March 2013



An unhappy wife is complaining to the Qadi about her husband’s impotence, 18th century.

Fresh Air, NPR, April 16, 2012

Sadakat Kadri is an English barrister, a Muslim by birth and a historian. His first book, The Trial, was an extensive survey of the Western criminal judicial system, detailing more than 4,000 years of courtroom antics.

In his new book, Heaven on Earth, Kadri turns his sights east, to centuries of Shariah law. The first parts of his book describe how early Islamic scholars codified — and then modified — the code that would govern how people lead their daily lives. Kadri then turns to the modern day, reflecting on the lawmakers who are trying to prohibit Shariah law in a dozen states, as well as his encounters with scholars and imams in India, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and Iran — the very people who strictly interpret the religious and moral code of Islam today. And some of those modern interpretations, he says, are much more rigid — and much more draconian — than the code set forth during the early years of Islamic law. (more…)


Photographic image source

by Anouar Majid, Tingitana, March 16, 2013

New reports are showing that Morocco’s fertility rates continue their rather dramatic downward trend. According to InfoMédiaire, Morocco’s High Commission for Planning says they have been halved since 1987, dropping from 4.5 children per women to 2,2 children in 2010. Part of the explanation has to do with the fact that people are marrying later.

Declining fertility rates is a global phenomenon and is particularly surprising in the Islamic world, perplexing observers who expect demographically-related doomsday scenarios of one kind or another. In 2011, David Goldman explained that civilizations without a strong religious faith lose the desire to procreate. Economic prosperity turns children into expensive and time-consuming propositions, since a child born to parents in Paris or New York would have to compete with dozens of other demands, such as the need for education, entertainment, vacations, and the like. And fertility rates are not helped when parents no longer expect to be supported by their children in old age. At least, Westerners have social security systems to rely on. (more…)


In 2010 I had the privilege of participating in an international conference in Vienna on camels (not on camelback, of course). A book from this conference has now appeared. This is: Eva-Maria KNOLL – Pamela BURGER, editors, Camels in Asia and North Africa. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on their Past and Present Significance. 2012, 290 p., with 26 articles, 33 graphs/maps, 111 pictures, and an index. My article is on what camels eat, for which I have created a website.

Here is how the editors describe the book:

Humanity’s history is closely linked to those of camels. Without these remarkable animals we could not have inhabited the arid zones of Asia and North Africa, nor could we cope with today’s challenges of increasing desertification. Researching interactions between humans and camels therefore has been established at the Austrian Academy of Sciences ever since its foundation more than 160 years ago. The present publication is committed to this research tradition. This book assembles insights upon current and historical interactions between humans and camels. Thereby it is international and interdisciplinary from the outset and aims at intensifying a camel-related knowledge exchange between the natural sciences and the humanities. The here presented discussions of Old World camels (dromedary, Bactrian, wild camel) include such diverse topics as camel origin, domestication, breeding, raising and commerce. Moreover, camels’ significance is also discussed regarding socio-cultural and economic factors, music, folk medicine and veterinary medicine, as well as saving the last remaining wild camels. With an afterword by Richard W. Bulliet (New York), one of the world’s leading authorities on the camels’ history.


The high social price of media and humanitarian dissimulation in North Lebanon.

by Estella Carpi

In the aid provision sphere of North Lebanon, international media in close connection with humanitarian agencies often hasten to show how North Lebanon’s hospitality of Syrian refugees coming in large numbers to flee destruction, scarcity, repression, chronic fear and instability is huge. Such hospitality is actually a product of a quite complex picture with an up-close look, unlike the idyllic scenario humanitarian practitioners and local people usually provide. In addition, social dynamics are normally depicted in the media in ethnicized terms: that is to say Lebanese versus Syrians.

A few months ago, while conducting my fieldwork in Lebanon, I was told that some Lebanese threw stones to humanitarian workers during the food kits’ distribution for Syrian refugees in a town in Akkar, the northern region. The episode had been interpreted by local people themselves as an outburst of tension because of the sudden massive presence of humanitarian organizations in the area, which has always been neglected by state and non-state actors due to lack of political interests. The latter, in fact, were slightly more localized in Beirut and in the south of the country, vexed by Israeli occupation and by a consequent local impoverishment (1978-2000).

The humanitarian agencies operating in that town decided not to let journalists publish about the episode. Others published about it by contending that local people in North Lebanon would definitely stop “hostilities” and warm up if aid were provided to them too. The main reason behind the omission and amendment of this kind of information is apparently the intention not to generate further frictions between the local community and the Syrians. (more…)

A controversial tempest in a samovar erupted last week when Iran’s President Ahmadenijad appeared to kiss the grieving mother of Hugo Chavez at the state funeral for the Venezuelan leader. The lips do touch the face of Chavez’s mother, but the context suggests an embrace of consolation rather than anything untoward. To the extent this innate human reaction of sympathy is something to be forbidden as unIslamic, religion becomes a mockery. The Muhammad presented in the Sira was a man of compassion. I suspect he would not approve of those who take the charge of modesty to such an extreme as to deny the most basic of positive human instincts.

But the controversy over this alleged “kiss” reminded me of an image from a different time in Iran. I have a booklet (Iran Today) issued by the Imperial Iranian Government in the early 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson was still vice-president. This is pure propaganda for the then-young Shah’s Iran. Opposite the Table of Contents, and thus the first image in the booklet, is a full-page spread with the caption: “His Imperial Majesty the Shah meets members of the Iranian community in Istanbul, Turkey.” You will note that this image is the classic politician baby kissing. Obviously, this was seen as a positive side of the ruler who loves his people. What a difference half a century makes in the interpretation of a kiss.

The propaganda aspect of the booklet is most evident in the unflinching praise for the Shah, as can be seen below:

“Their Imperial Majesties the Shah and Queen Farah greet distinguished guests from the United States: Vice President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson and their daughter, who visited Iran last summer.


Yemen’s President Rabu Mansour Hadi has issued decree No. (12) for 2013 on Sunday, March 17, forming the presidium of the Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference, which starts today. The officers are listed below:

1- President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi as president of the conference.
2- Abdul-Kareem al-Iriani as a vice-president for the conference.
3- Yasin Saeed No’man as a vice-president for the conference.
4- Abdul-Wahab Ahmed al-Anisi as a vice-president for the conference.
5- Sultan Hizam al-Atwani as a vice-president for the conference.
6- Ahmed Bin Fareed al-Sorimah as a vice-president for the conference.
7- Saleh Ahmed Habrah as a vice-president for the conference.
8- Abdullah Salem Lamlas as the conference’s reporter.
9- Nadia Abdul-Aziz al-Sakkaf as a deputy for the reporter.

For a complete list of the 565 participants in Arabic, go here.

The term “dialogue” is ambitious, given the general disrespect held in Yemen for the UN, which is sponsoring this 6-month long exercise. It is hard to imagine how over 500 people can engage in a meaningful dialogue. Is the six months so they can each take the floor and filibuster? While a wide net has been cast, there is still major grievance from the southern secessionists, who staged a strike in Aden on Sunday. Although none of the former major political players will be physically present (including former President Salih, General Ali Mohsen and Sheikh al-Ahmar), they will certainly be represented by some of the participants. One is always hopeful that a path to national reconciliation can be forged. Yemenis did it themselves after the bitter civil war in the 1960s, but that was before decades of military rule eroded most Yemeni support for the central government. Still, talk is always better than bullets, so let the dialogue begin.


A villager makes cow dung cakes used as cooking fuel at Maloya village on the outskirts of the northern Indian city of Chandigarh on January 31, 2011; photograph by Ajay Verma / Reuters

[Webshaykh’s note: Here is a great story coming out of Indonesia about two young female science students contributing to society. I believe Marvin Harris would love this, as would anyone appreciates the Hindu doctrine of ahimsa. Yet another sacred cow sacrificed in the interest of science.]

Fermented Cow Dung Air Freshener Wins Two Students Top Science Prize

by Kimberley Mok, Care2.com, March 16, 2013

Conventional air fresheners are known for their toxic soup of chemicals that may be linked with asthma, reproductive disorders and even lung disease. While there’s no shortage of environmentally-friendly and human-healthy air fresheners on the market, two Indonesian science students are behind a rather bizarre concoction that you may be seeing soon: an affordable air freshener made from cow dung.

Yes, cow dung — as weird as it sounds, the formulation actually has a pleasant herbal smell, and has won Dwi Nailul Izzah and Rintya Aprianti Miki a gold medal at Indonesia’s Science Project Olympiad (ISPO). According to Oddity Central, the young women overcame 1,000 other competitors with their surprising freshener, which was painstakingly created by collecting unused cow manure from a cattle farm and fermenting it for three days:

Then they extracted the water from the fermented manure and mixed it with coconut water. Finally, they distilled the liquid to eliminate all impurities. The whole process took 7 days, which is pretty long, but in the end they obtained what they were looking for – a liquid air freshener with an herbal aroma from digested cow food. (more…)

I have recently published an article in a volume edited by Ian Netton, entitled Orientalism Revisited: Art, Land and Voyage (London: Routledge, 2013, pp. 187-204). I provide the introductory paragraphs below.


Orientalism and Bibliolatry:
Framing the Holy Land in 19th Century Protestant Bible Customs Texts

“The Orient was almost a European invention, and has been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences.” Edward Said, Orientalism, 1979

“In a word, Palestine is one vast tablet whereupon God’s messages to men have been drawn, and graven deep in living characters by the Great Publisher of glad tidings, to be seen and read of all to the end of time.” William M. Thomson, The Land and the Book, 1859

This essay begins with a famous opening phrase from Edward Said’s Orientalism not because there is a need to validate or dispute it, but because of what it leaves out. Indeed, Said’s caveat of “almost” is telling, since his text only describes the “Orient” invented through the writings of Western writers. What is remarkable about Said’s styling of the Orient as a form of politicized discourse is that the most important part of this invention is missing: the Orient invaded by Napoleon is also the Holy Land, the “vast tablet,” as American missionary William Thomson phrases it, which brings the Bible to life. Napoleon may have initiated Western imperialist ambitions in this Holy Land, but the ultimate failure of his military mission stands in stark contrast to the perpetual array of Christian pilgrims, scholars and missionaries who visited this holiest of Holy Lands for Christians and Jews. Absent from Said’s text is the genre that was most widely read in 19th century Europe and America, specifically Holy Land travel texts that cited contemporary customs and manners of Arabs and other groups encountered as illustrations of Bible characters for popular consumption, especially among Protestants.

Said’s genealogy of the discourse he identifies as Orientalism is a thoroughly academic one. (more…)

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