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Tag: Knowledge

7
March 12, 2009 Posted by tahir in Books

Proverbs

Proverbs and sayings are very common in the Arab world, as they are in the West. Since living here in Morocco, I’ve noticed that there are dozens of proverbs which are found in different forms in both Occident and Orient, and many more that are directly translated. This may suggest a transmission from East to West and vice versa, or it may just be coincidence.


Here are some examples (the Arabic proverb is in capitals, the European one in lower case):


BIRDS ALIGHT AMONG THEIR LIKE
Birds of a feather flock together

HE MADE A DOME FROM A SEED
Making a mountain out of a molehill

HIS LUCK SPLITS A STONE
He has the Devil’s luck

A DOG’S TAIL IS CROOKED EVEN IF HE STRUCK BY A BLACKSMITH’S HAMMER
A leopard can’t change its spots

THE CAMEL CAN’T SEE HIS OWN HUMP
The pot calls the kettle black

TWO WATER MELONS CAN’T BE CARRIED IN A SINGLE HAND
Don’t try the impossible

HE WHO GROWS WITH A HABIT GREYS WITH IT
Old habits die hard

CLEANLINESS IS AKIN TO FAITH
Cleanliness is next to Godliness


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2
March 11, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Arab and Islamic Titles

The Arab and Islamic worlds hold titles very dear, and it’s a subject that’s almost always misunderstood in the West. The first thing to know is that in Islam all men are equal. There are, therefore, technically no provisions for absolute rulers, such as kings, although a number of Arab countries now have monarchs on along Occidental lines (such as Morocco, Jordan and Bahrain). The highest title has traditionally been ‘Amir al-Mu’minin’, the Commander of the Faithful, that is the one selected for leading the prayer and acting as spiritual figurehead. This is sometimes truncated to Amir, or Emir. Other honorific titles indicate that a person is of the Prophet’s family, a lineage that is held in extremely high regard within the Islamic world. Depending on the country, the title given to the Prophet’s descendants alters. In Afghanistan for example where our family is from, descendants are known as Sayed (also spelt Sayyid). Note that ‘Sayed’ and Seyeda’ are used by people whose ancestry is passed on through the paternal line. Where it is through the mother, the title ‘Mirza’ is used. Elsewhere Sayeds are permitted to use other titles such as Sharif (noble) . There are yet more titles local to a particular region, such as ‘Nawab’ (‘deputy’), a form of Muslim Maharajah, found in south Asia, and Nizam (‘administrator of the realm’). The last name ‘Shah’ as used by Muslims in Central Asia denotes a direct lineage to the prophet, and is used in place of a family name which, in our family’s case is ‘al-Hashemi’.



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1
March 10, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Arab and Islamic Names

This is a subject which catches people out in the West, and one that just about everyone with an interest in the East would do well to spend a moment thinking about. The first thing to remember is that Arab society has traditionally been tribal. You come from a clan and a tribe and a community, before you do a country. Rather like names of old told you a lot in the West, they continue to do so in the East. From a name you can often tell a great deal about the person’s background, his family, tribe and so forth. The first thing to look at is the first name. These names are so important in the Arab world, rather as they used to be in the West. My name, Tahir, is more than a name — it’s part of my identity. It was actually chosen for me at birth through the Abjad alphanumerical system, so that it protects me, the user, through my life. In the same way, names are given not because they sound nice, but because they are linked to values and ideals. For instance, ‘Tahir’, means ‘pure’, a value especially important to my parents, who hoped I’d be pure. Many Arab names are more complex. There are a great number for instance formed with ‘Abdul’, such as Abdul Latif, Abdul Malik, Abdul Razak, and so on. These names are linked to the names of God, and are formed from ‘Abdul’ which means ‘servant’, or ‘slave’, and the quality itself. So Abdul Aziz, is the ‘Servant of the Almighty’. So it is actually incorrect to call person simply ‘Abdul’, as you are calling him ‘Servant’. Then you come to the second part of a name. There may be the word ‘Ibn’, shortened in some countries to ‘Bin’. This is simply a link which means, ‘the son of.’ It’s followed by the father’s name, and sometimes by Ibn again and then the grandfather’s name. In the same way, you can have ‘Abu’, which means ‘the father of,’ which is followed by the name of the person’s son. There may also be the name of the family, such as Qureshi, which is actually the name of the clan or tribe, as family names are not used in the East as they are in the West. Remember that the whole business of family names has altered greatly in the West, and were never so concrete or meaningless as they are now.




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3
March 9, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

The Favour Network

Living in the Arab world, or blustering through, you find yourself faced with a system that can be disconcerting or even bewildering: the business of favours. It’s a subject that is sometimes hard for Western society to grasp, because it’s a system that’s perfectly balanced, with pitfalls awaiting the unsuspecting. I can’t tell you how often we receive unsolicited gifts. Someone will send a platter of pastries or candy for the kids… and we’ll be very pleased, naturally, and thankful. But then, often, you get a request a few days later. That same person asks if they could make use of a contact of yours, or borrow something. I’m not trying to make this system sound dodgy or bad in any way. Because it isn’t, really. But you have to watch out. For example, if someone sends over a huge bouquet of flowers for no reason at all, send a platter of pastries over to them, of about the same monetary cost. This instantly negates their action and prevents them from asking the favour, and chances are they won’t try it again. It’s far, far better to be owed a favour. So, it does make sense to do a favour, and never ask if back. I promise you that it’s chalked up somewhere, in your friendship with that person, and he won’t forget. I promise you, too, that he’s desperate for you ask it, so he can clear the debt and move on.



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1
July 2, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel

Desert

Once upon a time there lived a man who loved the sun and its heat so greatly that he sold up all his possessions and bought a ticket to the capital of a sprawling Saharan country. When he had arrived, been robbed a couple of times, and threatened a couple more, he set out to buy himself a small farm in the desert.

Very soon he had paid all the money he possessed to a con-man for a piece of land unwanted by anyone else. 
The man could hardly understand what was driving him. He knew that there must be a reason, a real one, that his unconscious mind had not yet revealed to him. And he knew that the only way to follow satisfaction was by following his mind’s plan. So that’s what he did.
Days passed, then weeks and months. The man made a simple life for himself. He got a dog, a cat, and a flock of ostriches, which he raised from chicks. They would follow him about, as if he were their master. He lived on their eggs, their meat and, from time to time when people passed, he would sell them fabulous fans made from the feathers.
One day an eagle was flying high above the desert dunes searching for prey. He spotted a group of specks below and, assuming them to be food of some sort, he descended sharply. Gradually, as he lowered, he realised that the specks were giant flightless birds, a joke creature as far as eagles were concerned.
The eagle landed on the sands near to where the ostriches were preening themselves for mites.
‘I am an eagle,’ he said proudly, ‘king of the birds.’
The ostriches didn’t even look up. So the eagle repeated himself, splaying his razor-sharp talons as he did so.
Just then, the man came out of the shack. Spotting the eagle, the ostriches scurried over to their master’s shadow and plunged their heads in the cool sand.
The man picked up a sharp stone and weighed it in his hand.
‘If you don’t go off at once, i’ll kill you,’ he said.
The eagle preened the feathers of his crest and didn’t budge. He smiled.
‘Are you not frightened of me?’ said the man angrily.
‘Why should I be?’ replied the eagle.
‘Because I am a man and animals are fearful of men.’
Again the eagle preened, a little slower than before. Then he said:
‘I can fly high into the air, and see a mouse from the heavens. I can live off the land, kill without tools, and right at this moment I could scratch out your eyes.’ he paused. ‘And what about you?’ he asked.
‘What about me?’ said the man.
‘You,’ said the eagle disdainfully, ‘can do none of these things and, what’s more, you rule over birds that are both flightless and terrified. See how their heads are in the dirt behind where you stand! But your greatest foolishness is to think you are superior in the face of the truth.’
The man dropped the stone onto the ground.
‘In the months since I left my country and came here to the desert,’ he said, ‘I have wondered again and again why I forced myself to come. And now that I have heard your words, I realise that they are the reason. They are the lesson I was waiting to receive. I am guilty of thinking myself better, far better, than you and everything else out here in what we would call a wilderness. I am feeble beyond all imagination, unsuited to this place, and yet I presume to be superior all the same.’
And the man stepped forward, knelt before the eagle, and together they laughed.
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