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Tag: folklore

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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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Storytelling

9.     Be a storyteller in whatever you do. We are all storytellers. We converse in stories whether we realise it or not. That’s because stories are a way of packaging information and ideas into a format that those around us can accept. We have done it so much and for so long that we hardly realise we’re doing it. The same goes with work. If you have a report, don’t churn it out in black and white. Use anecdotes, and little tales to get a message across. You’ll be amazed at how easily they are digested. And if you have a presentation to make, or people to train, do it with stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end. 



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Ambient Time

8.     Use ambient time. I often hear people telling their family, colleagues and friends that they don’t have time to do scratch their heads. Far too busy to meet for that after work drink, to write letters, to make a phone call, or take on a project. But stop. Look at your life. Really look at it. Could the minutes you spend wasting time… standing in a bus queue, waiting for the kettle to boil, sitting at the traffic lights in your car, be harnessed?. Spend a day with a stopwatch. Time it all. Time the lost moments, and the half-spent hours. That time can be used. I’m not saying it’s sensible to write letters, say, while you’re driving. But you could be listening to self help books or even novels on an iPod. And you could be planning projects. And even better, you could be multi-tasking as they call it across the Atlantic. Doing three or four things at once. I look at my life and I’m rarely doing one thing. Even while writing this I’m paying the electricity bill, planning the afternoon, and thinking about an email I have to reply to on shrunken heads.



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Problem Solving

7.     Learn to solve problems. See yourself as a problem solving machine. There’s very little as important to me as solving problems. Teaching our children and those around us to solve problems is a way of giving them an invaluable tool. We often find ourselves unable to crack a problem that’s smothering our lives. If this happens, put a space between you and the problem and look at it from a distance. Imagine it’s your best friend’s problem and not your own, and then start to work out what your friend could do to solve it. And remember that the best route to solving a problem is seldom a straight line.



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Reuse

6.     Learn to reuse material. I am a believer that good material deserves to be packaged in different ways, and that most people miss key stuff on the first time. By being exposed again and again to specific ideas, they get increased value. Think of it like this: if you were to shine a shaft of light on an apple from the top looking down on it, you’d see the stalk. But you wouldn’t see the smooth sides or the base. But by presenting the same object (or idea) from varying viewpoints and angles, the viewer gets a far greater understanding.



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Help

5.     Help others in any way you can. When I was starting out writing, I’d send unsolicited letters to a lot of people, asking for quotes or for them to read my work. Many of them didn’t write back. But some did. And those people are the ones who I hold in my heart. Any author has a little time to read letters from the public, and they all have time to help those who want to break in. Of course there are limits, and sometimes people send me work I can’t help with… but I believe that helping total strangers is a wonderful thing, especially helping people who have what it takes to succeed.



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Time

4.     Value your time and time yourself. I’m a writer and so most of the time there’s no boss standing over me, or no system of clocking in and out. That means it’s pretty easy to deceive myself and slack off. But I’ve come to understand the importance of giving true value to the hours you have between waking and sleeping… those hours are full of astonishing possibility, each minute is in fact. But you mustn’t take them for granted. Regard each day as the last you will breathe and your outlook changes. I have taken to putting a timer on my desk, so that I can challenge myself at doing the more boring stuff (filing, accounts etc). It has worked for me.



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Remember

3. Remember kindness and help from others and repay it. I’m a big believer in paying back into the system and not taking more out of it than you’ve paid it. I rarely ask favours of people, and when I do, I make sure that I repay those who have helped me, at once. Beyond that, I think it’s extremely important to remember the people who have given advice and help especially in the hard times, times when others didn’t even give you the time of day. Those people are true friends.



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Value

2.     Never undervalue yourself. We spend so much time listening to others and not listening to ourselves, that we often find ourselves spiralling downwards, into a pit of gloom, lacking in self worth. But if you switch this outlook of gloom, with one of enthusiasm, self-belief, amazing things start to happen almost at once. It’s miraculous. Believe in yourself and no one else and the impossible becomes possible.



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