Friday, June 09, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 19, 1444 H
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Ancient Arabic Proverbs


This week we continue with ancient proverbs from Arabia:

5) The Camel Leaders and The Archers Blended: in ancient wars, soldiers either led horses and camels on ground or were archers. In the heat of battle, both factions mingled and was hard to tell them apart. Hence the proverb is used to describe total confusion.

6) The Sword Preceded the Blame: There was a man called Dhubba who was a camel herder. He had two sons: Sa’ad and Saeed. One evening, the camels went astray and Dhubba asked his sons to bring them home. After long hours, Sa’ad came back but not Saeed. Dhubba went to the market and saw a man called Al Harith ibn Ka’ab wearing clothes similar to that of Saeed. He asked him about it and Al Harith confessed that he’d got them from a man he’d killed on the road. Dhubba didn’t react, instead he asked Al Harith to hand him the sword he was carrying. Al Harith obliged carelessly — unaware that this was the father of his victim — and got stabbed and killed instantly by his own sword. People gathered around the two and started blaming Dhubba for being hasty and he answered: “The sword preceded the blame”. It’s used in situations where it’s too late to criticise.

7) Every Vessel Overflows with its Content: This comes from a poem by an Iraqi poet nicknamed Hees Bees (1089-1179 A.D) that means: you could never hide your true nature, no matter how hard you try.

8) His Dust Could Never Be Parted: there are two stories of the origin of this proverb. The first is that this was used to describe horse riders who were so skillful that other riders could never catch up with them or the dust they left at their wake. The second is that the proverb was originally used to describe fast horses that were so light-footed you could barely see the dust at their hoofs. In both cases, it’s used to describe humans that excel in whatever they do.

9) Beware of the Fury of the Patient: you could never predict the outcome of pushing patient people too hard. Just be careful!

10) Time is Like a Sword if You Don’t Cut It, It Will Cut You Down: don’t waste precious time doing silly things.

11) The Convoy Moves and the Dogs Bark: The great Muslim theologian Al-Imam Al-Shafi’i (767-820 A.D) composed the following verses in reply to a man who angered him: “Curse as much as you like for my silence is the answer to the mean, I’m not running out of replies but lions never answer to dogs”. From this verse came the proverb that indicates the futility of failure’s talk against the successful.

12) Clouds aren’t Affected by Dog Barks: this is somehow similar to the proverb above. Mean talk doesn’t affect the honourable.

13) Greater than Fire on a Mountain Top: Al Khansa (575-646 A.D) was an Arab poetess most famously known for elegies composed for her brother Sakhr, who suffered from war injuries for a long time and died eventually. The proverb comes from a verse describing him as: “Greater than fire on a mountain top”.

14) Time Has Eaten and Drank Over It: when ages had passed over something, this proverb is used. It comes from a poetic verse: “How many people we’ve seen before us, that time had eaten and drank over them”.

15) To Know Where the Shoulder is Eaten From: describes cunning people who are so smart that they know the best way of eating the complicated shoulder meat without exposing the bone.

(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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