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TWO VERBS TO DESCRIBE 'FEAR' (KHASHIYA & KHAFA) - THE DIFFERENCE

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Copyright 2009 Joseph A Islam: Article last modified 7th January 2012


 

Those that have the ability to understand the Arabic Quran will often note the usage of two different verbs (khashiya and khafa) to describe fear. (There are also other Arabic terms which denote 'fear' but are not the focus of this article).

These two terms are rendered almost identically in translations and in many Arabic dictionaries. Therefore, for many readers of translations, it is almost impossible to detect and appreciate the subtle difference in nuance when the terms are encountered in the Quran.

 

Both the verbs 'khashiya' (root:kh-sh-y) and 'khafa' (root kh-w-f) inherently mean to fear or to be afraid of something.

 

Generally, 'khashiya' implies a fear which is based on actual knowledge or a fear which has a sound basis in knowledge for that fear. For example, a fear based on veneration, awe and in reverence to God would be 'khashiya'.

 

In contrast, 'khafa' has a generalised import and denotes a fear which may or may not have a sound basis on which the fear is based. For example, a fear that someone may attack you (4:101), fearing poverty, fearing heights, fearing lightening (13:12), fearing darkness, fearing what someone may do after you die (19:5) etc, are examples of 'khawf' which may or may not have a sound basis for the fear.

 

 

 

 

This general synonymy of 'khashiya' with 'khafa' to denote fear as mentioned in the lexicon excerpt above (left) is supported by the Quran where the terms have been used interchangeably. For example:

 

005:044

"but fear (Arabic: ikh'shawni) Me and sell not my verses for a miserable price" 

 

003:175

"...but fear (Arabic: khafuni) Me, if you are believers"

 

Here both types of fear have a firm basis in knowledge and one notes complete synonymy of the two terms given the above contexts.

 

However, one also notes varying shades of expression when the terms are used in certain contexts to capture different meanings. This difference can be observed when the two different verbs appear in the same verse of the Quran.

 

004:009 (part)

"And let those fear (Arabic: wal-yakhsha) who if they left behind them weak offspring would have feared / been afraid (Arabic khafu) for them..."

 

It is noted in the above verse that one is a fear of reverence based on knowledge and truth, possibly a fear of God (yakhsha), the other is a generalised fear of a situation (khafu). Here, the types of fear are differentiated, even though this may not be readily apparent in some translations.

 

This differentiation can be observed in other examples of the Quran where the two verbs are used closely in a given a context.

 

020:044

'But speak; to him with gentle speech, perhaps he may take heed of the reminder or fear (God) (Arabic: yaksha)'

 

020.045 
"They said: Our Lord! Indeed, we fear (Arabic: nakhafu) that he will hasten against us or that he will transgress"  
 

020.046 
He said: Do not fear (Arabic: takhafa). Indeed, I am with you both; I hear and I see.
 

In the above continuous verses, the verb 'yaksha' in verse 20:44 is a fear that has basis and is one borne out of a reverence for God (in knowledge).

 

In contrast, the verbs 'yakhafu' are one of generalised fear of what Pharaoh may do to them (an assumption and based on no knowledge). This fear is unfounded as is apparent from God's response. The nuance is indeed subtle, but it is nevertheless present.

 

 

A similar observation can be noted in yet another verse.

 

020:077
"And verily, We inspired Moses: "Travel by night with My servants, and strike a dry path for them through the sea, without fear (Arabic: takhafu) of being overtaken and without being afraid / having fear (Arabic: taksha)."

 

In this verse, the 'taksha' clearly carries a legitimate fear of the overall situation. This is supported by the fact that they were asked to leave by night.

 

The fear 'takhafu' is a generalised fear attributed to them and pertains to being overtaken. This condition on part of those fleeing may or may not have a sound basis for that fear and would not be based on actual knowledge. Hence we note God's response,  "...strike a dry path for them through the sea, without fear (Arabic: takhafu) of being overtaken..."

 

 

Once again, the different shade of meaning is subtle, yet nevertheless apparent between the two terms.

 

 

 

 

n.vb. (khashyah)

 

n.vb. (khawf)

 

2:74        and others crash down in the fear of God

4:77        as they would fear God

4:77        or with a greater fear

17:31      slay not your children for fear of poverty

17:100    yet would you hold back for fear of expending

21:28      they tremble in awe of Him

23:57      surely those who tremble in fear of their Lord

59:21      thou wouldst have seen it humbled, split asunder out of the fear of God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source [3]

 

2:38        no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

2:62        and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

2:112      and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

2:155      surely We will try you with something of fear and hunger

2:262      no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

2:274      no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

2:277      no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

3:170      no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

4:83        when there comes to them a matter, be it of security or fear, they broadcast it

5 69        no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

6:48        no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

7:35        no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

7:49        enter Paradise; no fear upon you, nor shall you sorrow

7:56        and call on Him fearfully, eagerly

10:62      no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

10:83      for fear of Pharaoh and their Council, that they would persecute them

13:12      it is He who shows you the lightning, for fear and hope

16:112   so God let it taste the garment of hunger and of fear

24:55     and will give them in exchange, after their fear, security

30:24     He shows you lightning, for fear and hope

32:16     their sides shun their couches as they call on their Lord in fear and hope

33:19     when fear comes upon them, thou seest them looking at thee

33:19     but when the fear departs, they flay you with sharp tongues

43:68     O My servants, today no fear is on you

46:13     no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow

106:4     and secured them from fear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source [4]

 

 

 

 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Even though there is similarity between the two verbs, 'khashiya' and 'khafa' when capturing 'fear', they remain nuanced expressions when used in particular contexts. This is often extremely difficult to detect in translations.

 

 

REFERENCES

 

[1] LANE. E.W, Edward Lanes Lexicon, Williams and Norgate 1863; Librairie du Liban Beirut-Lebanon 1968, Volume 2, Page 745

Highlights marked in red on the lexicon excerpt are my own insertions. They have no bearing on the original text other than they emphasise relevance to the topic at hand. These are merely illustrations and have solely been utilised for educational and explanatory purposes.

[2] Ibid., Page 823

[3] KASSIS. H E, A Concordance of the Qur'an, University of California Press: Berkeley-Los Angeles-London, Page 712

[4] Ibid., Page 719

 

 

Joseph Islam

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