Tag Archives: arabic

Namaz E Janaza

My informant is Pakistani and has lived in many countries worldwide, yet has deep knowledge of his culture and is very associated with certain events and occasions that occur in Pakistan.

Funeral Ritual:

This prayer, typically known as “Namaz E Janaza” is a common type of prayer “performed at funerals”. It is a ritual that has “existed in Islam for a very long time” and is “very important to our religion and culture.” The ritual is illustrated by a “group of people that are praying as the body is put in front of them” He states that it is because “everyone is praying towards god when the body is also there” conveying the influences of religion on their life. The informant also states that it is “the same Islamic prayer from the Qur’an that people read.” It is a widely known tradition in South Asia, specifically Pakistani culture when it comes to funeral rituals and events that must take place in order to properly bury a body.


The ritual is “always performed by men in a room separate to the women,” and the informant continues to assert that “they cannot be together and a woman cannot speak the prayer to the body” highlighting the strict nature of this ritual and the specific cultural customs on death and funerals. It is usually done in Pakistan but also occurs in other Muslim countries that still honour this method of performing the funeral ritual. It is a very important aspect of how the body is sent to heaven and is a pivotal step in “family healing using religion and ensuring they continue in heaven”


The religious aspect of funerals is very common in many cultures, however, in Islamic culture, the split of the men and women into separate rooms signifies the power that the prayer holds as it is part of their tradition. Death and prayer being portrayed in a ritual allow families to use the religious scripture provided to them as a mode of grieving their loved ones in a structural manner, making it easier on the family that is closer to them. Although, the formality of the occasion eliminates personalisation of the funeral and family members when burying and honouring the dead as they must follow the known written words instead of making them uniquely theirs, which is seen in other cultures. However, it is a religious and important part of their cultural identity, therefore, the prayer does not solely mark the death of an individual but paves a path to their god that they are praying to, following the practices of their culture and tradition as it is passed down.

Laila and The Wolf

Original Text:

ليلى والذئب


Laila Wil Th’ib


Laila and the Wolf

My informant is from Lebanon and has experienced this narrative many times throughout her childhood and has passed it on to her own children.


The story describes Laila, the little girl, “preparing Kaa’k, a Lebanese type of bread and Shaye, a certain Arabic tea to take to her grandmother’s home as she is not feeling well” Once Laila is lectured by her mother about the rules of arab generosity and taught that she “must not listen to the words of others, specifically, not family” as they do not have the same values as their household and may hurt her” Laila is at an intersection in the path and has to choose whether to go down one covered with beauty and the other with darkness. “A hyena emerged from the bush and told Laila to take the path of darkness because there will be a surprise and that she must listen to her elder.” Yet, she continues to her sick grandmother in hopes of curing her with Laila’s love. Once she arrived, Laila had approached her grandmother’s bed and “kissed her forehead to show her love, but noticed it was fur, and that she had big eyes and ears.” Laila uncovered her ‘grandmother’ and revealed a wolf that had eaten her grandmother whole. Once Laila screamed, she alerted a watchman who then killed the wolf and cut open his stomach to save her grandmother” However, the hyena was the wolf’s friend a watched all this, as he planned how he was going to get Laila next”


This tale is merely an oikotype of the famous story of ‘Red Riding Hood’ and presents the tale with some changes such as the introduction of a hyena to the narrative in order to present more lessons in the story. The story was mainly “told to children at a very young age so that they could learn how to effectively live independently in a safe manner” as it has many rules such as ‘don’t listen to strangers’ and ‘respect your parent’s wishes’ or else worse will occur. It places an emphasis on the child being told the narrative as it serves as a lesson for when they are being dealt with “a similar situation to the one being told in the story.” Usually parents, specifically the mom would tell this story “before bed so that the children remember and dream practising it or at the beginning of the day, before they leave the house, especially to families who live in the city” because of the many incidents that occur there.


The mention of a hyena being part of the story reminds children that they must always be aware and stay safe because anyone may wish to hurt them. Although this may traumatize some children, it allows them to gain a harsh understanding of reality and ‘the way the world works’. When presented with the tale, I noticed a few differences between this and the Western-typical story. The changes in the story when speaking of the house customs, the food had been altered to fit the culture and Lebanese standard so that children have an easier time relating it to their own experience and point of view, presenting a more efficient approach to storytelling and lecturing. The middle east is seen to be more transparent in the manner that maturity is approached, they give children the chance to view the world in the brutal form that it is. Some countries are not blessed with the same safety as most of the Western world. This is presented through the violence and gore in the story of the wolf eating the grandmother as it prepares the children for the world they are going to be forced into.

The Song of Petra

The informant is one of my family members that has been brought up listening to these songs in her household. It is seen as one of the ballads that she most remembers growing up.


The narrative is about the kingdom of Petra in Jordon and discusses “the king’s journey to fight against the Romans that tried to invade the kingdom and left the queen Shekeilah” to rule the kingdom. He also “left his seven-year-old daughter, Petra.” Roman soldiers come to the kingdom with troops and want to “hide the gold that they have in Petra’s safe, which was widely known to be a safe place. They kidnap the princess and keep her for ransom.” Everyone searched for the princess and could not find her. The informant states that the ballad continues with “the Romans ordering the queen to stop the king from attacking Rome’s occupying kingdoms.” If the queen did not, they would kill Petra. The ballad resumes with the Jordanian king conquering the Romans and returning home but “the queen halts the celebrations because she lets him know that they had to sacrifice their daughter for the victory of their kingdom”


The informant describes this as a “very popular song that was played for many years and all ages, telling the dreadful story of how ‘with victory, comes sacrifice’ in the death of a woman named Petra.” After a few years, the most widely known classical singer, Fairouz had taken the song and incorporated it into a musical that framed the entire story, placing this song as the finale, to highlight the importance of the ballad in the musical. The musical “opened for everyone to see and gain an authentic understanding of what the song truly meant and the importance of the princess in the story of victory” It was recorded and premiered across the Arab world in countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and others, showing the beauty of Arabic ballads on stage.


This ballad is meant to portray the significance of the princess in the narrative as she is not only a member of the royal family of Jordan but a symbol of change in the kingdom of Petra, even through her death. Being made into a musical does not diminish the gruesome element of her death but instead portrays it through other art on a stage, making it more accessible to wider audiences. This allows them to gain an understanding of how powerful the Arab world may be, but it must come with a sacrifice. Children are able to watch the musical and learn the consequences of their actions, through the ballad and the lyrics that explain her death, and the royal’s reaction to her sacrifice. This also plays a role in the history of the Arab world as it has gone through many invasions from other countries and emphasises the strength that they have, however, also a piece of themselves that had been taken long ago.

Go Tile the Sea!

Original: روح بلط البحر

Transliteration: Rooh Balit El Baher

Translation: Go tile the sea!

The informant is one of my Lebanese family members who was raised in Lebanon by parents who had lived there for the entirety of their lives and has knowledge of the type of language that is said on daily basis in the culture.


The informant describes the saying to be a “nasty-phrased comment that is usually said by the elder women of the family.” She states “that they are saying this to their husbands or men of the household that ask for unreasonable demands in the household that the wife is unable to provide.” and that this is a statement that is taken in an insult-like manner to those who might rarely hear it in public, however, she says that “it is typically said at home to close family in order to not allow people to take offence to the phrase”. The informant summarises the interaction when she states that “It is usually meant to tell the men of the household to ‘f**k off’ in a ladylike manner” as she asserts that they go tile the endless ocean floor which is ironic as it is impossible.


There is a comedic factor in the saying as it is a statement that allows the women of the household to mock or make fun of the men. This can possibly be taken from Lebanese culture as women are still known to take care of the children in the household today and must maintain the state of the household whilst the men are working externally. Therefore, this allows women to assert their voice in the household whilst remaining reputable and adding the comedy of impossibly demanding that the men go “tile the sea [floor]” just as they feel the pressure of the household and cannot take any more demands. The private part of the statement also allows the family to feel closer as it is a statement that can only be said to those related in order to not seem like a sinister individual and build their bonds as she asserts her dominance in the household. The endless sea floor might also indicate that the wife’s role as a mother and caretaker is as much work and complex as tiling the bottom of the ocean.

Eyelash wishing game – Arabic Children’s Folk Game


She was in an all-girls elementary school in Jordan when she learned this game. She thought that it was silly, and did not pay much mind to it, saying that “girls, usually teenagers, like to make wishes.” There are two versions of this game that she remembers.

Game (Version 1):

The game involves two people (P1 and P2), and one of their eyelashes. P1, after noticing a fallen eyelash near one of P2’s eyes, immediately tells P2 to make a wish, and guess an eye (left or right). If P2 guesses the eye that the eyelash is near, their wish is supposed to come true. If they don’t, nothing happens.

Game (Version 2):

The game involves two people (P1 and P2), and one of their eyelashes. P1, after noticing a fallen eyelash near one of P2’s eyes, immediately grabs the eyelash and squeezes it between their thumb and index finger. P1 then tells P2 to make a wish, and guess which finger the eyelash will stick to. After the guess, P1 separates their fingers to see which finger the eyelash is stuck to. If P2 guesses the finger that the eyelash is stuck to, their wish is supposed to come true. If they don’t, nothing happens.

(I added the P1 and P2 distinctions to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)


I remember my informant playing this game with me when I was in elementary school, and it reminded me of how people at that time would also blow on the dandelion seed puffs and make a wish. At its core, when one makes a wish, they are hoping that something is accomplished that they themselves do not have the power to do. Jay Mechling, in Chapter 5 of Elliot Oring’s Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, notes that a “theme [pervading children’s folklore] is power, something children generally do not have in their institutional settings. So they take power, or play at taking power, through their folklore.”* This aligns with the idea of making a wish when an eyelash comes loose and the child guesses the right eye or finger; they earned a wish (an instance of unlimited power) that they can use as they please.

*Jay Mechling. “Children’s Folklore.” Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, edited by E. Oring, 91-120. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1986.