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Refuge - the Hospitality 

“The Meskin received me with the dignity of a prince, and motioned me to the place of honour on the ragged carpet between the square hole in the ground that serves as hearth and the partition that separates the women´s quarters from the men´s. We had tethered our horses to the long tent ropes that give such wonderful solidity to the frail dwelling, and our eyes wandered out from where we sat over the eastward sweep of the landscape - swell and fall, fall and swell, as though the desert breathed quietly under the gathering night. The lee side of an Arab tent is always open to the air, if the wind shifts the women take down the tent wall and set it up against another quarter, and in a moment your house has changed its outlook and faces gaily to the most favourable prospect. It is so small and light and yet so strongly anchored that the storms can do little to it; the coarse meshes of the goat´s hair cloth swell and close together in the wet so that it needs continuous rain carried on a high wind before a cold stream leaks into the dwelling place.”                                                                                                                          (Gertrude Bell 1907)

The Bedouin family home was the black tent, made of goat hair and called bayt/bait (house). Jabbur refers to the tent as the third pillar of Bedouin life. The Bedouin tent, the home of the nomads and the sanctuary of “God´s guest”, has  not changed  since the times of the Old Testament: The  tent  is called bayt/bait (house)  both  by the Bedouin and in the Old Testament. And according to Jabbur it is “undoubtedly from this sense of the word that the term bayt was borrowed to refer to the house built of brick or stone. And from a´mida, the poles of the hair tent, the same word was borrowed to refer to the pillars of temples, and perhaps also the expression “the seven pillars of wisdom” mentioned by Solomon and used by famous T. E. Lawrence as title for his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The tent of the al-Sha´lan amirs of the Rwala, pitched with its seven large poles, reminded Jabbur on Proverbs 9:1: Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. Also Solomon sang of the black tents of Arabia in the Song of Songs: “Black I am, and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem; black like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon” (Song of Songs 1:5). If one compares the shapes of the letters b in Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Ethiopic, South Arabian, Phoenician , Sinaitic and Latin, in all their different forms, they do not differ in shape from the configuration of the hair tent, and in most of these languages the pronunciation of the letter approximates that of the term bayt” (Jabbur).

There was a special sanctity to the Bedouin´s tent, especially if a fugitive or stranger sought refuge there. In such a case it was the obligation of the owner of the tent to protect him. Similarly, a visitor would be reproached if he passes by a tent without staying as a guest there, as this was regarded as a blemish on the honor of the people of the tent (Jabbur). That meant that there was peace established between the host and even the worst enemy if the latter asked for his protection.

 

The word for tent, bayt, was also used to denote a family, for example the house of Abraham. The tent of stars above the desert described the world of God, that gave room for everyone living there. The house of the father in heaven is described by Jesus in the following words: In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14: 2) And one day he will come back from heaven and lead us all to the house of the father.

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