shaheed. In this way, loss on the battlefield actually set the stage for some of its members to gain this highest honor. This would be the second reason.

And then Allah clarifies that the victory enjoyed by enemies of this ummah is not at all because Allah likes or favors them in any way. The ayah fittingly ends:

وَاللهُ لا يُحِبُّ الظّالِمِيْنَ

Allah, He doesn’t love the wrongdoers.

Another tangent before I get to the real point: the text in its standard fi’liyyah format would have read:

لا يُحِبُّ اللهُ الظّالِمِيْنَ

The difference is that the ismiyyah format (if you don’t know what that is, its ok, just learn some Arabic or at least make the intention insha Allah) and represents a more unusual, atypical and therefore emphatic way of saying the same thing. Allah uses the ismiyyah format in the concluding remark of the ayah to send a clear message so no believer is ever confused about the purpose for which the enemy at Uhud may have enjoyed victory. In other words, after two reasons, there is a clarification.

Then, Allah tells us his third reason, which includes the word MAHHASA:

وَلِيُمَحِّصَ اللهُ الَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا…..

The third purpose of possible loss on the battlefield: filtering out filth from within the ranks of the believers. Check out some of the awesome implications of this word in the ayah:

  1. By using this word, the hypocrites who walked off the battlefield are being called an impurity. A direct attack on their self esteem. This is important because if you read Surat Al Munafiqoon, they take their ‘izza’ as a matter of pride and attribute humiliation to the true believers instead. (a little homework for you, find the ayah where they give themselves ‘izza’ in surat al munafiqoon)
  2. 2. This word, as was mentioned earlier is also used to describe the process by which gold is cleansed. That process requires scorching levels of heat and is also tedious. Believers are being told that unless they were put in this difficult Uhud situation (literally the hot seat!), the impurities wouldn’t have been exposed so clearly!
  3. The believers are being told in a matter of speaking they are in and of themselves precious and valuable to Allah SWT. After all, He is the one who is purifying them. An owner refines and takes care of that which has value to Him.


To purify the inner self نفس of spiritual diseases, immorality and evil inclinations. To consider or declare oneself pure of such ills.


فَلَا تُزَكُّوا أَنفُسَكُمْ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنِ اتَّقَى

Do not consider yourselves pure then! He knows best as to who had actually been conscious of Him!

Confidence in one’s own religious and moral state can often be self deluding. Allah warns us not to tread that path in our thinking by speaking of taqwa in the ayah in the past tense. This is powerful because it reminds the listener of a point or instance in his or her life where taqwa WAS missing. So even if you and I think we’ve made some progress, it shouldn’t inflate our egos because we all have things in our past that we aren’t proud of. This reminder keeps us humble and in check.


To remove any or all impurities. It is used to describe the process of filtration. When the sky has no clouds at all, the Arabs say

صَفا الْجَوُّ

the climate is clear/pure. It is different from MAHHASA in that it addresses clarity, transparency and the removal of impurities that are visible in nature.


مِّنْ عَسَلٍ مُّصَفًّى

From purified honey…

The word pattern applied to the root letters is

صَفّا يُصَفِّيْ تَصْفِيَةً

And from it, the ism maf’ool MUSAFFAN is used in the ayah to describe the rivers of honey. Now I mentioned these technical terms because it leads to certain conclusions:

  1. The honey is being described as one having gone through a process of filtration. Honey in and of itself is considered pure but imagine the standards of Jannah where even it is purified.
  2. The pattern used indicates a thorough and rigorous filtration process telling us that this Jannah item is especially prepared for its enjoyers.
  3. It also tells us about the appearance of this river. It is as transparent and clear as honey can possibly be with no signs of impurities. You stick your hand in for a sip and you won’t pick up pebbles or dirt… You won’t even find the tiniest little speck of impurity!


To acquire a cure from disease. أَبْرَأَ to make someone healthy. Also means to purify someone of an accusation or fault. To free someone.


فَبَرَّأَهُ اللَّهُ مِمَّا قَالُوا

This word doesn’t seem directly related to purification but in fact it is. Disease is a blemish on health and false accusation is a blemish on someone’s reputation. Allah defends the honor of Musa AS in this ayah telling us the He, the Almighty disassociated Musa AS from the vile statements they made about him.

Only a true friend would come to my defense in face of a humiliating public accusation and slander. Allah Himself comes to the aide of His messenger Musa AS. May Allah keep us from saying or even thinking inappropriate things about His prophets and messengers, Ameen.

I will end this on a personal note. Nowadays a lot of comedy revolves around poking fun not only at Islam and its final messenger SAW but also at Musa, Isa, Ibrahim, Adam and Nuh AlaihumuSsalam. It has become common place to watch shows like family guy (notice I didn’t capitalize it) and south park that regularly make a mockery of these incredible individuals. We should be as offended by such statements as we were by inappropriate comments, gestures and art dealing with Muhammad SAW. We honor all of our messengers and at the very least we should stop watching these shows. I don’t know how I’m going to tell my Lord, ‘I know they made fun of your messenger, but the rest of the show was really funny…’

Two more near synonym groups and we move on to the next category insha Allah. Until next time…

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Nouman Ali Khan is the director of the Bayyinah Institute. He is well known for his contributions in the fields of Arabic and Quranic studies - most recently starting a full time on-campus institute for this purpose in Dallas, TX.



  1. Amad

    February 13, 2008 at 1:01 PM

    Jazakallah khair… W/o knowledge of arabic, we miss so much!

  2. ibnabeeomar

    February 13, 2008 at 2:03 PM

    inshallah i hope people are really benefiting from this stuff, especially those who haven’t had a chance to take the bayyinah courses :)

    this is really some groundbreaking stuff to be presented in the english language. at least ive never come across this type of material anyway :)

  3. Niqaabis

    February 13, 2008 at 7:54 PM

    Jazaak Allaahu khairan

    I really benefited from this post

    May Allaah reward you and protect you from harm aameen

  4. niamah

    February 13, 2008 at 8:44 PM

    I am having trouble reading Arabic of first 8 ayahs, please fix it.

    The ayah in Surah Munafiqoon is 8.

  5. niamah

    February 13, 2008 at 8:57 PM

    53:23 is one of my most favorite ayahs in Quran. When i was reflecting on that ayah, i immediately thought about the time when i newly started practicing and if i was able to do all my daily prayers then i would tell myself at night before going to bed that ”ive done well today” Subhan’Allah, how i would think that i was pious merely for my daily Salahs…

    I luv the ayah and i have it written in all my note book, wallet as a reminder …

    ”32. those who avoid great sins and Al-Fawâhish except the small faults, Verily, Your Lord is of Vast Forgiveness. He knows You well when He created You from the earth , and when You were fetuses In Your mothers’ wombs. so ascribe not purity to yourselves. He knows best Him who fears Allâh and keep his duty to Him..”

    • Noor

      December 4, 2017 at 3:18 AM

      Jazak Allah Khair for sharing!I’ve benefitted from your comments

  6. daisy

    February 14, 2008 at 3:25 AM


    may Allaah reward you greatly for this and cause us all to benefit from it. i can’t wait for the next one! …. Really, i wish you could post here more often and teach us more things like this.

    i have a question for brother Nouman though. you are from Pakistan right? and i read somewhere that you studied in Faisalabad? what was name of the school/college/uni./ etc .. where you studied Arabic from in Faisalabad? do you know of any other good places anywhere within Pakistan where one could go for Islamic studies? it would be wonderful if you could kindly answer back.

  7. Zia Sheikh

    February 14, 2008 at 2:15 PM

    jazakallah brother noman…when you moving to irving inshallah??

  8. Muhammad

    February 25, 2008 at 6:23 PM

    brother your articles are beautiful, i love reading them. This site is also very nice;, but it isn’t updated regularly.

    Do you have any plans on giving courses in the UK?

  9. Muslim007

    March 19, 2008 at 4:22 PM

    masha Allah akhi, great stuff. may Allah reward you. and may Allah give shifa to your mother.

  10. ibn insaan

    March 20, 2008 at 5:44 AM

    MashAllah excellent article.

    Question: What about “taharah”?

  11. Sohaib

    April 13, 2008 at 4:17 PM


    Could you please recommend some books (in Arabic) that touch on this subject, perhaps that you relied on in compiling these posts? I mean specifically the matter of subtle differences between words in the Qur’an, assumed to be synonymous but having important distinctions that reveal the precision of the Qur’an.

    JazakAllahu khayran!

  12. AbuAbdAllah

    April 14, 2008 at 12:31 AM

    bismillah. mashaAllah, i’m glad i read this article. jazak Allah khayr.

  13. Syed

    May 6, 2008 at 5:09 PM

    Fantastic Nouman, keep them coming. Jazakallahu Khairun

  14. Abu Abdurrahman

    May 23, 2008 at 12:18 PM

    great stuff,MashaAllah!!!111!

  15. Pingback: Open Thread Sunday 5/25/2008 |

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