July 2013



Libyan musicians; Photography by Dr. Virgil Clift in the 1950s


Imam Yahya’s “Niẓām al-Yuhūd,” ms.ar.120 from the National Library of Israel

There is a new study out on the statute on Yemeni Jews by Imam Yahya in 1323/1905 by the historian Kerstin Hünefeld. This is published in Chroniques du manuscrits au Yémen, in the July 2013 issue, which is available in download as a pdf. Hünefeld provides both an edition and an annotated translation.

Note to the Reader: This commentary is written on behalf of youth in the Arab region who are struggling to find a new place under the sun. In my lengthy interaction with the young population, be it in my professional life or as a mother, I hope I have been able to transmit their feelings and dreams for a better future. I fervently hope that in the process of negotiation and recantations within political circles their voices are not silenced nor their presence overlooked, for in bypassing this important segment of society we risk murdering the future just as we adults have been responsible for messing up the present.

History is not only the distant past nor is it the recent past which is always prone to distortion; history is also the future which is being written at present for better or for worse, i.e.history is always in the making. I wonder if the famous quote: “The power of the pen is mightier than the sword” is still true in the modern world of technology, and for a moment I am inclined to think that the bullets that take away the lives of our youth by the dozen everyday are thus more powerful. But in the end I comfort myself with the thought that the power of the pen is still stronger, for what was the power of the pen has become the power of Facebook and the internet backed by technology. This is the same technology that has been a tool for this massive tsunami in the Arab world and the same technology that is being used to quell it. Tet again the power of the pen has proved to be mightier for no matter how many bullets have been shot, the wave of the tsunami is rising higher. (more…)


Although few Western non-Muslim travelers penetrated the forbidden zone of the ka‘ba in Mecca, illustrations proliferated by the mid-18th century. The image above was taken from the 1857 edition of Sale’s translation of the Qur’an (London: W. Tegg & Co) and reproduced in Henry J. Van-Lennep’s Bible Lands: Their Modern Customs and Manners Illustrative of Scripture (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1875). The two most famous travelers to make surreptitious trips to Mecca were Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1814 and Richard Burton in 1853.

And now for a musical interlude… from Aden. It appears that after I posted this, it was not possible to see it, but this one works. So here is some Aden Rap.

Having established this blog a little less than a decade ago, I was initially excited about the possibility of responding to things I read about the Middle East and Islam in virtual “real time.” I still have several letters (the kind put on paper) to the editor that never were published where I sent them. Even if they had been eventually published, it would have been a bit late. Blogs seemed a new and accessible way to play the role of a pundit. But there are different paths for punditry. The best kind is pondering about events; the least useful is pandering to a particular point of view.

To ponder is to wonder, which requires taking risks with ideas and sentiments. Pondering goes beyond posturing, which is simply repeating a polemical mantra no matter where it falls on the left-right political spectrum. Pandering results from preaching to the choir, fixating on speaking a specific truth to power that others may not think is a valid “truth” at all. The contentious issues surrounding representation of Islam, Muslims, Arabs, Jews and the gamut of issues that smolder in the region known as the Middle East are not resolved by rhetorical crossfire. I think that sometimes there is so much speech clutter on the internet that voices of reason have little chance of being heard.

Everyone has pet issues and I am certainly no exception. The reader of my posts over the years will find that for the most part I preach tolerance of diverse views with one glaring exception: I am loathe to tolerate intolerance. A dialogue of disagreement, in my mind, is always better than a monologue of “I am right and you are wrong.” To ponder an issue, then, should be to probe it, test it, play with it, throw it around and see what falls out, make it transparent. Dogma ends all dialogue. (more…)

A postcard labeled “Femmes Djerbiennes” and published by Misscoui Mustapha, Fabrique de Couvertures – Houmt – Souk.


Market on road to Tihama from Hajja

There are a number of promising young Yemeni photographers. Today I highlight the work of Raiman al-Hamdani, from his Flickr site. My thanks to Raiman for permission to post these photographs.


Nagil Haraz, leading to Wadi Surdud in Al-Mahwit


Qat market in ‘Abs, near Hajja

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