List of Swahili Words of Arabic Origin


Swahili is a language that fuses African Bantu with Arabic. Arab sailors and traders have established links and ties with East Africa for centuries, their language  strongly merged with the local language to produce a creole derivative.

The word Swahili itself is derived from Arabic Sawahili سواحلي which is plural for ساحل meaning [Language] of the Coast

This article gives  some examples of Arabic words still in today's Swahili.

Here are some words. 

Swahili Arabic Meaning
hatari خطر Danger. Also the  title of a 1962 movie starring John Wayne, set in Africa.
Safari سفر Travel. Also: trip
mahali محل Place
vitabu كتاب Book
msumari مسمار Nail
kata قطع Cut, chop
habari خبر news
huru حر free
dhamiri ضمير conscience
kamusi قاموس dictionary
baridi بارد cold
samahani سامحني forgive me, excuse me
rafiki رفيق companion, friend
tafadhali تفضل please
furahi فرح happy


The terms for time are strongly influenced by Arabic.  Many of it taken by the prayer times of Islam.

Swahili Arabic Meaning
asubuhi صبح morning
dakika دقيقة minute
saa ساعة hour
wakati وقت time
alasri العصر late afternoon
magharibi المغرب sunset
alfajiri الفجر dawn
karne قرن century

The Swahili names for the first five days of the week all start with Juma, then the order of the day of the week, Saturday being the first day of the week. Jumaa is derived from the Arabic word جمعة which means Friday, as well as "week. Only two days of the week got the Arabic names:

Swahili Arabic Meaning
alkhamisi الخميس Thursday
ijumaa الجمعة Friday

Animal  Names

Animal names are all native African Bantu (e.g. simba lion). However, there are  a few exceptions.

Swahili Arabic Meaning
Tausi طاوس Peacock, being non-native to Africa, it took the Arabic name, which in turn took it from Persian.


The number system is also heavily Arabic, although not exclusively so.

Swahili Arabic Meaning
nusu نص Half. The proper classical Arabic word  is نصف nisf. In many present day dialects it is "nus", like in Swahili.
robo ربع Quarter
sita ستة 6
saba سبعة 7
tisa تسعة 9
ishrini عشرين 20
thalathini ثلاثين 30
arubaini أربعين 40
hamsini خمسين 50
sitini ستين 60
sabini سبعين 70
thamanini ثمانين 80
tisini تسعين 90
mia مئة 100.  The middle letter in classical Arabic is Hamza, however, in present day dialects, like Swahili, it is a Y sound.
elfu ألف 1000


Here are some useful links on Swahili.



Kiswahili is a daughter tongue of Arabic.

Baswahili of east Africa must come to terms with the fact that their language is "fundamentally Arabic." The question that many of us African never asked or never asked ourselves is not necessarily how many words that Kiswahili borrowed (a better term would be to "inherit")from its mother Arabic,but which words.Words like Binti,rafiki,habari,Bibi,furahi,bahati,binadamu,baraka,hasira,asubuhi,hewa,samaki,etc., these words cannot be borrowed like those that English borrowed from French,and so many other languages that borrow words from others as a result of trade,close contacts,occupation and dominant cultures.Therefore Kiswahili is very much an Arab "Dialect" and should be recognized as such.Kiswahili was not corrupted by Arab slave traders as many of us were taught in high schools. Arabic gave birth to Kiswahili and we Africans must learn to live with it.

Kiswahili was fisrt spoken by Arab merchants from Oman and Yemen around 11th century,when they made their annual trade winds sail between the middle east and the east coast of Africa at a location between Somalia and Kenya.Gradually these sailors made small coastal settlements and eventually married local African women.This community became known as "Bilad Sawahil" the beach people or the coastal people.Soon afterwards these people began to have trouble with Somalis and had to move southwards and became Baswahili as we know them today along the east coast of Africa from Somalia to Mozambique.

That Being said,Kiswahili has and deserves a special place among major world languages.It is number two in Africa,surpassed only by mother Arabic.In 19th century,Kiswahili became very handy for all types of undesirable characters who had invaded the dark continent.From European bounty hunters,Asian and middle eastern smugglers and slave traders and zealous missionaries.During the cold war,Kiswahili was heard on radio Moscow,Beijing,BBC and Deutche Welle.It became the language of the African musicians of the 1950-70's where it was popularized and adopted by every metropolitan community in the sub saharan Africa.

I have compiled about three hundred words if you want to post them let me know.
Thank you and keep up the good work.

Israel Ntaganzwa, New York

yes, please post the words

yes, please post the words you have.
could you wite them the same way as they have been pronounced in Swahili.


Can someone please translate "struggle and emerge" into Arabic Swahili please? Thank you.

struggle and emerge

Struggle -
n. jitihada, pambano,
v. -jitahidi,

v. -jitokeza, -ibuka,

Jihad, the much maligned word these days

The word for "Struggle" in Swahili is from the Arabic word.

n. Jihad (struggle), Ijtihad (exerting utmost effort)

v. Jahad (struggled), Ijtahad (exerted utmost effort)

Too bad jihad has been tied in the contemporary Western psyche with bombing and terrorism.


thank you both for your responses. would either of you be able to translate the phrase "struggle and emerge" into the swahili in the arabic script. i spent the summer volunteering at a school in kenya and the motto of the school is 'struggle and emerge' so i would like to have it in the arabic if possible. thank you so much.


In Arabic it could be:

Jahada wa thafar
جاهد و ظفر
Struggled and emerged [victorious]


Ijtahada wa faz
اجتهد و فاز
Struggled and and emerged [winning]

Motto in Kiswahili

you can translate your Motto "struggle and emerge" to a proverb "JITAHIDI UFAIDI" literally "struggle to benefit"

Interesting, in Swahili we'd

Interesting, in Swahili we'd probably say

'Jitahidi, Ushinde' - Struggle and Win, or literally push yourself (the ji is reflexive) and you win.

Especially for a school motto. I think the idea here is that the students are engaged in a jihad against ignorance, or poverty, and that education is the way to victory, to emerging out of that darkness. We still say jihad as a loan word, i.e. unmodified from the Arabic.


thank you both again. how would that be written in the arabic script? thanks.