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.

AIYS at MESA 2014: Yemen’s Cultural Crisis: Catastrophe or Opportunity?

Yemen’s Cultural Crisis: Catastrophe or Opportunity?

MESA Annual Convention,  Sunday, November 23, 4:30pm

•    Bridging the Generation Gap to Protect Nature in Yemen: Conservation of Nature through Culture by Mohammed Al-Duais
•    Cents and (Cultural) Sensibility: How Transnational Political Agendas Condition the Content of Contemporary Theater in Yemen by Katherine Hennessey
•    It Looks Good on Paper: Conserving Zabid’s Manuscripts and Intellectual History by Anne Regourd
•    Conserving Built Heritage and Landscapes in Yemen: Political and Cultural Considerations for Sustainability by Stephen Steinbeiser and  Abdullah Al-Hadhrami
• Chair:  Dr. Sheila Carapico


This panel investigates how sociopolitical turmoil in Yemen from 2011 to the present has impacted the production, development, and preservation of culture in domains ranging from the arts to architecture to archeology. Dire political and economic circumstances, as well as other impending emergencies, have largely thrown into crisis efforts to create and maintain Yemen’s cultural heritage. International and diplomatic efforts to stabilize the political situation in Yemen have resulted in pledges of billions of dollars, presumably to shore up a failing economy, combat terrorism and ensure security. Although these are undeniably crucial goals, this panel argues that a brighter future for the country depends more on a holistic awareness and approach to addressing the country’s problems, one which broadens the focus to promote education, the arts, and preservation of Yemen’s immense, but often undocumented and deteriorating, cultural patrimony.

Scholars on this panel will analyze the contemporary challenges to cultural preservation and production in Yemen, and the urgent threats such challenges pose. When possible, panelists will also provide examples of recent successful efforts to protect and support various aspects of Yemeni culture, as well as contemporary cultural production spurred by the Arab Spring, and to suggest ways in which individuals, organizations, and the international community could potentially capitalize on those efforts. The panelists’ areas of expertise will cover a variety of sub-domains under the general heading of cultural production, including but not limited to architecture and restoration; museums and cultural policy; manuscript conservation; environmental awareness; and literature, film, and theater.

AIYS at MESA 2014: Tribes in Yemen: The View from Within

[P3658] Tribes in Yemen: The View from Within

MESA Annual Convention, Washington DC
To be held Sunday, 11/23/14 11:00am

•    Chair:  Dr. Najwa Adra
•    Poetry and Tribalism in Yemen by Dr. Mohammed Sharafuddin
•    The Future Political Role of Yemeni Tribal Sheikhs in Light of the Expected Outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference by Dr. Adil Mujahid Al Sharjabi
•    The True Role of the Tribe in the Arab Political Scene: The Case of Yemen by Dr. Fuad Al-Salahi
•    Tribalism in the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference by Dr. Abdul Karim S. Al-Aug
•    Discussant:  Dr. Charles Schmitz


An estimated 80% of Yemen’s population is rural, and a large majority of this population self-identifies as tribal. Further, many recent urban migrants, as well as some influential political leaders and wealthy business magnates also self-identify as tribal. Tribal participation in peace building efforts and entrepreneurial economic activity indicate that tribes in Yemen are not peripheral to political, social and economic processes, nor are they homogeneous. In this panel Yemeni scholars present their research on the place of tribes and tribalism in Yemeni society today.

The wealth of literature in Arabic on Yemeni tribes, dating back at least to al-Hamdani’s work in the 9th Century, has not been easily available outside of Yemen. This panel introduces the nuanced and varied views of four Yemeni social scientists on tribalism in Yemen today. The first paper situates Yemeni tribes through their poetry, the preferred tribal medium of self-representation. It argues that a lack of communication between Yemen’s tribes and the outside world has led to misunderstanding and misrepresentation of tribalism. The second paper analyses the political roles of tribal leaders during the previous regime of past-President Ali Abdallah Salih and during the current transition period. It examines the potential impacts of political change on the power of tribal leaders. The third paper begins with the observation that tribalism in Yemen is neither homogeneous nor stagnant. It analyzes tribal participation in Yemen’s Spring Revolutionary process and explores recent changes within tribal society that both encourage and abet political participation. The fourth paper brings together the issues discussed so far and explores the potential significance of recent tribal participation in politics to the shape of Yemeni political processes: do they indicate a democratization of Yemeni politics or a “tribalization” of democratic process?

A Jewel of a Book by Marjorie Ransom


AIYS member and long-time supporter Marjorie Ransom has just published her beautifully illustrated and diligently researched book on Yemeni silverwork.  This is a must for anyone interested in Yemeni culture.  It can be purchased from AUC Press or Amazon.  Get your copy today…

The photographs are exquisite as the sample here shows.


Here is the description of the book by the publisher:

Continue reading A Jewel of a Book by Marjorie Ransom

Bless the bees


A report in al-Masdar Online notes that Yemen has officially exported 50,000 tons of honey in the past year, in addition to other ways in which it has been distributed.  There may be as many as 100,000 beekeepers producing honey in an estimated 1.28 million hives.  Honey has long been an important product in Yemen.  The Rasulid almanac of al-Malik al-Ashraf ‘Umar mentioned several varieties of honey based on the main flowering plants of the season.  One of the most famous areas for honey in Yemen is Wadi Daw‘an.  One of the best articles on beekeeping in Yemen is by Giovanni Canova, originally published in 2001 in Yemen Update and online here.

Mud Brick Architecture in Hadramawt


العمارة الطينية .. تراث أصيل عُرف به الحضارم
( صور + تفاصيل )

هنا حضرموت / تصوير / علي بامطرف
الجمعة 20 يونيو

فن العمارة في وادي حضرموت الذي تميز به منذ الازل ولازال الى يومنا هذا يحرص المواطنين على المضي على نمطهم في العمران الذي تميزوا به وميزوا وديانهم المتعددة التي تبنى منازلها أيضا من الطين .. فكيف يتم البناء بالطين .. يبدأ هذا من نقطة البداية الا وهو اختيار نوعية التربة فالطين يجب ان يكون من النوع النقي من كل شائبة بمعنى أوضح ( الصلصال) ,, يجمع الطين في كومه كبيرة يعمل في وسطها حفرة واسعة ويصب فيها الماء ويرش عليه التبن .. ويدخلها الرجال الأشداء فيدوسون التراب بأقدامهم ويخلطونه بأيديهم وتسمى هذه العملية ( المقلب ) أي يقلب الطين مع بعضه بواسطة الماء والتبن ( والتبن هو الحشائيش البيضاء القاسيه ) من أعواد القمح ) . بعد ذلك تتناقله الأيدي ليوضع على خشبه معدة لذلك تسمى ( الرعــه ) وهي عبارة عن خشبه ذات أربع زوائـــد أفقية تضع عليها الطين المقلوب ويحملها اثنان من الرجال وتبدأ المرحلة الثانية بحيث يستلم الطين عمال آخرون بأيديهم مربعات خشبية توضع وسطها الطين وتسمى ( المفتــل ) وهو عبارة عن خشبة ذات فتحتين يصب فيها الطين بشكل قوالب وعلى هذا النمط يضع تحت أشعة الشمس الحارقة ليتم تجفيفه وينقل بعد ذلك .. ويسمى ( المـــدر) .
Continue reading Mud Brick Architecture in Hadramawt

Going Qatless in Britain

qatbanThe Yemeni press is reporting the news that Britain has banned the growing, distribution, selling or buying of qat in Britain. The penalty is said to be up to 14 years in prison.  Actually, the ban had been planned with much criticism in 2013 . To me this sounds like a bizarre ruling, since fresh qat leaves are certainly not a dangerous drug.  There is an obvious ban on any derivative drug that can be extracted from the qat plant, but this is an attempt to regulate social behavior with criminal consequences.  I know of no evidence that qat induces violent behavior and it is certainly not a mind-altering drug like heroin.

An article in The Guardian, however, tells a more nuanced story.

Police have been officially advised to use their discretion in deciding how to enforce the ban that comes into force on Tuesday on qat, a mild herbal stimulant, that has been widely used in Britain’s Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities.

Official guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers tells constables that in applying a “three strikes” enforcement policy they should take into account that qat has “historically not been a controlled drug and was part of the culture of certain communities linked to the Horn of Africa.”

Continue reading Going Qatless in Britain