Ask Ali: pronouncing the word Muslim, explaining the evil eye and camel passports

The proper pronunciation of the word for a follower of Islam is “muss-lim”.

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Dear Ali: I’m just wondering what would be important words to know how to pronounce and not fall into a silly mistake when saying them to other Arab colleagues. For example, is “Muslim” pronounced “muss-lim” or “muzz-lim”? LO, Abu Dhabi

Dear LO: Good question, as I always hear people pronouncing “Muslim” as “muzz-lim” instead of “muss-lim”. The proper pronunciation of the word for a follower of Islam is “muss-lim”, not “muzz-lim” or “mahs-lim”. Some other misperceptions:

Allah is the Arabic word for God; it is not the name of a god. The name of our holy book is spelt Quran, not Koran. Also the term “jihad” means struggle, as in personal or inner struggle, not war. “Arab” is a noun or adjective; “Arabic” is the name of our language. And sheikh is never pronounced “sheek” – it’s “shaikh”.

Dear Ali: I just returned from a trip to Turkey, where the blue evil-eye symbol is everywhere. I’ve seen it in the Gulf, too. Is it an Islamic symbol? AG, Dubai

Dear AG: The idea of the evil eye originated across the Middle East from Persia to Turkey. It has its roots in Islamic culture but is not related to the teachings of Islam. It is based on the concept of destructive envy, or hasad.

There are several levels of hasad. The worst is when you wish a blessing to be taken away from someone else, even if you don’t receive it. The second level is wanting a blessing taken away because you want it. The least damaging hasad is wanting a blessing but not wanting it to be taken away from your neighbour. This last level is called ghibtah and is actually allowed.

By all means hasad, which means envy, is not good at all. Hence you see all Muslims will always follow a compliment with mashallah, which means “as much God wishes”. This is said to bless the thing or person you praised or said something good about. So saying “mashallah” prevents you from getting hurt or affected negatively by the intangible power of hasad. Some cultures in Islam believe it’s good to keep the blue eyes to observe the evil hasad eye and get protected.

Dear Ali: I read your column about falcons having their own passports and was wondering if the same is true for camels? RC, Al Ain

Dear RC: Each camel in the Gulf has its own identity card (and they don’t even have to queue to get one). It’s not an actual card, but the animal is branded with information such as the name of the tribal sector it belongs to, its group or bloodline and an ID number of the owner.

This brand usually contains a series of dots, lines or shapes, much like those used by cattle ranchers in other parts of the world. The system was created as a way to prevent conflict among tribes so they could tell whom a camel belonged to. The families who shared the vast desert could then return a lost animal to its rightful owner. (Nowadays a chip is also used.)

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.

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