Flicken's Blog

Ich bin Flicken, ja! Traditional Islam, food, guns, camping, grammar, Canadianna, Arabic, stuff.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Takhmees (Five-Folding) of the Burdah

Takhmees (five-folding) is a post-classical derivative literary device whereby a poem is extended by taking the first hemistich of some of its verses and preceding them with five hemistiches that have matching rhyme, metre, mood, and meaning. With the frequent exception of opening verses, the rhyme of Classical Arabic poetry matches the second hemistich only, not the first. Since the first hemistich of each verse typically has a unique rhyme, every group of five hemistiches added will have its own rhyme.

So, whereas a classical poem will have a rhyming structure a-a/b-a/c-a/d-a/e-a..., a poem that has undergone takhmees will be more like: 


Where a-x, b-x, and c-x are the original verses of the poem consisting of two hemistiches each. The individual letters are individual hemistiches matching the rhyme of the first hemistich of the original.

Here is short clip of Atwani (from Upper Egypt) reciting part of a takhmees of the Burdah:

Saturday, December 26, 2015

White Standards in War: Arabs and Others

(If you've decided to read this under the presumption that it's a discussion on race, I'm afraid you've misunderstood. "Standards" here refers to official banners of war.)

The white flag in Western culture denotes surrender. The Wikipedia page on "White flag" (at time of writing) says, "The white flag is an internationally recognized protective sign of truce or ceasefire, and request for negotiation." Its first use in surrender may have been during the East Han dynasty.

To contrast, in pre-Islamic Arab culture up through the Umayyad period, white flags were used as banners of war. Amr ibn Kulthoum (a pre-Islamic poet) says:

بأنا نورد الرايات بيضا * ونصدرهن حمرا قد روينا

That we forward standards while they are white
 And return them red, their thirst having been quenched.

In other words, Amr is boasting that his tribe goes to war with white standards and returns them red, having been drenched in the blood of its enemies. Given that standards are the focal points of belligerents in war, this would likely indicate a deep, strong penetration of enemy lines while proudly erecting the standard. The Muslim army marched under white standards during the Battle of Badr.

White evolved as the colour of valour in pre-Islamic Arabia. During the thick of battle, everything surrounding one--animal, plant, or mineral--other than the blue sky above, was a shade of brown, black, or steel grey. The bravest of men would wear white during battle to ensure they were easily visible, similar to how a matador's outfit is highly colourful: it is an outward show of readiness to be attacked. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

On the Permissibility of saying "Ramadan Kareem"

A number of people have been circulating the opinion that it is not correct to say "Ramadan Kareem" because kareem means "generous" and a month, being inanimate, cannot in itself be generous.

This is an error.

First of all, the word kareem means "noble" or "eminent", and not specifically "generous". Among the Arabs, a noble person is necessarily generous, and so the two meanings are often used interchangeably. Ibn Manthur says in his encyclopedic dictionary Lisan al-Arab:

والكَريم: الجامع لأَنواع الخير والشرَف والفضائل. والكَريم: اسم جامع لكل ما يُحْمَد، فالله عز وجل كريم حميد الفِعال ورب العرش الكريم العظيم. ابن سيده: الكَرَم نقيض اللُّؤْم يكون في الرجل... ويستعمل في الخيل والإبل والشجر وغيرها من الجواهر إذا عنوا العِتْق، وأَصله في الناس قال ابن الأَعرابي: كَرَمُ الفرَس أن يَرِقَّ جلده ويَلِين شعره وتَطِيب رائحته. 

Kareem is something that combines all forms of goodness, dignity, and virtue. Kareem is a general term for everything praiseworthy. Allah (Mighty and Majestic) is Kareem, praiseworthy in actions and the Lord of the Noble (kareem) and Magnificent throne. Ibn Seedah says, "karam (nobility) is the opposite of ignobility (Ar. lu'm) and it exists in man ... and it is used for horses, camels, trees and other things like gems if they intend nobility, but the original meaning relates to people." Ibn al-A'rabi said, "the nobility (karam) of a horse is for it to have fine skin, soft hair and a pleasant smell."
Secondly, as is apparent above, kareem is a valid description for people, animals and inanimate things like trees and gems.

Thirdly, the Qur'an itself uses the word kareem to describe inanimate objects:

  1. The entrance or gate into Paradise (4:31);
  2. Provision (rizq) (8:4, 8:74, 22:50, 24:26, 33:31, 34:4);
  3. A word or statement (17:23);
  4. Allah's Throne (23:116);
  5. A type, kind, or category (26:7, 31:10);
  6. A position or station (26:58, 44:26);
  7. A book or letter (27:29);
  8. Recompense (33:44, 36:11, 57:11, 57:18);
  9. Shade (56:44).
Thus, saying "Ramadan Kareem" is not problematic. To claim otherwise appears to be the result of a weakness in Arabic and an unfamiliarity with the Qur'anic usage of the word kareem.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Loyalty and the Black Standard

When Marwan ibn Muhammad (also: Marwan II) was the governor of Azerbaijan, he appointed Abd al-Hamid al-Katib as his official man of letters.  When the pledge of fealty for the caliphate came to Marwan II from the people of Syria, he prostrated out of gratitude, as did those in his court.  Abd al-Hamid did not prostrate.  When Marwan II asked him why he didn't, he said, "Why should I?  You will be flying away", to which Marwan II replied, "Then fly with us."  Abd al-Hamid's role as the official writer of the caliphate was thus secured.

But the Umayyads' days were limited.  The army of Abu Muslim Khorasani marched forward beneath their black standards, securing one success after another, and destroying any futile resistance that the deeply fractured Umayyad state had to offer.  Marwan II knew his end was approaching, so he told Abd al-Hamid it might be best for him to switch sides.  The Abbasids would most definitely be in need of such a great man of letters like himself who could support their causes with the finest of words.  (Men like Abd al-Hamid were the media outlets of their times.)  Abd al-Hamid confirmed that this would be in his best interests, but chose to remain loyal to the Caliph until his end.  Marwan II was eventually killed in Egypt.

The Abbasids felt the need to silence the assassinated Caliph's man of letters, so they tracked him down to his hiding place in Bahrain, where he was staying with Ibn al-Muqaffa'.  When the Abbasid police entered the residence of Ibn al-Muqaffa' and inquired about Abd al-Hamid, each man, in an attempt to protect the other, claimed to be him.  Eventually, the police settled on Ibn al-Muqaffa' and were about to take him away to be assassinated.  Upon seeing this, Abd al-Hamid told them, "Each of us has well known features.  Ask about each party's features and then take the one of us who is truly Abd al-Hamid."  They did so, and he was assassinated.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Canada 2011: Stawamus Chief Provincial Park

Yesterday, a group of five of us went hiking to the Second Peak in the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park ("The Chief" for short). The hike is much more scenic than the famous Grouse Grind that I'm so in love with. However, the Chief is simply too far away without a car, so I'll be sticking to the Grind on most occasions.

Shannon Falls:

Bluffs overlooking Squamish:

Howe Sound:

Yours Truly on the Second Peak:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Shoulder or Leg Roast: A Recipe

Today I ate what was possibly some of the best roast meat I've had in years, alhamdulillah. This recipe works well for both lamb and kid.
If the leg is frozen, thaw it out completely.

Prepare a marinade of just four ingredients: yogurt, salt, mashed up garlic, and rosemary. Make many little slits in the meat and rub the marinade in. Put the leg in a plastic bag with the remaining marinade and leave it in the fridge overnight.

Remove the leg from the bag and wrap it in aluminum foil, taking with it as much marinade as possible. Bake it on medium heat until tender, then remove it from the oven while still wrapped in foil. Keep it wrapped up to keep it moist and tender. Before serving, remove it from the foil and broil it on both sides until crispy brown. However, be sure not to dry it out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Etymological Musings: On Camels, Women, and Gulliblity

There are two common patterns in Arabic etymology:
  1. A root word that has a very concrete meaning branches out into more abstract meanings. Examples of this include: khabra', which originally meant "soft earth" evolving to mean, "news", as a rising cloud of dust in the horizon typically meant some news was arriving; dhikr (remembrance) being derived from dhakar (penis), as that is the means by which a man is remembered (i.e. through his offspring); and `aql, which originally meant "tying down" coming to mean "mind."
  2. A letter is changed in a root word, forming a closely-related new root, such as: hadama, `adama, and haḍama all being related to destroying something; ḥajaba and ḥajaza imparting the meaning of blocking or veiling something; and khabar and ghabar both being related to dust.
However, I learned of yet another mechanism that plays a role in Arabic etymology. But before I spoil it for you with a picture of the destination, let's discuss the journey.

Recently, when I read that the English word hysteria is derived from the Greek word for uterus (and hence hysterectomy) , it got me thinking about the Arabic word for simpleton, ahbal, and whether it was related to the word for vagina: mahbil. As Ibn Faris points out, there are three root meanings derived from the triliteral root hbl:
  1. The first is related to a woman whose child has died. Such a woman is called a habool or habil. This is related to the word mahbil, which most likely originally meant, "uterus" but could also possibly mean vagina or cervix. Ibn Faris says that the original word was likely with a in place of the h. Mabil would literally mean, "the place of pregnancy", as the verb ḥabala, means, "to be pregnant", which is in turn related to ḥamala ("to carry").
  2. The second is related to all things large and heavy. Arabic lexicographers point out that a large man can be called hibil, which is related to the word, ibil, a collective word for camels.
  3. The third meaning is related to gullibility and taking advantage of something: ihtabala al-ṣayda means, "to capture prey."
It is likely that this final meaning is derived from the second, since overcoming prey often means that the predator or hunter is light-footed in relation to the prey, thereby deeming it heavy or bulky; this fits well, as ihtabala would appear to mean exactly that. Another, less likely, possibility is that the Arabs compared the possibly hysterical state of a woman whose child has just died with a simpleton. This is less likely because habal is closer to being simple-minded than hysterical.

Getting back to patterns, what seems to be going on here is phonetic confluence. Unrelated meanings are merging into a single root word because of the phonetic similarity of one of the root letters. In this case, the ha is similar to the glottal stop (hamza) as well as the ḥa; the former brings in the meaning of camels and, by extension, bulkiness, while the latter brings in the meaning of pregnancy.

Finally, it does not appear that there is actually such a word as ahbal in classical Arabic; it appears to be a modernism.