Sunday, January 15, 2012

Everyday Praises - The Arabic Way

Look! I've taken down the Christmas decorations! Halelujah! But I couldn't bear to dress the page in something cold or blue or shivery in any way. Therefore, we have lemons. Happy January!

My roommate and I are currently trying to get ourselves accepted to the Jerusalem center. We have fantasized many times about what it will be like to step off of the plane in Tel Aviv, or see the view of Jerusalem from the BYU center windows, or dance barefoot on the shore of the sea of Galilea, or walk to the Garden Tomb on Sunday afternoons. In preparation for this grand adventure, Katie came up with a daring project. We worked on it for a long time last spring, and now it has finally come to fruition. We are learning Arabic.

As I said, we started last spring. Katie taught herself the alphabet and then taught me. We spent many hours carefully writing out Arabic script on spare sheets of paper and memorizing any word we could find. Kitaab (book), bet (house), bint (girl), jamiil (beautiful)... on and on. For Katie's birthday I found her a copy of the Book of Mormon in Arabic, and we spent that evening crouched over it in her living room, sounding out the names of the witnesses and prophets. "Hee-room Smeeth... Moorooni... Naphi... O-lee-var Cau-dree..." Now, after a few delays, too many textbooks, and some sychronized class registration, we have both enrolled in a BYU Arabic class.

We've only been in the course for a week and a half, but already I am falling in love with many aspects of the language and culture. I wanted to share one with you today.

In their greetings, partings, salutations, exclamations, and proverbs, the Arabs do something I have never seen in any other culture. That is, they invoke the name of God almost constantly. When you greet someone formally you say "A'salaamu aleikum!" which means "the peace of God be upon you." The reply is then, "Wa aleikum a'salaam!" "And upon you also." The reply can even be extended  - "Wa aleikum a'salaam wi rahma alla wi baraketu" which means "And upon you also, and the mercy of God and His blessings." Their goodbye is "ma'asalaama" or "peace be with you," to which you might reply "allah yasillimak" or "God keep you safe." If someone asks you how you're doing, if you are well the reply is "ilhamdu lillah" or "Thanks be to God!" Even their little phrase for "wow" or "let's go!" literally means "God is great!"

This cultural habit is very different from ours, but I rather like it. I don't think about it as often as I should, but it really is true that all I have and all I am is a gift from God. My opportunities, my wordly possessions, my family and friends, my body, my home, my health, my happiness - all are blessings from Him. I don't think it would be such a bad thing to give my thanks to him more often. Can you imagine? "How are you doing, Rachel?" "Wonderful - thanks be to God!" Or this one - "See you later - and God keep you safe!"

I know I won't be able to get away with that kind of thing here in the United States, because it isn't part of our way of life. Just the same, I will think of it every time I speak Arabic. Maybe after a semester's worth of "salaam" and "allah" and "thanks be to God," I'll be able to remember a little better how God and his blessings are always present with me and all His children, wherever and whoever we are.

Ma'asalaama, my friends! 'Til next time...

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