Hidden Images in the Language of Love

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day brings with it an invitation to look deeper into concepts, experiences, and complexities of love. Much of the work of psychotherapists and counselors focuses on the struggles of clients with relational concerns and the challenges that come with love. It is not commonly known that there are a great many words in Arabic for “Love” that capture beautifully the gamut of this rich and multifaceted experience. The Sufi tradition, as conceptualized and imagined by poetic-philosophers such as Rumi, understood love to be neither solely divine nor solely human, but both. Ahmad Al Ghazali (c. 1061-1126) wrote:

“I will write you a book on Radical Love
provided you do not bifurcate it
into Divine Love
and Human Love”

The following Arabic words and their imaginal foundation, describing different facets of love, could be read with this context in mind. It allows for a richer landscape to emerge in the background as shades of love take form.

  • Hawa – From hawa, meaning “wind,” hawa refers to ones’ attraction towards someone.
  • Hubb –From habba, meaning a drop of water, and habbaba, meaning an animal that completely quenched its thirst. Hubb points to the potential growth of love.
  • Shaghaf – From shaghada, meaning the outer skin surrounding the heart, shaghaf describes wholehearted love.
  • Sababa – From tsabbaba meaning pouring the essence (i.e., emotions) of one’s heart, Sababa refers to ardent love.
  • Ishq – From ‘ashiqa, meaning the inseparability of two objects, ishq refers to extreme love.
  • Wala – From tawallu, meaning something catching fire, wala refers to obsessive love.
  • Huyam – from hama, meaning an intense state (like a camel becoming thirsty), huyam refers to madness that grew out of love.
  • Taym – from tatayyama, meaning enslavement, taym refers to the enslavement of the “beloved”.
  • Fitna – From infatana, meaning smelting gold and silver, fitna refers to temptation and disorder.

Welcoming, relating to, and really observing foreign words, including the hidden images living in them, can help awaken a renewed sense of intimacy with complex and intriguing phenomena such as love. It can also help therapists be more attuned to the subtle multi-layers of love for the benefit of their clients’ well-being and their own.

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