The Falaqa and the nun

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Falaqa is an untranslatable term, but should we translate it (or in court, as the late Said Seddiki would say), as long as everyone knows what it is? Finally, I’m talking about over 40s. As for the other …

There is no point in translating falaqa as falaque. It would not do him justice. So let’s keep falaqa, this word and this music that our ears know well.

The falaqa is part of our “traditions”, from the Maghreb to Mashreq, and all the old things that we can not get rid of. It was thought to have disappeared with rabies, the plague or the heartworm in Medina, but no.

We are told that in a douar near Chefchaouen, a fqih has just been arrested for practicing falaqa. A video captures this magical moment. A man holds a young boy in his arms while the fqih stick falls on the soles of the feet of the young victim.

This news is a brutal call to order. Falaqa is still among us. It survives, it survives. In certain Quranic schools (msid), as the story of Chefchaouen reminds us, and in certain houses. And I’m not even talking about police practices, which continue to be popular in Arab countries.

But what exactly are we talking about?

The root of the word, the verb “fallaq”, means to strike hard, to hurt, with a stone or a blunt object. When it’s the fqih’s stick or the danger that falls on your bare feet, it’s a good old falaqa. When it’s the classmate’s stone or derb that hits the top of your head, it becomes a “tafliqa”.

Many of us still carry, somewhere in the scalp, this tattoo, this unique trace, this so characteristic alopecia areata, which is tafliqa …

Most of them have also attended or undergone, at least once in their sore lives, a session with falaqa. I say “session” because it’s about long minutes of torture, with a ceremonial and a whole staging. They inevitably remember that this victim was lying on his back with a pole to hang his feet in the air, or simply (as in Chefchaouen) was lifted and carried by another executioner while the blows rained down on his bare soles …

In addition to the pain and the after-effects (bent legs, hard skin from stepping on the edge of the foot, lame gait) there is humiliation. The father of the family has the decency to do “it” individually, in a small room, without witnesses. The school principal makes it public in front of the classmates watching the program. The master can push the luxury as far as asking a boy to beat the victim. Which is not the best way to make strong friendships between kids …

And that’s not all.

There is also the “noun” (referring to the letter of the Arabic alphabet), this second barbarism, which is certainly known to be softer, where the child groups the fingers around the thumb (which becomes the point of the “noun”). In football, the noun means to hit the ball using the tip of the foot. But in class, that means the teacher will give you a few strokes with the “ruler” or stick at your fingertips. Early in the morning, especially in cold weather, it’s the kind of blow that tattoos your memory …

If the noun remained the specialty of the so-called modern school, the falaqa was much more widespread, and it was practiced (should the verb “practice” be inflected in the present?) All the way up to the artisans’ back shops, where, in Protected from Curious Eyes, maâlem could go after his apprentices’ feet.

So we knock and we knock. We strike for all reasons in the world, or none, but above all to educate. That is, to correct, to straighten out, “to make things fit properly”.

One day I saw one of my acquaintances slapping her child. He could not stand comments or protests. Me, he said, and for nothing my father locked me in and gave me the falaqa; so a slap to the side …

I told you above. Violence in general and falaqa in particular are diseases that our society cannot cure. You know why? Because fathers continue to equate this with “education.”

But it is for their own good that children are affected, they will tell you …

This is the reason why the parents of the children of Chefchaouen gave up pursuing the falaqa master, were arrested and convicted, but who escaped with a simple postponement. Someone must have whispered in their poor ears: “Behind the blows there is education and good intentions, so forgive fqih, he only wants good for your children!”

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