Published: Al-Sustari, the Juggler of Love

“My Beloved, He visited me before dawn,
And my scandalous state was never sweeter,
He gave me a drink of wine and He told me: ‘rejoice,
for he who loves Me can never be deemed sinner’.” – Al-Sustari

They call him the Prince of the Austere, the Juggler of Love, the Pride of the Poor, the Buddha of al-Andalus, to the end of the long list. His real name is Abul Hasan al-Sustari (13th c.), one of the most interesting poets and mystics of al-Andalus, almost always misunderstood for his sensual metaphors and figures of speech. Though not as famous as Ibn Arabi, Abu Madyan or al-Mursi, he remains to be a very influential figure in medieval mysticism ever since he left his hometown near Granada and till he died near Damietta in Egypt.

Here is his full story in my latest article published by Ahram Online:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/65910.aspx

Guadix in Granada

Published: A Tale of Two Cities (Granada & Cairo)

This year marks the millennium of the Andalusian city of Granada, founded by Berbers from North Africa (the Zirids) in 1013 as a fortified city during the civil war that ended the Umayyad rule over al-Andalus (present-day Iberian Peninsula).

Since its foundation and till it was taken by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, the city had its ups and downs, its golden age and its doom. The Zirids, its founders, were once agents of the Fatimids that had founded Cairo earlier in 969. Only 44 years separate the foundation of both cities. To what extent were the Zirids (and hence Granada) influenced by the Fatimid culture? Did Granada resemble Cairo in any way?

My latest article in Ahram Online tackles this issue and many others. You can read it all at:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/65495.aspx

Inside the Alhambra

Remains of a mosque in Albayzin

The Zirid Portal of Elvira

Published: Wadi El-Hitan, in the realm of the Lizard King

Wadi El-Hitan (Valley of the Whales) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Egypt. The site is famous for whale fossils (and those of other species) that are over 40 million years old, including the Basilosaurus (King Lizard). Apart from its unparalleled paleontological and geological value, the site resembles a lunar landscape sculpted by time and carved by erosion. This is my article about Wadi El-Hitan, published today by Ahram Online:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/57721.aspx

Celebrities of the Golden Age in the Streets of Islamic Cairo – 4: Ibn Maimoun

Ibn Maimoun (Maimonides) is a rare example of a man representing a bridge between the Jewish and the Islamic cultures. Born in al-Andalus (Spain under the Islamic rule), he studied in Cordoba and, later, in the Mosque of Qarawiyyin in Fes, before finally moving to the Middle East, eventually becoming the private physician of Saladin’s family in Cairo.

Physician, philosopher, Torah scholar and rabbi, Maimonides was a polymath whose writings showed a clear Islamic influence. A contemporary –and admirer- of Ibn Rushd (Averroes), his synagogue still stands in Islamic Cairo’s Jewish Quarter. Here is my article about Maimonides, published yesterday in Ahram Online:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/51351.aspx

Published: The Fate of Timbuktu’s Andalusi Manuscripts

“The last city of al-Andalus is neither Malaga nor Algeciras, it is Timbuktu” –Ismael Diadie Kati, Malian library owner of Andalusi origin.

This is the story of one of history’s most interesting (and least known) odysseys: that of the Kati Family Manuscripts. From al-Andalus (medieval Spain) to the Niger River Basin, few manuscripts in history have a story as interesting as these ones.
Threatened by the political upheaval in Mali, the fate of these manuscripts remains to be a question mark.

What is the story of these manuscripts? How did the story start in Toledo and end in Timbuktu? How did they survive the Inquisition in Spain and successive wars and cultural holocausts in Western Africa? Why are they important and where are they now? Here is the full story in my latest article, published today by Ahram Online:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/50962.aspx

My 8th article in Ahram Online: In the beginning, there was art

This time about cave paintings and the birth pangs of art.
Prehistoric art has always fascinated me. From the Cave of Swimmers in Egypt’s Western Desert to Altamira in Spain’s Franco-Cantabrian region, the questions have always been many:
Did man invent art or did art predate man?
Why did our ancestors do this art in the first place?
What does it tell us about their lives, their beliefs, their rituals?

Following a bedazzling discovery at El Castillo Cave in Spain regarding the age of some cave paintings, I finally formulated my in an article published by Ahram Online. You can read it at:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/46703.aspx

I would like to extend my gratitude to my dear friend and gifted photographer, Monir El-Shazly, for contributing a rare photo of the Cave of the Swimmers as a gift for this article.

My 3rd article in Ahram Online: In the footsteps of Joan Miró

This month I attended the closing day of the exhibition ‘Miró: The Ladder of Escape’ in Barcelona, and I wrote an article about Miró for Ahram Online, which you can read at:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/37345.aspx

While preparing for the article, I did a cultural itinerary that was suggested by the exhibition as a side activity. I traced the footsteps of Miró, visiting the house were he was born; the school to which he went; the places were he exhibited his art; the bars and restaurants that he liked; his public mosaics and sculptures in the streets of Barcelona…a world no less exotic that the artworks of Miró. You can see the photos below.