Given all the unhappiness, it is refreshing to find a little happiness in the Middle East, even if it is musical. Enjoy the following:

Happy in Yemen (

Happy in Abu Dhabi (

Happy in Algeria (

Happy in Egypt (

Happy In Kuwait (

Happy in Jerusalem (

Happy in Jordan (

Happy in Lebanon (

Happy from Morocco (

Happy in Qatar (

Happy from Saudi Arabia (

Happy in Turkey (

It is getting harder for Iraqi-Kurdish vendors to find stock of genuine Kurdish handicrafts [Lara Fatah/Al Jazeera]

by Lara Fatah, Al Jazeera, April 20, 2014

Erbil, Iraq - In the heart of the ancient city of Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, stands the Erbil citadel, or Qalat, as it is known locally. A walk along the city walls, which are currently under restoration, brings people to one of the region’s gems: the Kurdish Textile Museum.

It is here that the lost art of weaving and handicrafts is being re-taught. Shereen Fars Hussan, one of 40 women trained in weaving at the museum since 2009, sits quietly in the building’s cool upper interior as her colleagues chatter with pride at having learned these traditional skills.

Hussan, 30, remembers how she used to watch her grandmother weave carpets and kilims (tapestry-woven carpets). “She would tell us stories about the old ways of life in Kurdistan, how she would weave carpets with the patterns that her own grandmother and mother had taught her from childhood, but war and genocide meant that she couldn’t pass on the skills to my mother and me,” Hussan told Al Jazeera.

VIDEO: Kulajo - My heart is darkened (more…)

Christians around the world celebrate Easter with thoughts of the empty tomb and resurrection of Christ. But there is more. Weather permitting, children are let loose in their Sunday best to hunt for Easter eggs, adding a secular, healthy, dietary blessing to the baskets of chocolate bunnies and jelly beans waiting at home. Even the White House lawn is set for the annual Easter Egg Roll (minus the Christian Rock) on Monday. It is as though many Christians are not content to leave the tomb empty. Apparently egged on by the spring fever of long forgotten fertility rites, the main message of Christianity gets sidetracked to a debate of anything but intellectual designing: which comes first, the Easter egg or the Easter bunny?

Eggs are not the exclusive mystical domain of Christendom (although the ludicrous lengths taken to parade a sacred holiday into outrageous bonnets and Texas-shaped eggs suggest we have entered the dispensation of Christendumb). Secular folk and agnostics eat their eggs for breakfast with bacon, toast and diner coffee. But all God’s children like eggs, including Muslims with internet savy and a taste for the miraculous. Take a gander (but do not confuse his spouse’s eggs with those shown here) at the three eggs shown below. What do you see different in the middle egg than the ones on either side (hint: the left is from the 2007 White House State of the Union Eggroll and the right is from 2006 Easter Sunday):

There was a time when “Oriental Tales” were the rage of the age. Montesquieu penned Lettres Persanes in 1721 and Oliver Goldsmith followed up several decades later with The Citizen of the World. But I recently came across a late 19th century text about a future visit of a Persian Prince and Admiral to the ruins of a land known as Mehrica. This is The Last American and purports to be the journal of Khan-Li, a rather bizarre name for a Persian but so thoroughly Orientalist in mode. The admiral visits America in 1990 ( a century after the book was written), when American is in ruins, following the massacre of the Protestants in 1907 and the overthrow of the Murfey dynasty in 1930. But let the introduction to the text set up the marvels…


N-H-M in Sabaean

Not being a resident of Utah, I sometimes forget that there are people who take The Book of Mormon (the original and not the Broadway play) seriously. There is a passage in 1 Nephi 16:34 that suggests the place of Ishmael’s burial: “And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.” So where might Nahom be? Well, why not Yemen? That is the argument in an article by Warren Aston, who traveled to Yemen and found an inscription on an alter at Marib that referred to Nihm, a tribe. Thus, The Book of Mormon is verified, as innumerable Mormon websites attest, including one on Wikipedia.

There is indeed a Yemeni tribe called Nihm, part of the Bakil confederation. But why exactly would Ishmael end up getting buried in Yemen? There is certainly no indication in the Old Testament of Ishmael going to Yemen. Genesis 25:17 reads “And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.” I sort of doubt that the priestly authors mention of “his people” meant the Sabaens down in Yemen. And in Islam Ishmael stops at Mecca. So either the Torah is wrong, Islamic tradition is wrong or the 19th century Book of Mormon is wrong. And, of course, given that this legendary material, they may all be wrong. There are indeed skeptics of Nephi.

The placename fallacy has a long history in pseudo-archaeology. One can rather easily manipulate major biblical placenames in Arabia. The Lebanese scholar Kamal Salibi played this game to the hilt in his imaginative The Bible Came from Arabia. Two individuals in Bahrain have continued the theme. It is difficult to dismiss the political motive (that Abraham and Moses were not herding their flocks and refugees respectively to ancient Israel) that no doubt underlies such attempts to rewrite history. Certainly there is no archaeological evidence for these bizarre claims. And just as certainly there is no end of lunatic archaeology in sight.

Dr.Mohammed Maraqten, who has excavated at Marib, sends the following details about the altar:

This altar is from Barʾān Temple (Arsch Bilqis), ca. 6 Century B.C. and still in situ.
The complete filiations of the dedicator of this altar to Almaqah reads: Bʿṯtr / bn / s¹wdm / bn / nwʿm / nhmyn
The partly damaged letters are / N / and / H / (like Arabic Hirra) and the complete word is NHMYN and has for sure NOTHING to do with Biblical NḤM with / Ḥ / and the Canaanite root NḤM. The root is NHM and not NḤM.
Two possibilities to understand this word:
- NHMYN (al-Nihmī) is Nisbe to the very famous and many time attested in the inscriptions, in the Islamic period and still in the same place northeast of Sanaa. Also the Nisbe NHMYN is attested may times.
- NHMYN is a designation of a profession “Stonemason”, Munahhim or Muhandis, the verb NHM is well known in the inscriptions and the Arabic sources as a Yemeni term in the meaning of “to dress stones”.

There are many postcards on the Internet from old Aden under British control. This continues the series with views of Sheikh Othman.

to be continued… for #12, click here.

Bringing Muslims back to science
Is Muslim religious discourse on scientific matters killing the scientific aspirations of the religious?

By Mohamed Ghilan, Al Jazeera, April 11, 2014

The most important rule in Islam is “judgment on anything is a branch of conceptualising it”. To determine whether a belief can be accepted by a Muslim or not, this is the first and most often repeated principle. However, when it comes to matters scientific, this indispensable rule for correct judgment is paradoxically the most disregarded one.

Ever since the decline of the Islamic civilisation and the end of its Golden Age, Muslims have ironically taken up superstitious and irrational thinking habits they had previously dropped when they originally accepted the Message of Prophet Muhammad. The ideas that the sun could eclipse for the death of someone, that certain numbers have magical powers, or that birds flying in a certain direction indicates an omen of some kind were among superstitious beliefs explicitly pointed out by Prophet Muhammad and in verses in the Quran for their irrationality. Unfortunately, it seems that Muslims have gone full circle. Out of the top 20 countries in overall science output, Turkey is the sole Muslim representative, barely sneaking in at number 19.

Overly simplistic explanations of this phenomenon have pointed to Al-Ghazali (c 1058-1111), one of the most influential Muslim theologians. His work, The Incoherence of Philosophers, is cited for its negative impact on Muslim thinking. This, however, is a grave misrepresentation of Al-Ghazali, his attack on contemporary philosophers, and the Islamic civilisation as a whole. (more…)

By Samira Ali BinDaair, Sanaa

When it comes to women and gender in Yemen, I see the discussions inevitably alternating between what is happening in politics and then back again to the same old arguments about women’s rights. I think the problem is that we always look at women’s issues from a very narrow angle lens even though we profess to uphold women’s rights, whatever those are and by whosoever’s definition. After working for the past 20 years in development programmes that spanned different agendas and a variety of target groups and where gender analysis always featured largely, I can safely say that this whole concept of gender mainstreaming was introduced to Yemen without being communicated through more cultural-sensitive strategies. The result has been considerable confusion. Because it was introduced by Western agencies, it was sometimes greatly misunderstood, misimplemented and misused by people with vested interests, just as some men with vested interests have misinterpreted the role of women in Islam.

Gender, therefore, has taken on a demonic face when implemented in this way and came to be seen by some as advocating for the Western style of women’s lib from the 60s and being outside local religio-cultural norms. This ended up marginalizing women even more when the male members of society rejected it out of hand. Gender mainstreaming should be a rigorous process of examining the impact of policies on females, males and children and simultaneously defining the special needs of each category. The gender advocates simply go on repeating the same platitudes about women’s rights hinging on a two pronged concept of public life and employment. For example, in Yemen rural women constitute 70% of the labour force in agriculture so the question is not whether to work or not to work for them but how to relieve them of the many burdens that they face within an underprovided rural environment. (more…)

Next Page »