Sunday, June 04, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 14, 1444 H
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Ancient Arabic proverbs


We continue this week with ancient Arabic proverbs and the story behind them:

16) I Have No Camel in It: Remember Al-Basous war between the tribes of Bakr and Taghlub that lasted 40 years over a camel? When Al-Harith ibn Abbad was asked to take part in the war, he refused saying that it wasn’t his camel after all. Henceforth, the proverb was used to indicate dissociation from something.

17) Starve Your Dog and He’ll Follow You: this was the saying of a king from the Himyarite Kingdom of Yemen (110 B.C-570 A.D). The king was a tyrant who oppressed his subject and when his wife pleaded on their behalf he replied: “Starve your dog and he’ll follow you”. Little did he know that he’d end up being assassinated by his own brother who conspired with the very people he oppressed for long. When passing by his dead body, Amer ibn Juthaima commented: “The dog might end up eating his owner if he wasn’t satiated”. Till now, the proverb is used to describe any type of tyranny.

18) Fatten Your Dog and He’ll Eat You: This was first said by Hazim ibn Al-Munthir, who raised an orphaned boy as his own and called him Juhaish. Juhaish worked as a shepherd for Hazim and fell in love with his daughter Ra’um, which was prohibited due to social class differences. When the father caught them together, he picked up his sword to kill Juhaish saying: “Fatten your dog and he’ll eat you!”. Juhaish ran for his life and the saying became a proverb used to describe when people’s kindness is repaid with betrayal.

19) This for That and Whoever Starts is Culpable: this comes from Al-Farazdaq (641-730) the famous Arab poet from the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) and well-known for his rivalry with the poet Jarir. Once when Jarir was riding a camel, Al-Farazdaq said a mocking verse that Jarir was quick to reply to. Al-Farazdaq laughed and said the sentence, where the second part is still widely used.

20) Every Horse Trips: Ibn Al-Qariya was a known orator in the times of Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf Al-Thaqafi (685-705), the famous governor from Umayyad Caliphate. Once he wrote a speech for Al-Hajjaj to deliver and when Al-Hajjaj asked for his opinion, Ibn Al-Qariya pointed out a few mistakes and ended his feedback with: “Every horse trips. Every brave cowers. Every kind-hearted errs”. Nowadays, we use the first sentence only and some would add “and every expert errs”.

21) Of a Brother Your Mother Never Bred: while Luqman ibn Aa’ad, the king of Yemen (died in 1700 B.C) was walking on a hot day he felt a sudden thirst. He came upon a yard where a couple were fooling around. Luqman asked the lady to give him a drink and she pointed to her house where he could help himself to whatever he likes. When reaching the house, Luqman found a baby crying and felt sorry for him. When the woman came in, he asked her to give him the neglected child to raise. She answered saying that the man wouldn’t allow it. Luqman asked her then how they were related and she claimed him to be her brother. Knowing that she was obviously lying he said mockingly: “Of a brother your mother never bred”. The proverb’s meaning changed to become a description of friendships as strong as family ties.

22) If Not Ashamed Do as you Please: this is saying by Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) who sourced it to messengers before him. Nowadays it’s used to describe shameless people and imprudent acts.

(To be continued....)

Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja.

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