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Archive for March 2009

5
March 31, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

Content and Container

As the parent of two small children, I often find myself explaining to them the difference between content and container. We are all at times lured by the sizzle, so greatly that we forget it’s almost of no value at all.  And children  fall for it all more, perhaps because of the way society targets them, and because of their natural ingenuousness. This morning, Ariane was going on and on about her best friend’s school bag. She described it in intricate detail. She said it had pictures of Barbie all over the back, and pink fluffy felt on the sides, and a handle made from real pink leather. At first I tried to tell her that the bag was nothing more than that, a bag… but she didn’t want to hear. So I  said I would tell her story to explain what I meant. This is the story, The Book of the Book…



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March 30, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

The King, the Dog, and the Golden Bowl IV

Then an old man appeared, in a rough woollen robe, and with a stick in his hand, upon which he leant heavily.

“Greetings my son,” said the old man. “What brings you to this place?”
“Some time ago I came here in rags,” said Hassan, and was fortunate  enough to be given the meat from its bowl by this dog here. When I left I took the bowl, sold it, and replenished my fortunes, and now I have come to repay the debt, and returned his bowl.”
“All those times are gone,” said the old man, “the vanity and pomp which was once my court has vanished.”
Hassan now saw that this was indeed the generous king whom he had seen feeding the poor and needy in the great palace long ago.
“Your Majesty,” said he, “please take this bowl which I have brought.”
“No,” said the old king, “I had no need for anything, except that which I have here. My hounds catch me game from my one daily meal, and my old gardener has remained with me and continues to grow some roses and vegetables for me. Together, he, I, and the hounds managed to enjoy our lives. After my enemies destroyed my city and my people were taken away in slavery, I have lived very simply here.”
“But, the bowl,”  said Hassan, “May I not leave it to your Majesty?
  “If a dog of mine thought it fit to give away his bowl,” said the King, “it is not for me to take it back. I am sure that he has no need of it now. Oh, return from whence you came, we are sufficiently provided for at the present time.”
So, bowing to the king, Hassan mounted his horse and rode away. He looked back, and saw the old man, leaning upon his stick, wavered last farewell, and then disappear back into the ruins, with his three hounds about him.
 And Hassan, in after days, often told the story, that men should not forget the tale of the King the Dog and the Golden bowl.



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March 29, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

The King, the Dog, and the Golden Bowl III

By clever buying and selling, he soon had enough merchandise to take back to his native town, where his friends greeted him with much joy.

His luck soon changed, and Hassan became a successful trader once again, and before long he was once as rich as he had ever been. 
 Some years later, he felt the urge to return to the town where he had been shown such kindness by the dog. He made up his mind to replace the golden bowl which he taken away at the insistence of the dog.
Within a few days, a replica of the bowl was ready, and Hassan climbed onto his best horse with flowing robes and boots finest leather, set off
 At last he arrived and once more saw the old walls which were built around the city. But, upon writing inside the gates, he saw with amazement that the glory of the palace was no more. It lay wide open to the sky, roofless and ruined, its beautiful pillars broken as if destroyed by Mongol hordes.
The wrecked houses were silent and empty, the shops where rich and contented merchants had been, were sacked and smashed, their merchandise looted.
Sorrowfully, Hassan was mounting his horse to ride away, when a great hound darted out of the palace ruins and was followed by two others. Hassan recognized them as the dogs which had been brought by the attendant to feed from the golden bowls when he was a beggar in that very same place.


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March 28, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

The King, the Dog, and the Golden Bowl, II

There was a great concourse of people, young and old, being given food and money by the generous monarch, who sat upon a great golden throne in the middle of the lofty hall.

Suddenly from his hiding place, Hassan saw three great hounds being brought to space a few feet away from him; and an attendant placed to three bowls of finest meat before each of the dogs. The man then went away, and Hassan found his eyes fixed upon the delicious meat which had been given to the dogs. As he was thinking that he could with joy feed from even the leftovers in the animals’ bowls, so great was his hunger, the dog nearest to him raised his eyes. Looking at him in an almost human fashion he pushed his jewelled  golden bowl towards Hassan. The famished man, unable to wait a second longer, helped himself to one of the pieces of succulent meat, and pushed the bowl back to the dog. But, with its paw, the animal again pushed it over to Hassan, until he had eaten to his heart’s content. Then the intelligent creature ate, and after it had licked the bowl clean, it pushed it back to Hassan. The man saw it was offering him the bowl, and so he took it in his hands and then hid the precious object under his tattered cloak. When he had done so, the animal seem to nod his head in agreement.
Hassan realised that if he sold the bowl, and bought himself new clothes, he would at least have a chance to approach a merchant to do some sort of work.
He patted the hound gratefully on the head, and slipped away from the crowd. Next day he sold the bowl, which, being studded with precious jewels, brought him in such a good price, but he was able to set himself up in business once again.


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March 27, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

The King, the Dog, and the Golden Bowl I

Here is one of my favourite stories… I’m giving it here because I have just been to see the carpenter, Mr. Reda, who built the library for me at Dar Khalifa.  I was reminded of the king’s fate in the story, because Mr. Reda  was sitting in his workshop, alone. He said there was no work, and he had let all his carpenters go… but instead of being sad he had resigned himself to fate.


Once upon a time there lived a merchant, called Hassan,  who was wealthy and generous, happy and fortunate.
But one day, disaster stared him in the face. His ships, bearing great loads of treasure from afar, were captured by pirates and his warehouse — containing many valuables — was burned down. Unable to face his friends, he sold his house and his remaining belongings, and set off in search of his fortune.
But good luck deserted Hassan. A thief stole his remaining money while he was asleep in a caravanerai, and this time he found himself without a single coin to his name, in a strange and foreign land.
He went to the mosque and asked if he could stay the night, and was very ashamed at having to ask the charity. How was he ever going to hold up his head again, he wondered? He asked the mosque-keeper what he should do. “My brother,” said the old man, “go three days march from here, and you will arrive at such and such a place. The king there is generous and kind, and you may be able to put your case before him. He would be sure to give you more charity but I can give, because we are so poor.”
  Before leaving the mosque, Hassan gave his last few coins to the imam, and wished him a long and prosperous life.
Hassan set off on a rough road and was soon thirsty and tired, wondering whether the journey was a good idea at all.
  After three days he arrived almost starving at a walled city. The shopkeepers there were richly dressed in contented. Hassan walked wearily towards the palace, where the old mosque-keeper had told him the generous king helped thousands of people each night. But when he finally got there he was so ashamed of his rags, and so fearful of presenting himself in such a state before the king, that he hid behind a pillar, from which vantage point he could look upon the scene of the royal court….


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March 26, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Common Greetings and Phrases

Following on from yesterday, I want to highlight a few of the Arab expressions and phrases that are heard constantly in North Africa and the Middle East.


Assalam wa alaikum: As I said yesterday, this is the most common Arab greeting, meaning ‘Peace be upon you’.  It is uttered constantly, and it would be incorrect to omit it  when meeting someone, entering a shop, and so on.
Ahlan wa sahlan:  An all purpose relaxed greeting, favoured particularly in Egypt, that is truncated to ‘Ahlan’.
Bismillah:  ‘In the name of God’, it is said before a pious Muslim embarks on any activity at all. Before sitting down, before breaking bread or eating, or beginning just about any action that requires a little thought.
Alhamdullillah: ‘Praise God’. It’s used as a reply when someone asks you how you are. Also when one hears good news.
Tafaddul: Literally, ‘Honour me’, is an invitation to someone to sit down, come into their home, and so on.
Shukran: ‘Thank you’.
La illaha illa Allah, Muhammed ar-Rasul-Allah: ‘There is no god except Allah, Muhammed is the Messenger of God’. This is the Islamic Profession of Faith. To repeat it once is to testify once conversion to Islam.
La haula wa la quwwatah illa billahi al aali wa’l azeem: ‘There is no Power or Might accept God, the High, the Great.’ The phrase is sometimes said is an expression of great surprise.
Astaghfirullah: ‘I seek refuge in God’. The expression of alarm, disgust and so on.



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March 25, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Greeting

In the Arab and Islamic world greeting people is very important. It’s usually much more than a passing ‘hello’, and can often turn into an elaborate exchange of expressions, and an abundant show of friendship. The Prophet noted that people ought to greet each other. And anyone who has travelled in an Arab country, must have seen local people greeting friends and acquaintances, shaking hands and kissing cheeks. Here in Morocco there is almost nothing so important as greeting someone, whether a stranger or a friend. Each morning when I meet the guardian’s here at our house for the first time, I spend a moment asking them how they, and how their families are, and of course shaking hands. Hand-shaking is a very big deal in the Arab world. It would be unthinkable for me to greet another man and refrain from shaking their hand. The same goes for public greetings. When you enter a bank for example, or even an elevator, you always say: ‘As salam wa alaikum’, ‘Peace be upon you’.  I suppose it came from the times when you never knew whether a stranger was a friend or foe. And by expressing your greeting, you were declaring that you were friendly, and not about to stab them in the back. In the Arab world it can be considered inappropriate for a man to ask another man about his wife. So you always find yourself being asked “how is the family?” A conversation between two friends will never begin until such enquiries have been made.  On my travels I have noticed that almost all societies outside Europe and North America have such elaborate greetings. They are part of the culture, an expression that runs far deeper than the simplicity of the words. Last week I went to London to two or three days, and in the middle of the trip I found myself getting into a crowded elevator. As soon as I managed to squeeze in, I spent a moment greeting everybody, as I would do in Morocco. I did it on autopilot, and found myself  met with looks of blank amazement. After all, in London there can sometimes be a sense of hostility to outright strangers. But then, as the elevator rose up towards the top of the building, a few of the other passengers nervously greeted me back. It was a heart-warming experience, and I could sense that the others just like me felt energised in some way by the greetings someone they didn’t know.



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March 24, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Abjad

The Abjad is an alpha-numeric system found in Arabic, similar to such systems used by the ancient Greeks, etc, and currently with the Hebrew alphabet. The system is well-known, and works on the principle of equating specific numerical values to each letter. In the Arab world, Abjad has been used to conceal ideas and information, as well as to develop geometric patterns and images, which in turn contain reference to a name, a word, or an idea. There’s plenty on the system on the internet.The Abjad letters are memorised in a meaningless string (phonetically, they sound like this:)


ABJAD HAWAZ HUTY KALMAN SAFASQURSHAT THAKHDZ DHATZAGH

And these are the basic numerical values.

ALIF    A       1

YA       Y         10

QAF        Q     100

BA         B        2

KAF     K         20

R             R      200

JIM         J        3

LAM     L      30

SH          SH   300

DAL      D       4

MIM      M     40

T             T     400

HA        H       5

NUN      N      50

TH          TH   500

WAU     W      6

SIN       S        60

KH          KH   600

Z            Z      7

AYN      AYN 70

DZ          DZ    700

HH        HH   8

FA         F       80

DH          DH   800

TT           TT   9

SD       SS      90

TZ           TZ    900

 

 

GH           GH 1000

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March 23, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Hidden Meaning

The Sufis have always used language to encode ideas and themes precious to them. These hidden meanings are invisible to the eye or the ear of the uninitiated. They can be released and activated however through teaching. The sense of specific Sufi code words or stories is lost on those without the knowledge to perceive the concealed message. An example, is the Arabic root, NSHR, to saw. The word has numerous meanings (see below), and is used as a kind of key into another way of thinking. Sawing wood for Sufis signifies creating something new — sawdust — and from a material — wood — that is being worked on to create something new. The process is a metaphor for transmutation also, as in alchemy. The root and its multiple uses in language makes it a valuable code word:

NaSHaR = to expand, spread, display
NaSHaR = to saw wood, scatter, propagate
NaSHaR = to become green after rain, to spread (as in foliage)
NaSHaR = to recall to life, revivify (the dead)
NaSHiR = to disperse by night in a pasture
NaSHr – life, sweet smell, reviving herbage after rain
YaUM EL-NNuSHUR = day of resurrection
NuSHARa = sawdust
MiNSHAR = saw.

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March 22, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Baraka

Anyone interested in the layers of information concealed within Arabic, would do well to read the Annotations at the back of my father’s book, The Sufis.


One interesting root provides the first name for the new President of the United States:

Baraka
Root and derivation (Arabic)
BaRK b = to stand firm, dwell in.
BaRRaK l = congratulate.
BaRRaK ‘ala = to sit down.
Barrak ‘ala = to bless.
BARaK = to be exalted.

TaBaRRaK b = to bode well of.
BaRaKat = blessing, abundance.
BiRK at = pool, tank, puddle.
BaRIK = happy, fresh dates with cream.
BaRRAK = miller.
MuBARaK = blessed.
BaRRak = make kneel down, bend the knees.



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