Saturday, October 23, 2010

Omanis and Reading and History

OPNO [amazed by something she has found]: "Do you KNOW how OLD these books are?! These are close to the advent of Islam in Oman. These are litterally the handscribed first edition of the ancient fiqh texts!"

Omani friend: "Uh huh."

OPNO: [trying to elaborate her point] "These should be in a museum or something."

Omani friend: "."

OPNO: "I am serrious. You have NO IDEA how valuable these are to historians and religious scholars. They need to be preserved, studied. Have you ever even read them or taken them to somewhere where they can preserve them?"

Omani friend: "I know what they are about but my education was mainly Qu'ran and how to read it. My father went blind before he could teach me fiqh [jurisprudence in Islamic law]."

OPNO: "Oh, I would cut off my right hand to be able to read and understand these. You CAN! Do you know how... Oh, I forgot, you hate reading." [Sighs, hand reaching and hesitating before touching the crumbling manuscripts, the like of which she has only seen in archeology departments, in the conservation rooms].

Omani friend: "I love that you like reading, and that you know more about my history than I do."

OPNO can trace his lineage back to the founding forefather of the Shiekhdom. She knows about all the local tribal feuds and the system for dividing up water, and all the times the Portuguese came, and how the power fell away from his people to the Saids ruling now. He thinks it hilarious that these things interest her more than how a date tree is grown to perfection, or the best swimming places in the mountains.

I am CONSTANTLY exasperated by Arabs that aren't interested in their own history, which is very rich in achievements in social and gender equality, science, and art. I get very upset when I see a family breaking down their old house and building a cement monstrousity on top of it. They don't understand what they are losing.

There is still one old man in my friend's village who knows how to make sarooj for building the traditional houses. I want to learn from him, but the village has lost its own history of what women in Islam are allowed to do, which is study and work from and among men. This is the problem with forgetting our pasts and thinking the future is all that counts.