The week has started with a decidedly Spring like atmosphere, sunny, the snow is going fast what little there is left of it, the river is ice free and the breeze is gentle again. It is March break so the city is quiet, people are away. As I clean the book shelves I am rediscovering books I had forgotten about. I read them some time ago and they have been sitting on the shelf since, we also have a lot of brochures and maps of places we visited. Some books are scholarly, some where written many decades ago, I have a few rescued from the Embassy of Canada Library in Baghdad, Iraq. The Chancery was closed a long time ago and our embassies do not have libraries anymore. The books either given away or thrown away in a clean up effort.
One book is entitled, A short account of Early Muslim Architecture by Professor Sir K.A.C. Creswell, C.B.E. (1879-1974) and published by Librairie du Liban. He went to the Levant in 1916 with the Royal Flying Corps and took an interest in Islamic architecture in what is today Syria, then British occupied territories after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, he was then transferred to Palestine. He conceived a project for a book on Muslim architecture of Egypt and King Fouad was his patron. He was appointed professor to the University of Egypt, later he became the chair of Muslim Architecture at the American University in Cairo. The book jacket has an old aerial picture probably 1920 of the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo built in 876 by Ahmad Ibn Tulun, Governor of Egypt of the Abbasid Calif, it is one of my very favourite for its Samarran style architecture, quiet, austere.
Aerial view of Ibn Tulun in old Cairo.
The book is very interesting, Creswell gives a lot of details on who the architects were and the style Abbasid or Fatimid, the two great dynasties of early Islamic era, the masonry work, the plans and decorations all of it in geometric forms which the Arabs developed into an art form since the Third Commandment forbids making graven images of God (Allah) Exodus 20:4-6 Cairo has many great Mosques with intricate architecture, these Mosque were built before the era of the great Cathedrals of Europe, so it gives you an idea of their age.
Creswell belongs to that era of the erudite scholar who gave the English speaking world an introduction to various subjects, all part of the Imperial project, the French, the Germans will do the same in their respective empires.
The other book titled Uneasy lies the head by King Hussein of Jordan (1935-1999) an autobiography published by Bernard Geis Associates in 1962, this book was written when His Majesty was still young and was distributed in the case of the copy I have by the Hashemite Kingdom’s Ambassador to the UN, Abdul Monem Rifai. The book has two invitation carton glued, one to a reception at the UN and the other to another reception given by the Commissioner General of the Jordanian Pavilion to the World’s Fair in New York, May 1964. I do not know who those two cartons were intended for.
King Hussein starts by telling us about his grandfather King Abdullah I Prince of the Hejaz, King of Jordan and Protector of the Noble Sanctuary (1882-1951) who was assassinated in Jerusalem on his way to prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque a 35-acre compound referred to as al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, it is also known as the Temple Mount by Jews. The compound lies in the Old City of Jerusalem, which has been designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, and is important to the three Abrahamic religions. Hussein was next to his grandfather when the assassin hit. He was saved because the bullet hit one of his medals and ricochet. Just a few days prior in Amman, Riad El-Solh the first Prime minister of Lebanon after independence was assassinated. Many decades later I worked with his grand son Abdel Mawla El-Solh in Cairo and Khartoum at the UNHCR.
At the time of writing of the book Hussein was married to Toni (Muna) Gardiner of Ipswich, UK. They met on the set of Lawrence of Arabia in 1961 where she worked as a secretary and the King was visiting, his own soldiers were extras in the movie. In 1996 at the Saint Andrew’s Ball in Amman, I danced with her, she is a very nice lady.
In his book there is a photo of his young son Abdullah as a baby, Princess Muna and King Hussein had 4 children, he writes my son and heir, however when Abdullah was born in 1962 because of the difficult situation in the Middle-East the consensus in the family was for Hussein’s brother Hassan to be named Crown Prince, a role he will play until a month before King Hussein’s death in 1999, when suddenly Abdullah will be named Crown Prince by his father.
The King also writes about the numerous plots against him throughout the years, by the President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser and the President of Syria Hafez Al-Assad, the father of the current President, of the horrible murder of his relatives in Iraq in a coup, his cousin King Faisal II and the entire family where shot in the Palace court yard by agents of President Nasser of Egypt and rebel Iraqi Officers. It makes for great reading and having lived in Jordan for a few years, I got to know some of the actors.
King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan, 1935-1999