Video: "Ta'abbut Sharran" from the Mufaddliyyat

For the past few weeks I've been reading poetry with the director of my program in Qatar, Dr. Abdulla Abd Al-Rahman.

We've been reading a text called Diwan al-Mufaddliyyat ديوان المفضليات which is a collection of pre-Islamic poems put together by the Classical linguist and literary scholar Al-Mufaddil Al-Dabbi المفضل الضبي. After some run-ins with the Abbassid Caliph Abu Ja'afar al-Mansur, Al-Mufaddil was 'asked' to educate the Caliph's son Mehdi and did so with this collection of 130 qasida قصيدة, or odes. Dr. Abd Al-Rahman described these poems as "the key to Arabic literature".

Today, I have a video of me reciting the first poem from memory. Dr. Abd Al-Rahman, who also teachers our Modern Arabic Literature class, encourages all of us in the program to memorize poetry. Not only is it part of Arab literary culture - Arabs pride themselves on their poetry, and rightfully so - but its very helpful from a language point of view. Memorizing poetry helps with pronunciation as well as strengthening broader language skills like grammar and syntax. I'm working now on a piece about the power of Arabic poetry, and I hope to have that up soon too.

The first poem is called "Ta'abbut Sharran" تأبط شرا and begins with the line: يا عيدُ ما لَكَ من شوق و إيراقِ.


The Internet's Effect on Islamic Fatwas

Happy Eid! For this year's holiday I have a special gift for my readers.

In the process of applying to graduate school, I've gone back and re-read my honor's thesis from my Senior year of university. I had been dreading this day for a long time, afraid that I would find all of it terrible and unreadable. But thankfully, alhamdulillah, it's not bad. Actually, I think I wrote better then than I do now. I've uploaded it to Scribd and have a link below for anyone who wants to take a look at it.

In the paper I discuss the impact of the Internet on the process of ifta', or the production of religious opinions, as stated in Classical Islamic jurisprudence. To do so I analyzed the classical legal text, آداب الفتوى و المفتي و المستفتي Adab al-fatwa w al-mufti w al-mustafti, by Imam Al-Nawawi. In my analysis I identify and describe some of classical ifta's fundamental principles. Then I use evidence from fatwa websites and contemporary critiques to show how traditional ifta' has been undermined by mass media.

It's a long paper, but good and hopefully you'll find it interesting!

May you all have a blessed Eid and many more to come, inshallah.


Facebookers Demand Fes be made Morocco's Capital

Cover photo for the Facebook group "All for Returning Fes to its Status as Capital of Morocco". The text reads: "Fes is  Truthfully and Legally Morocco's Legitimate Capital. This is a matter of fully realizing our Independence and not Fessi prejudice."

Last week, Hespress reported on a Facebook group that's calling for Fes to be made Morocco's capital city in place of Rabat, the current capital.

According to the article, the group wants Fes to be restored to the glory it enjoyed as Morocco's political, religious and cultural capital in the centuries leading up to the French Protectorate. As the article states, once the French took control of the country in 1912, they made Rabat their capital to, "distance themselves from the Nationalist Resistance's center and to remove the Sultan from the religious scholars at Al-Qarawiyine mosque." Rabat remained Morocco's capital after Independence in 1956.

Hespress reports the group considers this change illegitimate because it came under French colonial rule and asserts that Fes has suffered from its diminished importance in Moroccan politics and society. To the group's founders, a city with such a long, storied tradition should not be banished to social, cultural and political irrelevance.


Rootology: Time to Cram

I came across an interesting word in الشرق الأوسط this morning. I was reading an article about a British study of migratory cuckoo birds (whose Arabic name is الوقواق or the waqwaq). The word is a3kafa عكف and appeared in the article's final paragraph:

يذكر أن طيور الوقواق تمضي قرابة سنة كاملة في هجرتها جنوبا ثم العودة شمالا إلى الجزر البريطانية، و سيعكف العلماء على إعداد دراسة حول الطيور المهاجرة لأفريقيا لمعرفة ما تواجهه في رحلتها من عقبات، و الأسباب التي تجعلها لا تعود في السنة التالية إلى أوروبا، و كذا الأسباب التي أدت إلى انخفاضها بنسبة 50 في المائة خلال السنوات ال25 الماضية.
From context, I could tell that the word had something to do with 'working' to prepare the kind of study the paragraph goes on to describe. And when I looked it up in the dictionary, I wasn't too far off. However a3kafa goes much deeper than mere work or study.


Rootology: Cut It into Pieces

Cuts of Meat by lasard

In our last post, we talked about the complexities of Arabic's root system which gives the language great depth and beauty. Since all Arabic word forms are derived from a particular root, many of them are connected. By investigating roots and their derived forms we can uncover the nuances and subtleties that have enchanted linguists, Arabs and non-Arabs alike, for centuries.

Today we will look at the verb shara7a شرح.

Shara7a is a triliteral root which is commonly used as 'to explain'. However, when we look at the dictionary we see that explanation is really a secondary definition. Hans Wehr defines shara7a first as, "to cut into little pieces". From here we get the word tashri7 تشريح, which means "to dissect".


A Look at Arabic's Root System

In Arabic, all word forms are derived from their respective root, giving the language complexity and beauty.

When I think of a linguistic root, I think back to High School and the SATs. Like many of my peers, I struggled to memorize vocabulary to prepare for the Analogies section. As I labored with flash cards, friends of mine took the short cut, studying the Latin and Greek roots of many English words.

To them, the clusters of letters shared by different words were clues to their meanings. If, by exam day, you hadn't memorized Ichthyology but knew that it was formed by the Greek root words ichthus, meaning fish, and logia, meaning the study of a certain subject, then you could confidently guess its meaning: the study of fish.

Roots like these influence many English words, and play bigger roles in other languages. Latin roots are shared between Spanish, French, and the other Romance languages. But none of these share as  Arabic's and its Semitic cousins' dependence on a root system.

Today, we're going to talk about the root system and how it is the key to deciphering an Arabic word's true and full meaning. 


No More Free University Education in Morocco

Al-Akhawayne University in Ifrane is the Morocco's only public, tuition-charging university. That will change now that the government has decided to start charging wealthy families tuition for university level education. (Photo credit: unaoc)
 This opinion piece by Fatiha Al-Daoudi responds to the Ministry of Higher Education's decision to end Morocco's historic commitment to tuition-free university education. The move, announced at the end of July, met criticism from almost all fronts, forcing Minister of Higher Education Lahcen Daoudi to 'clarify' that only wealthy Moroccan families would be forced to pay.

Here is a translation of the article followed by commentary. The original article was published in Hespress on August 4.

How Free is 'Free' in Morocco's Higher Education?

After the Minister of Education announced the end to free higher education in Morocco, politicians, unions and civil society organizations raised their voices in protest and condemnation of this daring infringement of a sacred right: the right to free higher education. This uproar forced Mr. Daoudi back in front of cameras to announce that middle class and lower class families' would be exempt from new tuition fees. This gave Moroccans cause to mention a phrase used at moments of demagoguery: Mr. Daoudi was forced to eat his words; so thank you, Mr. Minister.

Returning to the topic at hand, a quick glance is all one needs to realize that free education in Morocco is just an illusion. First, preschools and daycare are not and have never been free. Rather, parents pay for this level of education. And as such, because having children has never and will never be limited to the wealthy, the middle and lower classes are forced to tolerate daycare and pre-school tuition because the state refuses to get involved.


Ramadan Brings out Morocco's Morality Police

Muslims around the World are celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, spending their days abstaining from eating and drinking and focusing on nurturing their spiritual connection to God.

Given the spirit of this time, it's not surprising to find this story in Hespress describing a recent police operation in Casablanca to shut down hookah bars in Morocco's largest city. In the current environment, an operation like this bolsters the ruling Islamist Party for Justice and Development's commitment to upholding public morality.

Here is a translation of the article:
Police in Casablanca, as part of a growing campaign against hookah bars during Ramadan, finally carried out raids on a number of cafes that provide sheesha to their customers, leading to the arrest of their clients, many of them female, for questioning.

The cafes' owners deny setting up their establishments up as hookah bars and places for customers to behave immorally, as some claim. An official in Casablanca's city council believes that the police operation targeting hookah bars has been following orders from the federal and regional governments. According to the official, the campaign was not aimed merely at smoking but other activities that are potentially harmful to public morality and health as well.

Does Racism Translate?

If a word from one language takes on a racist meaning when translated into a different language, is that term racist in itself?

Does the racism come from it's meaning and us in the source language or in the translation? Or is this an unfair comparison?

Lately, these questions have been on my mind. Last night I attended Archie Shepp's performance at the World Sacred Music Festival in Fes. While he was being introduced in Arabic, the presenter referred to his music's connection with the جماعة الزنوج jama3at al-zunuj. I've only known zunuj as a derogatory epithet for Africans which most politely translates to "Negroes."

I was taken aback when I heard this.


Who's your Daddy?

Bab Bou Jloud, Fes Medina by travelwayoflife
For non-Arabic speakers, Arabic names can seem confusing and complicated. They can be long, and don't follow the 'First Name, Family Name' convention used in many Western countries.

Despite these differences, Arabic names have a distinct order and purpose.
Like 'First Name, Family Name', Arabic names identify their bearer by his or her genealogy. But rather than labeling people as members of families, Arabs' use names to describe how they relate to others. As a result, you can know someone's sons, daughters, fathers or mothers, just through their name.


Is Fluency Possible?

Last Fall, my good friend Aaron and I spent many hours in the kitchen cooking and baking. We loved to cook a big tajine and invite our Moroccans friends over to see how our fare compared to their mothers' and grandmothers'. This was fun, but we knew it was a game we knew we couldn't win.

Though our friends, being good friends and all, would rave about our cooking (sometimes deservedly), we both knew that after only a year learning Moroccan cuisine we had grasped only the very basics. How could we compare to people who grew up in the kitchen and made cooking their life?

We couldn't. And we accepted that. But that didn't deter us; we knew that we were always learning, always progressing. And though we realized may never reach that level of consummate knowledge and ability, we knew could still be pretty good, even excellent.

To me, language fluency is similar in many ways.


The Beats of Morocco's Young Islamists

Chekh Sar, "Poor, Muslim and proud of it", and not happy with the current state of Morocco. (From his Facebook page)
Chekh Sar is a young Moroccan rapper who, as my friend Said says, "speaks the truth." His song, "Wasted Time (Part II)", laments Morocco's morally and ethically corrupt society. Though he is clearly an Islamist, Moroccans of all stripes echo many of his complaints.

Below is the video, which is long, but worth watching to see the breadth of his and others frustration. Commentary follows which highlights some of the song's more poignant verses and criticisms.

The Morphology of Moroccan Street Talk

Like the other Arabic dialects, Moroccan Arabic exhibits many similarities to Standard and Classical Arabic. Among the most entertaining is the use of the diminutive, which presents itself most often in street talk, or zanqawiyya. As we'll see, in Moroccan street talk, making someone 'smaller' makes them more dear to you.
At least in theory, all Arabic words possess a diminutive form called tasghir التصغير. This form is used to express a 'smaller' version of said word. You may be familiar with the -ito suffix in Spanish, which signifies the diminutive. In Spanish, papa means 'father' and papasito means 'little father'.

The Arabic dimunitive is formulaic. It involves pronouncing the first short vowel as a 'short u' sound, or damma, and adding a long vowel between the 2nd and 3rd root letters. A good example of this is Hasan and Hussein. Hussein is the diminutive form of Hasan, so literally 'little Hasan'. In Arabic you write it like this:


Being a Guide and an Interpreter

In the souq in Rissani

I just said goodbye to my good friend Jon who came to visit me from New York. We spent a lovely 10 days traveling around Morocco and enjoying the charms of this country.

Taking him around Fes and Morocco resulted in some interesting and revealing interactions, many of which involved language.

Jon speaks a little French and no Arabic, so as his guide I was responsible for interpreting what went one around us. Interpreting require conscious, directed effort. Sometimes this came easily; I'd attentively explain the details of a conversation or subject. Other times, I'd completely disregard Jon's language deficiency and dive head first into a conversation, leaving him behind politely smiling and nodding his head, pretending to follow along.

Since Jon's departure, I've thought a lot about these phenomena. My intention was to be his interpreter, but that only happened in certain circumstances.



I am on vacation for the next 10 days, so see you when I get back!




Morocco's Languages and its 'Arab' Identity

A Carpet with Amazigh Designs taken by pietroizzo on Flickr
My most recent post about Morocco's identity as an Arab nation caused a bit of a stir, particularly, and not surprisingly, among Moroccans.

In the piece, I defended Moroccan Arabic in response to comments made by Dr. Reem Bassiouney in the Introduction to her book Arabic Sociolinguistics. She employed an anecdote of meeting a second-generation Moroccan woman in England to describe how she understands the fear that Arabs are losing touch with their nation, thereby insinuating that Moroccan's are somehow 'less Arab' than other Arabs.

I criticized Dr. Bassiouney for using such an example to support such a claim, and noted that her views conform with widely held beliefs about Morocco's 'inferiority' as an Arab nation. I argued that such views are tainted by nationalism and empirically unfounded.

I submitted the piece to MoroccoBoard, an English-language Moroccan news site whose readers seem to be mainly expats, and before it had earned some revealing and thought-provoking comments.

To clarify, my argument against Dr. Bassiouney was on the grounds of language. And though I didn't state this explicitly, I'm frustrated by the notion that Morocco is a bad place to learn Arabic. Thinking that Morocco is 'not very Arab' contributes to this view.

However, my description of the language situation in Morocco was overly simple and demands further explanation.

To state that Morocco is an 'Arab nation' is not accurate because it ignores two important realities. The first is that Amazigh peoples, previously and impolitely known as Berbers, make up roughly a third of the population. Many Amazigh grow up speaking one of several Berber dialects, and many, importantly, are not native Arabic speakers.

Historically, the Amazigh inhabited the countryside, whereas Arabs, who came to Morocco in the 8th century, established and inhabited cities. I would say that relations between Arabs and Amazigh have always been normal, both groups coexisting and intermingling in areas where they lived in proximity to each other. Geography kept the two groups separate, something that has changed with modernization and urbanization in the last century.

Linguistically speaking, Arabic always held an advantage because of Islam. The conversion of Amazigh to Islam introduced Arabic as a 'superior', 'divine' language. Though the Berber dialects remained spoken, they were not used as formal and, most importantly, written languages.

This comment from a reader named "Amazigh" illustrates the nature of Amazigh - Arab relations in Morocco:

Morocco and most north Africa have confused Islam with Arabic.
Being moslem does not make one "ARAB" and Morocco for political reasons has decided to join the Arab League following its independence from France, and Voila, it made a majority Amazigh population "arabic"
Moroccans are not Arab, the Kings after independence wanted to cement their legitimacy and decided to elevate Arabic and marginalize Amazigh.
The results today is that Morocco is full with 'arabized" amazighs.
Yes, darija is widespread in Morocco but for many, including myself, it is not our native language.
we were forced to learn it by various peer pressures, discrimination agains amazigh speakers, who are seen as backward country folks,...etc 
I can't speak to the popularity of opinions like these. Living in Fes, which is perhaps the most Arab city in Morocco, I haven't heard much talk like this. But I know that in the countryside, and particularly in Southern Morocco, Amazigh Nationalism is a living movement. For example, a good friend of mine taught English in Errachidia last year, in Southeast Morocco, near to the Algerian border. A colleague and friend of his was an Amazigh Nationalist and refused to speak Arabic. He viewed it as 'the language of the colonizer.' So instead, he spoke French.

Which brings us to the second reality: French is very much a second language in Morocco.

Though France colonized Morocco for only 44 years, it deeply impacted almost every aspect of Moroccan culture and society. When Morocco won its independence in 1956, it was clear that there would be no real return to Arab tradition. Though Arabic was made the country's official language, all eyes were looking North, to the former colonizer, as a model for modernization.

Like most other Arab countries, Morocco faced an impasse between continuing the development initiated by their foreign colonizers and returning to their Arab roots. The desire to modernize threatened its Arab identity. Though Arabic had itself been modernized in the 19th and early 20th century, it was inappropriate for conducting business on an international stage. No 'Arab' models for economic growth existed at the time. So by default, French, the colonial language, remained in use in administration, business, science, and all other 'modern' fields. And Arabic, though official, only really flourished in traditional fields like the Islamic Sciences.

This linguistic rift only continued to grow, and today, French is ubiquitous. To use Arabic in a business or administrative setting is more or less inappropriate (though necessary for some Moroccans and expats, like yours truly). To many, French represents the future, while Arabic the past. French is the promise of modernity, manifested in personal freedom and economic prosperity. Arabic is the pressure of tradition, which crushes individualism and offers few solutions for the problems of the contemporary world.

Two comments reflect this attitude best. A reader who calls himself 'bAHA' said:

Arabic is incontrovertibly less prestigious than French is in commercial and intellectual life. It is pragmatic not sentimental. Everything follows the economy's lead, including politics, education systems, culture, etc. The % of GDP that comes from the EU vs Arabs tells all you need to know.

He was followed by 'man en blanc' who said:

I wish the European Union would adopt us so we can finally prosper and shed the loser Arab moniker

Coincidentally, I had a conversation with a taxi driver on Tuesday on almost the identical subject. As we drove past the Medina he began talking about how terrible of a place it is, which is not an entirely uncommon opinion. However, his comments were more vehement than any I had heard before. He said he wished the Medina would be "destroyed" and "erased" completely and that something new would be built in its place. He told me that Morocco's "Arab heritage" was holding it back. "Progress is what we need," he said, "we need to look forward. Arabic, the Arabs - the Arabs are worthless."

I still believe that Morocco is undeniably Arab. Islamic and Arab civilization not only influenced but were centered and developed in Morocco for centuries. Some of Morocco's rulers were Arabs, others Amazigh. But all were Muslim and all supported high Arab culture. To look at the nation's history and write off centuries of Arab culture is terribly irresponsible.

At the same time, it's impossible to deny recognition to the Amazigh peoples and their language. This is why making Amazigh an official language was a good move, though sadly I think it happened for purely political reasons, and hollow ones at that.

Similarly, French cannot be ignored and probably will never go away.

So to call Morocco an 'Arab' nation is not accurate. But to deny its Arab identity is equally fallacious. As with most things, the reality of the situation is too complicated to boil down into a few words or sentences. 


Do Moroccans Speak Arabic?

After my Fulbright grant ended last July I traveled to America to visit family and friends for about two months before returning to Morocco to study Arabic. Of all the people I saw, I looked forward the most to reuniting with my undergraduate advisor, a professor in the Religious Studies department at Rice. For three years, he was my guru, especially in Arabic. He guided me through Classical Arabic, its broken plurals, irregular masdars, ma / min constructions, and instilled in me a great appreciation for the language in its most intricate forms.

We met one night in Houston for dinner, and he made me defend my choice to stay in Morocco to him. He did so with the best intention. He had encouraged me to go abroad and stay abroad, emphasizing the importance of 'real world' experience and language skills for any Arabic / Middle East scholar. So I was surprised when, after explaining to him my decision to stay in Morocco, that he told me, "Matt, if you want to get serious about Arabic, you need to leave Morocco and go somewhere else."


A Language in Crisis

Below is a translation of an opinion piece by Islamist thinker and Arab nationalist Fehmi Huwaidi (فهمي هويدي) from the March 30 edition of the Moroccan newspaper Al-Masae.

In his piece, Mr. Huwaidi address a familiar topic in the Arab world, which is the crisis or decline of Arabic's use, status and prestige in our modern age:

Our Besieged and Defeated Language

Last Thursday, March 15, around 650 scholars in Beirut, Lebanon issued a statement defending the Arabic Language. For the previous three days, the researchers and professors had participated in a conference organized to discuss the state of Arabic and the crisis it faces today. According to Lebanese papers, the conference, which issued the "Beirut Paper on the Arabic Language" at its conclusion, was called for by the International Council for the Arabic Language, a new organization supported by UNESCO.


Anatomy of a Translation: Morocco's Failing Universities

As I've done in the past, I wanted to spend some time discussing the challenges I faced in a recent translation.

My latest translation of Mohammad Al-Khemlichi's op-ed about Morocco's failing universities raised some problems typical of Arabic/English translation.

Word Repetition

Word repetition is a common stylistic feature of Arabic writing. Unlike English, it is not poor form for an Arab writer to repeat the same words in the sentence or paragraph.

This is exacerbated by Arabic's root system. We'll address this in more detail in the future, but for our purposes today it's important to know that in Arabic words are based on three or four letter roots.

These roots are modified by additional letters to create different forms and meanings, such as passive and active participles. As a result, different forms of the same root are often repeated. Though they perform different functions (i.e. one is an adjective the other a verb), they often carry nearly identical meaning.


Lamenting Morocco's Failing Universities

Mohammedia University in Mohammedia, Morocco. By DanMclean
Every year the British newspaper Times Higher Education publishes its rankings for the top universities in the world. In the 2011-2012 edition, no Moroccan university made it onto the list.

This struck me as both predictable and slightly shocking. Only four universities in Africa made it onto the list of the top 400 (three in South Africa and the University of Alexandria in Egypt). Additionally, Morocco's higher education system is notoriously bad, and its reform has been the focus of many government initiatives over the last decade. But how bad does your university system have to be to fail to achieve this kind of recognition?

Writing in the Moroccan newspaper Akhbar al-Yawm al-Maghribiyya, Muhammad Al-Khemlichi laments not only the poor state of Morocco's university, but also the national attitude towards the university system. Below is a partial translation of his editorial which ran in the newspaper's March 26 edition.


Arabic Study Abroad: Do it yourself

Last weekend I received an e-mail from a reader interested in spending his summer studying Arabic in Morocco. In my response to him I gave him some advice that I think applies to anyone interested in studying Arabic in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, finding a place to live and study can be very intimidating, especially in the Arab world. When you add the difficulties associated with moving anywhere abroad to the perceptions Americans have about life in the Middle East, studying Arabic abroad can seem like more trouble than its worth.

But the truth is that study abroad is essential for anyone in America looking to learn Arabic.

Fortunately there are plenty of programs that provide opportunities to study abroad. Some of these are scholarships, like the Boren Scholarship or the Critical Language Scholarship. Others are pay-your-way services like SIT. The former are great, and any Arabic student at any level should apply to them. You have nothing to lose and a free summer or year of Arabic study to gain. The latter, are a big joke.


Sights and Sounds of Revolutionary Egypt

The Egyptian Revolution captured the world's attention. Many analysts believe former President Hosni Mubarak to be too strong to fall under pressure from street protests. But over time, his power crumbled.

Today, we're happy to present a glimpse at revolutionary Egypt. Presented below are a selection of chants compiled by the Moroccan journal الملتقى and published in their January-February issue.

These chants capture the emotions that drove Egyptians by the millions into the streets to protest a regime which they felt had weakened and shamed their nation. 

They remind us of the Revolution's true intentions and motivations, which have been muddled in the post-revolutionary tension and unrest that still plagues Egypt.

Alongside these words we present a selection of gripping photographs taken by freelance photographer Ronch Willner, currently in Egypt as part of his tour of the Arab World. You can see more of his photos and follow his journeys at acertainblindness.tumblr.com.

Does Lack of Familiarity Make Arabic More Difficult?

My recent post about the Arabic Alphabet received an interesting comment from Moroccan linguist Dr. Abellah Elhaloui:
all the aspects of Arabic that the writer finds "difficult to learn" are, for my 9-year kid, not only easy but also taken for granted (Adam writes near-perfect Arabic without even thinking he is giving different shapes to the same letter). This is exactly what we call Russel's Paradox (a learned COMPLEX system seems very SIMPLE to the one who has already learned it!). Users of English should be thankful that they find a system where the sound /ou/ is spelled o (bone), ough(although), oh (oh my God!), oe (foe), ow (low) ... an EASY system.
This is a really enlightening exploration into the nature of language acquisition, and, more accurately, our perceptions of difficulty when it comes to acquiring a language. What makes learning a language difficult or easy? And is there any specific about Arabic that makes learning it more difficult than other languages?


Language Immersion and Confidently Making Mistakes

We've all been told how important it is to learn from mistakes.

When it comes to learning a second language, I think there is nothing more important. Language learning is a long-term process in which you not only learn a great deal of information but also hone your communication skills to apply them properly.

While a lot about a language can be learned from sitting and reading books on grammar or memorizing lists of vocabulary, ultimately, your language ability to communicate determines you ability in a language. This means that at some point all language learners have to get out there and practice, which, of course, results in many mistakes being made.


The Syrian Revolution: Victim of International Conspiracy?

The following is a translation of an op-ed by Moroccan writer Fouad Al-Fatahi which appeared in the newspaper Akhbar al-Yawm al-Maghribiyya on 6 March 2012.

Syria: The Revolution Confronts International Conspiracy

In a few days, on March 15, the Syrian Revolution will commemorate its first anniversary, and after a year, no foreseeable exit has appeared to free the Syrian people from the dark tunnel they are now in. In fact, up to this point, Arab and Western nations have worked together to attempt to abort this revolution, allowing Syria's dictator to remain in control.


The Library at El Escorial is Moroccan

In his short text The Inspiration of Evidence, وحي البينة, Moroccan historian Mohammed al-Fassi discusses travel literature, أدب الرحالات, which is one of the many genres of Classical Arabic literature. He focuses on Morocco's contributions to this literary tradition, citing Moroccans' unique propensity for travel and exploration. We see this in Ibn Batuta, the Tangier native born in the 14th century, whose 30 year journey, or رحلة, epitomizes the spirit of travel and discovery idealized in the pre-Modern Muslim world.

Included in his survey is a discussion of the travel literature written by pre-Modern Moroccan diplomats who used their diplomatic missions as opportunities to study European society. We will look at this literature in more detail in future, but today we have a story from the pages of history.

In his discussion, al-Fassi includes an interesting account about the Library of famed Moroccan Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour and how it ended up in the Spanish Royal Seat at El Escorial:


Wrapping your Head around the Arabic Alphabet

This is the first of my 'educational' posts, where I try to explain and contextualize some of the challenges that face Arabic language learners. Trust me, I know them from experience.

To begin, learning Arabic is hard. The Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department ranks it among the 5 most difficult languages for Native English Speakers to learn (along with four Asian languages: Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and Korean). There are a lot of reasons for this difficulty ranging from the nature of the language itself (its grammar, syntax, etc.) to the lack of opportunities to learn Arabic before the University level and shortcomings in the curriculum and approach to learning Arabic in the U.S.

One of the first hurdles the Arabic language learner must overcome is the Alphabet.


Anatomy of a Translation: How Fes got its Name

My latest translation posed some challenges characteristic of Arabic --> English translation. Much of what I'll discuss reflects the differences that exist between the structure and function of the two languages. Today, I will focus on style and leave the deeper discussions of grammar and syntax to a later date.

Passive Voice

The passive voice is very common in Arabic and poses a few challenges. The first is grammatical. When we used the passive voice, in Arabic or in English, we remove the verb's subject. The second is stylistic. In Arabic, the passive voice exists in many forms and can often appear more than is stylistically acceptable in English. It can also appear in forms that don't directly correspond to English forms.


Fes: A Name with Many Stories

This is a translation of a passage from A History of the Fes Medina from its Founding to the End of the 20th Century: Continuity and Change. Published in 2011 it represents the collective work of 11 Moroccan scholars and is the first history of Fes written by Moroccans.

This section of the text describes some of the popular stories surrounding the naming of Fes.

Fes: One Name with Many Stories

Historical sources report five accounts of how 'Fes' was named.

The first comes from a Christian monk with whom Idriss the Second shared the story of his city's name before its founding. According to this story, there was once an ancient city named 'Sef' that ocuppied the site where 'Fes' was founded. At some point the ancient settlement was completely destroyed.  


Video: Journalist Debates Minister of Education Over Protest Response

Moroccan Journalist Hassan Tariq debates Minister of Education Lahcen Daoudi over the government's response to recent protests in the city of Taza.

Moroccan Journalist Debates Minister of... by mehdischumann

This video illustrates exactly how contentious the recent events in Taza are and why.


Recently Released Islamist Al-Kitani Details Prison Experience

The following is a translation of a piece from Hespress, a Moroccan Internet Newspaper.

Al-Kitani: Prisoners wrote the Qu'ran on the walls of their cells with jibn

Hassan Al-Kitani, one of the three recently released Islamist political prisoners, said that some of his fellow prisoners connected to Jihadist branches of Salafism, a fundamentalist Islamist political movement, were forbidden copies of the Qu'ran. As a result, some of them wrote parts of the Holy Book on the walls of their cells with jibn, Moroccan cream cheese, for fear of being tortured. He added they would wipe the verses away before sunrise to avoid being caught by guards.


Frustration over Government Response to Recent Protests

This piece, run by Moroccan internet newspaper Hespress reveals the tension between Morocco's new government (led by the Islamist Party for Justice and Development) and the general population who are frustrated at the slow pace of political and social change.

Bin Sadiq: Al-Ramid's Speech Resembles Bashar al-Assad's

Lawyer Ahmed bin Al-Sadiq compared the words of Mostafa Al-Ramid concerning certain groups' exploitation of recent events in Taza to Syrian President  Bashar Al-Assad's "conspiracy theories" about foreign controlled terrorist groups operating in his country.