June 2011



Yes, indeed, Saudis can dance to an American tune. Ah, but who’s their Papa?

Check it out on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33FDP0o3s1s&feature=youtube_gdata_player


A lunar eclipse explained by al-Biruni

By Steve Paulson, The Chronicle Review, June 19, 2011

We may think the charged relationship between science and religion is mainly a problem for Christian fundamentalists, but modern science is also under fire in the Muslim world. Islamic creationist movements are gaining momentum, and growing numbers of Muslims now look to the Quran itself for revelations about science.

Science in Muslim societies already lags far behind the scientific achievements of the West, but what adds a fair amount of contemporary angst is that Islamic civilization was once the unrivaled center of science and philosophy. What’s more, Islam’s “golden age” flourished while Europe was mired in the Dark Ages.

This history raises a troubling question: What caused the decline of science in the Muslim world?

Now, a small but emerging group of scholars is taking a new look at the relationship between Islam and science. Many have personal roots in Muslim or Arab cultures. While some are observant Muslims and others are nonbelievers, they share a commitment to speak out—in books, blogs, and public lectures—in defense of science. If they have a common message, it’s the conviction that there’s no inherent conflict between Islam and science.

For the rest of this article, click here.


“The Simoon” by Ludwif Hans Fischer

One does not have to be on a caravan in the Sahara or trying to cross the Empty Quarter in mid-summer to appreciate the beauty of a sandstorm; in fact it is probably best appreciated when one is not in it. Above is how the hot winded simoon looked to the Austrian artist Ludwig Hans Fischer (1848-1915), who painted “The Simoon” in 1878. Below is how the simoon looked approaching the Sphinx to David Roberts in the early 19th century.


“Approach of the Simoon” by David Roberts


For lovers of early Arabic poetry and for students of Arabic there is a wonderful new resource called the Princeton Online Arabic Poetry Project. Thus far the site has classic poems by Imru’l-Qays (Mu‘allaqa), Yazid b. Mu`awiya (And Pearls Rained Down), Rabi`a al-`Adawiyya (My Cup and my Wine), Abu Nuwas (Don’t Cry for Layla), Abu Nuwas (The Wretch Paused), al-Mutanabbi (to Sayf al-Dawla). By clicking on the poem you can see the Arabic scroll down automatically as it is read. You can also at any time click on a line to see its translation. Check it out.



[With this post I continue a series dedicated to photographs in an “Orientalist” mode. In addition to Reading Orientalism (which is also the title of my last book), the creation of an imagined Orient is very much a pictorial voyeuristic voyage. In this series I focus on Western images of the Middle East and North Africa, both those that perpetuate stereotypes and those that chip away at the bias. Readers of the blog are welcome to send in images they have found and want to share.]

I continue with images from a 1933 edition of Richards Cyclopedia, with 24 volumes published in New York by J. A. Richards, Inc and edited by Ernest Hunter Wright and Mary Heritage Wright. This is an unusual encyclopedia, arranged by topics in a more or less arbitrary order but replete with images. One of the articles is called “The Mtchless Story-Teller” (vol 18, pp. 4433-4448) and retells several of the more famous tales from the Arabian Nights. In the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves the plot to learn the secret of the cave from Ali Baba unfolds with a slave girl named Morgiana pouring hot oil in the vats where a number of robbers were hiding. But the reader is assured in the caption that it was a “happy thought” to so dispense with the troublemakers. Ah, how Orientalist to assume this part of the world has oil to burn…

to be continued


There is a new blog on Yemen: Bab al-Yemen: Das Tor zum Yemen; this is created by Marie-Christine Heinze, who is a graduate student at the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology. Marie-Christine is working on her Ph. D. about the “Social Life of Weapons in Yemen,” including the famous Yemeni jambiyya. In her new blog she has posted a review of a recent book privately published by Stephen Gracie entitled Jambiya: Daggers from the Ancient Souqs of Yemen.


Le CEFAS : un instrument indispensable de compréhension de la péninsule Arabique

by Laurent Bonnefoy (chercheur, Institut français du Proche-Orient)

En 2011, jamais la France et l’Union européenne n’ont autant eu besoin de comprendre les sociétés arabes. Jamais les chercheurs spécialistes du monde arabe contemporain n’ont autant répondu à une demande sociale venant tant des médias et des diplomates que même parfois des entreprises. A l’heure où le Yémen connaît un profond mouvement de révolte et où s’expriment des aspirations au changement, à la liberté et à la démocratie, le ministère des Affaires étrangères songe à mettre fin à l’expérience du Centre français d’archéologie et de sciences sociales de Sanaa (CEFAS).

Ce centre, créé sous le nom de Centre français d’études yéménites en 1982 sous la double tutelle du ministères des Affaires étrangères et du CNRS, a en près de trente ans permis à des centaines d’étudiants et de chercheurs de se familiariser avec les sociétés de la péninsule Arabique, d’apprendre l’arabe et de mener à bien de nombreux projets de recherche avec les partenaires locaux qu’ils soient yéménites, saoudiens, omanais ou autres. Son travail d’interface avec les institutions yéménites et du Golfe, sa bibliothèque exhaustive ont fait du CEFAS un instrument unique au monde, valorisé à l’échelle internationale. Les archéologues liés à cet institut ont été à la pointe des découvertes sur les cités antiques de l’Arabie Heureuse. Ses historiens ont pu analyser et réévaluer tant les spécificités que l’intégration ancienne de la péninsule Arabique dans le système monde. Ensemble ils ont directement contribué à valoriser, mais également à préserver, un patrimoine d’une richesse inestimable qui reste encore pour une grande part inconnu. Les chercheurs en sciences sociales ont pour leur part travaillé à rendre intelligible les sociétés et systèmes politiques de cette région du monde arabe. Le rôle de chacun, dans un Yémen et dans un Golfe arabo-persique en transformation, est dès maintenant d’appréhender et d’analyser les transformations et, à l’usage de chacun en France, en Europe et dans le monde, de fournir de nouvelles grilles de lectures indispensables. (more…)

By Andreas Neumann, Erlangen Center for Islam & Law in Europe (EZIRE)

Recently, at one of the many German universities of excellence (names do not matter), students and other citizens were invited to a lecture with the title: “Stoning: a Non-Islamic tradition.” The hosts were the Seminar for Arab and Islamic Studies and the Institute of Criminal Sciences. The picture represented here is taken from the poster hanging all over the campus and also in the city. At its center, you see a huge hand on the point of casting a crude edged stone in the direction of the observer. In the foreground, there is an olive branch. The colors in the background evoke the national flag of Iran flying in wind. A short analysis might be fruitful. The picture is an example of contemporaneous stereotyped thinking and also transports a message contrary to the requirements of reason.

The hand, disambiguated by the context, symbolizes the gruesome act. It is combined with the enlarged olive branch. The olive branch was a symbol of peace in Greek and Roman antiquity, when it also was worn as an adornment by brides. Retrospectively, it was associated with Noah who sent out a dove which returned with an olive leaf in its beak (which became a branch in the Vulgate). This sign indicated that the water was receding. There might exist an older model of this image, since the association of the dove, the olive branch or even the rainbow with peace does not follow conclusively from the text. The Quran has not taken it over in its frequent references to the Genesis version of the story of the Flood (also see the account by Heinrich Speyer, Die biblischen Erzählungen im Qoran, Gräfenhainichen 1931, pp. 89-115). Nevertheless, the olive tree (by the way, in German more often called “Ölbaum”, oil tree) is cited several times in the Quran, especially in the beautiful verse of the light, Q 24:35, where the blessed olive tree in question is characterized as neither Eastern nor Western (cf. Zechariah 4:3-11). The olive branch has become an international symbol of peace and is represented on the emblem of the United Nations, where two of them symmetrically embrace a map of the world. (more…)

Next Page »