28 June, 2009

Bayt al-Hikma

After many emails back and forth, my prof and I have narrowed down a topic for me to do my master's thesis on. It is still within the time period of the Abbasid caliphate, which is awesome! I am also going to be able to use some of my photos from my recent trip.

Ok, so the topic is the "House of Wisdom" (Bayt al-Hikma) founded during the Abbasid caliphate. I am very excited about this topic and am looking forward to reading anything and everything out there on it. What I know right now, the House of Wisdom was established as a library and place of learning. The caliphs would hire scholars from around the world (the world as they knew it to be at the time) to come to Baghdad and work in the House translating Greek and other texts into Arabic. Initially, this would enable to learned to have access to these texts. Eventually, commoners would have access as well.

Of the many subjects researched, taught, and/or archived in the House of Wisdom are Algebra (al-jibra), astronomy, anatomy, geometry, and other sciences. As I learn more, I will post more thoughts on the topic. I will also post a picture if I come across one.

17 June, 2009

Freer Gallery, Washington DC

I spent today walking around the National Mall and visiting a few specifically planned places. One of those places was the Freer Gallery so I could admire the Islamic Art section. I am so thankful that this exhibit is there. I found it to be more impressive than the Arab-American Museum, but I think that's because it was focused more on the artwork itself and less on the immigration into America. That being said, my favorite display by far is the Abbasid display. Here are a few pictures:

I have always been impressed with the detail that goes into Islamic artwork. One of the aspects that's common to all Islamic art is the calligraphy. This is typically a Qur'anic verse. Here are some examples:

Notice around the edge of the bowl the calligraphy. I am not sure what it translates as in English, but that is one form of Arabic writing that is ornate.

This is a portion of some kind of stone slab (I think it's marble - probably should have taken better notes - will edit this when I know for sure). What's neat about this piece is how the calligraphy is woven into the rest of the styling.

This last piece is an iron jar. Notice the detail of not only design, but color as well. One thing I have found in my studies is that Islamic artwork is not just ornate, but colorful as well. Artists are/were especially fond of cobalt blue for reasons I have yet to figure out.


This last picture shows an illuminated manuscript. One of the most valued pieces of artwork Medieval Middle Easterners could have in their possession was an illuminated book. These were found mainly among the learned or higher class persons.

This particular folio is from the Haft manzar (Seven visages) by Hatifi (d. 1521) and is opened to the following poem:

"There is no friend in the world better than a book.
In the abode of grief that is this world, there is no
consoler [better than the book].
In a corner of loneliness, every moment,
it provides a hundred comforts, and there is never any vexation."*

*Information obtained from the card in front of the folio at the Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.

14 June, 2009

Arab Cultural Immersion

Talk about a day filled with Arab culture, I began my day heading for the Arab-American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom and niece went with me. We had a good time and saw quite a few interesting displays. I think my niece was more thrilled about the interactive displays like the memory game using words in different languages, the short movie on Milton R. who is a photographer from New York (Buffalo, I believe) and takes pictures primarily of laborers, and trying to learn how to use the astrolabe. My mom is a licensed nurse and really enjoyed viewing the medical displays.

I took over one hundred pictures while there. All-in-all, I think it was more than worth the long, hot (no a/c in car) drive to Dearborn (1 1/2 hours). The best part is Sunday is FREE admission.

Ariel playing memory

Mom enjoying the medical stuff

Before leaving Dearborn, we drove by the mosque. It is on a road called Altar Road. It's interesting because there are 5 churches in a row on this road and nothing else. I took pics of a couple of them. The first picture is the mosque. It is an interesting building - as they all are, to me anyway. While there, I explained to my mom and niece the purpose of the minarets - the tower-like structures on either side of the dome. This is where the call to prayer is sung.

Islamic Center of America

Armenian Apostolic Church

About an hour after returning home, my best friend (who happens to be from France) and I (my niece also) went to Grand Blanc - another hour drive with no a/c - to visit our friend Sua'ad and her husband Abdul-Atiif (or AJ as most call him) and their children. We wound up eating supper with them (some kind of a spiced liver and rice - not something I would normally eat, but it's rude to not partake when offered) and speaking a little Arabic language. For me, it was a little bit of relearning since it's not often I am able to use the language. We also sat around discussing names and how names are chosen for newborns - they are expecting their 4th child and can't decide between 2 names so I suggested they use both - and a little bit of the history of the early caliphs. I always feel like I learn a lot from them whenever we speak or visit.

06 June, 2009

Change of Field of Study or No?


Today, I went to my family reunion and had a lot of fun. We had a history lesson on how our ancestors came to live in Florida and man what an interesting lesson that was! It made me rethink my Field of Study. It made me wonder why I am concentrating on the Middle East and not on something more local, like Sumter County, Florida (which is where my family primarily settled upon coming to Florida). I know it's a little late to change my focus now, but it was a nice sidetrack from the Middle East and hopefully I will find some renewed energy in my studies.