Youssef Rakha: The Postmuslim

A. Abbas, Pakistan, 1988. Source: magnumphotos.com

Return of the Prodigal Muslim

Everybody knows the Enlightenment is dying. I don’t mean in the hells from which people board immigrant boats. It was never very alive here in the first place. I mean in the heavens to which the boat people seek suicidal access.

They end up drowning less for the love of the Postchristian West, it would seem, than out of despair with the Muslim East. Blame politics and economics, for sure. But could it be that all three phenomena – despair, poverty and dictatorship – are rooted in the same cultural impasse?

Today Brexits, Trumps and, let us not forget, the Islamic Invasion of Europe are spelling an Endarkenment all across the North, confining progressive and egalitarian principles to intensive care units. And I’m wondering what that could mean for despairing Muslims in the South.

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Brad Fox Does the Holy Quran

Detail from Umayyad Quran, before AD 725. Source: nybooks.com

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a train compartment from Casablanca to Marrakech with a Moroccan transport engineer, a Dutch-Italian couple, and a professor of Islamic culture back from Saudi Arabia for his summer holiday. The professor was talkative, repeatedly offering to buy everyone coffee and sandwiches. In a combination of fusha and a bit of English he went on about how people needed to know that Islam is not al-Qaeda and Da’esh, but love and friendship. At one point he asked us if anyone objected to him reciting a bit of the Qur’an. No one did, so he closed his eyes, pressed his fingertips together, and began reciting, quietly, beautifully. Afterward he asked the Dutch-Italian couple if they could feel the beauty of the language. Then, in the same voice and incantatory style, he said (in fushaI am going to a new city. I will arrive and look for a restaurant and a place to sleep.  He turned to them and asked if that felt different, but they couldn’t understand the question, and no one translated it, so we never got an answer. 

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Tam Hussein: The American

Christopher Anderson, Kunduz, Afghanistan, 2001. Source: magnumphotos.com

“What do you reckon that is?” Abu Imad said, tapping the scope. He looked at me, rubbing his bushy beard thoughtfully. He wanted me to make the two-meter journey to take a look.

“I’m all right here to be honest,” I said, looking at Abu Imad’s powerful frame. In my experience, God creates two types who stay on for the long haul. Either the rugby player variety or the wiry knife wielding sort, used to taking down bigger opponents. Abu Imad belonged to the former.

“Come,” he insisted, “come.”

I didn’t really feel like giving him my opinion. I didn’t want to entertain the mad shit bouncing around his head. What’s it going to be? Either some mountain goat or a hardy plant that has somehow emerged out of this cruel valley where we’d been stuck for years. What new excitement could this brother show me? We hadn’t progressed against the enemy, not because we were weak but because the commanders were arguing sometimes over strategy, sometimes over tactics, most of the time over honour and on rare occasions about God. In spite of them, we held this crag. We were mountain lions in courage and mountain goats in stubbornness.

“Come,” he pleaded, “check it.”

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George R. Sole: Ubar

An Introduction to Medieval Travelogues: A comparison of Ibn Fadlan, Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Fudayl

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Arnaut and his dog, 19th century. Source: Wikipedia

The act of travelling is as compelling now as it was in the past. It is one of the most powerful catalysts for change in all spheres of human society and possibly more so with Islamic civilisation, which has travel as one of its central themes. The Quran commands the faithful to perform the Hajj, here the pilgrim endures the hardships of travel in order to connect with God. But it also encourages travel in order for man to see what has become of previous nations; to take heed as it were. Whilst this author is no Mohammedan, I do believe in the latter proposition and Medieval travellers are of particular interest to me.

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Stilts, Hair: Discrete Autobiography by Noor Naga

TAIWAN. Wuri. 2003. My niece (left), on a new suspension bridge.

Chien-Chi Chang. Taiwan, 2003. Source: magnumphotos.com 

Stilts

  • The house sat on stilts. These were the marshlands of South Carolina, where even the birds slept on tall, lanky wooden sticks to keep their plumage dry. When mama wasn’t looking, Tito and I snuck down to wade knee deep in the muck. We terrorized the egrets out of their stroll. We trapped in buckets the legged tadpoles that were not yet grown enough to jump. They drowned each other while we watched. With gummy feet they stepped on each other’s open eyes and threw their bodies against the high, plastic walls for hours. When mama finally came looking for us, we let the live ones go. But even back upstairs it was not quite an inside. The wood hummed with mites. There were spiders knitting in the cupboards. There were ants in the bathroom, lizards blinking from the walls, and once, out of a bag of rice, there bloomed a cloud of baby moths. The kitchen spun with their dizzy dust-magic until the first one fried itself on the bulb. It fell dreamily. I was six when mama found my first diary, filled with pencil drawings of all my animal friends. I gave each of them small droopy genitals like mine.

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Youssef Rakha: Who the Fuck Is Charlie

miraj-nama_of_shah_rukh_1-1490ba5a0977120034b

From the Miraj Nama of Shah Rukh, 15th century, showing the Prophet Muhammad astride his Buraq. Source: studyblue.com

The mere idea of contributing to the Charlie Hebdo colloquy is a problem. It’s a problem because, whether as a public tragedy or a defense of creative freedom, the incident was blown out of all proportion. It’s a problem because it’s been a moralistic free-for-all: to express solidarity is to omit context, to forego the meaning of your relation to the “slain” object of consensus, to become a hashtag. It’s a problem above all because it turns a small-scale crime of little significance outside France into a cultural trope.

Charlie Hebdo is not about the senseless (or else the political) killing of one party by another. It’s about a Platonic evil called Islam encroaching on the  peaceful, beneficent world order created and maintained by the post-Christian west. Defending the latter against the former, commentators not only presume what will sooner or later reduce to the racial superiority of the victim. They also misrepresent the perpetrator as an alien force independent of that order.

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Marcia Lynx Qualey: A Review of the Newest Arabic Novel (Remix)

Arab Muscle Dancers, 1898, by B. W. Kilburn

Insert Title Here, by Our Arab Author, translated by So-and-so. Such-and-such publisher. $12.99.

What do you know about how people live in Cairo or Beirut or Riyadh? What bearing does such information have upon your life? We in the West hear about the Middle East all the time, but for most of us it remains unknown and unknowable. More complicated still is that, as I learnt at the weekend, forms like the novel and short story were alien to Arabic culture before the first decade of the 20th century: the genres are, themselves, imports.

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