2005-12-25

An Introduction to Islam

The University of Washington organised a series of conferences after the 11 September 2001 events aiming at making a better understanding of the context and consequences of the terrorist attacks and what happened after.

Dr Jere Bacharach professor of Middle East History and director of the Jackson School of International Studies gave an impressive presentation about "An Introduction to Islam". This is a brief, yet comprehensive, overview of the social and religious values of Islam in connection with its historical context.

There are tons of lectures about Islam, but what I find special about this one is that it's so light, factual and so easy to digest without getting into any kinds of embarrasement due to political sensitivities and such.

2005-12-04

Recent readings: Léon l'Africain

I'm starting off this new section to do a very rough review of books I read lately. There has been some time since I didn't read sustainably.

The first book in this series is Léon l'Africain by Amin Maalouf (أمين معلوف) or "Leo Africanus" (الأسد الإفريقي). I have read the original version in French.

Amin Maalouf is a Lebanese novelist living in France. He has covered in a very elegant style the West's relationship with Islam, Muslims and the Islamo-Arabic civilisation in general.

In Léon l'Africain, Amin Maalouf depicts the life of a genuine figure of the 15th-16th century: Hassan Al Wazzan (حسان الوزان) or, maybe, (حسن الوزان) known to the West as Jean-Léon de Médicis, the geograph. Hassan was born in Granada (غرناطة) in modern day Spain, he moved to Morocco as part of the massive Muslims and Jews migration after the Inquisition.

Hassan gets elevated in the ranks of society and becomes a minister/ambassador to the ruler, he visits Timbuktu, Mali which was a very developed and prosperous city at the time. His childhood friend goes into a rebellion movement and their ways cross in fantastic ways.

A quick journey to Tunis, Tunisia, then a trip to Constantinopole and a settlement in Cairo, Egypt. From Egypt, he travels back to Tunisia fearing the Ottomans, but gets abducted in Jerba, Tunisia by Sicilian pirates to end up between the hands of the Leo (Leon) X, the Pope in Rome, Italy.

Hassan Al Wazzan told us about the stressful last days of Granada and the mood of dispair that was established, the news of Jews being burnt alive in other districts was to tell Granada Jews and Muslims alike they were next. In all this, there was the voice of Astaghfirullah, who was always there to remind the city of what they did wrong and that they were getting what they deserved. Reading through the chapter, you'd find that Astaghfirullah was, somehow, th e same voice that we hear today but prefer not to listen to.

The life of Hassan Al Wazzan was used by Amin Maalouf to tell the story of so much happening in (today's) Spain, France, Italy, Egypt, Mali, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey. This fantastic tale of a figure that lived in the West and in the East is very captivating and Amin Maalouf made it hard for the reader to halt for a pause.