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The 11 levels of love in Arabic

posted on: Feb 10, 2022

The affliction and the eventual dissent into madness

By: Menal Maliki / Arab America Contributing Writer

Much of the Arabic language’s beauty stems from its dept. The language is as beautiful as it is complex. Take for example the word honey, it has 70 synonyms and the word lion has about 400. Arabic has so many words and each synonym varies in meaning. In Arabic, the word for love is hubb, حب, and it comes from the same root as the word seed. Love can be described as a seed that grows into something beautiful. Hubb has many degrees and the lover has many states, from affliction to madness. Feelings are complex and the word “love,” does not do it justice. In Arabic, love has many degrees but I will only be listing 11.

The All-Powerful Eye: The Gaze

  1. Al- Hawa, الْهَوَى

“Sweet sweet is the greeting of the eyes,” (Keats). Al- haha translates to attraction, and the root verb is هَوَى, meaning ‘to blow.’ The first degree of love is like the wind, it is unavoidable, it is felt, and it can rise or fall.

At the first sight of attraction, as two eyes meet, there is an instant shock or jilt of electricity. The law of attraction is a force that cannot be reconciled or controlled. You can’t help who you find attractive and like the blowing of the wind, attraction can either be subtle or forceful.

You’ve heard the advice, the best way to ward off desire is to lower the gaze. The eye is the all-powerful, the more you stare at the object of your interest, the deeper your attraction becomes. Attraction is the beginning of love, and it can be both temporary and fleeting.

“My eyes water,

my throat is dry,

I am a lad,

this dear maiden,

her beauty weeps.

The beauty like a gazelle.

The more I stare,

I am enticed,

the glistening of her eye,

the solemnity of my gaze-

into the blueness of abyss.”

(Menal Elmaliki)

2. Alaqah, الْعَلاقَةُ

The word الْعَلاقَةُ, translates to the attachment. After the initial attraction comes the schoolboy innocence of attachment. The root of alaqah is عَلِقَ (alaq), which means ‘to cling.’ To this degree, love clings to the heart as a tick clings to the skin.

This newfound attraction promotes an unrelenting attachment. You become fixated on your object of interest, wanting to spend every waking moment with them. You can’t stop thinking about your new love. Here your love becomes your source of amusement and passion. There exists a strong and unyielding connection, an endless need of their presence. They become the air you breathe. Much of attachment eventually brings suffering and without restraint, it can easily be suffocating.

3. Kalaf, الْكَلَفُ 

The word kalaf, الْكَلَفُ, means infatuation, or deep fondness. It comes from the root, كَلِفَ, which means ‘to become red’ or to blush. At this degree, true love is beginning to blossom and it starts to have a physical effect. This is the intensify of love as it shifts from sentimentalism to physicalism.

 Kalaf, الْكَلَفُ  is connected to the word كُلْفَة which translates to difficulty or distress. This infatuation becomes your occupation. It is otherwise known as obsession. Alongside infatuation comes suffering. When your lover is away, it is painful and distressful. 

4. Ishq,  الْعِشْقُ  

Ishq comes from عَشّ , which means to remain in the nest (bird), to become covered or nested in. You would assume that ishq or desire comes in the very beginning but true desire only occurs when the lovers are familiar with each other.

The root of Ishq is عَشَى, which means to ‘become blind.’  This is the stage where desire is intertwined with love. Desire consumes you entirely like a black cloak, and it makes you blind. This desire is powerful but weak, it blinds the lover from seeing any fault with their love. Desire is what ignites passion, and it stems from infatuation.

5. Sha’afLaw’ahLi’aj (الشّعَفُ / اللَّوْعَةُ / اللعَاج)

Sha’af translates to passion. After desire is the intense flame of passion. To this degree, love is intense, steamy, and also pleasurable. The root word of sha’af is  شَعَفَ, which translates to “to spread tar on a camel.” Tar is placed on a camel to soothe it from its ailments, it is a remedy for managing. Passion is the tar that soothes the ailment of loneliness, lovelessness, and depression. Passion is often what heals love and it keeps it alive. Passion is a flame that has two end results, one that is easily ignited and easily put out, and the other which leads to affliction.

6. Shaghaf  الشّغَفُ 

The next degree of love is shaghaf,  الشّغَفُ, which translates to affliction. Too much passion and you start to get burned. The lover becomes affected by this all-consuming love and eventually delves into madness. Affliction is the first stage to self-destruction. Affliction is defined as a poison, you start to be affected by this outer consumption of love that will eventually lead to grief and sorrow.

Love’s affliction is compared to a disease, شَغَاف , meaning outer covering of the heart. It also translates to a heart disease that can quickly spread and kill the patient if left untreated. When love consumes the heart, it can kill emotionally. Affliction is like an arrow that pierces the heart or a thorn that pricks the skin. 

7. Jawaa, اَلْجَوَى 

The word jawaa, اَلْجَوَى, translates to grief. The stage of affliction had just affected the outer heart but it is the grief that consumes the entire heart. Jawaa comes from the root word, جَوًى, which means consumption or to put off. A lover can suffer from grief and force the lover to give up on love or to resent it.

From this root, جَوًى, there is also the word, الْجَوْفُ, this translates to the void. Once the lover is afflicted it then drowns the lover in consumption leading to degradation or destruction. Out of the waters of love, grief is a reminder that though love is beautiful it can be dark and painful. Grief is tending to your wounds, and in a healthy relationship, it is the final stage before you moved on.

Most lovers grieve but there are some that refuse to let go.

8. Taym التّيْمُ 

Taym in Arabic,  التّيْمُ, is translated to enslavement. It is closely associated with the word slave, عَبْد. The root word of taym is the verb, تَامَ which means ‘to love.’ Since love is now etched in your heart and mind, you, the lover, become enslaved to the object of your adoration, you are most beloved. You are now chained to your lover and refuse to let go of this love that consumes you.

Taym has various synonyms and can also mean to hypnotize and bewitch. Perhaps you are so in love that you might cast a spell? You become not only enslaved to love but also obsessed with the feeling of being in love and begin to worship it. Some often confuse love with the feeling of being in love and falling in love with the entanglement, the chaining of love, rather than love itself.

9. Tabl, التَّبْل 

This degree of love tabl, التَّبْل, translates to malady. At this stage, enslaved love becomes an incurable sickness. The verb تَبَلَ means to destroy and love becomes self-destructive, as it begins its descent towards madness. The heart begins to rot on the inside out, and your love, once a beacon of light, is now your enemy. Love that was once pleasurable is now diluted, deafening, and confounded. It becomes umbrage, as your mind loses its validity. The spiral downfall into insanity is your inevitable future unless you have the strength to abandon this love before it fully destroys you. You must destroy it before it destroys you.

10. Tadleehالتَّدْلِيْه

The word مُدَلّه translates to being unable to pay attention. Love is now a disorder. Here, the lover loses all sense of reason and is in a constant state of disarray. The lover is stumbling in dark alleys or in the woods. He is in isolation, and travels to and fro in a state of psychosis.

Love has become ingrained and the lover cannot free himself and nor is he willing to let go. اِدْلَهَمّ translates to black as the night or intensely dark. This reflects the true reality of love, that love has two faces, one that is good and the other that is bad.

Once your heart becomes a void, the goodness is pushed out, and madness begins to creep in slowly. Here the lover becomes disillusioned and the heart is indifferent to suffering. He believes that life is not worth living unless he can be with his beloved. He is blind and unaware of his madness, to him, he is simply a victim of ill fate.

The lover hangs on to hope with the possibility that hope is long-winded and empty-handed?

11. Huyum,  الْهُيُوْمُ 

The last and most severe degree of love is الْهُيُوْمُ, which translates to insanity. At this stage, love embodies the complete loss of reason. The lover loses his sense and cannot fathom a life without their love so they reside in the refugee of lunacy. Insanity is the eventual fate of excessive love which usually occurs when the lovers are separated or when one of them moves on. The lover becomes destitute, he officially abandons his home, and wonders from place to place until death overtakes him.

The lover is only controlled by love and loses touch with reality as they fall headfirst into the petty despair of madness. An example is this is Qais, in Layla and Magnun. After the death of Layla, he becomes numb and falls into a deep trance. Eventually, he loses all sense of himself and the material world as he becomes majnun (crazy). He leads a life of isolation and ultimately dies.  الْهُيُوْمُ comes from the root هي, and the verb هَوَى which has two definitions, to be attracted to, and to perish. This is the conclusion of love and it is led by death, either natural death or suicide.

Madness is the ultimate price for love. For Qais death symbolized a new beginning, he can freely unite with Layla after death. In Arab culture, death is not considered a negative thing. It is freedom from the suffering of worldly life.


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Harn, J. (2017, November 23). Arabic has more words for Love than English, and this is what they are. Culture Trip. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from 

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