The literal meanings of common phrases of courtesy in Arabic are so much more elaborate than the rest of the world. They are beautifully rhymed and phrased short little sentences that reflect so much about our culture. Respect and proper greetings are pillars in our social fiber. We smile, say hello, and ask about the other’s person’s day all in a cordial manner. Yet the most beautiful of expressions, I find, is “ya’tik el a’fye, a shortened version of Allah ya’tik el a’fye (may God give you health and vigor). Most people translate a’fye as only health, but I believe it has more depth to it. Soha in Arabic means health, and a’fye means health and vitality, vigor, strength, or energy.
Symbolic gestures make life all more pleasurable, even when we know they are purely made out of politeness, or out of habit. Somehow I believe that this courteous greeting is truly sincere. It is often said to someone who is hard working, whose labor we esteem, who works long hours, and works a tiresome job. The wish of health has always been genuine from one human being to another. Ya’tik el a’fye is telling someone that you know that sometimes work can take a toll on ones life, and hence may God give them the strength and energy to carry on dutifully with their job. An absolutely beautiful, heart warming greeting expressing, a recognition of hard work, appreciation, and the human every day struggle of making ends meet.
One always replies to such blessing by saying “Allah y3a’fik” (God bless you with good health and vigor in life). I love that we still continue to exchange many of the rituals of these humane greetings. There is so much more lying in between those two words, then the ear can hear, yet the heart can appreciate. What it really means is: I wish you great health and prosperity. You were born to live life and be happy. I wish you peace gracefully and humbly. Your strength is a virtue of that there’s no doubt. May God keep you mindful of his special ways. The Gift of health is the best one can receive, may you always be fit to carry on your job.
As Virgil wrote almost 2030 years ago, “The greatest wealth is health.” Thus I wish you the ultimate wealth of all, your health and the vigor to carry though in life with it in dignity.
A beautiful tune called ya3tik el 3afieh by The Cosmic Analog Ensemble: