With a break in the gales over Britian and the overcast weather breaking into a bright, sunny day, I took the opportunity to walk to SOAS, where the conversation would take place, and pass through the British Museum on my way to hear them.
Hidden in the museum’s Sir Percival David Collection I found a Ming Dynasty ceramic, which shows the reach of the Arab language and, as a result, Arab world. It’s a piece that may have been a prayer focus for a Muslim at the Ming court.
Deeper inside the Museum I cam across the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World where I found a piece to get me in the mood for Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s overview, a rather splendid Yemeni Jambiyya. Its sheath is covered in gilded filigree, while the fantastic belt is leather with silk and silver embroidery.
Tim’s talk was well attended and though to help promote his book, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone already had a copy. He was remarkably a character in the book about Yemen by Eric Hansen ‘Motoring with Mohammed’ (under a pseudonym Martin Plimsole) in which he was portrayed as a connoisseur of the rituals and chewing of Qat.
He still is and noted that the leaf was listed as a narcotic in Britain by Theresa May, who went against the advice of here own expert advisers and banned it. One particular reminiscence I enjoyed was Tim recounting a
visit he made to the home of a family in Mali, whose ancestors also hosted the Arab traveller Ibn Battuta. Almost 700 years ago Ibn Battuta made a journey through the Arab’s lands, aided by their common language and religion, and onto China in which Arabic was already a language of trade.