Lights: The MESSA Journal, Volume 6 (2021-22)

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L Lii g gh h ts LIGHTS JOURNAL VOL. 6, 6, 2021-22 2021-22 VOL.

“‫ ” النحل‬by Apollo el-Khatib Digital Painting, 2021


The Journal of the University of Chicago’s Middle Eastern Studies Student Association

Editor-in-chief Hannah Marijke Kim Assistant Editor Christian Borgen Copy Editors Jake Murphy Maya Levy Fırat Çiftçi Layout Hannah Marijke Kim Sponsors The University of Chicago Student Government The Center for Middle Eastern Studies

The information provided by our contributors is not independently verified by Lights. The materials represent the personal opinoins of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Lights or the University of Chicago. Lights: The MESSA Journal Volume 6, 2021-22

A NOTE NOTE FROM FROM THE THE EDITOR EDITOR A When we first began work on this issue back in October, I was filled with a feeling of anticipation: the academic year stretched ahead, questions about “what’s next?” were deepening, and the future, as I suppose it always has been and always will be, felt uncertain. Within this context, Lights felt to me like something full of possibility. It has been a space for me to explore the contours of the Middle Eastern Studies community here and see what my peers are doing; to flex my creative muscle and try out new skills; to have something concrete exist in this big big world. I’ve gained a lot during my time at this university and I think in many ways that Lights captures the best of it. This issue showcases the breadth of interests, specializations, creativity, and wit that I’ve encountered in the Middle Eastern Studies community here at the University of Chicago. It includes works of translation and poetry, dedicated historical research and critique, policy analysis, and visual art — a collection of disciplines and mediums that is a minor testament to the complexity and vibrancy of the region at large. I’ve enjoyed reading and re-reading all of the pieces included in this issue, and I hope you do too. It’s now 90 degrees out, summer in Chicago. Come next October I will no longer be here, but hopefully Lights lives on in some form. It really has been a joy to work on it. And I am proud of all that I and the rest of the editorial team have done to be able to present it to you, here, now. -- HMK



4 MEMORY BAGS Ian Hartin




Amarah Alghadban



45 58 60 DAY 28: AL-AQSA IS BURNING Apollo El-Khatib






Hannah Marijke Kim


MEMORY MEMORY BAGS BAGS ‫حقائب الذاكرة‬ ‫حقائب الذاكرة‬


In Ḥaqā’ib Ādhākirā [Memory Bags], Ehab is a Lebanese man confined to his singular-focused mission to locate his father, who went missing during the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90) and left Ehab an orphan. In Ehab’s new position at the Beirut Airport Customs, he must identify the owners of five suitcases that have been left at the airport since the early days of the civil war and reunite them with their owners. Ehab interacts with Lebanese people from all backgrounds, investigates their pasts, and eventually heals them through processing past traumas. Throughout this journey Ehab slowly emerges from his reclusive existence and eventually locates clues to ascertain where his father is. The beginning of the novel is plagued with constant flashbacks to Ehab’s childhood growing up as an orphan during the war, as if he is trapped in the past and has no control over his own thoughts or life. Yet the flashbacks occur with less and less frequency as he reintegrates with society by helping other people confront their pasts. That the suitcase is a metaphor for memory can’t even be called subtext: it’s in the title of the novel. It confronts Lebanese policies that still prevent public schools from teaching the civil war. Meanwhile, Ehab’s boss, who has connections to the state’s intelligence service, wants him to stop finding the bags’ owners and drawing attention, representing state-sponsored collective amnesia. The metaphor of a bag providing a fixed capsule of memory runs counter to prevailing considerations of how memory works in scientific and sociological fields. The absence of consensus on Lebanese historiography “leaves the question of the Lebanese past in the realm of polemics, rather than the realm of history,” as Kamal Salibi wrote in his classic work, A House of Many Mansions, on the subject of imagined communities and conflicting histories in Lebanon. Kattan’s novel advocates the historical significance of those individuals’ oral accounts and reflects the value in learning not only one’s own history, but all of Lebanon’s.


Translation Note: The first chapter of Memory Bags muses on universal themes like light/dark binaries and the purpose of life (answer: a search), before creating a sort of “search” for the reader as the narrative slowly unfurls elements of the story. The main character, Ehab, narrates all of this for the reader, so the most important challenge for my translation was to flesh out a coherent and consistent voice for him. After processing workshop feedback, I think that my presentation of that voice erred in a few significant ways, but the fundamental aspects were received intact. Some of the elements that registered with the workshop audience was his tortured mental state, and some of his less than heroic characteristics that slowly present themselves. Conversely, some aspects got away from me; workshop readers grasped themes when I didn’t, such as the unintentional homoeroticism when Ehab pines over his dad. Ehab’s inner voice in the narration should be stilted and resolute, yet my unintentional reliance on specifically American idioms lent Ehab a cavalier affect, thereby diluting his voice. I did my best to reword those instances in a way that let Ehab speak in a more neutral matter-of-fact manner. After all, he is driven by a facts-based search, not by the motivation to endear himself to anyone. Place was important too, so eliminating regionally associated idioms that resituate the text outside of Lebanon was essential. The version you see incorporates workshop feedback. -- I.H.


CHAPTER ONE ONE CHAPTER Father Nauman used to say whether yay or nay, whether day or night, the late afternoon is a heresy, one that night created to get even with the day. He said that should you find yourself in the late afternoon, know that night is inevitably coming, so it’s vital you turn back. Or else— darkness. I always remembered his words, not so much for their wisdom, but because I knew this darkness. Father Nauman was a rare breed in my country. He was a religious man but not sectarian; he was a leader, but not tyrannical; he was a political figure, but not political, and he managed to preserve my capacity to be Muslim in the days when religion could suffocate you. He was the first person who I could say was a giant among men, one of the sons of light . The late afternoon he warned about — that gray time that dwells between white and black — it’s here. Take me, living among gray hills, gray houses, gray people. It’s the shade that makes the color of everything around me disappear. Just as the late afternoon promises night, the gray promises darkness, a darkness that isn’t seen or felt or sensed. Its indiscernibility is its presence. Its only trace is what it leaves behind, like a black hole in the universe swallowing everything, even light. The eye sees it because the eye doesn’t see it, and nothing good comes from it. Some say that humans are explorers at heart, who love anything distant and unknown. Others say that humans, at their core, are questioners, who want to understand all that surrounds them in nature and existence. I disagree. We are much more. At our core we are searchers. No matter what we search for, be it a place or an answer, our quest goes deeper. My story is just like everyone else’s, it’s a story of searching. Some of us look for happiness, love, wealth, or meaning — but one thing is for certain: all of us are searching for something. Life is only complete when we identify what that something is and set our minds on finding it. In my case I knew what I was searching for, ever since I became aware of the world: I was searching for someone. The reason for my search, though, isn’t simple or even clear, because there are so many reasons, and they change color like the sun throughout the day. I’ll keep looking for him until I see him, so that I can… say to him… ask him… explore the unknown with him. There’s so much I want. I want him to be there when I feel joy. I want meaning with him. Fifteen years I’ve been searching. Fifteen years in airport terminals and offices. My mission takes everything I have, so I shut my eyes to the rest of life and to those around me, because I have nothing left for feelings. All these years I’ve been asking around for him, making inquiries into his travels, and sending his name to the archives of airports all over the world. It’s possible I’ll find out what happened to him. Despite the trail running cold for several years, I’m no less determined. I became a member of Beirut Airport Security just so I could gain access to travelers’


names and itineraries, and eventually went so far as to form an official committee to run my search out of. Every evening I would enter a day’s worth of travelers’ names and routes into my personal computer and run a search on his name. Over the years I collected seemingly endless streams of information, gathered from airport archives and registers, even from before the information age when such lists were kept by hand. I always took care to remain at my post, to stay within reach of the data. I didn’t work for promotions or accolades; in fact, I stayed out of the fray as much as possible. My search, though, goes even farther back; this is to say I started contemplating what happened to him much earlier. That was my first dalliance with darkness, the day that stray artillery shell landed. It is possible that I was orphaned that day, I still don’t know. Either way, I have no doubt lived the life of an orphan ever since. I was six years old, and it was the beginning of Lebanon’s Civil War. *** I peered out the airport’s windows, washed clean by the silent night rains, to the airfields and the small shimmering ponds. On the runways, planes of every size and type were waiting, and personnel in neon clothes were checking their giant iron canisters, like doctors of a different kind. I received a call… An appointment was set for four in the afternoon. It was the director, calling to reprimand me a half hour before the end of my shift. This wasn’t the first time. He was calling because of another run-in with drug smugglers. A rage takes hold when I am reminded of what those assholes took away from me, I lose control of my body. I beat them senseless to make them pay a price, though it’s not enough. It’s not going to pass under my nose without a fight, not anymore. I hung up and refocused my attention to the computer screen. Hasan sat in front of me. He didn’t ask me what happened and he didn’t comment. He was too polite. Hasan joined Airport Security a year ago. A young man in his twenties, Hasan was overeager and known for his good nature, as well as his intense fear of his father. So strict was his father that people called him “The Cleaver.” When Hasan was an infant, his mother’s breastmilk was saturated with a fear of authority and status. He complied with every regulation of the job and executed every order without objection, as if he’d taken a vow for absolute submission to the position. Despite this, he was larger than life. Passionate about film — police dramas and romances in particular — he would all too easily slip into a retelling of especially moving scenes. There were four of us at the station: Hasan and me in one corner, Control Officer Azzam and his assistant in the other.


There was longstanding animosity between Azzam and me; it all came down to different outlooks and loyalties. Azzam’s loyalty was to the director, whereas I had nothing to do with him. Azzam hated that I had Wasta. My connection afforded me influence that circumvented him and everyone else, thereby releasing me from under his administrative control, unlike most of the other workers. For if he hated anything it was my independence from him; it completely threw him off balance. After all, he had grown accustomed to either using Wasta for himself, or others relying on him for Wasta, but my case interrupted his chain of influence. Azzam’s parasitic attachment to the director lent him an authoritarian moxie; he had little respect for most of the airport staff. It was clear that he knew about my appointment with the director, so he made a show of looking at his watch and then smirking at me. The way he sat across from me it resembled a boy from my childhood: Ronnie Abboud. His name hadn’t crossed my mind in years… the Kfarshima Monastery Elementary School, the fourth year into the war. War takes and takes, but occasionally it provides. It created a new language for us during those days in the counter dimension. Ours was a language with no verbs, just the names of notable political figures, territories, and variants of artillery shells. If we heard all these words in the same sentence, we would sleep in the basement of the monastery, low to the floor. Our daily meals turned into a single dish of boiled something-or-other, and we stored water in those yellow plastic Mazola canola oil canisters — which made it difficult to remember the actual taste of water. Our nights became that of scarce light, where the electricity crackled every half hour, and droning news reports that never had any news. Yet those nights would end with a radio song that made us understand how a new bride could so adore a glittering bracelet. We’d hope to survive underneath the wreckage, and we fell in love with a girl who spurned death and sang for the south. Ronnie was one of the students from the village, unlike me who lived with the orphans in Kfarshima Monastery. Over the span of two years in elementary school, Ronnie spread terror among us. He was our classmate, but he towered over us because he’d been held back two years in a row. Thus, he converted his intellectual inferiority into a physical superiority. He would order this and pummel that, and steal chocolate bars, pens and rulers. He was especially fond of harassing me and another classmate of ours, Shaadi. Shaadi was younger than me by a few months; he was scrawny and highly temperamental, and his tendency towards being a loner made him incapable of being part of a group. One day in sixth grade, Father Nauman came to class and took a seat nearby. That same day Ronnie happened onto of a secret about Shaadi, something that Shaadi — attempting the impossible — had tried to keep to himself.


For some reason, Shaadi wet his bed every night in his sleep. Father Nauman took him to several specialists in Beirut and experimented with various medications and concoctions — but nothing worked. Shaadi tried cutting back on fluids and waking himself up in the middle of the night, but he didn’t find either helpful. After a while, Father Nauman began to think the cause was psychological. Finally, a doctor identified a protein surplus in Shaadi’s diet, which in turn caused a high level of acid in his blood and could lead to loosening bladder muscles. Therefore, he was put on a diet of no meat, milk products, or any proteins. He ran a fever for a few days, but then his condition improved. Ronnie found out about Shaadi and took to calling him “Li’l Pisser”. He would mercilessly taunt Shaadi, until everyone knew about the bedwetting. It went on like that for several days, until one day a teacher brought a package of American chalk to class. It was the type of chalk that was prohibitively expensive, each piece was wrapped in a protective plastic sheath, so students weren’t allowed to use it. Ronnie saw his chance during lunch and swiped the package from the teacher’s bag. He snuck out and drew all over a wall before smashing the pieces to dust. When we returned to class after lunch the teacher noticed the missing chalk and launched into a tirade meant to compel the thief into coming forward. Ronnie didn’t budge, and the teacher became infuriated, threatening harm on the culprit. Ronnie maintained his composure, though — in his mind no student would dare snitch. While the teacher fumed and Ronnie sat there indifferently, Shaadi raised his hand. The school held ten classrooms and the teacher paraded Ronnie through each one to deliver eight strikes from a ruler: one for each piece of stolen chalk. In the end, the force of 80 rulers swelled his hands to the size of his head. The next day, Ronnie swooped on Shaadi like a wild animal. He was a flurry of jabs and kicks before he pushed Shaadi down the field bleachers; it was a ruthless beating. Then he tossed Shaadi to the ground, but stayed close enought to give a swift boot stomp to the boney kid’s back. At this point Ronnie unzipped his pants and urinated on Shaadi’s head, hollering “LI’L PISSER LI’L PISSER LI’L PISSER!” while we all looked on. For several nights, after the lights were turned off and everyone went to sleep, I could hear Shaadi’s faint sobs. He’d bury his face in his pillow, tug the blanket over his head, and burst into tears. He cried over his humiliation, he cried over longing for his parents, and he cried over feeling unsafe. He cried over fear of artillery shells, the sound of explosions, and the kidnapping of civilians. He cried over the boiled potatoes, the water gallons, the stale stench of the shelter, and the scarcity of candlelight. He cried over the streets that ended well before the street’s end, the rows of buses that sat stationary, the drying bedsheets hung about that offered no warmth, and the street corners where the pictures of saints went unadorned with flowers or candles. He cried


until sleep overtook him and he had nothing left to cry. As for me, I cried for Shaadi. Father Nauman suspended Ronnie for two weeks. Shaadi became even more quiet and isolated. He took to sleeping long hours, and he ate less and less — his diet reduced to the Unica chocolate bars that we were rationed every morning. I gave mine to Shaadi. Ronnie returned to school, and after a few days he went back to his old ways. Various forms of ridicule toward Shaadi became a daily routine. I could see a brokenness in him, like he’d resigned himself to a life of humiliation. I felt that, during Ronnie’s assaults, Shaadi was absent, even from me. His eyes would drift off to some middle distance and he’d fall silent, as if he’d accepted his sentence in the face of his executioner. One day, Ronnie grabbed Shaadi by his ears and tried to lift him off the ground. Shaadi just stood there with his arms dropped to his sides. He looked at me, then turned away and wept. A chill overtook me and I began to shiver uncontrollably. Tears stung my eyes, not out of fear or agitation, but out of an anger that turned my vision red. I jumped on Ronnie like a madman and yanked his hair with both hands until Shaadi could bolt. I found myself nailed to the courtyard wall by my neck. I still don’t know where I gathered the courage from, because he could have crushed me like a bug, and at thirteen years old he had started to take on the appearance of a man. Maybe my resentment grew from all the times he called me “orphan.” And so, forced between cowering and standing up, I stood. I pushed him as hard as I could; he moved backward. I pushed him back again until I got enough space from the wall to get my hands in a ready position. The shock on his face switched to anger; he furrowed his brow and flared his lips, exposing clenched teeth. He raised his hands and leapt at my neck. Right then I threw a left hook, putting my shoulder into it and advancing my legs forward. My fists struck his nose and upper teeth. At first I was sure my punches were barely registering, but then I felt intense pain from my hands to my wrists like an electric jolt, and the skin on my fingers tore from striking his teeth, so my doubts began to fade. He fell back on the ground, spitting out a tooth, his nose and mouth a torrent of blood, with tears running down his face. He let out a skin-crawling moan so loud that it seemed to contain the cries of every student he’d ever terrorized. No one at school could escape its echo. That day put an end to the legend of Ronnie Aboud, and started the chronic pain in my left hand. *** I cut a path down the corridors to the director’s office, passing legions of Sri Lankan


women, a sea of bright yellows, as they stood in rows waiting for permission to enter the country. I reached his office and stood waiting. It was his custom to make everyone wait. I waited long enough to lose myself in thought when a small fair-haired boy, no older than four, approached me crying. I was taken aback by his presence in this place. It was possible he was the child of someone in the office, but his backpack made me realize he was a passenger. How did he get into this restricted area? He walked towards me, still crying, and stuck his arms out for me to pick him up, so I retreated in the other direction. His crying just got louder, and he reached his arms out to me again, but I increased my distance. I figured if I didn’t engage, another employee would have to find him and return him to his parents. I didn’t want to involve myself, but as the boy’s wailing grew louder, I grabbed my cellphone and contacted the central information desk. My thoughts drifted back to Ronnie, whose story didn’t end that day. He returned to the school two days later with a couple of armed thugs who said they belonged to the militia that laid claim to Kfarshima. They stalked around the courtyard to find and arrest me. The principal notified Father Nauman, who in turn called the militia’s headquarters before dashing outside. Father Nauman and the armed men broke into a fierce argument, momentarily delaying my arrest. The men alleged they were party officials, and since I — a Muslim living in a Christian territory — injured Ronnie, it was incumbent on them to punish me. Father Nauman was incensed. I was only eleven years old; whatever I did, it didn’t warrant this — but they were undeterred. One of them grabbed me by the collar and tried to drag me to a car. Father Nauman set out to stop him. The other thug shoved his firearm in Father Nauman’s face. The teachers screamed and the other students fled indoors. A truck swerved up, the Kfarshima district seal displayed on its side, and Ronnie’s two gunmen decided to go over and ingratiate themselves. An official dismounted the truck by stepping down from the large tire and approached. Without uttering a word, he raised his rifle and slammed the butt down on the thug that threatened Father Nauman. As he crumpled to the ground, the rest of the official’s crew dealt with the remaining thug. “We’re with you! We’re with you!” the thugs screamed. “You are with us, you dumb shits!” The beating only stopped after Father Nauman pleaded with them. Blood was scattered for several feet all around us where the thugs lay sprawled out in a thick puddle, their faces caked in red mud. Ronnie was sniffling like a frightened child while I stood there, dazed. The officials led the two thugs back to their truck and were in the process of taking Ronnie too when Father Nauman stood in their way. Ronnie was a student at his school and Father Nauman would discipline him by his own hand. That was the last time I saw or heard of Ronnie Abboud. From that day on, I never


heard Shaadi cry at night. After that, he didn’t feel scared or broken, and the voices coming from Beirut no longer intimidated us, nor did their reports concern us, nor did we let the meetings between the parties and their adversaries determine whether we should feel hopeful, or hopeless. We made out of orphans a family, and out of a monastery a home. We made the TV show Kid’s World into our world; “Boomer” was our own beloved pet dog. Watching Zeina and Nahoul and The Smurfs were fixed rituals, Steve Austin was our hero, and the theme song to The Grendizer, “Fly High! Fly High! Hero of Velda,” became our own personal anthem. *** The office door opened. I was beckoned inside. I switched off my cell phone, following strict instructions, and entered. The director. He spoke blankly behind impenetrable eyes; conversation with him was always a one-way street. I’m taken aback whenever I see him, because when he’s around other people he’s a different person. “Come in.” I sat down in one of two chairs, a few yards away from his desk. On the back wall hung pictures of himself with politicians and officers from various authorities. He opened a file in front of him. The documents inside contained every detail of my life since I became affiliated with Airport Security. The file was slight in size compared to the other files. Fifteen years were encapsulated in that thin stack of paper. “All these years… No tours in administration and you never learned any foreign languages? Computer skills: zero. No promotions for performance or anything.” I kept still. “What’s wrong with you, are you deaf? Or just stubborn? My orders were clear and in very simple language. You’re not allowed to inspect passengers. That task requires the employee to hold a college degree, does it not?” I didn’t answer. This was the third drug-runner I had caught in the last few months; he should have been thanking me. “On top of that, all of these crazy alarms, the shouting and the brawling; do you think the airport is a schoolyard?” “I hate drug-runners, I will until the day I die. They’re lower than shit. To hell with them!”


The director continued, “All of your peers have moved up, gotten their education, volunteered for tours in administration, or training in foreign language or IT skills. Meanwhile, you are content with 500,000 lira. Enough to feed yourself and buy a pack of cigs, isn’t it?” He managed to wait for my response without really waiting. I should have defended myself. Instead, I preferred to endure him spitting poison at me for a few minutes, just as he had the past few times, until I could leave, because there wasn’t really anything else he could do. “Anyway, I won’t have to deal with your nonsense much longer, because starting tomorrow you’re leaving your post and you’re heading to the Customs department.” “What?” “I want you to help them in the luggage department.” “I’m leaving my station?” “I want you far away from the passengers and their processing.” “This has been my station for years. There’s nothing for me in Customs!” “This conversation is over.” “Not for me it isn’t.” He stared at me, then waved over his colleague and called out, “Hey Ali, did Sergeant Ehab Alam just become a Major without me knowing it?” He rotated back to me, “This conversation is over.” “We’ll see.” I knew who I was challenging, but I would never give up my station. No matter what I’d always managed to fend off changes to it. We both knew the Lebanese system, the distribution of favors — according to sectarian affiliation — and the Wasta that protects the big and the small. I have someone who watches out for me. “Screw you and whoever you answer to, now get out of my office.” There was another layer of meaning to those words. I grasped that the current political situation, especially after the Prime Minister’s assassination a few days ago, had changed the course of the game, but to what end? I didn’t know. Nor did I understand why he could just transfer me like that, or why he constantly attacked me, despite the fact that we belonged to the same religious sect, even the same creed.


*** I got home around 5:30pm, everything was tidy as usual. Amy, the Filipina woman, comes once a week to turn the apartment right-side up. I opened the refrigerator to find the usual meals that she prepared for me to last several days. I would have liked for her to come daily so the apartment would stay this clean; though I considered this excessive because she wasn’t permitted to move things around in my bedroom and office, so that only left the kitchen, dining room and bathroom. I picked up my cell and dialed a number: “Hello.” “Father Nauman!” “Yes.” “It’s Ehab.” “Hello my child. How are you? How is everything going?” I explained to him what had happened; he told me to wait for his call. I sat in my office working on the computer with the satellite TV on, I changed the channel to Bloomberg to hear the Dow Jones. The market was up. My stocks had to have been sold by now. I checked my email, where there was a message confirming the sale. I grabbed my calculator and plugged in the number 4,600 — my returns. I checked my online bank account in Switzerland and saw it had a little over $140,000. My search required a lot of funds, but I could barely afford to make ends meet with the money from my airport job. Years ago, I realized that I’d need to secure another form of income. I immersed myself in studying the stock market and did really well over the years, making sums of money that allowed me to keep going. I checked the rest of my messages and found one from the Special Investigations Office from Munich. There was only one line, written in German: “New info. Wait for fax.” Unable to wait, I emailed back to Munich in German, “What did you find?” “We found a permanent residency form.” “Unbelievable! How?” “Due to a law requiring the dissemination of official information after thirty years, we obtained some transactions from the year 1975, and in there we found a permanent residency form. We’ll fax it over as soon as we make a


copy.” This information was a triumph I never imagined possible, after all these years and the mountains I had to climb. The permanent residency form must contain some form of identification number he used, which, from now on, means there’s a possibility of searching with a number instead of a name, and that may produce new information. I confirmed that the fax machine was in operating condition. The phone rang, bringing me a reply from Father Nauman, “My son, I’m sorry…” It was the Prime Minister Hariri’s gruesome assassination from a few days ago. It had sent a static charge in the air like lightning anchored to the sky. A new chapter was set to begin. Hariri’s death adjusted the balance to which everyone was accustomed, at least for now. The director had close ties to intelligence service. I realized I’d have to leave my station as ordered. This was a catastrophe for me; I would lose my access to information on travelers and routes. Moreover, I would lose the official commission I started, so I would lose access to international airports, and everything that comes with getting their data, both new and old. I opened some computer files and transferred a small program I prepared for a situation like this. Tomorrow I would insert the program in the airport computer, thereby allowing me to automatically receive a list of traveler names in a daily email without anyone knowing. As for the rest of the airport’s data, it would be much more difficult to obtain. I extracted names and itineraries from that day’s shift and began downloading them as private files on my computer. I finished at around eleven that night. A fax from Munich arrived in the middle of the night. I read it over meticulously. The name, the passport number, the visa entry stamp, requester’s address. The date of its issue was at the tail end of 1975, some months after my grandmother was killed. The other information matched what I obtained from my previous inquiries. This was him, there was no doubt. I switched focus to the permanent residency form, taking out a magnifying glass so as to avoid putting the wrong number down in writing. I entered the number into a search engine, and started wading through thousands of travelers from Lebanon, Germany, and other countries. In the latter portion of the 90s, when the airport finished being reconstructed, the construction workers discovered a small room. It had been sealed off by a wooden


wall that partitioned two old offices. Inside it contained caches of old travel documents from the 60s and 70s. I got ahold of them and input all their data. There, I discovered the first flight was to Germany, back in 1968. I pulled back the curtain that concealed a whiteboard hung across the length of the wall. I wrote the date of the permanent residency on a sticky note and stuck it between my grandmother’s killing and the last shred of news I had of him in my files, information I found in the Zurich airport archives: a trip from Germany to France in 1978. I placed the fax sheet in a plastic folder and entered my second room. My private office. Its walls were covered with wood shelves that carried hundreds of books: history, geography, information technology, languages, the internet, the stock market, communications, and other subjects I immersed myself into for years. I opened a drawer and placed the fax among some official documents. My eye caught the silver-colored iron canister in the corner of the drawer. It had corroded so much that it was more rust than iron. Old images came back to me. Their details were a little vague, but the feelings attached to them never changed. I mentally retrieved what had transpired the day the darkness visited me for the first time, at the beginning of the Civil War. The neighbor’s kid spent the night by my side, where his parents had left him with some clothes while they fled the Chiyah region to East Beirut. The gunfire noises began, the ones that never stopped throughout the night, becoming more and more clear as time passed; the roar of the slaughter overpowered the sounds of our make-believe war games. The house shook violently, the teapot fell to the floor, and the glass on the front door shattered. Each one of us grabbed our things and hurried out to the courtyard, petrified by the sounds of inescapable danger and equally so by my grandmother’s screaming and praying. We hastened past the living room to the balcony and, to our horror, we found the green iron gate that separated the small courtyard from the walkway leading across the buildings to the public road, ripped into two pieces. The gate’s threshold had disappeared, leaving behind yellow earth in its place. We ran down the walkway until we reached the car. We placed my grandmother in the backseat. Suddenly a mortar struck on one of the nearby buildings, followed by a shower of soil and rock raining down on the car and the road. Amidst the neighbor boy’s crying and my grandmother uttering bismillahs, I opened the car door and rushed towards the house. “Come back, Ehab!” In a few strides I had reached our courtyard. The earth trembled underneath me and I felt a pressure from behind launch me inside the house. I headed toward my room,


reached under the mattress and grabbed my silver canister, then quickly retraced my path outside. Another explosion. I renewed my grip on the canister and ran across the courtyard to the public road. The car was a yellow Reno, still waiting for me. Yet, its color had changed and it had diminished in size. A slow haze of silver smoke enveloped it. It looked beautiful in its fusion of colors, quite beautiful. An incandescent yellow flickering in the reflection of fire’s light, it looked at me, it spoke to me, its heat touched me. I looked in every direction for the neighbor boy and my grandmother, but I didn’t see anyone. The two of them went on this beautiful wedding procession, among the sounds of the firecrackers, the drums, the gongs, and the kindling of the festival fires. How cool their carriage was in its different colors, the sleek silver veil of the bride, falling down from a breeze carrying the delicious scent of gunpowder and burning fat. Yet I missed seeing the groom, I missed the wedding celebration as well… I stood on the side of the road, watching. Slight shivers passed through my body here and there, I felt their tingling over my wet cheeks. From inside the Red Cross vehicle that transferred me to the Hôtel Dieu medical center, I said goodbye to my last view of Chiyah, the region that later became known as West Beirut. Between the soil and smoke and the debris, I saw Beirut as a colossal world unto itself, revolving and revolving and alternating its colors, changing according to place and time and occasion. After a few days, Father Nauman came by the hospital administration’s request, and he took me to the Kfarshima Monastery orphanage.


CHAPTER TWO TWO CHAPTER In the morning, an online search revealed nothing new. This meant two things: either he never came back to Lebanon after getting a permanent residency, or he didn’t use the permanent residency documentation for his travels. In both cases, a disappointment. My knowledge of German law concerning migrants was limited, but I wondered how it was possible for him to get permanent residency after such a short period of time being there. I emailed the Office of Inquiries asking them about the subject. At almost eight in the morning, I arrived at the airport. I parked my car at the farthest point from the entrance, as was customary for me. The brief walk was my only exercise, and I hurried with swift strides across the parking lot to the halls of the building, passing the lines of travelers and the General Security offices. I proceeded to gather all of my belongings to clear out my desk. I was alone, so I withdrew a memory drive from my pocket and inserted it into the computer, then entered the program that would email me a daily list of travelers. I verified that nobody saw me, and turned back toward Customs. I spent most of the morning between waiting and sipping coffee. After that, the person in charge of Customs met me, and made me aware that my presence was symbolic, that he didn’t expect much from me. He escorted me to the office that handled luggage and introduced me to Mitri. Mitri delighted me instantly. An elderly man in retirement age, sober and courteous, he welcomed me with open arms. I could see in his eyes that he was a straightforward person, no bullshit. He opened the department’s “program of operation” right away so I could understand their work, from the beginning of receiving the bags, all the way to final delivery. Everything was contained in a simple, deliberate system. Each stage the bags passed through had its codes and regulations. He thoroughly demonstrated all of his responsibilities to me, I was truly impressed with his attention to detail and his overall character. He led me on a quick tour of the offices and warehouses, explaining the responsibility and function of each department. The massive spread of luggage in the checked bag warehouse caught my attention. Mitri explained that these were the in-transit bags; he deemed them “The Attached,” and they were standing by for their flights. Their stay at the airport is very short, a couple hours, in the most extreme cases a day or two. Meanwhile in the next warehouse, there were only a few bags. Those bags were known as “The Lost.”


“Usually, these bags stay for a few days until their owners come.” “Do many get lost?” “In the past, it was like that. Now, every bag’s information is put into a file, its number and color are recorded, as is everything else about it. I come across its information in a list of travelers, and contact is made with them or their relatives.” Afterwards, he brought me to a cage in a room not much bigger than a closet. “These are ‘The Forgotten.’ Their owners have been contacted, but no one ever came.” “How does that happen?” “Different reasons; there are sometimes unusual circumstances, like Israeli shelling, or complications, like an arrest in the airport. Anyway, we have the names of these bags’ owners.” “Are there cases where the bags’ owners are unknown?” “Yes, there are five.” I wasn’t aware that this simple question of mine, meant only to make conversation, would forever change the course of my life. He opened up a small room in front of me where I observed five suitcases sitting on the floor. It was startling to see how corroded some of them were. “This group is called ‘The Orphans,’” Mitri explained. “How long have these bags been here?” He indicated towards one of them and said, “This is one of the ones from the early nineties.” “For that long?!” I yelled. He grinned, “This one is from 1975.” *** Mitri’s computer literacy was very limited, so I sat down to help him organize his files. I tinkered with a few things and ended up saving him hours of unnecessary routine work. He embraced everything I offered, and I thanked him from the bottom of my


heart for such a genuine reception. I saw a true friend in him. “Clearly you’re experienced with computers!” “That’s right.” “And the internet?” “Of course.” “I want to show you something, stay here.” He came back a few minutes later with a book in his hands; he’d removed it from one of the five “orphan” suitcases. “I think that the owner of this bag is an author. Unfortunately, he didn’t leave a name or signature.” He handed me the book, titled An Introduction to Homelands. Its pages were written by hand. I read a few lines; it was political material. Mitri confirmed that the bag had been there since the early nineties, and that it’s the most recent one among the five bags. This he could tell by the way the identification card was tied to the bag with a plastic cord, in place of the hemp rope that was used in the past. He thought that finding the owner would be easy because of how recent it appeared compared to the other bags, but the opposite appeared to be true. Next, Mitri requested my help in scouring the internet to find the author, or find some clue based on the what’s written. His question astonished me, as he had yet to teach me the first thing about Customs or its means of conducting business. “I want to help, but I haven’t learned what I came here to do.” “All of that doesn’t require anything specific, you walked in the office with more knowledge than you need.” “I haven’t even read the policy manuals yet.” Mitri carried on, “I tried with what reasoning and intellect I was given — and I located a number of other bags’ owners — but these five bags didn’t carry anything that could reveal their secret. You’re from the new generation, your knowledge surpasses mine, and you run circles around me in your use of the computer and internet.” “I want to help Mr. Mitri, but I can’t. In any case, who cares after all these years? Clothes and old junk! Even if we identified the owners, nobody knows what’s happened to them.” “These are more than just suitcases. Especially if the passing of time has transformed them into time capsules, their interiors maintained across time, like a photograph. Are you aware that when you look at the stars at night, you see its past and not its present?”


I knew what he meant, but I humored him, asking, “How?” “The light of stars takes several years to get to us. Sometimes thousands of years. So what you see today is the history of stars, not its present.” He pressed on, “Picture a hundred years ago, when messages took months to arrive. The messenger was writing about his news like, ‘my wife will give birth in the upcoming days.’ When the letter finally arrived, the child had reached his third month. As for who received the letter, they didn’t know anything except the wife was going to give birth.” He sighed heavily, finishing his thought, “A lost bag is like anything lost. It’s there for one purpose: to return to its owner and complete its story. And I’m going to see to that.” I decided several years ago (after we left the monastery and what happened to Shaadi) not to get entangled with anyone new. I kept my distance, outside of relationships and friendship, so that nothing affected me. In this way, my eyes stayed focused on my goal; I avoided my feelings — everything unnecessary. I admit that the way Mitri framed it was appealing to me, especially considering that for all his dedication, the matter had nothing to do with him whatsoever — there was no monetary gain in it for him, nor recognition. Still, I apologized to him, adhering to my decision. We headed to the café for lunch and sat at a table overlooking the runway, where there were planes preparing to takeoff. The first wave of workers started pouring in for lunch and the room filled up with the scent of chicken, rice, and a legion of other smells. I walked over to Hasan, called him over to sit with us, and introduced him to Mitri. I spotted from a distance, between the waiting lines of airport personnel, Sergeant Azzam and his assistant. After a few minutes, they approached and sat a nearby table. They seemed to be joking and laughing, very loudly, then Azzam turned to face Mitri, “What’s the latest on ‘the orphans’?” It caught me off guard that Azzam was aware of the bags. He continued mocking us, only louder this time, “Let Ehab help and you’ll become a pair of Sherlocks!” Mitri didn’t respond, he just rotated his chair and showed his back to them. Azzam broke into hysterics insulting the Customs department and its slogan, ‘Service & Security,’ “It’d be better if you changed your slogan to ‘Stuff is Lost and Suitcase is Stolen.’” We didn’t pay him any attention, so he topped off his crude tirade by crooning a Fairuz song, “You wake me during my sleep… Chase me no matter how far I go…” and erupted into a fit of laughter. I balled my fists; how could a parasite like Azzam mock Mitri? “May God award him a promotion,” Mitri deadpanned. The tension lifted; I found his remark rather amusing. “That way they’ll transfer him and get him off our rear.” I caught his eye and we chuckled in unison.


I registered that Azzam — as well as the director — had enemies, or rather, a multitude of victims. Their case reminded me of the old saying, “Those who are like us, sit with us.” I heard a story about how the director landed his position. He had been at a lower rank than some of his colleagues when problems took root between the previous director and the intelligence service, who had pressured the director to open secret channels that would grant them full freedom of movement throughout the airport. The previous director turned them down. That same day, without any warning, we had a new director. Some of the other Customs employees let me know that the number of “orphan” bags would still be over twenty if not for Mitri, who, with meager means, and over many years, had returned most of them to their owners. As for these five bags – they’d stumped him. Yet he vowed to complete his mission before his retirement came, which was coincidentally only two months away. As a gesture of encouragement, his coworkers had committed to awarding him a carton of Marlboro cigarette packages for every bag he successfully returned. *** As usual, I arrived home in the evening. With a prepared meal warming in the microwave, I took a seat in front of my computer. No response had come from Germany. Sitting idle, my mind drifted to Mitri and Azzam’s ridicule of us. I remembered the bags and the book. “You’ll become a pair of Sherlocks...” We’d been mocked by scum. The director and Azzam underestimated me due to the lack of honors I’d accrued over the years. It also had to do with me concealing my familiarity with multiple languages and proficiency in computer programming. But I’ll show them what I can do after all. I opened a new tab on my browser and typed the name of the book, An Introduction to Homelands.



SONG BY MARCEL KHALIFE INTRODUCTION AND TRANSLATION BY AMARAH ALGHADBAN There are a total of three Jafras that appear in Palestinian oral tradition and folkloric tales. In my family and specifically amongst families living in the Galilee region, the story is passed down orally. The first Jafra is from 150 years ago, when a young woman by the name of Jafra from Kuwaykat worked for a wealthy landlord in Akka. This landlord constantly mistreated and abused her until Jafra decided to fight back and rebel against him. Her story inspired many workers and Palestinian women living in the Akka region, and has since become associated with Palestinian resistance. The next incarnation of Jafra appeared in 1948, in an eponymous poem by Izz al-Din Manasirah, which serves as the inspiration for Marcel Khalife’s song. In the poem, Mansirah, a Palestinian from Khalil, describes his meeting with a woman named Nayef Hamada al-Hassan from Kuwaykat in the Akka region. Nayef tells Manasirah about her role in the Nakba, how she and her husband were fighting against the Zionist occupation before fleeing to Bourj Barajneh Refugee Camp in Beiruit. Manasirah, inspired by her experience, was reminded of the first Jafra and retold her story in his poem. Rather than revealing her name, he renamed her “Jafra,” her childhood nickname (Jafra meaning “brave”), while also an homage to the original figure. In the poem he states she fought and paid homage to her namesake: “Jafra was in the nobleman’s palace moaning Jafra was on the frontlines, wounded and revealing.” As the Jafra who worked for the nobleman rebelled against him as he lived in a palace in Akka, revealing the abuse she encountered. The imagery used in this poem to gives an understanding of the setting of Palestine and its culture. “The flower, the bullet, and the red storm,” portrays the beautiful flowers of the region and the violence and bloodshed that came to disturb his time while “an olive grove, a pigeon scroll, and poems for the poor,” highlights the importance of olive groves in Palestine, a staple of survival for the majority of Palestinian farmers, recalls carrier pigeons and the passing of messages from one to another, still common in postWWII Palestine, and reminds us that the peasants were the ones who carried poetry, who made sure it survived, who were themselves the poets. Poetry was a way to spread stories and history especially amongst poor Palestinians. Jafra fights against the Zionists, who are compared to “the yellow ghoul” to show that due to their violence they are no longer humans, but monsters who kill. When asked about his “Jafra,” Mansirah stated she died in the 1976 bombing of Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War. It’s possible he decided to “kill off” the fictional character of Jafra as a martyr as Nayef died a few years ago. But since the publication of the poem “Jafra” and Marcel Khalife’s popularized song version, she lives on as a symbol of Palestinian resistance. The real Jafra who inspired Mansirah passed away in the Burj Barajneh Refugee camp in 2007. Izz al-Din Manasirah lived until 2021, dying at the age of 74. Both were able to see Jafra live on in the story of Palestinian resistance. This poem, and now the song by Marcel Khalife, are more than a story of the resistance by powerful women in Palestininan history, but how a woman’s voice or actions can help lead a revolution against oppressors. The al-Hassan family were close friends with my own, the Ghadban family, as the Ghadbans were one of the families in charge of the village. Our families ended up in the same refugee camp post-Nakba. As someone who hails from the same village as Jafra, it is lovely to see her story be told and shared.


The poetry written on the sidewalks of the martyrs, I will sing For trees in love, I sing For a shot in the chest of a fascist I will sing The lady with revolutionary secrets For the green burnt trees in my memory For comrades in prison I sing For comrades, oh, I sing in the grave And for Jafra I will sing I will sing to Jafra I will sing And for Jafra I will sing, I will sing to Jafra I will sing Jafra is my mother, when my mother is absent Jafra, Al-Musabi’s homeland The flower, the bullet, and the red storm Jafra, if he did not know who did not know An olive grove, a pigeon scroll, and poems for the poor Jafra... Whoever does not love Jafra, let him bury his head in the sand I let loose my arrows, saying: “Death to the killer” Whoever does not bury the face of the yellow ghoul, May he be swallowed up by the desert Jafra was in the nobleman’s palace moaning Jafra was on the frontlines, wounded and revealing The secret buried on the shores of Acre... and singing For your eyes, Jafra, I will sing Jafra is my mother, when my mother is absent Jafra Al-Musabi’s homeland The flower, the bullet, and the red storm The poetry written on the sidewalks of the martyrs, I will sing. For trees in love, I sing For a shot in the chest of a fascist I will sing The lady with revolutionary secrets For the green burnt trees in memory For my comrades, oh, I’m in prison, I sing For comrades of mine in the grave I sing And for Jafra I will sing, I will sing to Jafra I will sing, And for Jafra I will sing I will sing to Jafra, I will sing I will sing.


scan the QR code to hear “Jafra” sung by Marcel Khalife


Non-refoulement is an essential and globally agreed upon human rights protection that is well-documented in the international conventions regarding refugees. Despite this, several examples of violations exist worldwide and are even codified in domestic policies. Through comparing the use of Title 42 against Haitians in the United States (U.S.) and changes in entrance requirements for Syrians in Egypt, derogation of non-refoulement not only occurs but is tolerated by the international community. The right to not be returned is considered a fundamental principle, cornerstone, and essential foundation of legal international refugee protection.1 It comes from the understanding that countries shouldn’t expel those who arrive at their borders because such people have escaped desperate situations and to return them would be a morally unacceptable use of force.2 Nonrefoulement was first mentioned in the 1922 Convention relating to the International Status of Refugees, however this was not widely ratified. It was again recognized by the General Assembly in 1946, and then established in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.3 Article 33 of the 1951 Convention states: No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, member-ship of a particular social group or political opinion.4 This language does not specify a refugee’s location (sea, airport, border) after leaving their nation to be determining of whether non-refoulement applies. It also is inclusive in its prohibition of return to any land where one’s life or freedom is at risk, in addition to prohibiting return to one’s homeland. It is inherently in conflict with state sovereignty, as it, in theory, negates a state’s control of its borders and residents. 1 UNHCR, “Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees”; Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Loescher, and Sigona, The Oxford Handbook. 2 Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Loescher, and Sigona, The Oxford Handbook, 51. 3 Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Loescher, and Sigona, The Oxford Handbook, 39–40. 4 UNHCR, “Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees,” 30.


The 1969 Organisation of African Unity Convention formalized absolute prohibition of non-refoulement and involuntary repatriation.5 One of the main focuses of the 2001 Declaration reaffirming international commitment to the 1951 Convention was the recognition and role of non-refoulement in customary international law.6 In the introductory note commemorating 60 years, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) referenced non-refoulement as one of the key principles underpinning the convention. It is so fundamental that “no reservations or derogations may be made to it,” and no one can return a refugee against their will, in any manner, to an area where they fear their life or freedom.7 Beyond the principles of the conventions, non-refoulement is also understood as an international norm and this standard is even broader than the terms of the conventions.8 Many states also have judicial and administrative procedures for determining refugee status and consolidating non-refoulement.9 Given the formal and informal codification of the inherent right to non-refoulement, how are states able to evade this policy? The U.S. historically categorized Haitians as economic immigrants which removes their eligibility for asylum and qualifies them for immediate deportation.10 Many tried to enter the U.S. by sea in the 1980s, but the U.S. Coast Guard boarded these ships and were tasked with screening for asylum eligibility. From 1981 to 1991, only 28 asylum claims were processed for 25,000 Haitians. Following the coup in 1991, the number of people attempting to leave Haiti made screenings at sea nearly impossible and Haitians were sent to camps in Cuba or turned back.11 In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that non-refoulement does not apply outside the U.S. and gave the Executive Branch discretion in decisions on the return of those intercepted at sea.12 The HIV/AIDS pandemic raised the standards for fear of persecution for those seeking asylum, despite lower levels of transmission in Haiti than the U.S. and those who tested positive were sent to a quarantined section of camps.13 Invoking a section of a 1944 U.S. public health law, in March 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services implemented Title 42, which prohibited individuals from entering if there is a danger of the introduction of a transmissible disease. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have justified the use of Title 42 for preventing the spread of COVID-19, however the COVID-19 transmission rates of many countries were less than the rate in the U.S. Title 42 continues to be used to remove Haitians without the 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Loescher, and Sigona, “The Oxford Handbook,” 43. UNHCR, “Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees,” 5. UNHCR, “Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees,” 3. Sanderson, The Syrian Crisis, 794–6. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Loescher, and Sigona, “The Oxford Handbook,” 45. USCRI, “The Historical Precedent of Discriminatory U.S. Immigration Policy,” 1. USCRI, “The Historical Precedent of Discriminatory U.S. Immigration Policy,” 2. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Loescher, and Sigona, “The Oxford Handbook.” USCRI, “The Historical Precedent of Discriminatory U.S. Immigration Policy,” 2.


opportunity to make asylum claims and send them to detention centers or back to Haiti.14 These forced returns remove a migrant’s legal right to asylum screening and puts them in danger. Thousands of Haitians waited in the makeshift camp at the U.S./Mexico Border in Del Rio, Texas. While a few were allowed into the U.S. for asylum claims and some went to Mexico to wait, the majority were returned to Haiti on U.S. deportation flights.15 It is not known how many Haitians would fall into refugee categories if screened. As they have entered the U.S. without a visa, people apprehended at the border are subject to expedited removal unless they express fear of persecution or an intent to apply for asylum. Given the amount of people in the border camp and the handling by U.S. officials, those with asylum claims are caught up in the mass expulsions without the chance to apply. The United Nations (U.N.) has said that expelling individuals without screening for asylum needs “might” constitute a violation of international law and Title 42 “could” violate people’s right to non-refoulement but has not acted against the U.S.16 Title 42, and other policies that have been used to excuse sending Haitians back, are very clearly in violation of the principle of non-refoulement. Turning back a boat at sea, returning people to their territory, and expelling people to another territory — all without any opportunity to apply for asylum — derogates the principle against sending someone to a country where their life or freedom is at risk. A similar example exists in the Middle East. Egypt is a key country of refuge surrounding Syria that has ratified both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol to the Convention but has few domestic laws regarding refugees and has not developed procedures or institutions to fulfil the Convention obligations.17 Following the 2013 coup d’état, the Egyptian government changed its policy on refugee admissions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that this change was temporary due to unrest and concerns of connections between Syrians and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The government began requiring Syrians to obtain a visa and security clearance before arriving, and those attempting reentry following travel abroad were detained at the airports, even those with registered U.N. asylum claims. The day this policy was enacted, 276 people were denied entry, including a plane that was returned to Syria.18 The Egyptian government made significant moves to limit Syrian refugees through quotas, refusing entry, and closing the border.19 Despite several nonprofit organizations such as Human Rights Watch calling for the removal of these policies, they remain in place; however Egypt continues to accept asylum claims from Syria. 14 15 16 17 18 19

USCRI, “The Historical Precedent of Discriminatory U.S. Immigration Policy,” 2. Blakemore, “This Obscure, Now Contentious Law.” Blakemore, “This Obscure, Now Contentious Law.” Sanderson, “The Syrian Crisis,” 783. Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: Do Not Return Aslyum Seekers.” Sanderson, “The Syrian Crisis,” 778.


Like the U.S., Egypt’s policy of returning and expelling Syrians without asylum screenings constitutes refoulement. While the use of quotas introduces another tension of refugee policy of location versus need and the potential to prioritize Syrian refugees who are unable to enter Egypt, the country is using it mostly as a tool to control entries and still should not return those who do arrive. It is unlikely that after more than two years and two different presidential administrations that international pressure will have any impact because of the influence of the U.S. in the U.N. Similarly, given that many Western nations and the Middle East are also dealing with an influx of refugees and Egypt does continue to accept asylum petitions, the international community has less leverage to oppose these policies and risk Egypt closing its borders all together. Both countries can justify these restrictions as necessary for the safety of their citizens. There has been no evidence that either policy has prevented the problems it claims to address of reducing COVID-19 transmission or stopping terrorism. Title 42 remains one of the only policies still in effect in the U.S. from the COVID-19 pandemic. When the country allows other refugees to enter or supports other potentially dangerous political groups, these policies clearly become mere excuses for strategic biases. For these countries to violate a principle that is a core of refugee policy indicates a preference in the international world for the interests of states over the interests of refugees, and the emphasis on constructions of safety of a nation over the actually threatened safety of a refugee. Not only should Egypt and the United States discontinue expelling those seeking refuge in their territories, but the international community must also develop means to prevent refoulement, or determine its limits, if it remains a key part of refugee protection.

WORKS WORKS CITED CITED Blakemore, Erin. “This Obscure, Now Contentious Law is Being Used to Expel Thousands of Migrants.” National Geographic (2021). Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Elena, Gil Loescher, Katy Long, and Nando Sigona, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. OUP Oxford, 2014. Human Rights Watch. “Egypt: Do Not Return Asylum Seekers to Syria.” Human Rights Watch (2013). Sanderson, M. A. “The Syrian crisis and the principle of non-refoulement.” (2013). UNHCR. Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. (1951). USCRI. “The Historical Precedent of Discriminatory U.S. Immigration Policy Toward Haitians.” USCRI, 2021.


EARLY MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN ACCOUNTS OF ARMENIA UNDER EARLY ARAB RULE by MIKE RAMBERG (CA. 640-750 AD) In more than twenty-five-hundred years of history, the country of Armenia has weathered few storms more daunting than its repeated occupation by a long succession of Muslim conquerors between the mid-seventh and early-twentieth centuries AD. How and why this protracted epoch emerged as such a troubled period for the Armenian people is best understood by examining the process through which the Rashidun (632–61) and especially the Umayyad (661–750) caliphates first imposed Arab-Muslim rule on Transcaucasia. Given the immense significance of these empires in the evolution of Islamic civilization, it is within the realm of reason to propose that the norms and expectations of Muslim-Armenian relations were established at this time. Though frequently brushed over or ignored altogether in many of the historical accounts composed during the period in question and in the decades not long thereafter, a fairly revealing portrait of Armenia under early Arab rule nevertheless emerges from the Muslim and Eastern Christian testimonies that are to follow. The first clashes between the Arabs and the Armenians technically occurred only a few years after the initiation of the Muslim conquests in 632, and well before the former invaded the homeland of the latter in strength. Such a development was possible due the significant number of Armenians historically serving in the Byzantine army, particularly in the great host which in summer 636 confronted the Muslim advance in the Yarmūk valley of Jordan. This sizable, multiethnic force was estimated by the Baghdadi historian al-Baladhurī1 (d. 892) in his Futūh al-Buldan (‘The Conquest of the Lands’) at a highly exaggerated two-hundred-thousand men, believing it to outnumber that of its Arab opponents by as much as tento-one. While estimating the Byzantine force at half the strength given by al-Baladhurī, his near contemporary al-Tabarī (d. 923) gives a precise count of the Armenian contingent in his monumental Ta’rīkh al-Rusul wa’l-Mulūk (‘History of the Prophets and Kings’), where he numbers them at twelve thousand soldiers under their own commander, one Jarajah (=George). Following what al-Baladhurī calls a battle of “the fiercest and bloodiest kind,” seventy-thousand of the Byzantines were allegedly slain (al-Tabarī gives the same figure), with the survivors fleeing “as far as Palestine, Antioch, Aleppo, Mesopotamia and Armenia.” It would not 1 Among the Muslim historians of his day, he was unusually well-informed concerning the history of Armenia. This is perhaps unsurprising given that he names as one of his sources the authority of a certain abu-Bara’ ‘Anbash b. Bahr al-Armanī, seemingly a Muslim traditionist of Armenian extraction, see al-Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 305.


be long before the victors of Yarmūk would seize hold of each one of these locales in turn.2 Drawing heavily upon the widely-referenced but now lost Chronicle of Theophilus of Edessa (d. 785) — a Syriac astronomer and court scholar of the third ‘Abbasid caliph, al-Mahdī — both Agapius of Hierapolis (d. 941), the tenth-century Arab Bishop-historian of Manbij, and Michael the Syrian (d. 1199), the twelfth-century Patriarch of the Syriac Church, recount what unfolded next. These authorities report that after having witnessed Yarmūk and other defeats, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (r. 610–41) then ordered a general strategic withdrawal from Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Armenia, commanding his men not to engage the Arabs in battle, though he also encouraged those still willing to hold their posts to do so.3 In consequence, these territories were left exposed to invasion so that Heraclius (himself believed to be of Armenian ancestry) could consolidate the remnants of the much-reduced Byzantine army in Asia Minor. Tabarī writes that not long after Yarmūk, an advanced column of Arab troops ranged as far as the vital Armenian city of Malatya (ancient Melitene, now in Turkey), whereupon the inhabitants concluded a peace treaty with them and agreed to pay tribute. Heraclius caught wind of this, and once the Arabs had withdrawn, the vengeful emperor had the fighting men and civilians of the city banished from the region and then gave orders for Malatya to be burned.4 Not for the last time did this city suffer a cruel stroke of fortune. Concerning the general condition of Armenia at this time, al-Baladhurī attests that it “was in the hands of the Persians until the appearance of Islam, at which time many [garrison troops] abandoned their forts and cities which fell into ruins,” and so “The Khazar[s] and Greeks thus got possession of what was once in their hands.”5 This passage raises the question of whether the deplorable state of early Muslim Armenia owed as much to institutional neglect as it did to repeated conquest. All the same, with the arrival of the Arabs not long afterwards, a three-way partition of the region was in this way firmly established. While transient Arab incursions had begun in the immediate aftermath of Yarmūk, these efforts would only intensify within the succeeding years, and the first sustained efforts against Armenia commenced in 640 (19 AH). That year, al-Tabarī recounts a raid on southern Armenia led by ‘Uthman b. Abi al-‘Ās al-Thaqafī; “Some fighting occurred,” in which one Arab notable, Safwān b. al-Mu‘attal al-Sulamī, is said to have “died a martyr’s death.” Then the inhabitants of the region concluded a peace treaty with the Arabs, agreeing to pay one dīnār (gold coin) for each family each year. All this is said to have taken place before the conquest of the Palestinian port city of Caesarea (Arabic: Qaysāriyyah) and the flight of Heraclius to Asia Minor.6 Additionally, from al-Tabarī we learn that each year, 10,000 of the 40,000 warriors from the then-recently founded misr (Arab-Muslim garrison city) of Kufa in central Iraq would depart for the nearest frontier zones. 6,000 of these would be deployed to Transcaucasia, while 4,000 would be sent to Rayy in northern Persia, which was at that time a major frontline 2 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 135; al-Tabarī vol. XII [Friedmann] 1992, pg. 132 and 134. See also Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 102–3 for a Christian account of this battle. 3 Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 106–7. 4 Tabarī vol. XII [Friedmann] 1992, pg. 134. 5 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 309. 6 Tabarī vol. XIII [Juynboll] 1989, pg. 86–87.


with the retreating Sassanians. During 644–45 (24 AH), the Kufan governor al-Walīd b. ‘Uqba (from the Umayyad clan of the ruling Quraysh tribe) campaigned in the former of these zones, resolute on the conquest of Armenia because it, together with Azerbaijan, had repudiated the terms of peace agreed with the Muslims during the reign of ‘Umar I b. al-Khattab (r. 634–44), the second Rashidun caliph. An advance party of 4,000 men met with modest success against the wary inhabitants of Azerbaijan, seizing some wealth, cattle, and captives in the process, and extracting from them a peace agreement at the price of 800,000 dirhams (silver coins). The spoils of this raid encouraged the launching of a new expedition to Armenia of 12,000 Kufan troops under Salman b. Rabī‘a al-Bahilī, whom al-Tabarī describes as going into the land “killing and taking prisoners and booty.” Salman is said to have returned with “his hands laden [with plunder],” whereafter al-Walīd departed, “having triumphantly achieved his aims.”7 Upon succeeding the assassinated ‘Umar I to the caliphate, ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan (r. 644–56), the third of the Rashidun, conferred the governorship of al-Jazīra (Upper Mesopotamia) on his distant kinsman Mu‘awiya b. ‘Abi Sufyan, the long-time governor of Syria.8 Tabarī narrates that ‘Uthman soon wrote to Mu‘awiya ordering him to send the experienced Qurashī general Habīb b. Maslama al-Fihrī with 6,000–8,000 Syro-Mesopotamian troops to attack Armenia. The city of Kālīkala (now Erzurum, Turkey) was forced to capitulate to the Arabs, obtaining peace in exchange for their evacuation and the payment of tax; several other neighboring districts peacefully submitted. But a few months later, while the general was in the field besieging the city of Dabīl (or Dwin, in Armenia III), a tremendous danger loomed when the Byzantine general Maurianus (“al-Mawriyān al-Rūmī” or “Armaniyākus”) set out to meet the Syrians with 80,000 soldiers and Khazar Turks, compelling Habīb to request urgent reinforcements from the caliph. Led by the experienced Salman b. Rabī‘a, 6,000–8,000 men from Kufa were dispatched to rendezvous with the Syrians and launch attacks against Byzantine territory, where they “seized as many captives as they desired, filled their hands with plunder, and captured numerous fortresses there,” according to al-Tabarī. Habīb, we are told, was “a master of military ruses, and he decided on a night attack against [the encampment of] al-Mawriyān… killing whoever came within his sight”. Through guile and daring in equal measure, the Arab general triumphed over his Byzantine counterpart, and al-Baladhurī speaks of how together Habīb and Salman “reduced many forts, [and] carried away many prisoners” before falling into a heated dispute regarding the general leadership, evidencing chronic tensions between the Syrians and the Iraqis.9 By orchestrating these victorious campaigns, Mu‘awiya amassed ever greater power and influence; no doubt this accelerated his meteoric rise, which would culminate in his seizure of the caliphate and the founding of the Umayyad dynasty in 661. Now com7 Tabarī vol. XV [Humphreys] 1990, pg. 8–9. Baladhurī notes that Salman – the first to hold the position of qādī (Muslim judge) in Kufa – bore the title “al-Khail” (‘the horseman’) and possessed a “generous, benevolent and of a warlike nature,” see ibid vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 310, 320. 8 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 287 9 Tabarī vol. XV [Humphreys] 1990, pg. 9–11; al-Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 310–12 (where it is claimed that Maurianus was killed in the night attack), 313–15, and also 305 for geographic reference.


manding a critical swathe of territory as far the heavily militarized thughūr frontier with Byzantium, circa October or November 652, the conquest proper was initiated when Mu‘awiya invaded the sub-province of Armenia IV in tandem with the veteran Habīb b. Maslama at the request of the caliph ‘Uthman. Forging ahead through the snow-laden countryside with a determination that took the Armenians unawares, Mu‘awiya and Habīb each took command of a separate army group. According to the Byzantine monk and chronicler Theophanes the Confessor (d. 817), for a second and final time, Habīb encountered and then defeated the Roman general Maurianus, driving him into the foothills of the Caucasus before proceeding to devastate Armenia. Michael the Syrian recounts that the “Arabs began to ravage and plunder; they took people captive and burned villages,” concluding, “Then they returned to their country exultant.” Of this expedition, al-Baladhurī notes that the Muslims succeeded in reducing the territory and imposing terms of submission upon the Armenians, while al-Tabarī writes simply that, “In this year… Armenia was conquered by Habīb”.10 One immediate consequence of the autumn 652 invasion was the rebellion of the Byzantine patrician/Armenian nakharar Theodore Rshtuni, which began at the end of that same year or the beginning of 653. Theophanes and Agapius alike narrate that, under the leadership of this aristocrat (whom they both call, mistakenly, “Pasagnathes,” or “he of Persian descent” in apparent confusion with the later rebel Saborios, see below)11 the people of Armenia rebelled against emperor Constans II and formally submitted to Muslim rule. Rshtuni is said to have sent his own son as a hostage to Mu‘awiya as a guarantee of his trustworthiness. Catching wind of this mutiny, Constans II set out with the Byzantine army in hopes of restoring order, but upon reaching Caesarea in Cappadocia he learned the details of the Armenian-Muslim treaty, and despairing of regaining control of Armenia, chose instead to withdraw for the time being.12 The territory would nonetheless change hands repeatedly over the next few years in the wake of renewed Byzantine counterattacks, prompting the Arabs to depose the underwhelming Rshtuni in favor of his son-in-law, Hamazasp Mamikonian, though Constantinople for its part proved unable to translate any of its short-term victories into lasting territorial gains. Over a decade later, an even more dramatic episode unfolded when Saborios (or Shabur, hinting at his attested Persian ancestry), the general of the Byzantine Armenian theme, rebelled in the year 667 and sought an alliance with Mu‘awiya, who now reigned as caliph from Damascus. In exchange for Muslim support in overthrowing Constans II, Saborios promised to conquer Byzantium, and the Umayyad caliph agreed to mobilize the Syrian army to assist in the coming offensive. Much of Asia Minor fell to the would-be-usurper before his life came to a sudden end in a freak horse riding accident in Bithynia; the Syrians, having not yet rendezvoused with the thematic rebels, took the opportunity to capture the city of Amorium and raid as far as the Bosporus straits before withdrawing. Ignominious as his end may have been, the rebellion of Saborios nonetheless served to establish the utility of Armenia as a potential springboard for military uprisings, and the country would perform this role at least once more in the years to 10 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 287; Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 140 and footnote 339; al-Tabarī vol. XV [Humphreys] 1990, pg. 78. 11 Refer to Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 154, footnote 392. 12 Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 139.


come.13 From this era onwards, the sub-provinces of Armenia III–IV were more often than not controlled by the Arabs, while Armenia I (Arran, or Caucasian Albania) and Armenia II (Jurzan, or Georgia), were occupied by the Khazars, with the remaining territory going to the Byzantines.14 It suffices to say that the Persian role in the perpetual East–West tug-of-war over Transcaucasia was in most respects inherited by the Muslim caliphate as the hereditary foe of Byzantium. The looming threat of the Khazar Khaqanate, a pagan Turkic empire based on the opposite side of the Caucasus in the Pontic steppe to the north, contributed yet a third competitor to the fray, merely exacerbating the already endemic regional instability. Their warriors numerous and excelling in battle, Khazar invasions frequently incurred substantial losses on both sides, and the Basran historian Ibn Khayyat15 (d. 854) records a myriad in his Ta’rīkh during the years 717–18, 722, 723–4, 726–7, 728, and 729–30. One of the worst Arab defeats took place in December 730, when a three-day battle with the Khazars claimed the life of al-Jarrah b. ‘Abdallah al-Hakamī, a veteran governor of Armenia and Khurasan, along with twenty thousand of his men; an additional forty thousand Arab soldiers were said to have been taken prisoner in this engagement.16 By 737, the balance seems to have finally tipped in favor of the Umayyads, when the governor Marwan (II) b. Muhammad b. Marwan I sacked the Khazar capital of al-Bayda’ and succeeded in nominally imposing Islam on the Khazars, resettling some of them in Arran in the province of al-Lakz.17 Finally, the Alans, a warlike, semi-Christianized nomadic people of Sarmatian (i.e. East Iranian) origin aligned with the Khazars, also appear with some frequency in the primary histories of the region.18 Under these fluid circumstances, hardly any 13 See Theophanes [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 153–61, where three variant tellings of Saborios’ rebellion are narrated at length. The other most notable example of a rebellion launched from Armenia is that of Marwan II b. Muhammad b. Marwan I (see below), who was serving there as governor before he embarked on a coup d‘état to seize the caliphate in 744, see Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. 266. 14 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 305, where the precise territorial divisions are listed. 15 In the words of Wurtzel, the Ta’rīkh of Ibn Khayyat is “the oldest complete annalistic history in Arabic with a comprehensive treatment of the rise, expansion, and internal turmoil of the Arab-Islamic empire.” The work possesses much intrinsic value on account of this earliness, and also because of Khalifa’s attention to campaigns on distant fronts (Armenia included) that are often neglected in other accounts, see Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. viii, ix, and 33. 16 See Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. 207, 210, 222–3, 224–5, 236, and especially pg. 226 for their slaying of the aforementioned governor along with their subsequent invasion of Azerbaijan and northern Iraq, which threatened Mosul and ended in the sacking of the city of Ardabil. Refer also to Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 228–9 and al-Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 323 for other accounts of al-Jarrah’s death. 17 See Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. 235 for Marwan II’s capture of al-Bayda’ and al-Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 326 for the submission of the Khazars. 18 Refer to Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 152, footnote 386; for example, an entry for the years 663–65 in the Chronicle of Agapius records a raid of the Alans in which “the Romans suffered a major defeat,” see ibid. See also notice of them in Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel]


one power was capable of exercising effective control over Armenia for any extended duration, and the country was once again reduced to a battleground for the three encircling empires. Straddling the thughūr zone — an archipelago of fortresses between the Byzantine and Muslim domains — these lands were ravaged and overturned with disturbing regularity. The case of the strategic eastern Anatolian city of Malatya — capital of Armenia III — is particularly instructive. It is related by al-Baladhurī that, after Habīb b. Maslama had taken the city by force on behalf of the governor Mu‘awiya, the former had stationed there a company of Muslim horsemen along with an official to keep post of the frontier. Mu‘awiya would go on to garrison Malatya with troops from Syria, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere, making the city one of his headquarters for the annual summer expeditions against the Byzantines. When the anti-Umayyad rebellion of ‘Abdallah b. al-Zubayr swept the length and breadth of the caliphate in the years 680–92 (a period of civil war known as the ‘Second Fitna’), Malatya had been divested of its inhabitants. Elsewhere throughout the wider region, the Armenian nobility and their followers had at this time cast off their allegiance to Damascus and risen up in revolt. Rendered vulnerable on account of the civil war among the Arabs, the district of Malatya was invaded by “the Greeks,” subjected to devastation, and then abandoned in short succession, leaving it to be re-occupied by the Armenians and the “Nabatean” (=Aramaean) Christians.19 The turning point in this tumultuous era came with the rise to power of ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan I (r. 685–705), the fifth Umayyad caliph and restorer of the dynasty. Beset by enemies from all sides, both within and without, the newly enthroned ruler was left with no recourse other than to seek temporary accommodations with the emperor Justinian II in order to stave off Byzantine attacks along his northern flank. Among the lengthy terms of peace — including the steep tribute of one thousand gold coins, a horse, and a slave to be paid to Constantinople each day for ten years — was the agreement to evenly divide the tax revenue obtained from the disputed territories of Cyprus, Armenia, and Caucasian Iberia, a fact which Theophanes and Agapius confirm in their accounts. Indeed, the latter narrates that while there was a consensus that Armenia would not be divided up once again, both sides also agreed to a winner-take-all proposition, wherein ownership of the country was to be decided through pitched combat between their respective governors and their armies. Speaking of how the Byzantine patrician Leo met his Arab counterpart ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Hisham in battle, Agapius writes that, “All the Arabs were killed and Armenia belonged to the Romans for ten years, together with Gurzan [sic], Arzan [formerly the antique city of Tigranocerta] and Azerbaijan.”20 This setback notwithstanding, ‘Abd al-Malik was afforded a free hand in securing his fractured empire, and he devoted himself fully to crushing all internal opposition. Then in 692 (coincidentally the same year in which Ibn al-Zubayr was slain), the Byzantines attempted to evacuate the inhabitants of Cyprus in order to prevent their payment of tribute to the Arabs as per the terms of peace. Damascus took exception to this breach of etiquette, and so the treaty between the Umayyads and Byzantium was declared void several years before its an2015, pg. 217, 233, and 235. 19 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 289; see also Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 180–81. 20 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 289; Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 180–81.


ticipated expiration date. With hostilities resumed, the caliph switched to the offensive on the northern frontier, and he began by installing his half-brother, Muhammad b. Marwan I (d. 720), as governor over al-Jazīra, Mosul, and Armenia, precipitating the reconquest of the latter. He, along with his son, the future fourteenth — and final — Umayyad caliph, Marwan II (g. 732–44, r. 744–50),21 would continue to occupy this crucial post with distinction for much of their lives. As one of ‘Abd al-Malik’s most trusted lieutenants, Muhammad is characterized by the anonymous West Syriac Chronicle of 1234 as a “powerful man, capable of shedding blood without the slightest remorse,”22 and al-Baladhurī depicts the governor as “winning victory, subduing the land, slaughtering and taking captives.” Intent on restoring Transcaucasia to the Muslim fold, Muhammad combined brute force with subterfuge and intimidation to achieve his aims. To the surviving Armenian combatants, promises of stipends higher than that of ordinary soldiers were offered; however, when the rebels assembled in the churches of Khilāt province (bridging Armenia III–IV), the governor had his men bar the doorways to prevent their escape, threatening the Armenians with immolation in order to elicit their complete surrender. With Umayyad suzerainty restored and the expedition to Armenia IV accomplished, Theophanes writes that Muhammad returned home with many prisoners in tow. As a capstone to the Armenian campaign of 692, the decisive Arab victory over the Byzantines at the Cilician city of Sebastopolis that same year had repercussions elsewhere along the thughūr. Theophanes, Agapius, and the Chronicle of 1234 all relate that upon learning of the latest Byzantine defeat, Smbat VI Bagratuni, an aristocrat from one of the most eminent Armenian houses, rose up and slew the governing patrician Leo, and afterwards delivered his country over to the Arabs.23 Despite this daring gesture, following the turn of the eighth century, a constant irruption of new rebellions in Armenia stirred the brother of the caliph to action on virtually an annual basis. For the years 701–2 (82 AH), Ibn Khayyat records in his Ta’rīkh that Muhammad was again confronted by his mutinous subjects, whom he routed in battle. Forced to the negotiating table, the Armenians made peace with the governor, but following the departure of Muhammad, they betrayed and killed Abu Shaykh b. ‘Abdallah al-‘Anazī, the Arab sub-governor left behind in his stead. Yet again in the years 702–3 (83 AH), Ibn Khayyat documents a display of strength on the part of Muhammad, who made peace with the Armenians and appointed over them Abu Shaykh b. ‘Abdallah al-Ghanawī and ‘Amr b. as-Sudayy al-Ghanawī. They too, in turn, were murdered during his absence.24 We are informed by Theophanes that the feudal class of Nakharar lords rose up once more in the year 703 and killed all the “Saracens” dwelling in Armenia, at the same time dispatching messengers to emperor Tiberius III Apsimarus in Constantinople inviting him to reoccupy their country. In response, the counterattack of the hardened Arab governor was swift and merciless; 21 The anonymous author of the Chronicle of 1234 roundly condemns him as “one who was, more than any other man, cruel, wicked and devoid of compassion,” see Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 249. Refer also to Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. 230, 234–5, and 239 for records of his campaigns as governor of Armenia. 22 Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 187, 184. 23 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 322; Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 191, 187–8. 24 Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. 154, 155.


exasperated by the stubborn defiance of the Armenians, he resolved to terrorize them back into submission. While the populace shut themselves away in their fortresses, the army of the Nakharars was smashed along with that of their Byzantine allies by the Umayyad forces. By all accounts the loss of life was severe, but the macabre climax came when Muhammad exacted a fiery retribution on the vanquished rebels. Making good on his previous threats, the governor had the leading Armenian aristocrats assembled and confined within a great church, where, according to Theophanes, Michael the Syrian, and Agapius, they were all subsequently burnt alive. Adding to this atrocity, the latter of these three historians mentions that Muhammad permitted his soldiers to the take the womenfolk of the Nakharars as spoils.25 The Ta’rīkh of Ibn Khayyat confirms the horrific retribution inflicted by Muhammad upon the Armenians, telling of how two of his lieutenants, Ziyad b. al-Jarrah (a non-Arab client of the late caliph ‘Uthman) and Hubayra b. al-A‘raj al-Hadramī went about burning churches and villages along with their occupants, thus causing the year 703–4 (84 AH) to be memorialized as “the Year of the Fire.”26 A bitter harvest was reaped by this endless cycle of conquest and reconquest, for circa 705, the city of Malatya is described by al-Baladhurī as lying in ruins and being inhabited by only a few Armenian dhimmīs (i.e. non-Muslim subjects of the caliphate) and unspecified others. Every summer, the Muslim army of the Jazīra would encamp there and in the adjoining garrison cities of the thughūr before embarking on the sa’ifa, the annual pillaging expedition across Asia Minor.27 Naturally, the extent of Greater Armenia formed the jumping-off point for most of these Arab raids northward along the frontier with Byzantium. Barring intervals of peace, in this heavily militarized zone, there is the impression that warfare of the largest and the smallest scales alike remained a constant fact of life for years on end. Appalling climatic conditions, including bitterly cold winters and month-long torrential downpours — one battle with the Khazars from August–September 728 became known as “the Campaign of the Mud” on this account — must have rendered the man-made miseries of combat on the Transcaucasian front all the more intolerable.28 Yet by no means did the Arabs hold a monopoly on the authorship of oppression, and the Byzantines too were guilty of committing gross injustices. Theophanes, Agapius, Michael the Syrian, and the Chronicle of 1234 each relate one such narrative surrounding the short-lived emperor Philippicus (d. 713). Following his violent seizure of power in 711, Philippicus, a zealous Chalcedonian (and thus Dyophysite) Christian, ordered the expulsion of the Armenians from imperial territory out of his doctrinal intolerance towards the Monophysite Armenian Apostolic Church, obliging them to seek refuge with the Arabs and take up residence in the Umayyad-controlled territories of Malatya and Armenia IV. Michael the Syrian makes the additional observation that the Armenian exiles multiplied in these lands, becoming allies of the Arabs and determined enemies of the Byzantines in the process.29 In 717, the caliph ‘Umar II ordered that the Arab garrison of Turandah be evacuated, its fortifica25 26 27 28 29

Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 195–6. Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. 157. Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 290. See Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. 207 and 222–3, respectively. Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 203–5.


tions demolished, and its former denizens resettled in nearby Malatya,30 where presumably they lived in close contact with the Armenian exiles transplanted there not long before. As of 750 the situation had changed drastically, for Armenia had witnessed six years of catastrophic intra-Muslim civil war (the ‘Third Fitna,’ 744–50) culminating in the sanguinary overthrow of the Umayyad dynasty by their ‘Abbasid foes, as well as the (impermanent) reconquest of Armenia by Byzantine emperor Constantine V. By 750, the plight of the people of Malatya had grown extremely acute from the enveloping tumult. Baladhurī recounts that the Byzantine emperor (whom he calls “the tyrant”) had besieged the hapless city with the intention of destroying it. Though bereft of external support on account of the ongoing civil war, its defenders stubbornly refused Constantine’s offer of peace. Yet the siege was pressed hard with mangonels and the exhausted people of Malatya were forced to seek safe-conduct from the emperor, which he mercifully granted. The Arab inhabitants then departed under a literal arch of Greek swords, going on to settle in various places throughout Mesopotamia. Afterwards, Malatya was razed to the ground by the Byzantines, who supposedly left nothing standing save for an already half-ruined granary. The core details of al-Baladhurī’s account are corroborated by Michael the Syrian and the Chronicle of 1234.31 Taking advantage of the Fitna and revolution amongst the Muslims, a systematic campaign was waged against the Arab-held cities of the thughūr.32 Even Kālīkala, which had held out against all Byzantines attacks until this point, was besieged by the Armenian patriarch Kūsan al-Armanī. The fall came when two Armenian brothers living within Kālīkala made a breach within its walls and betrayed the city over to the patriarch. Baladhurī writes that Kūsan killed many, razing Kālīkala to the ground, distributing the Muslim captives among his own companions, and carrying off much of his plunder to Constantine.33 With the frontier now rendered desolate and all but depopulated, Agapius informs us that in 751, “Kushan, patriarch of the Armenians, took all the people of Armenia and brought them into the land of the Romans,” and it is mentioned that some tribesmen of the Alans were also included among the refugees. Both Michael the Syrian and the Chronicle of 1234 relate that Constantine took a number of captives on this campaign before leading into exile all the Christian villages of Armenia IV. The latter of these two sources reports that after inflicting many losses on a party of Arab troops from Edessa, who had attempted to resist Constantine’s advance, the Byzantines “burned Armenia and deported its inhabitants to the land of the Romans.”34 The reversal in direction of this second, involuntary national flight–now away from a caliphate still convulsing with post-revolutionary turmoil–is in no ways incidental. In spite of what has been presented above, destruction was not always the sole consequence of Umayyad rule in these lands. Muhammad b. Marwan would conduct his penultimate raid as governor of Armenia throughout the summer and winter of 704–5 (85 AH). In that year, he appointed as his sub-governors the brothers ‘Abdallah and ‘Abd al-‘Azīz b. Hatim 30 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 290. 31 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 290–91, 312; Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 290. 32 Not long after the fall of Malatya, a similar fate befell the fortress of Hisn al-Hadath, held since the days of Habīb b. Maslama and attended to by Mu‘awiya, only to be destroyed and its people driven out by the Byzantines, see al-Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 296. 33 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 312. 34 Theophilus [Hoyland] 2011, pg. 289, 290, and 301.


b. an-Nu‘man al-Bahilī, the latter of whom was responsible for rebuilding the cities of Dabīl, an-Nashawa, and Badha‘a according to the Ta’rīkh of Ibn Khayyat.35 Relating much the same information, al-Baladhurī writes that ‘Abd al-Azīz was responsible for fortifying Dabīl and enlarging its mosque, as well as deepening the trenches around Bardha‘a and rebuiling the city of alBailakān which, like the aforementioned cities, was “dilapidated and ready to fall into ruins.”36 On the Arab–Byzantine–Khazar frontier, common sense dictated that the lynchpins of this vast fortified chain be periodically rejuvenated if the integrity of the Muslim battle line was to hold firm. Other Umayyad statesmen in this arena would seem to have reached the same conclusion in their own time. There was, for example, the governor Maslama b. ‘Abd al-Malik (g. intermittently 709–32), appointed by his half-brother, the caliph al-Walīd I (r. 705–15), to replace their uncle Muhammad over the Jazīra, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in 709–10 (91 AH). During the first year of his office, he campaigned aggressively against the Khazars, seizing cities and fortresses well beyond the Armenian-Azerbaijani city of al-Bab al-Abwab (Derbent, the ‘Gate of Gates,’ now in Russian Dagestan), which guarded one of the most vital passes through the Caucasus. In 713–14 (95 AH), Maslama again conquered the city, this time demolishing it and leaving it to lie in ruins for nine years, after which he ordered that it be rebuilt, as if out of necessity.37 The omnipresent Khazar threat was one that spurred the construction of additional defensive infrastructure. In response to their (unsuccessful, but still costly) invasion of Armenia and Azerbaijan that transpired in the year 717–18 (99 AH), one of the earliest measures of the then-newly-enthroned caliph, ‘Umar II (r. 717–20), was to dispatch ‘Adī b. ‘Adī b. ‘Umayra to Armenia, where a canal was excavated in the hopes of thwarting future attacks from the Pontic steppe. This fortification was still remembered in Ibn Khayyat’s day as Nahr ‘Adī, or the Canal of ‘Adī.38 Finally, when Marwan (II) b. Muhammad succeeded Maslama as governor in 732, he founded the city of Kisāl — located forty parasangs (Persian imperial miles; Arabic: farsakhs) from Bardha‘ah (now Barda, or Partav, Azerbaijan), the ancient capital of Caucasian Albania, and twenty parasangs from the Georgian capital Tiflis — and made it the center of his abode. Marwan also attempted to transplant twenty-thousand Slavic families taken from the land of the Khazars in order to populate (or perhaps repopulate) the region of Khākhīt (now Kakheti, Georgia) in eastern Jurzan, though in the end a rebellion among these settlers prompted the governor to massacre them.39 Unusually enough, limited Arab settlement in Transcaucasia might have begun nearly a century before the advent of Islam. If the testimony of al-Baladhurī is to be believed, the scholar relates that the famed Sassanian emperor Khusraw I Anūshirwan (r. 531–79) was responsible for constructing a number of cities or fortresses throughout Armenia and the vicinity, including that of Abwab ad-Dūdānīyah in Arran. The eponymous tribe he transplanted there, the ad-Dūdānīyah, later claimed descent from the Banu Dūdān b. Asad b. Khuzaimah, 35 Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. 158. Muhammad would lead a final expedition in the year 706–7 (88 AH), spending all summer and winter in the field, though he remained governor for a few years after, see pg. 172. 36 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 321. 37 Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. 175, 180. 38 Ibn Khayyat [Wurtzel] 2015, pg. 192, see also ibid, pg. 197 for further details on the failed Khazar invasion, where it is written that, “The Turks inflicted casualties on the people.” 39 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 325.


which would have made them a part of the Qays ‘Aylan, the leading branch of the powerful Mudar tribal confederation, which dominated the Jazīran super-province and its environs. Baladhurī enumerates (Abwab) ad-Dūdānīyah as one of a host of locales that made terms of peace with Habīb b. Maslama between 644 and 652, so it is possible that the tradition of pre-Islamic Arab descent originated at this time.40 Contrived as it may sound to our ears, this anecdote closely parallels a number of claims to Arab descent forwarded by various other non-Arab populations who found themselves living under Muslim rule, seemingly out of desire to clinch an alliance with the conquerors along ethnic — as opposed to religious — lines.41 The (mostly) uncritical inclusion of such traditions in the various Muslim histories suggests that these claims were accepted at face value by the Arabs for one reason or another. Similarly, the nature of these alliances illustrates the willingness of the Muslim Arabs to integrate foreign peoples into their kinship networks without necessarily stipulating their conversion to Islam as well, though there was often a logical progression from superficial Arabization to more intensive Islamization over time. However, the claim to Arab descent by the ad-Dūdānīyah did not grant them inviolability. About a century after their submission to Habīb, al-Baladhurī writes that in 744, on the eve of the Third Fitna, Marwan b. Muhammad advanced toAbwab ad-Dūdānīyah and slaughtered its people for reasons unstated.42 Much as was true of their administration over the interior of the Iranian Plateau — a mountainous area broadly comparable, not to mention closely linked, in its geography and culture to the eastern Anatolian highlands — the Arabs initially seem to have pursued a similar policy of indirect rule in their Armenian possessions. That is say, they at first preferred to exercise control through the co-option of local elites and their pre-extant power structures, complimented with limited military occupation in strategic areas. This approach becomes more explicable when considering Wilhelm Barthold’s remark upon the pronounced disability of the Arabs when conducting operations in mountainous terrain, which on a number of fronts presented them with great difficulties as well as a series of stinging defeats uncharacteristic of their otherwise “brilliant military qualities.”43 Contrasting these anxieties, we learn from the Futūh of al-Baladhurī that on the advice of the caliph ‘Uthman, Mu‘awiya as governor had once recruited a body of two-thousand men from Syria and Mesopotamia who had an expressed interest in waging holy war and obtaining spoil. These he had settled in the northeastern district of Kālīkala, where they were provided fiefs and stationed as horsemen to serve as frontier guards.44 It is intriguing to ponder what the result might have been had this ‘feudal’ mode of 40 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 306, 318; for the dominance of the Mudar over the Jazīra, see Blankinship 1994 pg. 8, 54, 57. 41 The single closest parallel in this instance is the attempt of the Arabs to adopt the Daylamite tribesmen of the Caspian littoral as some sort of long-lost kinsmen during the Muslim conquest of Persia, see al-Tabarī vol. XIV [Smith] 1994, pg. 23 and footnote 122, and pg. 24. See also al-Baladhurī vol. II [Murgotten] 1924, pg. 105–8, and al-Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 250 for relevant accounts of how the Persian Asawira and the Indian Zutt-Sayabija were integrated into the Arab tribes of Iraq. 42 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 328. 43 Barthold 1928, pg. 182. 44 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 310.


colonization been more widely utilized by the Muslim authorities, as it was generally the exception to the norm of urban settlement in the amsar military garrison cities.45 Later, mainly during the ‘Abbasid period, considerable numbers of Arab settlers would put down roots in Armenia, which was to undergo a program of colonization akin to that instituted by the Umayyads along the eastern frontiers of Khurasan and Central Asia. There, many of the same strategic challenges faced in Transcaucasia — a constellation of rebellious feudal lords, coupled with destructive invasions by Turkic nomads — were manifesting on a much vaster scale. Still, the fundamentals of Arab-Armenian engagement remained largely unchanged throughout the first centuries of Islam. A picture of this relationship emerges from the Futūh of al-Baladhurī, where it is written that during the period of early ‘Abbasid rule, “The Armenian patricians did not cease to hold their lands as usual, each trying to protect his own region; and whenever a[n] ‘âmil [i.e. Muslim government official] came to the frontier they would coax him; and if they found in him purity and severity, as well as force and equipment, they would give the kharâj [i.e. land-tax] and render submission, otherwise they would deem him weak and look down upon him.”46 These dynamics replicate much of that which is to be expected from the power relations between aristocratic vassals and their rulers within a broadly ‘feudal’ system. Only, the Armenian Nakharars found themselves subject not to a king of their own, nor even to the Byzantine emperor, but instead to Arab governors who were but personal representatives of a caliphate that was fundamentally urban and increasingly bureaucratic in character. To this point, pioneering Islamicist Patricia Crone once observed that the “Marwanid period [684–750] saw the formation of the so-called Muslim bourgeoisie,” including a distinct new class of military-men-turned-professional-administrators who were “wholly out of sympathy with the lifestyle of a landed aristocracy both by origin and by evolution.” Their commitment to dismantling hereditary reserves of power in the rural hinterlands of the caliphate proceeded to strip these areas and their inhabitants of the accumulated legal privileges that had, until now, insulated them from the full impact of the Arab conquest, which in many such places had been nominal for all intents and purposes. In rural Iraq especially, with its extensive networks of old Sassanian fiefs, the dislocating 45 For comparison, see Frye 1999, pg. 69. In Iran, there existed a cyclical rotation of irregular Arab militia (muqatila) under their own chiefs — sometimes elected by a pan-tribal council, otherwise appointed by the Iraqi governors of Basra or Kufa — that was in place to ensure the collection of tribute and the observance of peace treaties with the local inhabitants, renewed on an annual basis. This chieftain would typically parcel out his jurisdiction among the lower chiefs, but he retained the paramount responsibility for collecting tribute and dividing up spoils among the men, always remembering to deliver the traditional onefifth’s share to the caliph via the governor. So long as the natives dutifully paid their taxes and abided by the treaty, it was to everyone’s advantage — particularly the central authority’s — that the Arab warriors need not intervene in communal affairs. 46 Baladhurī vol. I [Hitti] 1916, pg. 330.


effect of these measures served at once to drive many a peasant into the Muslim-dominated cities and also to prepare these vacated lands for intensive Arab colonization.47 It follows that comparative trends might also have been at work, to a lesser or equal extent, in other predominantly ‘feudal’ environments found elsewhere throughout the caliphate, with Armenia being no exception, as such a fact would anticipate the major demographic movement of Arab tribes towards Armenia and Azerbaijan during the early ‘Abbasid period. The outlook, not to say the social orientation, of these later Umayyad authorities was very much then out-of-sync with that of the traditional elites of Armenia. Inevitably, given this inherent tension, there were as many conflicts of interest as much as there was a common interest in maintaining order in a land so fraught with peril as this. The significance of Armenia as the crux of the Jazīran super-province becomes apparent when we account for how many Umayyad princes — several of whom were excluded from the line of succession on account of having non-Arab concubines for mothers — were appointed governor there. But just how ephemeral Arab influence in Armenia originally proved to be is best illustrated by the yearly expeditions launched on the part of Muhammad b. Marwan I around the turn of the eighth century. In effect, the governor was unable to obtain the submission of his subjects without the physical presence of either his army or his person to instill order, a matter which is further underscored by the murder of no less than three Arab officials in short succession around this same time. Nor was even the terror of “the Year of the Fire” enough to immediately suppress the fiercely independent Armenians, who continued to resist bravely, but ineffectually, for several years afterwards. Admittedly, 703 does represent something of a turning point in terms of tightening direct Arab control over the province, for notices of militant activity by the Armenians begin to trail off after the massacre of the Nakharars. Still, the cyclical course of events speaks to the complete absence of any complimentary Arab political institutions which might have seamlessly fused this — or a number of other volatile frontier territories — to the integral lands of the caliphate without the dependence upon sheer force. In the end, the mailed fist prevailed nonetheless, and all that said, was not wholly unsuccessful in achieving its immediate aims, albeit at a tremendous cost to life and land. The earliest portrait of Umayyad Armenia that we are then left with is a grim one indeed.


See Crone 1980, pg. 51–2 for this discussion.


WORKS CITED Primary Sources: al-Balâdhuri, al-Imâm abu-l ‘Abbâs Ahmad ibn-Jâbir. The Origins of the Islamic State: Being a translation from the Arabic accompanied with annotations geographic and historic notes of the Kitâb Futûh al-Buldân, Vol. I. Translated by Philip Khûri Hitti. Columbia University: New York, 1916. — Part II [sic]. Translated by Francis Clark Murgotten. Columbia University: New York, 1924. Ibn Khayyat, Khalifa. Khalifa ibn Khayyat’s History on the Umayyad Dynasty (660–750). Translated by Carl Wurtzel, prepared by Robert G. Hoyland. Liverpool University Press: Liverpool, UK, 2015. al-Tabarī, Abū Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Jarīr. The History of al-Tabarī. —Volume XII: The Battle of al-Qādisiyyah and the Conquest of Syria and Palestine. Translated by Yohanan Friedmann. State University of New York Press: Albany, New York, 1992. —Volume XIII: The Conquest of Iraq, Southwestern Persia, and Egypt. Translated by Gauthier H. A. Juynboll. State University of New York Press: Albany, New York, 1989. —Volume XIV: The Conquest of Iran. Translated by G. Rex Smith. State University of New York Press: Albany, New York, 1994. —Volume XV: The Crisis of the Early Caliphate. Translated by R. Stephen Humphreys. State University of New York Press: Albany, New York, 1990. Theophilus of Edessa. Theophilus of Edessa’s Chronicle and the Circulation of Historical Knowledge in Late Antiquity and Early Islam. Translated by Robert G. Hoyland. Liverpool University Press: Liverpool, UK, 2011.

Secondary Sources: Barthold, W. Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion. Second Edition, Oxford University Press: London, 1928. Blankinship, Khalid Yahya. The End of the Jihâd State: The Reign of Hishām Ibn ‘Abd alMalik and the Collapse of the Umayyads. State University of New York Press: Albany, 1994. Crone, Patricia. Slaves on Horses: The evolution of the Islamic polity. Cambridge University Press, 1980 Frye, Richard N. The Golden Age of Persia. Phoenix Press: London, 1999.



DAY DAY 28: DAY 28: 28: AL-AQSA IS AL-AQSA AL-AQSA IS IS BURNING BURNING BURNING Ancient glass lights the air Starry projectiles glinting Disembodied by chaos Their look unnaturally fair Streaking like tears across the sky As the war wages on In this untouchable holy place A piece of heaven held betwixt two fingers Winks at its beholder Atrocities happened here History burned in the palace of God While he lay at rest with the believer Upon that domed golden hill How much was lost today Alast All of heaven and all of hell For God’s eyes lay open now And smoke burns the air Burns the carpets of their prayer And the lungs of his believers We all turn our heads from side to side A lamenting tide of long pained cries His sea of stars has dimmed Beneath our bleeding feet Those crystal shards From stained glass panes Hold not the light they once beheld Their glinting lanterns Were torn, alast, But our hearts still burn with fire






If debates of Muslim historiography appear irreconcilable, then conjuring a story of a specific people within the already contested history of early Islam seems even more difficult. This, however, is what Gordon Newby sets out to begin for Arabian Jewry in his tellingly small book, A History of the Jews of Arabia. In it, Newby attempts to reconstruct the past (from antiquity to a time slightly after that of the Prophet Muhammad) of Arabian Jews by synthesizing “what we now know about” them and how, while deliberately drawing out what it is that we do not.1 He endeavors to pose and investigate — but hardly to answer — questions like, “Who are these Jews? What can we know about them? What impact have they had on the course of events? What can we learn from examining their story?”2 The open-endedness of such questions reveals the salient limitations that arise in such research — can we know anything about these Jews? How can we decide what their story is? What is the true “course of events” to which we may apply their “impacts”? Newby’s historiographical survey opens rather than closes a conversation about methodology and content; but, through close analyses of the available sources and modes of writing history, he effectively demonstrates to readers that any discussion about discerning a conclusive Arabian Jewish past may never see a conclusive end. Newby establishes his topic in his brief introduction by expressing why he considers it important: the Jewish communities of Arabia, he claims, influenced the attitudes that Muslims hold toward Jews.3 Despite this, the nature of available sources and the interests of

1 Gordon Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia: From Ancient Times to Their Eclipse Under Islam (Columbia: South Carolina University Press, 1988), 5. 2 Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 7. 3 Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 3.


the Western academy have led to a limited number of scholarly works on the subject.4 From these assertions, one may gather that Newby does not take a “traditionalist” historiographical approach in this book. The first aspect that suggests this is the way in which he couches the history of Arabian Jews in contemporary consequences, which are, in this case, how Muslims perceive Jews. Newby attributes some of the Muslim opposition to the state of Israel to “rhetoric presented as the historical record of Jewish opposition to Islam drawn from both Qur’an and tradition.”5 This fact alone, he writes, “is sufficient to count Arabian Judaism as central to the determination of the fate of future Judaism.” Thus, modern politics inform Newby’s reading of the Muslim source material that he depends on. Consequently, that he does not attempt to prove these religious sources’ literal validity as traditionalists might. Yet, conversely, he evidently does not reject the sources entirely (as culprits Patricia Crone and Michael Cook did in their infamous Hagarism). Secondly, his suggestion that he is dissatisfied with the Muslim sources’ treatment of Jewish history (since “the nature” of the sources — often hostile to the Jewish communities that resisted Islam — has allowed scholars to write little about these Jews6) implies that his aim is not merely to recount what the sources, encompassing collections of legends, poetry, inscriptions, written histories, biographies, various religious texts, commentaries, and travelers’ accounts, say about Jews at face value. Furthermore, he denounces previous scholarly polemics in similar studies most interested in showing Islam’s “Jewish origins” with these very sources.7 Newby, then, while remaining vague about his specific historiographical procedure, arms readers with knowledge of his motivation that will allow them to interpret his methods accordingly. The first chapter of A History of the Jews of Arabia deals with the geographical context in which the Jews in question lived: Arabia. Newby explains that, “to our ancestors,” Arabia had no precise definition due to the Arabs’ nomadic lifestyle.8 Thus, Arabia was wherever “Arabs” were. He nonetheless declares that he will use the term “Arabia” to refer to “the great peninsula bounded by the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf,”9 but will further include whatever else the ancients seemed to. This ambiguity in the concept of Arabia merely foreshadows the blurry fate of its Jews’ identity. Nevertheless, Newby plows ahead. One imagines Arabia, he writes, as a dry and dangerous place, bordered by rocky steppe, lava waste and mountains, and shrouded in mystery.10 He does not refute this orientalist picture, but reinforces it with descriptions of arid deserts (Newby does not, however, explicitly present other orientalist tendencies throughout the remainder of the book). Adding to the peninsula’s intrigue, Newby outlines the wealth it accrued from the trade of “scarce commodity” desired by all the world powers.11 Such rich trade proliferated with the domestication of camels.12 More than acting 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 5. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 107. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 3. Ibid. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 8. Ibid. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 9. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 10. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 11.


as ideal cargo vehicles, the species also played a role in what Carl Becker calls Arabia’s “bedouinization,” the process in which Arabians took up nomadic lives to follow herds of camels.13 This theory opens an inquiry about whether the land was in truth the home of the Semites. Some scholars used to answer this question in the affirmative through the later-abandoned “theory of desiccation,” which conjectured that an increasing dryness in now uninhabited parts of the Arab region forced Semites into the lands with which we now associate Semitic cultures. However, while Newby rejects this theory as it stood, he proposes that instead of using it to establish a Semitic “homeland,” one might apply it to account for social changes in historic Arabia.14 Such a decision reflects his broader approach to writing this history, acknowledging, questioning, and revising, but not necessarily rejecting, earlier ideas and modes of research. This first chapter ends with a transition into the next, which examines what one may learn from legends about ancient Arabian Jews. Drawing from the end of the previous chapter, the first legend under fire in Chapter Two regards the first inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula, a group of allegedly “true Arabs” called Amalekites who lived in the Hijaz and, according to legend recorded in Abu-al-Faraj al-Isfahani’s Kitab al-’Aghani, were nearly annihilated by Jews that Moses sent to conquer them and take over their homes, wealth, and crops.15 Newby does not consider this legend a reliable source of history but instead a “foundation legend” that intends to establish a community’s ancient and noble heritage; he comes to this conclusion by appealing to the biblical book of Numbers, which describes the Amalekites as “the first of the nations.”16 Turning to rabbinic sources, he finds more material about Jewish hostility toward the Amalekites, who in these also gained an association with Rome, the destroyer of the Jews’ second Temple.17 Another legend from the same collection accounts for the Jews’ entrance into Arabia after their Temple’s destruction, and Newby considers this myth as well. False or historical, he makes two claims about Arabian Jewry from these legends. First, they “bestow nobility and antiquity to the Jewish tribes of the Hijaz,” and second, that Jews appear to have regarded themselves as superior to their Arab neighbors due to their connection with the Bible and their agricultural successes.18 While the first makes sense, as Arabs would refer to local heroes or distant ancestors of biblical origins in claims of nobility,19 the second seems like a stretch, if not completely unfounded according to Newby’s own convictions about non-Jewish texts. If Jews did not create the source from which these legends come, how might one assert that Jews regarded themselves in a particular way? Perhaps Newby excluded the explanation, but it seems he may have simply gotten excited to affirm a historical “fact” in this highly difficult study. The Jews of south Arabia, particularly those of the longstanding Yemenite community, earn themselves special attention in Newby’s treatment of foundation legends. A story from 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 11. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 12. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 14–15. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 15. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 16. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 17. Ibid.


the Midrash Tanhuma that uses words from the biblical book of Haggai recounts these Jews’ refusal to ingather and return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple after its first destruction due to foresight about a second.20 This story, then, would explain the Jews’ residence in the Hijaz, if only ascertaining its antiquity was not a contested issue. Biblical legends about Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Solomon allegedly converted the queen and her subjects to Judaism) that could also serve as an origin story face a similar issue, as it is unclear whether the legends arose before or after the advent of Islam. Newby thus illustrates the problem with taking such sources as unquestioned history; in the event that they were composed after the rise of Islam, they could have served less as truthful history and more as justification for Jews’ presence in Arabia. Inscriptional evidence of Jews’ settlement on the peninsula has faced just as much doubt, but Newby does glean one bit of information about the Jews up to Muhammad’s time, which is that of their linguistic assimilation into Arabic culture. From indirect sources — unlike the narrative legends he considers previously — such as words in the Qur’an that appear to derive from Hebrew, and from a source suggesting that an Arabic-speaker learned a language called al-yahudiyyah in seventeen days, he deduces that evidence of a Jewish dialect of Arabic, that was anyway quite similar to Arabic, exists. Newby thus obviously hesitates to believe the Muslim written histories as they could too easily have been compiled to play a specific social role if written later in history than claimed; he is more willing to draw conclusions from sources that do not attempt to construct history themselves. This historiographical approach breaks from those grounded in the Muslim sources’ narratives, but does not go so far as to reject them. It does, in any case, limit the conclusions that one may be able to make about such history. The circumstances are different when Newby starts his next chapter on Jews in the Roman Period. Although he does not specify the origin of some of the information, he goes into substantial detail about the peaceful and wealthy Nabataean Arabs (also described as culturally fluid philhellenes — due to both their command of Arabic and their Greek-inspired art and culture — strong in irrigation and agricultural endeavors), who controlled the region from the Hijaz to Damascus that the Romans would later invade.21 To recount one Roman invasion in which Jews appear, Newby looks to “a fairly complete account” of the Greek geographer Strabo, who writes that five hundred Jews augmented Roman troops.22 The early Jewish historian Josephus corroborates this, adding that Jews were in demand as soldiers.23 This agreement, for Newby, is sufficient to consider the information relatively factual. It is unclear whether he is also more willing to take these sources as truths because they are not religious, but this is something to consider due to his hesitation towards taking Muslim religious sources as unquestioned “fact.” He proceeds to note the reasons for mutual aggression between the Nabataeans and their resident Jews, which are evidently deeply rooted in Greek suspicion, prejudice, and hatred toward Jews. While Newby does not draw the connection between this Greek-influenced 20 21 22 23

Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 19. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 24-26. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 25. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 26.


Arab tension with Jews and one of his motivations for writing the book (as explained above, contemporary Muslim attitudes toward Jews), it seems fitting, and problematic, that he would attempt to root the issue in early sources that offer an “outsider” perspective so as to find a “less biased” account of Arab-Jewish conflict than Muslim sources might provide. More common claims comprise his discussion of the Jews’ fate under Roman rule after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, but his historiographical approach remains consistent. For example, his account of Rabbi Johanan b. Zakkai’s transfer of Jewish religious activity from Jerusalem to rabbinic academies is tentative, as the religious figure’s “exploits are enshrouded in myth.”24 Moreover, his bias toward secular sources appears in his conviction that Romans subjected Jews to “racial hatred” (but it is unclear if the concept of “race” even existed as we know it at that point) and violently harsh treatment as concluded from inscriptional evidence of a “Jewish tax.”25 Newby’s other pattern of judging history based on sources that do not directly claim to write history themselves emerges as well, as he assumes by virtue of evidence of the travels throughout Arabia of Rabbi Akiba — famous in part for disseminating ideologies of revolt — that there were Jewish communities elsewhere in the region.26 However, there is not much that we can know about them; though Christian reports maintain that such Jews were “devout men.”27 Yet there is one part of Arabia about whose Jews we perhaps can know a little, as chapter four suggests: the south. As previously mentioned, several legends may establish the presence of a Jewish community in Yemen. But, for Newby, more reliable is a [non-religious] history written by Procopius of Caesarea, who introduces a highly unusual event in Arabian Jewish history, which is the rise of a Jewish kingdom in Yemen led by King Yusuf Dhu Nuwas.28 To contextualize it, Newby delineates the contemporaneous doctrinal struggles within Christianity about the nature of Jesus Christ and his relationship to God.29 Evidence of such difficulties takes the form of well-established documentation about the 325 C.E. Council of Nicaea and the 451 C.E. Council of Chalcedon. This was problematic, as in this period declaring loyalty to a particular theology also meant pursuing a certain political party, local language, or the ideal of an autonomous region under such religious convictions.30 Consequently, Christians who did not uphold the theology of their area’s authority were deemed heretics and fled to other parts of Arabia, where Jews found themselves in the middle of these issues and others, particularly that of the longstanding Persian-Byzantine conflict. While missionary activity of Nestorian Christians (who held that Jesus possessed one divine and one human nature joined by a mystery in one body) was active in Persian territory (because the Byzantines had forced them there), Persia, in effort to gain tax collectors, set up the Jewish tribes B. Qurayza and B. an-Nadir as tax-collecting “kings” of Medina.31 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 27. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 29. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 31. Ibid. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 34. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 35. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 36. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 37.


Yet this is not all that the Jews did in Southern Arabia. We learn from Ibn Ishaq, whose story introducing the life of Muhammad, according to Newby, is full of legendary material and is thus only questionably authentic, that missionary rabbis brought Judaism to Yemen. By the middle of the fifth century, rulers and their subjects there adopted Judaism, including Dhu Nuwas of Himyar between 515 and 523 C.E., who found knowledge of Judaism from the Jews of Medina (yet this conclusion is based on both an assumption and the Nestorian Christian history, the Chronicle of Se’ert).32 Newby contends that such conversion would be familiar to Ibn Ishaq, who saw a similar phenomenon with Islam, and thus did not warrant special attention.33 Mutual persecution between Christians and Jews, however, seems to have ended the Himyaritic kingdom when Christians killed Yusuf Dhu Nuwas; but we only know about these persecutions from Christian martyrology, including the martyrological Book of the Himyarites, and related Islamic traditions. However, since they generally agree upon outlines of events and since their hyperbole is well-known, Newby is relatively comfortable with them. Nonetheless, he regrets that one may know little more about Dhu Nuwas, as the sources are generally hostile towards him due their religious biases.34 The kingdom’s history is thus largely left to speculation. While this Himyarite Jewish community saw its decline, Newby’s fifth chapter investigates Jews’ thriving diasporic culture in the Hijaz, where they integrated into Arabian society living and working as merchants, Bedouin, farmers, poets, warriors, and much more.35 Scholars have concluded this based on onomastic evidence, which refers to traditional naming patterns indicated on inscriptions.36 Newby then struggles to further construct Jewish social groupings. For example, he rejects the “fictional” assertion in Arabic historical writings that tribes formed around genetic descent because that would mean Jews could not have been Bedouin because they were not Arab.37 Newby does not attempt to solve this issue, but goes on to write about the Jews of Medina, about whose social structures we know the most (besides the Arab tribes of B. Aus and B. Khazraj, the Jewish tribes included the B. Qurayza, B. an-Nadir, and B Qayunqa.). Apparently, speaking to the Jews’ social and economic power in Medina, there is record of rural migrants to the city converting to Judaism, which is supported by the Sunni scholar Samhudi’s history of Medina.38 For more insight, Newby turns to the Mishnah, where it becomes clear that—regardless of content alone due to the shaky reliability of a religious source, for Newby—Arabian Jews were influential enough to catch the attention of the Babylonian Rabbis.39 However, Newby here makes a crucial point about the non-Jewish Arabian sources that mention Jews: the Jews one encounters in such texts are the urban Jews 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39

Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 39. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 40. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 45. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 49. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 50. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 51. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 53. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 54.


of considerable political or religious importance to those writing about the rise of Islam.40 This is why he is perhaps more interested in the writings of pre-Islamic Jewish poets, who reflect the poetic pastoral ideals of contemporaneous Arab poets. But, he concedes, we learn most about the religious climate from the Qur’an, which categorizes Jews into two groups, the rabbaniyyun (which generally refers to the rabbis among the Jews) and ’ahbar (a more ambiguous and perhaps broader term that no source has pinned down).41 Qur’anic polemics against these groups suggest that they had an acquaintance with magic, mysticism, and certain controversial eschatological beliefs associated with the apocryphal book of Enoch.42 Looking to his historiographical outlook up to this point, Newby’s willingness to depend on the Qur’an for such information about Arabian Jews would be surprising if he did not substantiate its verses with biblical material and other commentaries. Yet this decision remains inconsistent because he refers to these Qur’anic materials as an attack on Jews; in other cases, he would pause before trusting such information. This confirms his stance that concurrence among sources adds to the credibility of a claim. Interestingly, Newby’s discussion of the value of Jewish and Christian mawali (clients of Arab tribes) interpreters of the Qur’an shortly after Muhammad’s time further indicates his trust in source agreement. Since, he explains, interpretation of the Qur’an requires at least some knowledge of Jewish and Christian Scriptures, these thinkers were regarded as highly reliable and legitimate.43 Newby thus may derive his method from a similar insight, but why he regards his conclusions as historical truth and not merely theological is uncertain. Regardless, he establishes that scholars know more about Jewish intellectual life in the Hijaz than social structure, and that Islam and Judaism clashed most seriously at the level of belief.44 However, if we know more about belief systems in the first place, then it would simply follow that the most profound polemics appear to occur in that regard, whether they did or not. The pitifully long list that Newby then provides of what is yet to be discovered about Arabian Jewry supports his claim that there remains much to learn. He explains that in the immediate pre-Islamic period of Arabia, Jews seem to have assimilated so deeply into Arab society that even their names are barely distinguishable from Arabs’. They may have been led by men called “rabbis” (which perhaps was not even a religious term) and succeeded in agriculture and trade. Almost nothing is certain about the roles of Jewish women.45 Arabic literature, such as the anonymously authored Antar Romance, seems to offer hints about marriage rites and celebrations of Passover, but other information is obscure. The fact that Newby nearly exclusively cites secondary sources in this section calls into question how such snippets made it into the corpus of the Arabian Jewish past at all. 40 41 42 43 44 45

Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 55. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 58. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 59. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 67. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 69-70. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 75.


Regardless of whatever influence Jews had in the Hijaz throughout history, Newby guesses that, by the time of the Prophet, Quraysh had formed tight economic control over Mecca; but, he concedes, a pro-Meccan bias in the sources may explain this perception.46 In any case, Chapter Six deals completely with Mohammed’s relations with the Jews, which apparently began with his migration — allegedly necessitated by increasing hostility towards him in Mecca — to what Newby calls a “major Jewish town” in the Hijaz, Medina.47 He admits that most scholarly knowledge of this topic derives from Muslim biographical sources, specifically al-Isfahani’s encyclopedic 10th century Kitab al-’Aghani and Muhammad b. Ishaq’s 8th century Sirah. Important to note here, as elsewhere, is that the literary models of texts like the Sirah are hagiographic sources such as Christian Scriptures. The texts thus fit Muhammad into the pattern of prior prophets, making their historicity questionable. Some important insights arise regardless. For example, Muhammad’s negotiations with the resident pagans of Medina and not the Jews may suggest Medinan Jews’ relative societal weakness.48 However, their role was important enough to warrant mention in what scholars call the “Constitution of Medina,” a treaty between Muhammad and the multiple Jewish and pagan clans of Medina that, among other things, established Muhammad as the central figure in Medinan society.49 While Ibn Ishaq includes the Jews of the city in his account, Newby contends that such a statement gets overwhelmed by unanswered questions about which Jews it included (vaguely, those associated with the ansar by fluid clan alliance or other unrecorded means) and when the agreement was made, because, as he states, the Muslim historians and biographers could have claimed an early date to make subsequent Jewish opposition to the Prophet look like a violation of it.50 He nonetheless seems to attempt to account for the constitution’s relative authenticity. First, whichever Jews it were that the document acknowledges, Newby observes that Muhammad may have assumed that they would embrace his message, as the Qur’an seemingly confirms in a verse that refers to the Jews’ covenant with God.51 Since this occurs in the context of a delineation of dietary laws, he reasons that Muhammad may have meant to appeal to Jews as potential members of the umma if they accepted his version of Kashrut. Accordingly, since Muhammad seemed not to think that he was starting a new religion but restoring an older Abrahamic heritage, Newby deduces that it was not unreasonable for him to expect Jews to convert.52 Yet according to the Sirah, few Jews converted to Islam (and those that did allegedly did so disingenuously) and debates between the religions ensued in public.53 Many of the arguments appear in the Qur’an as well, which, for Newby, adds to their historicity. However, he argues that the turning point in Muhammad’s attitudes toward his Jewish 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53

Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 77. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 78. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 79. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 80. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 80-82. Ibid. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 85. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 86.


“enemies” occurred after his miraculous victory in the Battle of Badr against Mecca; beyond prior hostile public rhetoric, the Kitab al-Aghani explains that the B. an-Nadir hosted a Meccan enemy, Abu Sufyan, who planned but failed to raid Medina.54 Ibn Ishaq also alleges that the B. Qaynuqa began to abrogate the Constitution of Medina (but not why). Thus, although Newby does not argue for either claims’ credibility, he decides that Muhammad had reason to respond harshly. This leads to the famously contested expulsion of the B. Qaynuqa from Medina, and Newby gives special attention to the view that it did not take place during the Prophet’s lifetime because more than one famous collection of traditions date it and other details of the issue after his death.55 This does not mean that the Muslims did not begin what Newby calls a “campaign of terror” against Jewish opponents, as evidenced by Ibn Ishaq’s record of Muhammad telling his former bodyguard, Sa‘ad b. Mu‘adh, to “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.”56 However, he thinks that the sheer number of conjectures justifying Muhammad’s [also historically contentious] execution of the B. Qurayza and deportation of the B. an-Nadir (including plans to drop a rock on his head and refusal to sign a nonaggression pact) found in such sources is evidence that they are simply after-the-fact excuses for the Prophet’s arguably immoral behavior.57 This way in which Newby deals with the tensions of whether and how Muhammad persecuted the Jews of Medina exhibits a kind of scholarly fairness; that is, while one would assume that he would regard Muhammad as an oppressor from his introductory remarks about the origin of [hostile] Muslim attitudes toward Jews, he appreciates the scholarship that meticulously argues for Muhammad’s innocence. At the same time, though, he acknowledges the ways in which early biographers and historians may have twisted narratives to justify the Prophet’s horrific actions against Jews. Whatever actually happened, Newby effectively shows that such historiography has been fraught with unresolvable religious bias. By the time of Muhammad’s death, it seems to our author that, due to the limited attention that Jews begin to receive in the sources, “the once powerful Jews of the Hijaz ceased to be a major political or cultural force anywhere in Arabia except in the Yemen.”58 However, we see in the next chapter about post-Muhammad Arabia that Jews and Christians who had converted to Islam during the Prophet’s lifetime and then tried to break away faced harsh consequences during the Ridda Wars under the caliphate of Abu Bakr, who quieted and weakened rebellion against Islamic dominion quite profoundly.59 Not until the reign of the next caliph, ‘Umar, do the sources mention Jews again. While many maintain that ‘Umar banished the Jews into Syria, acting on Muhammad’s dying statement that “two religions could not exist together in Arabia,” Newby trusts the account of Medieval Muslim scholar at-Tabari, who does not indicate that all Jews left Arabia as the Muslims gradually expropriated their land.60 That 54 55 56 57 58 59 60

Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 87. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 88. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 89. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 90. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 96. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 98. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 99.


he trusts this report because it appears “primitive” and “less smoothed over into a running narrative”61 is certainly interesting, if not troubling in the absence of further justification. To investigate a lasting existence of Jews in the Hijaz, Newby seems to have no choice but to turn to increasingly modern European travel narratives. While some authors accounted for this Jewish presence from afar or by interviewing Jews in other parts of the Middle East, making their narratives relatively untrustworthy, others from as late as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries describe the Hijazi Jewish communities that they saw on visits there.62 Why such important histories are present in such stories but excluded from dominant Jewish historiography is puzzling, but Newby contends that this absence may have to do with issues of early Jews’ morally questionable behavior as recorded in the Muslim sources and similarly inappropriate encounters with Muhammad; Jews simply would not be proud of that.63 Yet we still do not know the full story. More archaeology, data, and reexaminations might help, but the last word on the Jews of Arabia, Newby admits, is not in. Just how historical reconstructions might continue is the focus of the last chapter. How should scholars approach the available texts? Some, like Patricia Crone and Michael Cook — quite alone in this view — have said that early Islamic sources cannot help us reconstruct the past at all; we must begin all over again.64 Another approach is to deduce what in the sources is “literary” and what is “historical,” but this is problematic according to Newby because categorical divisions between historical facts and literary fiction will be bound in a scholar’s time and place.65 In yet another method exists the issue of myth and texts’ proneness to assimilating written history to patterns of myth in their time — yet it would not do simply to discard the mythic elements in favor of the “facts” hidden within them, as such “facts” would anyway have depended on the operation of the myths.66 As a [possible] result, other scholars, notably here John Wansbrough, claim not to reconstruct history but to analyze the sources as salvation history from which one can learn the underlying messages in revealed Scripture.67 Newby, however, most supports that of Marilyn Waldman, who attests that texts can contain material ranging from a point of “more certain knowledge,” which includes language use and information about the author, to “least certain knowledge,” like actual information about the past. She considers such texts as more valuable as representations of the past than as vehicles from which to mine historical “truths.”68 This, as Newby argues in a brief analogy between the structure of the Sirah and the Christian view of Scripture (as seen in depictions of Muhammad in “Christomorphic guise” and as “the new Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and so on”69), is a reasonable idea as one can see how Muslim historians textualized a Jewish and Christian past 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69

Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 99. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 104. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 105. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 109. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 110. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 111. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 112. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 113. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 114.


in an Islamic mode.70 Epistemological questions, anyway, of whether any semblance of “objective reality” is possible, and of the role of experiential data, abound in this field of attempted historical reconstruction;71 but Newby is optimistic. He asserts that “more powerful critical tools” can help scholars “investigate the past that text purports to describe” and reach a fuller approximation of the history of Jews in Arabia.72 A History of the Jews of Arabia, then, introduces readers and researchers interested in the topic to the significant impediments that scholars face in attempting to construct not only Islamicate history, but the histories of non-Muslims in the Arab and later Muslim worlds. Newby begins, as we saw, by asking a certain set of questions. He concludes with even more. Where are these accounts in Jewish histories? What are different approaches to texts that may glean more insight into the past? His own historiographical shortcomings in this otherwise impressively careful study — mostly in the form of questionable conjectures and slight motivational biases, as expressed above — further suggest that, as he concedes himself, this book is very much a beginning.

70 71 72

Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 114. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 120. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia, 121.





THE COBBLER’S WIFE** *by Amy Yalcin **Inspired by the story of Ma’ruf the Cobbler in 1001 Nights

DEAR FATIMA, I’ve heard of you. I know the things that you would do… for kunafa. Yes kunafa. The tasty treat. But specifically made with HONEY. Sweet. You ask your husband, Ma’ruf, a giver. And the poor, honest man does all he can to deliver. But Alas! Lies! Tragedy! Deception! There is SUGARCANE instead of HONEY in your confection. You asked for HONEY. Not SUGARCANE. The world will never be the same. Your anger rises and comes to a peak. And you smack that Ma’ruf into next week. You refuse to eat. Curse the world with spite. He didn’t get your order right. One day the guards come. Arrest your husband on sight. Because you claim he beat you every night. Blood on your veil, you stand in court Framing your husband for play and sport (Where did you get this blood? Did you make it from tomato paste? Did you cut a chicken on your head? Did you bust your own head like a method actor?) And then Ma’ruf goes away. Your kunafa was never here to stay.

You find him later, he’s now a king with fame and power. You beg for forgiveness and cry. But then you see his side pieces and your heart turns sour. So you steal his ring. And hope he dies. But unlucky you. Away your head flies. Because it’s been cut off. By a sword. A blade. Like the one that cut your kunafa. You did this, for what Fatima? What would you do for a kunafa, Fatima? Did your cruel tongue ever taste that HONEY? Butter and vermicelli. Now you just look silly. So I’ve heard about you Fatima. And the things that you would do. I read your husband’s story but was more interested in you. But I shouldn’t judge too quickly, because for a kunafa, I would frame someone too.




Theodora, oil on canvas, 15.7x11.8 in, 2020


April 15, 2022 Hannah: I just wanted to start by asking a little about your inspirations. When did you start making art, what was inspiring to you, did you always know that you wanted to be an artist? Ceyhun: I’ve always made stuff, as far as I can remember… Yeah, I was always interested in stories — telling stories, writing stories, creating stories through images and music — as a child. So that’s been a constant. And I think it was… in hindsight, it’s like a way of making space for myself. It’s been about different things, but it’s also always been about myself too. Which sounds a bit narcissistic, but… H: I think, I mean all artistic practices are in some sense about self-discovery, right? C: Right. H: So when you first started out… I mean, I think always, as an artist, you evolve, right? How do you feel like your practice or your inspiration has changed over the years, particularly during this past year at Chicago? C: I think I’m becoming much more self-aware, and this is an MFA program, so you’re gaining mastery as you work through problems. And I think I’m becoming less anxious over problems arising through making work because I’m not trying to solve anything. I’m becoming more peaceful with the fact that I’m not going to answer questions. H: Did you feel like your art had to speak to something larger than yourself? C: Yeah, I think especially coming from an undergraduate experience at Brown, it was… I don’t know. Not that this was part of the department, but I think in the student body there was an expectation that the art had to do something that was specific, one-to-one? Kind of a social mission? And that never felt right to me. H: Do you think it was the pressure for you? The pressure of being expected to say something that’s supposed to speak to an experience that’s more universal than just your own? Or was it that it just didn’t feel like that was the artistic practice that you were interested in? C: I think having a clear explanation makes art really uninteresting. But I think it was mostly an internal pressure, probably. It was like — this was a social anxiety thing, where you want to be able to tell someone, “Oh this is what the work is about!” really quickly. H: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the work that you sent to us? C: Yeah. The work I sent to you was from [my undergraduate years]. In this program I haven’t finished — I think those four behind you are the only drawings or paintings that I’ve finished. Everything else has been in progress, ad infinitum. The images that I sent to the journal were


from my undergraduate thesis exhibition, and those were more about… I was framing them as “queering” tradition or “queering” museums, specifically. I was interested in museum displays of what constructs a nation, and I was looking at antiquity and Byzantine history and the parts of history that intrigued me about mostly Istanbul. H: So, the two that you sent us — the first is “Theodora” and it’s referencing the mosaic in San Vitale, right? C: Mmhmm. H: With that one, the queering aspect of it is maybe very apparent — I mean Theodora is known as being this very powerful woman in Byzantine history… C: Yeah, and also accused of being a sex worker or probably was an actress. H: Oh really? I didn’t know that. C: At the time it was a little slippery. Like, what an actress is one-to-one with being a sex worker sometimes, in those times. But no one knows for sure, just rumors. Because she wasn’t a noble person. She married the emperor, but she didn’t come from nobility. And the other piece is a triptych. So that one reference[s] the Aya Sofia, the second one. I think I was interested in Byzantine history because it’s something that’s kind of glossed over in Turkey now. Especially converting the Aya Sofia into a mosque after it was a museum. That was a big turning point that made me want to focus on the Aya Sofia more, and this thing that is not Muslim but is very much a huge part of Istanbul’s history. It’s not just glossed over but also antagonized — it felt subversive at the time to draw from that. H: History is so prominent in Turkey, in Istanbul especially, because it’s physically there. There’s so many spaces where you just can’t escape the fact that there’s just layers, layers — hundreds of centuries of history that have accumulated there. With the Byzantine legacy… was the Christianity aspect of it really important for you? C: Not necessarily, in a religious way… I’m concerned about the rise of political Islam and I thought that the non-Muslim past of Istanbul was an important source to draw from. But I don’t have a personal connection to any religion in any legible way — I wasn’t raised religiously or anything like that. H: I feel like legibility is a big theme in your work; gender comes up in your work a lot and particularly performance of gender. I think your painting of Theodora is coded as a queer man in drag, correct? This aspect of performance and the visible vs. the invisible identity of a space or of a country, of a nation, or a person… Do you want to speak a little bit about that theme for you? C: Legibility, you mean? H: Mm.


C: It would be a little antithetical to speak on it! (laughter) No, um, I mean going back to why I was interested in art to begin with, I think it speaks to that. Because some things I can’t say verbally or directly I can say through art. I’ve always been interested in symbols and codifying things in ways that aren’t immediately obvious and I was always interested in art works where the more time you spend in front of them, the more you get out of them. I mean, I like art that is immediately rewarding and you can just move on from it, a very pop sensibility of being really easy to consume, but at the same time has all these hidden layers. So you can see that image of Theodora and think, “Oh, so colorful, vibrant, fun” and then move on, or you can find a place to really identify with it and delve deep into the layers and layers of things that are there. H: Right. I mean, talking about symbology I feel like that brings us to the second piece, this triptych, which has so much going on in it, visually. You titled it “The City/The Stage/The Museum: Triptych of a Metropolis.” Do you want to unpack what that title means?


The City/The Stage/The Museum (Triptych of a Metropolis), pen on paper, 8.25x11.8in each, 2020

C: So, this was the height of Covid, when I just had pens and inks and paper, small pieces of paper to work with. But this was when I was thinking about the project of looking into museums and I was thinking of… I guess I had more utopian sensibilities back then. I was thinking of the specific sites where culture is enacted. It started with the city one — actually, it just started with the central female figure, and I was thinking about how we make something that is supposed to be controlling and traditional into this uncontrollable, alien-esque kind of thing, and that became a cityscape almost, with the pseudo Aya Sofia in the background and the city walls to the right. And from there, I was thinking of … Well, I was always thinking about the museum, so that last one is very much… It’s an Ottoman historical figure [Halil Edhem Bey] at the top left, he was a museologist who founded the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul in the early days of the Republic.


H: Ohh! Okay, yes! C: I put him next to these museum objects that are — half of them are imagined, the other half are from various places in the world [that have been] changed and synthesized into other things to a certain extent. And the one in the middle of the stage, I was thinking about how I guess all of these things, all these contexts, allow for things that don’t have an “elsewhere” to happen there. So the stage allows for a certain performance of gender, or a certain performance of cultural identity, that would be looked down upon elsewhere. But it’s somehow allowed on the stage. I was interested in what if that extended beyond the stage, to the audience, and affected the whole crowd. H: Are most of the figures you portray historical in some sense, or are they imagined? C: They’re never really referencing anyone in particular. But then… something I figured out at the end of undergrad was who I’m depicting is always a reflection of myself. It’s a kind of self-portraiture, which is something that I’ve been doing more recently, more directly. Drawing from either myself or portraying myself through the lens of someone that’s been important to me and making things more personal in that way. I used to think about these figures that existed in space as separate people that came together in this utopic scene where we can all coexist together, in a more digestible way. But more recently I’ve been thinking that… it could be that, it could be separate people that are morphing into one space, morphing into one being, or it could be just the inner world of one person. So the figures are of me, for sure, and they’re sometimes inspired by historical figures like the museum one — but I could easily see myself being that figure too. If I shaved my beard, if I put on glasses and a fez… you know? H: Do you feel like… I feel like this is a pretty deep question, which you can choose to answer with as much or as little detail as you’d like, but how do you relate to Turkey? How do you relate to that as an identity, as a nation, as a space? C: Hmm… It’s kind of… It’s like, I was born and raised there 18 years, so it has a huge impact on me. And especially in the particular time period where I lived — I was born in 1999, the earliest memories that I have, it’s been the same political party although its position has changed on some things, so it has a huge impact on me, for sure. It’s kind of the starting point of how I start to negotiate the world, it’s this context. But as I grow up and expand, I’m becoming less interested with notions of identity and belonging to a particular place or even a time period. So now I’m definitely really emotionally invested in Turkey in that what happens there affects me on an emotional level and it’s a place where I draw a lot of artistic and symbolic inspiration from, but I’m in no way super tight with that. I’m not unwilling to look at other cultures or unwilling to work with materials that come from other places around the world, or even more universal ideas because I am trying to be a Turkish, “insert-labels-here” person, I think. H: Do you find it difficult at all... Obviously, you have submitted your artwork to a Middle Eastern studies focused journal and I’m asking you questions about specifically your experience having grown up in Turkey and your relationship to Turkey — I mean, does that feel like typecasting to you? Does it feel like a label that you don’t appreciate?


C: No, no, it’s… fact. Like, it’s true. I’m not contesting that, it doesn’t feel typecast. I mean, I am interested in the Middle East, I think it’s a very fascinating place, I wouldn’t have submitted there if I didn’t feel like… H: Well, I guess I’m wondering in the sense of — for me, personally, I go around and I know that people perceive me in a particular way that I’m not always conscious of. And I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of that and more comfortable with that, and more embracing of the fact that I [exist both] as I perceive myself and not separate from the ways that other people also perceive me, in ways that I can’t even control… So I don’t know, maybe there’s not even a question embedded in there, I guess I was just wondering if that was something that resonated with you as well. C: Hmm. I don’t think so… I mean, I don’t often think about how other people perceive me. H: Really? That’s good. (laughter) (pause) H: I think it’s interesting that you say that you aren’t so aware of how people perceive you because it sounds like in your journey — your artistic journey, I mean — it has shifted from maybe more of an awareness of how your artwork is being perceived to more of a concern with how your artwork is reflecting you and your own identity and your own self. C: I think there’s a difference between self-awareness and self-consciousness. Like, I think I used to be more self-conscious in my art and how it was going to be perceived but now it’s like… I think being self-aware negates self-consciousness. If I’m self-aware, I know myself, so I don’t have to worry about perceptions as much. H: Has that come through in the way that you make art at all, do you think? Have you always… I feel like the work that I’ve seen you make most recently are more paintings. I don’t know if that medium is distinct for you, or more recent, or if it’s just something that you are feeling at the moment. C: I’ve always drawn, with whatever materials I had, I’ve always had a sketchbook since I was 13, even before that, consistently. The painting is a last three or four years, more recent thing. I started with acrylics and then oils. I just find that oils are a little bit more malleable, you can make anything you want out of them — there’s more potential with them I think, so I’m just sticking with them for now. I think also first year of grad school, the first quarter I was trying to do everything that I didn’t do in undergrad — I did paint, but I didn’t finish a painting. I made those hats, the rainbow fezzes, I made a video installation and different kinds of drawings that I normally wouldn’t make, and then that was just too much for the first year of grad school so I shifted back, like “let’s paint, and if anything else comes out,” I mean, recently video has been coming out, “if anything else comes out, then I’ll deal with that.” H: Okay. C: Painting is special… A lot of people start with painting, and I think there’s a reason for that.


H: Are there particular painters or artists that you find inspiring? I mean, so much of your work references a huge history of cultural objects and figures, do you want to talk a little bit about that process, the research process? C: That really shifts and flows and depends on where I am right now. I can say that for this painting in particular (gestures at large oil painting of entwined figures), I was thinking about more contemporary 2000s, 2010s queer theory about the intermingling of bodies and how our conceptions of self become more permeable when we think about things from a queer perspective. And this one, specifically, (gestures to a work in progress featuring a mostly nude young man) the composition references a [Eugène] Delacroix painting, an odalisque or harem painting, except it’s not a woman. So it’s a case-by-case thing. That one — the abstract things with the figure, the portrait — is based on an Arshile Gorky drawing. H: You’re drawing from a lot of different sources. C: Yeah, I like that, the idiosyncratic “I’ll take this from here, I’ll that from there.” I think it speaks to early experiences of my life, too, where I was super interested in many different things and I was just drawing whatever interested me, whatever seemed useful. I was like, “I’ll borrow this from here, I’ll borrow this from here,” because I had no sense of “this thing is separate from this thing, so I can choose either this or that.” I was like, “No. I want it all!” H: It feels very much like the intermingling, the barrier dissolving theme that I think is present in a lot of what you make. C: Yeah, I don’t enjoy being pigeon-holed or being boxed in. H: Do you have anything that you feel is important to know about you or your work or about, I don’t know, anything? C: I guess one thing to know is that I’m learning how to talk about the work, actively, right now. So, these are all things in progress. H: Yeah. C: And I don’t know that they’ll ever be not in progress, but especially now, in grad school — they’re very much in progress. The art I submitted is older so give it some mercy! (laughter) H: I think they’re great! C: I was 20 years old! H: How old are you now? C: Oh wait, I was 21… but I’m 23 now, so much older! H: So young…! (laughter)


C: I’ve totally changed as a person in the last two years. H: I believe it. C: Who hasn’t? H: I know. This is a crazy time, the early twenties. C: And the pandemic. H: And the pandemic.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity. To see more recent work, follow @ceyhunfirat