Youssef Rakha: Nawwah

Youssef Rakha, Masr Station, 2007

And verily We had empowered them with that wherewith We have not empowered you, and had assigned them ears and eyes and hearts—Quran, xlvi, 26

My instructions are to deliver the corpse to Nastassja Kinsky. We are to meet at nine tomorrow morning in the lobby of the Cecil Hotel, just off the seashore in downtown Alexandria. The corpse is a lightweight microelectronic bolt that looks like a miniature coffin; Nastassja Kinsky is an agent of the Plant. If I revealed what the Plant is, I would die.

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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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Zachary Prong: “Young men accused me of being an American spy”

I made these photos in Cairo during the summer of 2015. The news coming out of Egypt at that time was mostly violent; “Car bomb attack kills Egypt’s top public prosecutor”, “Islamic State ‘behind blast’ at Italian consulate in Cairo”, “Croatian hostage beheaded”, “Deadly attacks hit Egypt’s Sinai”. I didn’t capture the facts of these events but they loomed large over how I experienced the city.160821-cairo11

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Noor Naga: Stilts, Hair

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: On Fiction and the Caliphate

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By Youssef Rakha

Towards the end of 2009, I completed my first novel, whose theme is contemporary Muslim identity in Egypt and, by fantastical extension, the vision of a possible khilafa or caliphate. I was searching for both an alternative to nationhood and a positive perspective on religious identity as a form of civilisation compatible with the post-Enlightenment world. The closest historical equivalent I could come up with, aside from Muhammad Ali Pasha’s abortive attempt at Ottoman-style Arab empire (which never claimed to be a caliphate as such), was the original model, starting from the reign of Sultan-Caliph Mahmoud II in 1808. I was searching for Islam as a post-, not pre-nationalist political identity, and the caliphate as an alternative to the postcolonial republic, with Mahmoud and his sons’ heterodox approach to the Sublime State and their pan-Ottoman modernising efforts forming the basis of that conception. Such modernism seemed utterly unlike the racist, missionary madness of European empire. It was, alas, too little too late.

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