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Quranic Terminology: Al-Barr, Al-Berr, Al-Barriyya, and Al-Abrar


Quranic Terminology: Al-Barr, Al-Berr, Al-Barriyya, and Al-Abrar


Published in February 25, 2019

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy




 We have received a comment containing a question from our dear fellow Quranist, Mr. Osama Qafeesha, asking about the Quranic terms (Al-Barr); i.e., land, and (Al-Berr); i.e., piety, and their Quranic/Arabic derivations such as the term (Al-Barriyya); i.e., creatures. We seize this chance of answering him in order to write this article as part of the series of intermittent articles under the title (Quranic Terminology).


Firstly: Between tongues/languages and the human soul:

 Of course, any human tongues/languages are limited by their very nature; they cannot express every single thing; in contrast, there are endless, limitless thoughts/feelings/meanings which are sensed by one's soul, and there are not enough words which have been coined yet to express all such thoughts/feelings/meanings experienced within one's soul; souls are Barsakh, ethereal creatures which belong to the metaphysical realm. Thus, the limitations of human tongues/languages have led to the fact that there are several denotations of any given word and its derivations. This is explained further in the following points about the Quranic/Arabic terms (Al-Barr) and (Al-Berr).    


Secondly: the term (Al-Barr) as one of the Holy Names/Epithets of the Lord God indicating His mercy/goodness/bounty to the pious monotheists:

 Of course, the Holy Names/Epithets of the Lord God vary a great deal in the Quranic text; some of them indicate dominance and some others show the meanings of mercy: "Before this, we used to pray to Him. He is the Good [Al-Barr], the Compassionate."" (52:28).


Thirdly: the term (Al-Bare'), i.e., the Creator, as one of the Holy Names/Epithets of the Lord God derived from the (Al-Barr) and from the Arabic root [B/R/A] which means "to create":

1- "He is God; the Creator, the Maker, the Designer. His are the Most Beautiful Names. Whatever is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him. He is the Majestic, the Wise." (59:24).

2- "No calamity occurs on earth, or in your souls, but it is in a Book, even before We create it..." (57:22).

3- The Lord God is the Creator (Al-Bare') and His creatures are (Al-Barriyya); some human creatures are good, pious ones and some others are wicked, evil ones: "Those who disbelieve among the People of the Book, and the polytheists, will be in the Fire of Hell, where they will abide forever. These are the worst of creatures. As for those who believe and lead a righteous life-these are the best of creatures." (98:6-7).

4- The Arabic root [B/R/A] or "to create" also means "to heal", as both meanings are closely linked and associated with each other, as we see here in the context of miracles/signs granted by the Lord God to Jesus: "..."I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I make for you out of clay the figure of a bird; then I breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God's leave. And I heal the blind and the leprous, and I revive the dead, by God's leave..." (3:49); "When God will say...And recall that you molded from clay the shape of a bird, by My leave, and then you breathed into it, and it became a bird, by My leave. And you healed the blind and the leprous, by My leave; and you revived the dead, by My leave..." (5:110).


Fourthly: the term (Al-Berr) means piety/charity:

 This term is mentioned in the context of preaching and commanding believers to adhere to charity/piety; this is exemplified in the following points.

1- "Piety [Al-Berr] does not consist of turning your faces towards the East and the West. But pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day, and the angels, and the Book, and the prophets. Who gives money, though dear, to near relatives, and orphans, and the needy, and the homeless, and the beggars, and for the freeing of slaves; those who perform the prayers, and pay the obligatory charity, and fulfill their promise when they promise, and patiently persevere in the face of persecution, hardship, and in the time of conflict. These are the sincere; these are the pious ones [Al-Abrar]." (2:177). We see here that charity and sincere piety are synonymous and are combined in one term, (A-Berr), explained in detail in this verse.

2- "...Piety [Al-Berr] is not that you approach homes from their backs, but piety [Al-Berr] is pious conduct. So approach homes from their doors, and observe within piety God, that you may succeed." (2:189). We see here clearly that the term (A-Berr) is defined; it means piety.

3- "You will not attain piety [Al-Berr] until you give of what you cherish. Whatever you give away, God is aware of it." (3:92). We see here that to reach the highest level of piety, or (Al-Berr), one should spend in charity from the best things they have and they love, while seeking to please and gratify the Lord God.

4- "...And cooperate with one another in piety [Al-Berr] and conscience, and do not cooperate with one another in sin and aggression. And fear God. God is severe in punishment." (5:2). We see here that people are to cooperate for charity and pious deeds and not their opposites; i.e., cooperating for committing sins and aggression.

5- "O you who believe! When you converse secretly, do not converse in sin, and aggression, and disobedience of the Messenger; but converse in piety [Al-Berr] and virtue; And fear God, to Whom you will be gathered." (58:9). We see here that people are to speak about acts of charity within piety and not about scheming evil deeds and committing sins.

6- "Do you command people to pious conduct [Al-Berr], and forget yourselves, even though you read the Book? Do you not understand?" (2:44). We see here warning, reproaching, and preaching addressed to the imams/leaders of the People of the Book.


Fifthly: the dwellers of Paradise are repeatedly described in the Quranic text as (Al-Abrar), i.e., the pious ones:

1- "The pious ones [Al-Abrar] will be in bliss. While the wicked one's will be in Hell." (82:13-14); "...the record of the pious ones [Al-Abrar]..." (83:18); "Indeed, the pious ones [Al-Abrar] will be amid bliss." (83:22); "But the pious ones [Al-Abrar] will drink from a cup..." (76:5).

2- The sincere believers pray ardently to the Lord God to make them on the Day of the Resurrection among the pious ones in Paradise: "...Our Lord! Forgive us our sins, and remit our misdeeds, and make us die in the company of the pious ones [Al-Abrar]."" (3:193).

3- Only the pious ones will enter into the Paradise in the Hereafter: "Such is Paradise which We will give as inheritance to those of Our servants who are pious." (19:63).


Sixthly: the Arabic term (Al-Barr); i.e., "the land" as opposed to the sea, is mentioned in the Quranic text several times:

1- This is within Quranic legislations about food items: "Permitted for you is the catch of sea, and its food-as sustenance for you and for travelers. But forbidden for you is the game of land [Al-Barr] while you are in pilgrim sanctity. And fear God, to Whom you will be gathered." (5:96).

2- This is about the Lord God's Omniscience: "With Him are the keys of the unseen; none knows them except He. And He knows everything on land [Al-Barr] and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but He knows it; and there is not a single grain in the darkness of earth, nor is there anything wet or dry, but is in a clear record." (6:59).

3- This is about violations, sins, and corruption committed by human beings and how they lead to pollution of the environment: "Corruption has appeared on land [Al-Barr] and sea, because of what people's hands have earned, in order to make them taste some of what they have done, so that they might return." (30:41).

4- The following verses are about the Lord God's mercy and bounty granted to human beings, especially within the darkness of land and sea.

4/1: "And it is He Who created the stars for you, that you may be guided by them in the darkness of land [Al-Barr] and sea..." (6:97).

4/2: "Say, "Who delivers you from the darkness of land [Al-Barr] and sea?" You call upon Him humbly and inwardly: "If He delivers us from this, We will surely be among the thankful." Say, "It is God who delivers you from it, and from every disaster. Yet then you associate others with Him."" (6:63-64).

4/3: "Or, who guides you through the darkness of land [Al-Barr] and sea, and who sends the winds as heralds of His mercy? Is there another god with Allah? Most exalted is Allah, above what they associate." (27:63).

5- We find the repeated preaching within the Quranic parable about those people whose ship was about to sink and they were about to drown; they prayed to the Lord God within sincerity and monotheism; once they are saved and reached the land, they reverted to their polytheism and/or disbelief.

5/1: "When waves, like canopies, cover them, they call upon God, devoting their religion to Him. But when He has delivered them to dry land [Al-Barr], some of them waver. No one renounces Our verses except the treacherous disbeliever." (31:32).

5/2: "When they embark on a vessel, they pray to God, devoting their faith to Him; but once He has delivered them safely to land [Al-Barr], they attribute partners to Him." (29:65).

5/3: "It is He who transports you across land [Al-Barr] and sea. Until, when you are on ships, sailing in a favorable wind, and rejoicing in it, a raging wind arrives. The waves surge over them from every side, and they realize that they are besieged. Thereupon they pray to God, professing sincere devotion to Him: "If You save us from this, we will be among the appreciative." But then, when He has saved them, they commit violations on earth, and oppose justice. O people! Your violations are against your own souls. It is the enjoyment of the present life. Then to Us is your return, and We will inform you of what you used to do." (10:22-23).

5/4: "When harm afflicts you at sea, those you pray to vanish, except for Him. But when He saves you to land [Al-Barr], you turn away. The human being is ever thankless. Are you confident that He will not cause a track of land to cave in beneath you, or unleash a tornado against you, and then you find no protector? Or are you confident that He will not return you to it once again, and unleash a hurricane against you, and drown you for your ingratitude? Then you will find no helper against Us. We have honored the Children of Adam, and carried them on land and sea, and provided them with good things, and greatly favored them over many of those We created." (17:67-70).

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