Friday, November 2

Ajami, ajami, what's in a name

"All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over an Ajami nor an Ajami has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white - except by piety and good action."

Muhammad, from his last speech to the Muslims

Ajami is the name of my neighbourhood. Names of Jaffa's old neighbourhoods are often derived of the names of the tribal families who first built their homes, or owned the lands on which they were constructed. No one actually decided to provide the neighbourhoods to be given those names, or they somehow developed over time.

Many streets in Jaffa did not have names. There were simply known, as often happens in villages and small towns, "next to the orange grove of e.g. the El Abid tribe or of the "AlMasris" or of the "Boukharys". The names point to the origin of the families: the El Abids were black Bedouin apparently brought over as slaves (abid) from Soudan in much earlier ages, the Masris came from Egypt, the Bukharys from Boukhara, many centuries ago.

During the 19th century Jaffa developed very quickly not only due to natural births and immigration from abroad (especially from Egypt), but mostly due to internal migration, when whole families from Nablous, Jerusalem, Um Al Fakhm and other places in the north of the country and Bedouin families from its southern regions moved to Jaffa.
Each family acquired lands, or rented them for many years from the owners, and settled as a tribal family on those lands, which then received the family's name; "the neighbourhood of so & so". Usually families married "within" according to the custom of the land, and the sons settled with their brides in the family compound or close to it. Over the time the neighbourhood developed which was then named for the named family.

Al Ajami started to be constructed as a neighbourhood for wealthy Muslim families in that time. In Arabic, "ajami" is someone who's silent, doesn't speak Arabic well or a stranger. In early times it was used to indicate a Muslim of non Arabic speaking origin, e.g. from Persia.

Over time it developed as a family name. I suspect the ElAjamis were the owners of the land or perhaps one of the first families who started to construct their homes on it. Thus the neighbourhood received its name.



Akiva said...

Very interesting.... there were also a lot of Jewish people living in Jafo in the 19th century (and before) as well,my great-great grandmother family lived there in Jafo in the 1880's,then she moved to Newe Shalom and then to their own property in Tel Aviv,Israel around 1907.

Jafo is of course part of Eretz Yisrael!

yudit said...

Neve Shalom started off as a Jewish neighbourhood, a part of Jaffa and a part of the Jaffa municipality, very much like Al Ajami: the quality of life in Jaffa's Old City had become rather unpleasant, people had enough money to move out to the pleasanter suburbs and they bought lands (see e.g. "Overthrowing Geography" by Mark LeVine or "Ir Shora, Ir Levana" by Rotbard) and constructed new neighbourhoods. The city of Tel Aviv really developed from some of these neighbourhoods.

Tel Aviv became a separate municipality only in the 1920-ies, during the British mandate.

To the best of my historical knowledge the State of Israel was declared in 1948, not in 1907

Whisper said...

But where in this discussion does my Neve Shalom/ Wahat al Salam fit in?

yudit said...

Wahat Al Salam - Neve shalom is the name of the mixed settlement close to Latrun.

"Neve Shalom" is also the name of one of the earlier parts of what later will be called "Neve Zedek", today a rather posh Tel Aviv neighbourhood.

I guess that's where the mix-up comes in