The Library of the Institut d’Egypte

December 31st, 2011

To whom it may concern

From: Dr. Jere L. Bacharach
Former Director, American Research Center in Egypt
Professor Emeritus of Middle East History


- Continue the work by the Egyptian National Library to preserve the material salvaged from the Institut d’Egypte Library.

- Do not determine which items should be restored and/or replaced until an Egyptian committee including appropriate Dar al-Kutub staff, Institut d’Egypte staff and scholars have set the priorities for a future Institut d’Egypte library. Non-Egyptian specialists in conservation and Egyptian history can always be included in such discussions.

- Consider the type of library needed by Egyptians for the 21st century and what type of electronic and printed material is appropriate rather than simply recreating the older library.

- Consider creating digital copies and only if funds are available hard copies of all Institut d’Egypte publications for a restored library.


The burning of any library is a tragedy no matter when and where it takes place. A library symbolizes the collected wisdom of humanity and the loss of such an institution is always a sad event. In a few cases, out of these ashes the phoenix can arise and, based on the statements of the SCAF, the actions of the Egyptian National Library staff and the volunteers who have aided them and the generosity of donors this may be one of them. But, I urge my Egyptian colleagues, before you seek to recreate what once existed, think about what the Egypt of the 21st century needs. It may be something different from the former Institut d’Egypte.

As noted in the Al-Ahram Weekly, the Institut d’Egypte was first established during the Napoleonic occupation of Egypt but it was closed with their forced withdrawal. It was recreated in 1859 in Alexandria and named the Institut egyptien. The new institute was to deal with all aspects of human knowledge. In 1880 it moved to Cairo and the current building on Qasr al-Aini. It eventually changed its name to Institut d’Egypte evoking memories of the first Institute. Monthly meetings included talks on a wide range of scientific topics. For almost a century the Institut d’Egypte was an important center of Egyptian intellectual activity and a rare library for the breadth of its holdings, but with the 1952 Revolution, the shift in Egypt’s priorities, and the departure by 1956 of most of the foreign elite who had supported the Institute’s programs, the Institute remained as a monument to an earlier age whose library was used by fewer and fewer scholars, Egyptian and foreign.

While it is wonderful to sit in elegant high-ceiling rooms surrounded by beautifully bound books and journals as was the case in the old Institut d’Egypte’s library, today’s students, scholars and other library users are now seating at computers searching the web for the data they want. More and more journals and even books, long out of print, are now available on the web and can be downloaded and searched electronically including material in Arabic script.

All books from the original library which only need minimal restoration should be returned to a new Institut d’Egypte but is it the best use of limited resources to restock shelves with 19th and to mid-20th century books and journals on the widest range of topics, most of which will never be read? Egyptian students I observe at work are busy with electronic resources, so why not create a 21st century library in a restored Institut d’Egypte for Egyptians where as many computer terminals as possible with the fastest possible internet connections and printers are available? There is an important future for an Institut d’Egypte, but it should be one which reflects a free and independent Egypt and not one that was under the thumb of imperial powers and their priorities.

Orient Institute of Beirut marks 50th birthday

December 8th, 2011

Daily Star

Book Review

November 27th, 2011

Arts in Turkey: How ancient became modern. By Arnold Reisman. Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publishing, 2009. Pp. xvii, 165, with col. illustrations; includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN: 143920537X.

Post-Ottoman Turkey: Classical music and opera. By Arnold Reisman. Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publishing, 2009. Pp.147, with illustrations; includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN: 1439205388.

These two books form a complementary pair. Together they provide a total picture of how the arts fit into the cultural revolution that Ataturk undertook in Turkey. Arts in Turkey deals with the visual arts of painting, sculpture, tapestries, and others, and Post-Ottoman Turkey covers classical music, opera, and dance. They both pay tribute to Ataturk’s determination that the arts were an important facet of national life, that education should support them, and that the government should fund them. Of course, he meant here modern European arts, the Islamic arts of the Ottoman Empire being discarded as outdated, but he also never meant that the modern Turkish arts should be no more than imitations of the West. He challenged Turkish artists of all kinds to add an authentic national spirit to their work. The arts, aside from enriching Turkish society, were also an integral part of Ataturk’s program of nationalism. Remaining loyal to Ataturk’s legacy, the government still subsidizes a great number of arts and music programs.
Of the two works Arts in Turkey: How ancient became modern is the better. It is not a book of art criticism, but of the history of fine art in Turkey since Ataturk’s revolution. However, what little critical material included is insightful. The book sketches Islam’s attitudes and rules towards the visual arts, and offers a chronological overview of the development of modern visual arts in Turkey, providing brief sketches of the careers of important artists and sculptors—going from the Islamic art of the last Ottoman years to the first Turkish painters in the Western style, such as Osman Hamdi Bey and Seker Ahmed Pasa, to some of the leading lights of the current scene, like Mehmet Aksoy. It is adorned with color illustrations of most of the works mentioned in the text. It is unfortunate that some of these are too small to be of any use. Still, it gives a clear picture of the vitality and talent of even the early Republican Turkish artists and sculptors in their efforts to master and adapt Western styles. It also demonstrates how these same artists managed to follow Ataturk’s dictum to imbue their art with a special Turkishness. The arts of the Hittites, Lydians, and other pre-Islamic civilizations of Anatolia provided great inspiration for the Turkish artists, especially in sculpture. Also, Islamic arts such as tapestries, metal work, and calligraphy, have become more influential now as the secular nationalist fervor of the Revolution fades. The sculpture section of the book is dominated by works of public art, mostly commemorative statues of Republican heroes, and especially Ataturk. The works which make up Ataturk’s tomb receive special attention. Arts in Turkey: How ancient became modern is a wonderful introduction to the modern arts scene in Turkey from its roots to the present day. It is everything one could want in a text-book or a quick reference. It is highly recommended.
I am sorry to say that Post-Ottoman Turkey: Classical music and opera suffers from a number of problems. First, and perhaps greatest, is the fact that it does not follow a chronological order and organization in its text, but instead follows the lives of the crucial players in the story of bringing Western art music and opera to Turkey from its first introduction till today. So the story is told in a fragmented manner, jumping back and forth in time. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the individual biographic sketches are themselves often not organized in a chronological order. In any case, Reisman is at pains to emphasize Ataturk’s crucial role in the cultivation of music in Turkey. While he supported the collection and notating of Anatolian folk material (Bela Bartok was even brought in to aid in the task.), opera and other Western art musics were what he considered essential to creating Turkish national culture. He also challenged composers and musicians to find a special Turkishness to add to their work. One of my favorite parts of the book are the photographs which show Ataturk at a ball in 1938, first dancing a Viennese waltz, and then a traditional Zeypek dance. These show graphically Ataturk’s devotion to Western and Turkish musics.
Like Arts in Turkey: How ancient became modern, Post-Ottoman Turkey: Classical music and opera is not a work of criticism, and the few attempts in this vein are simplistic and not very helpful. The sections on Turkish musical artists are especial examples of this; they are little more than short biographical sketches, which include only where the subjects were educated and where they have performed. Composers come off a little better ,with some commentary on their major works sometimes given. This is especially true for the first great Turkish composer, Adnan Seygun, who managed to continually and successfully find inspiration in Turkish music and culture for his Western-styled music. Short biographies of great Turkish musicians are given for Leyla Gencer, Nevit Kodali, Suna Kan, Yelda Kodali, and others. The most important part of the book is its discussion of the role in creating modern Turkish music of the mostly German musicians and composers who were invited to Turkey by Ataturk when they fell afoul of the Nazi government. These musicians are really the heroes of this book, and most of its time is spent on them and their work.
The arrival in Turkey of these refugees is the most important development for the newly formed Turkish Republic’s cultural life. One of the first to come was Paul Hindemith. Like all his compatriots, he was invited by Ataturk. He was one of the most important of the musical émigrés. He came to Turkey in 1935, and developed a plan for music education in the new Turkish school system (the old Islamic Ottoman system having been abandoned). This new plan was quickly adopted. Western music was added to basic curricula, and new music schools were founded, including the Turkish State Conservatory in Ankara. Soon there were many Turkish musicians trained in the Western style. In 1938 Hindemith brought the conductor Ernst Praetorius and fifteen German musicians to Turkey. They joined with a great number of Turkish musicians to form the first Turkish Western-style orchestra, which would become under Praetorius’ leadership the President’s Philharmonic Orchestra. Unfortunately, given the importance of Hindemith, Reisman fails to provide a coherent and unified treatment of his efforts in Turkey. It is hard to tell from Reisman’s account what Hindemith did, when, and what was its significance. How long he actually stayed in Turkey is even vague. We are told he made three trips there, but it is unclear how long he actually spent in Turkey, and what he did on each trip. A detailed treatment of his important educational plan, which became the basis for all Turkish education in the arts, would also have been appreciated. For such a significant figure as Hindemith, this kind of slapdash treatment is disappointing. Also, one other thing which is never made clear is exactly who should be considered as an émigré. Some came for only a short time like Hindemith, and some came and stayed, like Carl Ebert and Leopold Levy. These are all considered émigrés by Reisman.
The second most important émigré was Carl Ebert. He had been an opera producer and director, and brought his talents to build opera in Turkey,. He created the Theater School and Opera Studio as part of the State Conservatory. From these roots he nurtured a thriving operatic life in Turkey with world-class native singers and productions. The standard Western operatic repertoire was presented sometimes in the original language, sometimes translated into Turkish. Also, there were some operas which were written by Turkish composers, such as Okzsoy by Adnan Saygun. Ebert’s life is narrated by Reisman in a more coherent fashion, but a chronological treatment of his career and achievements is still lacking, especially dates. We are told what he did, but not often when, and how this relates with his entire career. This is also the case with the shorter biographical sketches of the other émigrés such as the conductor Ernst Praetorius and the musicologist Ernst Zuckmayer. The biographical material is too short, sketchy, and lacking in chronological coherence. One of the best parts of the book is the account of Bela Bartok’s visit to Turkey to collect folk material in 1936. Saygun, with his interest in folk melodies, invited Bartok, and the latter was only too happy to come. The only problem with the narration of this incident is that it is not made clear whether this visit was somehow connected with Ankara State University’s systematic effort to collect folk materials, which is said to have begun in 1937.
The European émigrés were also very important in the art world, and Reisman narrates their story in Arts in Turkey: How ancient became modern. The most important was Leopold Levy, a French Jew, who came to Turkey in 1936, and became the director of the Istanbul Fine Arts Academy’s painting department. He was responsible for training the first generation of Republican Turkish painters in the modern Western style, and his influence on them was great. Another émigré was the sculptor Rudolf Belling. He came to Turkey in 1937, and became head of the sculpting department at the Istanbul State Art Academy. Again, he exerted an enormous influence over his students, who became the first generation of modern Turkish sculptors. Sculpture was an art form for which the Turks had no historical Islamic tradition on which to draw. These new Turkish sculptors created their art from their own genius, and the inspiration of the pre-Islamic Anatolian cultures. As I mentioned above, the biographical material in Arts in Turkey: How ancient became modern is presented in a much more cohesive and chronological manner than in Post-Ottoman Turkey: Classical music and opera. One thing that Post-Ottoman Turkey lacks which is quite prevalent in the Arts book is a detailed delineation of the influence the émigrés had over specific Turkish musicians. However, one thing that both books could have benefited from was a brief historical and organizational treatment of the Turkish arts and music educational system. It is clear from Reisman’s work that education and the development of the arts in Turkey were inextricably linked. A brief but direct discussion of this would have been appreciated. Also, there are many schools mentioned in his text, and it is hard to know their significance, their histories, and their connections with each other.
Reisman’s description in these two books of the émigrés and their importance to the cultural life of Turkey makes one want to read his other books on their effect on Turkish intellectual life in general: Turkey’s modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Ataturk’s vision (2006) and Refugees and reform: Turkey’s Republican journey (2009).
After chronicling the health and vitality of the current arts and music scene in Turkey, both books end on an ominous note. While the current government still remains true to Ataturk’s vision of a secular, nationalist arts scene, public discourse has turned ever more frequently to debates about whether and how much Islam should be brought into the workings of a secular state. With the government being controlled by the religious party, AK, how much longer will it be before the arts and government support of them become a point of political contention for the religious population who don’t value such things in their current modern form? This is another monograph waiting to be written.


Book Review

November 27th, 2011

The politics of women’s rights in Iran. By Arzoo Osanloo. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. Pp. xix, 258, with appendix, notes, glossary, bibliography, and index. ISBN: 978-0-691-13546-5 (hardcover), 978-0-691-13547-2 (paperback).

This book is the product of a project Arzoo Osanloo conducted focusing on women’s rights in their daily lives in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where she combined the religious and republican status of Iran in a unique way. In this research she examined the social, political, and legal conditions that determine urban middle-class women’s conceptions of rights. She focused on observing the effects of culture on the concept of human rights and women’s rights.
The book is in three substantive sections. The first section provides discussions about rights from an historical and archival point of view related through interviews Osanloo had with women in Quranic meeting groups. While chapter two shows how political events led to the revolution and today’s established laws and perception of rights, chapter three includes the Quranic women’s meetings and their conversations and understanding of rights, not only through religion but also from their daily experiences and through questioning their interpretations compared with experts’ interpretations. The second section consists of Osanloo’s observations in courts and legal sites, such as Tehran’s family court and law offices. Here she examines the specific conditions in which the majority of law in Iran exists and the way it is affected by historical and political conditions, which in turn cause irregularities in enforcing rights at the courts and legal places.
In the last section, Osanloo analyzes how state officials force a formal discussion on local human rights, claiming nation-state legitimacy and sovereignty, while she also explores the sites where human rights are circulated beyond the legal settings by focusing on a non-governmental organization.
Osanloo chooses Tehran as her research location in order to concentrate on demographically specific groups of women whose status and rights have been affected after Iran’s 1979 revolution. She says that the nation and the government embraced Islam and its pure values, enforced by Shiʿi jurisprudence, which puts women in the center of focus when it comes to human rights. This dialog between multiple sites with heterogeneous groups, and multiple interpretations within multilayers of history and politics and the women’s interpretations of rights within their government, has played an important role in Iranian women’s rights talks as one of their common activities and practices, while also shifting their identities which originated in economic conditions, religion, social, and political histories. She discovers that rights after the revolution were not adapted, but reshaped and elaborated according to the needs and circumstances of the people, especially for those having less power over obtaining their rights.
The population of her study in 2000 is comparable to 1979’s women protesters, who were mostly upper classes, the educated and working classes, with professional/ nonprofessional roles. The task of locating this group was not easy, she claims, since most of the working class women have come from rural areas without a high educational background, and cannot also be classified as middle class. Within this population she tried talking to women of the same or comparable backgrounds with similar experiences before and after the revolution. Quite interesting is her claim that all the changes in government usually target urban middle class women; neither the lower class nor the upper class experienced much change in social regulations. In the lower class, women’s responsibility is to facilitate their families’ needs within their households and they do not care much about changes outside their home, whereas the upper class women have their own means to insulate themselves from the outside world and its unwanted turbulences. As a result, neither class is affected by the world’s changes outside their own world’s perimeter. It is, therefore, the middle class women who feel the changes disproportionately. Osanloo also purposely carried out her survey in urban areas, in contrast to other studies done in rural areas with lower class populations to give the Western audience a variety of the social possibilities available in Iran. She claims that 99% of the population in Iran believe in spirituality and faith and consider themselves Muslim. 65% of the population is under age 30 and so is a product of the current government after revolution; what this population wants or demands cannot be called “Westernized” because they have not seen it in their whole life but understand it through their perception of rights through history and their political culture.
In her book, Osanloo reviews Iran’s history from 1906 to 1979 and compares the historical changes with the cultural and political changes and their effects on women’s rights. She believes that many of the stories published or discussed in the media about the Middle East and particularly Iran are considerably biased, because the source of information makes assumptions based upon fragments of evidence, and the results of these discussions turn into ideological struggles, such as “modernity vs. Islam” or “traditionalism/radicalism vs. Western values/liberal humanism.” She argues that women’s status and rights, which emerged as an issue in contemporary international debates, is neither only about the material conditions of women’s lives and their social circumstances nor is borne only because of political reasons. She suggests that instead of thinking of it as “black and white” i.e., “freedom vs. oppression,” it is better to concentrate more on understanding the relationship between the nation-state and the new performance of Islamic modernity emphasizing the role of women in the nation. During her research, Osanloo interacted with women in the courts dealing with their state-regulated rights while also consulting with one another about their Islamic rights in Quranic meetings. It is this heterogeneous understanding of rights that Osanloo emphasizes, these women in Iran making choices about their lives.
Osanloo’s research is a good resource, providing a new perception on the nature of scholarly arguments about Iran and the political discourses of the changes in its regime. It highlights and examines the process and the notion of women’s rights through both the secular and the modern lens, and it reveals the intersection of “cultures and tradition” with “modernity” in the critical moments at which women articulate their rights within multiple ideologies of law and legalities.


Book Review

November 27th, 2011

The Islamic manuscript tradition: Ten centuries of book arts in Indiana University collections. Edited by Christiane Gruber. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010. Pp. xviii, 281, with illustrations and maps. ISBN: 9780253353771.

All books before the invention of the printing press were copied by hand and the book-making process, including binding and designing, was entirely manual. Islamic civilization over the centuries has produced many beautiful and fascinating manuscript books. They are important not only as primary written sources but also as objects of art. The Islamic book-making art has been the subject of several publications, but the book under review is the first publication devoted to the examination of Islamic book art objects held in different library and museum collections of Indiana University Bloomington.
The book opens with a foreword by Oleg Grabar, the famous scholar of Islamic art, and includes a preface, acknowledgements, eight research articles, and a bibliography.
Two articles out of the eight are written by Christiane Gruber, editor of the volume, professor of Islamic art at Indiana University Bloomington. In her first article she provides a brief history of Islamic book art and a detailed overview of Islamic book art objects in Indiana University collections. Her second article is the textual and artistic analysis of the illustrated prayer manual from the Lilly Library’s collection. The production of little prayer books was widespread among Muslim book-makers and one can find a copy in any collection of Islamic manuscripts. The manual kept in the Lilly Library is one of the most beautiful copies, which Gruber assumes was produced in Istanbul in the nineteenth century. In the article the author describes in detail all paintings, graphic, and seal designs of the manuscript. She also provides an excellent analysis of Quranic verses, prayers, and invocations included in the manual.
Another interesting article included in the volume is written by Janet Rauscher and is entitled “Ruth E. Adomeit: an ambassador for miniature books.” The Lilly Library houses one of the largest collections of miniature books in the world. The author highlights collector Ruth Adomeit’s professional biography and explores her activities in collecting miniature books.
The following chapter, written by Heather Coffey, is a continuation of the previous article. It is an overview of Islamic miniature books from the Adomeit collection. The author examines twelve miniature books, ten of which are miniature Qurans, one a collection of the Prophet Muhammad’s hadiths, and the last al-Jazūlī’s (d. 1465) Dalāʾil al-khayrāt, copied in Africa in the nineteenth or twentieth century. The most valuable part of the article, in our view, is the appendixes summarizing codicological details of these manuscripts and a translation of the Persian Book of Divination.
The Lilly Library holds a complete collection of books printed by İbrahim Müteferrika, the founder of the first printing press in eighteenth-century Istanbul. Yasemin Gencer’s article brings this collection to light and provides a detailed overview of twenty four printed books. Seventeen of them were published during the lifetime of İbrahim Müteferrika and the other seven books after his death.
The next chapter is written by Emily Zoss and it examines maps and diagrams included in one of İbrahim Müteferrika’s publications, namely Kitab Cihannüma of the famous Ottoman scholar Haji Khalifa (1609–1657). The article also provides a historical survey of Ottoman cartography during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The next article is written by Brittany Payeur and deals with the Lilly Library’s abridged manuscript copy of the Shahnama known as Shamshir Khani. The manuscript consists of 271 folios and 70 illustrations and is really one of the most beautiful works of art. In the Appendix the author lists folio numbers and the topic of each illustration.
The last chapter of the volume is written by Kitty Johnson. It deals with an amulet manuscript from Adomeit’s collection, a sub-Saharan copy of Dalāʾil al-khayrāt. The author argues that this copy was produced in areas where the concepts of Islamic baraka and nyama of the Mande peoples were equally relevant.
The separate bibliography included at the end of the book is quite comprehensive and contains approximately 500 references to works written in different languages. It is indeed a useful reference tool for students of Islamic book arts.
The book under review is full of illustrations, pictures, and images that help the reader to better understand the text. The book is highly recommended for academic libraries, art libraries, and larger public libraries.


Book Review

November 27th, 2011

The Prophet’s ascension: Cross-cultural encounters with the Islamic miʿrāj tales. Edited by Christian Gruber and Frederick Colby. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 2010. Pp. 440, with bibliographical references and index. $59.95 (paper). ISBN: 9780253353610.

This book grew out of two panel discussions, one at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, and the other at the meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in November 2006. The main subject of the work is how and why the miʿrāj stories have been used in various historical and geographic settings to express, protect, and project the religiosity of the community. It provides a discussion of the tales’ social and religious roles in Muslim communities in such diverse geographic and historical settings as Ilkhanid, Safavid, and Qajar Iran; Timurid Central Asia; Bengal; Reconquista Spain; Ottoman Greece; and Anatolia. The book is not really concerned with a literary critical discussion of the miʿrāj stories, and what literary criticism is included in the various articles is designed to further explicate the tales’ polemical, ritual, and social roles. Moreover, in some articles miʿrāj stories in oral versions are discussed, and the symbolism of the tales is made clear. Their roles in their communities are also examined.
For the purposes of the book, the term miʿrāj indicates not only Muhammad’s ascent into heaven and hell, but also his supernatural night journey to Jerusalem, usually termed the isrāʾ, which preceded it. The miʿrāj stories are mainly drawn from the hadith tales and the sirah literature. The narrative as presented in these sources is malleable enough to be adapted by later authors in a wide variety of ways and contexts. It is what these later authors have done with the tales that is the focus of the book. Time and time again, one of the most important roles the tales are called upon to play is as powerful missionary instruments, aimed at converting unbelievers and glorifying the faith. They illustrate the basic beliefs and duties of Islam for potential converts and ordinary Muslims. They also demonstrate the superiority of Islam to any competing faiths. This is shown especially in Gruber’s article on the Ilkhanid Miʿrājnāmah; Max Scherberger’s article on the Chagatay Miʿrājnāmah; and Maria E. Subtelny’s work on the miʿrāj stories and the Jews of Timurid times. The pedagogic use of the miʿrāj stories for indoctrinating a younger Muslim audience in Qajar Iran is shown in an article by Ali Boozari.
It seems that for the various Shiite communities, the miʿrāj tales had an important mystical component, which was important in reinforcing the esoteric beliefs and symbolism of the community. We see this in an Ismaili setting in Elizabeth R. Alexandrin’s piece on Qadi al-Numan’s version of the miʿrāj stories; Amelia Gallagher’s article on Shah Ismail’s telling of the miʿrāj tales; Selim S. Kuru’s discussion of early Anatolian Turkish verse narratives; and Vernon Schubel’s excellent article on the miʿrāj in Alevi-Bektashi tradition and custom. These Shiite versions insert Ali in the regular miʿrāj narrative, and stress his importance as heir to the Prophet. Ali is at first manifested as a lion during Muhammad’s night journey, and then is present with Muhammad in heaven. Muhammad defers to Ali on several occasions. This reasserts Ali’s position as heir to the Prophet and his esoteric knowledge. These details are present in almost every Shiite version of the miʿrāj, and become part of Alevi-Bektashi ritual, which includes dramatic reenactment.
The book also deals with the influence of the miʿrāj tales on the Christian and Jewish communities which came into contact with the Muslims. As we have seen, Subtelny discusses the missionary effects of the miʿrāj tales among the Jews of Timurid times. Further, Aaron W. Hughes demonstrates the mutual influence of miʿrāj tales on the philosophical works of Avicenna and Abraham ben Ezra. This is an exceptionally thought-provoking article. Heather M. Coffey’s article discusses how the Christians of Reconquista Spain developed their own polemic against the miʿrāj tales in the Beatus of Liebana’s commentary on the Apocalypse. Ironically they used the miʿrāj’s own imagery against it. This and other works of the same type were used for the same missionary purpose, to try to convert Muslims in newly conquered areas. There are some striking illustrations from this Christian work included. In general the accompanying illustrations to each article are quite useful and beautiful. Further the analysis of them is lucid and enlightening. Overall the illustrations range in date from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. Throughout the book, discussion of the miʿrāj manuscripts with their beautiful and complex illustrations is particularly a treat.
Some of the works which deal with literary matters are Roberto Tottoli’s chapter. It demonstrates how and why “the tour of hell” component of the miʿrāj tale, which had at first been just a minor episode, became a prominent and powerful part of the miʿrāj stories in later texts. He goes on to describe the moral and missionary component of the mindset of in the early Arab-Muslim empire, and how it led to this and other polemical alterations and components in the miʿrāj tales. In another instance, Ozgen Felek shows how the miʿrāj account in early Turkish verse versions took on dramatic elements. A complementary article by Vernon Schubel demonstrates how such early influences have led parts of the miʿrāj tale to become incorporated into mystical rituals by the Alevi-Bektashi of Anatolia.
All in all this is a superb work of scholarship. The articles have been extremely well chosen, and are cogent and clearly written. They are also documented with copious endnotes, and the book includes a full bibliography and complete and thorough index. Further, the work includes 32 color illustrations and 18 black and white illustrations, each one germane to the text. Romanization is done in the LOC system as described in the International Journal of Middle East Studies. The common theme of the book unites the diverse articles, and emphasizes their complementary nature. I have only one small complaint about the work—it is not a work for the reader unfamiliar with the topic. The articles deal with very specific aspects of the miʿrāj tales and manuscripts, and are often very detailed. One must also know about the intellectual and religious atmosphere of the Islamic Empire from the beginnings to the early modern period to grasp the significance of the arguments put forward in the articles. For an introduction to the subject of miʿrāj studies one must look elsewhere. However, there is also a wealth of basic material in the articles for the careful novice reader. Mostly one can grasp the main theses of the articles, and the many bibliographic references offer suggestions for further study. Further, I read the book straight through. This is probably not what most readers will do—they will choose only those articles of interest to them. Co-editors Christian Gruber and Frederick Colby have done an excellent job in compiling this work, and it will undoubtedly become one of the authoritative works on the miʿrāj and its place in this Islamic world.


Name authorities in the news

February 24th, 2011

Librarians are all too familiar with the profusion of guises in which the name of Libyan dictator — معمر القذافي in Arabic — may be encountered in the Latin alphabet. For the rest of the public out there it’s a mystery that still requires explanation:

As Col. Q has been much in the news of late, I wondered in an idle moment over the long weekend how articles listed on Google’s news site are spelling his name. (It was either that, or finishing the NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle.)

For those who may be interested, this is what turned up (I may have missed some other possible spellings, and the numbers for frequency of citation are subject to change by the moment). For the sake of simplicity, I’m concentrating on his surname — قذافي in Arabic — leaving out the permutations occasioned by the presence or absence of the Arabic article (al- ) and by the variant spellings of his given name.

LCNAF (81068638)’s preferred form of entry — Qaddafi — was the 8th most popular form in the news, used in 1,730 news articles.

Other variant forms listed in LCNAF, in decreasing order of popularity in news articles:

/form of name/ /# of news stories/

Gaddafi 22,898
Gadhafi 15,496
Gadafi 13,705
Kadhafi 12,625
Kaddafi 11,975
Gheddafi 5,970
Khadafi 1,987
*Qaddafi 1,730
Qadhafi 389
Ghadafi 298
Khaddafi 193
Khadafy 128
Ghaddafi 124
Kadaffi 103
Qadafi 41
Gathafi 31
Qathafi 5
Kazzafi 3
Ghaddafy 1
Qadhdhafi 1

Among variant forms I encountered that are not currently listed in NCAF:

Gadaffi 370
Khadaffi 222
Ghadaffi 64
Gadafy 48
Qadafy 44
Khadhafi 33
Khadaffy 9
Quaddafi 8
Gaddafy 7
Kadafy 4
Qadaffy 3
Geddafi 3
Ghedaffy 3
Kheddafi 1

May it all end well, inshallah.

András Riedlmayer
Fine Arts Library
Harvard University

Protester and supporters uniting to protect the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

February 9th, 2011

Protesters and Supporters join hands to protect The Bibliotheca Alexandrina

The Egyptian Constitutional Question

February 4th, 2011

Analysis from Foreign Policy magazine on avenues for Presidention succession in the Egyptian Constitution.

Mubarak’s speech

February 1st, 2011

Text of Speech via Reuters