Arabic graffiti in the Reg

Arabic is one of the most common non-English languages to appear on the walls of the Reg, but I haven’t had a go-to person for translating the pieces I come across. Sadly, the result has been a lot of photos in the multilingual graffiti set titled only “Arabic graffiti”.

A couple weeks ago, my Flickr friend, the awesome photographer Lauren Osborne, posted a photo of some mangled Arabic at O’Hare and I discovered she knows Arabic. So, courtesy of Lauren, I’d like to present some of the Arabic graffiti that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.

This says “al-kitab,” which means “book,” and is the name of one of the main Arabic textbooks used at the U of C, and most other places. And it looks like a beginning student wrote it.

So I’m guessing that’s supposed to be either a question mark or a wiggly exclamation point at the end of this one… and it’s not really a sentence so much as just a phrase, or an exclamation – probably out of frustration. The second word – al-`udhrī – means virginal, and when put together with love (the first word) it means “platonic love.” So you’ve got either “platonic love!” or “platonic love?”

Oh the difference a preposition can make. So it’s two sentences, with one added word in the first (top) one. The first one – ana `ala al-haqq – (the ` is a letter called `ayn, and it’s a sound we don’t make in English) means “I am right” or “I am in the right” in a very clear, indisputable way. The second one is just missing the preposition, so it reads, “ana al-haqq.” Literally it means “I am the real” (or “I am The Real”) – but al-haqq is one of the 99 names of God, so it could also be interpreted as meaning, basically “I am God.” This is one of the many ecstatic epithets uttered by the Sufi al-Hallaj that earned him the honor of being the first individual (that we know of) to be executed by the Islamic caliphate on ideological grounds. This statement was perceived as meaning just, “I am God,” but it is usually interpreted as being a sign that he had achieved a profound state of self-effacement into the divine. For more info see this article, or for people who don’t have academic access the Wikipedia article on him is really not bad and talks specifically about this utterance.

Lauren also helped identify the bismillah and a name written twice, once normally and once more like a signature. Thanks, Lauren, for all the Arabic help!

Add new comment