Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Lessons from Baghdad's past and Sharjah's present

This is perhaps the best time to be in the Gulf right now. And coming from a warm region, the colder it is the better for me. I just can’t have enough of this magical, absolutely rejuvenating weather, forever talking about it with anyone who cares to listen. The air is incredibly sweet and pure. And to live it and breathe in it all seems like the greatest blessing nature could offer one. I am not very religiously inclined but right now I feel like bowing my head in total submission and thank Him for all His precious gifts.

But not everyone appears to enjoy the nature in its full glory and breathtaking splendor. Some can still manage to come up with enough excuses to endlessly grumble and whine about the ways of the world in general and the weather in particular. They huff and puff and sniffle as they complain of cold weather conditions, fog and even the divine breeze flowing from up north and across the Gulf. They almost long for the humid and oppressive weather conditions of an Arabian summer as they go on and on about their wretched flu and all sorts of allergies and diseases that the Arab spring conspires to bring them every year.

And I feel nothing but pity for them. Do they realise what they are missing? Okay, it is a bit chilly perhaps for the thin-skinned and overly sensitive. But it’s not cold-cold as in a depressing English or European winter with overcast, gloomy skies. These low temperatures in the Middle East go with a warm and bright sunlight. This morning when I went down to pick up my phone, forgotten as usual in my car, the burst of sunshine outside took my breath away. It was another clear and bright day with a light breeze caressing those fortunate enough to be up and about, instead of being chained to their desks.
More important, Sharjah has resisted the reckless, blind development and growth that came with the dawn of the oil era in most Gulf countries. In its quest for a balanced growth, it has remained faithful to its Islamic identity and Arab traditions even as it has actively encouraged the pursuit of knowledge and arts and culture. Perhaps, it is because Sharjah’s ruler is himself an accomplished poet, historian and holder of a PhD from a distinguished British university.

Perhaps it’s a stretch but I find in the contemporary Sharjah – and the UAE to some extent – the echoes of the 8th century Baghdad under the legendary Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid–the land of the thousand and one tales, the land of Scheherazade. Those were the times when the Muslim civilization was at its peak and Baghdad had been the greatest city on earth, not just the capital of the most powerful and richest empire of the time but also a great centre of scientific learning and knowledge, home to Dar Al Hikmah, the House of Wisdom founded by Harun al-Rashid that functioned as a research centre and library, in addition to translating the best and brightest minds from around the world, including from ancient Greece and India, into Arabic. That treasure trove of learning played a critical role in both the Islamic Golden Age and the European Renaissance. Whatever happened to that craving for knowledge that drove the Arabs to far corners of the world? There are lessons to be drawn from Baghdad’s past and Sharjah’s present.

Aejaz Zaka Syed in The News. Here

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