Today, we are going to have a look at the structure and pattern of a very common word.

The word دُنْيا is usually translated into English as world. The meaning is correct – but the literal translation is totally different. Let us check the root for this word: د ن و

The literal meaning ofالدُّنْيا is the lowest or the closest or the nearestand not world.

Grammatically speaking, the word دُنْيا is the feminine form of the pattern أَفْعَلُ. It is the comparative or superlative (elative) form, so called اِسْم التَّفْضِيل. The word دُنْيا is generally used in its definite form: الدُّنْيا. The plural of دُنْيا is دُنْيَيات

Let us check this pattern in detail:

meaning

comparative

feminine form

comparative

masculine form

root

closer; closest

دُنْيا

أَدْنَى

د ن و

higher; highest

عُلْيا

أَعْلَى

ع ل ى

further; furthest

قُصْوَى

أَقْصَى

ق ص و

Notice the feminine form in the last example!

It is different, because in the root, there is a و

The meaning of دُنْيا is similar to أَقْرَبُ – meaning: closer.

A long time ago, people were using the term الْحَياةُ الدُّنْيا for de­scribing the life which is closest to us (namely: life in this world) – because the afterlife/the hereafter (الْحَياة الْآخِرة) is something we don’t know. After some time, the word الْحَياة was deleted.

The expression الدُّنْيا is already found in the Quran, e.g. 16;30, سُورة النَّحْل (The bee)

لِلَّذِينَ أَحْسَنُوا فِي هٰذِهِ الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةٌ وَلَدَارُ الْآخِرَةِ خَيْرٌ

…for those who do good is a reward in this present world, but the abode of the Hereafter is far better…

A remark: The most famous mosque in Jerusalem, which is also one of the most important in Islam, is called al-Aqsa-Mosque. It is called الأَقْصَى as in old times it was the mosque that was the furthest from Mecca. الأَقْصَى literally means the furthest.