May 2012

Sinbad’s Seventh Voyage by Arthur Szyk

[Webshaykh’s Note: This last semester I taught an Honors Seminar on the Arabian Nights. The last assignment asked students to write the 8th voyage of Sindbad, drawing on what happened in earlier voyages. I will post several of these here for your enjoyment. This is the second one I am publishing and it is by Marissa Priest. For the first by Taryn Teurfs, click here.]

The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad
By Marissa Priest

Before all the hairs of his beard could turn white, Sinbad the Sailor longed for one last voyage. Yet after all the turmoil of his past adventures, his wife was worried for his safety. Her concern only multiplied when their young son Hamza showed the same symptoms of wanderlust. Like his father, he longed to sail the seas to gather wealth and taste adventure. Despite her pleading, the two set off to begin the eighth voyage. First, Sinbad took his son with him to the docks to gather a reliable crew. They found plenty of honest and faithful men who were eager to set out with the fabled Sinbad. After gathering enough supplies, the men sailed out with no idea where they would find themselves.

Sinbad had chosen a mighty ship, but she was not strong enough to last the force of a great sea storm. As the great waves pounded across the ship, the men were tossed back and forth. Many were thrown into the sea to perish. Provisions flew off the ship and broke apart in the ocean. Sinbad was not afraid, but clung to the mast and instructed his son to do the same. Catching some rope that flew past him, Sinbad tied himself to the mast. Before he could secure his son, the ship capsized. The dominant water swept his son away, carrying him far out of sight. Despite his cries, Sinbad was subject to the ocean’s whims as well. Still bound to the now broken mast, he bobbed across the vicious water for days until being spat out on the shore of a foreign island. After untangling himself from the wet rope and shattered wood, Sinbad rose to study his new surroundings. (more…)

Frontline aired an interesting program on Al Qaeda in Yemen last night. It features the Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who was able to visit the towns of Jaar and Azzam in southern Yemen, both as they were controlled by Ansar al-Sharia. It is clear from his reporting that some of the fighters are from outside Yemen, as he specifically mentions Somalis and Afghans. At the end of his report he visited Lawdar, where the local Yemeni tribesmen drove out the militants and are defending the town from them. The Yemeni tribes do not support either al Qaeda or Ansar al-Sharia, whose strict interpretation and high-handed ways go against tribal customary law. Although the government troops are currently suffering internal conflict, the days of Ansar al-Sharia are surely numbered. You can watch the program online.

In Monday’s Washington Post there is a report that the paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey is predicting that in another 15-3o years the evidence for evolution will be so overwhelming that creationists who believe in a literal Adam and Eve (which includes about half of the American public, according to opinion polls) will finally throw in the towel. Would that it were so, but the evidence has been overwhelming for well over a hundred years. Every aspect of scientific discovery since Darwin rests on the assumption that life, and indeed all matter, has evolved over a process that involves millions of years. There is not a shred of evidence for the old Bishop Ussher chronology that it all began in a garden called Eden with a lump of clay, a serpent, a couple of symbolic trees and a refashioned rib; not a shred. Push back that divine origin story several thousand years and there is no difference.

If I am still around in another 15-35 years I do not expect the ardent creationists to be any less active. They continue because of an ideology that refuses to accept that the Bible is myth and not the inspired science and history of a rather old and unconvincing idea of God. Creationists do not approach science with an open mind, so they will not be convinced no matter what scientific evidence there is. The theology of the creationists has not changed. Take this old “history of the world” text book I have from the early part of the 19th century (the title page is missing, but the last information is for 1815). It may very well have been one of those books that Abraham Lincoln sought as a child for his own education. I include here the first section, which takes the sacred history of Genesis as real history. This was a book used in the public schools before Darwin published his revolutionary Origin of Species, not a religious tract. Science has come a long way, notwithstanding David Hume’s contributions not long before this book came out; creationists have not and never will.

Haraz village

In celebration of the birthday of the Yemeni photographer Raiman al-Hamdani on Tuesday, here are two of his photographs from his FLICKR site.

Painting of St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre by François Dubois, a Huguenot painter born circa 1529 in Amiens

Here in America summer is well on its way as most colleges have already finished their spring terms, public schools will in less than a month and the beaches start to fill up. People will complain about the high price of gas and brace themselves for an onslaught of political advertising in which billions of dollars that might have helped the poor abroad will be wasted on the media madness we foolishly think is democracy at its best. Forget the dream of “one man/woman, one vote” in a system where corporations and billionaires see if they can buy elections in our red state/blue state electorality.

In Egypt the first round of voting is over and what a choice: the Brotherhood candidate or the old regime hack. Damn those Brits for not letting Saad Zaghlul take Egypt into the 20th century. Imagine if the map drawn up after World War I on that infamous Churchillian napkin had actually given autonomy to the various ethnic groups, including the Kurds, in the region instead of mandating the old Ottoman precincts. The protests that erupted over a year ago just about everywhere have a long fuse. Yes, the last dictators have fallen in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. But the future in all these countries is full of potholes that the IMF will not be able to pave over; nor will Saudi billions make life all that much better for the millions of people suffering economic hardship more than ever.

And the blood keeps spilling, a flood only matched by the tears of those who mourn the dead. (more…)

Burke Arabic MS 1, unsigned and undated (Iraq or Iran, before 1300 CE)

The following is a nicely done website about a Quran exhibition held at the Burke Theological Library of Columbia University in 2005 and curated by the historian Dagmar A. Riedel.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims commemorate the revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad. In Fall 2005, from October 4 until November 2, Burke Library exhibited some of its Qurans to explore during Ramadan 1426 AH how attitudes toward Islam are reflected in the books that give readers access to its revelation.

Since Burke Library was founded as a Protestant research collection, the study of Islam is not often associated with its holdings. But its small collection of Near Eastern manuscripts includes five Qurans which represent the regional esthetic traditions of Quran illumination between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries CE. Furthermore, Burke Library owns many of the seminal works of Quran scholarship published in early modern Europe, documenting how non-Muslim Europeans translated the Arabic Quran first into Latin and then into European vernaculars. The exhibition traced the process, stretching from the twelfth to the nineteenth century, by which the European approach to the Quran was transformed from an angst-ridden defense against yet another Christian heresy to the investigation of another strain of monotheism.

The 2005 project was made possible by Michael Boddy’s enthusiastic support which in turn ensured the permission of Sara J. Myers, the director of Burke Library, to go ahead with an exhibition that in the middle of the term occupied space in the Burke’s conference and reading rooms. I am also indebted to Jean W. Ashton, the director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, for lending a Quran from the David E. Smith Collection of Oriental Manuscripts for the exhibition. In the winter of 2011, Burke Library director John B. Weaver generously sponsored the web adaptation of the original brick-and-mortar exhibition.

Exhibit Curator
Dagmar A. Riedel

illustration by Gustaf Tengrren

[Webshaykh’s Note: This last semester I taught an Honors Seminar on the Arabian Nights. The last assignment asked students to write the 8th voyage of Sindbad, drawing on what happened in earlier voyages. I will post several of these here for your enjoyment. The first is by Taryn Teurfs…]

The 8th Voyage of Sindbad

by Taryn Teurfs

Sindbad began to recall his eighth voyage, his most truly remarkable voyage that was kept clandestine. He began:

I was visiting the palace of King Haffwadar because he spoke of a sword he needed me to capture in turn for a great reward. The Sword of Harun al-Rashid, as legend has it, belonged to the caliph himself and possesses a mystical element: If the true descendant of Harun al-Rashid obtains that sword, with one touch the sword lights on fire and can cut through 1000 enemies with one lash. King Haffwadar had no evidence that he was a descendant of Harun al-Rashid, but one of his magicians had a vision of Haffwadar holding the sword so Haffwadar felt that fate was telling him he was its rightful owner.

The sword was located in the Isla de los Monos, comprised of apes of all different shapes and sizes, but a thousand times more powerful that the island I visited on my third voyage. The journey to this island is so dangerous King Haffwadar couldn’t risk his life to obtain the sword but knew the type of journeys I would go on to try and recover valuables or ensure the safety of a kingdom.

“Sindbad”, said King Haffwadar, “Before you go to the island you must obtain a mirrored box, an ice crystal, and the secret potion of Ashwayar. It is said in the legend you must use these items to defeat the evil jinn Shahidi who controls the island. You must seek the enchantress Ashwayar and ask her for these pieces. I am giving you this compass presented by the magician as guidance. It shall bring you to the sword in haste.” I came upon Ashwayar at the great lake. She had long beautiful black hair like the starless sky. She sat amidst a rose bush undraped, likened as the great Almighty had created her.

“Ashwayar,” I began. “I am called Sindbad. I have sailed here from afar to —“ (more…)

Yemen is about to be gifted with 3.25 billion dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia, according to Al Jazeera. With about 24 million people in Yemen, this is quite a hefty donation. Other donors will kick in to round it up at 4 billion. So the question now is who will benefit from all this money and how will such a vast amount actually be channeled into the public sector. There is no question that Yemen faces a severe humanitarian crisis with rising levels of malnutrition and health problems due to the insecurity and economic quagmire following the dictatorial rape of Yemen’s wealth by the late President Ali Abdullah Salih and his cronies. If the money is really funneled into health, education and needed infrastructure, this will be a valuable boost to getting the country back on track. But it is a big “if” given the continuing unrest throughout the country, the violence of Ansar al-Sharia in the south and the lack of a viable governmental civil service. How much of this aid will continue to end up in the pockets of officials, since corruption became endemic during the Salih regime?

And what are the strings to such a vast amount? Yemen has a diverse religious history with both Zaydi and Shafi’i followers who have lived in relative peace, separated by politics rather than doctrinal fighting, for centuries. But the influx of conservative Wahhabi cum Salafi views with Saudi financial backing threatens to create greater tension over religious affiliation. Do the Saudis simply want to extend their royal influence to the south or are the leaders genuinely concerned about the plight of Yemen’s population?

There is an old phrase in American English: “Don’t bite the hand that’s feeding you.” This is good advice as long as the hand is only feeding you and not at the same time grabbing you by the neck and forcing you to be something else than you want to be. It remains to be seen how the aid money will be spent, but Yemen is clearly the beneficiary of largesse that other struggling countries in the region have not received; Sudan and Somalia, for example.

But, as another American saying goes, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” even if it has a Saudi brand.

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