October 2013



Image: Rihanna’s Instagram

by Fatimah Jackson-Best, Aquila Style, October 28, 2013

International pop icon Rihanna recently made the news after being asked to leave the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. According to a statement issued by the mosque, the singer’s removal from the grounds was based on several reasons, which include attempting to enter the mosque through a gate that was not allowed for visitors, failing to get the proper permission to visit and tour the mosque, and failing to behave in a way that was in accordance with the sanctity of the mosque.[i] Instagram photos of the singer posing in front of the mosque also sparked reactions from Muslims and non-Muslims around the world.

I learnt that she had been barred from entering the mosque on my Facebook wall, from a friend who jokingly reminded me that I could relate to the story, because I had also been prevented from visiting a mosque here in Barbados – twice. (more…)

The Princeton Geniza Project of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University seeks to extend the methodologies available to Hebrew and Arabic scholars working with the documents found in the Geniza chamber of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo in the late 19th century. The project is dedicated to transcribing documents from film copies to computer files, creating a full text retrieval text-base of transcribed documents, developing new tools such as dictionaries, semantic categories and morphological aids to further the study of Geniza texts. The project is committed to disseminating its materials as widely as possible to the international community of scholars with an interest in the life of the medieval Middle East, as well as to all with an interest in Judaica. It is our hope that by making materials from this very esoteric field widely available that new insights can be gained into the interaction of the peoples of the Middle East in past time. Since inception in 1986, funding has been provided by Princeton University, the Department of Near Eastern Studies, and from 2000 to 2005 by the Friedberg Genizah Project.

by Rafiq ur Rehman, theguardian.com, October 25, 2013

The last time I saw my mother, Momina Bibi, was the evening before Eid al-Adha. She was preparing my children’s clothing and showing them how to make sewaiyaan, a traditional sweet made of milk. She always used to say: the joy of Eid is the excitement it brings to the children.

Last year, she never had that experience. The next day, 24 October 2012, she was dead, killed by a US drone that rained fire down upon her as she tended her garden.

Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day. The media reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Several reported the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All reported that five militants were killed. Only one person was killed – a 67-year-old grandmother of nine.

My three children – 13-year-old Zubair, nine-year-old Nabila and five-year-old Asma – were playing nearby when their grandmother was killed. All of them were injured and rushed to hospitals. Were these children the “militants” the news reports spoke of? Or perhaps, it was my brother’s children? They, too, were there. They are aged three, seven, 12, 14, 15 and 17 years old. The eldest four had just returned from a day at school, not long before the missile struck.

But the United States and its citizens probably do not know this. (more…)

For anyone following the driving issue of Saudi women behind the wheel, here is a tune to drive home the problem.


The historic town of Byblos in Lebanon

بمطعم بيبلوس يا غصون ميلي

by George El-Hage
[This poem was delivered in the Byblos Restaurant in NY City during a Zajal debate between me and Youssef Abdel Samad and attended by a large audience including the Lebanese and Saudi Ambassadors. This was the opening poem and as usual, it is a love poem in the classical format addressed to the audience and describes a Lebanese beauty where the imagery is inspired by the country itself.]

بمطعم بيبلوس يا غصون ميلي
صوبي وعاحبابي سلميلي

قولي لن نشّف الدمع بعيوني
مرّ الهجر وسنينو طويلي

ويا سمرة عارفك انو حنوني
وما بتتكحلي الا بميلي

كحلة عينتينك يا عيوني
احلا عطور من احلى خميلي

عنقك مشقة الارزه المصوني
وصدرك طلعة بلادي الجميلي

عيونك لونها من بحر جوني
وشعرك نسمة جنوبي العليلي

زرعتك ورد احمر عا جفوني
بقلبي فتّح زهور الفضيلي

كوني وين ما بدّ ك تكوني
بتبقي خمرة الحب الاصيلي

انتِ للوحي بليلة جنوني
شعر وخمر… لا تكوني بخيلي

اعطيني من شفاف الحمر موني
شفافك للصلا افضل متيلي

وعنك بالجسد لو بيعدوني
بتبقى الروح ملكك عالقليلي

ومجد فقرا وروما لو عطوني
ومملكة العروش المستحيلي

وتحت الارض لولا بيدفنوني
لما شفافك تغرّد باسمي
ليكِ برجع وقلبي دليلي.


[Illustration: Miniature illustrating the treatment of a patient, Serefeddin Sabuncuoglu. Jarrahiyatu’l-Hâniya. Millet Library, Ali Emiri, Tib 79.]

In the 7th century Muhammad set in motion one of the world’s great religions, Islam. As an Arabian prophet, Muhammad spoke of the same God known to Jews and Christians for centuries. The message received by Muhammad, and revered today by over a billion Muslims, is contained in the Arabic Qur’an. Although the focus of this scripture is on the spiritual health of mankind, there are also numerous statements regarding physical health and emotional wellbeing. Muhammad himself often spoke regarding medicine and diet, and his words are accepted as authoritative only beneath the level of God’s revelation in the Qur’an. As Muslim scholars in later centuries encountered the medical traditions of classical Greece, Syriac tradition, and India, they compared this indigenous knowledge with the Qur’anic view of man and the prophet’s statements about health. Eventually, a specific literary genre called the “Prophet’s Medicine,” or al-tibb al-nabawi in Arabic, came into existence. In the texts of this genre Muslim scholars tried to merge the most accepted and current scientific knowledge about medicine with the folklore of Muhammad’s Arabia. (more…)

In the early 19th century there was a florescence of Protestant missionary interest in saving Muslim, Jewish and other kinds of Christian souls in the Middle East. This thread continues excerpts from one of the earliest accounts from the 19th century, that of Joseph Wolff (1795-1862), a convert from Judaism to Christianity. In 1837 he published a diary of his travels. Here are the passages related to a brief stop in several of Yemen’s ports:

to be continued…

The Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Program of Hofstra University is pleased to announce a public talk by the Yemeni diplomat Amat al-Alim al-Soswa, who will be speaking about her recent work on Yemen’s National Dialogue. Details are provided here. This will take place on campus in 101 Barnard Hall on Thursday, October 24 from 2:20-3:45. For more information, please contact me at daniel.m.varisco@hofstra.edu.

Since March 2013 , Amat Al-Alim Alsoswa has been a member of the Yemen National Dialogue Conference and a member of its State Building Team. She also chaired a subcommittee to prepare and suggest the criteria and term of reference for the constitutional drafting committee.

She was appointed in December 2005 by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and Director of its Regional Bureau for Arab States. In this post, Alsoswa has led UNDP’s 18 programme offices in the Arab region in their efforts to develop national capacities for poverty reduction, democratic governance, sustainable development, crisis prevention and recovery, and women’s empowerment. She has also provided regional thought leadership through the launching of two editions of the Arab Human Development Report, in 2006 and 2009, and in the preparation of the for the 2012 edition. (more…)

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