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Tag: Richard Williams

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.

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.

June 17, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel


There was a time when Ariane livied in a world that was that sickly, toe-cringing, jaw-wrenchingly pink. Her bedroom was filled with it — pink curtains, bedspead, cupboard (and its contents), dolls, soft toys, towel, toothbrush, and even toothpaste, a vile shade of bubblegum pink. She used to whisper to me that she liked words that sounded pink, and tried to think pink, because thinking in any other colour was naughty, the sort of thing that little boys would do.

I tried to slip into Ariane’s mind… see the world as she saw it: a luscious ebbing flow of undulating pink. The more I tried to see as she saw, the more confused I became. Don’t get me wrong, a little pink is a good thing. Without it we wouldn’t have roses or Morocco’s radiant pink  hibiscus flowers, and we wouldn’t have strawberry ice cream,  raspberries or even the Pink Panther.
But… and it’s a big but, there can be too much of a good thing, a thing that only little girls below the age of seven can really comprehend. As Ariane bounced around stroking anything pink she could find, I found myself wondering if the adoration for a colour could be wired into a person’s head. Could that be possible? And if so, how did it come about?
I looked at my little son Timur. He likes blue, but not with the same intensity with which Ariane is drawn to her colour, and I’m fascinated about why that is. Had I the time I’d read up in dusty dark depressing psycho journals, but I have too little time, as most of it is spent answering questions like ‘what do trees dream of at night?’ and ‘why don’t dog’s laugh?’
But then, the other day something remarkable happened. Ariane got out of bed, stretched, and said ‘Yuk! Look at all that horrid horrid pink!’ ‘What do you mean?’ I replied, struggling to pull a dress down over her upstretched arms. ‘Pink… it’s nasty nasty nasty! And,’ she said, sticking out her tongue so far I could see her tonsils, ‘I don’t want to see it ever again!’
But little girls being little girls, there is not an end to colour, just a new one.
And it’s red.