Category Archives: Arabic language

al-Mughira bin Shu’bah

Earlier this fall, in fact the very same week I sat down to start writing my thesis — a monograph on al-Mughirah bin Shu’bah (ra), the rather infamous Companion of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) — one of my advisors informed me that a work in Arabic had just been produced and published, albeit in Iran, on the very same man.  As an academic, even a very temporary academic like me, this is not the sort of news you want to hear.  In fact, it is very much like having the rug pulled right from under your feet.  Hours and hours of research in primary sources:  Tabari, Ibn Sa’d, Ibn Kathir, Baladhuri, Waqidi, Ibn Khallikhan, Ibn Khaldun, all the ahadith of the various canonized collections, all of that down the tubes, not to mention more contemporary tomes that helped me frame my thinking about these primary sources.

Holding “Mughira bin Shu’bah” for the first time.

But, wonderfully enough, through whatever absurd connections Princeton maintains around the world, the University was able to get me a copy of this book, even though it isn’t yet widely available.  As such my task in this monograph remains intact but also gets shaded just a little.  Not only will I produce a monograph of al-Mughirah bin Shu’bah (in English) but I will engage with this work, debate it, raise conflicting opinions, and jump into what might become a mini-academic debate.

The combination of curmudgeonly respect I feel for this volume, as I heft it for the first time, freshly hand-delivered to me by the library staff here, and disgust (that my idea has been stolen) has a certain curiosity to it, an NQR-icism unique, so far, in the annals of this blog.

Please wish me luck reading this tome, digesting it, and somehow incorporating it in my own endeavors over the next two months as I finish this thesis.  It remains for me to read and review and think about just what sources were used and what opinion of al-Mughirah bin Shu’bah the author of this study — a man named Abd’al-Baqi Qurna al-Jaza’iri — formed and conveyed in his preemptive strike on my (strangely cherished) objective.

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Beautiful Grammar(?) — Sura Ya-Sin 36:37

Two words that should probably never go together:  beautiful and grammar.

However, one of my courses this semester, called “The Language of the Quran,” aims at just that very thing, connecting the two.  And today, at least in some small measure, it succeeded to awe, if not (quite yet) to make the music of the particular grammatical point ring in my mind.  The Quran is known to be an evocative text, imbued with a magic in its tone and a particular depth of meaning that leads men to devote their lives to its study.  Some small glimpse into the mechanisms behind that power is all I ask of this course, or of myself, with what Arabic I possess.  To capture some idea, in English, of one example from among many covered already in two days of class, will be something of a challenge, but hopefully worthwhile, removing the taint of NQR from this link between beauty and grammar.

Today we were looking into metaphor, the various types of it.  As we disected the following example, posted on the blackboard by Professor Hisham Mahmoud, the complexity and multivalent functioning of the metaphorical devices suddenly sprang into stark relief.  I will outline them.

First, the verse itself:

Tranliterated into something vaguely pronouncable in English, this script may be rendered:

Waayatun lahumu allaylu naslakhuminhu alnnahara fa-itha hum muthlimoona

This may be translated, in its words but not in the depth of its meaning, as:  “A sign for them is the Night.  We skin from it the day and, behold, they are darkened.”

On the first functional level the type of metaphor exemplied by this Sura is one in which an unstated object receives a comparison.  Here the unstated object is an animal’s body from which God peels back, or flays, the skin.  This action is related back to the Night and the Day as a sign of the power of God.  In itself, the metaphor presents a powerful, primordial image, the idea of Day being peeled back from the heavens (each and every day) so that Night shines through, showing man a substance more base and more fundamental than the veiling brightness of the sun, an image that evokes, for me, a particular gloaming beauty when the raw heavens transcend or reveal themselves lucidly through what, at first, seemed substantial (the sky) but suddenly and magically dissolved into insubstantiality.

This works, this image.  It grabs me by the guts, just as if I am the one being flayed or as if I am sitting on a hill in childhood idyll watching the sunset, a Shel Silverstein moment.  But the use of metaphor doesn’t stop at this single comparison.  As the class looked at this example, we realized a second level of metaphor fills the verse, a very intentional deepening.  Both the terms Day and Night are, themselves, metaphorical, a different type of metaphor, or an allusion, a type called kinaya in Arabic. Here, Day refers to the believing man’s understanding or grace or God’s mercy and compassion therein, His plan and His foreknowledge to bring man toward enlightenment.  The Night represents the reverse, or the fundamental state of ignorance in which man begins and to which he returns if he should not accept the guidance of day, if he should not accept the revelation of his base substance via the hand at work, which is, in the Quran’s parlance, the Word of God.

Dismissing, not even yet thinking about the elements of poetry in the sound of the Arabic words themselves, assonance, consonance and the like, the allusion and the mutliplicity of metaphor here, in this one single example from among many, should convey some of the power (and some of the difficulty) inherent in reading and comprehending the Quran.  To hear it chanted, or spoken, recited by an expert, the mind attuned to such sounds can slip away, letting the metaphor operate subliminally and the words flow.

Beauty + grammar = a deep operation on the psyche and the Id, a powerful insight into one among many ways in which the Quran serves as a self-sufficient example, or sign, of its own holiness.


Thesis Tableaux, Part 1 – Gathering the Materials

As I sit, here at my kitchen table in a very suburban and bourgeois locale somewhere near Princeton, a masochistic satisfaction has taken hold of me, surrounded by the paraphernalia of my upcoming enslavement to a single, unified, and laborious paper-writing process:  the thesis.  Maybe as a means to preserve this beginning moment for myself, so that I might look back fondly upon it in future years, or perhaps to share the mound of work, at least metaphorically, with those of you enjoying a voyeuristic pleasure in my pain, I will document here what I perceive to be the major milestones of the process.

. . . like the setting of a B-grade horror film . . .

The subject of the thesis will be a monograph of the life of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s more scurrilous Companions, al-Mughirah ibn Shu’bah, who was a very early convert to Islam but was also involved in one of its more spectacular and formative legal/moral cases.  More to follow, in future installments of this thesis-production narrative, on al-Mughirah and his doings.  Now, onward to the writing process itself, onward to the first of the milestones I plan to document.

What more necessary milestone can there be than a beginning?  And how better to capture it than with a photograph, a tableaux of the materials, most of them visible, that I have heaped around me to spur me toward beginning this paper’s production?

Here I list the visible and invisible elements of this project, in order of importance:

1.  Computer.  Modern man cannot write, let alone research, without said device.  My choice:  a slightly feminine but perfectly serviceable white MacBook.  Unseen on the computer are perhaps 30+ files and scans from various encyclopedias that will contribute to the project, along with an entire searchable Arabic-language database of scholarly works that I will (at some time in the nebulous future) exhaust of all references to my subject.

2.  Coffee.  ‘Nuf said.  Cup courtesy Anthropologie, though meant to match a small collection of blue-glazed crockery purchased in Morocco and Oman.

3.  Books:  Most of this is background reading, rather than primary sources.  The primary sources will be in Arabic and I will access them online, for the most part, verifying them in volumes kept at Princeton’s library.  A preliminary search tells me that al-Mughirah is mentioned directly, in various hadith traditions, about a dozen times.  These secondary sources, along with primary-sources exegesis from later (but still rather Medieval) Islamic theologians and historians, supplement the direct mentions of al-Mughirah only partially.  The rest of his life I plan to reconstruct via hypotheses I derive from what various factions or various armies were doing during the blank spaces in his life.  Today my goal is to put all of these secondary sources into a bibliography and, maybe also, to comb through indices and mark/excerpt the direct mentions of al-Mughirah that each book contains.

4.  Stick-’em notes.  An archaic tool, but necessary.  When I have indexed a direct mention of al-Mughirah, I don’t want to have to go through the process of looking it up again.  I will therefore both a). copy the specific mention into a word document arranged by subject or time-period and b). affix a stick-’em note to the original page so that I can find the quote quickly in its larger context if necessary at a later time.

5.  Example theses.  My advisor provided two example theses from recent MA candidates.  I’m going to double check the formatting of their bibliographies prior to creating my own.  In the end, hopefully minus coffee stains, my thesis will look as fat and happy (and professional) as these two do.

6.  Chair, table, and especially cushion on chair.  The writer requires a certain degree of comfort.  But not TOO MUCH comfort.  The cushion eases the pain of a flat wooden surface squashing buttocks.  The table and chair will keep the writer more alert than, say, the couch or the nice big leather arm chair just purchased for more leisurely reading.  Chair/table/placemats/seat cushions courtesy IKEA.

7.  Woven baskets on wall.  No direct correlation with the thesis, other than ambiance in an otherwise milquetoast white pre-fab house.  Baskets from Nizwa, or perhaps from Morocco.  I forget.

8.  Voo-doo doll.  (Parti-colored feathers visible between largest stack of books and copies of previous theses).  Just in case.


Massively Corrupt Translation

Obverse Arabic; reverse sporting Sanskrit.

When two powerful but rather mutually exclusive cultures come into contact (and here I’m not talking about West/East in the present day), strange things happen between their languages.  In one of my courses this semester I am studying the power dynamics of such linguistic interplay.  But this particular example comes from an Islamic history lesson on the Mughal rulers of northern India given by Professor Michael Cook.  In those particular days amazing levels of not only corruption but also of creation, of mistranslated openness, accidental syncretism, can be found between the Muslim rulers and their Hindu population.  I deal here with a few words written in the Śārada script (a version of Sanskrit) on a coin struck in Lahore during the reign Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna (r. 998 – 1030 CE).

The words are: 

avyaktam-eka muhammada avatāra npati mahamūda

~

This phrase, roughly decoded, is meant to replicate the Islamic shadada, or Profession of Faith, which occupies the central space on the front of the coin:

لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله (lā ʾilāha ʾilá l-Lāh, Muḥammad rasūlu l-Lāh)

In English:  There is no god but God and Muhammad is his Prophet.

~

However, things go very badly for the translation, at least if read from a Muslim theological viewpoint (rather than from the perspective of the Sultanate’s colonized Hindi subjects).

First, for fans of James Cameron, the word avatāra surely jumps out from the Sanskrit.  What has this to do with Muhammad?  Are Mahmud’s medieval translators depicting the Prophet of Islam as a giant blue-spackled centaur from a planet far, far away?  No.  This is the word chosen in the inscription to represent the Arabic rasūlu:  Messenger, or Prophet.  Except, in the Sanskrit, the term carries with it connotations less relevant to an earthly messenger and much more indicative of an incarnation, a reincarnation.  Definitely not an Islamic concept.

Next, the opening phrase avyaktam-eka stands in for the Arabic lā ʾilāha ʾilá l-Lāh — ‘There is no god but God.’  Again, the translation takes great liberties.  What we have is something much closer to “Invisible and One” or “Unmanifested and One.”  Furthermore, the Sanskrit employs a neutered case ending rather than a masculine ending, definitely changing the anthropomorphic, masculine Islamic deity into an ungendered metaphysical concept patterned strongly on the Vedas or Upanishads.

It is also worth noting that Sanskrit possessed a perfectly well-established and well-understood word for God:  deva Surprising, very surprising, not to see that word used in this inscription.  My professor hypothesized that the decision not to use deva in the inscription might be linked to Sultan Mahmud’s other courtly language, Persian.  There, the word deva sounds suspiciously like the Farsi div, which means demon.  Should Sultan Mahmud have chosen a translation that included the word deva as a stand in for God instead of avyaktam, his Persian courtiers would have been very offended indeed to hear a Śārada-Sanskrit version of the Profession of Faith that sounded, to them, like ‘There is no demon but demon . . .’

Finally, the word npati means something roughly equivalent to king, lord of men, prince, or sovereign, none of which are titles the Prophet Muhammad claimed, though subsequent Caliphs called themselves Leaders of the Faithful, Amir al-Mumineen.  At the expense of an authentic translation of the shahada, it seems Sultan Mahmud opted to use the very small, very precious space of this coin to remind his subjects of his place in their earthly dominion.

In the end, the coins issued by the Islamic Sultan Mahmud of Lahore, to the great edification of his Hindi subjects, portrayed the Profession of Faith in terms not so different from the way they already thought about the world, blending the language of Islam into a new and entirely different, entirely strange conception of the central tenet of the new religion:

The Unmanifested and One incarnate King Muhammad.

~

It’s not quite Hinduism.  It’s certainly not Islam.  And, doubtlessly, such a translation qualifies for mention on NQR.

.

.

.

*Credit for the Śārada translations to E.A. Davidovich and A.H. Dani, “Coinage and the Monetary System” in History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Vol. 4., UNESCO Publishing, 1988, page 414.

 

 


Kharijite Rhetoric

The following remarks by the Kharijite (an early heretical sect of Islam) rebel Abu Hamza al-Mukhtar b. ‘Awf were given as part of a sermon in Mecca during his fight against the Ummayid Caliphate, approximately 746 CE.  Amazingly (and definitely NQR) they were preserved in Sunni sources because of the strength of the rhetoric, even though the comments greatly disparage the Sunni Ummayid caliphs.  In this year of campaign invective it might be nice to see that other peoples have engaged in character assassination, perhaps even more effectively than we Americans now stomach.  And it is interesting to note that the Sunni historians had such a sense of aesthetic value that they’d record a sermon like this, even though it clearly damns the Ummayids!

PS.  This is excerpted from Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds’ book “God’s Caliph.”

PSS.  The really good stuff is toward the end of the sermon, so keep reading.

Abu Hamza’s comments:

The Prophet's Mihrab, or pulpit, the approximate spot from which Abu Hamza may have delivered his sermon (although, back then, it wouldn't have been so gilded).

1.  O people! The Messenger of God used neither to advance nor to draw back save with the command of God and His revelation. [God] revealed a book to him and made clear to him what he should undertake and what he should guard against, and he was in no way confused about His Religion….

2.  When the Muslims put him (Abu Bakr) in charge of their temporal concerns, He fought the apostates and acted by the kitab and the sunna, striving, until God took him to Himself; may God’s mercy be upon him.

3.  ‘Umar took charge after him.  He proceeded according to the mode of conduct of him who had gone before him . . .

4.  Then ‘Uthman took charge.  For six years he proceeded in a way which fell short of the mode of conduct of his two companions.  Thereby he annulled what he had done earlier, and passed on his way.

5.  Then ‘Ali b. Abi Talib took charge.  He acted in a proper manner until he established arbitration concerning the book of God and had doubts about His religion. [Thereafter] he did not achieve any goal in respect of what was right, nor did he erect any beacon for that.

6.  Then there took charge Mu’awiya b. Abi Sufyan, who had been cursed by the Messenger of God and was the son of one so cursed.  He made the servants of God slaves, the property of God something to be taken by turns, and His religion a cause of corruption.  Then he passed on his way, deviating from what was right, deceiving in religion.

7.  Then there took charge his son Yazid, part of the curse of the Messenger of God, a sinner in respect of his belly and his private parts. He kept to the path of his father, neither acknowledging what ought to be acknowledged nor disavowing what ought to be disavowed.

8.  Then Marwan and the Banu Marwan took charge.  They shed forbidden blood and devoured forbidden property.  As for ‘Abd al-Malik, he made al-Hajjaj an imam of his, leading to hellfire.  As for al-Walid, he was a stupid fool, at a loss in waywardness, abusing the caliphate with benighted senselessness.  And Sulayman, what was Sulayman?!  His concern was with his belly and his private parts.  So curse them, may God curse them!  Except that ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was from them:  he had good intentions but did not act upon them; he fell short of what he intended.

9.  Then there took charge after him Yazid b. ‘Abd al-Malik, a sinner in whom right judgement was not perceived . . . Two items of apparel were woven for him and he wore one as pants and the other as a shirt.  Then he sat Hababa on his right and Sallama on his left and said, “Sing to me, Hababa; give me wine, Sallama.”  Then, when he had become drunk and the wine had taken a hold on him, he rent his two garments, which had been acquired for one thousand dinars on account of which skins had been flayed, hair shaved off, and veils torn away; he took what he spent unlawfully and wrongly.  Then he turned to one of the girls and said, ‘Surely I shall fly!’  Most certainly!  Fly to hellfire!  Is such supposed to be the distinguishing characteristic of the caliphs of God?!

10.  Then squint-eyed Hisham took charge.  He scattered stipends about and appropriated the land . . . and you said, ‘May God reward him with good.’  Nay!  may God reward him with evil!  He was miserly with his wealth and niggardly in his religion.

11.  Then the sinner al-Walid b. Yazid took charge.  He drank wine openly and he deliberatly made manifest what is abominable.  Then Yazid b. al-Walid rose against him and killed him:  God has said ‘So We make the evildoers friends of each other for what they have earned.’ Then Marwan b. Muhammad took charge and claimed the Caliphate.  He abraded faces, put out eyes, and cut off hands and feet…

12.  These Banu Umayya are parties of waywardness.  Their might is self-magnification.  They arrest on suspicion, make decrees capriciously, kill in anger, and judge by passing over crimes without punishment . . . These people have acted as unbelievers, by God, in the most barefaced manner.  So curse them, may God curse them!

(Please note, the Kharijite opinion of these Caliphs is a minority opinion in Islam.)


Utter Academic Infamy

Over the last few week’s one of my courses has introduced me to a man known as Ibn Tabrazadh who was born about a thousand years ago in Baghdad.  He was a scholar of hadith and a fairly widely circulating scholar at that, with many later thinkers and jurists quoting from him or being ‘downstream’ from him in the flow of the semi-oral traditions and teachings that surround many of the hadith works and commentaries.

But, for one reason or another, Ibn Tabrazadh’s primary bibliographic entry in Dhahabi’s compendium absolutely vilifies him.  I provide, here, a few of the choice quotes (translations my own) of how lovingly Ibn Tabrazadh has been remembered.  May these be lessons to us all, that no matter the scope of our work, the appreciation (or lack thereof) for our earthly endeavors is certainly up-for-grabs, the product of the whims and morals of those who follow us.  It also should be a lesson to not-piss-off-your-fellow-academics-or-writers as they wield the pens (or iPads) upon which legacies rise or fall.

Whether Ibn Tabrazadh deserves this degree of infamy, I truly don’t know.  Only these few words from Dhahabi remain to enlighten us.  The quotations make me laugh rather than feel any strong moral revulsion.  But I do feel a nagging sort of NQR-ness about amusing myself at the expense of this man, even across such a chasm of time and culture.

1.  Called المؤدب or ‘litterateur’ which, I feel, was likely a first glancing salvo launched from within the strict canons of academia.

2.  Called ضعيف or ‘weak’ in his trustworthiness as a narrator of hadith (this is the overall measure applied to his reliability after consideration of all the information in this biography — not a real shocking conclusion, if you read on).

3.  Called خليعا and ماجنا and كاغد all of which are new words for me but mean, roughly, ‘depraved’ and ‘shameless’ and ‘scoundrel’

(it gets worse)

4.  Called يؤدب الصبيان or, roughly, a ‘tutor of boys,’ which is a double-edged insult, both elucidating the fact that he used his hadith knowledge to earn money and, also, hinting that he was only good enough to instruct youngsters.  Certainly not an anachronistic reference to Penn State.

5.  More bluntly, one commentator in his biography says, لم يكن يفهم شيئا من العلم which means “he didn’t know a damn thing about knowledge.”

6.  He was called ‘negligent in religion’ (I think this is the true source of the invective) . . . متهاونا بأمور الدين

7.  One person remembers that he ‘saw him more than once urinate while standing . . . and then sit without cleaning himself either with water or stones’ (an offense probably akin to peeing-on-the-toilet-seat-and-not-wiping-it-up nowadays).  In arabic, very seriously toned, راينه غير مرة يبول من قيام . . . وقعد من غير استنجاء بماء ولا حجر (Note that Dhahabi himself ventures a guess, by way of apology for this egregious defamation, that perhaps Ibn Tabrazadh had a fatwa excusing him from cleansing himself.)

8.  (Again, to the heart of the matter) . . . cited for not undertaking prayers.  لا يقوم لصلاة

9.  And, more explicitly than before, he is accused of كان يطلب الأجر على رواية الحديث ‘being in the habit of requesting payment before reciting hadith.’

10.  Lastly, reminiscent of Dante, a later scholar says that he dreams of a dead Ibn Tabrazadh ‘wearing a blue robe . . . in a House of Fire inside a House of Fire.’  رايت عمر بن طبرزذ في النوم بعد موته وعليه ثوب أزرق . . . في بيت من نار داخل بيت من نار

Dude.  Not the kind of stuff I want written on my headstone!


More Odd Business Names

To continue the theme, begun before Thanksgiving, of oddly named business establishments in the Middle East . . . here are three (somewhat scatalogical) additions.  The funniness, the quirkiness here, the NQR, must be mostly attributed to our Western perspective in reading and understanding.  Certainly these names haven’t been invented just to be funny.  They pass, unnoticed, through the daily lives of many thousands of people.  So we must conclude that it is us, not them, with a skewed perspective.

Eye-catching Acronym

The first, Mohammad Ibrahim Law Firm, bills itself (on its website) as a ‘highly adequate service.’  As if this weren’t oxymoronic enough, it also announces its presence to greater Muscat, Oman, via a largish billboard overlooking the main Ministry District overchange.  This billboard attracts a fair amount of attention, at least from Westerners, because it uses the firm’s initials as a handy moniker:  M.I.L.F.

Just in case you're wondering, 'Coq' means 'chicken' in French.

The second, on a street corner in Rabat, Morocco, is part of a successful chain, like KFC for Francophiles.  Our hosts in Rabat assured us that the chicken is very good.  The billboard certainly doesn’t appear to be ashamed of itself.  We never ate at any of these locations, unable to overcome our own, more Anglicized, interpretation of the name.

Candy, anyone?

And, finally, what must certainly be the most bizarre and unattractive of all the odd names we encountered throughout our travels . . . this sweet shop in Abu Dhabi.  We snapped the photo while driving along the street, having seen the sign, then grabbing frantically for the camera, before (just barely) managing to get the photo as traffic whisked us away.  What, on earth, were these folks thinking, the owners (or their English translators/consultants) when they put together their brand and their billboard?


Heavenly Etymology

The Garden of Allah by Maxfield Parrish.

I’m going to nerd-out here for a moment in order to show my enthusiasm for what must be a totally obscure and academic discipline:  etymology.

I’m taking a course right now with Professor Michael Cook, who is a truly entertaining teacher as well as being one of the world’s most iconoclastic scholars of Islam.  During the course, reading through an Arabic passage on the life of the revered Muslim scholar Bukhari, we came across a strange nisba, or surname, in Bukhari’s lineage.  The name, roughly transliterated into English, was Birdizbah.

This is, doubtlessly, a non-Arabic name.

We asked Professor Cook about it in class and he launched into a really groovy etymological explanation.

It seems he, too, had the same question but was not, like me, completely dumbfounded when it came to deciphering the word.  He guessed that it likely derived from a very obscure Iranian language (still spoken in one little valley in Tajikistan) called Sogdian.

He found an online Sogdian discussion forum (wonder of wonders!) and posed the question of the origins of this name to the assembled electronic Sogdians and Sogdian enthusiasts.  It seems, within a short period of time, that a Japanese scholar identified the ‘–bah’ ending of Bardizbah as roughly equivalent with the Indian term ‘walla,’ which could mean lord or possessor or owner of something.

Then in the same forum an English professor, switching the Arabized ‘B’ to a phonetically equivalent Persian ‘P’ arrived at Pardiz for the first half of the name.

This gave Professor Cook “Pardiz-walla’ or “Owner of Pardiz” for the rough meaning.

It was only a small step further to produce our English-language version:  Paradise.

Lord of Paradise.

When you think about it, it’s quiet beautiful as a name, really.  And the only quip I can make as far as NQR is the fact that such a linguistic excavation was really incredibly interesting to me.  I guess I’m in the right place, immersed in academia!


National Geographic

It doesn’t seem that National Geographic would be a likely candidate for a Not Quite Right moment, though the more closely a person looks at another culture the more that even the most familiar things turn out to be slightly twisted.

This twist, in particular, demonstrates a little something about the power of language and the power of having power itself, providing a good example of the old adage about the ‘winner gets to write history.’  And the winner, at least right now in the Arabian Gulf region, is Abu Dhabi, one of the seven Emirates in the UAE and the place where the new, Arabic-language version of National Geographic Magazine started being published last October.

The 'tampered' title, which reads "The Trucial Emirati Coast"

First, let me say that I love National Geographic.  My family dreads the moment it arrives in my mailbox.  I hide away with it for hours, more hours than normal now that the magazine is available in Arabic.  It gives me a chance to learn vocabulary I’ll probably never encounter elsewhere, stuff like:  super-nova, Inca lip-piercing, Mormon tabernacle, plate tectonics, Gorilla repopulation studies.  It is wide-ranging reading, good for the brain.

But it seems that Abu Dhabi couldn’t resist a little historical rewrite.  One of my Omani friends pointed out that the December 2010 cover story is a reprint of a 1956 National Geographic article on the UAE.  However, the UAE hadn’t even formed yet.  It was still known as the Trucial States (due to a century-old treaty with Great Britain that was aimed at controlling piracy in the Gulf).  Or, even more pointedly, as the “Trucial States of Oman.”

In fact, the full title of that 1956 article was, in the typically verbose style of those days:

Desert Sheikdoms of Arabia’s Pirate Coast: In Trucial Oman’s Principalities, Cradled by Seas of Sand and Salt, Camels, Dates, and Pearls Support a Fiercely Independent People

Abu Dhabi seems not to have liked publishing a magazine cover that hinted at its one-time fealty to the Sultanate of Oman.  So they took some liberties and changed the title.

The arabic of the cover story now procliams ساحل الإمارات المتصالح:  The Trucial Emirati Coast.  The editors in Abu Dhabi went with “Emirati” even though the name “Emirates” didn’t have any association with their chunk of the earth until 1971, a decade and a half after the article appeared.

Slightly political, yes, but mostly just Not Quite Right.


Arabic Script vs. Microsoft Word

With One Hundred and One Nights incorporating a few simple bits of arabic script in the chapter titles and a couple other artistically significant places, the formatting of the manuscript has provided me with new proof that Bill Gates is the antichrist.  I don’t use the word antichrist lightly here either, for the tricks played by my computer during the final phase of my work polishing the manuscript have been bizarre, other-worldly, devilishly Not Quite Right.

First of all, the arabic language is written right to left instead of left to right like English.  Embedding arabic in a Word document results in repeated switching between left and right justification.  Word doesn’t play that game.  Its all left.  Its all right.  It switches between the two at unexpected intervals.  Its rarely alright.

Example of incorrectly and quasi-magically separated Arabic computer script.

Second, when saving a document in Word (or even saving it as .txt and then accidentally opening it in Word) the program sometimes, but not always, likes to break all the nice flowy letters apart.  This is different than, say, just adding space between English letters.  It becomes nearly unreadable.  Decipherable yes.  But only with great strain.

Third, and most exascerbating, to overcome the issues listed above, I decided to turn each and every usage of Arabic into its own little .jpeg, thus removing any chance, outside of honest-to-goodness black magic voodoo, of Bill and his minions interfering.  But, because the .jpegs had to be at 300dpi (I learned a lot of computer jargon during this exercise!) I couldn’t just snip the words with a screen capture, save them as .jpegs and send them on their merry way.  No.  I had to cut and paste each section of script into MicroSoft Publisher, a program I’d never even heard of prior to this adventure, let alone used.  Then at long last the image from Publisher could be exported as a .jpeg, with all the correct DPI, FPT, FBI, RGB and CIA levels or whatever.

Notice the little white breaks between letters, here the yay, the ba and the tamarbutta.

Yet, just when I thought I had won, just when I thought I had vanquished ol’ Lucifer, I opened one of my freshly incubated little bits of Arabic to find, horribly, that Bill had still crept in — inserting little white breaks between any of the letters where the script connector between letters touched the base line!!!  I had to manually create, insert and fit a little rectangular ink-colored box over each and every one of those corruptions.

I’m sure half of these issues were due to my status as a certified electronics troglodyte.

But the other half, I am equally certain, was the work of the Dark Lord.