Sunday, 14 December 2014

"The earliest known Arabic short stories in the world have just been translated into English for the first time" by Robert Irwin

"The Ottoman sultan Selim the Grim – having defeated the Mamluks in two major battles in Syria and Egypt – entered Cairo in 1517.

He celebrated his victory by watching the crucifixion of the last Mamluk sultan at the Zuwayla Gate. Then he presided over the systematic looting of Cairo’s cultural treasures. Among that loot was the content of most of Cairo’s great libraries. Arabic manuscripts were shipped to Istanbul and distributed among the city’s mosques. This is probably how the manuscript of Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange ended up in the library of the great mosque of Ayasofya.

There it lay unread and gathering dust, a ragged manuscript that no one even knew existed, until 1933 when Hellmut Ritter, a German orientalist, stumbled across it and translated it into his mother tongue. An Arabic edition was belatedly printed in 1956."

Read the full article at The Independent

Sunday, 7 December 2014

"A new comic strip uses Mughal miniatures to convey contemporary angst" by Nayantara Narayanan

"For ages, Mughal and Rajput miniature paintings have provided a vivid window into the past, relating tales from the lives and times of kings and queens. Now those contemplative royals are speaking up for themselves in a writer-filmmaker’s web-comic series, telling ironic stories of unfairness.

Bengaluru-based Aarthi Parthasarathy has created the series Royal Existentials using the multitude of characters and opulent settings of miniatures to articulate contemporary social angst. Putting words in their mouths, she has broken the characters’ enigmatic silence. Here is a sample of her tongue-in-cheek take on social inequality."

Read the full article at

Sunday, 30 November 2014

"Kilwa Pot Sherds: Pilgrims, Raiders and Traders (900 - 1300 AD)" produced by Anthony Denselow

These pot sherds from East Africa are also found in the UAE and Oman demonstrating the integration of diverse regions in the Indian Ocean trade networks and cosmopolitanism of the Dar al-Islam 

"This week Neil MacGregor has been looking at objects from Japan, Britain, Java and central Europe, exploring the great arcs of trade that connected Africa, Europe and Asia a thousand years ago. Today he sifts through a selection of broken pots, found on a beach in East Africa, to see what they might tell us. Smashed pottery, it seems, can be astonishingly durable and can offer powerful historical insights. These ceramic bits - in a variety of glazes and decorations - were found on the island of Kilwa Kisiwani off Tanzania. Neil uses the fragments to tell the story of a string of thriving communities along the East African coast with links across the Indian Ocean and beyond. The historian Bertram Mapunda and the writer Abdulrazak Gurnah describe the significance of these broken pieces and help piece together the great cross-cultural mix that produced the Swahili culture and language."

Listen to the podcast at BBC Radio 4

"Early copy of the Qur’an discovered" by

"Researchers in Germany have discovered that a manuscript of Qur’an written between 20 and 40 years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, making it one of the earliest copies of the Islamic holy book known to be in existence.

Scholars at the Coranica Project, part of the University of Tübingen, examined a manuscript written in Kufic script, one of the oldest forms of Arabic writing. Using carbon-14 dating on three samples of the manuscript parchment, the researchers concluded that it was more than 95 percent likely to have originated in the period 649-675 AD."

Read the full article at

Sunday, 23 November 2014

"How Archaeology Shapes History" by Tim Power & Peter Sheehan

"More Emiratis needed to interpret archaeological data" by Anam Rizvi

"More nationals are needed to interpret data in the field of archaeology said experts at a lecture at Qasr Al Hosn Centre on Tuesday.

Dr Timothy Power, an associate professor at Zayed University, and Peter Sheehan, historic buildings manager at Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) spoke about the tools that are used by archeologists and how the science differs from palaeontology.

The public talk, How Archaeology Shapes History, was the last in a series of lectures that started in September. Emiratis, students and professionals attended the talk."

Read the full article at The National

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

"Introduction to the Archaeology of Ras Al Khaimah' (RaK DAM)

An ancient tomb in Ras Al Khaimah (Photo: RaK DAM)
"Within the United Arab Emirates, Ras Al  Khaimah is blessed with a unique archaeological heritage representing all significant periods of the last 9000 years. One of the main reasons for this continuous settlement was the abundance of sweet water along the mountains and the rich diversity of landscapes. Ras AL Khaimah is the only Emirate where fertile plains, high mountains, the coastal area and desert come together in a distinctive combination. This interaction of different landscapes has produced a rich and diverse cultural background, forming the very special heritage of the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. The following paragraphs will give a short overview of the most important periods represented in Ras Al Khaimah’s archaeology and history."

Sunday, 21 September 2014

"A Thousand Years of the Persian Book" by Kevin Schwartz

 Rostam slaying the White Devil of Mazandaran
"A Thousand Years of the Persian Book focuses on a millennium of Persian textual production, not just from Iran, but also from other corners of the Persian-speaking world. Today, the region includes countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, parts of Uzbekistan (e.g. Samarkand and Bukhara), and even remote corners of Western China, but at one period, it also extended to the Indian subcontinent (where Persian enjoyed the status of the language of the court and the literati under the Mughals) and present-day Turkey. In his monumental work, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, Marshall Hodgson defined the lands where ‘cultural traditions in Persian or reflecting Persian inspiration’ were prevalent as ‘Persianate’. Persianate traditions are not restricted to peoples of Persian descent or ethnicity, but rather embraced by those exposed to its influence. The expansive cultural topography, and more specifically, literary geography, are the focus of the exhibition at the Library, featuring texts produced by Iranians, Indians, Tajiks, Afghans, and Parsis (among others), all united by their attachment to a particular linguistic and aesthetic medium."

Read the full article at Reorient Magazine

Thursday, 18 September 2014

"Earliest known sketch of Abu Dhabi discovered" by Nick Leech

"Last year, Liza Rogers was working in the archives of the National Maritime Museum in London looking for documents relating to the history of Qatar.

Ms Rogers thought that a leather-bound, mid-19th century sketchbook belonging to one R W Whish might contain just the kind of interesting material to bring her subject to life, with observations and details normally absent from official surveys, charts and reports.

As she leafed through the book’s faded pages, something quite different captured her attention: a faint, 155-year-old pencil sketch depicting a horizon, sheltered by light cloud and defined by a fort, some towers and the masts of several ships.

The drawing had a subheading beneath it. In Whish’s fine copperplate script it said, 'Aboothubbi, HMS Mahi, 3½ fms.'"

Read the full article at The National

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

"A Magic Bowl for Love and Prosperity" by Shandra Lamaute

"Recently, I had the opportunity to examine an Islamic magic bowl supposedly created for love and prosperity. The bowl was made in Iran and likely can be dated to the pre-Modern time-period. The object is comprised of a myriad of sigils, magic squares, and partially inscribed Qur’anic verses. The purpose of my analysis was to interpret the bowl’s intended functionality through an examination of its aforementioned attributes as a means to contextualise it within the arena of the current corpus of scholarship concerning magic-medicinal bowls. Within this post, I will discuss one aspect of the magic bowl, the Seal of Solomon, which only occurs three times within the illustrative programme of the bowl, but is significant nonetheless."

Read the full article at Beyond Borders: A Medieval History of Art

Sunday, 14 September 2014

"Ya Bahr" by Sophie Chamas

(Photo: Mike Krueger)

"Kuwaiti ethnomusicologist Ghazi Al-Mulaifi reveals the pearls and musical gems beneath the surface of the Arabian Gulf. ‘All the men died at sea,’ Ghazi Al-Mulaifi’s grandfather would respond, every time his inquisitive grandson questioned him about his days as the master of a Kuwaiti pearling ship during the 1930s and 1940s. Naturally, his grandfather’s ambiguity only served to exacerbate the young Al-Mulaifi’s interest. ‘Who was this grandpa-captain of mine, who didn’t want to talk to me about the sea?’ he wondered. As Al-Mulaifi – now a 37 year old PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at New York University – became more and more interested in music as he grew older, he found himself increasingly drawn to one particular aspect of the Kuwaiti pearl diving tradition – its soundscape."

Read this article at Brownbook Magazine

Thursday, 11 September 2014

"15 Essential Films For An Introduction To Iranian Cinema" by Kimberly Kenobi

The Cyclist (Moshen Makhmalbaf, 1987)
"Iranian Cinema is a rich and diverse cinema that has been in existence since the 1930s amidst oppressive regimes, censorship and even in the face of exile. The history of film as an art form in Iran dates back to the pioneering days of cinema when the first movie theatre opened in Tehran in 1904.

Film was less than ten years old at the time and many Iranians flocked to cinemas to watch these primitive masterpieces. However, it would be another 25 years before Iran would develop its own national cinema, a cinema of morality, humanity, abandon and integrity.

Starting with the opening of the first film school in 1925, an Iranian national cinema quickly began to develop. Since then, cinema has served as an ambassador for Iran, the heart and soul of a country marred by years of instability.

As a result Iranian national cinema has become an engaging, chaotic, soulful and poignant cinema. It remains a true testament to the resilience and industrious nature of the Iranian people and serves as a veracious voice through which Iran can tells its varied and compelling stories."

Read the full article at Taste of Cinema

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

"1,000-year-old Middle Eastern recipe book claims to have the ultimate hangover cure" by April Holloway

The Kitab al-tabikh of Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq (Photo: National Library of Finland)
"Written nearly a thousand years ago, the Kitab al-tabikh (book of cookery) written by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq, is the most comprehensive work of its kind. It includes more than 600 recipes for culinary and medicinal dishes, including a well-known ancient Middle Eastern hangover cure, ingredients for enhancing sexual performance, and dishes for curing a range of health problems. The ancient text has been translated by Nawal Nasrallah, a former professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Baghdad, into the ‘Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchen’, making these fascinating recipes accessible to the English-speaking world for the first time.

Very little is known about Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq, the author of the text, except that he died in 961 AD, and that he was commissioned to write a cookbook on the dishes of Caliphs, Lords and dignitaries of the time. Many of the recipes are thought to have been acquired from much earlier writers and may be much older than 1,000 years."

Read the full article at Ancient Origins

Sunday, 7 September 2014

"Three Afghani Masterpieces Face Same Threats, Different Futures" by Laura C. Mallonee

The towers of Ghazni (Image: Wikimedia)

"The 213-foot-high minaret of Jam in western Afghanistan is believed to be the world’s second-tallest brick minaret, according to the BBC. Built out of bricks in 1194 CE, its exterior is emblazoned with geometric patterns and calligraphic verses from the Qur-an. Aside from a supporting wall and some light stabilization work, the now-leaning tower has never been restored. Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage site, Lack of funding has made it difficult to protect against rising floodwaters from the nearby Hari-Rud river and looting, so that 20–30% of its exterior has already been lost.

The 75-foot-high Victory Towers were built in central eastern Afghanistan by Sultans Masud III and Bahram Shah — the last of the Ghaznavids, a Turko-Persian Muslim dynasty that ruled the Silk Road empire stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Ganges Delta from the 10–12th centuries. Today, threats posed by water erosion, earthquakes (an early 20th century rumble shortened them significantly), looting and vibrations made by trucks driving on a nearby road have replaced those of invading armies."

Read the full article on Hyperallergic