What is the meaning of the Arabic word يَلُونَكُمْ (yalūnakum) used in 9:123?

[9:123] O you who believe, you shall fight the disbelievers who “yalūnakum” —let them find you stern—and know that GOD is with the righteous.

يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قَاتِلُوا الَّذِينَ يَلُونَكُمْ مِنَ الْكُفَّارِ وَلْيَجِدُوا فِيكُمْ غِلْظَةً وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

Below is a word by word breakdown of the verse.

In order to understand the meaning we need to determine the correct root, but before we do that let’s take a look at the grammar first. Without knowing the root we can break down يَلُونَكُمْ (yalūnakum) as the following:

So what is the appropriate triliteral root to apply to this word? From what we can tell since the ل is the only identifiable root letter this indicates that the other two letters must both be vowels which would limit it to: ي ,و, or ا. As there is a damma above the ل this is indicative that the root letter would be a و, but if we look at Quran Corpus website, it shows they have identified the root for this word as: و ل ي. This root is used throughout the Quran typically to mean someone who is an ally, protector, close, lord and master, or in the context to turn away. In this particular instance Quran Corpus shows the meaning of the word as “(are) close to you”.

Additionally, this is how we see it translated by most translators.

Pickthal:
O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).

Shakir:
O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness; and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).

Sher Ali:
O ye who believe ! fight such of the disbelievers as are near to you and let them find hardness in you; and know that Allah is with the righteous.

Sayyid Abul Ala Maudui:
[9:123] Believers! Fight against the unbelievers who live around you;

Sahih International: 
O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous.

But is و ل ي even the correct root for this word let alone the correct meaning?

The only occurrence of the word يَلُونَكُمْ (yalūnakum) in the entire Quran is in this single verse 9:123. If we look at all the words in the Quran that contain the root و ل ي we will not find any instances where it is written with just a ل without be accompanied with an و or ا prior to the ل or ي after the ل, this would be the only time this pattern is broken. In all the other 233 occurrences of this root used throughout the Quran, we do not have a single other instance where this root is used in a word that does not contain this format.

In addition, if we go with this translation it would imply that the believers were allowed to fight the disbelievers who were near or close to the believers, but gives no justification for such actions except for proximity. This goes against the Quran’s non-aggression principle where fighting is only allowed against the aggressors.

[2:190] You may fight in the cause of GOD against those who attack you, but do not aggress. GOD does not love the aggressors.

وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ

I believe the correct triliteral root for يَلُونَكُمْ is actually ل و ي. Not only does this root make sense in the context of the verse, it actually corresponds with the pattern that is used in the other derivative forms used in the Quran.

This root occurs five other times in the Quran (3:78, 3:153, 4:46, 4:135, 63:5). In these verses the meaning is either in regards to individuals who “twist” their tongues to distort the scripture (3:78, 4:135), or to “turn back” (3:153, 63:5), or to “distort” or “turn away” (4:135).

Additionally, if we look at Lane’s Lexicon we see that this root in addition to having the derivative meanings as listed above, it also is used in the context of a body being “writhed” or recoiling from taking a beating.

So in addition to twisting, distorting, or turning back the word is also used in the context of a body that recoils, flinches, or writhes due to an attack or feint, a deceptive or pretended blow, thrust, or other movement from an aggressor. This is the physical reaction person’s body has when they are being attacked.

So the derivative meanings from this root as shown above and from the other verses of the Quran are the following:

ل و ي: to twist; pervert; turn back; bend; avert (the face) from; lean; feel an inclination; distorting; giving a twist; a body that writhes or recoils or flinches in response to a physical attack or feint

By this definition we see that يَلُونَكُمْ (yalūnakum) is in context of fighting and those who cause the believers to be physically recoiled or writhed. This is implying some form of physical aggression or attack. Against these individuals God is giving clear authorization that the believers are to fight back. Therefore, the proper translation of this verse is the following:

[9:123] O you who believe, you shall fight the disbelievers who attack—let them find you stern—and know that GOD is with the righteous.

يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قَاتِلُوا الَّذِينَ يَلُونَكُمْ مِنَ الْكُفَّارِ وَلْيَجِدُوا فِيكُمْ غِلْظَةً وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

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