Guilty by association: 8 Arabic words you can’t hear without making a bolt for it

Published November 15th, 2016 - 13:05 GMT

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Over the years, global militant groups have done a good job of getting the public to associate their name with terrifying images of wars and explosions. But most of these groups picked a perfectly innocent Arabic word, then misappropriated it until the true meaning is lost to most people.

Let’s call a spade a spade - why name your group “the students” when you really impose brutal treatment of women and religious minorities? Why not give yourselves a truly scary name? Here are the Arabic language’s most misunderstood words, explained.

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The word “madrassa” has become synonymous with “the place where little Pakistani boys go to learn how to be suicide bombers and beat their sisters.” The actual meaning of the word in Arabic is much less scary - it simply means “school,” and for the most part this is where kids learn normal things, like math and science.
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Image 1 of 8:  1 / 8The word “madrassa” has become synonymous with “the place where little Pakistani boys go to learn how to be suicide bombers and beat their sisters.” The actual meaning of the word in Arabic is much less scary - it simply means “school,” and for the most part this is where kids learn normal things, like math and science.

(Source: AFP)

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“Al Qaeda”: Often translated as “the base,” it also means “the rule/principle.” So while this previously innocuous Arabic word is used to talk about the group that carried out the 9/11 attacks, “Al Qaeda” could also be describing something much more innocent, like grammar rules, or the rules of a game.
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Image 2 of 8:  2 / 8“Al Qaeda”: Often translated as “the base,” it also means “the rule/principle.” So while this previously innocuous Arabic word is used to talk about the group that carried out the 9/11 attacks, “Al Qaeda” could also be describing something much more innocent, like grammar rules, or the rules of a game.

(Source: AFP)

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“Taliban”: What’s with the education vocabulary gone awry? Known for their brutal treatment of Afghan women during their five-year reign of the country, the word “Taliban” simply means “two male students” in Arabic.
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Image 3 of 8:  3 / 8“Taliban”: What’s with the education vocabulary gone awry? Known for their brutal treatment of Afghan women during their five-year reign of the country, the word “Taliban” simply means “two male students” in Arabic.

(Source: AFP)

Enlarge
ISIS: Better known (and mocked) in the Arab world as Daesh, they did manage to besmirch the ancient Egyptian goddess’ legacy as the ideal mother and patroness of nature and magic. The rise of the militant group also threw several companies for a loop that had named themselves after the Egyptian goddess.
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Image 4 of 8:  4 / 8ISIS: Better known (and mocked) in the Arab world as Daesh, they did manage to besmirch the ancient Egyptian goddess’ legacy as the ideal mother and patroness of nature and magic. The rise of the militant group also threw several companies for a loop that had named themselves after the Egyptian goddess.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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“Allahu Akbar”: Meaning “God is great” in Arabic, this phrase conjures up images of bombers in the minds of Westerners. But most Arabs will tell you this phrase has myriad uses. Someone trying to sell you a cheap shirt for 50 dinar? Allahu Akbar. Someone cut you off in traffic? Allahu Akbar ya zalameh! Basically: Jeez! Are you kidding me?
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Image 5 of 8:  5 / 8“Allahu Akbar”: Meaning “God is great” in Arabic, this phrase conjures up images of bombers in the minds of Westerners. But most Arabs will tell you this phrase has myriad uses. Someone trying to sell you a cheap shirt for 50 dinar? Allahu Akbar. Someone cut you off in traffic? Allahu Akbar ya zalameh! Basically: Jeez! Are you kidding me?

(Source: AFP)

Enlarge
The Somalia-based militant group al-Shabaab tainted yet another innocent Arabic word: “the youth.” Known for bombings and kidnappings in east Africa, in the rest of the Arabic-speaking world, “al-shabaab” is more likely to be associated with the names of football teams.
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Image 6 of 8:  6 / 8The Somalia-based militant group al-Shabaab tainted yet another innocent Arabic word: “the youth.” Known for bombings and kidnappings in east Africa, in the rest of the Arabic-speaking world, “al-shabaab” is more likely to be associated with the names of football teams.

(Source: AFP)

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The most famous “Osama” might have ruined this name for a generation of baby boys, but it’s just one of several Arabic names meaning “lion.” Other names that have the same meaning? Assad (this one’s not so innocent now either), Layth, Haydar, and Wa’el.
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Image 7 of 8:  7 / 8The most famous “Osama” might have ruined this name for a generation of baby boys, but it’s just one of several Arabic names meaning “lion.” Other names that have the same meaning? Assad (this one’s not so innocent now either), Layth, Haydar, and Wa’el.

(Source: Shutterstock)

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“Jihad” might be the most misunderstood of the bunch. For the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, “jihad” is less about blowing up buildings than an inner struggle to be a better person. But just imagine the stress of being a mom with a little boy named Jihad, shouting his name when he gets lost in the airport - this might not end well.
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Image 8 of 8:  8 / 8“Jihad” might be the most misunderstood of the bunch. For the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, “jihad” is less about blowing up buildings than an inner struggle to be a better person. But just imagine the stress of being a mom with a little boy named Jihad, shouting his name when he gets lost in the airport - this might not end well.

(Source: Shutterstock)

Enlarge

1

The word “madrassa” has become synonymous with “the place where little Pakistani boys go to learn how to be suicide bombers and beat their sisters.” The actual meaning of the word in Arabic is much less scary - it simply means “school,” and for the most part this is where kids learn normal things, like math and science.

Image 1 of 8The word “madrassa” has become synonymous with “the place where little Pakistani boys go to learn how to be suicide bombers and beat their sisters.” The actual meaning of the word in Arabic is much less scary - it simply means “school,” and for the most part this is where kids learn normal things, like math and science.

(Source: AFP)

2

“Al Qaeda”: Often translated as “the base,” it also means “the rule/principle.” So while this previously innocuous Arabic word is used to talk about the group that carried out the 9/11 attacks, “Al Qaeda” could also be describing something much more innocent, like grammar rules, or the rules of a game.

Image 2 of 8“Al Qaeda”: Often translated as “the base,” it also means “the rule/principle.” So while this previously innocuous Arabic word is used to talk about the group that carried out the 9/11 attacks, “Al Qaeda” could also be describing something much more innocent, like grammar rules, or the rules of a game.

(Source: AFP)

3

“Taliban”: What’s with the education vocabulary gone awry? Known for their brutal treatment of Afghan women during their five-year reign of the country, the word “Taliban” simply means “two male students” in Arabic.

Image 3 of 8“Taliban”: What’s with the education vocabulary gone awry? Known for their brutal treatment of Afghan women during their five-year reign of the country, the word “Taliban” simply means “two male students” in Arabic.

(Source: AFP)

4

ISIS: Better known (and mocked) in the Arab world as Daesh, they did manage to besmirch the ancient Egyptian goddess’ legacy as the ideal mother and patroness of nature and magic. The rise of the militant group also threw several companies for a loop that had named themselves after the Egyptian goddess.

Image 4 of 8ISIS: Better known (and mocked) in the Arab world as Daesh, they did manage to besmirch the ancient Egyptian goddess’ legacy as the ideal mother and patroness of nature and magic. The rise of the militant group also threw several companies for a loop that had named themselves after the Egyptian goddess.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

5

“Allahu Akbar”: Meaning “God is great” in Arabic, this phrase conjures up images of bombers in the minds of Westerners. But most Arabs will tell you this phrase has myriad uses. Someone trying to sell you a cheap shirt for 50 dinar? Allahu Akbar. Someone cut you off in traffic? Allahu Akbar ya zalameh! Basically: Jeez! Are you kidding me?

Image 5 of 8“Allahu Akbar”: Meaning “God is great” in Arabic, this phrase conjures up images of bombers in the minds of Westerners. But most Arabs will tell you this phrase has myriad uses. Someone trying to sell you a cheap shirt for 50 dinar? Allahu Akbar. Someone cut you off in traffic? Allahu Akbar ya zalameh! Basically: Jeez! Are you kidding me?

(Source: AFP)

6

The Somalia-based militant group al-Shabaab tainted yet another innocent Arabic word: “the youth.” Known for bombings and kidnappings in east Africa, in the rest of the Arabic-speaking world, “al-shabaab” is more likely to be associated with the names of football teams.

Image 6 of 8The Somalia-based militant group al-Shabaab tainted yet another innocent Arabic word: “the youth.” Known for bombings and kidnappings in east Africa, in the rest of the Arabic-speaking world, “al-shabaab” is more likely to be associated with the names of football teams.

(Source: AFP)

7

The most famous “Osama” might have ruined this name for a generation of baby boys, but it’s just one of several Arabic names meaning “lion.” Other names that have the same meaning? Assad (this one’s not so innocent now either), Layth, Haydar, and Wa’el.

Image 7 of 8The most famous “Osama” might have ruined this name for a generation of baby boys, but it’s just one of several Arabic names meaning “lion.” Other names that have the same meaning? Assad (this one’s not so innocent now either), Layth, Haydar, and Wa’el.

(Source: Shutterstock)

8

“Jihad” might be the most misunderstood of the bunch. For the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, “jihad” is less about blowing up buildings than an inner struggle to be a better person. But just imagine the stress of being a mom with a little boy named Jihad, shouting his name when he gets lost in the airport - this might not end well.

Image 8 of 8“Jihad” might be the most misunderstood of the bunch. For the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, “jihad” is less about blowing up buildings than an inner struggle to be a better person. But just imagine the stress of being a mom with a little boy named Jihad, shouting his name when he gets lost in the airport - this might not end well.

(Source: Shutterstock)

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