Blog Archive

Blog Archive – April, 2006

The Charm of Blackness

April 11, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

By Rachida Mohammedi

A child of the Sahara, an Arab woman, a poet, educated in an Islamic atmosphere, my values are carried to me in simple songs.

Among the most cherished of these is “Kul lil maleeha-ti fi al-khimari al-aswadi: Tell my charming lover--she with the black scarf…”

Through our folklore, anywhere across the wide Arab World, no one can deny how much we enjoy Arab popular songs and poems without a thought about which country these words came from. For us, the song and the poem are beyond any nation.

Kul lil maleeha-ti fi al-khimari al-aswadi, wherever it originated, reminds me that throughout our Arab culture, Black, when it covers the head and shoulders or filigrees our hands, is reserved for the idea of glamour.

Think about henna, that earthy dark paste we use to decorate our palms. Arabs are unable to speak about beauty and adoration, to recount love stories, or to recite a fervent poem without imagining henna on our lover’s hands and feet, without invoking the image of dark henna. Henna, that green plant whose Black essence gives Arab romance its inimitability and value. The darker the henna on the palms of one’s beloved, the more beautiful she is! This is in the realm of aesthetics and love.

What about Blackness in Arab public life? From the 6th to the 14th centuries, during the height of the Abbasid Empire, from Istanbul in Turkey to Lisbon in Portugal, when the world was speaking Arabic, the Abbasids ascribed Blackness to the legal system—the most advanced system of justice the world had known. The Abbasids, the civilization embodying the height of knowledge, innovation and aestheticism across the world, chose Black as the official color of their courts. Yes, the Black cloak worn by its judges, a symbol of the dignity and pride of the Abbasid justice system, is the precursor of the same Black garment (abayah) proudly shouldered by judges and lawyers up to today.

Does the world notice that the Arab woman and man’s common Black abayah is the origin of today’s legal robe? It is also the robe recognized as the symbol of justice worldwide. It is the same robe proudly worn by graduating students. Is there anyone who doesn’t dream of donning this gown when she or he receives their university degree? In our Abbasid culture, more than a thousand years ago, the aalam, scholar, was awarded this Black abayah as a signed of their academic achievement.

From the court of justice to the halls of the academy to the heart of Islam, Black symbolizes esteem. Consider how our holy Kabbah in Mecca is adorned solely in Black cloth. This color that enshrines the holiest site of Islam, expresses the sublime meaning of our Kabbah. This in turn expresses the high regard in which Black is held by Islam.

          From these historical facts to lines uttered by our poets, Black is beautiful. From Arab poetry, rich in the metaphor of Blackness, in its sweet treatment of beauty, to justice across the empire, Black has always been a symbol of pride, beauty, love and the sublime. Who else but we give Black such profound meanings? Compare these facts to others’ claims that everything white is perfect and right.

[ The Charm of Blackness ]


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