‘Manaara’: The Arabic word for lighthouse is also about enlightenment

The term has become closely associated with Islam

Manaara is the Arabic word for lighthouse. The National
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In his poem The Pages of Day and Night, renowned Arab poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber – known by his pen name Adonis – refers to a woman as a lighthouse waiting in madness.

“I have dwelt in the face of a woman / that murders me, one that loves to inhere / as an unlit lighthouse in my blood that keeps sailing / to the extremity of madness,” he writes.

Adonis, considered one of the greatest living Arab poets, isn’t the only one to use the lighthouse as a poignant symbol.

In English modernist author Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, the tower comes to represent unattainability and illumination. In the film The Lighthouse, directed by Robert Eggers and starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, the lighthouse symbolises enlightenment, knowledge and truth.

This week’s Arabic word of the week is manaara, which means lighthouse. It has similarly powerful symbolic resonance in Arabic culture and language.

Manaara is a noun that has several meanings. The first is a single lit candle, illuminating a space. It also means a lighthouse, or specifically, a tower of light to show the way for sailors and ships out at sea. Also, perhaps most commonly used colloquially, manaara refers to a mosque’s tower. In fact, the English word for the tower, minaret, originates from the word manaara.

The manaara in this context is a tower used as a means to call Muslims to prayer. There, the muezzin, a designated caller, announces the call to prayer through the practice of the adhan, which he does five times a day. Manaaras have become a prominent symbol of Islam, given their unique architectural design features that have evolved over time, influenced by different styles, periods, cultural contexts and regional preferences.

Manaara can also have other more specific meanings.

Manaara al radaria, refers to the practice and means of sending and receiving radar signals while manaara aa’ama is a ship that is placed in a dangerous area to warn other ships of impending danger.

Across all these various meanings, however, there is a common thread. Manaara is a rooted place, a centre or structure from where a message of hope is sent either through sound or light.

In fact, this thread stretches back to the root of the word.

Manaara comes from the word manar, which means centre, source or place of light. Manar can also refer to the marks that create a border between lands. It can be used to refer to a knowledgeable person such as a professor who educates and bestows knowledge on students.

Manar is considered a word that can reveal and enlighten a concept in various ways given the context it is used in.

From the root word nara – derived from the three Arabic letters noon, alif and rah – the verb refers to the action of light enveloping a space and driving darkness out.

There are other words that are derived from nara and manar, similar to manaara, that convey a similar meaning connected to the idea of a beacon of light or knowledge.

Manawir refers specifically to markers, such as plants or rocks, that reveal the right path in a desert.

Anara is a verb that refers to something maturing or becoming enlightened. For example, a tree when it bears fruit or a flower that blooms, or even a topic or problem that becomes clear in someone’s mind.

Updated: March 22, 2024, 6:02 PM