One year ago, I stood before a class of tenth graders and taught them the importance of diction. “Listen,” I said. “All verbs settle somewhere on a spectrum of meaning. ‘Witnessing’ is unlike ‘seeing,’ ‘listening’ unlike ‘hearing.’
So choose yours carefully.” They went off, sorting stacks of synonymous verbs by the degrees of their severity. But the study of diction fills minds beyond classroom walls. Near dimmed lights and tattered manuscripts are mufassireen, keen on deriving lessons from Qur`ān’s verb usage. They pit each hand-picked word against the question, “Why this? Why this word and not that?” And what they unraveled from surat at-Taḥrīm, for example, is revelatory. Documenting a duʿa of the believers, the verse goes: “They say, ‘Our Lord, complete for us our nur (light) and forgive us, for certainly you are powerful over all things.’”
يقولون ربنا أتمم لنا نورنا واغفر لنا إنك على كل شيئٍ قدير
“…complete for us our light,” they say. Not “grant us,” not “gift us,” but “complete for us.” Complete: a verb suggesting the preexistence of something beautiful; a verb He evokes purposefully, because since birth you bore a light, blaring with human dignity. The word “complete” teaches us that this nur is as natural and congenital as the blood flowing through your veins. It is a testimony of your worth. So when you see yourself with bitter lens, when the tapes of self-hate play in your brain and loop mercilessly, when your heart aches and your eyes strain on stains in your personality, your character, your looks, your intelligence-—stains of imperfection-—know this: embedded in our divine text is a profound message. There is a nur, a light, in you before there was ever a darkness. Upon you is to harness it, to keep it alive and well. Remember that.