Solomon and Sayf ibn Dhī Yazan

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Solomon Legends in Sīrat Sayf ibn Dhī Yazan

 Sīrat Sayf ibn Dhī Yazan (“The Adventures of Sayf b. Dhī Yazan”) is a late-medieval Egyptian popular epic that recounts the story of the life and adventures of King Sayf b. Dhī Yazan, son of the Yemenite king Dhū Yazan.1 Set against the background of a war with the king of Ḥabash,2 Sayf Arʿad, it tells the story of how Sayf b. Dhī Yazan (henceforth “Sayf”) leads his people into Egypt, diverts the Nile to its current course, and then goes on to conquer the realms of men and jinn in the name of Islam. Set in legendary pre-Islamic time, it rewrites history to present Egypt as born out of a “reverse exodus” led by a proto-Islamic, Yemeni king.3 As is common in Arabic popular literature, Sīrat Sayf draws much of its material from a pool of popular and folkloric story patterns, motifs, and tropes, which are pieced together in a unique way so as to tell its story. It also makes intertextual reference to stories, legends, and other narratives in ways that enrich the thematic subtext and convey meaning. From this perspective, references to the Islamic qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (“tales of the prophets”) play a significant role in the text. Not only do they anchor the proto-Islamic world of Sīrat Sayf in Islamic legendary world history, but the associations they bring into the text also nuance the characterization of Sīrat Sayf’s main protagonists and help to create subtextual and thematic complexity.

This article investigates a number of direct references made to legends about the prophet Solomon within Sīrat Sayf in order to explore how this particular sīrah uses the “Solomon” intertext and to what end.4 It focuses primarily on two particular episodes in the sīrah, during both of which stories about Solomon and the Queen of Sheba are recounted by characters within the text. After introducing these stories in the first section of this article, the second section assesses the intertextual relevance of the Islamic Solomon legend to Sīrat Sayf. It analyses how these stories, and the episodes in which they are embedded, relate to the Solomon legends as found in premodern qiṣaṣ sources, and how Sīrat Sayf uses intertextual reference to Solomon legends to express its own thematic agenda. In a previous study, I have argued that Sayf is, at its core, a discussion of kingship, fitness to rule, and the importance to society of keeping the forces of order and chaos in balance, and that it expresses this struggle largely through the literary use of gender (according to which, broadly speaking, the female embodies the forces of chaos, and the male the forces of order).5 The use of intertextual reference to other narratives is a key element of this discussion. The final section explores the intertextual relevance of the Ethiopian story of Solomon, Bilqīs, and their son Menelik found in the Kǝbrä Nägäst to the Sayf text.

For the full article, click here.

Shooting Qat

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This is a store in Doha.  I suspect there is no qat in Qatar (apart from the first three letters), but there are plenty of photogenic cats.  Or perhaps this is a store for buying Catha edulis plants.

The Sanaa Palimpset

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Oxford University Press, 2017

This volume provides a new annotated edition of the two layers of the ‘Sanaa palimpsest’, one of the oldest Qur’an manuscripts yet discovered, together with a critical introduction that offers new hypotheses concerning the transmission of the Qur’an during the first centuries of Islam. The palimpsest contains two superimposed Qur’anic texts within two layers of writing, on thirty-eight leaves of parchment collectively numbered MS 01-27.1 in the Dar al-Makhtutat (lit. ‘the House of Manuscripts’) in Sanaa, Yemen. The palimpsest’s lower text, which has been dated to the first century of Islam (seventh century CE), was subsequently erased and the parchment was later reused for writing another Qur’anic text, which remains visible in natural light. This upper text is thought to date from the second century of Islam (eighth century CE). The two layers were imaged in 2007 by a French–Italian mission.

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Aden Hinterland Freed!

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A picturesque ceremony took place recently at Lahej, the capital of the Aden hinterland, on the occasion of the restoration to his throne, under British auspices, of the Sultan, Sir Abdul Karim ibn Fadthli ibn Ali, K.C.I.E.  He succeeded to the throne on January 1, 1918, and was recognized as Sultan by the British Government, but it was only lately that he was installed after the evacuation of Lahej by the Turks.  There were some 7000 Turkish troops in the Aden hinterland and southern Yemen, and for some time after the armistice granted to Turkey, it is said they refused to evacuate those territories, believing the news to be a hoax.  Special envoys had to be sent from Constantinople to convince them, and they have since surrendered and have been shipped out of the country.

from The Illustrated London News, March 1, 1919– 293.

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Yemen Architecture Exhibition

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Trevor Marchand has put together an exhibition entitled “Buildings That Fill My Eye” Architectural Heritage of Yemen for the Brunei Gallery at SOAS in London.

The exhibition and its planned public talks and educational events will explore the astonishing variety of building styles and traditions that have evolved over millennia in a region of diverse terrains, extreme climates and distinctive local histories. Generations of highly skilled masons, carpenters and craftspeople have deftly employed the materials-to-hand and indigenous technologies to create urban architectural assemblages, gardens and rural landscapes that dialogue harmoniously with the natural contours and conditions of southern Arabia. In turn, the place-making practices of Yemen’s builders have played a significant role in fostering tight-knit communities with a strong sense of pride and distinct cultural identities.

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National Geographic on Shibam

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On April 3, National Geographic online published an article on the historic Yemeni city of Shibam.

In the heart of Yemen’s Wadi Hadramaut, a cluster of ancient mud skyscrapers soars above the desert floor—a beacon of mankind’s adaptability to the most formidable of environments.

At the edge of a desolate expanse of desert known as the Empty Quarter, the 16th-century Walled City of Shibam remains the oldest metropolis in the world to use vertical construction. Once a significant caravan stop on the spice and incense route across the southern Arabian plateau, British explorer Freya Stark dubbed the mud city “the Manhattan of the desert” in the 1930s.

Every aspect of Shibam’s design is strategic. Perched upon on a rocky spur and surrounded by a giant flood wadi, its elevated position shields it from flooding while maintaining proximity to its primary source of water and agriculture. The city was built on a rectangular grid behind a fortified wall—a defensive arrangement that protected its inhabitants from rival tribes and offered a high vantage point from which enemies would be seen approaching.

For the full story click here.

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