Category Archives: Scholars

Digitisation Project of Yemeni Manuscripts at Leiden University Libraries

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Dutch Consul Cornelis Adriaanse (on the right, sitting against a tree) in Yemen with his hosts, early 1930s (UBL Or. 26.374)

by Arnoud Vrolijk, Curator of Middle Eastern Special Collections

The Yemeni manuscripts of Leiden University Libraries are now being digitised as part of The Zaydi Manuscript Tradition, a project coordinated by Professor Sabine Schmidtke (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton).

For a number of years a war has been raging in Yemen, which not only devastates cities and villages, but also brings the population on the verge of famine. Only few people in the Netherlands are aware that Yemen has a rich culture which is now under heavy pressure. Historical buildings are being destroyed, but much less visible is the damage inflicted on the written heritage, the backbone of an ancient civilisation.

From times immemorial, Yemen has been the home country of the Zaydis, an early community in Shi’ite Islam. Until 1962 the imams, the religious leaders, were simultaneously the rulers of Yemen. Contrary to expectation, Zaydi Islam has never lived in isolation: there were extensive contacts with the Sunnis in the north and, for example, the Shi’ites of Iran. Their cultural treasures in the domains of religion, science and literature have been preserved in the Arabic manuscripts of Yemen. These handwritten books have an individual style that sets them off against the mainstream traditions of the Middle East.

Yemen has always had a rich library tradition. At present it is impossible to ascertain the current state of the collections. As a result, scholars from Yemen and abroad are now basically cut off from their source materials. In Europe and America, however, there are relatively small but important collections of Yemeni manuscripts. Most of these were collected in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by scholars, diplomats and travellers.

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علاَمة الفلك الزراعي في اليمن القاضي يحيى بن يحيى بن يحيى العنسي

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كلمة المهندس محمود إبراهيم الصغيري – رئيس الجمعية الفلكية اليمنية
في حفل تكريم : علاَمة الفلك الزراعي في اليمن القاضي يحيى بن يحيى بن يحيى العنسي والباحث الفلكي الشاب الأستاذ عدنان علي عبد الخالق الشوافي – في مركز الدراسات والبحوث اليمني – صنعاء – صباح الإثنين 26/11/2018 م
أخوة الوفاء للعلم والعلماء في الديار اليمنية
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته
حين يستدعي الإنسان مراحل تفكيره أومعارفه ببعض القضايا تتبلور لديه أصول بداياته المعرفية وأيضاً قيمتها . وفي المجال الفلكي ربما كان مهماً أنْ أشير إلى انَ المعرفة بالفلك وتأريخه ومراحله وأيضاً أعلامه لم تكن واضحةً في الذهن قبل العام 1979م . وفي إبريل / نيسان من ذلك العام 1979م وأثناء حضور الندوة العالمية الثانية لتاريخ العلوم عند العرب التقيت ولأول مرة بباحث مهم على الصعيد الفلكي هو الدكتور ديفيد كنج وأهداني محاضرةً مطبوعة له باللغتين العربية والانجليزية عنوانها: ( حول تاريخ الفلك في العصر الوسيط في اليمن )- كان قد ألقاها في وقت سابق من ذلك العام في صنعاء – وهي المحاضرة – الدراسة التي نشرتها لاحقاً في العدد الأول من مجلة الإكليل – صفر 1400 للهجرة – يناير /كانون الثاني 1980م – وقد ألحقتها بتعليق للأستاذ المحقق عبد الله الحبشي كان عنوانه : ( حول مؤلفات أهل اليمن في الفلك ) .
وفي العام 1980 م ذاته كتبت لإذاعة صنعاء مسلسلاً إذاعياً عنوانه : ( الهبوط  على سطح القمر ) وفيه الكثير من المعارف الفلكية والمنجزات التقنية والطبية … وبالرغم من ذلك لم أنتبه إلى حقيقة يمنية مهمة في المعارف الفلكية وكانت قد بدأت تتوفر في المكتبات  اليمنية منذ العام 1979م .
وبعيد قراءتي ولعدة مرات مقالة علاَمة التأريخ اليمني القاضي محمد بن علي الأكوع الحُوالي بعنوان : ( قصيدة البحر النعامي في الأشهر الحميرية وما يوافقها من أغدية ) – في العدد المزدوج ( 3-4) من مجلة الإكليل – رييع 1401 للهجرة الموافق 1981م .ً وأقول عدة مرات من القراءة للمقالة المذكورة لأنني في واقع الحال كنت مصححاً لمسودات مقالات المجلة وفي كل أعدادها إضافة إلى رئاسة التحرير ..
وبعد المقالة عن البحر النعامي أفقت على حقيقة فلكية يمنية عميقة وهائلة وهي أنَ أهل اليمن يمتلكون تقويماً خاصاً بهم يختلف عن سائر تقاويم الشعوب ( التي انحصرت تقاويمهم بين الشمسية أو القمرية ) ؛ وتفرد اليمنيون ومن زمن غير معلوم حتى الآن بتقويم زراعي لا يرتبط بجرم سماوي واحد وإنَما بجرم سماوي هو القمر من جهة وبمجموعة نجوم الثريا من جهة أخرى ( في حسابات تُسمَى القرانات) .
نعم إنَ الإنسان لايرى فعلياً (أو لايفهم) إلاَ ما يعرف
وبعد نشر المقالة المذكورة أدركت عيناي عملاً مهماً كان متوفراً وشائعاً في مكتبات صنعاء ووجدته في إحدى مكتبات شارع 26 سبتمبر وهو :
(الدائرة الفلكية الزراعية في اليمن ) للقاضي يحيى بن يحيى بن يحيى العنسي . وبفضل هذا العلاَمة الكبير وخلال حوالي أربعة عقود من الزمان شق التقويم الزراعي اليمني طريقه إلى الحياة الفكرية الفلكية والزراعية في داخل اليمن وخارجها .
ومن المهم هنا الإشارة إلى عَلمٍ من أعلام الفلك الإسلامي هو :
الدكتور دانيال مارتين فاريسكو الذي أنجز الكثير من البحوث والمؤلفات عن الفلك الزراعي في اليمن ( وهو ما يُسميه الفلك الشعبي) وكان القاضي يحيى العنسي من أبرز مراجعه وذكره بالاسم

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Egyptian Expedition Yemeni Manuscript List

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In December, 1951, an Egyptian delegation led by Fu’ād Sayyid ‘Imāra, the head of Arabic manuscripts in the Egyptian National library, arrived in Aden on their way to microfilm Yemeni manuscripts. They were received in Ta‘izz by Imam Aḥmad and Foreign Minister Qadi al-‘Amrī and then flew on to Ṣan‘ā’, where they had access to the Western Library of the Great Mosque. They were able to microfilm about 300 manuscripts, including from the collections of the former Imam Yaḥyā and other private collections. This important bibliographic volume is available online.

The topics covered in the manuscripts copied were the following: 110 on kalām, 35 on fiqh and ‘uṣūl, 33 on ta’rīkh, 20 on ḥadīth, 20 on adab, 19 on tafsīr and ‘ulūm al-Qu’rān, 13 on lugha, 8 on Ismā‘īliyya and extreme Shi‘a groups, 5 on various subjects, 3 on qarā’āt and tajwīd, 3 on siyāsa and ijtimā‘ and 2 on manṭiq. Because many of the manuscripts come from royal collections, this is a great asset for anyone studying Zaydi Yemen.

tarikhtarikh2Selections from the Great Mosque Western Library

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New Bibliographic Resource for Yemen

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Much has been made of Iran’s alleged support of the Huthi regime in Yemen. Lost in the glare of the politics is a remarkable resource in Iran for anyone interested in the history of Yemen and its culture, and indeed for the whole history of Islam and the region. This is a website devoted to classical Arabic and Persian texts, including several which are relevant to Yemen. It boasts some 6,742 books and over 27,000 journal articles.

Among the texts available to read and to search online are al-Hamdānī’s Ṣifat jazīrat al-‘Arab, Nashwān ibn Sa‘īd al-Ḥimyarī’s Mulūk Ḥimyar wa-aqyāl al-Yaman, al-Burayḥī’s Ṭabaqāt ṣulaḥā’ al-Yaman, al-Janadī’s Sulūk, al-Khazrajī’s al-‘Uqūd al-lu’lu’iyya, plus many more. In addition there is an online searchable edition of al-Zabīdī’s Tāj al-‘arūs, the lexicon of lexicons.

yemensearchThe remarkable feature of this website is that you can search the entire collection or search within an individual text.  For example, if you type اليمن into the overall search function, it will give you hundreds of hits in a variety of Arabic books and journal articles, as noted above.

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If you go to a specific text, like al-Hamdānī’s geographical text, and type in a location (like ذمار), you get all the times it occurs in the text.

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Noha Sadek on AIYS

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Noha Sadek in AIYS office in Bayt al-Sammān, December 1997

Since I landed in Sanaa for the first time on a brisk early morning with Ed Keall and four other members of the Canadian Mission of the Royal Ontario Museum in Zabīd, Yemen became the main focus of my research and AIYS played an important role in providing a reassuring base, administrative support as well as contacts with fellow researchers. Located near the Tourism office on Taḥrīr Square, AIYS in 1982 was a small house whose director, Leigh Douglas, gave us spartan but reassuring headquarters. Gazing then at AIYS’s colourful qamariyas, I had little inkling that I would return to Yemen three years later for my Ph.D. thesis research on Rasulid architecture.

Thus, I deemed myself lucky to have been awarded the AIYS doctoral fellowship for 1985-86. I shrugged off objections voiced over the fellowship being given to a Canadian, and I spent most of my six-month research period in Ta‘izz studying its magnificent Rasulid monuments. By then, AIYS had moved to a house on 26 September street but I did not reside there during my trips to Sanaa as I lived in Selma Al-Radi’s house in ḥārat al-ʿAjamī, an alley named after the family that owned most of the buildings in it, and whose major landmark was the French Centre for Yemeni Studies (CFEY). I subsequently returned to Yemen to continue work on Zabīd with the CAMROM, and with the help of local historian ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ḥaḍramī I succeeded in mapping the town’s 86 mosques. Our common interest in Yemeni architecture made Selma and I decide to embark on a survey of Yemen’s painted mosques, for which we received an AIYS grant in 1993 that allowed us to hire a car and a driver that made travel to remote mountainous regions, where several of these incredible buildings were located, a lot easier.

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Noha Sadek on the mosque trail in Zabid (Photo by Ed Keall)

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Two Talks on Yemen in Vienna

On July 3 Dr. Najwa Adra will present a talk at the Institute for Social Anthropology in Vienna, Austria entitled: “What Does it Mean to Be Tribal in Yemen?”

On July 5 Dr. Daniel Martin Varisco will give a talk at the same institute on “Agriculture in the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen.”

Both talks are free and open to the public. For details, see https://www.oeaw.ac.at/en/isa/events/upcoming-events/

Details on both talks are provided below:

What Does it Mean to Be Tribal in Yemen?

A large majority of Yemen’s population self-identifies as qabili /pl. qaba’il, terms normally glossed in English as “tribal.” Qabyala a uniquely Yemeni term that can be translated as “tribalism” comprises tribal ideology, customary law, behavior in formal contexts and a set of presumed personal characteristics ascribed to tribal Yemenis. This talk, based on long term field research, explores the behaviors and events associated with qabyala, in contrast to activities that do not connote tribalism; describes the interaction of tribes with urban elites; and suggests ways in which Yemeni tribes can collaborate with the state in peacebuilding and national development.

Najwa Adra (www.najwaadra.net) holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Temple University. She is   a cultural anthropologist with long-term experience in field research and development  consulting in Yemen. She has studied tribal identity and customary law in Yemen’s Central Highland Plateau as these have changed over the past 30 years and the ways in which these indigenous institutions can contribute to state building. She has written on Yemeni tribal mediation for ISA and is currently completing a book on tribal identity in Yemen. Her research also extends to Yemeni dance traditions, women’s role in Yemeni agriculture and literacy.

Agriculture in the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen

Yemen has a rich tradition of agriculture, stemming from the South Arabian kingdoms through the Islamic era. Yemeni scholars, anthropologists and agricultural experts have written about Yemen’s agriculture in the past half century, but less is known about the state of agriculture during the Mutawakkilite Kingdom in Yemen of the Zaydi Imams Yahya and Ahmad (1918-1962). This talk draws on Arabic resources, accounts by foreign travelers and the report of a 1955 FAO agricultural mission to Yemen in describing the role of agriculture and cultivated crops in the area ruled by the imams in the first part of the 20th century.

Daniel Martin Varisco holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania for ethnographic research on water resource use and agriculture in Yemen. He has also conducted ethnographic and historical research in Yemen, Egypt and Qatar. He serves as President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, editor-in-chief of CyberOrient (www.cyberorient.net), and was editor of Contemporary Islam (2006-2016). He has published on the history of Yemeni agriculture in the Journal for the Economic and Social History of the Orient, the Journal of Semitic Studies, History and Anthropology and in his Medieval Agriculture and Islamic Science (1994).

Yemenis in 1873

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It is rare to find photographs of Yemenis in the 19th century, especially ordinary people and not members of the elite. A series of photographs were taken of individuals within the Ottoman Empire for a book entitled Les Costumes Populaires de la Turquie en 1873. This was compiled for the Turkish Imperial Commission for the Universal Exposition in Vienna. The book is available as a pdf at archive.org.

While only four individuals are identified as Yemeni, there are many other people across the empire in the photographs.  The two photographs here, each with three individuals, are presented below, followed by the description of each in French.

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left to right: Scholar in al-Ḥudayda (#1), woman of Ṣan‘ā’ (#3)
middle-class man of al-Ḥudayda (#2)

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Modern South Arabian

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T.M. Johstone sits with Abdul Qadr,
the head of education in Dhofar at the time.

T.M. Johnstone’s Modern South Arabian recordings: collaborative cataloguing and ‘footprints’ of biocultural change in Southern Arabia

Audio cataloguer Dr Alice Rudge writes:

Thomas Muir Johnstone made many recordings during his research trips to the Middle East in the 1960s and 1970s, some of which are of endangered and unwritten languages. The British Library now houses these open reel and cassette tapes, which were acquired from Durham University Library in 1995. The collection is archived within the World and Traditional Music collection with the reference C733. As part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, these tapes have now been digitised and are being catalogued. The cataloguing of the tapes in this collection containing Modern South Arabian languages was made possible through a collaborative process, which revealed not only the content of the tapes, but also the webs of intertwining stories and lives that they document.

For the rest of this article and the podcast, click here.

Yemeni as Arab American of the Year

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ACCESS is honored to announce Dr. Rashid Abdu as one of the recipients of its Arab American of the Year Award at the 46th Annual Dinner, which takes place on Saturday, April 22 at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. Dr. Abdu embodies the spirit of leadership, ingenuity and compassion that this award has come to represent and exemplifies the perseverance and humbleness at the heart of the immigrant contribution to the American success story.

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For a video documentary on Dr. Abdu, click here.