Category Archives: Writing

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.


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.


Fugcikles

Grocery list from my refrigerator, addition in bold courtesy my 9-yr old.

Although it’s certainly NQR, without looking at the previous, empty box from the freezer I must admit I had trouble spelling this one too!

Nice try, son, but you’re not taking home the blue-ribbon at the spelling bee this week.


Terrible Product Name – Fierce ANL Fuse

Found this one just now, while searching for a car adaptor for my kids’ Wii video game system.

Since, earlier, I posted some weird company names from the Middle East — Butt Sweet House, Mohammad Ibrahim Law Firm (which advertises using its acronym), and Coq Magique — I thought it would only be fair to show an American counterpart.  What’s more, there is absolutely no reason, no language barrier, no cultural misunderstanding, that should allow such a name as this to ever, ever hit the market.  Pure copywriting failure.

The image speaks for itself.  Enjoy.

"Fierce ANL Fuse" proudly sold at a Best Buy near you.


Reblogging this post 1) Because it was a cool one and 2) Because it is now cited on a Wiki as evidence that the French explorer Pierre-Constant Letorzec visited Merowe (the link in the footnotes for Merowe leads to my Un-American Graffiti webpage! Hot-diggity dog.)

Not Quite Right

In a land of crushing poverty with a brutal climate, a high rate of disease, and a notorious dictatorship, it might be strange to confess that one of the things most troubling to me in Sudan was its graffiti.  While I started to gain an appreciation for Arabic graffiti itself (noticing some strange juxtapositions between imported Rasta culture, with images of Bob Marley combined with a Muhammad-like veneration) the stuff that most affected me involved the relics from ancient days.

Often covered in names to the point where the hieroglyphs themselves are barely readable, many of the ruins, temples, pyramids and fortifications from three, four and five millenia ago have been been seriously defaced.  What makes a person decide that their name, or their name with the name of their loved-one encircled in a heart, is worth immortalization?  What attraction does an object of history hold, that a man must…

View original post 166 more words


The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge

Joris Hoefnagel's painting: "Animalia" -- unknown whether the artist employed a fine camelhair brush in his creation

On to a discussion of the sort of completely esoteric (by which I mean, ‘interesting but utterly useless from a practical sense’) things a person might encounter during graduate school.  Add to this esotericity a small dose of humor and we have a subject begging to be NQR‘ed.

This is the somewhat famous taxonomy of “The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.”

As background, this list is reputed to be genuine, though likely is a fiction created or latched onto by Jose Luis Borges to show that all organization of the world into categories — despite the very convincing and cannonized taxonomies of Artistotilian and Linnaean thought to which we in the West have become accumstomed — is necessarily arbitrary.  In simpler terms, even though we think of classifications like ‘mammals’ and ‘reptiles’ to be fundamental to a ‘correct view’ of the world, those classifications are no more real than what Borges presents in this following list of ‘ancient Chinese’ groupings.

That’s prolly ‘enuff words for today.  Enuff high-falutin’ talk.  I’ll merely leave you with the original Borgian list, hoping that ideas will roll around in the back of your brain and that, the next time you look at something and slap a label on it, you think twice: “Does it belong to the emperor or has it just broken the flower vase?”

All animals fall into one of 14 categories:

  1. Those that belong to the emperor
  2. Embalmed ones
  3. Those that are trained
  4. Suckling pigs
  5. Mermaids
  6. Fabulous ones
  7. Stray dogs
  8. Those that are included in this classification
  9. Those that tremble as if they were mad
  10. Innumerable ones
  11. Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  12. Et cetera
  13. Those that have just broken the flower vase
  14. Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

Hovercat

I’m tempted to write nothing to accompany this, the NQR factor being quite obvious on its own.  Saw it on a message board while walking into class today.  Had to take a picture.  Had to share.  (Hovercat controlling my mind with his beady and unflinching stare?)

Hovercat: fine print reproduced below.

— My choice of overlord matters to me.  With Hovercat I can be sure that I am choosing a reliable source of guidance for myself and for future generations.

— FACT:  Plagued by red lasers?  Hovercat is committed to finding and punishing those responsible.  Finally, leadership we can believe in.

— As a sign of Hovercat’s eternal generosity, kindly take a mustache.


13 Stares – Deconstruction Season

In honor of winter weather finally hitting the part of the USA from where my family and I hail, this next in the series of 13 Stares poems has a special NQR seasonality to it.  Plus, I love the long evening light across the desert that strikes these highway overpass poles.

For anyone who might have read my novel “One Hundred and One Nights”  the image of this light slanting through the overpass, then striking Abu Saheeh’s little market shack, should certainly be familiar . . .

Rebar eroded on a support column, overpass located between Baghdad and the port of Umm Qasr.

Deconstruction Season

Joke home that
the only two seasons are
winter and construction
well joke here if you can
stomach such humor the seasons
are an immemorial building up
and building down of mud
rising into its mortal forms
man, machine, block on block
and in the very hope of rising
eventual declension roots
entropic, that which is Ur-old
opens into the blossoming
of melon vines in mixed mortar
mudbrick, new rodents have nested
lining rebar with litter
Western peculiar: shoelaces, say
sandwich wrappers, or Gatorade
o-rings, age, to the ageless
is permeable
each goldfish proud
of the obdurate splendor
in passing around or thorugh
the castled cage


13 Stares – Alabama

This might be my favorite from among the litter of these poems, or — at least — the one I think about most.

Whenever I search for an analogy for what war in Iraq was largely like, I often bring up this comparison:  imagine Russia invading the deep south of the US.  There’d be a lot of resistance on the local level.  In fact, it’s not hard to imagine our redneck youth taking potshots with their ‘possum rifles from behind the local filling station.  That’s what I noticed in far southern Iraq.  Not so much armed resistance but a lot of street crime and a lot of kids throwing rocks, clods of dirt, that sort of thing.  So, our NQR moment here goes out to Alabama.

Wave on, Dixie, wave on.

One of our interpreters, "Willy" (Wael), playing soccer with local boys in Safwan. Note destroyed tank in background.

Alabama

If they ever invade
or say perhaps
like Caesar across the Rubicon
or Potomac
armies turn messianic
I’d lay odds on Alabama as the last
bastion of freedom
the sound of copper
dropping in the spittoon
the bloodhound rocking chair howl
the kudzu, Alabama! butternut!
while in Connecticut
or Nevada, Alaska, new kings
will come naked as the old
to play similar games on the hardscrabble
seeking oil, the woodman’s workglove
now a mark of terror, a black-headband
toothless jihad
of secrethandshake, insignia
perhaps neighborhood meetings
cellar celebrations, Rotary
as the guise of insurrection
graffiti coded on the T-72
to commemorate old ways
while our children ask
the soldiers guarding Wal-Mart
and McDonald’s
to play baseball
or give them water
bread
bic lighters
life


13 Stares – Dirt Joe

Here’s the next in this series of NQR poems . . .

The shadow of my kevlar-clad head looms over the little girl.

 

U.S. Education

Statistics show U.S. schools fail for fourth
consecutive quarter teaching
the fine art of beggardry
for the sympathy of dirt, Dirt Joe
unwashed, within 2.5
minutes of the HUMVEE’s arrival
barefoot across the expanse of day
bleached desert with two sisters, Fatima, Farina
skipping from syringe to PVC pipe
with a handful of Saddam dinars
gimme water mister, A+, kept dirty
candy, cute, please, 98th percentile
on the standardized response of some
hard-bitten team leader who believed
implicitly
in the smell of napalm in the morning
before he arrived here
and in red white ‘n blue
before tan
and in Sunday school
before touching death and beauty
in the same sunset
then, after, after which, this girl
smiling, bewitched him
so he smuggles her beanie babies
each Tuesday at noon, unable
to explain at his homecoming picnic
a sudden disgust with tickertape
and the PTA.