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.