Letter from Damascus

One of our Syrian partners and colleagues sent us this description of his today’s life in Damascus.

Syria is called “The Cradle of Civilizations”; or as one French scholar put it: “Everyone has two nationalities: one of his own motherland and that of Syria”. 

This speaks of itself about Syria, the impact of which made a lot of people from all over the globe to come and visit this beautiful and charming country. They wanted to learn from the Syrians, to see the alphabet they’ve presented to the world in Mari, to enjoy the charms of Palmyra, Crac des Chevaliers, Apamea, Busra among many others. Syria of today suffers, and it makes your heart bleed seeing massive of people coming to Syria now, not to enjoy Syria but to destroy it. I wonder Why? Instead of leading tourist groups around this beautiful country to enjoy the deeply rooted culture, ruins, places of attractions and wonders, you see groups of fighters killing each other nonstop and each one believes that he is on the right side and the other one is not, so he should be killed. Where is coexistence and tolerance which prevailed in this country for thousands of years? Or has this become strange words? They totally disappeared from the Syrian dictionary. Damascus is famous for the white jasmine, serenity and love. This had turned 180 degrees into red blood, unrest and hatred. Alas, my home town to be the nest for ethnical fighting.

The Syrians deserve better live. They do not like the sight of blood, feeling unsafe and fearing to be arrested for nothing but being a Syrian wishing to be free and to live in dignity and to enjoy self respect. This is the “abc” of living for all people -.so why the Syrians are not allowed to have it? Every morning leaving home coming into town, I look out for the dark smoke coming from all around the city and almost weep for this sight. As if chimneys coming out of lovely Damascus polluting its air and darkening its sky. Every time I leave home I wonder if I will come back to my family or not. Over two years passed now with no solution in the horizon. On the contrary, it gets complicated day by day and the whole world seems to enjoy it saying f— them all. Excuse my French but that’s really how it is.

When the Syrians started calling for freedom and the right to live the lives they deserve, they did this in peaceful means for over nine months before turning it into an armed movement. This switch was only to defend themselves, homes and families. The answer was a very brutal and bloody way calling the Syrians gangsters, intruders, opium takers and demonstrating for money.  Who pays more will be our boss. This kind of people does not present to the world the rich culture and be called the watchers of the cradle of civilizations do they? Wake up and read the history.

Almost 100.000,– documented killed, 120.000, went missing, 200.000,– are arrested and almost half of the Syrian population of 23 million are either refugees or asylum seekers. The infrastructure is totally destroyed, the Syrian pound is now over 150 for the dollar when it was around 45 before the crisis had started. At every traffic light little children, men and women are begging for a loaf of bread. According the last statistic of the UN every third Syrian is now in urgent need for a humanitarian aid. You start your day by a queue at the checkpoint. These checkpoints are another history which I do not need to tell.  They are selected rude, junkies and heartless lot. I have personally calculated a check point every 200 meter. Another queue at the petrol station, another one for bread, gas, sugar…..etc and the count does not stop. Damascus used to be called “The city that never sleeps” now at almost 17h00 you find the streets almost deserted apart from cap drivers who are mostly informers.   

All the walls of Damascus are filled by pro Assad slogans which hurts your feeling such as Alla is in Heaven for worship and Bashar is in earth for leadership. Take this one: Assad or we burn the country, we are the men of God. Does not this provoke you? Comparing Bashar to God especially at the checkpoints and you are forced to smile at them and bend your head.  What is missing the Syrians now is the Hezbolla Militia and the Iraqi ones who want to avenge the assassination of Hussein on the hands on the Syrians during the Umayyad dynasty. They consider all the Sunnis as their enemies and by SLAUGHTERING of a Sunni will expedite the release of their so called “Imam Mahdi”. 

Traffic transports ceases at ca. 15h00. You do not stop hearing shelling and bombing 24/7 wondering when is your turn for a one to fall on you and your family.  But I assure you that this will not prevent the Syrians to call for freedom and justice. Our patience came to an end. Not for our sake but for the sake of our children, grandchildren and the beloved ones.

I am sure that Syria will always be the cradle of civilizations and the candle which burns to light the path to the others.

By the way, I’m not an activist or anything but just a regular Syrian opening his heart and wants his voice to be heard.

N.B.: A joke on the face book, an old lady took the bus home which was over crowded and non of the young people gave their seat to her. She shouted: you paid only 10 pound for this chair so how do you expect Bashar to give his away easily. They all burst laughing and this is a true story.



Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah trip to Sicily

The Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (Kuwait City) is a non-profit cultural organisation based on The al-Sabah Collection of art from the Islamic world. In addition to the collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah organises a variety of educational programmes including a lecture series featuring speakers from leading universities, museums and cultural organisations around the world, workshops for children between the ages of 6 and 18, a docents programme and international cultural expeditions.

Last April a group organised by Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah visited the “Siculo Norman Art” MWNF Tour in Sicily.


Islam in Spain: Mudejares, Mozarabes and MWNF

By Mikel Gonzalez, Madrid – Spain

Let´s picture the Mediterranean as a vast museum, and the countries surrounding it´s shores as it´s galleries. Museum With no Frontiers idea is as simple, and as exciting, as that, and the exhibition program focuses in one common aspect: most of the involved countries share an Islamic past and still preserve beautiful buildings (let´s call them “museum pieces”) just waiting to be discovered by the discerning traveller. As for my country, Spain, the al-Andalus of poets like Al-Batalyawsî, Abû-l-Baqâ’Salah al-Rondî or Ibn al-Kûtîyya, it definitely hides one of the most amazing arrays of religious and civil buildings to be found in Southern Europe. For seven centuries most of the actual territory covering Spain and Portugal (al-Gharb al-Andalus, remember the “Algarve” region in our neibouring country) was the proud possession of the Ommeyad and Abbasi khalifs, and artists and architects from Damascus and Bagdad planted the seed of what would soon become a huge and self-inspired construction program. Mozarabes (Christians allowed to work for the Muslim lords) and Mudejares (mudayyan, “those allowed to stay” in the Iberian peninsula after the completion of the christian Reconquist) developed their own styles, so delicate and original that the Unesco decided to protect them as World Heritage. And if everyone knows the lavish Alhambra (al-Hamra, “the red one”) in Granada or the unbelievable Great Mosque (jamma al-Masjid, or “aljama” as we say) nested in Cordoba, few are still the curious travellers willing to skip battered fields and venture into Teruel to amaze themselves with fantastic Mudejar “skyscrapers”, or see the humble old ice-deposits of Valdealgorfa (al-Gurfa). With thousands of Arabic origin words in our language, Spaniards are sometimes not that conscious of the enormous amount of gratitude we ow to our Islamic forefathers: they enriched our vocabulary, defined our urban and rural landscape for centuries, and gifted us with distinctive poetry, science, traditions, art and architecture. MWNF trails offer a unique opportunity to discover this legacy of hidden treasures.

Cultural Tours the MWNF Way

By Mandi Gomez, London – United Kingdom

The recently launched Museum With No Frontiers (MWNF) Travel portal offers a travel experience like no other for groups of seven or more people, delivers unique insight into various areas of cultural interest, and exemplifies responsible travel. Each of the tours offered in the 2009–10 programme focuses on a specific theme of Islamic Art in the Mediterranean within North Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe, and features a selection of art and architecture seldom seen on the tourist trail and not commonly presented in most travel guides or tour programmes.

The relevant thematic guide is available in print or as an e-book for travellers to peruse beforehand. They are based on the MWNF Exhibition Trail format where instead of moving the works of art, it is the visitor who moves around to discover monuments, archaeological sites and artefacts at museums within their natural environment. Researched and written by local scholars, Islamic history is told from the local perspective, an ethos upheld by the MWNF Travel platform.

All MWNF tour guides are qualified to at least degree level in the subject of the tour and are expert in the local history of the area. Unusually, MWNF publishes the names of its local partner travel agents, taking a small commission from all tours sold. This income is reinvested to manage and sustain the world’s largest online Museum (www.discoverislamicart.org), which in itself is an extraordinary free resource for academics, students and the intelligent reader alike.

MWNF demonstrates a dedication to inclusive, responsible travel in other ways too. It has devised and overseen various conservation initiatives in the countries concerned, and augmented and supplied signage to provide information about various monuments and sites. In doing this, it has given back visibility and significance to many of them and successfully secured funding and attracted publicity to support further conservation projects.

Importantly, therefore, MWNF has been successful in invigorating a forgotten or at least a depleted cultural pride in some areas. MWNF promotes local heritage: monuments and archaeological sites, museums and their collections, juxtaposing the very well known among them with the less prominent. By presenting cultural heritage in this way, MWNF allows unique insight into the subject of Islamic Art.

MWNF will inspire you whichever doorway you choose to enter it from: whether it’s through reading one of the thematic guides, via the Virtual Museum or in person on a MWNF Travel tour.

The Splendour and Magic of the Sultans

By MWNF Egypt

The classical historian Herodotus described Egypt as “the gift of The Nile”, for without the irrigation provided by the waters of Africa’s greatest river, Egypt would have no agriculture. On reaching Cairo, the river forms the Nile Delta, the most populous and representative of her regions. As such, the Delta has always been closely associated with the countries of the Mediterranean, and , in turn, has maintained unbroken contact with her neighbours.

Following her conquest by ‘Amr Ibn al-‘As in 20 AH/640 AD, Egypt ceased to be part of the Eastern Empire and would find her identity within the greater Islamic State. With the exception of the times in which she achieved independence, such as under the Tulunids and the Ikhshidids, Egypt was to remain a dependent province of the Caliphates of Medina, Damascus and Baghdad. In the Ayyubid era the Sultan al-Malik al-Salih began the acquisition of young Turkish slaves destined to form the elite personal guard of the sultans. These were the soldier-slaves (mamluk), who would bring down the Ayyubid dynasty. During the reign of Mamluk sultans (648/1250-922/1517), Egypt was to become a great power.

Islamic art in Egypt reached its peak during the era of the Mamluk Sultans. They took advantage of ‘s enormous cultural legacy in order to develop their arts. Consequently, highly skilled Mamluk artisans and artists adopted all that was unique to Egypt’s own heritage and worked masterfully with the abundant materials available to them.

They were to find inspiration for their craftsmanship in artistic themes from different cultures, above all from their own Mamluk homelands. During this period their perfectly constructed buildings brought together harmony of theme in delicately finished works of art of unprecedented quality.