September 2009

[Note: One of the early 19th century travelers to Yemen was the British birder G. Wyman Bury. His Arabia Infelix, or The Turks in Yamen (London: MacMillan, 1915) is a personal and informative account of his visit to the southern part of Yemen, especially Aden and its hinterlands. Near the end of his book, he discusses the political climate of his day, when Britain was firmly in control of Aden as part of its Indian Empire. Clearly biased in favor of his own British order, there is nevertheless a note of irony for a country which until this day has yet to attain stability.]

The Yameni is not fanatical. He has his own religious views, but realizes, from the sects into which his own people are divided, that there are at least two sides to every religious question.

He is a patriot ; and who, indeed, could help loving a country like the highlands of Yamen, in spite of past and present woes ? His patriotism, however, does not blind him to the fact that his local rulers have done and can do little for the welfare of his country. He would gladly throw off his present yoke for any change of government that promised more stability. (more…)

Twenty six year old Saira Liaqat poses for the camera, while holding a picture of her former self before her betrothed doused her face with acid.

Scarred by acid in Bangladesh

By Nicolas Haque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Al-Jazeera, July 11, 2009

Rahima Begum, a young woman in the village of Kaligonj in the northwest of Bangladesh, turned down the romantic advances of a neighbour and paid dearly for it.

In the dead of night, while she was asleep, her neighbour poured acid over her face, leaving her disfigured for life.

“I may be still alive but he took my life away, I have become the shame of my family and of my village. I have no where to go,” she says.

According to official figures, there are only around 200 acid-related crimes reported every year in Bangladesh. (more…)

The digital world is an extraordinary boon to those of us who depend on a variety of Arabic resources. One of my mainstays is the multi-volume Lisân al-‘Arab of the great lexicologist Ibn Manzur (died 1311 CE). I picked up my copy in 1979 in Dâr al-Muthana in Baghdad. Now I discover that this major classical lexicon, along with al-Fayrûzabâdî’s Qâmi¨s al-muhît and two other dictionaries are online at One can type in the Arabic word desired and all references to that in the extensive commentary will be highlighted. All the prompts are in Arabic, although I note that the one Google Ad prompt across the top in English advertised “Arabic Girls.” Poor Ibn Manzûr would no doubt roll over in his qabr, were he around to click his way today. On the right hand side notable quotes are posted. On one recent day I found one by Lenin. Ah, the power of words…

A host tending to the needs of his guests, Maqâmât al-Harîrî, 1236 CE

As richly illustrated in Geert Jan van Gelder’s delightul God’s Banquet: Food in Classical Arabic Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), Arab poets loved food and wrote extensively on the adab of cuisine. There are poems devoted to specific foods, but even a few recipes for the cook with a wit as well as a greasy thumb. Here is van Gelder’s translation of a recipe poem by the Baghdadi poet Kushajim (died 961 CE):

You have asked me about the best of dishes:
You’ve asked today someone who is not ignorant!
Now take, my friend, some ribs of meat,
And after that some meat of leg, and fat,
And chop some fat and succulent meat
And rinse it with sweet and clear water. (more…)

Aloe and Opuntia (balas Turkî) in al-Ahjur, central highlands of Yemen

Today I am flying on Lufthansa to Leipzig, and then on to Halle Wittenberg for a conference called “The use of herbs in Yemeni healing practices. An interdisciplinary workshop on traditional knowledge and cultural concepts in scientific perspective.“ The conference takes place September 25-26, 2009 at the Orientwissenschaftliches Zentrum , Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. It has been funded by the Royal Ontario Museum Foundation, Ryerson University (both Toronto/Canada), and Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. Click here for the order of the program.

The organizers are Dr Hanne Schönig (Orientwissenschaftliches Zentrum
Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, homepage: and Dr Ingrid Hehmeyer (Department of History, Ryerson University, Toronto, homepage: and Dr Anne Regourd, Collaborateur Scientifique, Dept of Islamic arts, Musée du Louvre, Paris – France, homepage:

The conference participants and papers are noted below: (more…)

Archeological sites in Bani Hushaish suffer from vandalism

by Mansur Ali al-Muntasir, Yemen Observer, February 3, 2009

The Bani Hushaish district in the Sana’a governorate is 30 km east of the capital, and contains several important archeological sites.

Yemen has a great wealth of ancient archeological sites many of which date as far back as the pre-Islamic era and many more site which are still waiting to be discovered and documented. There is a fear though amongst the Yemen’s archeological establishment that without adequate protection and preservation much of Yemen’s historical record could be lost to natural and human damage. This article seeks to highlight the richness of Yemen’s archeological heritage and the need to preserve and document such heritage for future generations.

The most important of the discovered archeological sites is in Shibam al-Ghras, where several mummies were found. The district contains several other neglected sites, which have not yet been identified by archeological authorities. This is disturbing; as these sites have been damaged as a result of official negligence, and a lack of public awareness about their value and importance to Yemeni heritage. (more…)

A Kurdish tribesman from southern Kurdistan, Photo by A. Kerim, 1925, published by the Hasso Brothers in Baghdad and printed by Rotophot A.G. in Berlin. Harvard Semitic Museum Photographic Archives, Virtual Baghdad Museum.

The Prophet Muhammad, 17th century Ottoman copy of an early 14th century (Ilkhanate period) manuscript of Northwestern Iran or northern Iraq (the “Edinburgh codex”). Illustration of Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī’s al-Âthâr al-bâqiyah ( الآثار الباقيةة ; “The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries”). Source: Wikipedia article on Muhammad

Satanic or Silly: Does Yale Press Censorship of Cartoons Insult Muslims?
By Daniel Martin Varisco, Religion Dispatches, September 8, 2009

Two decades ago, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses caused a tsunami of protest in the Muslim world. The author was forced into hiding for nearly a decade after Ayatollah Khomeini called on Muslims to kill him and his publishers. Rushdie was accused of blasphemy, both for slandering the prophet Muhammad by subverting his character to Mahound (a medieval English term synonymous with the devil) and for reducing the holy city of Mecca to Jahiliya (a term used by Muslims to refer to the pagan past of Arabia). It was only a novel, but the fact that it was written by an Indian-born Muslim and published in the West was enough to frustrate even moderate Muslims.

Academic books rarely cause riots in the streets, but a forthcoming study on the recent Danish cartoon controversy may come close. (more…)

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