June 2010



The Yemeni physician Ibrāhīm ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abī Bakr al-Azraq, wrote an important medical text near the end of the 9th century A.H./fifteenth century C.E. This is his Tashhīl al-manāfi‘ fī al-ṭibb wa-al-ḥikma, which was published in Cairo in the late 19th century and has been republished many times since then. One of his chapters deals with adhān, that is oils and lotions that were rubbed on the body either in the hot bath or just for general health. Here is my translation of his account on oils.

Section on the Benefit and Influence of Oils (adhān)

The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation, said: “Eat olive oil (zayt) and rub it on the body.” It is a remedy for seventy illnesses, one of these being leprosy (judhām). He said: “For forty nights, Satan will not come near anyone who has olive oil applied.” Zayt is the extraction of the olive, according to al-Dīwān. Cold and wet, but said to be hot. It softens (yadbughu) the stomach, strengthens the body, energizes movement, and there is benefit for one in old age in applying it to the eyes against dimming of vision. According to Ibn ‘Amr the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation, said: “Use it to season bread and rub it on the body, because it comes out of the blessed tree (al-shajara al-mubāraka). (more…)


[Note: The following is a perceptive review of two recently published books:
FAITH AND POWER: Religion and Politics in the Middle East by Bernard Lewis
(Oxford University Press, 2010) and MUHAMMAD AND THE BELIEVERS At the Origins of Islam by Fred M. Donner (The Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2010). The latest same-old stuff by Lewis can be consigned to the dustbin but Donner should be carefully read by a wide audience.]

by Max Rodenbeck, The New York Times, June 27

In the United States, a country saturated with instant punditry, serious scholars rarely attain celebrity as public intellectuals. Yet Bernard Lewis, a professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at Princeton, has long radiated influence far beyond his specialization in Ottoman studies. A friend of Henry Kissinger and a mentor to subsequent cohorts of conservative policy makers, Lewis arguably has done more than any Mideast expert to mold American attitudes to the region.

His latest book, “Faith and Power,” a collection of essays, lectures and speeches from the past two decades loosely linked to the theme of relations between Islam and the state, reminds us why. Lewis is a fine writer, with a commanding authorial voice that sweeps magisterially across the ages. His linkage of diverting historical anecdotes to pressing current issues and his skill at contracting complex ideas into clever apothegms do much to explain his appeal to politicians in search of a punchy quote. (more…)


Habibi Rasak Kharban (Darling, Something’s Wrong with Your Head) is a dramatic feature that tells the story of a forbidden love in Gaza. The film is a modern re-telling of the famous ancient Sufi parable Majnun Layla and is the first full-length narrative set in Gaza in over 15 years.

Susan Youssef is the writer and director. This is her first feature film. Her five shorts have screened at venues such as Sundance Film Festival and Museum of Modern Art (NY), and have been acquired for distribution by Video Data Bank, Third World Newsreel, and Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre. For information on her past films, click here.


Why they thought the Berbers came from Yemen

by Lameen Souag, Jabal al-Lughat, June 23, 2010

A long-standing tradition in North Africa, convincingly rejected by Ibn Khaldūn but perpetuated by poets and curricula alike, claims that some major Berber tribes descend from Yemeni Arabs through semi-mythical pre-Islamic kings and their wholly mythical vast conquests. This idea has little to support it, and probably became popular because it allowed these tribes to claim prestigious connections in the context of a high culture dominated by Arab ideas; but why should the connection be specifically Yemeni, rather than, say, North Arabian or perhaps Persian? Linguistics suggests a possible answer. (more…)

As noted in a previous post, I recently went through a late 19th century scrapbook that belonged to my great, great aunt. She had cut out pictures that interested or amused her. Several of these have Orientalist themes. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words; other times the picture says enough for itself. In this series, I leave the image to speak for itself. If you would like to comment on what you see or imagine, please do so in the comments section.

For #3, click here.


by Gabriel Marranci, Islam, Muslims, and an Anthropologist, June 21

Recently two events made me question how the UK, and Europe in general, understand the concept of ‘freedom of speech’ – the invitation to attend the annual Buckingham Palace garden party extended to white supremacist BNP’s Nick Griffin and the Home Secretary’s decision to ban the popular Muslim tele-preacher Dr Zakir Naik from entering the UK.

There is no one single definition of ‘freedom of speech’ and an attempt to formulate one can only result in empty theorizing and utopian visions. Freedom of speech is linked to local, regional and international contexts, social realities, cultural differences and an understanding of what freedom means. What for one person is ‘freedom of speech’, for another is just ‘freedom of insult’ or ‘unacceptable behavior’.

States, as well as communities, limit individual rights of expression not because of the pleasure of doing so, but for fear of seeing their status quo, and hence power, challenged or questioned. However, the limitation of individuals’ right to express their thoughts and ideas is often justified by the argument that those ideas are ‘repulsive’ or ‘objectionable’ to the system of values held by a supposed majority (i.e. power holders). Said that, many of the ideas, values and concepts that are both well accepted and well liked today have been considered ‘objectionable’ or ‘repulsive’ at one time or another. (more…)


Postcard from about 1911


by Khalil El-Anani, Al-Ahram, 17-23 June, 2010, Issue 1003

The current Western obsession with the niqab, or full- face veil, often seems part of a subconscious plot to restrict anything Arab and Islamic, symbolic as that may be. The niqab is not really Islamic garb, this I am sure something that Western politicians know. And yet it is becoming a target of hate because it is seen as a cultural symbol that is extraneous, and indeed dangerous, to European societies.

Sometimes I wonder, what if it were Indian women, or Sikhs and Buddhists for that matter, who wore the niqab ? Would European parliaments still spend entire sessions discussing the niqab ?

Theological debate on niqab aside, Western outrage against the niqab seems to be a by-product of Islamophobia, a phenomenon that is raging like wildfire across Europe, asserting itself sometimes as mosque- phobia and at other times as minaret-phobia. Should this trend continue, the day may come when European parliaments ban men from wearing their beards long and shaving their moustaches. I wonder what kind of phobia we’ll name that one! (more…)

Next Page »