x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

How to write Arabic numbers and how the Abrahamic faiths are linked

Why numbers flow the way they do and the similarities between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Andrew Henderson / The National
Andrew Henderson / The National

Dear Ali: I have recently begun to learn to read and write Arabic to help me feel even more a part of the culture. However, I'm mystified as to why numbers are written from left to right instead of right to left. Can you explain? AF, Abu Dhabi Dear AF: I must admit I'm not good with numbers, but I know Arabs haven't always read numbers from left to right. When I was in school, we learnt to write from right to left, and read numbers that way too.

While numerals are now written from left to right, they are still read from right to left. Let me explain. Whereas the European system begins with the higher value, Arabic starts with the lower value. For example, in English you would say the number 24 "twenty-four", whereas we would say "four and twenty". Sequences of digits such as telephone numbers are read from left to right, as in English. I think we adapted this method to make international communication easier, especially in business.

The irony of this is that Arabs did so much for the study of mathematics. Did you know the number zero came from Arabic? So did algebra. Yet because Arabs were inconsistent in the pursuit of these studies, the theories found new brains elsewhere in the world that embraced and developed them. Also, have you ever noticed that when using your calculator, whichever number you type starts from right to left? Interesting, eh?

Dear Ali: I was discussing with some Muslim friends the differences in the holy Quran and the Bible. But after listening to them, I was wondering what the similarities are? I would like to know your opinion. GG, Dubai Dear GG: It's good to know about the differences, but even better to focus on the similarities since they show how the three Abrahamic faiths are linked. Muslims generally feel an affinity with our Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters. We feel that our religion is a continuation of the other two.

The holy Quran and the Bible have a lot in common. Both are based on the premise that we need a faith and recognise the Prophets Abraham (Ibrahim) and Moses (Mosa), as well as Jesus (Issa) (peace on them all), who we believe performed miracles. Both prohibit the consumption of pork and any meat not slaughtered in a merciful manner. The kosher laws in the Old Testament are very similar to our halal laws, and in the Middle East consider the guidelines Christian, though many Christians no longer follow them.

Another similarity is the idea of a day of judgment, when good deeds are rewarded and evil actions punished. We refer to heaven as jannah, meaning paradise. We also believe in hell and the existence of Satan, which in Arabic is pronounced Shaytan. In both religions, the angel Gabriel (Jibreel) plays a crucial role. He told Mary (Maryam) that she was to give birth to Jesus and was also the angel who revealed the holy Quran to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in a cave. That is one busy angel - not to mention multilingual! You see, my friend, there are a lot of similarities. We might still have differences, but I think debate is healthy and keeps our minds open. Our faith even advises that the differences between the different points of view are a mercy, and I agree.

Arabic: Saameh ni English: Forgive me When you want to say sorry you can say "ana aasif", which means "I'm sorry". But if you want to make it more personal, you might say "saameh ni", which means "forgive me". In a previous column, the language lesson was "arjook", which means "please". If we put these together, it becomes: "saameh ni, arjook," - "forgive me, please". If I have ever made my editors or readers mad or upset: "samhooni arjookom" (the plural).