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  5. Wars and Camels: A Proverb!


Wars and Camels: A Proverb!

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Finally weekend here and some time for myself without worrying about sleep! So, decided to put on another proverb (for those who like to read). Tonight's proverb is a famous one and dates back to the pre-Islamic time and is related to one of the bloodiest and longest wars that took place before Islam in Arabia. I'll get to the story after the essentials.

لا ناقَةٌ لي فيها وَلا جَمَلْ

Translation: No she-camel for me in it nor a camel.

Transliteration: lá náqatun lí fíhá walá jamal.

Occasion: Said as an expression denying any involvement or benefits from a certain matter.


As I've noted, this proverb dates back to the pre-Islamic era. The proverb is quoted to a man called Al-ħáriþ ibn 3ubád (الحارث بن عُباد). Al-ħáriþ was considered one of the wise men in ancient Arabia, and there also had been reports about his strength, specially in battles, to the limits that some people believed that was assisted by Djinn (demons).
One of the most famous wars that were ignited in pre-Islamic times was the war of Basús (حرب البسوس) which was sparked between two cousin tribes; The tribe of Taghlib (تغلب) and the tribe of Bakr (بكر), and the main cause was a camel. Yes, a camel. It all started when the head of Taghlib tribe, named Kulayb (كليب) saw a camel for a woman named Al-Basús pasturing in his land, and he was the head of Taghlib tribe as well as ruling over Bakr tribe and he proclaimed himself a king over a wide domain of land. When he saw the camel, he killed that camel, and the owner of the camel, Al-Basús went keening and weeping (on purpose) and started satirizing her hosts, the Bakr tribe, for not protecting her and her camel. A man called Jassás (جَسَاس), from Bakr, and probably her nephew, heard her satirizing and got angry about it, so he went to Kulayb in his palace and killed him, initiating the war between the two tribes for 40 years to come after.
In its beginnings, the brother of Kulayb, Al-Muhalhal (المهلهل), and this is his famous title not his real name and the main character in the epic, went to Al-ħáriþ to inquire about his stance in the matter. Al-ħáriþ was closely related to Bakr tribe by bloodline, but he refused to join such a stupid war in which a man was killed because of a camel. Thus he said to Al-Muhalhal "This is a war in which I have no she-camel in it nor a camel." A saying that went on as a proverb in many centuries to come, until this very day. Unfortunately for Al-ħáriþ though, and despite being neutral with a number of clans in this war, he had to get involved in it after 40 years of its initiation, after the killing of his own only son (some say his adopted son) Jubayr or Bujayr (sources differ in the name) by Al-Muhalhal. After his involvement, the war was finally over when he turned the tide against Taghlib tribe and causing Al-Muhalhal to be expelled away from the region, then eventually being killed.
Despite its hideous events, the Basús war is one of the epic stories in the Arabic lore, and many writings were done about it and even TV shows were done about it. Some historians emphasize that the war was not initiated by just the killing of a camel, but it was the long-lasting unjust of Kulayb against many people, which bursted out in the form of anger just by the killing of a camel.


لا: No, not, negative particle.
ناقة: She-camel.
لي: For me.
فيها: In her.
وَ: And.
جَمَل: Camel.


Often, I've seen people here ask about some negative articles, and specifically (ليس: Laysa), and when or how to use it. If I am to make an approximation in meaning, then ليس with be more adequate for Not or There is no in English. In this proverb above, we could NOT possible say ليس ناقة لي فيها, that would be a somewhat weird and not so accurate. Rather if I want to use the article ليس, then I would be saying ليس لي فيها ناقة or ليس لي ناقة فيها, causing re-arrangement for the sentence. To get the idea closer, the predicative or the thing that we want to negate with the negative article ليس cannot come right away after the article, but it comes after one specific subject. Hence, in this proverb, the negative article لا is used with the item or entity that we want to negate right after. It acts as in English "No Camel" which is a generalization for the situation and more emphatic in meaning (imagine saying "I absolutely have no camel").
The next word is (ناقة: Náqah) which stands for "She-camel". And by the way, in the story above, I've stated that the whole war is about a camel that was killed, which belonged to Al-Basús... etc. Actually, it is reported to be a she-camel and not a camel. But I guess it doesn't matter at this stage, right? The final "H" here is changed to "T" (which is somewhat an issue for many learners as they don't know why it changes). This "H" sound changes to "T" for many reasons but mainly it is the continuation of speech that rules over this change. Suppose that this word or phrase comes at the end of the phrase like this (hypothetically): لا جمل لي فيها ولا ناقة, then the last word here ناقة could be pronounced as Náqah instead of Náqatun because, simply, it is the end of the sentence; No need to add nunation (Tanwin) and hence convert the "H" to "T" for the continuation of speech. For this reason also, such words are written with final Ta marbúta (ـة), because without this letter, we would be using a different spelling for the word whether it's at the beginning, or the end of the sentence, or when it is a subject or an object or being in genitive case... etc. This Ta Marbúta helps on stabilizing the spelling and yet changing the pronunciation between "H" and "T" since it is a merge of the two (if you did not notice the shape already).
The next word is لي which is actually a combination of a prefix and a suffix. The prefix being لـِ (for) and the suffix being ـي (me). Altogether, it's (for me). The prefix لـِ is classified under a family of articles which I've talked about before, namely أحرف الجر (articles of pulling/drawing), which cause a noun coming after them to have Kasrah (-i) under its end. However, since it is connected to a pronoun, ـي, this Kasrah does not show up and it is not written (sometimes in Arabic grammar books such instance is called Kasrah Muqaddarah كسرة مقدّرة, meaning "assumed Kasrah"). Be careful though from this article. There are لـِ articles in the Arabic language that occur on different occasions on different words and they have nothing to do with this one and do not do the same job on the following noun, or verb. Just to give an idea, one of these articles is called Lám Al-Sababiyyah (لام السببية) which acts as "to" in English to explain something, and there is Lám Al-Tawkíd (لام التوكيد) which translates to "Emphatic Lam" and it is used to emphasize a verb and give it strength in meaning, and finally we have also Lám Al-Amr (لام الأمر), which translates to "imperative Lám" and it is used with the imperative mode of the verb, at some instances.
The next word here, فيها, translates to "in her" as you can see above, and you might wonder: Why "her"? Well, this pronoun ـها (Há) refers back to a feminine object, and here it refers back to "war" (حرب). The word حرب is indeed a feminine word in Arabic, even though it does not end in Ta Marbúta. Another instance of feminine words that do not end in Ta Marbúta, we have also (شمس: šams: sun) which is feminine as well. Like its predecessor, the word فيها is a combination of a prefix (في: fí: in) and the suffix (ـها: há: her). It is worth noting though that the article في (which is also a pulling article حرف جر) does not merge with words, but only with articles and pronouns like ـها. If it comes before a regular word, it is written separately on its own, as في.

I believe the rest of the words are easy to comprehend by now and it's not necessary to explain; Right? Well, if this is not the case, drop me a line below and hopefully I shall contact you whenever I see it (after having my rest!). Good night from here تصبحون بخير.

August 1, 2019



Hi, I wish you a wonderful day and want to say thank you. It is amazing what you are doing here and I am impressed. I wished I would have found such a great language partner like you must be for your language partners.Thank you so much. I can not repeat it enough. Have a beautiful weekend.

  • 1413

Thanks :) glad it is beneficial to you :)

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