Friday, June 02, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 12, 1444 H
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Ancient Arabic Proverbs


One of the beauties of our language — that is sadly missed by the newer generation who are becoming non-native speakers of it — is the abundance usage of proverbs that you could borrow from your own culture or from other Arab cultures (my favourite are Egyptian ones as they’re always spot on and comic, which make the listeners laugh). Moreover, you always get to learn new ones to add to your rich and overflowing reserve. The culture of proverbs is not new to Arabia and dates back to the days before Islam, or what’s known as Al- Jahiliya Period (410-610 AD). In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing with you famous ones — mostly coming from the Al-Jahiliya period — that are still widely used and the story behind them:

1) Baraqish Condemned Herself (or Her Family in another version): Baraqish was a dog owned by a family in Arabia. One day, thieves approached their place and Baraqish barked in alarm which made her owners go and hide in a cave. When the thieves found the tents empty, they went looking in the surrounding caves. And just when they were about to abandon their mission, Baraqish barked again exposing their hiding place. Sadly, she ended up being killed along with her owners.

2) And Haleema Went Back to her Old Habit: Haleema was the wife of Hatim Al-Tai (died in 605 AD), the most generous man that Arabia had known at that time. Unlike her husband, Haleema was stingy. One day while cooking, her hand shook while adding a spoonful of butter. Hatim, taking advantage of the situation to teach her generosity, mentioned an ancient belief: for every spoonful of butter that a woman adds to her food, she’s granted an extra day in her life. Hearing that, Halima used butter lavishly which made her food tastier. She also became open-handed with others, till the day her only son died and she lost her appetite to live and went back to being stingy again.

Another story claims that Halima was a prostitute living in the Ayyubid period in Cairo (1117-1341). One day, she decided to quit and repent. She wore the wool, owned a rosary of 99 beads and spent her days praying. Unfortunately, her redemption didn’t last long and she went back to her old life.

3) More Jinxed than Al-Basous: Al-Basous was a poetess that came from a tribe called Bakr. She went once to visit her nephew Jassas riding her camel Sarab. Not being on familiar grounds, Sarab ended up grazing in a land owned by Kulaib (Jassas’s brother-in-law and from the tribe of Taghlub). Because of the previous animosity between him and Al-Basous, Kulaib killed her camel. Jassas tried to compensate his aunt’s loss with 100 camels from his herd but she refused. Instead, she composed satirical poems about her tribe who aren’t avenging her, which ended with Jassas killing Kulaib and running away. This caused a war between the two tribes that lasted 40 years (also known as Al-Basous War circa 496 A.D. Some historians say that it lasted twenty plus years).

4) Cenmar’s Compensation: Cenmar was a Byzantian architect who built the most beautiful palace for Al-Numan ibn Imru’ Al-Qays the king of Lakhmids (reigned between 390-418 A.D). When finishing the palace, he invited the king to visit and shared two secrets: he knows about a brick in the building that if moved would cause it to collapse. Also, he’s planning to build another palace that moves with sunlight. This was enough motive for the king to push him from the parapet above to die.

(To be continued....)

Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and author of The World According to Bahja. You can reach the authoer at

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