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Tag: Arabic

22

Morocco Lost in Translation

Last week a close Moroccan friend and I met for our weekly cup of tea at our usual café.

‘You know how much I like you foreigners,’ said my friend, ‘but you people confuse me, and other Moroccans as well.’

Smiling, I asked what he meant.

My friend went on to tell me of how he had been received at an American family’s home in Casablanca the week before. Following that visit, he invited the American family to his own home. A series of lost in translation moments had punctuated both visits.

As someone with one foot in the East and the other in the West, I could see the difficulties and, for this reason, I wanted to present a list of do’s and don’ts for Westerners living in Morocco.

Here it is:

When visiting a Moroccan home:

  • Take a gift, however small. Not to do so when arriving for a social visit is almost unthinkable. If there are children there, take something for them, or something straight-forward such a platter of pastries. Better to take more than less.
  • Don’t expect a tour of the house, or ask for one. Bedrooms and anything but the formal salon, will be probably off-limits, unless you know the family well.
  • Don’t be surprised if the television is left on all through the visit. TV is regarded as background noise in Morocco.
  • Don’t worry if people come in and out endlessly, while you feel awkwardly rooted to one formal chair. You’re a guest and, as a guest, you’re expected to be seated while everyone honours you. At prayer time members of the host family might slip out, pray, and then return.
  • And, as a respected guest, an abundance of food will be provided. Don’t gorge yourself on starters, as there will probably be large platters of cooked meat to follow.
  • The choicest pieces of meat may well be picked out and served to you. Don’t worry if you have to leave a little, because that’s fine in Morocco – just as eating every crumb is a sign that you are still hungry.
  • Do not help yourself to drinks, but wait for your hosts to serve you.
  • If eating from a communal dish of couscous or a tagine, keep to the triangle of the dish in front of you.
  • Don’t praise an individual object in the home too much, because it may well be presented to you as a gift.
  • Don’t take wine or an alcoholic drink unless you are very certain that the hosts drink.
  • Do make polite conversation, declaring how you adore Morocco, and Moroccan culture. Don’t launch into politics or religious matters.
  • Irrespective of whether you are the guest or the host, your children will be kissed by all. And, if it’s a conservative household, men either kiss each other’s cheeks (if already close friends), and women kiss women’s cheeks. Men shouldn’t kiss women and vice versa, unless you know the family well or if you know them to be less conservative. A handshake is always a good bet unless a cheek is offered.

 

When Receiving Moroccan Guests

  • On no account serve any dish containing pork or pork products.
  • Don’t necessarily ask your guests what they would like to drink. It’s better to just serve tea, or whatever, or to pour various cold drinks and present them on a tray. Don’t offer wine or beer unless you’re pretty sure your guests drink alcohol.
  • Never eat or drink anything until you are sure that your guests have all been taken care of. And never on any account help yourself to a second helping until all guests have taken what they need. If there’s a little food left at the end of the meal, never dive in and finish it if you are hosting the meal.
  • Remember that when receiving people in your home, they are traditionally guaranteed security beneath your roof. This means that you are obliged to treat them with respect, and so it’s not the right time to launch into severe arguments.
  • In Morocco, receiving a guest is regarded as an honour for the host, and so there should be an abundance of food. Don’t worry if you have many times what will be eaten, as you will be honoring your guests. Quantity, quantity, quantity.
  • Don’t offer a tour of your home, unless the guests are close friends. Moroccans are always confused about the idea of the house tour. It’s largely regarded as absurd.
  • Don’t stress if your guests sit in silence. In Morocco, as in much of the Arab world, silence is seen as a virtue and a medium through which people get to know each other.
  • Don’t be offended if your Moroccan friends don’t send a message of thanks. It’s not something required in the culture. But, you are likely to receive a return invitation instead.
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Translations

A huge number of Classical texts no longer exist in their original Greek or Latin, and were brought to the Renaissance through the Arabic. The Abbasids drew from Greek and Roman classics, as well as the classical Persian, Turkic and Indian sources. In this way, information on subjects such as Zero, came to the Arabs (from the Indian subcontinent). Such breakthroughs led to a snowballing effect, with problems of mathematics, physics and so on that were uncrackable before, being solved for the first time.

The House of Wisdom was at first essentially a translation house and giant library. Then gradually it turned into a think-tank, which built on the foundations of earlier cultures, and welcomed Christians and Jews as well as Muslims to study.



TS


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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.



TS

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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.



TS
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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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March 21, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Arabic

Arabs believe that their language, Arabic, contains within it many layers of concealed information. It is for this reason that it is often believed that Arabic is the only language in which the Qur’an should be read, and that by translating the holy book one loses secret meaning. The matter is dabated endlessly, as one can imagine. What is very certain however, is that Arabic is a labyrinth within itself, one in which specific roots of words can be used in many different ways. I’m not going to start giving Arabic lessons, but I want to observe how Arabic is used to conceal information. It’s a subject that is well known across the Arab world, especially to scholars, and has been used for millennia by Sufis.




TS