'Shams': the Arabic word for sun is steeped in spirituality and poetry

The term is frequently used in the Quran and classical Arabic music

The Arabic word for sun is shams.
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In the Arabic language, the word shams is not only used to describe the weather.

While literally meaning sun, it can also describe certain personalities, behaviours and trigger bouts of reflection through its appearance in holy scripture and poetry.

When linked to climate, shams is used in various ways.

A person who sunbathed is tashammasa, while experiencing sunburn or heat-stroke is darbat shams.

Shams is also used to describe various shades of character. A sunny and optimistic person is shamas, while shamasu is applied to those who are headstrong.

Such dynamism makes the word a favourite of songwriters.

In her elegiac 1955 song, Shams Al Aseel, Egyptian songbird Umm Kulthum described the “eventide sun” setting over the Nile River as a moment where "hearts soften and mellow" and where "serenity is within love".

In her powerful 1985 track, Ghabat shams el haq, Lebanese singer Julia Boutrous describes shams as "the sun of justice" and upon its setting, the world can descend into war and chaos.

As for Najwa Karam, the vibrancy of her hit-laden career earned the Lebanese pop star the nickname “shams el ghinniyyeh”, meaning The Sun of Song.

In the Quran, shams is mentioned more than 30 times ― in addition to being the title of the 91st chapter ― to inspire contemplation of various ephemeral concepts, such as the value of time.

This is beautifully encapsulated in the fifth verse from the 39th chapter, Az-Zumar, which states: "He wraps the night over the day and wraps the day over the night and has subjected the sun and the moon, each running [its course] for a specified term."

Big and bold, shams is a word that ultimately sheds light on our internal and external states.

Scroll through the gallery below to see The National's pick of Arabic words of the week

Updated: October 09, 2022, 4:35 AM
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