Tuesday, 25 April 2017

U is for...Unbelievable...and...Universities


is for


Diva no. 1 Unbelievable Umm Kulthum. And if you are an Arab and a Fairouz fan reading this, hang on before you strangle me, I am a Fairouz fan myself.  Speaking only chronologically, Umm Kulthum was born at least 30 years before Fairouz and the first megastar to rock the whole of the Arab world, therefore no. 1. Most Arabs I've come across are conflicted about these two top singers - Fairouz and Umm Kulthum, who is more important or more adored.



Umm Kulthum was an Egyptian singer, composer and film star. Her date of birth is uncertain, end of 19th century or beginning of 20th but she was the definitive 20th century phenomenon in Arab music. Her voice was legendary, her technical skills utterly flawless, her concerts, broadcast on the radio from Cairo on the first Thursday of every month, brought entire cities to a standstill as people left everything else and tuned in. And her audiences stayed riveted for hours – she sang only a few songs, two or three, in a concert lasting typically for as many hours. Epic!



It’s rather difficult to translate ‘tarab’ from Arabic to English, the dictionary calls it rapture, ecstasy, and leaves it at that. Whatever 'tarab' might translate to, Umm Kulthum was capable of delivering it and held her audiences totally spellbound. When she died in 1975, millions of people poured into the streets in spontaneous mourning and waited for her cortege.  Her records continue to sell in the millions even today, more than forty years after her death.



Here is a short clip from one of her performances illustrating her hold over her audience:





And one of her very famous hour-long songs to bookmark for later, if you want to explore further:





Universities


The oldest, continuously operational universities are in the Arablands.  The first is the Karaouine University, in Fez, Morocco, established by a lady called Fatima al-Fihri in 859 CE.  The other is Al-Azhar University in Cairo, established in 970-972 CE by the Fatimid Caliphs.  These were both complexes which included large libraries along with mosques, where scholars gathered to discuss various issues.

Al Azhar Mosque on Al Azhar Street.  The start of the university. The
current campus has moved to a different location in New Cairo.


Al Azhar in particular remains the highest religious authority for Sunni Islam, and it has several thousand schools in Egypt affiliated to it. The attached library is recognised as the second most important collection after the National Library in Egypt. 


The library building at Karaouine has recently been extensively restored, and there’s a lab set up now to treat, moisture-proof, preserve and subsequently digitise the priceless collection of manuscripts.  The architect, another lady of Arab origins - Aziza Chaouni, a Canadian-Moroccan whose grandfather studied at this university, hopes it will become a part of the local residents’ lives.


Ubiquitous


Here is the eight point star, a motif that's present everywhere in Arablands or even Arab influenced lands.  It's made pretty simply, by placing one square over another the same size at half a right angle to each other. It's called Rub al Hizb in Arabic, Rub meaning 'four' or 'quarter' and Hizb meaning 'group.' The symbol existed before the advent of Islam, it was absorbed and made-over by the Arabs into an Islamic one.


The eight-point star on a lantern. Cairo, Egypt.


The eight-point star in the logo for the Metro. Maadi, Cairo.



The eight-pointer in a Moorish mosaic. Seville, Spain.


The central motif in a fountain basin in marble.
Wikala al Ghouri, 16th century, Islamic Cairo.


The 8-pointer etched on glass shutters of the main entrance
to the Beit al Quran (House of Quran) Museum. Bahrain.

The 8-point star motif in the floor of a prominent public building in
Mumbai, India. The cultural exchange between Arabs and India has
been deep and long standing, predating Islam by centuries, even
millennia.


The simple combination of two squares becoming the start of the most complex circular, radiating designs. The passion for stars translated into a pivotal motif present everywhere.  The Arabs have this unique talent for taking very simple lines and fashioning from them some amazingly sophisticated designs. Neat or what? 









Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2017 

49 comments:

  1. Utterly incredible. And I love how many Arab women (you know, the totally subjugated ones) have achieved things to benefit future generations.
    The intricacies of Arab art fascinate and enthrall me.
    Thank you so much for this series, and for highlighting the Underecognised wonders that have been given by Arabs to the world.

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    1. You nailed it about Arab art, EC. Such profusion, such creativity, such complexity - just glorious.

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  2. nice! just out of curiosity do people get the 8 point star confused with the jewish star?

    joy @ The JOYOUS Living

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    1. Good question! The 6-point star I haven't noticed here so much. If it is used, then it would be a form likely a little differentiated from the star of David - maybe elongated and asymmetric rather than six equal points.

      The 8 pointer is everywhere, in logos, in metal railings, tiles, you can't escape it :) the 5-pointer is common too. And there are a host of others with higher number of points - 10, 12, 16.

      Just as a matter of interest, I have seen the 8 pointer in a Byzantium era mosaic in Jordan, as well as in a synagogue in Cordoba. Obviously all these were in use by all communities in the Middle East before the advent of Islam.

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  3. The short clip is mesmerising, the audience were going crazy! Wonderful.

    Umbrellas and Ukuleles in Amble Bay!


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    1. Her records are still played everywhere in Egypt - cafes named after her, her photos on the walls - but you know that already.
      http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/32/97/46653/Folk/Street-Smart/In-Cairos-Caf%C3%A9-Umm-Kalthoum.aspx

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  4. U is for Utterly fascinating. And this is what this series is as you continue to spread out a world unfamiliar to us. Thank you.

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    1. Great use of U-words! :) the unfamiliar always feels more attractive to me than the known...thanks for being here!

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  5. Why does it not surprise me that the oldest universities are in the lands where civilization as we understand it was born!

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    1. Very true. Didn't surprise me either :)

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  6. Wow the oldest universities are in Arab land? Thats an impressive bit of know how. thanks for sharing.
    Love the history of the 8 pointer star - you have really done your research on it all very well Nilanjana!

    ​Unzymotic Road Trip

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    1. Not so much 'research' more of 'osmosis' I think :) I've been here for sometime now...thanks for stopping by

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  7. Enjoyed the short clip of the singer very much! She obviously enjoyed what she did and elicited much reaction from her audience. It seems, that like in jazz, timing, phrasing, and using ones voice like an instrument is part of what separates the great from the ordinary.
    Perspectives at Life & Faith in Caneyhead

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    1. A very pertinent observation. In fact, those features are common to Indian classical music also. Thanks for visiting.

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  8. This was unbelievably good. So much to take in about your part of the world. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Yvonne.

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    1. This is a very art-rich part of the world, as you would know. Culturally super high density. Thanks for the visits!

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  9. Hi Nila - you know what I'm going to say ... I'll be back to read all of these through with a cup of coffee or tea in my hand, or even water if it warms up ... and thoroughly enjoy your Unique and creative posts on Arabiana ... cheers for now - Hilary

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    1. Hi Hilary, both beverages would be quite appropriate, drunk by the gallons in Arablands :) see you later!

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  10. Uniquely Uplifting :) Once more your post has opened my eyes and ears to the world where I live but know so little about some of its major civilisations - thank you :)
    http://pempispalace.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/t-is-for-terrible-teacher.html

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    1. Thanks for the visits, glad you enjoyed your time here

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  11. Umm..Oum..i loved the name..

    And I loved the stained glass lantern, its so pretty.

    A Peice Of My Life

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    1. Umm means 'mother' in Arabic. The Arabs do marvellous things with glass..

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  12. Wooooow! I can't imagine the kind of research and hard work and passion that you have put into each of your posts . I am spellbound and beyond. Congratulations!
    Best wishes,
    Moon
    https://aslifehappens60.wordpress.com

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    1. Thank you! The research is more than half the fun :)

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  13. I always wonder what those old universities could have been like, a thousand years ago...

    The Multicolored Diary: WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

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    1. Probably all-male bastions of learning. Have a suspicion that they weren't very keen on too many women students...

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  14. Very interesting to see how they've worked the eight-pointed star into so many things.

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    1. The first adaptation was as a chapter marker for the Quran I understand...from calligraphy to architecture and ceramics...logical extensions

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  15. Very interesting. An hour long song! Definitely have to listen to that later.

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    1. The same lyrics are repeated with different improvisations...more suited I think to a time and place when life was much slower and less crowded, and a leisurely appreciation of the arts was possible.

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  16. Wow- I'm in awe of this U post. Amazing music, mosaic art, universities, the wealth of information. Not underwhelming at all. Unique!

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  17. Umm certainly had a powerful voice. Fascinating history about the Arab universities. Love the architecture and the beautiful artwork!

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    1. She is kind of a demi-goddess of Arab music. Their architecture is truly mind blowing. Thanks for visiting.

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  18. She looks like she is having such fun in the first one. I will have to listen to more of her music. I am a Fairuz fan, but I have room for both.
    Finding Eliza

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    1. Oh yes, I think that is something true for all great musicians...they love performing their music and their enjoyment shows plainly and adds to their charisma even more...I adore Fairouz's music!

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  19. I'd love to get the chance to study at one of those old universities. North American universities, even the very oldest like Harvard, are such babies compared to schools in other countries.

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    1. I don't know about Karaouine but Al Azhar accepts foreign students...I recall having met Indonesians studying there.

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  20. The word ubiquitous is well chosen for this design!
    You show so many things/people every day that you will need a half-year challenge.
    -----
    Eva - Mail Adventures

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    1. Truly, the Arab world is so rich that finding stuff for a half-year challenge would not be a problem.

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  21. Amazing how far back those universities go. I love how the eight point star has become part of the fabric of the city. A universally useful design!

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    1. Yup, the 8-pointer must be a part of every Arab city...

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  22. You share such fascinating information - I really didn't understand what attracted millions of people to the rapturous singer (it must have been lost in translation!) and those old universities were gorgeous.
    Leanne | cresting the hill

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    1. Powerful voice? Technical mastery? Stage presence? I don't really know because i don't speak enough Arabic to understand the lyrics. She has my respect though, based on the audience reaction in the clip, and also the adulation I've personally seen she commands even so many years after death in Egypt, her music is played still in cafe's dedicated to her...some charisma! must have got something right!

      Thanks for visiting!

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  23. One of the first universities (the first?) founded by an Arab woman. Truly a world of wonders, it is.

    And I never stopped to think about just how simple a design the 8-point star really is...and yet, it's so elegant and seemingly complex.

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    1. Nope, the first universities were in the East I think, they no longer operate. Nalanda was older than either of these - 1st century BCE I think, without referring to any papers :) The Arab ones are the ones that have been functional throughout, no mean feat!

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  24. Had not considered the Arab's contribution to design elements until now. Thanks too for sharing Umm Kulthum with us. You are teaching us a lot!

    "Female Scientists Before Our Time"
    Shells–Tales–Sails

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    1. Arab contribution to both arts and sciences are phenomenal. Thanks for visiting!

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