I have been collecting these as part of my research for BABYLON, my play about the looting of the Iraq Museum for the Tricycle Theatre. They are from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Berber and Bedouin tribes. It's interesting how proverbs give you an insight into a society in very few words. These are some of my favourites:
An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
Sometimes you need to sacrifice your beard in order to save your head.
Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.
A stone thrown at the right time is better than gold given at the wrong time.
Experience is a comb which nature gives to men when they are bald.
A drowning man is not troubled by rain.
Doubt is the key to knowledge.
One pound of learning requires ten pounds of common sense to apply it.
The night hides a world, but reveals a universe.
When the cat and mouse agree, the grocer is ruined.
At the narrow passage, there is no brother and no friend.
I against my brother, I and my brother against our cousin, I, my brother and our cousin against the neighbours, All of us against the foreigner.
Except for my father and my mother everybody lies.
Exile is the brother of death.
If you open the eyes of a blind man he wants to go back to the darkness.
Who is brave enough to tell the lion that his breath smells?
A man's servant can live for a hundred years; the slave of a woman dies in six months.
Knowledge without patience is like a candle with no light.
As soon as a man gets new trousers, he thinks about a new wife.
Everyone thinks his own spit tastes good.
Fear those who do not fear God.
He is still alive because he cannot afford a funeral.
He who has only one enemy, meets him everywhere.
If a man would live in peace, he should be blind, deaf, and dumb.
If you enter the city of the blind, cover your eyes.
If you really have to sin, then choose a sin that you enjoy.
In the hotel of decisions the guests sleep well.
Injustice all round is justice.
It is better to be in chains with friends, than to be in a garden with strangers.
It takes two days to learn everything about a man; to know animals you will need more time.
Write kindness in marble and write injuries in the dust.
The bigger a man's head, the worse his headache.
The earth is a host who kills his guests.
The mediator in a fight gets all the blows.
The wise man sits on the hole in his carpet.
There are four things every person has more of than they know; sins, debt, years, and foes.
When a lion is old, he becomes the plaything of jackals.
I am a prince and you are a prince; who will lead the donkeys?
Better a handful of dry dates and content therewith than to own the Gate of Peacocks and be kicked in the eye by a broody camel.
He who eats alone chokes alone.
If power is for sale, sell your mother to buy it. You can always buy her back again.
One is better off seated than standing. lying than seated, asleep than awake, and dead than alive.
Seek counsel of he who makes you weep, and not of he who makes you laugh
There is no greater misfortune than your own.
Trust makes way for treachery.
Kiss any arm you cannot break, and pray to God to break it.
He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool, shun him. He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a child, teach him. He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep, wake him.
He who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise, follow him.