6:01 PM

A'yb -Shame

Wrote: American Muslima Writer |

This word A'yb (pronounced Eye-b) has many meanings in Arabic and here's the story how I first learned it:
Dunce-cap of shame...

My husband and I spent the night at my sister-in-law D.'s house (her husband was there too). It was fun and the next morning we were lounging around having breakfast and watching a movie when they get a phone call that our other sister-in-law M is coming over. She rushes around cleaning things, swooping breakfast plates to the kitchen and washing them, vacuuming the living room and picking up the couches from misplaces magazines and paraphernalia... although I'm helping her in her mad dash (as we all are) I asked her why she was freaking out. This is our sister in law. She looks at me with beautiful brows raised incredulously. "It's A'yb!"
"What's A'yb?" I ask back.
"A'yb is shamefulness. To be ashamed of something." She says and continues her "perfect house" clean up campaign. I follow her intrigued.
"But you didn't feel all this was A'yb for me so why for her?" I question. She smiles.
"You're not Arab. You're different. You don't mind the scatters at all out houses and you don't talk about the messes at our houses to others. You don't know us Arab women yet. We can be back biters. So we must rush not to show our A'yb to anyone so they have no reason to back bite. We make our houses perfect because that is how they SHOULD be. Anything less in an insult to them and to ourselves." She said. (Paraphrasing the long conversation between all four of us talking about this) . So Sister-in-law M came over and praised D's house greatly and we had lunch together. The whole time though I did feel special that she felt close enough with me not to feel I would back bite her about her house. But I thought it's sad that even between sisters there was no trust. They were so worried about appearances. It's almost obligatory to praise a person's house excessively in Lebanon. This A'yb matter also worried me because I'm kick-back when friends or close family come over and don't tend to do the "white glove test" before people come over. I started worrying what bad things were being said about me and my house behind my back. Sure before important dinners or something I would "Lebanese clean" but other-wise my house looked like any other house.

At sister-in-law M's house I would try to help her to clean up the breakfast dishes as it's expected to show closeness and warmth by helping to clean up with fellow sisters or family that you want them to think you're close to (and I am close to my in-laws I'm not just SHOWING help). But she would try to push me aside and take my sponge saying "A'yb go rest." Meaning: you are shaming me as my guest by working in my house. Now normally an American would back off and go rest feeling that you tried and you backed off gracefully and the host is happy to be hosting you. But as an Arab this is WRONG! You are to grab that sponge back, forcefully if need be, and force your hostess to get out of your way, while you clean her dishes. She will hover and try to fight back for the sponge but if you're determined enough she will feel a close bondness towards you because you are doing something good for her and helping her out. But be prepared for the consequences that if you do this once you are expected to do this every time. At M's house the first four times I let her beat me and I went and sat and then i didn't see her for a long time while she took all morning to clean the kitchen by herself. I was bored and regretted giving in. I talked to my husband about this and he told me what was expected of me to fight them back. So I tried it first at my husband's sister's house. She was cooking so I tentatively picked up her sponge behind her back and started furiously attacking the pans when i saw she didn't notice me. But WHOA as soon as she turned around she was like !!!!"AHH! A'yb!!! Give it to me! I'll do it! Go rest!" She tried to get the sponge out of my hand but i used my then wider girth to hold her out of reach with my hip as I continued to scrub. "Nonsense! I'm helping you! I'm your sister! You have to let me help you." I rushed unable to believe I was doing it, was holding off an Arab woman in her own kitchen. It felt like some important battle being conquered. She feebly tried again to make me stop but I brushed her off as they used to do to me. She went back to cooking as I polished off the dishes. It felt good. I was a part of them now.
Next time I was at M's house I started in on the dishes and my husband's brother (M's husband) tried to stop me but I brushed off his protests so he called in the heavy guns, his wife. M came rushing in protesting and assuming I would back off again. That was her mistake. I had won a battle I was not gonna loose the war!
"No no Put it down! I will do it." M says trying to elbow me aside.
"Khalas, it's easy for me!" I said sticking out my hip blocking her access to the sponge.
"NO! Go rest it's my responsibility." She says trying to sneak in the other side.
"I love to wash dishes though!" I protest and jut out the other hip scrubbing furiously all the while. She backs off a second but I know better.
"A'yb! Come on don't be silly. You're my guest!" She attacks a minute later after she LET me wash a few glasses and spoons.
"You're silly. It's my fun. I'm your sister!" I demand and I was amazed she backed off. But from then on I always had to wash dishes at everyone's house :D But it was worth it to make them like me more.

Another way they use A'yb here is for people or children showing off what they shouldn't be. Or wearing something inappropriate. If a small girl shows off her underwear (as small girls are prone to do) the mother rushes up to her pulls down her dress hissing "A'yb!" If a lady wears (as i used to do) sneakers with a dressy abaya it's A'yb, the people whisper behind her back.
I'm sure you all have heard other ways this is used.

PS: It's been A'yb for me that I haven't gotten back to the comments you wonderful people have left me but I have done it now and gotten to all those past posts you can go re-check them now and I apologise!

14 intelligent thoughts:

Umm Ibrahim said...

LOL, loved reading about how you battled with your sis in law over doing the dishes, very funny!

When we were in Algeria my 4 year old saw his 3 yr old cousin with no undies on, lying around in the house... my son was running around telling everyone, "I saw B's willy and it's very Ayb!" LOL

Najeeba said...

LOL, very very funny. Its a battle between cultures, right? This is not only the problem in Lebanon but in India also. Unclean houses are insults to the guests. I have seen my mother running around when someone announces their arrival.

Aalia said...

I just too realized that even if the sister is like, "no! dont do the dishes!" you're still supposed to. Before I was like, "ummm, are you sure?" and she would say, "yes yes! please go and relax!".

Now I feel bad for all the times I did go and relax!!

editor @ IJTEMA said...

Assalamu 'alaykum wa rahmatullah

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Shawna said...


I also run around like a chicken with my head cut off when I hear a visitor is coming. It was fun to read this post because I've been wondering all day if my hubby is going to call me to see if it's ok to have a friend over tonight. I would say yes but end up cleaning furiously while juggling a toddler and a baby lol.

I'm half-Lebanese. Not sure that makes a difference since my family never observed Ayb here in the States. But I don't recall ever being in a less-than-spotless home while in Lebanon. And I know that my visits there had a HUGE impact on how I deal with guests here. After a trip to Lebanon I find myself churning out ridiculous amounts of sweets as well as tea AND coffee when anyone shows up at my door. It always leaves me exhausted but satisfied. :)

As for the Ayb, I've spent many an agitated moment wondering what backtalk I was collecting during my latest pregnancy when my home was constantly cluttered and dirty due to a back injury. I actually had a friend (American) come over and help me clean more than once. I still cringe to think of it even though she's my best friend.

Sorry for the long post. Just am so amused. Nice blog sis! Came to it via ijtema.

American Muslima Writer said...

Ummm Ibrahim, hehehe glad you enjoyed the war. Hehehe that is too cute! I bet he was embarrassed (or his parents were). My daughter was swimming with my babay son in a paddling pool and he was of course nude so he was checking out his new findings and she was like "Ahhh! A'yb! He's got his weenie!" Me and Hubby cracked up laughing. Kids say such funny stuff. hehehe

American Muslima Writer said...

najeeeba that is cool that it's not just lebanon too then! It was definitly a war of cultures! A big ritual that you have to overcome to be accepted better.

Aalia: Oh man i still feel bad too but we can't beat ourselves up for the past lol. I still sometimes do that when I'm just so exhausted (these Emeratian hours make sure you're up at 1-3 am visitng on thurs night....) and I do NOT do dishes at 3am... no thank you.

American Muslima Writer said...

Editor at Ijtima: Thank you so much for featuring me! It's an honor that you like my work and I hope it amuses that much more greater of an audience. It has also given me and my fellow bloggers an interesting new place to search cool blogs on. Good work on your site! I reccomend you check the really awesome bloggers on my blogroll if you want a seriously great future post for your site. :)

American Muslima Writer said...

Welcome Shawna!!! Glad you found your way here!
Hahaha I know what you mean! You look forward to the compnay but no one looks forward to the "spotless" cleanup while dealing with kids. I've always been lucky enough to live far enough away from my in-laws that they annouce their arrival unlike when you live close by they just pop in without calling (as all guests don't call) and are expected to be perfectly ready.

AAHAHAHAHA yes I feel ya about dolling out the sweets and treats. It takes so much energy dserving it all but it's so satisfactory to see a complacent guest. I will blog this one later lol.

I hope your friends were considerate to take in your pregnant condition when viewing your home with their "radar" eyes. Sometimes peopel can be so cruel.

And I'm sure even if you were 1/8th Lebanese you would still be like that it's sooooo ingrained in the culture there to have spotless homes. It's the irony of my life that I marry into such a culture......

I love and always welcome long comments so feel free :) glad you stopped by you made me laugh too.

L_Oman said...

Cute post!

I guess we had 'ayb in our home growing up, but there was never a term put to it. Know what I mean?

We too would run around crazy mad when guests were coming to straighten up. That was an 'ayb!

Not sitting properly when wearing a skirt / dress was considered 'not nice.' That was an 'ayb!

Talking over someone was rude - another 'ayb!

I think there are 'aybs in all cultures for sure! I like this post! :)

Jana said...

Salaam sis! Hilarious post. Parents seem to use the word '3ayb' as an excuse for absolutely everything they don't want their kids to do :D

Since you're familiar with Lebanese culture, I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on this post I did about the hijab in Lebanon:

Jazakallah khair¬

American Muslima Writer said...

l_oman: lol great examples lol. definitly A'yb all of them!!! hehehe. Yes so many things are just thrown in there as A'yb.

Jana: I find myelf as a parent using this word more and more.
"Put your feet down, A'yb!"
"Go brush your hair first before going out, A'yb!" lol. OK I will check out your link :) Welcome to my blog too.

Susanne said...

I was amused reading this post! So cute visualizing the who-will-do-the-dishes "war." It's great to know these things in case I ever visit an Arab country. Cultural things are fascinating. I'm glad I found your blog today. :-)

Anonymous said...

wow.. i'm very

enjoy reading your post. great.

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