Arabic Language Blog

The Arabic Art of Speaking with the Eyes Posted by on Apr 10, 2012 in Arabic Language, Culture, Vocabulary

Tongues have their language.

But الأعيـــــــــن (the eyes) are endowed with their own kind of language as well.

Whatever اللِّســــــــــان (the tongue) is denied to express through plain words, the eye is at liberty to convey with the utmost ease, subtlety, and, yes, even eloquence!

To help us decipher the cryptic language of the eyes, we turn to an Andalusian Maestero who elevated this subliminal language to a fine art in its own right.

The Spanish-born Imam, scientist, and philosopher, whose tongue and eye-sight were so sharp and whose pen was so mighty as to deserve by friends and foes the deferential nickname of “مِنجنيــــــــق العرب” (“The Catapult of Arabs”) and “مِنجنيــــــــق المغرب” (“The Catapult of the Maghreb”):

That, ladies and gents, is the sophisticated “Weapon of Mass Instruction” readily found whenever needed: ابن حـــــــــــــــزم الأندلســـــــــــــي (Ibn Hazm Al-Andalusi)!

“الإشـــــــــــــــــــــــــارة بالعيــــــــــــــــــــــــــــن”
(“Of Hinting with The Eye“):

This is the Ninth Chapter of Ibn Hazm’s “طــــــوق الحمامـــــــة” (“The Ring of the Dove”), written in 1022 A.D.
Coincidentally, 1022 A.D. is the same year Robert II of France, called “The Pious”, would start burning Catharists at the stake in the Southern city of France, Toulouse, located then at not such a great distance from the Muslim-ruled city of قرطبــــــــة (Córdoba), Ibn Hazm’s Spanish hometown, which was by contrast widely famous for its religious tolerance towards Jews and Christians

♦ Ibn Hazm says:

« After التعريـــــــــض (verbal allusion), once the lover’s advance has been accepted and an accord established, the next following step consists in hinting with لحـــــــــظ العيـــــــــن (the glance of the eye.)

Glances play an honourable part in this phase, and achieve remarkable results.

By means of a glance the lover can be dismissed, admitted, يُــــــــــوعَدُ ويُهــــــــدَّدُ (promised and threatened), upbraided, cheered, commanded, forbidden.

A glance will lash the ignoble, and give warning of the presence of الرَّقيـــــــــب (the spy.)

A glance may convey laughter and sorrow, ask a question and make a response, refuse and give-in short, each, one of these various moods and intentions has its own particular kind of glance, which cannot be precisely realized except by ocular demonstration.

Only a small fraction of the entire repertory is capable of being sketched out and described, and I will therefore attempt to describe here no more than the most elementary of these forms of expression.

        • To make a signal with the corner of the eye is to forbid the lover something;
        • To droop the eye is an indication of القبـــــــــــول (consent)
        • To prolong the gaze is a sign of التَّـــــــوجع والأسَـــــــــف (suffering and distress)
        • To break off the gaze is آيـــــــــة الفرح (the mark of joy)
        • To make signs of closing the eyes is an indicated threat.
        • To turn الحدقـــــــــة (the pupil of the eye) in a certain direction and then to turn it back swiftly, calls attention to the presence of a person so indicated
        • A clandestine signal with the corner of both eyes is سُـــــــــؤال (a question)
        • To turn the pupil rapidly from the middle of the eye to the interior angle is a demonstration of refusal
        • To flutter the pupils of both eyes this way and that is نهـــــــــي عـــــــام (a general prohibition)
        • The rest of these signals can only be understood by actually seeing them demonstrated.

You should realize that the eye plays the role of a messenger, and that through it all the beloved’s intention can be apprehended. The four senses besides are also gateways of القَــــــلب (the heart), and منــــــافذ نحــو النَّفـــــــس (passages leading to the soul); the eye is however the most eloquent, the most expressive, and the most efficient of them all. »


The earliest medical description of the eye known in history, from a ninth-century work by حُنيـــــــــــن ابن اسحــــــــــاق (Hunayn ibn Ishaq), the renown scientist at the helm of بَيْتُ الحِكْمَــــــــــــــــــــــةِ (Beyt Al-Hikma.) The 12th-century manuscript displayed above is available to the public at the Institute for the History of Arab–Islamic Science in Frankfurt, Germany

* * *

In light of the ongoing heart-wrenching crisis in Syria, a poem dedicated to الشَّعــــب السُّــــــــوري (the Syrian people), by the late Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish: “طــــــوق الحمامـــــــة الدمشقــــــــــــيّ” (“The Damascus Ring of the Dove”), inspired by the title of the magnificent work of Ibn Hazm Al-Andalusi, which includes the sublime chapter on the “Art of Hinting with the Eye”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Keep learning Arabic with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it