AIYS at MESA 2014: Making Yemen’s Islamic History: Engineering, Monuments, Taxes and Stimulants

[P3654] Making Yemen’s Islamic History: Engineering, Monuments, Taxes and Stimulants

 MESA Annual Convention, Washington DC
To be held Monday, 11/24/14 11:00am

•    Written versus archaeological evidence: The example of water and wastewater in medieval Zabid, Yemen by Dr. Ingrid Hehmeyer
•    Ideal and pragmatic tax law in mediaeval Zaydi Yemen by Dr. Eirik Hovden
•    A cultural heritage text from early medieval South Arabia by Dr. Daniel Mahoney
•    Coffee and Qat in Yemen: The Historical and Literary Evidence for their Introduction by Dr. Daniel Martin Varisco
•    Discussant:  Dr. Nancy Ajung Um


Scholarship on Islamic history has paid less attention to Yemen than to Iraq, Syria or Egypt. Despite an important corpus of manuscripts and the publication of several significant primary sources, the historical reconstruction of Islamic Yemen lags behind these other regions. This panel brings together historians who work on various periods in Yemen to illustrate how the current historiography is being made. Archaeological fieldwork on the Islamic era has been limited with the notable exception of the Royal Ontario Museum project on Zabid. Based on the excavation of water works in Zabid, one paper compares the material evidence with the description of water engineering schemes in the 16th century Yemeni text History of Zabid by Ibn al-Dayba’, thus showing the importance of archaeology for fleshing out the tantalizing details in written texts. Another paper focuses on the 10th century multi-volume al-Iklil of the Yemeni savant al-Hamdani, who provides a rhetorical landscape of monuments as an aid in the formation and maintenance of the South Arabian political identity in a fashion akin to modern cultural heritage texts. At the same time, al-Hamdani’s reconstruction of Yemen’s pre-Islamic past serves as a mirror of the politics of his own time, with the retreat of the Abbasid presence and the recent arrival of both Zaydis and Isma’ilis to northern Yemen, more than a century before the Ayyubid invasion. The Zaydi presence in Yemen’s north since the late ninth century is the focus of a paper on the tax policies of the Zaydi imams, especially the tension between the traditional zakat on production and other kinds of taxes. This paper discusses both the theological debate about tax collection and recorded information on how taxes were actually collected. Another paper examines the evidence for the introduction of both coffee (Coffea arabica) and qat (Catha edulis) into Yemen, probably during the Rasulid era. Recent research has resolved the issue of the origin of the term “qat” and there is a need to update discussion of the stimulant in previous sources, including the EI. This paper will examine historical, literary, legal and lexical sources as well as Yemeni folklore. Overall the panel provides both an indication of current research and an invitation for other scholars to help make Yemen’s history as well.