The language of a peninsula’s daily communication was transformed in the seventh century to become the direct source of spiritual nourishment for generations of Muslims.
Songs and poetry are important facets of that oral literature. Riddles, sayings and proverbs contribute their wit to the bank of oral literature that funds Arab and other Muslim cultures.
The impact of words and forms counts for far more than the transmission of ideas in many Middle Eastern languages. The Yoruk nomads live by a legend which says that each year on a night in May, two heavenly stars meet. Their only hope lies in a star-born wish.
Just as with their oral and written literature, so one of the main aims of everyday conversation among Arabs is to engage the emotions. The imagination is in gear as phrases are savoured and offered to an audience of one or a hundred.
The lights go out in a Cairo suburb because the electricity system is overloaded. A host immediately utters a beautiful phrase which engages the guest in his home, reassures him and allows the speaker permission to go and find some alternative sources of illumination — he says – “Your light is enough!”
In order to come up with the proper saying at the right moment, memories are developed from childhood. One observer refers to this characteristic as shared access to ‘prefabricated wisdom’.
There are polite forms of address (rather like the difference between tu and vous in French). Speech is a primary conveyor of emotion. Expansive, expensive phrases characterise the way all Arabs tend to speak. Children learn at an early age to speak in exaggerated ways.
Among many factors which provoke anger is gossip, especially talk about the reputation of the sexual honour of a man’s womenfolk. Primary purveyors of gossip are women – thus they come to be power-holders in societies where shared information or defamation can be so damaging. Over exaggeration and overemphasis led to massive miscommunication between Arab protagonists in successive wars against Israel during this century.
Language is pure and profane – orisons and oaths issue from the same mouth in quick succession! Sharing of the gospel will best be packaged in emotive terms if it is to touch the heart of the Middle Easterner in an effective way.