09 August 2006

Peace be upon the Middle East, peace be upon all of us

Frederick Burnaby in his 1877 classic On Horseback Through Asia Minor has a short account of a nite time incident outside of Üsküdar (Scutari, a district of Istanbul). While waiting for his Turkish servant to return from an errand, Burnaby sits on a grave in a cemetery by the road. Hearing footsteps behind him and being suspicious of his surroundings, Burnaby grasps his revolver, but the stranger, who turns out to be the grave-digger, salutes him with the words “Peace be with you”.

The most likely language a grave-digger would have used under those circumstances would have been Turkish, which Burnaby could apparently speak. But what got me initially puzzled was that there is no such salutation in Turkish. It took a while before I realized that the grave-digger must have said selamün aleyküm, the traditional Middle Eastern salutation that the Turks adopted from the Arabic as-salamu alaykum, which is shalom aleichem in Hebrew.

The greeting means "peace be upon you". Burnaby, rather than give the original wording of the salutation he heard, which his English readers would not have understood, preferred its translation.

As is usually the case with many Arabic phrases used in Turkey, most Turks don’t know the meaning of selamün aleyküm, but they use it nevertheless out of custom. However, the phrase is now considered old fashioned and its use has been declining.

I will post more on Burnaby’s book at another time.


Duane said...

So it is with most loanwords and phrases. We all use them, usually without knowing their meaning or origin. I once heard someone insist that "Gesundheit" was an English word. And, of course, by one way of looking at it, it is but not in the way this particular person thought.

Candy Minx said...

This is a beautiful sentiment. I look forward to hearing more.

peace be upon us all...for sure

Roger B. said...

I find it a little ironic that the greeting "peace be upon you" is used so widely across the Middle East (and beyond) at this troubled time.

Peace be upon us all.