Jul 20 2014

Having started to translate my first novel from Arabic to English, I’ve been inspired to make a post here about translation. It’s a science and an art–tedious, but also very satisfying when you feel that you’ve succeeded.

Here’s a great article about translatability and the work of the translator.
For Arabic-to-English translation, see the premier blog by M. Lynx Qualey.


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Israel-Palestine Sources

Mar 14 2014

This is a list of recommendations for people (especially Americans) who want to educate themselves about the history and politics of Israel-Palestine.

1. Classic Fateful Triangle by Noam Chomsky. It can be dense due to so much detail, but if you want lots of facts, this one’s for you.

2. For a summary, see A Synopsis of the Israel/Palestine Conflict. Another site of insights is Tikkun.

3. For cultural history of the area, see Time of White Horses by Ibrahim Nasrallah. For a humorous and insightful novel, see Imil Habibi’s Pessoptimist. Available as both a novel and a film (and I prefer the film) is The Gate of the Sun by Ilyas Khouri. For more narratives, see Qualey’s list.

4. For a progressive Muslim American perspective, see Omid Safi’s article from Tikkun.


Art by Abdel Rahmen Al Muzayen.

I did not even know there was a problem until after I entered college–and that’s not because I was absent on the day it was discussed in my school! I began studying Arabic in London in 2000, and one of my teachers (who happened to be Syrian) refused to recognize the state of Israel. I had no idea what that meant, and almost offered to bring her a map to show her that the country existed. I soon realized that it was not she who needed a lesson in geography. It was me who needed a lesson in history and politics.

Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments section.

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Mar 05 2014

I’m starting a list of publishers here for literature of the Middle East and North Africa. Tell me if you know of more that should be added…



  • CairoBookStop / محطة كتب القاهرة is a great tool for locating books in Cairo, designed by Nancy Linthicum and Michele Henjum
  • Dar al-Hilal / دار الهلال- affordable paperback literature, also a magazine
  • Dar al-Shorouk / دار الشروق – fiction and non-fiction, in Arabic
  • American University in Cairo Press – fiction and non-fiction, in English
  • For international orders, I can recommend Neelwafurat



  • Dar Saqi / دار الساقي – fiction and non-fiction, in Arabic


  • Editions Le Fennec / دار الفنك – especially for Francophone literature
  • Librairie Samir / سمير – especially for children’s literature, Arabic and French

United Arab Emirates

  • Kalimat / كلمات – children’s and young adult literature in Arabic

United States

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Figure Skating

Feb 22 2014

I just learned of Zahra Lari, an accomplished young figure skater of the UAE:


This could be a great “culture” video in an Arabic class. In fact, I learned of the video from Laila Familiar’s site where she collects videos for Arabic.

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Jan 16 2014

I’m opening a space here for connections to more information about languages and cultures that neighbor Arabic: Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew to start. Feel free to send me any recommendations!

For Persian culture / art / history, see Caroline Mawer’s blog. For literature in translation, Words without Borders (July 2013) has an issue dedicated to literature post-(1979) revolution.

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Arab Culture in the UK & Europe

Jan 05 2014

This post is a place for collecting all the interesting projects I’ve found in the UK and Europe that showcase arts and culture from the Arab world. More to follow…




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Iznik Blossom in Jerusalem

Jan 02 2014


This is one of my favorite pieces of art. Those of us who are partial to the color combination blue and white may already know of Dutch Delftware or English willow pattern dishes. Both are seventeenth and eighteenth century European porcelain designs inspired by Chinese pinyin, literally ‘blue flowers’ wares, dating from the fourteenth century. Chinese porcelain also inspired pottery styles in the Islamic world, especially in Iznik (in the Ottoman Empire, today Turkey).



The British Museum’s Islamic Art collection includes a large lamp. Gracefully shaped like a pear, with a flared neck, the shape derives from Mamluk glass lamps. Three handles, placed symmetrically at the lamp’s waist, allow suspension from chains (like this). The hard lead-frit body resembles porcelain. Its underglaze-painted surface is composed of two fields of white, alternating vertically with three blue fields. On the white fields, black and turquoise arabesque panels alternate with black and cobalt cloud scrolls. The cobalt blue fields contain inscriptions: bismallah and hadith (sayings) at neck and base, and a bolder-font Quranic reference at the waist. Above this central inscription runs a narrow band of small turquoise triangles alternating with three white tulip buds on a field of cobalt. From a distance, the lamp displays International Timurid motifs, those features that were considered stylish in Iraq, Iran, and surrounding regions, in the fifteenth century. In addition to these general Timurid motifs, around the base runs a unique inscription. It includes 1549 as the date of manufacture, ‘the poor and humble Musli’ as the artist’s name, and a dedication to Esrefzade, local saint of Iznik. Esrefzade may refer to the Qadiri mystic, ‘And Alla-i Rumi (died 1470 at Iznik, see Rogers 203).


Historical Background

Iznik (Byzantine Nicea) in Turkey, probably selected for its deposits of fine clay, served as a major source of production for the Ottoman court. Its ceramics were imitated in other Ottoman cities as well as Italy, Hungary, and Iran, and such production continues in cities such as Fes in Morocco (see Bloom 397). Iznik wares, initially decorated in blue and white, are known for demonstrating a renewed interest in the arabesque. The first known reference to Iznik blue-and-white appears “in the kitchen accounts of Mehmed II at Bursa from 1469 to 1473″ (see Rogers 186). Their typical decorations include chinoiserie, peony, lotus, cloud scrolls, arabesques, knotted interlaces, and pseudo-Kufic script calligraphy. These last several lead some people to conclude that the potters were trained in a Mamluk tradition. Prior to this Mamluk influence, Chinese blue-and-white porcelain was imported into the Middle East as early as the late fourteenth century, appearing in bulk with the brief opening of early Ming China to foreign trade in the early fifteenth century. The hardness, durability, and size of this porcelain stimulated a high demand for it in the Islamic world of the fifteenth century. Aside from exterior influences, however, Iznik blue-and-white signified a kind of technological revolution, permitting a relatively low temperature for firing and achieving impressive effects with an often limited palette.


The Story of this Lamp

This mosque lamp is the earliest extant example of ‘Damascus’ wares. ‘Damascus’ wares, so called since they were thought to be made in Damascus, are considered the finest of all Iznik pottery for their brilliant glazes and varied designs. Suleyman (reigned 1520-1566) may have commissioned it in his restoration (1530s-1540s) of the Haram al-Sharif, at least it was very likely commissioned by the court. At that time, Ottomans controlled all three holy places of Islam (Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem). The mosque lamp adds to an image of the Haram al-Sharif as a powerful, monumental, central statement of Islam in this period. It also demonstrates the Ottoman’s interest in renewing the stature of the monument, not coincidentally the nearest of the three sites to the Ottoman capital and center of power.


What kind of message does a lamp convey? The Arabic language, first language of Islam, reveals some answers. Grandeur, though impressive, does not summarize the meaning of this important decoration. It is also clearly more than simply a light. What is a ‘mosque lamp’? The Arabic word for mosque, masjid, means ‘place where one worships God.’ Lamps provide light, nur in Arabic, a concept of beauty, knowledge, and goodness in the Quran. So the mosque lamp is like an illuminated blossom, virtually flowering by illuminating a prominent place of prayer. The statement of the mosque that once shone forth from a central shrine of Islam in Jerusalem now sits in London as an elegant and eloquent reminder of the medieval Islamic world.



Blair, Sheila S. and Jonathan M. Bloom The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250-1800. 1995.

Bloom, Jonathan and Sheila Blair. Islamic Arts. 1997.

Rogers, J.M. and R.M. Ward. Süleyman the Magnificent. 1988.

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Dec 15 2013


Check out this interview with German scholar Angelika Neuwirth on enlightenment in Arabic and Islamic cultures !

Some highlights:

  • On Enlightenment: “The claim that Islam lacks an Enlightenment is an age-old cliché. Pride in the Enlightenment–even though this pride has died down somewhat–continues to lead people to believe that Western Culture is way ahead of Islam.”
  • On the status of women: “…the Koran is not a reference work for social behaviour…The Koran was a proclamation to people who were familiar with other norms and were willing to call these norms into question…the Koran takes a revolutionary step forward: it puts woman on the same level as man before God.”
  • On language in the Qur’an: “While it might be possible to sum up the mere information in the Koran in a short newspaper article, the effect would not have been the same. It really is about enchantment through language. Language itself is also praised in the Koran as the highest gift that humankind received from God…Language is the medium of knowledge…The entire Koran is basically a paean to knowledge…”

There’s also a lecture by Angelika Neuwirth available online:

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Dec 15 2013

My academic training is in Arabic literature. By literature, I don’t mean written materials alone. I mean instead the manipulation of language in all of its various forms (whether stories, poems, rhymes, etc.) to reach an audience–expressing feelings, communicating experiences, asking questions, offering advice, and so on.

When I first studied in Morocco, I had to reevaluate my own definition of literature. Having grown up in a very bookish anglophone family, it took some adjustment to understand how people can live quite fully without any great use of books in their lives. The book lovers were few and far between, and yet most people enjoyed some kind of art. Being a fan of myths and fantasy, I found myself searching for stories in Morocco. People didn’t necessarily understand my quest, offering me instead music, dance, or poetry. I came to the conclusion that the role that books tend to play in the United States is filled by a variety of related arts in Morocco and throughout Arabic and some other cultures.

I went to graduate school and studied Arabic literature, in a variety of forms, for almost a decade. My studies included prestigious Arabic classical literature (such as Jahili poetry, the Qur’an and early Islamic texts, the maqamat and akhbar, medieval literary criticism, and philosophy). I felt particularly compelled to study examples of oral and folk literature as well (such as the historical epics, tales of the trickster Juha, and traditions of public storytelling and poetic performances). My studies also included an introduction to Hebrew language and medieval Hebrew literature. This site is a place for the culmination of my studies to share what I’ve learned and to provide a resource for others.

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Classroom materials for ARB 101

Nov 05 2013

Today we have some computer-based exercises.

With your partner, run through the following in any order you choose:

  • Visit this image, click on it to zoom in, and answer the following questions. If you get stumped, raise your hand for help.

١ -

شو هذا ؟

٢ – Write some of the names, and any other information you find:






  • Open SignsInArabicAmended and decode it. If you and your partner are stumped, raise your hand for help.
  • Visit this page and listen to the first video listed:

    من دول العالم

Take notes with your partner. See how much information you can glean.

  • Listen to this Short Vowels Jingle with your partner if you haven’t heard it yet. Feel free to sing or hum along :)
  • If you have extra time, you can visit Sayidaty or Al-Jazeera and see how much information you and your partner can find.
  • If you’re a member of Facebook and have never looked at our URI Arabic page, check it out!

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