This week’s Arabic Word of the Week focuses on a concept that, while intangible, exists inside everyone, motivating the result of any journey we take.
Niyya in Arabic translates to intention, but it also has more nuanced meaning and surprising influences on other Arabic words.
While it is a word in classical Arabic, it is also commonly used in colloquial Arabic across dialects to mean intention.
Niyya is a noun whose root is the Arabic verb nawa, which means to do something with intention or to work towards one's intention. Niyya and all words that are derived from it are from the three Arabic letters, noon, wow and yaa.
The full definition of niyya is to mean, to intend, to have a particular or a deliberate and focused purpose on a state of being or goal. It can also mean to have a plan, a strong will and design of action towards a particular result.
Niyya is first and foremost something that comes from within someone, a decision, desire and intention of the heart that is represented or takes from as a mental state behind a decision or action.
There are many phrases in Arabic that use the word niyya to describe characteristics and states of being. For example, ala niyyat refers to someone who is kind hearted and has no evil intentions. Housin al niyya means someone who is approaching a situation with good intentions, while sou’ al niyya is someone whose intentions are bad.
Niyya is sometimes used interchangeably with another Arabic word, qas'd, which is defined as to have purpose or to mean to do something. Yet they are different.
Niyya is more of an internal, mental state that is the reason behind particular decisions and actions. While qas'd is the aim or goal of an action. Niyya is focused on the internal intention and sometimes the planning of a particular action, and qas'd is the intended external outcome.
There are many other words derived from the word niyya, some of which are common in colloquial Arabic.
Al naawi can mean he who has intention or a person who has the same niyya and intention as you and is working with you towards that goal. For example, a colleague who wants to complete a project with you to a deadline or a friend who wants to travel with you to a certain place.
Intawa means when someone moves from one place to another. This can mean physically from one house to another or one city to another, or mentally a spiritually, from one thought or perspective to another.
Nawaat, or its plural nowa means the centre of anything. For example, the nawaat of an atom is a nucleus.Interestingly, another word, nawa, means something that is inside something else – not necessarily the centre of it, as nawat means. Nawa is also used colloquially to mean the word seed, for example the seed of any plant or fruit.
While the words derived from niyya all have different meanings, all are connected by one idea. It is an element that is inside something else, like the seed inside a fruit or the intention in our hearts.