The Zebiba

Posted on Thursday 10 May 2007

Many Muslim Egyptian men have prayer bruises on their foreheads.

Some of them are quite large and pronounced.

I have spent some time looking at people as I sit in public places, and I have watched men pray.

From what I know of physics and my observations of the topography of some men’s foreheads, I fail to see how these bruises could be formed in the shapes and sizes that are exhibited.

There are many here who are quite convinced that these bruises are enhanced. I have heard many explanations as to how this is done. The most painful sounding one is with a hot iron. Ow.

These bruises are referred to, somewhat derisively, as zebiba (prune) by those who have no bruise. Either “secular” Muslims or Christians.

The largest bruises are on lower income individuals, though one will sometimes see one on a well dressed, more weathly looking individual.

And most of the bruises are on men 40 and younger. Again there are exceptions.

We have now visited 3 other mainly Muslim countries (Morocco, Qatar and Jordan) and have not seen these on any other Muslims other than Egyptians.

If my suspicions and the comments of others are true, and these bruises are enhanced, it is obviously some sort of display of piousness.

Interesting.

7 Comments for 'The Zebiba'

  1.  
    rachel
    May 11, 2007 | 3:54 pm
     

    I think I read about such marks somewhere in the past several months. It was indeed a mark of piety, the spot where the forehead rested/touched on the floor during prayers. The material I was read talked of the spot being a callous actually. But it wasn’t some large bruise or reddening or anything like that. So I’m betting you are correct about the enhancement.

  2.  
    Lisa
    May 11, 2007 | 7:08 pm
     

    Ahhh… When touring around Egypt, I also noticed such marks on men and was curious what they were. Thanks for writting this blog entry.

    P.S. How goes it? ;)

  3.  
    August 4, 2007 | 2:06 pm
     

    My Omani art director here in Cairo is skeptical. He says his father is praying “all the time, non-stop” and nothing ever showed up on his forehead.

  4.  
    kate hallet
    February 16, 2009 | 9:53 pm
     

    I am currently living in Nigeria and there are many men here who have what I have referred to as the “prayer bruise” as well. Some guys have it and some don’t. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are wealthy or a poor goat herder. Some have it and some do not. My husband used to be a very observant muslim and my driver still is and I believe that it is created as a status symbol. I’ve asked a few people about it and they often answer, “it means they are blessed.” However, I disagree. I think people are either forcing their heads really hard on the ground or doing something to create the “bruise.”

  5.  
    Ayasha
    June 4, 2009 | 1:55 am
     

    Thank you for bringing this subject to our attention.

    I, too, have noticed this bruise. Since Dr. Zawahiri has one, I admit I thought it was the mark of an extremist (violent or nonviolent).

    Now I see that it is merely the mark of a very pious person.

    That is good to know.

  6.  
    tony biggles
    February 1, 2011 | 8:19 am
     

    I have spent more than 15 years in Muslim countries, Oman, Kuwait, Malaysia and Pakistan, and have visited a host of other Muslim countries, including Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE. I do not recall noticing the zebibah in Oman, Kuwait or Malaysia – maybe I was not looking properly. In Pakistan I did notice it, though none of my close colleaugues in a university sported it; whereas a few lecturers – not youngsters – did. I have noticed it in Egypt, but it clearly is not confined to that country.

    My chowkidar (house ‘guard’) in Pakistan prayed at every call to prayer on his prayer rug, a sincere devotion quite beautiful to behold – but he did not develop a zebibah. I greatly respect genuine religious devotion, whatever Faith; I am inclined to believe that the development of the zebibah is a deliberate attempt to indicate piety, which would surely be impious, but I am prepared to be told by medical experts that it may depends upon the physiology of a particular individual.

    The bottom line: don’t get too worked up about it and don’t trade insults. Strive for mutual respect.

  7.  
    tony biggles
    February 1, 2011 | 8:22 am
     

    I have spent more than 15 years in Muslim countries, Oman, Kuwait, Malaysia and Pakistan, and have visited a host of other Muslim countries, including Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, UAE. I do not recall noticing the zebibah in Oman, Kuwait or Malaysia – maybe I was not looking properly. In Pakistan I did notice it, though none of my close colleaugues in a university sported it; whereas a few lecturers – not youngsters – did. I have noticed it in Egypt, but it clearly is not confined to that country.

    My chowkidar (house ‘guard’) in Pakistan prayed at every call to prayer on his prayer rug, a sincere devotion quite beautiful to behold – but he did not develop a zebibah. I greatly respect genuine religious devotion, whatever Faith; I am inclined to believe that the development of the zebibah is a deliberate attempt to indicate piety, which would surely be impious, but I am prepared to be told by medical experts that it may depend upon the physiology of a particular individual.

    The bottom line: don’t get too worked up about it and don’t trade insults. Strive for mutual respect.

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