[Note: the following list of items for light camping in Arabia is provided by G. Wyman Bury for the early part of the 20th century.]

Try to do without a tent. Arabs hate pitching tents after a long day’s march, and seldom pitch them well. They draw fire and afford no protection, while preventing your own observation; they also betray the site of your camp to bad characters and casual callers on the look out for supper.

Avoid Wolseley valises or anything with pleats and folds, which become the permanent abiding places of parasitic insects.
‘Blankets.’ One each for the men. A few extra for convalescents or invalided men. Two for yourself.
‘Pillows.’ Carry your spare clothes in a green canvas sack. (more…)

ILE de DJERBA: Atelier du Potier de Guallala; Cie des Arts Photomécaniques, 44, r. Letellier, Paris-15

Two postcards from the 1950s.

ILE de DJERBA: Le Puits Djerbien et son Chameau;Cie des Arts Photomécaniques, 44, r. Letellier, Paris-15

The photographs here were taken of camels and people in Libya around 1957 by Dr. Virgil Clift.

Above and below are two scenes in Tripoli, Libya from the 1950s, when it was still a kingdom. Both are from Christmas and New Years greeting cards with the greeting in English.

Photo by Jenah in Tripoli; printed in Italy

One of the most entertaining Arabic compendia on animal life, taken in the loose sense of the term for things that breathe or are thought to breathe, is the Hayât al-Hayawân (Life of Animals) of the Egyptian savant Kamâl al-Dîn Muhammad ibn Mûsâ al-Damîrî. Writing a century before Columbus discovered America, al-Damiri spins stories about animals with a variety of folklore about uses of animal products and parts. A scientist would no doubt shudder at the magical and literary focus of the text, only occasionally finding description useful today. A partial English translation was made by a British officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Jayakar, and published in two volumes in 1906 and 1908 in India. Unfortunately, this text is virtually inaccessible. I have looked at two copies, one in the New York Public Library and the other at the Library of Congress, and only with trepidation have I turned the fragile pages in this poorly bound volume. So far there is no digital version, which is a shame, since it is a delight to read.

Our author was a prolific copyist, quoting from over 800 other authors and providing a thousand entries, some simply an animal’s name and its more common synonym. Ironically, Jayakar’s Victorian sensitivity makes the translation as much an oddity as the primary work. (more…)

In 2010 I had the privilege of participating in an international conference in Vienna on camels (not on camelback, of course). A book from this conference has now appeared. This is: Eva-Maria KNOLL – Pamela BURGER, editors, Camels in Asia and North Africa. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on their Past and Present Significance. 2012, 290 p., with 26 articles, 33 graphs/maps, 111 pictures, and an index. My article is on what camels eat, for which I have created a website.

Here is how the editors describe the book:

Humanity’s history is closely linked to those of camels. Without these remarkable animals we could not have inhabited the arid zones of Asia and North Africa, nor could we cope with today’s challenges of increasing desertification. Researching interactions between humans and camels therefore has been established at the Austrian Academy of Sciences ever since its foundation more than 160 years ago. The present publication is committed to this research tradition. This book assembles insights upon current and historical interactions between humans and camels. Thereby it is international and interdisciplinary from the outset and aims at intensifying a camel-related knowledge exchange between the natural sciences and the humanities. The here presented discussions of Old World camels (dromedary, Bactrian, wild camel) include such diverse topics as camel origin, domestication, breeding, raising and commerce. Moreover, camels’ significance is also discussed regarding socio-cultural and economic factors, music, folk medicine and veterinary medicine, as well as saving the last remaining wild camels. With an afterword by Richard W. Bulliet (New York), one of the world’s leading authorities on the camels’ history.

Gelatine silver print (probably made in the mid-1920s) of an American Colony photograph taken in southern Palestine between 1898 and 1911; from the John Garstang collection

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14, KJV

The admonition of the Apostle Paul in his second letter to Corinth is the ultimate justification for separatism. Orthodox Jews, Fundamentalist born-again Christians and ultra-conservative Muslims all have taken to heart the sentiment of this advice, often making it into an outright ban. The latest news sensation is about a Muslim “catacomb sect” in Russia’s Tatarstan region:

Four members of a breakaway Muslim sect in Russia’s Tatarstan region have been charged with cruelty against children for allegedly keeping them underground.

Police discovered 27 children and 38 adults living in catacomb-like cells in an eight-level underground bunker.

The sect’s elderly leader, Faizrakhman Sattarov, had reportedly wanted to build his own Islamic caliphate beneath the ground…

Officials said the children, aged between one and 17 years, had never left the compound, gone to school or been treated by a doctor, and had rarely seen the light of day.

According to the Russian website Islam News, Mr Sattarov, 83, declared himself an Islamic prophet in the mid-1960s after interpreting sparks from a trolleybus cable as a divine light from God.

He and his followers began to shun the outside world in the early part of this century.

One is not sure to laugh or cry at a prophet who gets his revelation from the sparks of a trolleybus cable, but in the end a vision is a vision no matter what the alleged divine source. All three major religions have had their break-away, nothing-to-do-with-this-life prophets and the few sheep that inevitably follow them over the cliff of rationality. The problem here is what may be labeled a dogmatic emphasis on the “unsocial contract.” In other words, this is a kind of cultural suicide, hardly the umma envisioned by the Prophet Muhammad.

The metaphor in the old photograph above is what intrigues me. The supposed rationale is that a team of domestic animals should be the same, generally two oxen. That is all well and good if you actually have two of these rather expensive beasts, but what if you don’t? In many cases farmers in the region had to make due with either a donkey or a camel, but hitching two different animals may not have been as rare as assumed, nor as problematic. Notice in this image that a little boy leads the camel, allowing it to keep the pace of the ox while the ploughman bears down on the blade. Rather than focus on there being two separate animals, think about the social cooperation of boy, man, ox and camel as a unit.

When the emphasis is on what makes the animals different either from each other or from humans, the broader point of cooperation is easily lost. The same is true in religion. Separatists are doomed to failure by their very nature, except as oases sustained within a wider pluralistic context. Those sects which survive learn to adapt to competing views and accept change, no matter what level of reticence. Consider the early Mormons, who were so far out of the mainstream that they were persecuted everywhere they went. No matter the doctrines still enshrined on the main webpage of the Church of Latter Day Saints, the church has embraced the very kind of patriotism that once forced them to the arid wilderness of Utah. This is the only way they could have survived.

I am certainly no prophet, even though I have seen trolleycar sparks in my youth, but I suspect that the future of Islam will see increasing rather than decreasing pluralism. As a religion which has spread well outside its Arabian geographic origin, the ways of being Muslim are far too many to ever be bottled into one halal variety. Even in the heyday of Islamic power there was never a unanimity of belief. Like Judaism and Christianity there will continue to be those who insist they represent the “true” faith, but no religion can resist the perpetual cultural change that envelops the entire globe. Think of that Palestinian fellah in the 1920s photograph above. He could never have imagined the technological and social change in his own backyard today. Today we think we can imagine, but the future is probably not best revealed by looking at a trolleycar, sparks or not.

If you are puzzled about camels, check out this online puzzle

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