Ever since Google came out with their Autocomplete feature in their search results in 2008, people have been fascinated the suggested search queries that populate below the search bar as they type. Google is known to use the most common search queries related to keywords you are typing in to auto populate the suggestion box and this is no different in the Arab world. Just by looking at what appears in this box you can quickly get an idea of some of the most common things people are searching for in Google. In this article we explore some of the most common questions Arabs are asking by examining the suggestions that show up in different countries in the Middle East when you start typing in a question like “How do I …” or “What is …” in Arabic. You will probably find many of these quite interesting.
كيف احسب عمري (How do I calculate my age?) (Saudi Arabia):
Image Credit: Melanie Davies
The tech savvy individuals of Saudi Arabia seem to be encountering an issue that might seem a little strange to Westerners. Why are so many people having trouble figuring out how old they are? Why would someone ask, how do I calculate my age? Unfortunately, this is the kind of confusion that occurs when the official calendar of your country isn’t based on the Earth’s journey around the Sun, but on the phases of the Moon instead.
The Islamic Calendar is the lunar calendar which is used by Muslims around the world to determine start of religious holidays, such as Ramadan, and when to embark of the Hajj, the obligatory pilgrimage Muslims take to Mecca during their lifetime. Because the calendar is based on the phases of the Moon, the calendar, which is twelve months long, is only around 354 or 355 days long. This causes holidays and celebrations to be roughly 11 days earlier every year and also causes a massive discrepancy in dates with the Gregorian Calendar, which is the current international standard. It doesn’t help that the Islamic Calendar is also about 600 years behind the Christian calendar, because it starts on the Hijra, the year in which the Prophet Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina.
لماذا يكره الجن التمر (Why do Genies hate dates)? (UAE):
Image Credit: Daniel R. Blume
With Ramadan 2014 recently coming to a close, it is not surprising to see that one of the more popular searches in the United Arab Emirates concerns one of the most popular food staple of the holy month. But what do genies have to do with it?
Dates, outside of those embarked upon by romantic interests, are fruits harvested from the date palm, which were originally cultivated around the Persian Gulf in ancient times. Traditionally, many Muslims use these fruits to break their fasts during Ramadan for their immense health benefits, especially after having fasted. They also eat them in emulation of the Prophet Muhammad, who used them to break his fast during the dawn of Islam.
The djinn are, in Arabian folklore, creatures who cause mischief throughout the desert and who inhabit a dimension parallel to ad-Dunya, the world in which living humans exist, and, according to the googling citizens of UAE, really dislike dates. Many kinds of misfortune are attributed to djinn, such as mental illness thought to be possession and thievery, but they have also been said to be the source of fantasy and theatrical inspiration for many and can sometimes be very benevolent. The singular word for djinn, “jinni”, is the source of the word “genie”. Although we could not find the exact myths, apparently genies are fearful of or hateful of dates and that is one of the several means to protect yourself against them.
كيف اعرف اني محسود (How do I know if people are jealous of me?) (Jordan):
Image Credit: Michael & Sandy
Because of the Arabic root system, the translation of this search into English is a tad peculiar. Why would the people of Jordan be concerned with if people are jealous of them? Why should they care?
The word محسود (maHsoud), while most easily translated in English as “jealous”, is actually more akin to the word “evil”. Belief in the “evil eye”, known in Arabic as ‘Ayn al-Hasoud (عين الحسود) is very prominent throughout the Middle East and is based in Qur’anic tradition. Essentially, the evil eye spreads curses and hexes onto people through sight, which is often interpreted as a result of envy or jealousy.
There are a plethora of charms and talismans used to ward of the evil eye and jealousy, but detecting when you’ve been “cursed” might be a tad more difficult for a lot of Jordanians than actually keeping the curse at bay.
ما هو الشفان (What is oatmeal)? (Egypt and Lebanon):
Image Credit: Daniella Segura
To many Westerners, this question might seem a little odd (like most of the questions in this article). Who doesn’t know what oatmeal is? Apparently a lot of Egyptians and Lebanese. Not much is known about oats before the time of Christ, and the grains grow best in cold, moist environments, criteria neither Egypt nor Lebanon fulfill. Generally speaking, perhaps because of the growing climate, oatmeal is not very common throughout the Middle East, which could be contributing to the popularity of this question.
كيف اسوي ايميل (How do I set up an email account)? (Saudi Arabia):
Image Credit: Ian Lamont
Statistically speaking, Saudis are among the most socially-active groups online, especially on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. But, if the Kingdom’s citizens are such masters of the internet and social butterflies online, why are they having so much trouble setting up email accounts?
Considering Saudi Arabia is ranked third in the world, in terms of smartphone penetration and usage, it seems highly unlikely that Saudis don’t know how to create an email account. But, according to the search frequency of this question, it may be a plausible result of technological catch-up. Saudi Arabia has been trying to push for modernization in its reforms and practices for a few decades now, but the government has seen some resistance from more conservative and extreme factions in the country. In fact, a lot of social and technological reform, in particular, was stunted for years due to extremist activity, including the capture of the Grand Mosque in 1979.
If you expand the Google search a little, you will see that Saudis are also not just wanting to know how to make email accounts, but they are asking how to do it on their various devices, like their smart phones or their iPads.
ماذا يوجد داخل الكعبة (What’s inside of the Ka’aba)? (Jordan):
Image Credit: Fraz Ismat
It appears the mass Muslim majority of Jordan is more than a little curious about what is inside one of the holiest sites in Islam. Al-Ka’aba is, essentially, a cube-like black building at the heart of al-Masjid al-Haram, the holiest mosque in Islam, in the heart of the city of Mecca, considered the holiest city in Islam because it is the city in which the Prophet Muhammad was born received his revelation of the Quran from Gabriel. The building is an essential part of Islamic traditions, as this is the place Muslims all around the world face when performing their prayers. It is forbidden for non-Muslims to enter Mecca and so there is no way to see al-Ka’aba in person without being a Muslim. With most of Jordan being Muslim and the Hajj (Pilgrimage) to Mecca, being obligatory for Muslims, many Jordanians are wondering what exactly is inside the holy site.
Al-Ka’aba was built by the Prophet Ibrahim and is stated in the Quran to the be the first place of worship built for the one god, Allah. The door to the ancient building is usually locked, only unlocked for special occasions, and usually only for people of very high status, such kings. Inside, in the east corner of the structure, rests the “Black Stone” which establishes the Qilba, the direction in which all Muslims pray and are buried.
ما هو الشيء الذى ليس له بداية ولا نهاية ؟ (What is the thing that has no beginning and no end)? (Palestine):
Image Credit: rana ossama
This is kind of a deep question. From the search results presented, it’s a question which weighs heavily on the minds of Palestinians who are looking for answers to the universe through religion.
Considering Palestine is a part of the Abrahamic “Holy Land”, it is no mere coincidence that this piety has continued and manifested itself online. The declared capital of Palestine, Jerusalem, is one of the holiest cities in all of the Abrahamic tradition. The question of a being without a beginning or an end is one that has its philosophical roots far from the 21st century. It is probably one of the oldest questions in human history.
ما هو الاندرود (What is the Android)? (Egypt):
Image Credit: etnyk
Showing up in second for Google search’s autosuggestion field for the words “ما هو” (What is…), Egypt has been asking about the android, a lot. No, they are not asking about the humanoid robots that have littered science fiction for years, but about the phone which is creeping its way into the pockets of Egyptians.
The android mobile platform is Google’s phone, which is currently the most widely-used mobile interface in the world. Egyptians follow the trend of preferring android over the other operating systems.
لماذا ندرس الفروق الفردية (Why do we study individual differences)? (Egypt):
Image Credit: fady habib
In light of political instability and tension between groups, as exacerbated by the ousting of Mohamed Morsi last summer, it is not surprising that this is one of the most popular searches in Egypt. Apparently, a great deal of Egyptians are seeking to advance the dialogue by asking about the very thing which is dividing people politically and which has been the root of social tensions throughout history: individual differences. The recent election of President el-Sisi has led to a serious crackdown against groups which are viewed as politically dissident and against various news outlets, in particular the Al-Jazeera network, exacerbating a socio-political issue whose solution is not exactly clear.
In psychology and anthropology, there are two main camps in which a society can fall into and the values of those societies vary wildly from one another: individualism and collectivism. The countries of Euro-America and the West are decidedly individualistic in nature, placing emphasis on personal achievement over the goals of a group. Egypt is not an example of one of these societies and instead cultural value is placed upon achieving the goals of the society. More extreme examples of this behavior are the basis of communism. However, in order for a community to thrive, it must know how to use all of its components and this could be a potential reason Egyptians are studying the differences between them.
لماذا بجري العلماء التجارب (Why do scientists conduct experiments)? (Saudi Arabia):
Image Credit: zhouxuan12345678
While the answer to this question should be obvious, especially in a country with a literacy rate of over 85%, the googling citizens of Saudi Arabia seem to be very curious about why scientists are performing experiments. The results of this search did not lend themselves to easy answers as to why this search is so popular.
كيف تحك الزرافة اذنها (How does the giraffe scratch its ear)? (Palestine):
Image Credit: Drriss & Marionn
In case you are wondering, this is how a giraffe scratches its neck.
All images in this post are from Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons