Ancient Arabs are the fathers and mothers of “Majaz” (metaphor). They used to apply metaphor in conversations that would sound pretty obscure to the modern interpreter, because a conversation would sound like this:
Arab Man: Falcons fly high all the time.
Arab Woman: Falcons fly high because God willed it.
Arab Man: Is it not God’s will that they keep on flying high?
Arab Woman: This is a secret known only to God.
Arab Man: God sends messengers to reveal His message.
Arab Woman: We bow to God and accept his message.
This is an example of a man asking a woman for her hand – she was vague at first, but towards the end she accepted him. It could have been about a man telling a woman about what a great guy he is, with the woman deflating his ego in a gentle, wise way that respects the etiquette of conversation. But what really steers a conversation is great wit, connection to nature and intution, an accumulative heritage of metaphors and connotations, an ability to reapply meanings, re-create new metaphors, and apply known idioms and sayings to serve your argument… most importantly it takes “Firasa” – deep intuition.
An argument in olden Arab times was like a dance. People wooed each other, rejected or accepted, negotiated, insulted and convinced each other using subtle messages & connotations, all applied courteously. There are poets who have been known to be so good at what they do (playing with words) that it was hard to figure out whether they insulted or praised someone with the stanza they created about a Khalifa, a ruler or just someone they met in the street.
Today, things are very much different. Conversation is most of the time straight-forward-looking (while intentions might be steered in other directions… which means lack of integrity in many cases). Today, dialogue in Arabia has some aspects of aggression; you see bloggers shooting each other down with their blogs (the writer here being no exception; I did it once and regret it terribly), you see people on TV humiliating each other although the topic they are discussing might be about freedom of expression, a higher ceiling for thought, progress and development.
Al Jazeera TV’s culture of dialogue assassination
One TV show that encourages the habit of “character assassination” is Al Jazeera TV’s “Al Itijah el Mo3akes.” You see two people on coal accusing each other of things like lack of patriotism, short sightedness, stupidity, with a host who “applies fuel over fire” to make it an interesting show. The fact that this show is one of the most viewed among Arabs around the world (as rumor has it) is an indication of so many things.
I would have loved to see a show that adheres to old Arab rules of conversation, where two people sit and talk in code, whose biggest insult to another is in the mention of a line from Al Motanabbee’s poetry, who would be discussing ideals, negotiating stands, arguing thoughts in that respectful, witty, cultivated type of conversation.
In Sufism, wisdom is applied in conversations in ways that would sound too difficult for the fiery, stormy kind of converser. Injury of the person in front of you is the last thing you have in mind. Injury of yourself by another is also the last thing you want. The person in front of you might say something that reflects ego, lack of knowledge, shortsightedness, but it’s not your job to insult them for that. If the person you are talking to is hung up on something it’s not your duty to tear them to pieces.
Sufism tells us to look inside us first. Whatever we accuse others of having, starts within us first. If one brings someone down to shreds because one thinks the other gives an x matter a bad name, then odds are it starts within oneself.
We are each others mirrors. If you see ugly people around, then it is your own image you are seeing. If you see no one, then you are seeing The One.