Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Nubians in Kenya

October 25, 2009

Bismillah.  I was born in Nairobi, hence the interest when a friend told me about his people there, the Nubians who live in the Kibera district of the Kenyan capital.

He says, “This is the link to our website Nubians in Kenya. In this page are pictures of my father (Councillor Ali Ramathan el-Ali) in the 50’s.”

Perseid Meteor Shower 2009

September 5, 2009

Bismillah.  I wrote the following short piece about the Perseid meteor shower at the request of the Guardian CIF on Wednesday 12th August 2009, around the time that the Perseids were peaking.  By the grace of Allah, or “thanks to God and then to Google,” the article was No. 1 Most Viewed on the CIF section all day on Thursday 13th August 2009 and No. 3 on the Guardian website overall, with over 115,000 views.  The photo of a meteor that CIF put at the top of the article generated many hits via Google.

Most readers were thus not regular CIFers, which is partly why there weren’t too many comments.  However, as usual, some of the comments were hilarious and well-worth reading.

The last comment is my own, an extract from the Egyptian scholar al-Suyuti (d. 911 AH/ 15th century CE) regarding meteoric events in history.  Here is an extended extract from those pages of History of the Caliphs, covering other events such as Siamese twins, etc.

[Caliph no. 53:] Al-Nasir li Din Allah, Ahmad

Al-Nasir li Din Allah, Ahmad Abu l-‘Abbas b. al-Mustadi’ bi Amr Allah.

He was born on Monday the tenth of Rajab in the year five hundred and fifty-three [553].  His mother was a Turkish umm walad ["mother of a child," a slavewoman who is free after her master's death due to her giving birth by him] named Zumurrud.  He was pledged allegiance when his father [Caliph no. 52, al-Mustadi' bi Amr Allah] died at the beginning of Dhu l-Qa’dah in the year seventy-five [575].  Several scholars gave him permission to transmit from them, including Abu l-Husain ‘Abd al-Haqq al-Yusufi, Abu l-Hasan ‘Ali b. ‘Asakir al-Bata’ihi and Shuhdah.  He himself gave permission to several others to narrate from him.  They used to narrate from him during his lifetime, competing in that for the sake of fame, not of isnad.

One of his interesting anecdotes is that a servant of his named Yumn wrote him a note that included:

Biman yumann Yumn Thaman Yumn thumun

(By whom shall Yumn be favoured?  The price of Yumn is an eighth!)

In the year eighty [580]: the caliph made the tomb of Musa al-Kazim a sanctuary for anyone who took refuge there.  Large numbers of people did so, and many problems resulted.

In the year eighty-one [581]: a boy was born in al-‘Alath – his forehead was a handspan plus four fingers in width, and he had one ear.

In the year eighty-three [583]: it so happened that the first day of the (lunar) year was also the first day of the week, the first day of the solar year and the first day of the Persian year, and the sun and the moon were in the first zodiacal sign.  This was an amazing coincidence.

One of the strange matters [connected to the reconquest of Jerusalem] is that Ibn Burrajan mentioned in tafsir of “Alif Lam Mim: The Romans have been conquered” [Qur'an, 30:1-2] that Jerusalem would remain in the hands of the Crusaders (al-Rum) until the year five hundred and eighty-three [583], when they would be vanquished.  Jerusalem would be conquered and remain a Land of Islam until the end of time.  He derived all this from the arithmetic of the ayah, and it is precisely what happened.

Abu Shamah said: What Ibn Burrajan mentioned is a wondrous coincidence, for he died ages before the event, his death having occurred in the year five hundred and thirty-six [536].

In the year five hundred and ninety-two [592]: a black wind gusted over Mecca, blinding everyone.  Red sand covered the people.  A piece of the Yemeni corner [of the Ka'bah] broke off and fell.

In the year five hundred and ninety-three [593, around 1197 CE], a great celestial object fell to earth with a terrifying sound, shaking dwellings and lands. The people sought divine help and prayed publicly, and thought that this was one of the signs of the Day of Judgment.

In the year ninety-seven [597]: A great earthquake shook Egypt, Sham and Arabia, destroying many places and forts. A village near Busra sank into the ground.

In the year five hundred and ninety-nine [599, around 1202 CE] at the end of Muharram [the first month of the Islamic calendar], the stars were in commotion and swarmed around like locusts. This continued until dawn. The people were distressed and cried out to God the Exalted. The [celestial] phenomenon had only been experienced before at the advent of the Messenger of God, peace be upon him.

In the year six hundred and one [601]: a woman at Qutay’a’ gave birth to a boy with two heads, two arms and four legs.  He did not survive.

In the year six hundred and six [606]: the story of the Tatars began, which will be explained later …

Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa or History of the Caliphs, Muassasah al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyyah, Beirut, 2nd ed., 1417/1996, pp. 390-6 (my translation)

Moon Clocks – Mediaeval & Modern

September 5, 2009
Bismillah.  For a description of a mediaeval Islamic moon-clock in Toledo, Andalusia, see below.
Firstly, a modern moon-clock project.  From the team at Aluna:
Dear All,

We were thrilled that Aluna was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and also on the BBC website on September 1st 2009. Thanks to those of you who heard it and have already been in touch.

The radio piece, by BBC Science Correspondent Pallab Ghosh, features contributions from David Rooney, former curator of Timekeeping at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (now at the Science Museum), Dr. Usama Hasan, Imam and Islamic Astronomer and Aluna’s Laura Williams.

Do take a look at the article on the BBC news website – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8226735.stm

You can also listen again to the Today Programme on the BBC iplayer for the next few days http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00m9nxp/Today_01_09_2009/


(The story starts at 44 mins 30 secs but you can skip straight there by dragging the cursor along)
For those of you who are not already aware, we’re very pleased that The Aluna Foundation has received its charitable status – granted on the July 20th, the 40th anniversary of the Moon landings!
Secondly, thanks to Mohammad Baig, an astronomer and writer, for drawing my attention to the following:
Al-Zarqali and his lunar chronograph or moon-clock
Extracts:

Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibn Yahya Al-Zarqali (Arzachel in Latin), was a famous Andalusian scholar known also as Al-Zarqalluh and Al-Zarqallah. He was born in 1029 and died in 1087. His life corresponded exactly to that dramatic period when the Muslim realm of Spain completely disintegrated, and nearly collapsed, only to be saved in 1089, when the Almoravids of Morocco crossed into Spain, crushed the Christians at Zalaqa, and unified Spain once more. They were followed later by the Almohads, who kept Spain under Muslim rule for another two centuries, until the middle of the 13th century, when Muslim Spain, with the exception of Granada, was lost for good.

Al-Zarqali constructed the famed clocks of Toledo, which al-Zuhri has described in a Castilian translation, published by J.M. Millas-Vallicrosa. The clocks were in use until 1135, when King Alphonso VI tried to discover how they worked and asked Hamis Ibn Zabara to dismantle them. Once they were taken apart, nobody could reassemble them. They constituted a very precise lunar calendar and were, to some extent, the predecessors of the clocks or planetary calendar devices that became fashionable six centuries later in Europe.

Ahmad Thomson has given a vivid account of the intricate working of the clocks. The clocks consisted of two basins, which filled with water or emptied according to the increasing or waning of the moon. At the moment when the new moon appeared on the horizon, water would begin to flow into the basins by means of subterranean pipes, so that there would be at day-break the fourth of a seventh part, and at the end of the day half a seventh part, of the water required to fill the basins. In this proportion the water would continue to flow until seven days and as many nights of the month had elapsed, by which time both basins would be half filled. The same process during the following seven days and nights would make the two basins quite full, at the same time that the moon was at its full. However, on the fifteenth night of the month, when the moon would begin to wane, the basins would also begin to lose every day and night half a seventh part of their water, until by the twenty-first of the month they would be half empty, and when the moon reached her twenty-ninth night not a drop of water would remain in them. It is worthy of remark that, should anyone go to any of the basins when they were not filled, and poured water into them with a view to quicken its filling, the basins would immediately absorb the additional water and retain no more than the just quantity; and, on the contrary, were anyone to try, when they were nearly filled, to extract any or the whole of their water, the moment he raised his hands from the work the basins would pour out sufficient water to fill the vacuum in an instant.

Death Threats to Sayyid al-Qimni, Egyptian historian and thinker

August 4, 2009

Update: 5th August 2009

People have pointed out that Sheikh Ali Gomaa (who is Shaykh al-Azhar, not the Grand Mufti) is against the death penalty for apostates, so he can’t have encouraged killing Qimni.  It seems he may have been asked about Qimni and said that he was an apostate.  This might be insensitive, given what happened to Faraj Fouda & Nagib Mahfuz.

Similarly, it is unlikely that the Muslim Brotherhood would officially call for Qimni’s killing.  It has millions of supporters though, so some of them might have done.  It should also be pointed out that the MB has repeatedly suffered the arrest without charge of some of its members over the years, and this continued recently.  Egyptian society needs greater openness and justice.

The whole situation is actually a good opportunity for Al-Azhar, MB, Sh. Qaradawi and others to calm people down and show some maturity and wisdom, dialogue and engagement rather than rushing to death threats at the slightest whiff of heresy.  Surely the last thing Egypt and Islam need is another Faraj Fouda or Salman Rushdie situation?

With the Name of Allah

The secular, liberal Egyptian historian and thinker Sayyid al-Qimni, son of a traditionalist Azhari sheikh, has had serious death threats issued against him by many (mainly extremist) religious scholars in Egypt since the end of June, as detailed in his Appeal (below) which he describes as ” a distress call to all bodies and individuals, a call to the consciences of every free individual in the world.”

The latest threats to him seem to have been sparked by his being elected to receive the Egyptian State Award for Social Sciences on June 25th.

In particular, it is alleged that those who have declared that he is an apostate and should be killed (perhaps even by ordinary Egyptians, not just by the state) include:

1- The Muslim Brotherhood
2- Al-Azhar Scholars’ Front headed by Yahya Ismail Habloush
3- 5,000 mosque khatibs in their Friday sermons on July 24th
4- Sheikh Ali Gomaa himself (currently still the Shaykh Al-Azhar, as far as I know)

The situation of a polarisation between religious and secular currents in is repeated in different Muslim-majority countries, eg Pakistan, Turkey, North Africa, etc., so this case is symbolic of a much wider and deeper issue, of course.

Whatever we feel about his views (I think he’s too apologetic about the history of Jihad, for example, and he should not ridicule the Islamic practice of constant remembrance of God out of frustration with the religion-exploiters), clearly, the death threats are pathetic, appalling and totally unacceptable.

Now, our FCO and embassy in Cairo has been working with Sheikh Ali Gomaa and Al-Azhar over the last few years, and also recently hosted the charming Rector of Al-Azhar in the UK.  The Archbishop of Canterbury has also been working with Sheikh Gomaa – I was present last year at Cambridge University when they were the two main speakers at a “Common Word” event.  I also took part in the FCO Projecting British Islam delegation to Egypt last year, which is partly why the matter concerns me.

I’m therefore asking for your help in encouraging our friends in the following places to do the right thing in this regard (and praying to God that they do so, if appropriate!): i.e. to investigate the death-threats and to take appropriate steps to promote peaceful dialogue and debate, including between secularists and fundamentalists, believers and non-believers, etc.

1- The FCO, especially the Foreign Secretary
2- Our embassy in Cairo, as well as the embassies there of other influential countries
3- Al-Azhar University and its various affiliated institutions
4- The office of Sheikh Ali Gomaa
5- The Muslim Brotherhood
6- The office of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.  Qimni is highly-critical of Qaradawi.  From what I know of Qaradawi, he is at least open and committed to dialogue with others, plus he has a less-hardline position on the alleged death-penalty for apostasy.  Therefore, perhaps he may be able to have a calming influence here.
7- Religious scholars and shaykhs generally, especially those with links to the UK & Egyptian governments and religious circles
8- Lambeth Palace & the office of Dr. Rowan Williams
9- Members of the “Common Word” initiative
10- Human rights organisations & lawyers

I would appreciate your advice, suggestions, help, prayers, etc.  Please publicise this matter and forward it to the relevant people.  I attach pertinent quotes and some weblinks below.


The Arabic Network For Human Rights Information:  Sayyed Alqimni’s Life Is At Stake Amidst An Extremist Campaign. Iftaa Council Declares War Against Free Enlightened Thought.

Abu Aardvark: The secularism debate.

Politics & Religion Blog: Egyptian Reformer Sayyid al-Qimni.

Egyptian Liberal Sayid Al-Qimni & London Islamist Hani Al-Sibai Debate Secularism & Fundamentalism in Arab World.

Sayyid al-Qimni’s blog (in Arabic)

Sayyid al-Qimni is on Facebook also, with that spelling.


This appeal can be found at the Copts’ website as well as at ME Transparent.

(I have edited it for what look like translation errors.  In particular, the Arabic takfir can mean both atonement and excommunication, but clearly the latter is meant throughout this appeal.  Also, salafi means fundamentalist or traditionalist in this context.)

AN APPEAL TO THE WORLD’S CONSCIENCE
From the Egyptian writer and academic researcher of Islamic Affairs, Dr. Sayed Mahmoud El Qemany, who is being exposed to incitements to assassinate him

Qimni photo
In the context of my academic research and practical work I have been able to provide an important set of motion in the stagnant Egyptian situation. I have attempted to make reforms from the inside and worked on the disarmament of those who exploit Islam politically and make it a source of livelihood at the expense of the simple, good people of Egypt. I have therefore created a secular movement that has imposed its presence, although still at a formative stage.

In a free ballot of Egyptian thinkers, I was granted the State Award for Social Sciences, on June 25th 2009. The hard-line radical militant groups considered that the state has adopted this intellectual secular trend officially, infuriating the mentioned group which called on the State to withdraw the prize with the declaration of my defection from Islam and excommunication which means in our country, I could be slain; any citizen is allowed to kill me and be awarded by God in Paradise.

The following parties have participated in the statements of excommunication (takfir), noting that none of them have read a single word of what I wrote, and have not been able to hold a dialogue to discuss my ideas:

1 – Al-Azhar Scholars Front headed by Yahya Ismail Habloush, which issued the first statement of excommunication on July 10, 2009.
2 – The Islamic Group (condemned terrorist group) issued a statement of excommunication on July 10, 2009.
3 – The Muslim Brotherhood hailed the excommunication, and were represented at the parliament by Hamdi Hassan requesting the withdrawal of the award and the declaration of religious-defection and excommunication on July 7, 2009. The Muslim Brotherhood also declared my excommunication on Mohwar Channel on July 11, 2009 and on Al Faraeen Channel on July 13, 2009.
4 – The Salafi (Fundamentalist) Group (condemned terrorist group) dedicated its Internet site named “The Egyptians” for excommunicating me and incitements to kill me, since the date of obtaining the prize until today.
5 – Al Nas channel, which represents the theoretical side of bloody terrorism which declared excommunication and demanded “all citizens who can” to kill me immediately, on July 24 and 25, 2009.
6 – The Hisbah Sheikh Youssef Al Badri in Egypt declared on the channel “ON TV” on July 3, 2009 that I have cursed God and the Prophet Mohammad in my books even though I have challenged him and others to refer to a single text written by me where such claims were made. Due to this proclamation, he has issued an incitement to kill me.
7 – A member of the Al-Azhar scholars, Sheikh Mohammed El Berry, on Mihwar TV Channel on July 11, 2009 announced my excommunication as he also said that he did not read any of my writings since he does not read “garbage”. He repeated the same words on the channel “ON TV” on July 22, 2009
8 – Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the former Chairman of the “State Religious Affairs Advisory Board”, issued a statement declaring my infidelity and calling for slaying me for “insulting the Prophet of Islam, the God of Islam” on July 24, 2009.
9 – The Sheiks of more than 5,000 mosques on Friday prayers on July 24, 2009 declared the incitement to kill me, especially in my hometown, which led to the rampage against my family and relatives, and that could possibly evolve to some serious consequences in the coming weeks.

Due to the above, I call upon the conscience of all humanity in the free world to come to me and my children’s rescue by providing moral support and the condemnation and denunciation of the radical thinking with quick solutions to save us from the danger that is luring around us.  This is a distress call to all bodies and individuals. A call to the consciences of every free individual in the world.

Signed
Sayed Mahmoud El Qemany- Researcher

================================

We, the Liberal Egyptian intellectuals, students, followers, readers and lovers of Dr. Sayed El Qemany call upon the officials to intervene to save our distinguished and respectable intellectual from the threats of radical Islamic movements who continue to incite to murder him, openly and publicly in mosques and on satellite channels, financed by those who exploit religion to serve their political agendas for nothing but their inability to hold a valid and a scientific argument with him and totally lost their minds over his being granted the State Award for Social Sciences, The fact that lead to their predicament that the state has adopted a secular ideology, which is synonymous with heresy and atheism in their ignorant minds.

We also urge the Press Syndicate to address the abuses of the fundamentalist brothers Mahmoud and Gamal Sultan as well as Jamal Abd al-Rahim against Dr. El Qemany inciting the general public to kill him. We call upon the Attorney General as well, to bring to justice those held accountable for incitement to kill an Egyptian citizen whose only crime was to use his mind.

LET’S ALL STAND UP TO THE FUNDAMENTALIST INQUISITION!

El Qemany’s Appeal About Sayyid al-Qimni Qemani text I (English) Qemani text II (English) Qimni – Azhar – Extremism Qimni – Muslim Brotherhood – civil society Qimny on Jihad attitudes

Cover snapshots of Qimni’s books:

Qimni book 1 Qimni book 2 Qimni book 3 Qimni book 4 Qimni book 5 Qimni book 6 Qimni book 7

Arabic Arithmetic – the Abjad Numerical System

June 7, 2009

With the Name of Allah

Ever wondered what all that Arabic numerology is based on?  Here is a brief introduction to the Abjad numerical system.

Arabic Arithmetic – the Abjad Numerical System

Here’s another interesting example and puzzle, given with precisely the same wording by both Ibn Kathir (in al-Bidayah wa l-Nihayah, his history of the world) and Suyuti (in his Tarikh al-Khulafa’ or History of the Caliphs, Mu’assasah al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyyah, Beirut, 2nd ed., 1417/1996, p. 394 under the section on Al-Nasir li Din Allah who lived 553-622 and ruled 575-622, his reign including the reconquest of Jerusalem by Saladin in 583/1187).  The verbatim reproduction by Suyuti suggests that he took this from Ibn Kathir:

One of the strange matters [connected to the reconquest of Jerusalem] is that Ibn Barrajan mentioned in tafsir of “Alif Lam Mim: The Romans have been conquered” [Qur'an, 30:1-2] that Jerusalem would remain in the hands of the Crusaders (al-Rum) until the year 583, when they would be vanquished.  Jerusalem would be conquered and remain a Land of Islam until the end of time.  He derived all this from the arithmetic of the ayah, and it is precisely what happened.

Abu Shamah said: What Ibn Barrajan mentioned is a wondrous coincidence, for he died ages before the event, his death having occurred in the year 536.

(End of quote from Ibn Kathir & Suyuti)

Now, Ibn Barrajan’s arithmetic is puzzling.  Here are the Abjad values of the first two ayahs of Surah al-Rum:

1. Alif Lam Mim: 71

2. Ghulibat al-Rum: 1432, 277

The question is, how did he arrive at the year of the reconquest of Jerusalem?

The only way I can get anything to work is to use ayah 2 only, plus the Surah number (30) and the ayah number:

1432 – 277 + 30 + 2 = 1187, the CE date of the reconquest of Jerusalem which can be converted to the equivalent Hijri year.

Note that the subtraction at the beginning might be justified from the words that literally translate as “Conquered – The Romans.”

Would anyone like to comment on the following questions and notes?

(1) Was this indeed Ibn Barrajan’s arithmetic?

(2) Is there another explanation, perhaps involving a different version of the Abjad numbering (there were two different schemes in use historically: Eastern & Western) ?

(3) Did Ibn Barrajan really make this prediction, or was it interpolated into his manuscript after the event?

(4) The prediction as stated was fulfilled and remained true for almost eight centuries, but is no longer true ever since the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem in 1967.

(5) In the end, this is no more than a mathematical distraction, for the Qur’an is primarily a collection of Signs and Guidance for humanity in our journeys towards God.

Another example of numerology

Ibn Kathir quotes from the early authority Abu l-‘Aliyah that the mysterious letters may denote lifetimes of nations: “Alif is one year; Lam is thirty years; Mim is forty years.”[1]

He also quotes a narration that he dismisses as not authentic, to the effect that some Jews at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) speculated that the Prophet’s followers would rule for periods denoted by the mysterious letters.  The narration specifically mentions the following groups of letters: ALM, ALMS, ALR and ALMR, for which the numerical equivalents add up to 734 years of rule.  Ibn Kathir then remarks, “If this method is correct, one would have to add up the values of all fourteen of these letters, which would equate to a large figure.  If you calculate taking into account repetition [of groups of letters at the beginning of different surahs], the value will be even greater, and Allah knows best.”[2]


[1] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, Maktabah Dar al-Fayha’, Damascus/Beirut, 1413/1992 (4 vols.), vol. 1, p. 39 under Qur’an 2:1

[2] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, Maktabah Dar al-Fayha’, Damascus/Beirut, 1413/1992 (4 vols.), vol. 1, p. 41 under Qur’an 2:1.  Note that Ibn Kathir miscalculates the value of ALMS, forgetting the L, so he gives the total as 704.  The results of the calculations he suggests at the end are 1757 and 3385 years respectively, as detailed in this table: Numerical Values of the Mysterious Letters of the Quran


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