Thimar is a new organization that promotes research on agriculture, environment and labor in the Arab World. Check out their website, which is still under production.]


The lands which formed a cradle of plant and animal domestication exhibit today the greatest ‘food insecurity’ of any region in the world. Stark dependence on imported food is often attributed, on the production side, to aridity exacerbated by climate change, soil salinity, and under-capitalized small land-holdings, and on the consumption side, to population growth and change in food cultures. Dominant political and economic interpretations would have us see the region’s food deficit as ‘natural’ (a result of aridity, population growth and the force of the market).

But this argument dismisses the centrality of economic, political and social policies. An important example is Syria, where changes in policy from the end of the 1980s have led the country by 2007 to face, for the first time in its history, major national food insecurity and growing rural child-malnutrition. A comparison with Iran since the late 1980s is telling. While Syria lost industrial production, scaled back support for agriculture, and failed to develop a national consensus about the relation between wealth distribution and population policy, Iran sustained the growth of its manufacturing sector, strengthened its programme of national food-security, continued to engage with pastoral producers, and opened a public debate on population and development which led to an effective family-planning programme operating through the country’s public primary healthcare service. (more…)

It is getting harder for Iraqi-Kurdish vendors to find stock of genuine Kurdish handicrafts [Lara Fatah/Al Jazeera]

by Lara Fatah, Al Jazeera, April 20, 2014

Erbil, Iraq – In the heart of the ancient city of Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, stands the Erbil citadel, or Qalat, as it is known locally. A walk along the city walls, which are currently under restoration, brings people to one of the region’s gems: the Kurdish Textile Museum.

It is here that the lost art of weaving and handicrafts is being re-taught. Shereen Fars Hussan, one of 40 women trained in weaving at the museum since 2009, sits quietly in the building’s cool upper interior as her colleagues chatter with pride at having learned these traditional skills.

Hussan, 30, remembers how she used to watch her grandmother weave carpets and kilims (tapestry-woven carpets). “She would tell us stories about the old ways of life in Kurdistan, how she would weave carpets with the patterns that her own grandmother and mother had taught her from childhood, but war and genocide meant that she couldn’t pass on the skills to my mother and me,” Hussan told Al Jazeera.

VIDEO: Kulajo – My heart is darkened (more…)

Bringing Muslims back to science
Is Muslim religious discourse on scientific matters killing the scientific aspirations of the religious?

By Mohamed Ghilan, Al Jazeera, April 11, 2014

The most important rule in Islam is “judgment on anything is a branch of conceptualising it”. To determine whether a belief can be accepted by a Muslim or not, this is the first and most often repeated principle. However, when it comes to matters scientific, this indispensable rule for correct judgment is paradoxically the most disregarded one.

Ever since the decline of the Islamic civilisation and the end of its Golden Age, Muslims have ironically taken up superstitious and irrational thinking habits they had previously dropped when they originally accepted the Message of Prophet Muhammad. The ideas that the sun could eclipse for the death of someone, that certain numbers have magical powers, or that birds flying in a certain direction indicates an omen of some kind were among superstitious beliefs explicitly pointed out by Prophet Muhammad and in verses in the Quran for their irrationality. Unfortunately, it seems that Muslims have gone full circle. Out of the top 20 countries in overall science output, Turkey is the sole Muslim representative, barely sneaking in at number 19.

Overly simplistic explanations of this phenomenon have pointed to Al-Ghazali (c 1058-1111), one of the most influential Muslim theologians. His work, The Incoherence of Philosophers, is cited for its negative impact on Muslim thinking. This, however, is a grave misrepresentation of Al-Ghazali, his attack on contemporary philosophers, and the Islamic civilisation as a whole. (more…)

By Samira Ali BinDaair, Sanaa

When it comes to women and gender in Yemen, I see the discussions inevitably alternating between what is happening in politics and then back again to the same old arguments about women’s rights. I think the problem is that we always look at women’s issues from a very narrow angle lens even though we profess to uphold women’s rights, whatever those are and by whosoever’s definition. After working for the past 20 years in development programmes that spanned different agendas and a variety of target groups and where gender analysis always featured largely, I can safely say that this whole concept of gender mainstreaming was introduced to Yemen without being communicated through more cultural-sensitive strategies. The result has been considerable confusion. Because it was introduced by Western agencies, it was sometimes greatly misunderstood, misimplemented and misused by people with vested interests, just as some men with vested interests have misinterpreted the role of women in Islam.

Gender, therefore, has taken on a demonic face when implemented in this way and came to be seen by some as advocating for the Western style of women’s lib from the 60s and being outside local religio-cultural norms. This ended up marginalizing women even more when the male members of society rejected it out of hand. Gender mainstreaming should be a rigorous process of examining the impact of policies on females, males and children and simultaneously defining the special needs of each category. The gender advocates simply go on repeating the same platitudes about women’s rights hinging on a two pronged concept of public life and employment. For example, in Yemen rural women constitute 70% of the labour force in agriculture so the question is not whether to work or not to work for them but how to relieve them of the many burdens that they face within an underprovided rural environment. (more…)

One of the remaining marvels off the east coast of Africa is the island archipelago of Socotra, historically associated with Yemen, the nation which it belongs to. Socotra is a preserve of biodiversity with a local population not yet catapulted into the under-development pains of the 21st century. There is a fascinating film about the need to protect Socotra’s unique environment and its people from the devastating impact of uncontrolled “development.” Among the individuals speaking is Dutch ecologist Paul Scholte, who has extensive research experience both in Yemen and Africa. Check out both parts of the film here and here. There are a number of Youtube videos on Socotra, but most are tourist oriented and do not match the information level of this film.

The Brookings Institute has recently released an “Arab World Learning Barometer,” that includes information on education and youth in Yemen. Check it out here.

The Arab World Learning Barometer is an interactive tool developed by the Center for Universal Education at Brookings. Using the latest available data, the barometer provides a snapshot of the state of education and learning in the Middle East and North Africa.

The barometer measures the quality of education and learning by examining four areas: getting into school, staying in school, whether students are learning basic skills while in school, and the link between education and youth unemployment. The barometer brings together often scarce data for 20 countries in the Arab region. The data cover the 2001-2012 period and do not reflect setbacks due to recent conflicts in the region.


Yemen is about to shrink administratively, but there is hope for a resolution of the ongoing insecurity in the wake of the Arab spring toppling of Ali Abdullah Salih, who ruled Yemen for more than three decades. One result of the National Dialogue Conference is a recommendation that Yemen become a federalist state with six regions to replace the former major regional units. As described in the official Saba News agency of the Yemeni government, the existing governorates would be assigned as follows:

• Hadramout will include al-Mahra, Hadramawt, Shabwa and Socotra, with al-Muklâ as its capital.

• Saba will include al-Jawf, Ma’rib and Al-Baydha, with Marib as its capital.

• Aden will comprise Aden, Abyan, Lahj and Dhala‘, with the capital in Aden.

• Janad will comprise Taiz and Ibb, with Taiz as a capital.

• Azal will consist of Sa‘da, San‘a, Amran and Dhamar with the capital to be determined within the former San‘a governorate, but not San‘a city.

• Tihama will include al-Hudayda, Rayma, al-Mahwit and Hajja with its capital in the city of al-Hudayda.

For those who prefer to see the divisions in Arabic, here they are:

الإقليم الأول: محافظات المهرة حضرموت شبوة سقطرى، ويسمى إقليم «حضرموت» وعاصمته المكلا.

الإقليم الثاني: محافظات الجوف مارب البيضاء، ويسمى إقليم «سبأ» وعاصمته «سبأ».

الإقليم الثالث: محافظات عدن ابين لحج الضالع، ويسمى إقليم «عدن» وعاصمته عدن.

الإقليم الرابع: محافظتا تعز إب ويسمى إقليم «الجند» وعاصمته تعز.

الإقليم الخامس: محافظات صعدة صنعاء عمران ذمار، ويسمى إقليم «آزال» وعاصمته صنعاء.

الإقليم السادس: محافظات الحديدة ريمة المحويت حجة، ويسمى إقليم «تهامة» وعاصمته الحديدة.

The plan also calls for the city of San‘a being an independent capital area, perhaps like the District of Columbia in the United States, to guarantee its impartiality. Its geographical extent will be increased by some 40 percent. Aden will also have special status as an economic zone and its geographical extent as a city enlarged. (more…)

Dr. amina wadud

by amina wadud,, Oct. 3, 2013

This week, in the state where I am living, Kerala, India:

“…nine prominent Muslim (sic) organizations have decided to approach the Supreme Court to exclude Muslim women from the law prescribing a minimum marital age. According to them, the present Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, which prescribes 18 as women’s legal age and 21 for men, violates Muslims’ fundamental right to practice their religion.”

Let me try to step back and formulate this in plain English.

India is a secular democratic nation-state, with a population of over 1 billion, a poverty rate at best estimated at 22%. It ranks as the 55th worst country with regard to its maternal mortality rate with estimates as high as 450 per 100,000, and has an infant mortality rate of 44-55 per 1000. All the above factors have a direct corollary to child marriage: poverty, maternal mortality (think babies having babies), and thus, infant mortality is directly related to the national age of marriage.

Thus, one way to eradicate poverty, save mothers, and save infants is to prevent child marriage. It is no wonder preventing child marriage is a leading strategy for development organizations, human rights organizations and even the World Bank. In 2006, India passed the Child Marriage Act which states, “This legislation is armed with enabling provisions to prohibit child marriages, protect and provide relief to victims and enhance punishment for those who abet, promote and solemnize such marriages” (pg 1).

Against the proven results: maternal mortality and infant mortality rates have declined since the inception of the Child Marriage Act, Muslim organizations in Kerala have decided to approach the Supreme Court to ask that Muslims be exempted as it “violates the fundamental right to practice their religion”!!!

While providing no evidence that child marriage is “fundamental” to our religion, the absence of which would “violate” our ability to practice—since there is no such evidence—let me at least attempt to objectively describe the process of history and culture as it might lead to such a misconception. (more…)

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