Tag Archives: arab

Shooting guns to welcome visitors

My friend Amal is of Jordanian and Lebanese descent. She told me the following story about a tradition in the town of Fuheis, Jordan, and a chaotic culture clash resulting from it:

“My grandfather was from a wild west of Jordan, otherwise known as Fuheis. And like, so in Jordan like, at weddings- not weddings but like parties the night before the wedding; I don’t know if there’s even an equivalent in America ’cause it’s not like a bridesmaid’s, it’s not like a shower. So at the party the night before the wedding you like shoot guns in the air. And then also like, sometimes to like, welcome someone who’s coming to your town you like, or if there’s a party, you just shoot a gun in the air. And so there was this um, famous Arabic singer who was coming to do a concert in Fuheis, um, I forget his name…But um, famous Arabic singer, like really big concert, blah blah blah. And uh, he’s like introducing himself and his set and my grandfather yells and like runs up on stage and is like, ‘welcome! We’re so happy to have you in Fuheis!’ and whips out a gun. And shoots the gun in the air. And this guy has uh, has never been to Fuheis, he doesn’t know this tradition, and he is terrified and security drags my grandfather away. And uh, that’s my fun story about our traditions.”

This personal account of a tradition in practice demonstrates the ways in which local folklore can create unpleasant or funny results when placed in a context with outsiders who aren’t familiar with it. These kinds of recontextualizations result from an increasingly interconnected and officialized world in which non-institutionalized local traditions often remain.

The Bad Eye and Arab Folk Beliefs on Protection Against It

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting.

Informant’s Background: 

Piece and Full Translation Scheme of Folk Speech:

Original Script:

ما شاء الله

Transliteration: masha’allah

Translation: whatever the will of Allah (or god)

Piece Background Information:

The evil eye, or the bad eye- it’s like f you’re bragging or saying something like “ Oh I won something or did something good”, then there’s another person looking at or listening to you. They would give you the bad eye, in envy I guess like they want to take this away from you. You would get into trouble, or lose your money, or something terrible would happen to you cause you talked about it or showed it to people. So sometimes, ’til this day, for example if I get a really good grade, or high GPA, and were to take a picture and post it to Snapchat or something, my mom would come to me and say “don’t do that” or “take that away” because she doesn’t want something bad to happen to me. It’s very true, and a lot of people believe it.

In our culture, it’s very connected to religion and there are certain religious ways you can fight that and treat it or deal with it. In our culture, in school we are taught that you shouldn’t believe in like wearing a bracelet or something physical that will protect you from evil. It’s all very spiritual and it’s all in your head. You have to say certain things and believe in certain things, and that will protect you better than wearing something. There are particular phrases you should say if you feel you have the bad eye, in Arabic such as “masha’allah” which if I already gave you the bad eye, and then I say this, it’s kind of like taking the bad eye away and reversing it in a way. Also, you guys have the bible, we have the Quran, which is the holy book for us. You would read certain pages of the Quran on the person who feels they have the bad eye, and that is supposed to cure them or take the bad eye away.

We would learn this from my parents,you know, from home, and also from school. Thinking about it, I probably believe most of the things I just told you. I live my life believing that. I adopt all these beliefs until this day. 


Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s apartment adjacent to USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece:

The informant believes in the evil eye strongly and thus takes the three word phrase for curing the evil eye seriously noting that it is especially useful when said by the person who is the source of the evil eye. The informant shared his beliefs on the evil eye, which was heavily enforced by not only his parents, but by school and religion too. I found it very interesting that there is a disparity between protections against the evil or “bad” eye as he preferred to call it in his culture and in others where physical objects or charms are not thought to be protective against it. It fits with the informant’s overarching theme in the pieces he shared with me (see: Arabic Folk Speech to Handle Fear/Bless and see: Ramadan and the Ritual Celebration of Eid Alfutr) that emphasizes the Muslim ideal of strengthening their connection with Allah through exercising self control, thereby cleansing their minds, bodies, and spirits.

Owls and Luck in Palestinian Culture

Transcribed Text:

“According to my mom, who’s Palestinian, the owl is bad luck in Arab culture. Like she doesn’t like images of owls, but I don’t think she actively, like avoids them.”

The informant is currently a student at the University of Southern California. She says that she first heard this folk belief from her mother when she was discussing Harry Potter with her mother about five years ago. Because of the prevalence of owls in the Harry Potter series, she thinks that her mother mentioned this folk belief of hers to the informant. The informant recalls that she found this particularly odd and that this belief stood out to her in her mind. She also says that when she asks her mom about owls, her mom doesn’t like images of them and doesn’t like them in general, but cannot provide a reason as to why. This is an example of how folk belief has persisted throughout time even when the meaning behind the belief has been lost. Even though the informant’s mother does not know why she is supposed to dislike owls, because she has grown up in a community where she has been taught to dislike owls, she does not like them.

Arab Belief: Soles of Shoes

“For a lot of Middle Eastern people, you can’t- you can’t put them so that the soles are facing up because the bottom of your foot is the lowest part of your body, the most dirty, the um..and if you put your shoe facing up, it’s like an insult to God.”

The informant is a Middle East Studies major at the University of Southern California. She says she learned this folk belief within the last year while studying various beliefs of people in the Middle East. This was a response to the belief in Thai culture that the feet are considered dirty and the head contains knowledge. This Middle Eastern belief as the soles being dirty and as an insult to God is an oicotype of the Thai belief, but adapted to its own culture. While the Thai belief believes that it is rude to other human beings in general to point one’s feet at, pointing soles of shoes towards the sky does not offend other humans in the Middle East, but God. It is a regional variant on the folklore that reveals the nature of each culture.