Ask Ali: Sneezing, yawning and falcons in burqas
Dear Ali: Is it all right to say “bless you” to somebody here when they sneeze? Or is there an Arabic equivalent? LB, Abu Dhabi
Dear LB: In Islam it is believed that Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, said: “Allah likes sneezing and dislikes yawning. When any one of you sneezes and says ‘alhamdulillah [praise be to Allah]’, it becomes obligatory upon every Muslim who hears him to respond with: “Yarhamuk Allah [may Allah have mercy on you]’. Yawning is from the devil. When one of you feels like yawning, he should restrain it.”
So yes, absolutely, it is indeed correct and good to say “bless you”, but the correct saying in Arabic would “alhamdulillah” and then in response right after, “yarhamuk Allah”. Some would stick to “bless you” and they would reply back with “thank you” even if they were Arabs or Muslims, because they might assume you don’t know about the terms above, but they would appreciate it even if you said “bless you”.
Let me share with you something interesting about how we view sneezing in Islamic culture. You see, it is believed that sneezing lightens the mind of man, and bodily he feels comfort. It is, therefore, something good and one should glorify Allah for it, whereas yawning is indicative of gluttony, sloth and heaviness, and is considered disagreeable. The Prophet commanded us to stop it either by closing our mouths or by putting our hand over them to avoid an act that pleases Satan. In most of these acts, the sayings of the Prophet teaches Muslims to always have good wishes for one another and return good for good. This reciprocity increases mutual love and results in the unity, peace and dynamism of society in general and specifically Muslim society as well.
Dear Ali: Some of my Arab colleagues tell me that falcons in the Arab world must wear burqas as well! I know burqas are for women only but why falcons?! HY, UK
Dear HY: In a way your colleagues are right, but let me explain so no one thinks that the reason for covering the falcons’ heads is the same reason why women wear the burqa (here we refer to them as abayas).
The hoods falconers use on their birds is used simply to cover their eyes. Falcons have very sharp eyesight and will suddenly attack things around them if they are not slowly adjusted to a new environment.
This risk mainly occurs when moving the falcon from one area to another, or while participating with it in various cultural events.
The hood is taken off slowly as they adjust to the environment. And this is not only practised in the Arab world but in many falconers’ societies around the globe.
And by the way this falcon burqa, or “burqu” as we pronounce it in the UAE and the Gulf region, can be bought at any hunting and equestrian shop in the city or via the cultural festivals and exhibitions that take place in the country. Some people also creatively use the hoods as covers for their cars’ transition gears or even as key chains. So it’s a great idea for a unique souvenir. And a burqa rocks on a falcon, by the way.
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Updated: January 16, 2014 04:00 AM