July 2008

I’ve always had a love of physics and mathematics. In 1983 I won a scholarship to read physics at Trinity College, Oxford, and graduated in 1986 (I tell you this not to brag but to demonstrate my comments are not out of ignorance). It seems like a lifetime ago. Since then I have worked entirely in the field of IT but have kept up my interest in physics and also have read widely in the field of human development, the history of science, and other subjects that you will find in the pop science section of good bookshops.

As an agnostic at the time (in terms of both religion and hard-core atheists)  I took what is well established from these books and left the hand-waving for what it was.  In some subjects there is much to learn,  in others and with some particular authors, there is far too much hand-waving for someone used to the scientific rigours of physics. Evolutionary psychology and language development seem to be subjects that are polluted with far too much hand-waving combined with a paucity of evidence.

Some time later I became a muslim (that’s a story for another day) and now,  still keeping an eye on the pop science section, I engage in debate at work in these subjects. Why, I ask my colleagues at work, do you care about people’s actions? Richard Dawkins, who seems to be the main protagonist in terms of driving my colleagues’ lines of thought, says that ‘there is no such thing as good and evil’, and yet he claims that raising a child in a religion is ‘child-abuse’. Surely, I ask them, these propositions are contradictory? In a world where good and evil do not exist,  is it really meaningful to accuse anyone of any sin at all?

I asked one colleague where he thought his morals derived from. After a couple of weeks he said that they had evolved, which seems to be a common opinion for protagonists of his persuasion.  So, I said, they have developed through a random process in a random world in the strata of self-organising complex systems called animals and human beings. Surely this means that your morals have no underlying authority; there is no, as Dawkins says, real good or evil?

Hence these worldviews are often not self-consistent, a basic flaw in any proposed theory. For many atheists of Dawkins’ ilk seem to be offended by muslims and our beliefs. And yet, if they really believed their own theories, they would not have any feelings that one system of morals was ultimately, in the great scheme of things, ‘superior’ to any other.

When I became a muslim, and later with the birth of my daughter, I was presented with the problem: how do you transliterate عبد الحقّ and تقى   ?

As for my name  عبد الحقّ I decided on Abdulhaq but other options were Abdalhaqq, AbdelHaque and combinations thereof. For my daughter my wife and I selected Tuqa.

So what factors were involved in my decision?

  • It should indicate the approximate pronounciation of the name even to non-arabic speakers
  • Abdulhaqq is a closer transliteration in terms of letter-by-letter and hence is better than AbdelHaque

I chose not to put the doubled-q because it seemed confusing to non-arabic speakers. I chose Abdulhaq over Abdalhaq but we cannot say that one is more correct than the other. From the point of view of arabic grammar both an ‘a’ and a ‘u’ are possible for vowels on the d.

Arabic speakers will note that the initial letter `ayn is omitted in the transliteration. Traditionally the word `abd is transliterated as Abd when in a name, as non-arabic speakers cannot pronounce and usually do not even hear the `ayn anyway.

For Tuqa there was less choice and the other alternative was to use a k instead of the more scholarly q. We chose q and we have found that her teachers, for instance, have no problem reading the name.

By the way, humorously, when I travelled to Syria to get married (which was 4 years after becoming a muslim) my wife’s family asked her: Why did you choose a name for him that is so difficult to pronounce !?

I’ve just finished reading Arabic for Designers, by Mourad Boutros .

I found it both interesting and entertaining.  Almost entirely based on analysis of examples culled from the press, advertisements and signage,  it illustrates the difference between good and bad logos and layout when translating between English and Arabic.

Although someone who does not understand Arabic will find much of interest, an understanding of Arabic is really required in order to gain full benefit from the examples.

One logo which Mourad did not mention but which I think is a good example of the translation into Arabic is that of CNN:

CNN arabic logo

CNN arabic logo

For those who can’t read Arabic, the text CNN in red has been reinterpreted as 3 clear Arabic letters by the placing of the dots around them.  The resultant Arabic says ‘bilarabiyya’, meaning ‘in Arabic’.

Edit 1/2009:  I found this nice photo set of arabic logos of some well-known brands:


One of the primary reasons that many Americans have antipathy to Islam is a lack of knowledge of what Islam is. An apposite embodiment of that is a patch I saw while searching for ‘arabic’ on ebay. It is meant to be sewn onto a jacket, and is meant to be of militaristic appearance. It is clearly designed to appeal to, let’s say, a certain sort of American man:

Kaafir patch / badge

The arabic has the correct spelling but is back to front! In transliteration, what should be alkaafir has become rifaakla.