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Understanding Moojaamalah
Culture, Expat Corner

Understanding Moojaamalah 

If you haven’t heard this term by now you would have undoubtedly experienced this it in action.  Translated as courtesy, the term moojamalah is most definitely used here in Sudan in a courteous way!   However, the courtesy behind this word is only half the story.

Sudanese people have a long reputation of being hospitable, warm, and generous, among a plethora of favorable characteristics.  You may have seen some Sudanese speaking with each other in an aggressive or emotional manner but do not be fooled, this is only a culturally acceptable way of speaking to each other.  The truth is that the most heated of arguments can easily be quelled with the magic words: ma’alaysh; also translated and understood as “sorry”.

The people of Sudan do not like unnecessary problems, especially with those whom they know.  It may be for this very reason that moojamalah has become a well-known custom.  The REAL definition of moojamalah can be found somewhere between courteous speech and a white lie.  Did you ever see that movie where, for some strange reason, nobody could lie?  Everyone could only speak the truth!  Imagine all the damage that was done if a husband is asked by his wife how she looks and he promptly replies, “you look like crap”.  Or let’s say you are enjoying your breakfast and someone who you know but really can’t stand walks by and might want to join you and you say, “take a hike because if you come to eat with us, I may lose my appetite”.

Needless to say, in a country and culture where relationships are excessively valued, the above scenarios probably wouldn’t go down so well.  More than that, it is probably the equivalent of social suicide in a country which still harbors village tendencies of excessive gossip or “news dissemination”.  So, a little fibbing goes a long way for a politically bright and social future.  Not to mention to keep the overall peace and calm.

The roots of the practice of moojamalah in Sudan?   Who knows, but one can speculate like many of Sudanese customs, it may have originated from an Islamic belief and practice.  In Islam “lying” is deemed acceptable in several situations.  Two of them are notably to your wife in order to make her happy – through complementing her on her food or looks and such– and in an effort to reconcile two conflicting parties. A noble means to a justifiable end perhaps but like many cultural ways in Sudan, this Islamic practice may have been taken to the extreme and is now applied across the board.  So the next time you walk into a room and see a bunch of people eating and then jump up and say to you, tafadal, tafadal (meaning: please welcome, join us)… be careful because behind the smiles and fervor of the invitation may just be some good old fashioned moojamalah!

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