May 2012

a Yemeni worker; photo by Amira Nasser

Severe working conditions with no way out

Amira Nasser, Yemen Times, May 17, 2012

Despite the revolution which exploded last year in Yemen with demands for human rights and opportunities, thousands of Yemenis still work in slave-like conditions with little hope of escape.

Surviving in Yemen’s harsh economy with limited choices has forced countless Yemenis to take work that affords them little social mobility, and leaves them drowning in debt.

Tight circumstances

Waheeb Abdul-Wahab, a 13-year-old, works in a mechanic shop with his 7-year-old brother, Majed, from 7a.m. to 4p.m. daily. They each make YR 1000 , less than 5 US dollars, for a long day of strenuous labor.

“My brother and I give some of the money to my mother and we keep about YR 600 for ourselves.”

Waheeb added that he alone makes roughly YR 8000 to 9000 in profits for the shop owner on a daily basis, but he keeps only YR 1000 for himself.

He and his brother are an example of thousands of Yemeni children who are forced to work demanding jobs in order to sustain their families. (more…)

A vendor works on his computer at a market in the Old Sanaa city May 16, 2012

Here is an extraordinary photograph from the Sanaa suq of a merchant, holding a mouse that roars louder for Yemen’s future than the images of the Presidents on the surrounding walls.

by Talal Asad, Islam Interactive, May 21, 2012

In April 2011 an international symposium was held in Riyadh, under the auspices of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies as well as the Austrian Embassy to Saudi Arabia, on the life and work of my father. The conference as a whole was entitled “Muhammad Asad – A Life for Dialogue,” but I was asked by the organizers to write specifically on “Muhammad Asad Between Religion and Politics.” Unfortunately I was unable to attend the symposium so I sent in my written contribution to be read out by someone else at the meeting. What follows is a slightly elaborated version of the argument I sent.

I should begin by correcting a view that has become common among people interested in my father’s life and work, that his conversion can be seen as the building of a bridge between Islam and the West. He has even been described by some as a European intellectual who came to Islam with the aim of liberalizing it. Nothing could be further from the truth. When he embraced Islam (aslama, “submitted,” is the Arabic term) he entered a rich and complex tradition that had evolved in diverse ways – mutually compatible as well as in conflict with one another – for a millennium-and-a-half. Thus in his own life’s work he sought to use the methodology of the medieval Spanish theologian Abu Muhammad Ibn Hazm, he drew often and copiously on the interpretations of the nineteenth-century Egyptian reformer Muhammad Abduh, and again, despite strong disagreement on various points of substance with the fourteenth-century Syrian theologian Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, he attempted, like the latter, to integrate reason (‘aql), tradition (naql), and free-will (irāda), to form a coherent and distinctive vision of Islam. His view of Sufism, incidentally, was also influenced by Ibn Taymiyya, for whom it was the excess of Sufis rather than Sufism as such that was the object of reproach. In fact most of what my father published in the early years of his life (Islam at the Crossroads, the translation of Sahīh al-Bukhāri, the periodical Arafāt, etc.) was addressed not to Westerners but to fellow-Muslims. I would say, therefore, that he was concerned less with building bridges and more with immersing himself critically in the tradition of Islam that became his tradition, and with encouraging members of his community (Muslims) to adopt an approach that he considered to be its essence. His autobiography was the first publication that was addressed to non-Muslims (as well as to Muslims, of course), a work in which he attempted to lay out to a popular audience not only how he became a Muslim but also what he thought was wonderful about Islam. His translation of the Qur’an into English, completed in the latter part of his life, was not simply a translation: it was a detailed presentation of his final vision of Islam. (more…)

There is a series of photographs of the Yemeni youth skateboard culture in Sanaa in the Toronto Star.

Lawrence of Arabia on his Brough Superior

Strategist of the Desert Dies in Military Hospital

Lord Allenby’s tribute – “Valued comrade”

The Guardian, May 19, 1935

We regret to announce the death of Mr. T. E. Shaw (“Lawrence of Arabia”), which occurred shortly after eight o’clock yesterday morning in Wool Military Hospital, Bovington Camp, Dorset. Mr. Shaw, who until recently was an aircraftman in the Royal Air Force, was injured in a motor-cycling accident on Monday night and did not recover consciousness.

Tragic as it is that such a remarkable career should have been ended by a simple road accident, an official statement issued yesterday shows that if his fight for life had succeeded it would still have been a tragedy, for Mr. Shaw’s brain was irreparably damaged.

Mr. Shaw was 46 years of age.

After a post-mortem examination by Mr. H.W.B. Cairns, the London specialist, the following statement was issued: –

“The post-mortem examination conducted by Mr. Cairns showed such severe lacerations and damage to the brain that in the event of his recovery he would have only regained partial use of his speech and eyesight. In view of the immense activity and energy of Mr. Shaw it is felt that this may be some consolation to those who had entertained anxious hopes of his recovery.”

Another statement issued was: “The funeral of Mr. T. E. Shaw, formerly Colonel Lawrence, will take place at Moreton Church, Dorset, at 2.30pm on Tuesday. The service will be a simple one and no mourning and no flowers are requested. Apart from those specially invited the service will be confined to his particular friends and those who were associated with him in Arabia. (more…)

Jean-Marc Ayrault

The election of François Hollande as the new President of France not only has the financial markets reeling, but has also presented a problem for Arab journalists. Take, for example, the appointment of Jean-Marc Ayrault (as the French pronounce his name) as the new Prime Minister. As noted in al-Arabiya, here is the problem:

The Arab-speaking media was in a quandary after the appointment of Jean-Marc Ayrault as France’s new prime minster on Tuesday − about how to mention the head of the French government without causing offense.

Transcribed into Arabic from the French pronunciation of his name, “Ayrault” refers to the male sexual organ in several Arabic dialects.

The problem lasted for hours after French President Francois Hollande named the head of the Socialist bloc in parliament as his prime minister, with Arab journalists trying different possible pronunciations of his name.

Some newspapers referred to him as “Aro,” others prefixed his name with an “H,” while some chose to spell out the last two silent letters.

The conundrum was finally resolved by the French foreign ministry, which issued an official edict on subject permitting his name to be transcribed as written, and saving the blushes of many an Arabic editor.

I sympathize fully with Arab journalists trying to avoid any rhetorical ethical lapse. It might indeed raise the ire of Monsieur Ayrault, if he were to learn that Arabs think him a prick before he even takes on the responsibilities of his office (although perhaps this was the case for Sarkozy). Certainly Monsieur Ayrault is no airhead, nor should anyone confuse the recent French election with any kind of erectile dysfunction within the Eurozone. Monsieur Ayrault deserves a chance to enlarge his reputation without having his name sullied from the start. After he has had a chance to perform affairs of state, he can be judged during the refractory period that inevitably follows for all politicians. After all, he is only a Prime Minister and not yet an heir apparent.

Brigham Young and his 21 wives

It should not be surprising that North Carolina’s Republican legislators have made it a state law that marriage is only between one man and one woman, but the rationale is a bit puzzling for one of the buckles of the Bible Belt. Here is Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council claiming that “We can’t think that we can tinker with the definition of marriage and say, it’s no longer between a man and a woman which 5,000 years of human history has shown.” What Bible has Tony Perkins been reading? Let’s assume that he also wants to set back the clock to Bishop Ussher’s number game that Adam and Eve were created in 4004 BC. If Adam only married Eve, which would be news to the legendary Lilith and make it really interesting to speculate where Seth got his wife, then why not push it back another millennium. The problem is that many of the Biblical Patriarchs were not aware of the one man/one woman rule. Certainly not Abraham or Jacob. David and Solomon were only two of the Israelite kings who had rather sizeable harems.

Throughout most history, whether in the orbit of Biblical myth or not, marriage has not been exclusively between one man and one woman. (more…)

What we talk about when we talk about Egypt’s Salafis
By Haroon Moghul, Religion Dispatches, May 3, 2012

After their strong showing in the Egyptian elections, Salafis are a hot topic. But despite all the talk of Salafis, we still have a difficult time defining Salafism. Take Wendell Steavenson’s recent New Yorker piece, “Radicals Rising,” a portrait of Salafi politicians in Alexandria, Egypt.

Steavenson defines Salafism as “a strain of Islamic fundamentalism that emphasizes the original tenets and practices of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions.” Steavenson’s essay is worth reading—don’t get me wrong. But her definition doesn’t actually distinguish Salafis from most other Muslims.

Islam is rooted in the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad. This applies to Salafis (usually considered Sunni) as much as it does to Shi’a Muslims. For both, Muhammad embodies the Qur’an, and they in turn try to embody Muhammad. (more…)

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