How to text in Arabic

Arabic alphabet
ا ب ت ث ج ح
خ د ذ ر ز س
ش ص ض ط ظ ع
غ ف ق ك ل
م ن ه‍ و ي

Anyone who has tried to write Arabic speech in symbols that a speaker of English can read will come away frustrated.  Sure, there are a couple of transliteration schemes, as well as tables of international symbols,  but no one ever uses them when they are learning the language.  Instead, the Americans I have studied Arabic with made up their own phonetic systems based on other foreign languages they had studied. When you add in the problem of Modern Standard Arabic, a language constructed for political reasons–and no one in the universe actually speaks it–Arabic starts to get really annoying.

Until the computer. Now east has met west and young Arabs are all texting each other on machines that are limited to English letters and symbols.  The result is a sort of L33t speak that uses western numbers to represent the Arabic letters that don’t exist in English.

The letters are pretty intuitive, aleph is “a” and ba is “b”, and so on.  Some of the numbers are intuitive as well.  3 looks like ع, h looks like 7 (for ح, the stronger of the two Arabic h’s ), hamza  ٴ looks like a small 2. That leaves number 9 as ص — the broad “s”, and number 6 as  ط–th in English.  With a little imagination you can see a resemblance. You only have to add ‘ to the above numbers to represent the dotted letters.  So 3′ is  ﻍ or gh (“r-ein?”),  7′ is ﺥ or kh,  9′ is ﺽ or D and 6’ is ﻅ or z/th (as in perennial Green Party candidate Ralph Nather).  Its not quite that easy, as the language is informal and there are some variations.  Here is the Wikipedia chart.

Finally.  Something in Arabic that makes sense.  Now, if only I could use it.

Anti-bailout demonstration in Indiana

As the stock market dropped 770-some points today, the blogosphere trembled with rhetoric. Citizens called their elected officials by the droves, and most expressed opposition to a bailout–at least 80% and maybe more, depending on who you ask.  In Indiana today I saw the following impromptu demonstration and stopped to see what was going on.

Protestors were holding up signs that said “No bailouts for banks”, “Constitution R.I.P.”, and “Capitalism Works”. Quite a few cars were honking as they passed by. I asked one of the demonstrators about how they came to be out there together. They first met at a political meetup for Ron Paul supporters. The crisis is real, they told me, but it’s not up to the government to rescue someone who makes a bad financial decision, especially if it’s a big company. People shouldn’t borrow money they can’t pay back, they said. People who got mortgages with balloon payments made a mistake. There should be consequences for bad decisions.

Also they said I should look up Davy Crockett and “not yours to give”. The “Davy Crockett” speech, which apparently he never gave, is basically a rehash of the Libertarian position that the government is not authorized by the Constitution to tax. Of course it’s not true.  The 16th amendment settled that one, if there ever was any doubt, and the Constitution also says the federal government can provide for the “general welfare”. So those highway appropriations will just keep on coming. And Libertarians don’t really mean all that stuff about taxes anyhow.  Libertarians like Ron Paul manage to inserted earmarks into bills they know are going to pass, even if they maintain political “purity” by later voting against those bills.

But taxation isn’t my biggest beef with the Libertarians.  It their dogma-based approach to government.  Libertarians start with a premise about how the world should be–and based on what?–then work backwards to how the government actions should be in accordance with the premise.  I’m a bit more pragmatic.  Instead of trying to decide who should be punished in this economic mess, and how many innocent people have to suffer in order to punish the ones who violated a certain political code that no one explained in advance, I prefer to look ahead to what results might be achieved and the steps to make those results happen.  As soon as I figure out what that is, be sure that I will post it right here first thing.

New Hussam Al-Rassam حسام الرسام links for Iraqi Music

When I first discovered Hussam Al-Rassam  حسام الرسام a few years ago I posted a link to his website and a couple of his most popular songs. Those links are long gone, but today I was looking for his music again and found some new links. It looks like he’s been in Detroit, Chicago, and in Australia recording some new stuff.

Results of search (more in this list) (sound quality is like TV):

Iraqi Song-Sad but True

Bilani Zimani [New song 2008]

Ya Noora NEW

Results of translated google search, with thumbnails and YouTube links–the sound quality is better on some of these and there are some links to stuff from his defunct website.

A little better sound quality from YouTube:

Ya Ali ياعلي

Ibnak Ya Iraq ابنك ياعراق …another version of Ibnak Ya Iraq (Your son, O Iraq)

Mu Galo – مو كالوا with some crosstalk at beginning of recording–I think the photos are Baghdad.’

The Iraqi Football (soccer) Song “bring the cup home” Jeeb El Kahsجيب الكاس

And then of course there’s the ever popular al-3agruba العگربة “Oh, my mother I have been bitten by a scorpion”, take-off on American Idol, with Hussam’s sphinx-like smile and hot dance moves.

Wait! Wait! Here it is, the official new Hussam Al-Rassam website (?)–still under construction, but very slick, and there’s a nice instrumental on the home page.  It looks like there will be eventual links to his albums–and I can only hope they plan to add a little ingeleezi button for English.

If anyone knows where to find the lyrics in English and/or in Arabic, please do post a link for me.

Three more days for the Chicago World Music Festival

The Chicago Music Festival runs from September 19-25 this year with free or very reasonably price concerts at various locations around the city.

Arabic artists this year are Dhafer Youssef of Tunisia, Ensemble Al-Kindi of Syria, and Gaida Hinawwi–listen to her |here|, a female vocalist from Iraq in the traditional maqam style.  The Iraqi already performed Sunday, and the Syrian group preformed Friday–drat, they bill themselves as “Whirling Dervishes of Damascus”.

Yet to come–


The Dhafer Youssef concert (Sufi Mystic Fusion) is Wednesday 9/24 7:30 P.M at the Museum of Contemporary Art–Admission $15. Listen to a sample of the music–“Farha” from Electric Sufi–at the festival website |here|. (Click on Wednesday) Also  Wednesday night is Mor Karbasi with the flamenco-esque Shephardic Ladino music from Jerusalem–see Thursday for the link.


You can also hear Dhafer Youssef  Thursday from 11:00-2:00 PM at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Theater free.  (And bask in the glow of the Tiffany stained glass dome at the same time.) To be broadcast line on WNUR 89.3 FM on the “Continental Drift” international program.  Also appearing in this venue is Mor Karbasi–listen here, oh, yes! from Israel with Sephardic Ladino Music–the music and language of the exiled Jews of Spain–sounds interesting, but they are separted by two acts–could that be a coididink?

The festival ends Thurday with an open house/Mexican market at the Cultural Center. For addresses see the City of Chicago’s official festival website.

The links for audio tracks again are:

Chicago Music Festival

Gaida Hinawwi–listen to her |here|

Mor Karbasi–listen here, oh, yes!

or look for links yourself on this list of featured artists

Lo Cor de la Plana from Spain, a capella male voices

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Fasting music for Ramadan–mystical planets

Yesterday I ran off to class without breakfast and decided that was as good a reason as any to fast for the day. Intention, I thought, remembering the traditional pre-dawn Ramadan prayer to start the day with fasting.

The hardest part of fasting is not the half hour before sunset.  No, that’s a time of high mental concentration as you organize everything to reach your Iftar destination before sunset, make meal preparations, or remember what you have forgotten to do throughout the day.  In this case I was in the garden picking tomatoes near dusk and trying to tell the red tomatoes from the green ones… is this anything like the official Moslem definition of dusk as the time when you can’t tell a black thread from a white one?  And once the magical hour comes and you have taken a couple of dates to break the fast in anticipation of further goodies, a lethargy sets in as you realize you are in for the night and will not likely accomplish anything else on your ‘to do’ list.

The hardest part of the fasting is during the day, when everything you do is a little more sluggish than usual, you periodically realize you are hungry, then in the same instant–intention–remember it’s because you are fasting.  As thinking about anything requires an intentional focus of consciousness, you try to think of what spiritual thing you were trying to accomplish that made you think of fasting in the first place.

It was at this intentionally focused moment in the afternoon I was inspired to want to listen to Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite. Looking it up, I found the traditional order of playing the movements is Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. No Pluto moevment, that was long before Pluto’s discovery and subsequant deplanetization–but you have to wonder what Holst would have made of Eris, Dysnomia, and Discordianism.  There is a recording of the Planet Suite at, but it has errors and sounds terrible on laptop. Another recording by the Peabody Concert Orchestra is available for personal use.

And how to the planets figure into Islam?  Islamic tradition says Abraham’s father Imran was a maker of idols and worshiped the planets.  But Abraham broke from his father’s faith, became a monotheist, and established the original mosque at Mecca centuries before it became a center for pilgrimage for the triple goddess and was later newly discovered by the Prophet.  The region’s shift to Islam meant it was Allah, and not the planets that had mystically created life.

If you want to hear some vintage Holst from after he traveled to Arab lands, including Algerian Sahara, but before he was influenced by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring,  you can listen to Beni Mora— the movements First Dance, Second Dance, and Finale: in the Street of the Ouled Nails |here|.

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A FISA scenario–doing it for the LULZ

By now, everyone knows that Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s email got hacked. And why?  Some anonymous comments on various blogs said they “did it for the lulz“. That is, for amusement.

And now the McCain campaign has issued a statement:

This is a shocking invasion of the Governor’s privacy and a violation of law. The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities and we hope that anyone in possession of these emails will destroy them.

Well, that’s a switch.  Palin has prided herself on transparent government.  Now she MINDS if someone reads her Email?  If she doesn’t have anything to hide, why does she care?

But I agree. It’s a violation of privacy and it’s Not A Good Thing. Sarah Palin’s email should be private unless someone can show a good reason to read it and produce a search warrant.

The same should be true for EVERY citizen of the United States.  But it isn’t.

The FISA Amendments act of 2008 allows the U.S. government to hack your computer and your email–also your house, your car, your office–without a warrant.

Here’s how it works:

  • Within 7 days of the hack, they are supposed to apply for a certificate that says they will tell a FISA court they are hacking you.  They don’t have to say who or where they are hacking. They don’t have to give a reason.  They can be doing it just for the LULZ. They are allowed to change around the date on the certificate.
  • Then the FISA court has 30 days to determine whether it’s approved. FISA courts approve 99.9% of the certificates.  Surprise, surprise, surprise.
  • In the remote chance that the FISA court does not approve it, the government can appeal.  Then the government can continue to hack your email for another 60 days until the FISA court makes a decision. So that means the government can hack your computer and your email without a warrant (they are waiting for a “certificate” to do it–remember?) for 97 days, right?

Nope. Because of this loophole:

  • Time limits for court decisions can be extended if it’s in the interest of security.

And if the court tells them they can’t hack your email, then what? Like in McCain’s press statement about the hacking of Palin’s email,  “anyone in possession of these emails will destroy them”? No, I’m afraid not.  The government can keep all the information it obtained illegally.

But what about the 4th amendment, you may ask. Doesn’t the bill of rights make it illegal for telecommunications companies to participate in that?  How does the government get away with that, you may ask.  Easy.  AT&T. Verizon, and Sprint just spent $53.6 million on lobbying and campaign contirbutons.

A politicians email got hacked and everyone is making indignant statements. But can you imagine an ordinary American’s email getting hacked by the government and a politician coming out with a statement like this?:

“This is a shocking invasion of  Americans’ privacy and a violation of the constitution. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 has been turned over to the Congress of the United States for repeal and we hope that any government agency in possession of these citizens’ emails will destroy them.”

Here’s what will probably happen instead.  They will find one individual to take the rap for the Palin incident.  As long as that person has an extra $53.6 million laying around to lobby the government and contribute to politician’s campaigns, they’re not going to have any problems. But I hope that whatever they do to that individual, they also do to the government, the FISA courts, and the telecommunications industry. Vigilante actions by governments are just as bad as vigilante actions by individuals, maybe worse.

The year before I entered a university, they had a rule about privacy.  If a female student had a male visitor, the door had to be open.   One night some students went over to the college president’s little on-campus mansion and removed the front door.  Took it right off. The guy woke up in the morning and his residence was wide open.  “We wanted to make a point about how it felt not to have privacy”, said one of the students. The point was taken and the rule revoked.

Let’s hope that Sarah Palin–and all Americans–get their computer security back soon.

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Riding the Storm Out

The rain has finally stopped here in northern Illinois. In the aftermath of days of downpouring rain in the weather pattern pushed north by the latest hurricane, I’ve had a chance to mow the lawn, dump the water out of the citronella candles, and take a long walk in the sunshine. Although the streets have opened again and are clear of water, the signs of the long rain remains.

For once the park is free of goose poop. Usually you can’t take a step without looking down, but today the road is clean. Hmm, wonder where it all went. Ya don’t suppose it washed into the lake where it will increase the nitrate levels and lead to more algae?

The most disheartening was the guerilla East Side Book Exchange, now derelict. The book exchange has been through rain, snow and fire, every time rising like the phoenix. Today the neon blue paint has been covered with black, but there is no sign of a book, just gang signs and spider webs. Where the park district used to mow around the steel shelves, now there is an overgrown path through the thistles.

This is the way civilization ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

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Spiritual recordings for Ramadan 2008

A few days ago I started getting hits on a post I wrote a year ago for Ramadan. It had a lovely “dua” or prayer in Arabic.  But the dua‘s not there anymore –the website has been reorganized. Too bad.  I enjoyed the feeling of peace that emanated from the sound of the prayer and also the feeling of connection to Muslims during their holy season. The disappearance of the dua is a bit like the Hindu sand pictures that remind one of the impermanence of everything.

But Ramadan has come around again, I’ve got guidief in the frig, and I’m fasting today, so here are some picks for this year’s spiritual journey.

For anyone who is homesick for the call to prayer (note: link no longer active) (link is now active as of the first day of Ramadan 2009), here is the city of San’a, Yemen at sunset.

Sheik Abdul Kareem Edghouch reciting the Surat Al-layl( text in Arabic)–“The Night” (English interpretation of text) chapter of the Quran.

From a Pakistani site, a haunting female voice singing Sallu Aliyeh Waa Aleyeh (Mehnaz) in an eastern musical scale. And Madine Ko Jaye (Abdur Rufi), with a male voice, minor tones and strong percussion. If you like those, follow the “religious” subject line backwards and you will find the 99 names of Allah and the call to prayer from various world mosques.

Apparently fasting has its own correct prayers to go with it.  I have found the same formula prayers at two sources.  From the website

Following is a compilation of Duas for Fasting (Ramadan)

– Dua for keeping a fast at the time of Sehar (Niyaat)

Wa bisawmi ghadinn nawaiytu min shahri ramadan

– Dua for breaking a fast at the time of Iftaar

Allahumma inni laka sumtu wa bika aamantu [wa ‘alayka tawakkaltu] wa ‘ala rizq-ika aftarthu*


dhahabadh-dhama’u wab-tallatil ‘uruuqi, wa thabatal arju inshaAllah
Allaahumma inni as�aluka birahmatika al-lati wasi’at kulli shay�in an taghfira li

Dua for breaking a fast at a friends house

Aftara ‘indakumus saa’imuna, wa akala ta’aamakumul-abraaru, wasallat ‘alaikumul mala’ikat

I love it how this person puts both the Arabic and the transliteration together.

Or relax and just listen to this “Beautiful Ramadan Dua’a”–but she uses the Arabic L33T notation so you might not know the pronunciation unless you are familiar with this. I know 3 is the ein letter and I think 7 is the heavier H sound but I don’t know the rest. She also gives some more prayers she calls “authentic” like “Upon seeing the first dates of the season”.

For even more spiritual listening, Al-Hidaaya has a video supplication for every day of Ramadan.

A Widget for Prayer Times

I just discovered the mosque I had linked to for prayer times, the Adams Center, has been reformatted and my link does not work any more.  For a long time I have been meaning to make a nice a widget for prayer times to replace the old one with the plain black writing on the ugly tan background rectangle. Good excuse to redo the widget and the link at the same time.

The widget is done from an Arabic design that says “salam” or “peace” in the form of a dove, which apparently has the same meaning in the Arab world as it does for us.  I don’t remember where I got it, so if it’s yours, leave a comment and I will credit you.

The mosque I linked to for the prayer times isn’t just any mosque.  It’s a progressive mosque in the DC area that reminds me of my own Christian traditions.  They are governed by a council with representation that includes women, and they are one of the few mosques where men and women pray together in the same room, instead of relegating women to the basement.  They do ecumenical outreach activities, and they are involved with the immigration and labor issues in their city. They deserve a link.

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Ramadan Kareem–are you fasting?

“Siama?” the little girl asked me, quite shyly asking a question of the foreign teacher. So far the Jordanian children had tried to touch my blond hair on the bus, or asked other parents why I wasn’t wearing a head scarf while the parents tried to shush them, or even thrown rocks at me, but this was the first time a child had acted like I was just another Jordanian. I had graduated. They say if you live with a people and eat their bread for 40 days you will be become one of them. The child had spoken a deeper truth. I gave her the only possible answer, “Iowa.” Yes, I was fasting.

When I was picking up pita bread in the Arab neighborhood the other day, I saw the guidief and dates and realized it was Ramadan already. Today I have no responsibilities or anyone who will question what I do or don’t eat. Today I will remember that a part of me is still Jordanian and I will fast.

Why fast? “To remind us that Allah asks us to do difficult things,” the religion teacher at my Jordanian girls’ school told me. After bumping into a catholic friend who invited me to church, I listened to a Jordanian priest with different advice, “A lot of you will be fasting along with your neighbors” he said, “If you fast, do it for your own reasons.”

I have watched the fasting traditions of Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox and Ethiopian friends. They might fast from all food and water, only certain types of meat, or only on certain days. My own religion does not follow any fasting tradition now, but John Wesley once belonged to a devout university group that fasted on certain days. Unfortunately I don’t know anything more about that tradition. So the fast I am following today is from all food starting at sunrise–okay, I cheated by a half hour–and okay, I had pork on my breakfast sandwich, but wahada u wahada (one thing at a time). I will limit water, but not absolutely. I no longer smoke, so that part won’t be as difficult today.  I am unlikely to come in contact with a male I might have to shake hands with or touch in the course of social interaction, so no danger there. And then I will think about my reasons for fasting.

Reasons for fasting.

1. Tradition. None of us is born is a vacuum. We inherit traditions and religious beliefs from the generations that preceded us. At first we follow blindly, then we keep the useful traditions. Tradition gives us a link to the past and a link with other cultures.

2. Awareness.  How much of what we do is by routine?  Ramadan breaks the routine, yes, but we also go back to follow a different routine we already know from previous Ramadans. Are you used to having coffee or tea available next to your laptop? Now you become aware of what you have been putting in your mouth.  Do you accidentally brush against strangers on the street when it’s crowded?  Now be aware of who you bump into and what gender they are, as Jordanians are constantly aware of who is next to them on the street. Do you lose track of whether it is light or dark outside? If you can’t eat until the sun goes down, now you will have reason to ask for the time of sunrise (Fajr) and the adhan or call to prayer a half hour before, and the time of sunset (Magreb) and to be aware of the sun’s transit. As I think about fasting in other years, I wonder if the reason I was finally able to break the smoking habit was because of the Ramadan fasts.   We will see how many of the temporary Ramadan habit changes will carry over.

3.  Iftar.  Yes, the food.  Iftar (breakfast at sunset) after a day of fasting is one big party in Jordan.  It’s not a party that happens in sleazy clubs either, it’s a family party. And Christian Arabs have absolutely no problem eating the guidief and other Ramadan sweets that come out at this time. I have my dates (Tunisian and not the premium Saudi dates) ready to break the fast, and I have my guidief pancakes ready for tonight’s meal. Today I will stuff them with the walnut/coconut/ cinnamon mixture or the sweet cheese–yes I have soft cheese (Danish!) in a can. Oh, and I have to boil the syrup made from water, sugar, lemon, and orange flower water.  Yum.