Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Four Arabic Words

السُّمْعَةُ  و  المُتْعَةُ
almut’atu   wa   assum’atu
السُّمُوُّ  و   النُّمُوُّ
annumuwu   wa  assumuwu

It’s Saturday afternoon. Jilali, a construction worker, gets his weekly pay (800 dhs), thanks his boss and mounts his old motorbike. On his way home, he stops at the hairdresser’s. While waiting for his turn, he calls his wife, from his old smartphone, telling her to prepare hot water for his ‘shower’. After getting a nice hair cut, Jilali moves on to the grocer’s in his neighbourhood.  He pays his week’s debts and orders new stuff to please his wife. Hearing the familiar sound of his motorbike’s engine, his children rush to open the door. The children and the wife are all smiles. Jilali is happy too. The children are jubilating : Father bought us biscuits and yogurt ! The wife takes the bag, with all the stuff in it, into the kitchen.
Minutes later, Jilali is having a ‘shower’. He takes water from a bucket and pours it on himself. This is a shantytown, and there are no showers in shantytowns. But Jilali is happy.

After the shower, Jilali is sitting in the mrah, kind of living-room but also dining-room and everything. The television is there. In front of him is a tea-tray with a hot teapot and bread. Jilali is delighted. He is waiting for the night to fall, and for the children to go to sleep, so that he too can go to sleep with his wife, so that his enjoyment can be complete.

Enjoyment is English for (almut’atu  المُتْعَةُ  ), our first Arabic word.

Now count with me how many things Jilali enjoys. (1) Jilali has work, he enjoys that. (Not everybody has got work. Jobless people can’t really enjoy themselves, can they ?) (2) Jilali gets his pay every Saturday afternoon. (Compare with what’s happening now in Greece and in some African States.) (3) Jilali has a motorbike. (Some of his comrades come to work on foot.) (4) Jilali can afford a nice hair cut.  (5) Jilali has got a smartphone. (6) Jilali has a wife. (7) Jilali has children too. (8) Jilali’s wife and children receive him with smiles. (9) Jilali has got a place to wash himself in his small abode. (Compare with homeless people.) (10) Jilali has got a television. (11) Jilali has got someone to make him tea on his return from work. HOW CAN’T JILALI BE HAPPY ?
Who could say bad things on Jilali ? The grocer has never complained about him. Nobody has ever seen or heard him beg anybody anywhere. He is a MAN, a capable MAN. He can support his family without anybody’s help. He does not need anybody’s advice or preaching. His wife and children are always as nicely dressed as anybody else in the neighbourhood. His children go to school and get good marks. His wife goes to the weekly market every Sunday and to the Turkish bath once a week. Everybody knows that. Jilali has many things to boast about. Jilali has no worries about his image.

Image is English for (assum’atu   السُّمْعَةُ), our second Arabic word.

As you see, Jilali has got a good image. But his cousin Larbi has a much better image than him. Unlike Jilali, Larbi went to school, and it’s at school that Larbi learned gypsum work. Larbi works for the same boss as Jilali, but he is paid differently. Larbi does not touch gypsum with is hands. He’s got three apprentices who do that for him. The boss pays Larbi for the whole gypsum work and Larbi gives weekly pays to his apprentices. That’s why Larbi comes to work by car, and he’s got a nice big smart-phone. He left the shantytown a long time ago and then bought a small apartment in an old building in an old neighbourhood, and now he lives in a three-storey house near downtown. And he married a second wife. His personal development has made several people jealous of him.

(Personal) development is English for (annumuwu  النُّمُوُّ), our third Arabic word.

If Larbi is in a better situation than Jilali, he is far from being the best. If he’s got a three-storey house, there are many, many people who have got villas and even riyads. If he got a nice, new car, there are many, many people who have got much, much nicer and more expensive cars. If he got two wives, there are others who have four. His possessions do not really distinguish him from the rest of the crowd. To stand out, he got to do something outstanding. He should be like his boss’s brother-in-law, who rose from nothing to become President of the Municipal Council of the city. He became one of the important people of the city. Many people still marvel at his meteoric rise in local politics.

Rise is “approximate” English for (assumuwu  السُّمُوُّ ), our fourth Arabic word.

The story of the brother-in-law of Larbi’s boss is nothing compared to the story of Alejandro Toledo who, at the age of six, worked as a street shoe shiner, before he became a distinguished economist, then President of his country, Peru, from 2001 and 2006.  Not every shoe shiner can hope to become President of his country.

And not only Jilali and Larbi live for almut’a  (enjoyment) and assum’a (image). . We all do. We all aspire to annumuw  (personal growth). Do we all aspire to assumuw (rise) ?

Nineteenth-century French Author Alphonse Daudet’s Lettres de mon moulin (1869) is a good example of human beings’ (instinctive) care about enjoyment and image. His story Le Secret de Maître Cornille is a good example of personal growth. To grind their wheat, some people moved away from windmills to steam mills. In the nineteenth century, people moved away from horse-drawn carriages to trains, etc.

Personal growth is horizontal, one among many. Rise is vertical, up to higher grades. Alphonse Daudet’s father was a rich man, he had a factory. (He was a rich man among many.) He then went bankrupt and became an ordinary worker. Nobody would have heard of him had he not begotten a son called Alphonse. As he explains in his novel Le petit chose, Alphonse was looked down upon by both his teachers and classmates because he was poor and dressed like an orphan. Those teachers and classmates are forgotten. Now we only know Alphonse Daudet.  

Now, what does religion say about this ? I am a Muslim, I quote the Koran :

3.14 . Beautified for mankind is love of the joys (that come) from women and offspring, and stored up heaps of gold and silver, and horses branded (with their mark), and cattle and land. That is comfort of the life of the world. Allah! With Him is a more excellent abode.

7.32. Say: Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen, and the good things of His providing? Say: Such, on the Day of Resurrection, will be only for those who believed during the life of the world. Thus do We detail Our revelations for people who have knowledge.

57.20. Know that the life of this world is only play, and idle talk  and pageantry, and boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children; as the likeness of vegetation after rain, whereof the growth is pleasing to the husbandman, but afterward it drieth up and thou seest it turning yellow then it becometh straw. And in the Hereafter there is grievous punishment, and (also) forgiveness from Allah and His good pleasure, whereas the life of the world is but matter of illusion.

18.46. Wealth and children are an ornament of the life of the world. But the good deeds which endure are better in thy Lord's sight for reward, and better in respect of hope.

42.36. Now whatever ye have been given is but a passing comfort for the life of the world, and that which Allah hath is better and more lasting for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord.

43.33. And were it not that mankind would have become one community, We might well have appointed,  for those who disbelieve in the Beneficent,  roofs of silver for their houses and stairs (of silver) whereby to mount, 43.34. And for their houses doors (of silver) and couches of silver whereon to recline, 43.35. And ornaments of gold. Yet all that would have been but a provision of the life of the world. And the Hereafter with your Lord would have been for those who keep from evil.

2.269. He giveth wisdom unto whom He will, and he unto whom wisdom is given, he truly hath received abundant good. But none remember except men of understanding.

What do we understand from these verses?

Even a good Muslim is allowed to enjoy the good things in life. A good muslim can marry, eat well, dress well, build a house, have a car, own a factory, travel, etc, etc. There's nothing wrong with a good Muslim aspiring to personal growth. But he should work for both lives. Since he believes in the Garden of Eden, he should work for his place in that Garden. Just as there are grades and ranks in this life, there are different grades in that life too.

17.21. See how We prefer one above another, and verily the Hereafter will be greater in degrees and greater in preferment.

16.30. (...) For those who do good in this world there is a good (reward) and the home of the Hereafter will be better. Pleasant indeed will be the home of those who ward off (evil).

If a good Muslim tries his best to improve his living conditions and succeeds, he should thank Allah for His help. If he fails, that is not necessarily a sign of failure on his part.

57.22. Naught of disaster befalleth in the earth or in yourselves but it is in a Book before We bring it into being. Lo! that is easy for Allah. 57.23. That ye grieve not for the sake of that which hath escaped you, nor yet exult because of that which hath been given. Allah loveth not all prideful boasters.

2.216. (...)  it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you  Allah knoweth, ye know not.

I wrote my blog Innocent Whispers for ambitious good Muslims who think they have a problem of repeated failure. A good muslim is not allowed to achieve what he wants by illegitimate means.

4.26. Allah would explain to you and guide you by the examples of those who were before you, and would turn to you in mercy. Allah is Knower, Wise. 4.27. And Allah would turn to you in mercy; but those who follow vain desires would have you go tremendously astray. 4.28. Allah would make the burden light for you, for man was created weak .

5.100. Say: The evil and the good are not alike even though the plenty of the evil attract thee. So be mindful of your duty to Allah, O men of understanding, that ye may succeed.

29.4. Or do those who do ill deeds imagine that they can outstrip Us: Evil (for them) is that which they decide.

Not all people believe in the Garden of Eden.

12.103. And though thou try much, most men will not believe.

Even Muslims do not all have the same degree of emaan (faith in Allah and the Hereafter). Even a good Muslim may not have the same degree of emaan at all times. Emaan goes up and down. Many Muslims in the Muslim world prefer the worldly life to the Garden of Eden. Many Muslims would like to live like people in the West, for example. A good muslim should not keep a dog at home (as a pet), but can use it to guard a house, etc. It is not unusual, though, to see some Muslims walking dogs in more or less swanky neighbourhoods. It is not  unusual to hear people of a certain social class speak a foreign language in eveyday life. This is not something new. At one point many Europeans imitated Turks and French was the language of the diplomats and aristocrats.

This is a form of undeclared boasting. Look at me, I'm walking my dog. I am a modern person. I am like Europeans. Look at my wife and daughters. They're wearing mini skirts, just like modern women, like American and European women. Look at me, I'm speaking French. I am just like any French man. I am modern. Look at me, I am listening to music on my MP3. I am modern. Look at me, I am shopping at the biggest mall in the city. Look at me, I am playing Golf. I am a V.I.P.  Look at me, I am a rich German. I have a spendid riyad in Marrakesh. Look at me, I am a Moroccan girl living in France. I never wear a long skirt.   Look at me, I know by heart all of Madonna's songs. Look at me, I am with my buddies at the cafe waiting for the Real Madrid game. I never miss Real games. Look at me, I am a Widadi, I love Widad Casablanca. I never miss a Widad game. I follow them wherever they go. Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) used to sing "Look at me: I  am old, but I am happy." It's all boasting and it's all human. We began boating as kids, and it grew up with us. Would it, though, be unwise to criticize somebody for what's he's boasting about?

In Alphonse Daudet's times one would boast that he invented a steam mill, one that he installed steam mills, one that he ground his wheat and barley at steam mills. One would boast that he invented the train, one that he conducted a train, one that he travelled by train. One that he invented (produced) something, one that he used (consumed) something.

Moroccan Rachid Yazami would boast about his research that led to the invention of Lithium batteries. Another Moroccan would boast that he purchased the latest Samsung smartphone. Moroccan Kamal Oudrhiri would boast about his work with NASA. Another Moroccan would boast that he goes to MacDonald's twice a week.

A recent report suggested that air pollution costs France and the French over € 100 billion every year. People in France, and in many other countries, can’t breathe oxygen only. It’s the same with our daily talk. You can’t hope to talk a whole day without succumbing to the temptation of basting to somebody or other about something or other. Every one of us needs to feel that he/she is important, that he/she is not less worthy than others. Then, why do we look at ourselves in the mirror? It’s a basic need for recognition. See my post Did you ever feel so weak while you were not that weak?



You go in a crowded street, enter a hotel lobby, sit at a café, and all eyes are on you. All eyes will follow you as a snake would follow a snake-charmer’s pipe. You were born with a beautiful face and your beauty has stayed with you, dazzling people wherever you go. Or maybe you went to market and spent hours picking and choosing until you found a dream of a dress or suit. And you feel great when people look at you.

The more beautiful you are, the more stunning your dress is, the more people will look at you. You are aware of that, and so you seldom -if ever- go out before looking at yourself in the mirror.

But whatever you do, you can’t always be eye-catching. You may get completely eclipsed by the Rich and the Famous. Even beautiful people prick up their ears on hearing the jingle of coins. No wonder if a beautiful girl preferred a rich, pimply-faced old man to a handsome youth with little or no income.

Unless you’re that handsome youth who is head over heels in love with such a beautiful girl, you’ll find that very normal. But if you are that very handsome youth, your life will become hell. You’ll feel weak. You’ll start asking questions : Why him ? Why not me ? You’ll try to forget all about your love. But you are so weak. You need love. You love her because you want her to love you. You want somebody to love you. You feel that you lack something, but if somebody does love you, that    means (to you) that you are someone important. You then not only mean such a lot to that somebody, but you (start thinking that you) have all the good qualities of the world that would make people care about you.


The problem is when we don’t have things to boast about while others around us don’t stop boasting. Unfortunately, we are exposed to boasting everyday. Even when you shun people and stay at (your secluded) home, your television will bring you all the boasting of the world. Boasting in adverts, boasting in soap opera, boasting in music, plus undeclared boasting of all sorts. This leads many people to delinquency or even crime. In Morocco a phenomenon has arisen called tcharmil: youths attack other people (especially women), rob them of their jewelry, cellphones, PC’s, etc, then they photograph themselves with their ‘booty’ and post the pics on Facebook. Many of those tcharmil youths have been arrested, but the real problem remains. Instead of inspiring people to be more compassionate, to advocate more solidarity, our television still inspires people to be more egoistic, more individualistic, more selfish. Solidarity  and compassion, modesty and wisdom –that’s what we will need more and more, in Morocco and everywhere in the world. We will need more generosity, more altruism, more chivalry, more kindness. If the rich don’t help the destitute, the police won’t be able to arrest all the tcharmilists in the future. If relatives don’t help each other, as is recommended by religion, fewer and fewer people will be able to support themselves and governments will have bigger and bigger problems. We need to philosophize about life, to “study” society, to think a lot so as to determine one’s real place in society. Television has to do that for us when we can’t do it ourselves. Television could give us much better than fake happiness.


13.26. (…) and they rejoice in the life of the world, whereas the life of the world is but brief comfort as compared with the Hereafter.


10.58. Say: In the bounty of Allah and in His mercy: therein let them rejoice. It is better than what they hoard.


Television could give us beautiful stories that would make us beautiful. Beautiful words bring tears to the eyes and beauty to the hearts.


Balqees, Queen of Sheba, who finally reverted to Solomon’s religion, was more impressed by Solomon’s palace than by his preaching. And that’s normal. Beauty brings good hearts closer to God. Nonetheless, the way you speak, the way you smile, is in itself kind of preaching.


I once heard on a Radio Rabat programme, many, many years ago, the late Moroccan eminent scholar Mahdi Elmanjra say: “Wajih once came to me and said, ‘Professor, I am sorry, I will have to be absent from some lectures.’ I thought he might have some personal of family problem that prevented him from coming to Faculty (College). But then I discovered that he was a cardiovascular surgeon at Rabat Hospital and a professor of Medicine. That’s why he couldn’t come to my lectures!” Wajih Maazouzi smiled and explained: “My younger brother died suddenly as he was preparing his PhD  dissertation. To honour  his memory, I vowed to get a PhD in Law. So I enrolled in the Law Course at the Faculty of Rabat and began from the beginning. I studied four years to get my B.A., and Professor Mahdi Elmanjra was one of my dear tutors…” Professor Wajih Maazouzi did that for love, not for money.   


There are millions of Wajihs around the world. You can’t count good people, from all nations and all cultures, who are volunteering for good causes. You can’t count free “workers” on the Web, from all nations and cultures, who are spending their time and money to share their work free with other people. Free websites on Mathematics and all sorts of sciences, all sorts of literature, all sorts of knowledge. All free. Without boasting. Only contentment and love for good for other human souls. This is the beauty of mankind.

76.8. And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him, 76.9. (Saying): We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you;

59.9  (...) and find in their breasts no need for that which hath been given them, but prefer (the fugitives) above themselves though poverty become their lot. And whoso is saved from his own avarice such are they who are successful.

83.26. (…) For this let (all) those strive who strive for bliss.

Mohamed Ali Lagouader












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