The Yemeni scholar Qadi Ismail al-Akwa‘ has a Facebook page in Arabic dedicated to his life and work.
The most important historical port on Yemen’s Red Sea coast is no doubt the old port of Mocha, which gained fame in the West for its association with the Yemen coffee trade. In her book, The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port, Nancy Um provides a fascinating social history of the trade through this seaport during the Ottoman period. Here is how the book is described on the publisher’s website.
Gaining prominence as a seaport under the Ottomans in the mid-1500s, the city of Mocha on the Red Sea coast of Yemen pulsed with maritime commerce. Its very name became synonymous with Yemen’s most important revenue-producing crop – coffee. After the imams of the Qasimi dynasty ousted the Ottomans in 1635, Mocha’s trade turned eastward toward the Indian Ocean and coastal India. Merchants and shipowners from Asian, African, and European shores flocked to the city to trade in Arabian coffee and aromatics, Indian textiles, Asian spices, and silver from the New World.
There was a time when books were hard to come by. Either they cost too much or were inaccessible in a private or exclusive university library. Whatever else the world wide web has done (and that is a mouthful), it now functions as an archive. More and more, the rare and out-of-print books I used to be forced to read in a library reading room are becoming available online. Mr. Gutenberg might roll over in his Grab at the very thought of a pdf file, but print has taken a new and universal turn. I especially enjoy the “flipbook”, which simulates turning the pages of images of the original. For an enjoyable read on the early history of Yemen, there is the flipbook version of Henry Cassels Kay’s translation called YAMAN, ITS EARLY MEDIAEVAL HISTORY, published in London in 1892. This has excerpts (not always trustworthy in their translation) from Umarah ibn Ali al-Hakami (1120/21-1174), Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), and Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Janadi (d. 1332?).
The sad thing is that well over a century ago, Kay lamented that there was virtually nothing available on the history of Yemen, which had become of strategic interest to the British empire. More sadly, the same can be said today. There is no single, critical history of Yemen’s Islamic history in English or another European language, while there are many valuable historical texts written by Yemenis in Arabic. Here is Kay’s comment:
On Monday, May 12, AIYS President Dan Varisco gave a lecture at the University of the United Arab Emirates in al-‘Ayn on the history of date palms in Yemen. The lecture covered the history and geography of date palm production with a focus on information from the Rasulid agricultural texts. For the coastal town of Zabid, the early 13th century traveler Ibn al-Mujawir related the following anecdote about the introduction of dates there:
اول من غرس النخل الامير علي بن محمد الصليحي ويقال الحبشة في اول دولة علي بن المهدي لما حضروا الحبشة وصلت عير من ارض الحجاز حملها لتمر فكانوا يأكلون التمر ويرمون النوى فمن نداوة الارض طلع النخل فلما رأت اهل البلاد ذلك وعرفوا غرسه غرسوه وكثر النخل
ابن المجاور، تأريخ المستبصر
“The first person to plant date palms [in Zabīd] was Amir ‘Alī b. Muḥammad al-Ṣulayḥī. It is also said it was the Abyssinians at the beginning of the rule of ‘Alī b. al-Mahdī. When the Abyssinians were there, a caravan arrived from the Hejaz, carrying dates. They would eat the dates and throw the stones down. Because of the dampness of the soil, date palms grew. When the inhabitants of the area saw this, they learned how to plant [palms]; they planted them and they became numerous.” (Rex Smith translation, 2008)
This word just in. An AIYS panel proposed for the 2014 MESA annual meeting in Washington, D.C. has been accepted. The panel was organized by AIYS President Varisco and the abstract of the panel is provided below:
Making Yemen’s Islamic History: Engineering, Endowments, Monuments and Qat
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.
[More than 10,000 Yemeni manuscripts have disappeared over the last 10 years, many of them destroyed by extremists opposed to Zaydi-Shiism and its intellectual heritage.]
يعتبر اليمن موطنا للمخطوطات والرقائق القرآنية بامتياز، حيث إن التاريخ والموروث الحضاري العربي الإسلامي بكل تجلياته ، وجد بيئة حاضنة لم تكشف لحد اليوم عن كامل أسرارها وكنوزها النادرة التي لا تنضب .
ورغم تعرض المخطوط اليمني لعملية نهب منظمة إبان الاستعمار البريطاني ، قدرت بأزيد من 60 ألف مخطوطة على الأقل ، إلا أن الوثائق اليمنية غير المكتشفة أكبر بكثير مما سلط عليه الضوء .
وتتوزع المخطوطات اليمنية في العالم بين مختلف المكتبات والمراكز المختصة بشكل رسمي ، فنجد أن مكتبة “الأميروزيانا” التي تأسست عام 1609 في مدينة ميلانو ، تزخر لوحدها بأكثر من 1700 مخطوط يمني في مختلف مجالات العلم والمعرفة ، بالإضافة إلى آلاف الوثائق اليمنية التي تنتشر على مكتبات قارات العالم بأكمله .
ومن المكتبات العالمية التي تحتضن في أروقتها مخطوطات يمنية ، نذكر: مكتبة الفاتيكان في إيطاليا ، مكتبة الإسكوريال في إسبانيا ، المكتبة الوطنية في باريس ، مكتبة الكونغرس في واشنطن ، مكتبة برلين ، المكتبة السليمانية في تركيا ، إلى جانب مكتبات في الهند وباكستان وبريطانيا وإيرلندا. Continue reading Yemeni Manuscripts in Peril
On April 10, AIYS President Daniel Martin Varisco gave a public lecture at Lund University in Sweden entitled “Rebuilding Yemen after the Arab Spring: A Cultural Anatomy of a Crisis.” The talk was sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, directed by Dr. Leif Stenberg. About 30 students and faculty attended the talk.
The abstract of the talk is noted below:
“The Arab Spring that toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya eventually caught up with Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Salih, who was forced to resign in late 2011 after three decades in power. In the aftermath of Salih’s fall, a national dialogue has taken place to rebuild Yemen as a federalist state with a new constitution and eventual election of a replacement for the current interim president, Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi. This talk will lay out the political history of contemporary Yemen, identify the major power brokers in the rebuilding process, analyze the ongoing cultural issues including Yemen’s tribes, survey the critical economic and environmental obstacles facing Yemen’s population and put the role of “terrorism” on Yemeni soil into perspective. I will draw on my experience as a cultural anthropologist who first conducted research in Yemen in 1978, as a development consultant in Yemen over the past three decades and as a historian.”