Category Archives: Member News

Tribal Dynamics and Nation Building in Yemen

najwaisa

On February 5, 2020 Najwa Adra, a Visitor at the School for Social Sciences of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, will give a talk in the  Near Eastern Studies Seminar on “Tribal Dynamics and Nation Building in Yemen.”

The meeting will be from 4:00-6:00 pm in the West Seminar room at IAS. All are welcome.

For details, click here: https://www.hs.ias.edu/islamic-world/events

Passing of Abbas Hamdani

AHamdani
Prof. Abbas Hamdani

AIYS is saddened to hear of the passing of Prof. Abbas Hamdani, who made substantial contributions to the study of the Ismaili community in Yemen, on December 23, 2019.

Below is a tribute from George Mason University:

Condolences from AVACGIS to the Family of Professor Abbas Hamdani

Dear Friends,

We are sorry to share the news that Dr. Sumaiya Hamdani’s father, Dr. Abbas Hamdani, passed away.      Dr. Sumaiya Hamdani shared that he passed in comfort, and was at home with family. Please join us in extending condolences and sympathies to Dr. Sumaiya Hamdani. Her e-mail address is shamdani@gmu.edu

In lieu of flowers, Dr. Abbas Hamdani wished for family and friends to donate to either Doctors without Borders or the United Nations Relief Works Agency.

Here is some information about Dr. Abbas Hamdani adapted from his faculty page at the Institute for Ismaili Studies:

Dr. Hamdani was Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  He was born in Surat, India in 1926, received his B.A. (Hons.) and L.L.B. degrees from Bombay University in 1945 and 1947 and his Ph.D. from the University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) in 1950, in Arabic and Islamic Studies. He taught Islamic History at the University of Karachi from 1951-62; at the American University in Cairo from 1962-69; and at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee until his retirement in 2001.
Dr. Hamdani published widely on medieval Islamic philosophical thought.  His academic honors include a Fellowship from the Fulbright Commission and the American Research Centre in Egypt, and an award for distinction in Teaching, Service, and the promotion of Peace from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  He spoke several languages (English, Arabic, French, Urdu, Gujrati) and travelled widely, attending and speaking at conferences in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, North Africa, Australia, and Asia.  He recently donated around 300 manuscripts inherited through seven generations of his family to the Institute of Ismaili Studies, which has been catalogued in the IIS publication Arabic, Persian and Gujarati Manuscripts: The Hamdani Collection.

An obituary from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is published here.

Yemen at American Historical Association

Three members of AIYS will be presenting at the AHA annual meeting in New York City this coming Monday.

Late Breaking: Understanding the Conflict in Yemen Through History

Monday, January 6, 2020: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM

Trianon Ballroom (New York Hilton, Third Floor), NYC

Chair:
Les Campbell, National Democratic Institute
Panel:
Bernard Haykel, Princeton University
Gregory Johnsen, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies
Asher Orkaby, Transregional Institute, Princeton University
Khlood al-Hagar, National Endowment for Democracy

Session Abstract

The ongoing civil war in Yemen is synonymous with a growing humanitarian crisis and a sectarian rivalry between Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and Shi’is in Iran. Underlying the difficult photos of starving Yemeni children and cities succumbing to widescale destruction is a conflict rooted in Yemen’s history. The modern state of Yemen, first founded in September 1962 has been reduced to a few hotel rooms in Riyadh, while northern tribesmen representing a bygone and racist social and political hierarchy have taken over the capital city of Sana’a. The “civil war” does not feature opportunistic groups searching for prominence in a fractured political structure in Yemen, but rather consists of groups representing centuries of geographic, religious, ideological, and cultural identities that constitute the very fabric of South Arabian history.

Yemen, however, does not exist in a vacuum. A local change of government in Sana’a has drawn regional and international powers into the political strife, dragging a national struggle into the international arena. The relative dearth of Yemen area specialists has presented both an opportunity and responsibility for historians and other academics to lend their expertise to governments, think tanks, and the general public audience as they struggle to make sense of current events in Yemen. Seldom do historians have an opportunity to reach audiences of thousands, let alone hundreds of thousands, eager to learn about decades and centuries of Yemeni history. Seldom do historians have an opportunity to make history themselves, by applying their historical expertise to a contemporary conflict and playing a role in bringing about a peaceful resolution.This panel features experts on Yemen’s religious, social, and political history. Each panelist will present a historical perspective on a particular aspect of the Yemen conflict and discuss how they have been able to translate their academic expertise to the policy field and to a wider public audience. The panel will also be an opportunity to demonstrate the power of Applied History and how the history classroom can be transferred to real world conflicts.

Passing of Merilyn Phillips Hodgson

merilyn_steps
Merilyn Phillips Hodgson
(photograph from AFSM website)

Dear friends,
It is with great sorrow that we share the news of the passing of Merilyn Phillips Hodgson on Sunday, December 29, 2019 at her home in Falls Church, Virginia.
Merilyn’s passion for Yemen and its people began after taking over the leadership of the American Foundation for the Study of Man following the death of her brother, Wendell Phillips.
Through her commitment to the archaeology and cultural heritage of Yemen, she introduced great opportunities for scholars to participate and work in one of the most famous archaeological sites in Yemen at Awam Temple/ Mahram Bilqis.  We at the American Foundation for the Study of Man will honor her legacy and continue exploring, working and supporting Yemen and its culture.
Those of us that have had the privilege of enjoying her company will miss her greatly.  May she rest in peace and may your memories of spending time with her bring a smile.

On behalf of the American Foundation of the Study of Man,
Zaydoon Zaid
________________________________
Dr.-Ing. Zaydoon Zaid
Director and Vice-president
American Foundation For the Study of Man
Falls Church, VA 22042
703 241 3780
703 303 9640 (cell)

Welcome Tarek and Waleed

AIYS is pleased to announce that Tarek al-Wazir and Waleed Mahdi have been elected as Directors-at-Large to the AIYS Board of Directors. We welcome their insights for our work in promoting scholarship on Yemen, especially by our colleagues in Yemen.

Below are the statements that both made while standing for election:

Tarek
Tarek al-Wazir

Since 1999 I have been affiliated with the Yemen Heritage & Research Center (YHRC) in Tysons Corner, Virginia and currently serve as its local director and liaison to the main center in Sana’a, Yemen. My interest in Yemen naturally springs from it being my motherland and Sana’a my birth place. I have helped organize seminars for YHRC about Yemen in Washington, DC, two panels at previous MESA conferences, co-sponsored another at the University of Exeter, assisted scholars in their research locally
and their field visits to Yemen, attended and participated in numerous round-tables, workshops, panels, seminars about Yemen in the U.S. and Europe, co-sponsored art and folkloric exhibits at local schools, established cordial relationships between YHRC and AIYS and the French Center in Sana’a. I have also responded to think tank queries and arranged Yemeni history and information sessions. I hope that there will be a real opening for some peace in Yemen before the end of this year, so that crucial field work cannbe resumed. This should be a focus of AIYS. I urge AIYS to channel scholarship on Yemen to promote its unique varied identities and cultures and within Yemen to seek out intellectuals from different
backgrounds to cover the rich tapestry of the land.

mahdi pic

Waleed Mahdi

My name is Waleed F. Mahdi. I am assistant professor in the University of Oklahoma, with join affiliation in the Department of International and Area Studies and the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics. My research, which lies at the intersection of area studies and ethnic studies, explores issues of identity and agency in US-Arab cultural politics and Arab American studies. I am currently focusing on Yemen as part of my contribution to a three-year, multi-institutional research collaboration that examines the 2011 Arab revolutionary public spheres. In addition to publishing, my contribution will result in an online archive that exhibits the role of Yemeni cultural producers in reflecting and affecting the process of transformation at the time. Recently, I have initiated a new line of inquiry for a book project that examines Yemeni and Yemeni American critiques of the US deployment of technology in the Yemeni conflict (e.g., drones, radar systems, weapons, and mid-air fueling) or in policing Yemeni American communities (e.g., DNA tests, Muslim ban algorithms, and surveillance tools).

I am interested in serving as an AIYS Director-at-Large and helping with the institute’s growth through several proposals. First, there is a great potential for the AIYS to be more visible in academia beyond the MESA conference, especially in increasing networking among colleagues across the US and Europe to co-sponsor events, workshops, or symposia of relevance to Yemeni studies. Second, there is a possibility for the AIYS to develop collaborations with other academic organizations (e.g., the American Studies Association, Arab American Studies Association, and Association for Middle East Women’s Studies, etc.) by sponsoring thematic panels of interest to AIYS’s community. Third, I hope the AIYS will explore ways to ensure timely collection of membership dues and increase funding to support research through identifying relevant grants and reaching out to potential donors. As a Yemeni American academic with experience in Yemeni higher education system, I am interested in continuing AIYS’s mission as a consortium for learning in the capacity of my elected position.

Lecture on Rasulid map

danmaplecture

On Monday, October 21, AIYS President Dan Varisco gave a talk at the School for Historical Studies of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, on the maps in the early 8th/14th century Rasulid tax document entitled Irtifā‘ al-dawla al-Mu’ayyadiyya. The talk was introduced by Dr. Sabine Schmidtke of IAS and in attendance were guests Dr. Muhammad Gerhoum, Amb. Amatalalim Alsoswa and Prof. Peter Golden of Rutgers University, as well as members of the School for Historical Studies.

sabineamatmuh
left to right: Dr. Sabine Schmidtke, Dr. Muhammad Gerhoum and Amb. Amatalalim Alsoswa

AIYS at MESA 2019

AIYS will have two main panels at the annual MESA meeting in New Orleans this November. These are a Special Session: Politics and Prospects for Peace and Reconstruction in Yemen and a panel called From al-Hadi ila al-Haqq to Husayn al-Huthi: The Zaydi Phenomenon in Yemen
There will be an open-to-all AIYS Information Meeting on Friday, Nov. 15, 3:30-4:30pm, in 8-Endymion/Mid-City. Please plan to attend all these AIYS events.

Special Session: Politics and Prospects for Peace and Reconstruction in Yemen. Organized by Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Friday, 11/15/19 5:00pm

Participants: Jillian Schwedler, Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Salwa Dammaj, Danny Postel, Waleed Mahdi, Adam Hanieh
Abstract: After nearly five years, the effects of the war in Yemen – driven by local, regional, and global dynamics alike – have been fragmentary and highly localized.  The erosion of governance has invited partnerships of necessity (and sometimes of choice) with foreign powers, donor agencies, and private or semi-private firms and patrons.   One effect of these partnerships has been a “privatization of peace,” where the sources of insecurity vary widely in different parts of the country. This has broad implications for the experience of national belonging, the process of reconstruction, and the prospects for post–war peace.
This roundtable brings together scholars who approach this privatization at different scales. At the local level, participants will offer first-hand accounts of  dynamics of community self-organizating in Sana’a and discussion of a recent field study of women’s activism  in areas under Houthi and Coalition control,as well as the way the war’s fragmentation is reflected in and reproduced by humanitarian initiatives originating in the Yemeni diaspora. Participants will also address the regional politics of the GCC and its development of patronage ties to members of the Yemeni private sector engaged in reconstruction, and  recent political efforts in the United States and Europe to reorient policy toward the war in Yemen and build innovative forms of political solidarity.   Together, the roundtable contributors will show how the protracted nature of crisis in Yemen has created new opportunities for specific stakeholders, while rendering the prospect of a sustainable, negotiated peace at the national level more challenging.

From al-Hadi ila al-Haqq to Husayn al-Huthi: The Zaydi Phenomenon in Yemen
Panel P5406, Saturday, November 16, 2019 8:30am

Panel Abstract: The Zaydi sect has received attention lately due to the ongoing war in Yemen in which a Saudi coalition is fighting a local alliance of northern tribes, former military and a family known as the Huthis, a group that is reviving Zaydi Islam with influence from Iran. As a branch of the Shi‘a, the Zaydis take their inspiration from Zayd ibn ‘Ali, the fifth imam, who was killed while attempting to overthrow the Ummayad caliph in 122/740. Zaydism spread to several parts of the Islamic world, but its most lasting imprint was in Yemen. In 897 a descendant of ‘Ali named Yahya b. al-Husayn, and known as al-Hadi ila al-Haqq, established a local dynasty in northern Yemen that lasted, without ever having full control of what constitutes Yemen today, until 1962. This panel brings together scholars who work on the diverse span of Zaydi history in Yemen. One paper examines the views of four Zaydi scholars writing during the time of the Hadawi dominance in Yemen on an earlier Zaydi imam who had accepted a stipend from the Abbasid caliph, thus renouncing the call for armed rebellion. Another paper examines the challenge to Zaydi dominance in the north during the 12th through the 15th centuries by the invasion of the Ayyubids and succeeding dynasty of the Rasulid sultans. The first Rasulid sultan received the blessing of the caliph in Baghdad in order to fight the Zaydis. The Rasulid chronicles and Zaydi sources describe the battles and peace agreements between the two polities, including their rivalry for influence in Mecca. A third provides a focus on the present context with an analysis of the speeches of Husayn al-Huthi, who provides the basis for legitimizing religious rule in Yemen, especially for the Ahl al-Bayt. These speeches are the discursive backbone of Huthi rhetoric, which is spread widely in the media.  The final paper addresses the loss and destruction of manuscripts, largely from private and public Zaydi libraries, in Yemen’s north and efforts by NGOs to document the losses and assist in preservation. In all, the range of papers provides an introduction to a field of study which has received relatively little attention by Western scholars.

Making an Imam: The Rebellion of Yahya b. ‘Abd Allah in Zaydi Historiography
Najam Haider, Barnard College
The biography of the ‘Alid rebel Yahya b. ‘Abd Allah b. Hasan b. Hasan b. Abi Salib (d. 187/803) raises a number of important theological problems for Zaydi scholars. Yahya first appears as an ardent supporter of the failed rebellion of al-Sahib Fakhkh Husayn b. ‘Ali in 169/786.  His enthusiasm is contrasted with Musa al-Kasim’s (d. 184/800) (the 7th Twelver Shi‘i Imam) refusal to support the revolt and establishes his rightful claim to the Imamate from the perspective of later Zaydis.  This claim is furthered by Yahya’s actions after the collapse of the rebellion as he first sends his brother Idris (d. 175/791) to organize an uprising in North Africa and then leads his own revolt in Daylam around 176/791-2.  It is at this point that Yahya becomes more problematic for Zaydi scholars.  The complications arise with his decision to sign an agreement of safe-conduct (aman) with the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Rashid (r. 170-03/786-809).  According to most reports, Yahya remained free under the agreement for the eleven years and received a large caliphal stipend.  This development forced Zaydi scholars to account for an Imam who (apparently) renounced armed rebellion and came to terms with a tyrant in direct opposition to the Zaydi doctrine of the Imamate.  This paper explores how Zaydi scholars (operating at a time of Hadawi dominance in Yemen) remembered and/or justified Yahya’s Imamate.  The analysis specifically focuses on four Zaydi scholars:  Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi (d. late 3rd/9th century), al-Isbahani (d. 356/967), al-Natiq Yahya b. al-Husayn (d. 424/1033) and ‘Ali b. Bilal (fl. 5th/11th century).

Rasulid Sultans and Zaydi Imams: War (Mostly) and Peace (a Little) in Yemen during the 13th-15th centuries
Daniel Martin Varisco, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
This paper will address the relations between the two main polities in Yemen during the 13th-15th centuries: the Rasulid Sultans and the Zaydi Imams. After the last local Ayyubid sultan al-Malik al-Mas‘ud Yusuf left Yemen, an emir named Nur al-Din ‘Umar was left in charge, assuming a new dynasty known as the Rasulids in 626/1229. Calling himself al-Malik al-Mansur, the emir established his own power with the blessing of the caliph al-Mustansir, who accepted the new regime with a charge to battle the Zaydi imams entrenched in Yemen’s north. During the more than two centuries of Rasulid control in Yemen there were constant battles between the Shi‘a Zaydis and the Rasulids, who became predominantly Shafi‘i, but patronized all the Sunni schools. The bulk of Yemen’s population at the time was tribal, with shifting alliances and constant rebellions against the authority of both polities. Based in the southern highland capital of Ta‘izz and the coastal city of Zabid, the first three Rasulid sultans were largely successful in gaining a foothold in the northern highland homeland of the Zaydi imams and became rivals with the last Egyptian Ayyubids and early Bahri Mamluks for control of Mecca. The Rasulids were never able to gain complete control of Yemen’s diverse geographical zones; there are records of peace agreements with the imams and local tribal leaders. The primary Rasulid historical chronicles and biographical texts, such as the works of Ibn Hatim, al-Janadi and al-Khazraji reflect a Rasulid bias, so it is important to examine relevant Zaydi sources to have a more balanced view of the conflict between them. The Zaydi sources include biographies of the relevant imams of the period.

The Ahl al-Bayt’s Return to Power: The Legitimation of Religious Rule in the Speeches of Husayn al-Huthi in the Context of the Current Crisis in Yemen
Alexander Weissenburger, Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Since its inception in the early 2000s, the ideological outlook of the phenomenon that became known as the Huthi movement,has been shaped by the speeches of its founder Husayn al-Huthi. Until today, as the Huthis effectively control large parts of western Yemen, including the capital, these speeches constitute the discursive backbone of the movement’s rhetoric. While most of al-Huthi’s speeches revolve around his third-worldist interpretation of the impact of Western influence on Yemen and the wider Islamic world, he invested considerable effort into outlining the religious justification for the right of the descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima, the ahl al-bayt, to rule. The right for an Imam from among the ahl al-bayt to rule the umma is one of the core tenets of the Zaydi denomination of Shi’ite Islam to which the movement adheres. Since the al-Huthi family belongs to the ahl al-bayt, this would give them the opportunity to claim the Zaydi Imamate legitimately. While they never actually attempted that, Husayn al-Huthi repeatedly highlights not only the right, but in fact the responsibility of the ahl al-bayt to lead the umma.
The paper will explore Husayn al-Huthi’s ideas on the role of the ahl al-bayt in society and by extension his views on the Zaydi Imamate. The statements will be analysed in the light of the loss of status experienced by the ahl al-bayt after the fall of the Yemeni Imamate in 1962, as well as in the context of the movement’s takeover of core state institutions in 2015 and the consequent appointment of ahl al-bayt to key positions. The paper will thus contribute to a better understanding of the attraction the Huthi movement holds for certain parts of the Yemeni population and show how religio-political ideas attain a concrete political relevance by being employed to advance individual as well as collective political ambitions.

Discussant: Brinkley Messick, Columbia University