Ibn Khaldoun: Early Arab philosopher and sociologist

Journey to a medina: The streets where Ibn Khaldoun walked

Imagine 14th century Tunis: Is it difficult? It would be, if you’ve never visited the modern city, and your history education doesn’t include the Arab Renaissance.

Tunis bustles at the base of a large bay on the southern Mediterranean. In the 14th Century, Tunis was a completely self-sufficient walled city— a medina— with gates that could open to the fertile farmlands or the busy port. Inside the walls, the zigzag streets led to a mosque, a hospital, a university. Frequently the streets were named after the trades practiced in the neighborhood: jewelers, metalworkers, clothing manufacturers, etc. While many parts of the walls are missing today, these street names and the original center of Tunis still exist. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considers the Tunis medina (original walled city) a world heritage site.


By Alanna Nelson

Abderrahaman Ibn Khaldoun was born in Tunis, Tunisia, a bustling city in 1332. His father was from a prominent political family and a religious leader in Tunis. His family encouraged a broad education in religion, literature and history. When he was 19 years old, his parents died during the plague that devastated most of Europe, Middle East and North Africa. Carrying on the family tradition, he left Tunis on a diplomatic mission.

As Ibn Khaldoun traveled around North Africa and Spain, he was accepted into the court of two sultans and a judge. He watched the decline and emergence of several political powers. These experiences formed a personal approach to history that revolutionized social science and history.

From 1375 to 1379, Ibn Khaldoun lived in Algeria, concentrating on his first volume of universal history. Called “Foreward,” it used the examples of Berber dynasties for the rise and fall of empires. He realized that his analysis was different than previous historical summaries, as it provides the basis for what is generally called political sociology today. Ibn Khaldoun examined the causes as well as the consequences of each historical event.

In his opinion, there is a strong connection between social change, climate and economic activity. The rise and fall of a dynasty could be characterized in three generations. The first generation of an emerging power accepts the demands of normally rural and new lifestyles. The second generation absorbs the new culture, refining the mixture of old and new. This strengthens the power.

However, in the third generation, the culture has lost all of the ambition and roots of its grandparents. The society loses its ability to defend itself and becomes vulnerable to new emerging powers. Ibn Khaldoun hypothesized that a strong sense of culture could maintain a society’s strength. Religion could be one factor that strengthens this cohesiveness.

In 1382, Ibn Khaldoun left North Africa for Mecca, as part of the pilgrimage. He never made this destination. Failing health and his growing academic reputation forced him to remain in Cairo, where he accepted a post at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Here he finished the other volumes of the history of the Berbers, while serving as a diplomat and negotiator in Damascus and Cairo. He died in 1406, and is buried in Cairo.

Alanna Nelson is a member of the Habiba Foundation board.

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Sabi Atteyih: Activist Businessman

By Sue Nelson and John Graf

Sabi Atteyih,took a 90 minute break from his 90-hour week to talk with us.
Sue asks: How did you come to begin Casbah, the restaurant.

“Good question – a question I ask myself,” he replied. “In 1997 I went back to finish school, and that creates a crossroads in one’s life. I started looking for things to do and found myself drawn back to the restaurant business. It is something that would definitely reward what I’ve done so far.”

“We all have the need to eat,” Sabi commented, citing the psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. “When I know what you eat, I have an understanding of something about your culture. I want to create that bridge where we’re one step closer to understanding each other – one step closer.”

Sabi was inspired to develop an interest in cooking from his Mother. We asked Sabi what his favorite dish from his childhood would be. Makloubah, which translates “upside down” was his childhood favorite and one he still makes. For this reason we have the recipe in our Taste of the Middle East on page four of this issue.

Sabi grew up in the restaurant business. He started in 1984 at his family’s restaurant, Lulus in Madison and served as a chef. Now as owner of Casbah Restaurant, “you learn bits of a lot of things,” he said. “I’m a plumber, an electrician, a baby-sitter, a cook and a social worker,” he explained. Sabi, who also has a private pilot’s license, also has a degree in graphic design and created the mural that adorns the Habiba Foundation’s Traveling Display.

Sabi, a Palestinian, was born in Kuwait and also lived in Syria. He is a Palestinian-American citizen who has been in the U.S. since 1981. Sabi says his Casbah restaurant and his other daily activities “put a face on what an Arab-American may look like. “Osama bin Laden is an Arab, and I am an Arab. But when you see him and see me, you see quite a contrast. The reaction to my being an Arab-American is subtle. But the relation to the food is ‘wow!’ I’m out to allow these bridges to continue. We must not allow one person to form the opinion of a whole people.”

Sabi mentioned that when he first came to the United States to attended Madison East High School that the questions he received were naïve, such as “Are there camels? And what do you dress like?” and “where do you live?” Sabi dressed during our interview in a t-shirt and jeans and said he was wearing those kinds of clothes when he lived in Syria for years before he came to this country.

Keeping tabs on a lively restaurant seven days a week is a huge job. We wondered: Sabi, why do you also have Cooking the Casbah— the television show?

“Being a people person myself, and with the interest in food, I wanted to focus more on the kitchen, selling myself as a chef and started teaching mini-course cooking classes.” The classes at the University of Wisconsin include the preparation of six-course Mediterranean meals by “Chef Sabi”.

That led to the development of the “Cooking the Casbah” television the show and Sabi’s radio program on WORT Radio, which features Middle Eastern culture in all its splendid respects.

Sabi works on editing transitions, still shots and finds time to do web work for the program, which airs on ABC’s Madison Channel 27 every other Monday early in the morning and every Sunday at 9.a.m., Madison cable channels UPN 14 and Charter Main Street on Madison cable channel 18.

“We’re editing three shows at once,” for his “Cooking the Casbah” television program.

Sabi definitely has political views, and his restaurant business has a political significance.

“We’re only on this planet a short time,” he observed. “But we have the same needs. We’re blind to the effect we’re having on this planet, not just environmentally but politically. What are we saying to kids with the hate and war that exists in the world?”

Sabi’s radio program, which airs Sunday’s at 6 p.m. on WORT 89.9 FM covers diverse topics including music and, of course, a recipe of the day. A recent episode dealt with “the changing face of the Arab-American media.” The program features a calendar of events from California to New York. It also includes an Arab culture “trivial pursuit” game where Sabi asks the questions.

Sabi says “When I ask, which country’s flag has a red background with a five-sided green star in the middle, when we get a winner (it’s Morocco), I describe the food in Morocco, the country’s trade partners, its political system and election results, the weather there or it’s highest peak.”

“I’m trying to show, ‘here is an Arab-American,’ through the restaurant, the show, or just saying ‘I’m Sabi, and I’m a Palestinian-American,” Sabi said, adding, “I’ve been here so long, I don’t know where I’m from.

Like Sabi, Helen Thomas (White House correspondent), Ralph Nader (attorney and citizen activist) and Paula Abdul (entertainer) – all are Arab-Americans who contribute to our American culture.

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Who is Queen Noor?

She is the Grace Kelly of the Woodstock generation; she was an American-born beauty who won the heart of a King. Her intelligence, grace and commitment won the love of her adopted people and respect worldwide.

Born Lisa Halaby, Queen Noor of Jordan became an international figure with her marriage to King Hussein on June 15, 1978. In just four years, she had gone from being a cheerleader at Princeton to Queen of an Islamic, Middle-Eastern country. Queen Noor found that actually becoming a queen was much more difficult than being named one. But as Middle-Eastern scholars, reporters and friends reveal, she made the transformation successfully. In fact, by the time of the Gulf War, she was an articulate voice for Jordanian policy. In far-ranging, candid interviews, the Queen talks about her integration into Jordanian society, the causes she embraced and the barriers she had to overcome, and the fairy tale romance that ended with the death of her husband early in 1999. Despite the death of her husband she legally retains the title of queen.

In Jordan, Queen Noor initiates, directs, and sponsors projects and activities which respond to specific national needs in the areas of education, women and children's welfare, integrated community development, human rights, environmental and architectural conservation, culture, and public architecture and planning. She is actively involved in several international organizations that address global challenges in these fields.

In 1985 the Noor Al Hussein Foundation (NHF) was established to consolidate the administration of the Queen's diverse and expanding development initiatives. The Foundation initiates and supports national, regional, and international projects in the fields of integrated community development, women and gender, children's welfare and family health, enterprise development, education, and heritage. NHF programs have successfully advanced and modernized development thinking in Jordan by progressing beyond traditional charity-oriented social welfare practices to integrate social development strategies more closely with national economic priorities, especially through the empowerment of women. NHF projects promote individual and community self-reliance, grass-roots participation in decision making and project implementation, equal opportunity with special emphasis on the empowerment of women, and international co-operation. All NHF innovative projects are designed to be locally sustainable and replicable throughout Jordan and other countries in the region.

Queen Noor is an active patron of several national institutions working in the areas of women's welfare, child development, health, humanitarian relief work, environmental and archaeological conservation and protection, the arts, aviation, and athletics.

The Queen is the president of the United World Colleges (UWC), a network of 10 equal-opportunity international colleges around the world that aim to foster cross-cultural understanding and global peace. She is chair of the advisory board of the Center of the Global South at American University, which examines critical issues affecting the poorer developing countries of the world, as well as the chair of the advisory committee for the United Nations University International Leadership Academy in Amman, which is the first global leadership training facility as well as the first UN institution to be initiated and established in the Middle East. The Queen is a trustee of the Mentor Foundation, which works in collaboration with organizations involved in the prevention of substance abuse among the young at the grass-roots level.

She is patron of Landmine Survivors Network (LSN), the first international organization created by landmine survivors for landmine survivors. LSN serves on the steering committee of the Nobel Prize winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and chairs the first global task force on victim assistance.

(This information is from various sources including NHF)

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Who are the King and Queen of Jordan?

His Majesty King Abdullah II is the 43rd generation direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. King Abdullah II assumed his constitutional powers as Monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on February 7th, 1999, the day his father, the late King Hussein, passed away.

Born in Amman on January 30th, 1962, King Abdullah II is the eldest son of His Majesty the Late King Hussein and Her Royal Highness Princess Muna Al Hussein. He began his primary education at the Islamic Educational College in Amman, and later attended St. Edmund's School in Surrey, England. For his secondary education, he attended Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy in the United States of America.

In 1982, King Abdullah II attended Oxford University where he completed a one-year Special Studies course in Middle Eastern Affairs.

Since his accession to the throne, King Abdullah II has continued his late father's commitment to creating a strong and positive moderating role for Jordan within the Arab World, and has worked towards the establishment of a just and lasting comprehensive solution to the Arab- Israeli conflict. King Abdullah II is committed to building on the late King's legacy to further institutionalize democratic and political pluralism in Jordan, and has displayed a strong commitment to ensuring sustainable levels of economic growth and social development aimed at improving the standard of living of all Jordanians.

Under his reign, Jordan was admitted to the World Trade Organization, and ratified agreements for the establishment of a Free Trade Area with the United States of America, the European Union, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, and sixteen Arab countries.

King Abdullah II has been actively and personally involved in the drive for national administrative reform, as well as governmental transparency and accountability. He has been tirelessly working on the advancement of civil liberties making Jordan one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East. He has also been vigorously involved in enacting the necessary legislation that guarantee women a full role in the Kingdom's socio-economic and political life.

King Abdullah II married Queen Rania on June 10th, 1993. The Royal Couple have one son, Prince Hussein, born on June 28th, 1994, and two daughters, Princess Iman, born on September 27th, 1996, and Princess Salma, born on September 26th, 2000. He has four brothers and six sisters. While King Abdullah and Queen Rania reign, Queen Noor retains the honorary title of Queen.

King Abdullah II holds a number of decorations from various countries. He is a qualified frogman, pilot and a free-fall parachutist.

This information comes from Jordanian official information.


Queen Rania

Queen Rania is a champion for women and children's rights. She has founded numerous charities.

Queen Rania launched the Global Endowment for the Poor, which will make very small business loans, or “micro-loans,”to poor people in developing countries. “Small loans on a local level to individuals add up to big changes globally for millions of people,” the queen said. Queen Rania, age 31, is the wife of Jordan's monarch, King Abdullah II.

A doctor's daughter, she was born in Kuwait on 31 August 1970. She went to primary and secondary school in Kuwait, then earned a degree in Business Administration from the American University in Cairo.

She met her future husband at a dinner party in January 1993. Two months later, they were engaged and by June they were married. The king and queen now have three children.

When King Abdullah Bin al-Hussein and Queen Rania al-Abdullah ascended the throne in 1999, they brought a more populist approach to the Jordanian monarchy.

The royal couple have eschewed palace surroundings in favor of a suburban home outside Amman.

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Yousef: Profile of a Tunisian

By Alanna Nelson

Yousef Mejri works with special foreign visitors to Tunisia. As a park guard at Ichkeul National Park, he greets both international and Tunisian bird watchers to the largest remaining wetland in North Africa. Yousef also spends a fair bit of time protecting other park visitors—the 250,000 waterfowl who stop each fall and spring at Ichkeul. The birds feed and regroup after crossing the Mediterranean before flying over the Sahara desert.

Emma and Yousef Mejri outside their home n Ichkeul Park.
Yousef takes his job seriously. Born and raised at Jebel (Mt.) Ichkeul, he feels fortunate to have a steady paying job near his home. Lack of materials and equipment can be frustrating, especially as guards trudge through the marshes, searching for poachers.

Things are looking better in some aspects, though. After writing appeals to the Ministry of Agriculture about the long hours, low pay and no benefits, the status of all of Ichkeul's park guards has improved. The guards are no longer considered “day workers,” and are now eligible for social security benefits. The guards also receive uniforms for work.

At home, Yousef and his wife Emma recently plastered the roof and walls of their thatch home. The whitewashed walls peek from behind the fence of the small compound they share with another family. The Mejris raise chickens and a few goats. A favorite meal is hard boiled eggs with “tabouna,” a flat, round bread Emma makes at home. Strong green tea sweetened with fresh mint from the garden is the essential way to finish any meal. Tea is also a midmorning and afternoon drink

Yousef hasn't had the opportunity to drink much tea with Americans. Very few ever come to the park. The majority of park visitors and researchers are from Europe, and speak French, not Arabic. Yousef did meet two American researchers, though, who spoke Arabic to varying degrees. The foreigner he remembers the most was from England. The man gave him a business card before he left for three days of backpacking. Yousef has it still.

Alanna Nelson is a board member of the Habiba Chaouch Foundation. Her observation of life in Tunisia are a result of her yearlong residence in that country.