1. In Arabic the word “asker” denotes an army.
  2. Followers of the Shi’i branch of Islam, specifically the Twelver Sh’i, revere Imam Hasan ibn Ali al-Askari (846-874 C.E.) as the eleventh in the line of the twelve Imams which ended with Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdi, the Hidden Imam. One theory is that al-Askari was so-called because he lived in the garrison town of Samarra, north of Baghdad. There is also this story connected with his name:
    “Once the Caliph called him to his palace and ordered his army to march past before him. The Caliph wanted to boast or to impress the Imam of his power or to dissuade the Imam from any thoughts of revolution against the Abbasid Caliphate. When the march past was over, Imam asked the Caliph to gaze between two of his fingers. What the Caliph saw was a huge army of lancers and swordsmen marching past, a much bigger crowd than the Caliph’s army. He was astonished at this miracle and named him Askari, i.e. the man with a big army.” (From Story of the Holy Ka’aba And its People by SMR Shabbar)
  3. In the East African countries of Kenya and Tanzania the lingua franca is Swahili, a Bantu language heavily influenced by Arabic. In these countries an askari is a soldier, policeman or guard. Visitors to various nightspots in Dar es Salaam, for instance, are likely to find their cars being guarded by statuesque Maasai askaris in full regalia.
  4. In South Africa an askari is a turncoat or traitor: specifically a former member of the ANC’s liberation army who was captured and “turned” by members of the apartheid security forces, often by torture. The ANC had several military bases and residential centres in Tanzania before it was unbanned in 1990, so it is likely this is where the South Africans came across the word. The SA police used askaris to infiltrate underground ANC cells, as well as to do some of their dirtier work. This is the from the (somewhat self-serving) testimony of one of the more notorious askaris, Joe Mamasela, during the trial of Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock:
    "They beat me up to the point of submission, to the point of death and after that they used me as an informer first. So I had to salvage my life. I had to do as these people commanded me to… I was acting against my own will and made a killer machine against my own people. If I did not become productive by killing these people, I would have been killed. I have no doubt about that”.
  5. According to www.placesnamed.com, Askari is the 36,366th most popular surname in the United States.

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