Faith and Magnets

March 18, 2009 By: erik Category: Religion, Spain, Weird 8,221 views

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Somehow I managed to live in Spain for four years without ever learning the word for magnet. The Spanish word for magnet is imán. After learning this recently, I thought nothing of it besides a chuckle about it sounding like some sort of bionic implant or sex toy from Apple. But then I was listening to a radio broadcast about Islam and I heard the word iman mentioned several times, so I looked it up. Iman (إيمان‎) is Arabic for “faith”, one of the tenets of the religion of Islam.

The Moorish invasion of Iberia made a huge cultural impact on Spain, in music, architecture, cuisine, and language. Any similarity between a Spanish and Arabic word is certainly not a coincidence. For example, I recently learned that the shouts of ¡Olé! at a Spanish bullfight originate from shouting Allah! when a performer did something so spectacular that he ceased being human and became godlike.

I would really like to know from where the common etymology of these two words originates. Surely knowledge of some rocks attracting other rocks predates Islam, but does it predate the word for “faith” that is probably even older? Below is a bit of wild speculation:

  • Both words came from a common ancestor that meant “magical” or “unexplainable”.
  • Human believers are like little pieces of iron attracted to the deity magnet.
  • Little rocks attracted to a magnet clearly worship it like human believers do their deity.

This led me to the interesting visual parallel between iron filings – and on a smaller scale, the molecules inside them – aligning themselves along the field lines of a magnet and the way Muslims align themselves for prayer. Seriously, check out the similarities in the two images below.

Muslim pilgrims praying towards the Kaaba in Makkah, Mecca.

Iron filings orient themselves along magnetic field lines.

In theory, at the antipode of Mecca, which falls just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, praying Muslims would all line up with their rear ends facing that antipode five times a day. That’s kind of a funny image, and it’s only reinforced by the iron filings magnet metaphor.

Does anyone know any good resources about Spanish language etymology? The RAE doesn’t have much besides an secondary definition of imán meaning “grace that attracts will”. Very poetic.

Update (May 12, 2011): More than two years after I wrote this original post, I realized that the word for “Faith” in Spanish is “Fe”, which is the chemical symbol for iron, which most magnets are made of. A completely meaningless connection, but interesting nonetheless.

Update (October 26, 2013): I just found this image on the internets:

Faith and Magnets

 
  • I would like to give this post 500 stars, but I’ll settle for five.

  • Thanks, Jane! To get to 500 you’d have to travel to 99 other IP addresses.

  • Sounds like a religious conflict if I practiced magnet therapy in Spain. Anyway Thank you for an interesting tidbit as I research for my magnet therapy pages.

  • Good morning
    well, I can’t tell you anything about the origins of the arabic word, but I can tell you some more about the Spanish word. At the top of the entry in the RAE it says “Del fr. aimant” or “from the French aimant”
    I looked for the word on the Le dictionaire de l’Académie Franí§aise for the word aimant which means “diamond”. Unfortunatly the dictionay doesn’t seem to make direct linking to their easy, but says:

    2)II. AIMANT n. m. XIIe sií¨cle, aiemant, aí¯mant, « diamant ». Du latin populaire *adimas, -antis, altération du latin classique adamas, -antis (du grec adamas, « fer trí¨s dur, acier », puis « diamant » ) et qui a pris aussi en gallo-roman le sens de « pierre d’aimant ».
    PHYS. Corps possédant un champ magnétique extérieur et dont une des propriétés est d’attirer le fer. Aimant naturel, permanent, artificiel. Électro-aimant, voir ce mot. Fig. Ce qui attire et attache. Le pouvoir est un aimant presque irrésistible.

    So diamond was seen as “very hard iron” in greek, the word for which; adamas became adimas in classical Latin.
    From this the French get ‘aimant’ which became ‘imán’ in Spanish

    The Arabic for ‘magnet’ is an entire sentence, although I have no more idea what it means than you probably do: المغناطيس
    If you need many words to describe the concept I’m willing to bet it has nothing to do with imán So I don’t think you can make the argument for the word going the other way either.

  • Darn, I missed that “from French” bit on the RAE.

    Excellent work, Neil! Like a good scientist, I am absolutely delighted for my hypothesis to be proved completely wrong. That’s just the sort of enlightening comment I was hoping this post would inspire. Muchí­simas gracias!

  • And I would like to give Neil’s comment another 500 stars.

  • I think I’d have had the same hypotheses if I’d missed the “del francés”. It does sound so Arabic and in fact my Spanish gf assumed it was arabic in origin when I first asked what she knew about the word. It was fun huting it down though and sent me on a tour looking at compasses and lodestones as I was under the impression that Muslims had to develop the ability to calculate direction over long distances, in a way the non muslims, and in particular Mediterranean civilisations didn’t because of the nature of their prayers. Seemed so logical that imán was arabic in origin!

  • zeynep

    I came across your website while i was researching on prayer images and found your article to be very interesting, thanx for sharing this with us. I can’t really tell you much about the spanish word itself but i just found it amazing how Iman means magnet. I am a muslim which recently came across this interesting research about magnets and how it is related to praying in Islam and thought i can share it here.. Sorry its going to be abit of a long post 🙂

    Our Body receives a huge amount of Electromagnetic waves daily! this maybe from the t.v, your mobile, your computer and other daily equipment we seem to not let go of.. In other words, you are charged with electromagnetic waves without realizing it! This is why at times we can get head aches, body aches, tiredness, etc …

    A non Muslim Scientist (From Europe) made a research from which he concluded that the best way for the body to remove the positive Electromagnetic charges which hurts the body is:

    – By putting your forehead on the ground more than once, so that the ground will discharge the positive harmful Electromagnetic charges!

    – This is similar to the grounding of the buildings where any positive electrical signals (Like thunders) would be discharged through the ground.

    and the best way to do this is to put your forehead on the ground while you are positioned to the centre of the Earth! Since you will be able to discharge the Electromagnetic signals in a better and more efficient way!

    And you will be amazed to know that Mecca is scientifically proven to be the centre of the Earth! And that Kaa\’ba (house of Allah) is the exact centre of the Earth!

    As Muslims we pray (Postrate to Allah) 5 times a day by putting our foreheads to the ground facing the Kaa’ba and one of our Pillars of Islam is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in our lifetime.. So as well as worshiping Allah we are getting rid of electromagnets from our body.

    So not sure if this is all a coincidence 🙂 it makes sense to me and i believe that there is a reasoning behind everything is life 🙂

    • erik

      Thank you for your comment, zeynep. However, you, my friend, have a severe misunderstanding of electromagnetic radiation, and science in general.

      And you will be amazed to know that Mecca is scientifically proven to be the centre of the Earth! And that Kaa\’ba (house of Allah) is the exact centre of the Earth!

      It hardly seems worthy of a response, but I suppose I’ll ask you to produce the “scientific” study that “proved” this? You do know that the Earth is round, right? And what the meaning of “center” is?

      • nedjma

        by this maybe???

        (MAKKAH IS EARTH CITY CENTRE

        Submitted by yudhi_gooners on March 21st, 2013 – Flag this news as inappropriate
        Category: News

        Neil Armstrong has proven that Mecca is the center of the planet Earth. This fact has been examined through a scientific study.

        When Neil Armstrong for the first time to travel into space and take
        pictures of planet Earth, he said, “Planet Earth turns hanging in a very
        dark area, who hung it?.”

        The astronauts have discovered that the planet Earth is issuing a kind
        of radiation, they officially announce it on the Internet, but
        unfortunately her 21 days later the website there seems to be missing a
        hidden reason behind the removal of the website. After doing more
        research, it turns out the radiation was centered in the city of Mecca,
        precisely derived from the Kaaba.

        The surprise is that radiation is infinite (endless), it is proven when
        they take photos of Mars, the radiation is still continued. Muslim
        Researchers believe that this radiation characteristics and connection
        between Kaaba on the planet Earth with the Kaaba in the afterlife.

        In the middle between the north pole and a south p….)

  • JoshAGrady

    Wow! Back from the dead just to make my morning. Here’s to hoping that this post gets even wackier than the Sarah Palin comment thread.