‘Dunya’: Arabic word for the world and its material desires

The term is now used in many languages besides Arabic

Dunya is the Arabic word for world
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There are many ways to describe the world we live in, the physical reality, the present moment. In Arabic, there is one powerful word that describes each of these separately and together.

Our Arabic word of the week, dunya, essentially means the world.

Specifically, it means the physical world or life in the here and now, and all of the material and intangible desires people have in this life.

The meaning also, depending on context, encompasses the western meaning of fate and destiny. For example, while one may have plans for their life, dunya might thwart them. It is a similar sentiment to the quote often attributed to John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

The root of the word dunya is danaa, derived from the three Arabic letters, dal, noon and yaa.

Danaa is a verb which means the act or that which is brought near or closer physically or comparatively. It can also mean, if used in a certain context, something that is not within reach or is unattainable.

Within an Islamic context, dunya is often used in association to the akhirah — the hereafter or the life beyond this life.

The two words are used dichotomously and complementarily to each other. And while akhirah may mean the paradise of the afterlife in some contexts, this does not frame dunya as evil or wrong. Dunya is, more often than not, referred to in Islam as the ultimate test.

Dunya is also a feminine noun, used as a name, and Adna is the male version, meaning the act of bringing something closer.

The word dunya has spread from Arabic to many other languages, especially in cultures where there are large groups of Muslims.

These include Somali, Turkish, Kurdish, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Urdu, Sindhi, Farsi and more.

Lebanese singer Ragheb Alama’s song Nasini El Dunya (Make Me Forget the World), released in 2004 from his album El Hob El Kebir (The Great Love), is one of his most popular hits. In the song he asks a love interest to make him forget the world through her love and he also describes travelling the world and the universe never to find a love like hers.

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

Updated: March 17, 2023, 6:02 PM