Last updated: February 21, 2022
Lisān al-‘Arab (لسان العرب), the famous dictionary of Classical Arabic, contains 9273 roots (and 4,493.934 words). A huge playground for people who are passionate about Arabic such as…
The man who subtitles Arabic songs on YouTube.
- Date of birth: 5th April 1996
- Place of birth: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
- Place of residence: Beirut, Lebanon
- YouTube channel: MOHCOOLMAN
How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
Hello, my name is Mohammad Wehbe and I am a Lebanese Arab. I have always been a language enthusiast with a particular passion and a keen interest in Arabic and its many varieties. A few years back, I started uploading translated Arabic music on my YouTube channel “MohCoolMan” to provide Arabic learners with a fun and possibly helpful language practice tool.
Two years ago, my friend and classmate joined the channel, and we both undertook the “100 Songs Initiative” project in which we decided to upload 100 of the most popular Arabic songs from all around the Arab world in an effort to help spread the language and demonstrate to the people the diversity and beauty of Arabic music.
My friend has helped elevate the channel in ways I could have never done on my own, and therefore, I must thank him and give him credit for all what he has done for the channel.
TRIVIA The name MohCoolMan is one I actually chose as a username for a different website when I was ten. It has stuck with me ever since. As silly as it sounds, it has become something like an internet signature to me.
What was your first Arabic grammar book?
Arabic is a mandatory subject in Lebanon, so I have studied the language in its Modern Standard variety throughout my preschool and school years.
I can’t remember my first Arabic grammar book, but the earliest one I can recall is one called لغتي فرحي (Lughati Farahi) which would translate to “my language is my joy”.
What is your favorite Arabic book (novel, etc.)?
Of the Arabic novels I have read thus far, one in particular left a great impact on me and the way I think and it is Ghada al-Samman’s “Beirut Nightmares” – in Arabic: كوابيس بيروت (Kawabees Beirut). Reading through this novel was as though taking on a perilous journey in a war-torn Beirut and into the author’s mind. No book has elicited more anger, sadness and joy in me than this one has, especially as it is revolved around a dark portion of the Lebanese history whose consequences we suffer from even to this today.
Another thought-provoking Arabic novel that I love is Ghassan Kanafani’s “Men in the Sun” – in Arabic: رجال في الشمس (Rijal Fi-sh-Shams).
What is the story? Men in the Sun (رجال في الشمس) is a novel by Palestinian writer and political activist Ghassan Kanafani (1936-1972). It was published in 1962.
Men in the Sun follows three Palestinian refugees seeking to travel from the refugee camps in Iraq, where they cannot find work, to Kuwait where they hope to find work as laborers in the oil boom. The three men each arrange with a clerk at a local store to be smuggled to Kuwait by a driver.
The men are treated gruffly and are humiliated by the process. Once they finally arrange for travel, they are forced to ride in the back of the truck across the desert on their way to Kuwait. At several check points, the men hide in a large, empty, water tank in the stifling mid-day heat as the driver arranges paperwork to get through. After going through the last check point, within easy driving distance of the travelers’ ultimate goal of Kuwait, the driver opens the tank to let the men out only to find they have died.
Men in the Sun has been filmed as al-Makhduun (The Deceived or The Dupes), by Egyptian director Tawfiq Saleh.
How much time does a native speaker of English need to master Arabic?
For a native speaker of English, I would say a year, more or less, of dedicated studying.
Arabic is unfortunately being promoted as an extremely difficult language to English-speakers and this notoriety creates a sort of an effective filter that slows down the language’s acquisition or even deters people from learning it altogether.
But Arabic, aside from the occasional randomness of its broken plurals, is a very organized and systematic language with very few exceptions to its grammatical rules; this alone, I believe, makes Arabic a somewhat easy language to learn.
What is your favorite Arabic word?
The word سَراب (Sarab). It is my mother’s name and denotes mirage. I have always found the word melodious to my ears and its meaning very mystical.
What is MohCoolMan?
MohCoolMan is a great resource for people who study Arabic – especially Arabic dialects. You will find hundreds of Arabic songs – pop, Disney, classical stuff – with English and Arabic subtitles. The audio quality is great. MohCoolMan provides the Arabic lyrics as well as the English translation and the transliteration. The channel also provides a lot of information about the origins of the songs and about the singers.
Which Arabic word do you like least?
The word غوغائية (Ghawgha’iyya) which means demagogy. Aside from the inherently abhorrent connotation of the word, I just can never seem to remember the word when I need to and I always find myself resorting to Google Translate when I need to use it in Arabic.
Which Arabic dialect do you like best?
Egyptian Arabic has got to be my favorite. It’s eloquent, smooth, and accessible to all Arabs; and I speak from experience when I say that it often acts as the lingua franca among Arabs of different dialectical backgrounds as they communicate with one another.
Aside from Egyptian, I now have a growing fondness towards Sudanese and Maghrebi Arabic. This started with my discovering, listening and subsequent translating of their wonderful music.
What is your favorite Arabic colloquial word or expression?
An Italian friend of mine once pointed out to me that he has yet to listen to an Arabic song that does not have the words habeebi and yalla in it, and it really got me thinking. It’s now an inside joke between us two, but when truly considering the situation, yalla and habeebi are definitely two colloquial words all Arabs have in common and I find that fascinating.
Remark: Yalla (يلا) means “come on!”; habeebi (حبيبي) denotes my love; darling (depending on the context).
What is your favorite Arabic quote or proverb?
ما كُلُّ ما يَتَمنّى الْمَرْءُ يُدْرِكهُ تَجْرِي الرِّياحُ بِما لا تَشتَهي السُّفُنُ
Not all what a man wishes for he realizes * the winds blow opposite to what the ships desire.
What is the best thing that was ever said about the Arabic language?
Ahmed Shawqi expressed his love for the Arabic language when he said:
إنّ الّذي ملأ اللّغات محاسنًا * جعل الجمال وسرّه في الضّاد
“He who has filled the languages with pretty features * saved beauty and his secret solely for the Arabic language (the language of the Dhad).”Ahmed Shawqi
Excursus: Who was Ahmed Shawqi?
Ahmed Shawqi (1868 – 1932) – in Arabic: أحمد شوقي – was nicknamed the Prince of Poets (أمير الشعراء). He was one of the greatest Arabic poets laureate, an Egyptian poet and dramatist who pioneered the modern Egyptian literary movement, most notably introducing the genre of poetic epics to the Arabic literary tradition.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
I spent most of my life being a worrywart and it was one of those traits that no matter how hard I tried, I could never change.
Recently, however, I have been following a piece of advice that my parents gave me: worry about tomorrow only after tomorrow’s come. It has worked like magic.
Which three people would you like to invite for dinner?
Arab philologist Al-Farahidi, Lebanese writer Ameen Rihani, and Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi.
Who were these three people?
- Al-Farahidi (الفراهيدي): A genius (718 – 786) who – among other great stuff – wrote the first Arabic dictionary.
- Ameen Rihani (أمين الريحاني): He was a Lebanese American writer, intellectual and political activist (1876 – 1940). He was also a major figure in the mahjar literary movement developed by Arab emigrants in North America, and an early theorist of Arab nationalism. He became an American citizen in 1901.
- Baligh Hamdi (بليغ حمدي): He was an Egyptian composer (1931 – 1993) who created hit songs for many prominent Arabic singers, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.
What was the last great meal you had?
My mother’s fasoolia (white beans stew). It’s a popular Middle Eastern meal and one I love a lot!
What is your favorite city?
It’s a difficult question. I would say all Arab cities hold a special place in my heart, from Baghdad to Cairo to Oran; however, I will have to go with Beirut on this one. It’s where I have lived my entire life and it’s where you’ll find chaos inspires art. There is no city like Beirut – which is also called “Set Ad-Dunya” or in English: “The Lady of the World”.
Outside the Arab world, I would probably choose Beijing as a favorite city.
Which book would you give to a dear friend?
Two books I find myself constantly repurchasing and giving away: Ghassan Kanafani’s “Men Under the Sun” (see question #3) and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm“.
They are short books, so they make for an encouraging read and they are beautifully written, with thought-provoking subjects.
What is your all-time favorite movie?
Easy. Disney’s 101 Dalmatians (the animation) and Toy Story in their Arabic dub.
What music do you listen to?
I don’t think I have a musical preference.
Umm Kulthum and Fairuz are definitely among my all-time favorite singers. Recently I have been listening to more Arabic Fusha music (Pre-Islamic, Andalusian and modern poetry). I also enjoy English, French, Italian and Chinese music.
When were you happiest?
Whenever asked this question, I am immediately taken back to a summer day about 12 years ago. My brothers and I were playing in the backyard when the sun began to set. We went to the grocery store and got ice cream, went back home, washed ourselves and then spent the remainder of the day playing video games. Life was simple back then, and I miss that.
What is your greatest fear?
Nothing scares me like the thought of losing someone I love and care about; it terrifies me to no end.
What is your life motto?
That we, as a community, should try to raise one another instead of putting each other down for the sake of selfish self-betterment.
Mohammad Wehbi, thank you for your time.
Picture credit: Mohammad Wehbe.