'Bab': Arabic word for door is a gateway to livelihood, conquest - or death

A word that offers access to many places, from the gates of history to the hereafter

Our Arabic word of the week is bab, which means 'door' in English.

The door is a potent symbolic image in many languages; it represents a transition, passageway, a gateway to the spiritual and to new fortunes. In Arabic, it is also a symbol of livelihood, death, the divine and the worldly.

Bab is Arabic for door. The word’s plural form is abwab.

Bab al rizq is a profession that is also the primary means of income. Bab al akhira is the door to the hereafter.

For negotiations that have stalled and ended, you could say ughliqa bab al mufawadat.

For a person who does things by the book and according to proper protocol, you could say ata albeit min abwabiha or, he entered the house through its doors.

The central government of the Ottoman Empire was known as Bab al Ali or the Sublime Porte.

There are a number of historic gateways that have specific symbolic designations.

The area around Bab Zuweila, one of the remaining gates in the walls of medieval Cairo. AFP

In Cairo, the three remaining gates of the wall of the old city are each a Bab of something. There is Bab al Nasr, or the Gate of Victory, which is decorated with engravings of shields. There is Bab al Futuh, or the Gate of Conquest, which faces north. Finally, there is Bab Zuweila, which was the city’s western gate and named after the trade route to Zuwayla in modern-day Libya.

Damascus, too, was renowned for its gateways. The old part of the city has seven gates, the oldest of which dates back to the Roman era.

Bab al Faradis, or the Gate of Paradise, was named after its proximity to water and luxuriant gardens. Bab al Salam is the Gate of Peace. Bab Touma is the Gate of Thomas the Apostle. Bab Sharqi is the Eastern Gate. Bab Kisan was named after a slave who became famous during a conquest by Caliph Muawiya, founder of the Umayyad Caliphate. Bab al Saghir, or the Small Gate, is the smallest of the seven gates. Finally, there is Bab al Jabiyah, or Gate of the Water Trough.

There are a handful of expressions tied to the word bab. One of the most resonant is: al bab allazai yughlaq fi wajhika amdan, iyak an tatruqahu thaniyan, which basically means don’t knock at a door that’s been slammed in your face.

Updated: April 22, 2022, 6:02 PM