Monthly Archives: August 2007

Arabian Lions

asiatic lion

There used to be lions in Arabia, but there haven’t been any for quite some time. According to this site:, lions in the Sana’a zoo in Yemen are descendants from wild lions caught in Yemen back in the day.

In both zoos the only exotic wildlife to be found were a number of lions with unusual histories. Transferred to the zoos from the old Imam’s Palaces, the lions from Sana’a zoo are said to be descendants of animals that were wild-caught in Yemen! Hard to believe, but samples were taken for genetic work at a later stage. Evidence of lions living in the Arabian peninsula can be found in the preserved writings of a Greek scholar, Agatharhides of Cnidus, who described a wadi in NW Arabia where local residents protected their animals against roving lions (see box). Ta’iz zoo also has some very handsome lions with the males sporting abnormally dense manes, which extend along their chests and cover the animal’s bellies. They are said to be descendants of lions given to the Imam in 1952 by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

From another article:

Whilst we know that virtually all of Arabia’s wildlife was more abundant in the past than it is today, it is sometimes difficult to imagine an Arabia in which lions and leopards were creatures familiar to many of the peninsula’s people. A text that was written in the second century BC, over two thousand years ago, by Agatharchides of Cnidos reflects the Ancient Greek’s fascination with wild animals. Indeed, there was a flourishing trade in captive carnivores during the late Hellenistic period and subsequently during the height of the Roman Empire. Any lion or leopard unfortunate enough to be trapped in Arabia was quite likely to end up in a cage in Athens or Rome where they became objects of show or participants in some of the blood-spilling ‘games’ of the period. This interest in exotic wildlife resulted in several quite informative texts on Arabia’s wildlife at this time.

“The lions of Arabia”, wrote Agatharchides, “are less hairy and bolder. They are uniform in colour just are those in Babylonia. The sheen of their mane is such that the hair on the back of their neck gleams like gold. …the leopards are unlike those found in caria and Lycia. their bodies are large, and they are much better able to endure wounds and pain. In strength, moreover, they surpass the others by as much as a wild animal does a domesticated one.”

Wouldn’t it be neat if shiny, golden lions roamed the Arabian peninsula once more?

On the topic of lions in general, did you read about the super lions of Botswana? Apparently they’re isolated on an island and had to adapt to be able to take down water buffalo. They are bigger and stronger than most lions and they swim adroitly in deep water. Story here:

asiatic lion too


Filed under animals, arabian, arabist, beasts

Gibran Academy to Open with Full Enrollment

New York Times article here:

It’s good to see there are nearly sixty sets of parents in New York who are happy to send their kids to Khalil Gibran academy to learn Arabic. We certainly need more Arabic speakers.

Apparently there’s more to the story of why former principal Debbie Almontaser stepped down: she was hounded by ignorant bigots from the day the intention to create the academy was announced.

If you read the NYTimes article, you’ll find some really amazingly nasty things idiots had to say, but I don’t want to post them here.

For anyone who bothered to look for it, Ms. Almontaser left a clear, public record of interfaith activism and outreach across the boundaries of race, ethnicity and religion. Her efforts, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks, earned her honors, grants and fellowships. She has collaborated so often with Jewish organizations that an Arab-American newspaper, Aramica, castigated her earlier this summer for being too close to a “Zionist organization,” meaning the Anti-Defamation League.

Ms. Almontaser has twice been profiled on Voice of America as an accomplished Muslim American. Her son, Yousif, spent several months on rescue efforts at ground zero as a member of the Army National Guard. Four of her nephews and cousins have served in the United States military in Iraq.

None of these details were exactly hidden under a rock. But her critics ignored them. In syndicated columns by Daniel Pipes, in articles and editorials in The New York Post and The New York Sun, on such Web sites as PipeLineNews and Militant Islam Monitor, both concerned with radical Islam, the Gibran school was repeatedly characterized as a “madrassa,” an Arabic term plainly meant to evoke images of indoctrination into terrorism and holy war.

There’s that word madrassa. I don’t know where the extra ‘s’ came from, but people keep wanting to add it in there. Probably from the same instinct that makes people pronounce Ahmad a-MODD.
Madrasa is the Arabic word for school. Elementary school, junior high school, high school, vocational school, private school, boarding school–the word madrasa is always in there. It does not mean special freaky school for teaching people to be religious extremists.

Here are some kind words about Debbie Almontaser from people who actually know her (also from the NYTimes article):

“There’s zero correspondence between the caricature and the actual person,” said Rabbi Andy Bachman of Beth Elohim, a Reform Jewish congregation in Park Slope, who was on the Gibran school’s advisory board. “The words that were used to describe her, the fears that were evoked, are absolutely unrelated to her and her life’s work. Not in any way, shape or form.”

Another rabbi who has worked with Ms. Almontaser on interfaith efforts, Michael Feinberg of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, said: “It’s all about insinuation and innuendo and this formula of Arab equals Muslim equals terrorist. The viciousness and the vileness of this case surpass anything I’ve seen before.”

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Filed under arab, arabic, arabist

Funny Headline, Unfunny Story

Saudi Sends Frozen Camel Samples to France

Unfortunately, they’re sending the deal camels for analysis. Somewhere between two and five thousand camels in Saudi Arabia recently died, and they aren’t sure why yet. Here’s the link, if you’re interested:

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Crackpot Etymology

Have you ever noticed how much “Yeeha!” sounds like “Jihad!”? Could there be a connection?

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Houri of the Week


Bruce Campbell. I’m just really into him lately.

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Filed under houris

Gibran Academy Principal Steps Down

Ignorance wins. Whoo-hoo. We need a better word to describe the phenomenon where ignorant folks get their way at the expense of people who are trying to dispel ignorance.

Article here:

The Khalil Gibran Academy was supposed to teach sixth through 12th grades and offer classes such as math and science in both Arabic and English. There are already more than 60 existing dual-language city schools that teach in languages including Russian, Spanish and Chinese.

Nevertheless, anti-Arab ignoramuses have protested the school since before it opened. You’d think they’d figure out that America needs people who understand Arabic, because it’s not going away. Around 200 million people speak it right now.

The principle, Debbie Almontaser, found herself in a world of hurt for what is the usual reason, nowadays. Apparently someone with no connection to Ms Almontaser or the school wore a tee shirt, somewhere, that said “Intifadah NYC.” For no obvious reason, Ms Almontaser was asked to explain what the words on the shirt meant. Here’s what she said:

“The word basically means ‘shaking off,’ ” Almontaser was quoted as saying in the Aug. 6 article. “That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic.”

“I understand it is developing a negative connotation due to the uprising in the Palestinian-Israeli areas. I don’t believe the intention is to have any of that kind of [violence] in New York City. I think it’s pretty much an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society . . . and shaking off oppression.”

If you want to know more about the group behind the Intifada NYC tee shirts, go here: (Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media). Here’s their mission statement:

AWAAM provides comprehensive leadership opportunities in community organizing, art and media skills to young women and girls. Our goal is to empower a generation of young women with the community organizing and media skills necessary to act as leaders within their communities, which have endured increasing hardship in recent years. As Arab and Muslim women, we endeavor to position ourselves as producers rather than objects, of the mass media. Our leadership/media programs are the seedbed from which our membership grows to take leadership, developing campaigns and programs in AWAAM and in the community at large.

I suppose it’s possible they’re really terrorists bent on bloody urban warfare, but their web site has me fooled. By the way, don’t search on “Intifada NYC,” because it will take you to a spoof site that will waste your time.

The next day Ms Almontaser had more to say.

The next day, Almontaser issued a statement through the press office: “The word ‘Intifada’ is completely inappropriate as a T-shirt slogan.”

“By minimizing the word’s historical associations, I implied that I condone violence and threats of violence. That view is anathema to me and the very opposite of my life’s work,” the statement continued.

Seems reasonable to me. But unreasonable people demanded her head and Ms Almontaser stepped down.

City officials commended Almontaser’s educational record while suggesting that her comments made her an inappropriate principal. “She’s very smart,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “She’s certainly not a terrorist.” But it was “nice of her” to step down, he said.

I blogged about this school in April, when I first heard about it. The article I referenced had a quote from Daniel Pipes:

Daniel Pipes, a conservative commentator who frequently rails against militant Islam, wrote on his blog: “In principle it is a great idea – the United States needs more Arabic-speakers. In practice, however, Arabic instruction is heavy with Islamist and Arabist overtones and demands.”

This current article has a slightly different quote, and I wonder if it is the same one, just misquoted:

Daniel Pipes, a pro-Israel conservative who created Campus Watch, a Web site dedicated to exposing alleged bias in university Middle East-studies programs, wrote in the New York Sun that the school would cause problems because “learning Arabic in [and] of itself promotes an Islamic outlook.”

This seriously chaps my hide. Let me poke fun at Mr Pipes and his absurb assertion by asking, “Does learning English promotes a Christian outlook?” “No,” says my friend the Metapenguin:

Actually, English turns you into a Wiccan. But when I feel that Beowulfian paganism coming on, I have merely to read some nice phrases like “etcetera” or “ipso facto” and instantly I am again Catholic.


Filed under arabic, arabist, Islamic relations

A Stable Government that Can Provide Security

I try to keep politics out of this blog, but today I just can’t help myself.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Nightmarish political realities in Baghdad are prompting American officials to curb their vision for democracy in Iraq. Instead, the officials now say they are willing to settle for a government that functions and can bring security.

Oh well. Our bad. Better luck next time.

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Saladin, the Animated Series

It’s a new cartoon series. Here is their website:
Wikipedia entry here:
And here’s Ghassan Massoud as Saladin in Kingdom of Heaven.

ghassan massoud


Filed under arab, arabian, arabic, arabist, Islamic relations, movies and shows

UAE Man has Fathered 78

You might have heard the recent story about the 60-year-old UAE man who has fathered 78 offspring. He’s had fifteen wives, but he’s only married to four at a time, in compliance with the law. This guy has strange priorities, but I like that he has married women from several different countries, such as non-Arab India and Iran. Here’s a link, if you want to know more:

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Dark-Eyed Beauties

The following is a footnote from Sir Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights:

Arab. “Hur al-Ayn,” lit. (maids) with eyes of lively white and black, applied to the virgins of paradise who will wive with the happy faithful. I retain our vulgar “Houri,” warning the reader that it is a masc. for a fem. (“Huriyah”) in Arab, although accepted in Persian, a genderless speech.

The word houri, which we often use interchangeably with virgin when we talk about the 72 virgins awaiting martyrs in Heaven, is a masculine noun. So don’t be surprised when I post a picture of a man at the end of this blog post.

Wikipedia has a really long entry on the word houri, covering all that ground about whether Muslim men reasonably expect a literal harem of 72 virgins to greet them in Heaven. My feeling is that they don’t, so apparently I agree with Margaret Nydell:

Margaret Nydell states that mainstream Muslims regard this belief about 72 virgins in the same way that mainstream Christians regard the belief that after death they will be issued with wings and a harp, and walk on clouds.[49]

I agree that black irises contrasting with white sclera are beautiful, and I’m happy that I’m not alone in my appreciation. I wonder if having a white sclera was less common a few hundred years ago when more diseases went untreated.

I wasn’t able to find many photos by doing an internet search, probably most because “black eye” means something different in English and for some reason people who have really, really dark eyes like to say they have brown eyes instead of black. Sounds like western prejudice in favor of boring old blue eyes.

So, for aficionados of the dark brown eye, here are a couple photos. I’ll try to post one a week.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp

Jessica Alba<

Jessica Alba


Filed under arab, arabian, arabic, arabist, books, houris