Notes from a Yemen Diary

by Paul Roochnik

Yemen Update 42 (2000):18-23,74

The dialog and events in the following journal really took place in the way I describe. I have changed the names to protect the privacy of the individuals whom I met in Yemen.

Thursday, 9 March 2000.

I arrived here in Yemen two weeks ago today, and probably should have begun my journal immediately, but until now, the spirit just has not moved me. Or maybe I have not felt settled down enough to let my mind go and reflect. Whatever the case, let me start now &endash; better late than never.

I decided to make this trip to Yemen in the middle of February, when Mohammad and Mudar gave me the green light to take an un-paid leave of absence for one month. As soon as I initiated my travel preparations, i.e, booking the flight, applying for a visa, etc., apprehension began to creep up on me. I thought for sure that my arrival in Yemen would bring relief, but instead it got worse. For the first ten days here, I could hardly sleep, and I attribute the insomnia only partially to jet-lag, and more importantly to anxiety.

Anyway, two weeks have now passed, and while I still feel nervous at times &endash; particularly when I have to cross a busy street (more about that later) &endash; my mind has calmed to a tolerable state.

The flight from Dulles to Frankfurt went off without a hitch. When I told the flight attendant that I had forgotten to order a vegetarian meal, he brought me a fresh salad from First Class. Not bad. In Frankfurt, I waited just an hour for the next flight, this one to Cairo. I sat next to a pleasant Yemeni man and we made small talk for a while in Arabic. We stopped in Cairo long enough to discharge passengers, fuel up, clean up, and take on a new crew, then back up into the air, to Sanaa. Waiting for my baggage at Sanaa Airport, I feared that the customs guy would confiscate the several packages of almonds and raisins which I had brought with me. Thankfully, he did not even ask me to open my bags, and as I passed customs at 11:45 pm, Thursday, 24 February, Dr. Khaled Ismail stepped up to welcome me Yemeni style &endash; kiss on right cheek, kiss on left cheek, smile and greeting, kiss on right cheek.

With such a warm, friendly reception after a trip half-way around the world, my spirit soared and my heart thumped with optimism. "Yes," I reflected, "the next four weeks will keep me speaking Arabic constantly… by the time I leave, I should have come a few more steps toward fluency."

The next several days seem a blur to me now. Friday, 25 February, I called Husayn al-Fares. I had met Husayn on my previous trip to Yemen in December 1996. A Yemeni colleague in Maryland, Abdul Karim al-Kindi, had given me his name and telephone number and suggested that I contact him. He could not have referred me to a better person. Husayn has a buoyant, jolly personality, filled with traditional Yemeni geniality, and sharpened by an extended stay in San Diego and Boulder, where he took a Masters in finance. After we met in 1996, we stayed in touch by email. Husayn loves computers. Saturday, 26 February, in the evening, Husayn picked me up at Dr. Ismail's house and took me to a computer show at Sanaa's exposition hall. The hardware resembled whatever you would find in the USA or Europe. The software, however, constituted the largest collection of pirated programs I have ever seen in one place. A typical CD-ROM comprising as many as 70 different software packages would sell for about six dollars. Woe unto the poor engineers who did all the programming and receive no royalties.

Sunday, 27 February put me in a bad mood. I had asked both Dr. Ismail and Husayn about finding me a private Arabic language tutor, but had not received any commitments. "What a waste of time, hanging around Yemen without a daily program," I complained to myself. That night, however, the good news turned up: Husayn al-Fares had found me a teacher, Yahya al-Shammar, a man in his mid-to-late twenties, working on a Masters degree in communications. I called Yahya straight away and he agreed to come to Dr. Ismail's house the very next day.

My twice daily Arabic lessons commenced Monday, 28 February. We agreed that Yahya would come to Dr. Ismail's house each day at 9:30 am and instruct me in a blend of San'ani dialect and standard Arabic for two hours. We would then meet in downtown Sanaa at 4 pm and he would take me to various points of interest in the city where we would converse together and with others whom we met. We have kept up this routine since then and our mutual liking and respect grow as the days go by. Yahya has had no training as an educator, so he lacks some of the techniques mastered by seasoned professionals. On the other hand, as the father of two, he knows a thing or two about teaching. Furthermore, as a communications specialist, he has a formidable command over Standard Arabic as well as his native San'ani dialect.

Of the wide variety of personalities we have encountered during the many trips we have made to Sanaa's sundry sites, five stick out in my mind. We strolled one day into "Qaa' al-Yahood", the former Jewish quarter. Yahya, informed of my religion, told me what he knew about the history of the Jews in Yemen and Sanaa, which did not amount to much. By chance, however, we bumped into an acquaintance of his, Abdul Rahman, residing in the neighborhood. He invited us into his house, owned by a Jewish family until the 1950's. He even showed us the deed, written in Hebrew script, which sadly, I could not read. Not much of a fan of either antiquities or architecture, I feigned interest in the layout of this 300+ year-old structure. His discussion about the Jews themselves, however, did grab and grip my attention. "They were good people, the Jews," he remarked, "They had a reputation for trustworthiness (sidq), loyalty (wafaa'), and faith (amana)." His remarks stand in stark contrast to a political cartoon I noticed in Al-Jumhuriya, showing two arms shaking hands. The cuff of one has The Stars and Stripes, the other, the Star of David. From the clasped hands, rain down bombs upon al-shu'oub al-islamiya, Islamic peoples.

I cannot pretend to possess any knowledge of Yemeni public opinion. I suppose most Yemenis and most Arabs in general, hate the State of Israel. Maybe they will prove me wrong some day. Let us hope that the withdrawal of Israeli troops from South Lebanon will help. But what do the Yemenis and other Arabs feel and believe about Jews other than Israelis? Again and again, individual Yemenis and Arabs in general have assured me that they bear no antagonism toward the Jewish religion or people. "Hayyak Allah!" (may God preserve your life), a Yemeni smilingly greeted me after I revealed my religion. And that attitude emerges all the time: "Jew or not, I like you. Welcome."

This issue may arise again in the present work, but let us move on to the next remarkable personality. One afternoon we sauntered over to suq al-biharat (spice market) and found a long row of herbal medicine stalls. We stopped at one and engaged the merchant in conversation about his goods. He launched into a lecture about which herbs to use for which ailments from impotency to diabetes. And for each herb he mentioned, he would reach back into his stall and scoop up a small pile of it.

I acknowledged Ibn Sina (an Eighth Century Arab physician) as "the father of all medicine" and the Yemeni herbalist appreciated this. I mentioned my insomnia and asked him what he could do for me. He picked up a bag and started to fill it up with small handfuls of different herbs. "Divide this mixture into four parts. Make a tea out of it four nights in a row, and you will see how well you will sleep." (The next four nights, I followed his instructions, boiling the herbs for about ten minutes. The tea had no effect on me, good or bad.) We must have sat with this herbalist for more than an hour. When we departed, I called him "Doctor", and he thanked me.

We hit a double a few days ago. We entered a men's thobe store, offering "the latest" in traditional Arab robes. When Yahya confessed that we had come not to buy, but to chat, the owner bent over backwards to make us welcome. He seated us in comfortable chairs while he sat on the floor. Then he asked his son to bring us cold bottles of Fanta orange soda. This man's teeth glistened like snowdrops which indicated that he did not chew qat, a leaf which stimulates the central nervous system and stains the teeth. Most Yemenis do chew qat, but not this guy, (nor Dr. Ismail, nor Husayn al-Fares, nor Yahya). The man began to tell us about his life, his travels, his other residence in Saudi Arabia, and of course, about Islam. I could understand only half of what he said, but would ask him questions whenever I could put the words together correctly. The more he talked, the more his eyes sparkled and the wider grew his smile. By the time we got up to leave, he treated us like long-lost sons, hugging us and kissing us on both cheeks, Yemeni style, and insisting that we promise to return some day. Soon, I hope!

Around the corner from our friendly neighborhood thobe store stood an Islamic bookshop which could not have exceeded fifty square feet. Again, the goods did not impress me, the proprietor did. And he spoke Arabic with hyper-clarity and slowly enough that I understood quite a bit of what he said. "Why does your dialect seem to differ from what I hear in Sanaa all the time?" He replied that he had traveled widely throughout the Arab world, including buldan al-sham, i.e., the countries of the Fertile Crescent. Wherever he would go, Lebanon, Syria, or elsewhere, he would pick up the localisms and the intonations of the region. "You would make a fabulous teacher. Ever think of going into that profession?" He had, but concluded that he could not make a decent enough living on a teacher's wages.

A few days later, Yahya took me to the home of his cousin, Shaykh Mahmoud, a member of the Yemeni Parliament. We slipped off our shoes and crossed the threshold into the Shaykh's maqyal, a world you can find only in Yemen. For in the maqyal gathered a score of men, chewing qat, drinking tea, and smoking cigarettes. Of course the Shaykh sat us down in the best seats in the house and treated us to ice cold Fanta. Orange soda never thrilled me in the USA, but after hours of breathing hot, dry, dusty air, then inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke, nothing could taste better. I asked the Shaykh about the group assembled in his maqyal. "Friends, neighbors, cousins, constituents. We got together today especially to say prayers for someone close to us who died yesterday." From there the discussion jumped off in unimaginable directions: Yemeni football clubs, neighborhood service organizations, civic associations, the history of Yemeni immigration (a library in itself), and the role of destiny in our lives. The Shaykh did most of the talking, mind you, but I managed to insert a question here and there. "If Allah has given humanity the power to choose, how can He already have determined our destiny?" I asked him. "Of course, Allah in His infinite wisdom and mercy, has given us the freedom to choose, but He also knows what choices you will make." Well, I did not try to dispute him on that point because (a) my Arabic just did not meet the challenge, and (b) prudence dictated respect for Islam, notwithstanding Yemen's purported freedom of speech. As we put our shoes back on at the door, Shaykh Mahmoud reminded us that he would always welcome us in his house.

Friday night, 10 March 2000.

I just finished packing for my trip tomorrow to Aden. If all goes well, I will catch the 11 am bus at Bab al-Yemen ("Yemen Gate"), which should arrive at 5 pm. I will stay at the home of Doctor Khalil Salem. How I met him: I referred above to the nervous tension and insomnia that beset me. It got so bad that I asked Dr. Ismail to recommend a physician. Dr. Ismail called his old Adeni friend, Dr. Khalil, who practices in Sanaa. Dr. Khalil did what no US doctor ever does any more: he made a house call! He took my blood pressure, my pulse, listened to my heart and lungs, asked a few questions, pronounced me in tip-top health, then gave me a packet of mild sleeping pills to use as needed. Business done (he would accept no fee), we got down to the real business: conversation about politics, art, science, and the nature of life! Before he left, he invited me to visit him in Aden. Later on I asked Dr. Ismail if Dr. Khalil had really meant that. "Absolutely. If you go, you honor him." Ergo, my journey tomorrow.

Sunday, 12 March 2000.

Yesterday morning, I took the local dibab (mini-bus) to Bab al-Yemen, where I caught the inter-city bus to Aden. I should probably say a word or two about Sanaa's local mass transit system, this network of dibabat. From the outside, the dibab looks like an old-fashioned VW bus. The right-hand side of the dibab has a wide gap where you would expect to find a door, which allows passengers to jump in and out freely. In the front sits the driver, of course, with one passenger. In the back you have two benches facing each other, each sitting three riders. Just about everywhere you go, you find the dibab scooting along, weaving in and out of traffic. When you want to alight, you just yell, 'ala janb ("to the side!"), he slows down, you jump off, pay the driver 30 riyals (about 20 U.S. cents), and thank the Good Lord you did not fall and break your leg or something worse! I hate the traffic in Sanaa, but the dibab system deserves world recognition for its efficiency, convenience, frequency, and thrills.

Anyhow, the Aden-bound bus departed only five minutes late (11:05 am), but got quite mired in Sanaa's traffic. In fact, it took us half an hour just to reach the city limits. Before I bought the ticket, some three or four days ago, Dr. Ismail had admonished me to request a travel permit from shurtat al-siyaha (the "tourist police"). They told me "no need". Dr. Ismail then warned me that the police would stop the bus and demand to see my permit, without which, they would force me off the bus.

For that reason I dressed in modified Yemeni style so as not to draw attention to myself: sports jacket despite the heat, and mashadda (traditional red and white Arab head covering). Before boarding the bus, I bought a Yemeni newspaper. Throughout the seven-hour trip, I read Clancy's Executive Orders (entertaining, if right-wing, time-killer). Every time the bus would slow down to a potential police check-point, I would hide the book, spread the Al-Thawra ("The Revolution") newspaper over my lap, and feign sleep. When the policeman finally did board the bus, he interrogated the guy sitting across the aisle from me.

What a relief to exit that bus undisturbed. Before I could even collect my small suitcase from the baggage compartment, along came Dr. Khalil to welcome me to Aden. He drove me to his house in Kod al-Nimr, a neighborhood of Burayqa, some ten or fifteen miles from the Mansoura bus station. Poor and working-class areas, like Cairo's Shobra district, burst with humanity. High-class Kod al-Nimr could not differ more. The British, during their occupation, built Burayqa, or "Little Aden", as they call it, for the British executives and employees of the oil refinery. Kod al-Nimr sits right at the edge of the Gulf of Aden and the view will take your breath away. Extinct black volcanoes ring white sandy beaches and blue waters.

This morning, Dr. Khalil and I got up at 7:30, threw on our swim suits, and walked about 200 meters to the beach. We found the water placid, clean, clear, and ideally suited for swimming. And swim we did, for nearly an hour, after which we feasted on an Adeni breakfast of beans, spicy eggplant, and khubz ta'wa, a grilled bread similar to Indian ruti. The sea had restored an appetite which I had lost on the bus.

We then drove down to the "Blue Beach" where I climbed the stone steps to the summit of an extinct volcano. At sea level, I cannot blame altitude for my loss of breath, but if the climb up challenged my lungs, the descent put my nerves to the test: crumbling steps, slippery shoes, and no bannister.

The end of the day has drawn near. Dr. Khalil drove four sisters, one nephew, one niece, and me to Crater, the down-town shopping district of old Aden. We traipsed around, choking on a witches' brew of exhaust, "ripe" fish, and sulphur from the refinery. Keep Crater, I'll take Burayqa.

This does raise the traffic issue, alluded to above. Let me kvetch a bit, and get it out of the way. More than any other factor, the road conditions keep me in a constant state of hyper-alertness, i.e., chronic fight-or-flight syndrome, i.e., panic. If you lose your concentration while walking down the street, you could lose your life. Most streets have no sidewalks. The few sidewalks that do exist bulge with vendors and their push-carts. They force you into the street, and at any moment, a car will approach you from your blind spot and knock you down. Ever try crossing the street? Few traffic lights or stop signs, and drivers do not stop before turning or entering an intersection. "Defensive driving" consists of blasting your horn to warn the rest of the motorists, "get out of my way!".

Good brother Yahya always reassures me, "Do not worry so much, Abu Sammy! The cars will not hit you, because if they do, the driver will have to pay a stiff penalty." "Cold comfort," I reply, forcing a smile. So whenever I go from point A to point B, , my heart gallops, and the problem with a galloping heart is that you cannot just slow it down at will. The panic becomes chronic, habitual, ergo, insomnia.

Monday, 13 March 2000.

More extraordinary generosity, and yet perhaps ordinary by Yemeni standards. After our morning swim and breakfast today, we strolled along the beach and over a small volcanic mountain to the fishing village of Khaysa. An old friend of Dr. Khalil, a fisherman named Fuad, greeted us warmly. After introductions, Fuad first ran to a little grocery store, then to his shack, and presented me with an ice-cold bottle of soda from the former, and a huge conch shell from the latter. "How can I take such a fine shell from you? This is yours," I protested. He insisted, however, and I thanked him with words and with my eyes. Eyes speak. Fuad then asked his son to take us in his fishing boat around the mountain. The sea swelled a lot more out there beyond the mountain, and I thought we might capsize, but Fuad's son kept the boat steady and we got home without incident.

From there, we jumped into the car and sped off to Ma'ala, to have lunch with Abu Mustafa. Before I go on, let me tell you about Abu Mustafa. When I arrived 24 February at Dr. Ismail's house, the first person I met was Abu

Mustafa, an old Adeni friend of his. In the coming days, I would spend many a pleasant hour with Abu Mustafa at Dr. Ismail's house in Sanaa. Abu Mustafa and I would watch the news together each night at 9 pm, and he would offer a comment or question every so often. One day he took me to a symposium on Yemeni politics, one of the few opportunities for me to wear my suit and tie.

At his rented apartment, he spread out a sumptuous feast. After lunch, a dozen or so of Abu Mustafa's old friends showed up to chew qat and chew the fat. Many of these men had worked in high positions in the old regime but

had lost their jobs and property after the Civil War, forcibly retired at a fraction of their former salary and banned from future government employment. They had bitter stories to tell. By late afternoon, the cigarette smoke got too thick for me or Dr. Khalil to breathe, so we thanked Abu Mustafa and hit the road. Wherever we go, Dr. Khalil picks up pedestrians and gives them a lift. "Have you wondered why I do this?" he asked. "Now that you mention it, yes!"

"You remember I told you this car used to belong to my father, who passed away three years ago, may Allah have mercy on his soul. You must realize how dear my father was to me. And the hadith (the collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) teaches us that once a person dies, he loses all connection to this world, unless he has done one or more of the following: (a) he has written a book that can benefit humanity even after he has passed, or (b) he bequeaths some kind of wealth or resource that leaves the world in better shape than what he found it, or (c) he has left a good son. Well, Abu Sammy, I have not written any book, and do not foresee doing so, but I have tried always to be a good son, and I use my father's car to ease other people's burden. When I pick up these people in my dear father's car, the good work memorializes my father. Now you see, Abu Sammy?" I see. In retrospect, I see. I see how vital it is for me to bring honor and joy to my own Mom and Dad while they still live.

Wednesday, 15 March 2000.

Yesterday gave me one last chance to swim in the Gulf of Aden. After lunch, Mr. Hassan Ibrahim, a cousin of Dr. Ismail, came to pick me up and take me to his house in Mansoura, not far from the bus station. When I visited Aden in December 1996, it was at Mr. Hassan's house that I stayed. From about 5 pm until bedtime I talked with Mr. Hassan. Actually, he did most of the talking. He talked about Yemeni politics, history, and Islam. His story sounded like a repeat of what Abu Mustafa's friends had related: South Yemen made a fatal mistake agreeing to unite with the North. Instead of enjoying he fruits of unity, the South has endured conquest.

What could I do, other than nod sympathetically? As an outsider, I have no business getting involved in Yemeni politics. Yemenis must solve their own problems. I do plan, however, to read up on recent Yemeni history, and maybe the ancient as well.

Mr. Hassan had much to say about religion, as well. "In which holy book do you believe?" he asked me. "I am Jewish and I believe in the Torah," I answered, carefully concealing the edge in my voice. Fortunately, my reply did not seem to shock or disturb him, though perhaps he too kept his emotions buried. "But don't you have a leaning towards Islam?" "Of course I respect Islam as a mighty and true religion, and your prophet was a great prophet, but Judaism is my father's religion, and so it is mine as well." He then gave me the standard Islamic line, e.g., that Abraham and all the prophets of the Torah were Arab Muslims; that the Torah of today is a corruption of the true Torah, that Muhammad is the final prophet, etc., etc. What could I do, other than listen carefully and nod? Mr. Hassan concluded on a conciliatory note. "You are welcome in Aden. Aden has always welcomed everybody, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, we always got along in Aden… we are a friendly town." I cannot dispute his last point.

After breakfast this morning, Mr. Hassan gave me a big hug and reminded me to consider his house my home in Aden. Khaldoun, one of two sons still in Aden, drove me to the bus station and bade me farewell. The police stopped the bus twice on the way back: once, half an hour north of Aden, and again, about an hour south of Sanaa. At both checkpoints, my mashadda amounted to nothing: the cop came straight back to seat #33 and demanded my passport. Had the bus company informed the authorities of my presence on the bus? I will never know. But they did return my passport both times, and let me continue on to Sanaa.

Tomorrow is Eed al-Adha, ("Feast of the Sacrifice"), commemorating Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son for Allah. The Qur'an story resembles the Torah story with one major difference. The Torah teaches us that God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his son by Sarah. According to the Qur'an, however, it was Ismail, the son of Hagar and the supposed progrenitor of the Arabs, that Ibraham was told by God to sacrifice. Muslims consider this a typical example of the corruption of the Torah, which the Qur'an "corrected". On Eed al-Adha, every Muslim family that can afford it, is obliged to sacrifice a sheep. At this moment, as I get ready for bed, I hear baaa-a-a-a-a-a coming from every direction. Do these poor creatures have any notion as to sharpness of the blade which awaits them tomorrow?

Sunday, 19 March 2000.

I can scarcely believe I have only four more days in Yemen, so it behooves me to make the best of this time, i.e., study and speak as much Arabic as possible. Last night, however, I cheated. Husayn al-Fares picked me up at 7 and we dropped by his house just to play a bit on his computer. Husayn speaks English so fluently, and puts me so much at ease, that I cannot resist conversation in my native tongue. I printed a document while he went to his room to say his evening prayers. He checked his email, then we tried calling the USA via the internet… it almost worked but nobody picked up the phone. By the way, the only reason why he could let me into his house was that his wife was away visiting her relatives. Get ready for a commentary on gender segregation in Yemen one of these days… but not now. We then drove over to the "Hawaii Club", a place to drink orange soda and smoke sheesha, an aromatic blend of tobacco and dried fruits. Don't worry, I did the drinking while Husayn did the smoking.

Monday, 20 March 2000.

Funnily enough, I had to come to Yemen to try Russian food; at least it turned out that way. The story all began last Thursday night (16 March). I had walked down to the friendly neighborhood restaurant to dine on bread and beans. Don't laugh: Yemenis know how to make beans taste like food. As Dr. Ismail opened the outer gate for me to enter, he mentioned that he had guests in the house. "You will want to meet them, Abu Sammy. Abd al-Rahim is an old friend of mine and his wife is from Russia. You will like them, Abu Sammy, I am sure of it."

Dr. Ismail was right. I did like them. His wife spoke mostly Russian, which presented no problem to either Dr. Ismail or Abd al-Rahim, who both studied in Moscow. Abd al-Rahim came at us with one joke after another (in Arabic), mostly aimed at the Chukchi people of far Siberia. Example: A Chukchi comes to Moscow for the first time and stops to admire a clock atop a tall tower. A con-artist comes along and offers, "Would you like that clock? I will sell it to you for 2000 rubles." The Chukchi happily handed over the money, and the con-artist assured him, "I will just go and bring a ladder. You wait here." The Chukchi returned to his village 2000 rubles poorer than when he had left. His friend bragged, "I will go to Moscow and bring back that clock. You will see they cannot trick me!" He arrives at the clock tower and the same con-artist shows up. "Would you like that clock? I will sell it to you for 2000 rubles." The Chukchi smiled knowingly and replied, "No, I will not pay a kopek more than 1500 rubles." "Well," agreed the con-artist, "I can see you are a tough negotiator, so I will take 1500 rubles and bring a ladder. You wait here." Again the Chukchi smiled knowingly. "Oh no, you don't! Here's the money, and now I will go look for a ladder."

By the end of the night I had laughed so much that my jaws hurt. Before they left, Abd al-Rahim and his wife invited us for lunch for Sunday, 19 March. So yesterday Dr. Ismail and I ate Russian food until I almost burst. First there was hot borscht, then cold borscht with potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, green onions, and sour cream. After that came something resembling felafel and something else similar to kufta. Surely that had to be the end, but no: along came Abd al-Rahim's wife with bliny, followed by crepes with local honey, and finally pastries and tea. Yikes. Needless to say, I had no need for dinner last night.

After lunch, Dr. Ismail dropped me off at the home of Professor Abdel Qader Jabalawi, who teaches Islamic subjects at Sanaa University. My tutor had set up this meeting and promised I could ask the professor any question at all on the subject of Islam, no holds barred. My questions included the following: 1. Tell me about the dawn of Islam, and give me all the details of who, what, when, where, why, and how. 2. Speak about the political, social, and religious conditions in Mecca and the Arabian Peninsula just prior to the dawn of Islam. Was the time ripe for a new prophet? 3. How can a 1400-year-old book, the Qur'an, guide Muslims after all these years? All the circumstances which necessitated a new religion in Arabia have changed, haven't they? 4. You say that Islam is a universal religion, but mustn't a faithful Muslim know how to read and pray in Arabic? 5. I have often heard the word i‘jaaz (inimitability, miraculousness) used in reference to the Qur'an. Would you please explain the connection? 6. All the media these days are talking about threats to the environment, e.g., contamination of the oceans and rivers, pollution of the air, etc. What does the Qur'an say about keeping our environment clean? 7. What is the role of women in Islam? 8. We read recently that certain Serbs will face trial on charges of rape as a war crime in Bosnia. Does the Qur'an offer any guidelines as to the conduct of war? 9. Islam is now the majority religion in the Arab world and certain other countries. Did the prophet Muhammad foresee a time when Islam could be a minority religion, as it is in Europe and America? 10. What are the duties of a Muslim? 11. How important are justice and equality in Islamic societies such as that of Yemen?

Because I had to concentrate so hard just to undertstand the professor's explanations, I could not take notes, though I wish I could have taped his speech. I do recall, however, the gist of his answers, to wit: "1. Who: Muhammad, of the Qurayshi tribe; What: A new religion, Islam which means submission to the will of God; When: Early in the 7th Century; Where: Mecca; Why: God's will; How: The prophecy was revealed to Muhammad through the mediation of the angel Gibra'eel. 2. In pre-Islamic Arabia, the people adhered to Judaism, Christianity, and paganism. Injustice and oppression prevailed. Yes, the time was ripe for the prophet Muhammad because it was God's will. 3. The Qur'an applies to all times and to all peoples. It is universal. 4. You do not need to know Arabic to become a Muslim. Once you convert, however, it is helpful to learn some Arabic to gain a deeper understanding of the Qur'an, but it is not necessary. 5. The word i‘jaaz applies only to the Qur'an. The Arabs were and still are famous for poetry and rhetoric, but no literature has ever come close to the brilliance of the Qur'an, revealed to our prophet who did not even know how to read or write. 6. Our religion requires us to pray five times per day, and before we can pray, we must clean ourselves. By extension, we are required to keep our homes and surroundings clean. Islam demands inner and outer cleanliness and purity. 7. Women have equal justice in our religion. They cannot fight in wars, but they serve society as teachers, doctors, nurses, and of course, mothers and wives. 8. Islam expressly forbids a Muslim soldier from hurting the women, children, old people, or any civilians of our enemy. 9. Of course, the prophet took into account the possible status of Islam as a minority religion, because Islam started out as a minority religion. 10. A Muslim must testify that there is no other God than Allah and that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah; pray five times per day; givezakat (alms tax); fast during Ramadan; and make the haj (pilgrimage to Mecca) at least once during his life if he can afford to do so. 11. Justice and equality are essential in Islamic societies. No man is superior to another according to our religion."

Well, there you have Islam in a nutshell. Of course, Professor Abdel Qader spoke in a non-threatening, friendly way and offered me food and drink. And he had a beautiful twinkle in his eye. And in the end of course, he popped the inevitable question, "Do you have an inclination to convert to Islam?" "Frankly," I replied cautiously, "I would like to read and learn more about Islam. It is a very deep religion and deserves careful study. At this point, I am not ready to convert. And I wish to thank you for so generously giving your time and helping me to understand and appreciate the Islamic religion."

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