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  • Arabs: A 3,000-Year History by Tim Mackintosh-Smith – review | Books

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See the news Arabs: A 3,000-Year History by Tim Mackintosh-Smith – review | Books from Source Guardian on 17/03/2019 has been updated to day with the theme on feedixo.

Arabs: A 3,000-Year History by Tim Mackintosh-Smith – review | Books

Outside the window of Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s home in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, are reminders of the long sweep of Arab history – child soldiers mourning martyrs of the country’s ongoing war, rocket salvoes, sectarian rivalries, hypnotic slogans and a mosque dating back to the seventh century and the rise of Islam in the Arabian peninsula.The view is simultaneously rich, bleak and thought-provoking: for three millennia, dynasties have come and gone, from the Sabaeans and Himyaris to the Umayyads of Damascus and the Abbasids of Baghdad. Later came the al Saud – the family that gave its name to a still powerful kingdom. Interactions between desert (badu) and town (hadar), semi-nomadic tribes and settled peoples, strong men and weak institutions, are a constant theme. Language, faith, and loyalty come together in complex and far-flung combinations.Arabs retells a familiar story in unexpected ways. It focuses first on the social and economic changes (the domestication of the camel was key) that shaped the pre-Islamic world before the transformation that began in Mecca in AD622. Perfumes and gems were the precursors of the petroleum and gas of modern times. In the background were always challenges from Assyrians, Persians, Romans and Mongols, narrated and fought by a colourful cast of oracles, orators and commanders of dogged, lightly equipped horse-mounted warriors.Mackintosh-Smith is an unusual Englishman abroad: a writer who lives, as he puts it, in a land not a library, experiencing history in situ. He combines deep learning with penetrating insights delivered with dazzling turns of phrase and illuminating comparisons.The author’s acclaimed Travels in Dictionary Land was a clue to his fascination with both his adopted country and the Arabic language – the golden thread that runs through this wonderful new book. “Of the three outstanding conquests of Arab history – those of arms, Islam, and of Arabic – the first and most enduring has been the victory, over themselves, of the tongue that bears their name,” he writes. “The grammar of their [the Arabs’] history would be unstoppably active, and they would earn not just a capital letter but a definite article.”The first known inscription mentioning Arabic dates back to 853BC – 1,400 years before the boy Muhammad was recognised as a prophet. In the conquests that followed, disparate tribes and peoples from the Gulf to north Africa were united by the swirl of Arabic script and that most haunting of Muslim prayers “La ilaha illa Allah”: “There is no god but Allah.” The first Arabic book, the Qur’an, was “not only the scripture of Islam, but the founding text of Arabdom… with all the historical weight of a Pentateuch, a Magna Carta and a Declaration of Independence”. Arabic and Islamic history, he argues, in a characteristically succinct take on a long debate, “are conjoined not just at the hip, but at the heart”.Links and connections over time and distance are amazing: on a visit to Mauritania – the furthest extreme of the Arab(ic) world – the author hears the familiar rhythms of a Yemeni dialect, a living connection to a hijrah (migration) that took place half a millennium ago. Spain’s 4,000 Arabic loan words are a monument to seven centuries of rule. Less familiar is his admittedly unproven but delightful idea that the English hunting cry of “tally-ho” is related to the (far more guttural) Levantine Arabic imperative for “come here”.FacebookTwitterPinterest Women sit before Fez, Fes el Bali in Morocco. Photograph: Alamy Mackintosh-Smith has an enviable ability to enrich the big picture with fascinating detail and telling parallels. Arab...

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See the news Arabs: A 3,000-Year History by Tim Mackintosh-Smith – review | Books from Source Guardian on 17/03/2019 has been updated to day with the theme on feedixo.