Studies on Arabia in Honour of G. Rex Smith

Studies on Arabia in Honour of G. Rex Smith 

Edited by J. F. Healey and V. Porter, OUP, on behalf of the University of Manchester, 2002 (Journal of Semitic Studies Supplement 14). Pp. xiv + 363. Illus. Maps. Hb. £40. ISBN 0-19-851064-0.

This book is a collection of 21 articles written in honour of G. Rex Smith who retired a few years ago from his post as Professor of Arabic at the University of Manchester. About half have been contributed by former post-graduate students of his and the remainder are the work of friends and former colleagues.

Professor Smith has a wide range of academic interests which is splendidly reflected in the diversity and, in many cases, the specialised nature of the articles presented: for example Professor John F. Healey on a Nabataeo-Arabic inscription; Khaleel al-Muaikel on two pre-Islamic inscriptions from Sakaka in northern Saudi Arabia; Solaiman al-Theeb on Nabataean inscriptions from Qa’ al-Mu’atadal, a mountain north-east of Mada’in Salih; and, at much greater length, Yasir Suleiman on some linguistic elements in the work of the 8–9th century polymath, al-Jahiz

Professor Smith’s principal field of research has been the Yemen, so it is not surprising that most of the articles are related in some way to that country. In the material on pre-Islamic Yemen pride of place must be given to Christian Robin’s article on the little kingdom of Kaminahu and its capital, Kamna, in the Jawf, which draws on the evidence of three inscriptions. This study, clearly written for the specialist, is copiously illustrated with photographs and is one of two contributions in French, the other being by Marie-Claude Simeone-Senelle.

Daniel M. Varisco provides an extremely informative account of agriculture in Rasulid Zabid based on a l4th-century taqwim; while Noha Sadek discusses the architectural formation of Zabid: its walls, gates and towers with particular reference to Ibn al-Mujawir’s tarikh al-mustabsir and the plan of the city included in his account. Tihama also figures in Dr Venetia Porter’s authoritative and carefully sourced study on Yemeni ports and Indian Ocean trade during the Tahirid dynasty; and Ahmad al-Zayla’i discusses an inscription discovered in the remains of Jizan al-‘Ulya, just over the border into Saudi Arabia, which he dates to the time of Durayb b. Khalid of the ashraf of Banu Qutb al-Din who ruled there during the 15th and early l6th centuries.

Moving east, architecture and building design in Wadi Hajr, west of al-Mukalla, are the subject of a thorough study by Dr Salma Damluji, excellently supported by sketches, plans and photographs. Marie-Claude Simeone-Senelle contributes an intriguing paper on a Socotran version of the Abu Shawarib legend, with a transcription of the Socotran text; and Walter Dostal provides an anthropological treatise on the Say’ar who live in the northern reaches of Wadi Hadhramaut.

Readers interested in the jurisprudence (fiqh) of share-cropping as practised in Yemen will find much of value in William Donaldson’s detailed contribution. Meanwhile, Paolo Costa, in his article on ancient trade routes and the South Arabian coast, defends the reliability of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, insisting that the site of a harbour named Moscha Limen has yet to be identified. Clive Smith, in a piece entitled ‘Suleyman Pasha’s lost opportunity in India’, contributes an annotated translation of chapters 1–8 of al-barq al-yamani fi ‘l-fath al-‘uthmani by the l6th-century pro-Ottoman historian, Nahrawali. Calling at Aden on his way to India, Suleyman has the last of the Tahirids treacherously murdered; and on his return in 1539 succeeds, again by treachery, in putting an end to Tahirid influence in Yemen.

Muhammed al-Thenayian takes the reader back seven centuries to the Yu’firid dynasty in his study of two rock-inscriptions, but his full-page map does not seem to include the site where he found them. Husayn al-‘Amri‘s article is much closer to the present, being a biographical study of the last Zaydi imam of Yemen, Muhammad al-Badr.

Articles with an Arabian but no distinct Yemeni connection include ‘The Prophet Muhammad and the breaking of the Jahiliyyah idols’ by Geoffrey King; an article by Abdul Rahman al-Ansary discussing the possibility that the pre-Islamic city of Qaryat al-Fau had a port on the Gulf called al-Gerrha; and one by Moshalleh al-Moraekhi on two rock-inscriptions in Saudi Arabia (from Tayma, and from Jebel Hanakiyya between al-Qasim and Medina) and the phenomenon of mirror-image writing in Arabic calligraphy. David Morray brings us back to the 20th century with a thorough survey of the selection, instruction and examination of student interpreters of the Levant Consular Service (1877–1916).

The two editors are to be congratulated on bringing together such an interesting variety of papers in one volume. But the absence of an index is regrettable, and it is a pity that transliteration of the names of Arab contributors so often departs from accepted usage.

A.B.D.R. Eagle

J. F. Healey and V. Porter