‘Amal’: Arabic word for hope is a significant and universal concept

The name Amal became commonplace in the West thanks to a famous actor's wife

This week's Arabic word of the week is amal, which means hope
Powered by automated translation

The 13th-century Islamic scholar and poet Rumi once wrote: "Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.”

In his play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, written some time between 1589 and 1593, William Shakespeare wrote, “Hope is a lover's staff; walk hence with that and manage it against despairing thoughts.”

Emily Dickinson, the reclusive American poet, penned these famous words in 1861: “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.”

This week’s Arabic Word of the Week is amal, which means hope. Throughout time, amal has been a significant concept across cultures, and despite intersecting many facets of life – particularly the emotional and spiritual – the meaning of amal is rather straightforward.

Derived from the three Arabic letters – alif, meem and lam – amal is a verb that means hope in at least three ways. The first is to be hopeful for something, the second is to desire or wish for something and the third is to expect or manifest for something to happen.

In Arabic the meaning of amal can change depending on the word used after it and the context of the subject. For example, amal khayraho means to hope for good, while moukhayyib al amal, which literally translates to the disappointment of hope, means a letdown.

There are other words derived from amal that further embellish its meaning.

Ammala means to inspire someone to be hopeful about a dire situation. The verb amla in the broad sense means the act of passing information. But it can also mean the act of giving instructions to someone or to dictate what is being told to them.

Ta'ammala is a verb referring to someone who thinks and analyses an issue or topic in extreme depth. Mouamal means something that is expected to come. Mouta'ammil refers to someone who is hopeful while ta'ammoul is the verb of being hopeful.

Amal is also a feminine Arabic name. It also means hope, but a pleading type of hope. While pleading in English has negative connotations associated with desperation, this is not the case in Arabic. Amal as a name refers to a greater, more intense sense of hope.

Thanks to Amal Clooney, the Lebanese-British barrister who in 2014 married actor George Clooney, the name Amal became much more recognisable and commonplace in the West.

Within a religious context the concept of amal is strongly linked to hope, expectation, and having faith and trust in God. In Islam it is also closely linked to the concept of tawakkul, which refers to absolute and utter reliance on God and his plan.

Legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum’s song Amal Hayaty (Hope of my Life), which was first released in the late 1960s, is considered one of her most famous and powerful songs.

Written by the Egyptian poet Ahmad Shafiq Kamel and composed by Mohamed Abdel Wahab, the lyrics of the song narrate a deep love and devotion to a lover who is the source of all hope and happiness in the singer’s life.

Updated: August 04, 2023, 6:02 PM