Abu at-Tayyib Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi al-Kindi (ابو الطيب احمد بن الحسين المتنبي الكندي) was one of the greatest Arab poets. Nevertheless this post is not about his literary output but his long and difficult to pronounce name and about Arabic names and their meanings in general.
Let’s start from brief explanation. Unlike in Europe and western culture Arabs do not really have surnames or family names. Throughout the centuries they were using and still use chains of names instead, where usually the first word is the actual name of a person, followed by his or her father name, followed by grandfather and so on. Moreover giving a name to a new born child is quite important and very often reflects parents’ hopes for its character. It can be one of the common names which also carries specific meaning like Fawzia (victorious) or just a noun like Ibtisam (smile). What is confusing for many people not familiar with Arabic naming system is patronymic or it’s series. Words such as bin, ibn or ibnat, bint mean no more no less than son and daughter. In some cases becoming a parent for the first time changes the way people refer to one another and for instance Fawzia and Husayn can become Abu (father of) Hamza and Umm (mother of) Hamza alongside or instead of their given names. One of the most common Muslim Arab names is the combination of Abd (servant, slave) followed by one of the God’s name: Abd Allah (servant of God), Abd al-Latif (servant of the gentle). Additionally some people use an extra name (usually the very last one )to emphasise affiliation to their tribe or place of origin: al-Baghdadi (from Bagdad).
Frankly speaking combinations to name one person are endless. Thus no wonder it’s hard to remember some of them in full. But there is logic to this madness. Back in the days that was the only way to know where and which family one came from, was helpful while arranging marriages mainly because it prevented close relatives from starting a family and was also essential for instance in case of inheritance disputes.
However, coming back to al-Mutanabbi. What I hope, I correctly concluded his full name means: father of at-Tayyib (the good) Ahmad (more commendable) son of al-Husayn (diminutive of Hasan – handsome) al-Mutanabbi (nickname which means: the one who claimed to be, or wished to be a prophet) al-Kindi (name of the tribe he claimed to come from).
At the end some of my favourite Arabic names:
Usama – lion cub
Bashaar – bringer of glad tidings
Saddam – one who confronts
Saif al-Islam Muammar Gaddafi – sword of Islam long-lived Gaddafi (given name based on the قذف root which means: to throw, offend, insult or to row)
“I have a poor soul, a broken body, and the little bit of dignity that you have given me – I will sacrifice it all for the Revolution and for Islam.”
Those are words of Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei – Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a man with almost absolute power over his nation inside his country, a man who believes that he is solely responsible to God.
Ali Khamenei was born on 19 of April 1939 in the city of Mashhad – Iran’s spiritual capital and the destination of many Shia Muslim pilgrims. At the very young age of 11 years he decided to follow his father’s path and became a cleric. He also started to wear black turban and use title of Sayyid, a signs of direct descent from Prophet Muhammad. Khamenei received only seminary education and attended religious studies at the basic and advanced levels, inter alia under mentorship of Ruhollah Khomeini, the man he eventually succeeded as Supreme Leader. His future as a religious man had been determined. Though his way to absolute leadership was not the easy one.
According to his official website, Khamenei was arrested several times and sent into exile during Shah’s reign. Took significant part in 1979 Iranian Revolution and became close confidant of Ruhollah Khomeini himself, who the same year also appointed him to the post of Tehran’s Friday prayers Imam. Only one year later, in 1980 he became supervisor of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (an independent branch of Iran’s Armed Forces created to protect country’s Islamic system). And in 1981 was elected President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and re-elected to a second term in 1985. Before becoming the second most important person in the country Khamenei survived an attempted assassination in June 1981 which paralysed his right arm. On 4 of June 1989 at age 49 he ultimately reached for the highest office in the country and succeeded Ruhollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader after his death. Being recommended by his predecessor and therefore elected by the Assembly of Experts getting 60 votes out of 64.
During the time of his rule as President and Supreme Leader alike, Khamenei’s decisions and statements aroused much controversy. Just mention repression of various political groups in early 1980s, rejection of a bill aimed at reform the press law or disqualifying thousands of candidates for various state offices. Getting rid of the opponents goes even as far as accusing them of being magicians and invoking djinns. Also all his decisions and Supreme Leader himself are beyond any form of criticism, which is punishable. Despite this many Iranians, both influential and ordinary people often speak up their disapproval of his policies and since the beginning of his reign there have been a few major protests, including the 1994 Qazvin Protests during which the military opened the fire against the crowd killing around 40 people and injuring more than 400 or 2009 Iranian presidential election protests, when the people shouted “death to dictator” and teared up Khamenei’s pictures, among others. Moreover according to The New York Times in mid-August 2009 some unnamed group of reformist lawmakers appealed to the Assembly of Experts (the body responsible of supervising the Leader) to question his qualification to rule, followed by the second letter by Iranian clerics calling him dictator and demanding his overthrow.
Nevertheless Khamenei’s position is hardly at risk. He is still the person with absolute power thanks to his predecessor who gave him all the rights and support to remain the strong leader, the guardian of the Revolution and Khomeini’s vision of the Islamic country and it’s society. According to the constitution Supreme Leader is the head of state and chief commander of the armed forces, makes final decisions on foreign policy, economy, environment and everything else in the country. He has control over the judicial, executive and legislative departments of the government and of course the media. Khamenei managed to get superiority over the circle of the most powerful state bodies – the Guardian Council, whose members are directly or indirectly of his choice and whose role is to verify all candidates to the Parliament, the President and the Assembly of Experts, which from the other hand is in theory responsible for supervising Supreme Leader. But Khamenei’s strength does not only come from the constitution. Thanks to his previous service in various state offices and family connections (his daughter is married to the head of the Parliament) he created the network of strong supporters inside all state institutions including armed forces and major religious foundations. Moreover he has total financial independence from Parliament and the national budget due to control over Setad organization worth an estimated $95 billion.
No doubt many of Khamenei’s opponents are right accusing him of being Shah similar leader, the person who he used to oppose and fight against. No doubt he forgot some of the 1979 Revolution slogans, which he also used to stand for like democracy and greater government transparency. But there is also no doubt that Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei really believes in what he’s doing and considers himself as the Guardian of the Revolution and it’s legacy. After the attempted assassination he was meant to say that the God saved him for a reason.
And for those who would like to learn some more about Supreme Leader very interesting short documentary: