Fadel al-Rubai: Challenging the Myths of Orientalism

07Nov, 2011

By: Khalil Sweileh

Iraqi anthropologist and historian Fadel al-Rubai has produced a powerful body of work directly challenging orientalist interpretations of Arab and Muslim history and local Arab think tanks. Al-Akhbar talked to him about his controversial theories and future projects.

After many years of exile, Iraq intellectual and former communist Fadel al-Rubai finally settled in the Netherlands. His living near Leiden University Library, which contains thousands of anonymous Arabic manuscripts, encouraged him to examine ancient Arab history from an anthropological point of view. He found himself in front of a huge record filled with historical mistakes and sins. From that moment on, the author of The Funeral Dinner decided to reconstruct old Arabic narratives, focusing particularly on rectifying the history of Palestine.

Thus, he started his encyclopedic project with his book The Imagined Palestine: Land of the Torah in Old Yemen, in which he refuted orientalist theories of biblical Palestine. He used the story of the Babylonian enslavement of the Jews as a key to redesign the landscape of the area. He discovered that the enslavement took place in Yemen, not Palestine.
When asked about the sources for his controversial thesis, he referred to the old Hebrew Torah, historical inscriptions, pre-Islamic poetry, as well as al-Hamadani’s Sifat Jazeerat al-Arab (The Status of the Arabian Peninsula),which is one of the most important historical references, though long ignored. Al-Rubai states, “The geographical description of the region by al-Hamadani fully coincides with the texts of the Hebrew Torah.”

Al-Rubai excitedly asks, “Why don’t archaeologists and historians speak up on the Himyarite inscriptions that were discovered in Palestinian sites?” And responds: “This is because Arab history had been written by non-Arabs. The orientalist reading of the Torah, which reinforced false beliefs, eradicated Arab narratives. Thus, narratives by al-Tabari, al-Masoudi, and Ibn al-Atheer were rendered mythical narratives, which resulted in a derogatory view of the texts of Arabic narrators. My mission is to separate the mythical from the historical.”

The surprise does not end here. The author of Heroes Without History daringly says, “Give me one example in which old Jerusalem is mentioned in the Torah.” He notes that the city used to be called Ilia not Jerusalem. Therefore, there is no narrative text on Jerusalem prior to the Islamic conquest.

The Torah, according to what al-Rubai has documented, refers to old Jerusalem as located in Yemen and not in Palestine. He explains, “This is what the Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions have proven, for they refer to nine enslavement campaigns that took place in Yemen, not Palestine.” But why have historical narratives documented that the Babylonian enslavement incident as having occurred in Palestine?

Al-Rubai, who authored The Truth Behind the Babylonian Enslavement, says, “The reason lies in the monopoly over this tragic story, which was later used in the Holocaust narrative as a continuation of the historical persecution of the Jews, thus reinforcing their role as historical victims. All we need to do is to go back to the history of al-Tabari, which clearly mentions that Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion was of Yemen and not Palestine.”

Based on these controversial revelations, al-Rubai solidly concludes in his thesis that Judaism is an old Arabic religion, and the Torah is a Yemeni book. He also concludes that old Jerusalem is not present-day Jerusalem. It is located in Yemen and not Asir, as the late intellectual Kamal al-Salibi concluded in his book The Bible Came from Arabia.

Al-Rubai says, “I am not under the illusion that these ideas will prevail soon, given the presence of an enormous media power that dominates the historical narrative. It is enough to seek the documentation of our history from a critical perspective, away from the orientalist lie. Perhaps what Edward Said has accomplished in that regard has shaken this perception to a great extent.”

Al-Rubai is currently working on several projects: The Truth Behind the Babylonian Enslavement: Assyrian Campaigns on the Arab Peninsula and Yemen and The Golden Ghazal of Kaaba: Blood Relations in Islam. He is also putting the final touches on The Great Mourning, a book that examines the history of wailing and physical violence. In this book, al-Rubai dates the Ashura ritual’s origins to 5000BC in the “mourning of Tammuz and Ishtar in Mesopotamia, and Isis and Osiris in Pharonic Egypt.”

Al-Rubai explains, “This mourning is part of a wailing culture that has continued to this day. Thus it is not an innovation, the way some sects view it. The ritual of weeping on Tammuz later reached houses of worship and took different forms of expression.” Another book soon to be published is titled Isaf and Naila: The Myth of Eternal Love in Pre-Islam.

Al-Rubai is not optimistic that official Arab research centers will adopt his controversial ideas. He describes these centers as “a waste of time and effort.” He aspires to the emergence of an Arab anthropological school that abolishes orientalist theses by refuting their false statements and elaborating historical research paradigms at universities that shake present views of Islamic and Arab history.

The formation of the Intellectuals Against Forgery movement among a group of Arab anthropologists is the first attempt in this vein. Its mission is to found a critical discourse on the Torah and to launch a website that would become a space for debate and counter historiography.

Jerusalem "The Different History": Fadhil AL-Rubaiee, Bassam S.  Abu-Ghazlah: 9789082632002: Amazon.com: Books

In this book introduces the Arabic writer and historian, Fadhil Al-Rubaiee his theory about Jerusalem. His theory can be summarized in the following points: * The Old Testament (the Torah) in its Hebrew version does not say in any way that Jerusalem is al-Quds or was called al-Quds, nor there is any relationship between the two names. Hebrew texts have been used to support the author’s theory. * In its Hebrew version, the Old Testament clearly speaks of two separate places: one is a mountain and the other is a religious city. The Old Testament calls the mountain Qadas/Qadash (both letters “s” and “sh” are alternatively used in Hebrew.) The description of this mountain is clear in many books. The other place, which is a city, is named Jerusalem and is given a different description from that of the mountain. Therefore, it is illogical to think of the two places as one. * The author presents in this book a list of the Jewish Yemeni tribes that had been taken into the Babylonian captivity, together with what is related to them in the Hebrew text and the geography of Yemen, discovering the amazing identification with no change in names. * In this book, the author repeats what he had found in his previous works, namely that Judaism is but an ancient Arabian religion that had appeared in Yemen, where the Jewish kingdom had risen, which is the one that had sanctified Mount Qadas/Qadash. All the events of the Old Testament had taken place on the Yemeni stage. * The author pinpoints in a concentrated way some of the mistakes committed by the translators of the Hebrew text, which he thinks has contributed to the prevalence of a wrong understanding of numerous events.


From Myth to Reality: Zionist Archaeologists Are Using the Bible to Rewrite History

By Miko Peled


of Jarndyce Booksellers. Jarndyce specializes in first editions, rare books, and wonderful collectors’ editions of the complete works of Shakespeare, Dickens, and countless others. Also displayed in the store are enormous antique illustrated copies of the Bible. These mammoth books are beautifully adorned with illustrations that bring Biblical characters and stories to life.

I remember sitting as a child, leafing through an old, illustrated copy of a Bible that was part of my father’s book collection. It too had wonderful illustrations, and I would sit there and look at the pictures of the great men and women, and experience the great moments that are described in the Bible. The angel who stopped Abraham as he was about to sacrifice his son; Moses coming down from Mount Sinai; the young David slaying the giant Goliath, and so many more. They all came alive in front of my very eyes and it was as clear to me as a child as it is today and to so many others, that those stories describe real historic events.

These lovely renditions were intended to create the impression that the Bible tells stories that are historically true. They lead readers and even those who do not read but hear the stories and look at the illustrations, to believe that these were real people and real events that took place.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at the opening of an “ancient road” that cuts into the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. Tsafrir Abayov | AP

It is easy enough to point to an ancient city in Palestine, say Bethlehem or Jerusalem or some corner of the desert near Bi’r Saba, and claim that a particular Biblical event took place there. This literal reading of the Bible, and particularly of the Old Testament, has given and continues to give Zionism enormous impetus.

Zionists rely on millions of people across the world who have been misled to believe that there is historical truth to the Bible, who think that today’s Israel is the true and rightful successor of Biblical Israel and who allow Zionists to claim the Bible as their actual history book.

Mythology religion and history

The Greeks and the Nordic people replaced their ancient indigenous mythologies with Christianity, retaining their mythology as a part of their cultural history. In India, ancient mythology is very much alive and ancient gods are still worshiped in temples throughout the country, yet that is never confused with India’s actual history. Vishnu is never confused with Ashoka or Buddha with Akbar. Each has its respective place within the rich Indian culture.

Neither the people of Greece, the Nordic people, or even those who practice various faiths in India regard their mythology as history. You will not find Greek archaeologists digging to find the home of Zeus. There are no signs that the Nordic people are searching for the ancient city where Odin and Thor resided, and even in India, where the ancient gods are very much part of life, there is no expectation that the city of Shiva will be dug up by archaeologists.

his is because the separation between myth and religion and history is clear, except in the case of Zionism. Zionists, both Christian and Jewish, firmly hold to their demand that the Bible is history. Archeologists working in the name of Zionists have been digging up Palestine for two centuries, often ignoring or even destroying valuable artifacts that do not serve their purpose.

This is because Zionist archeologists are motivated not by scientific curiosity, but by a political agenda. They ignore the wealth of history and archeology that exist in Palestine and search for proof of their own theories.

Destruction of monuments

The need to validate Zionist claims that connect current day Israel with the ancient Hebrews and the glorified mythology as it is presented in parts of the Old Testament often comes at the expense of important historical sites and monuments. In fact, is not uncommon to see invaluable historical sites destroyed by design at the hands of Zionist institutions.

The Mamilla Cemetery is one such example. It is an ancient Muslim burial ground and holy site in the center of Jerusalem believed to date back to the seventh century. Numerous saints of the Sufi faith and thousands of officials, scholars, notables, and Jerusalem families have been buried in the cemetery over the past 1,000 years.

Companions of the Prophet Muhammad were said to be buried there, but since the Zionist conquest of West Jerusalem, the cemetery has fallen into disrepair, with ancient tombstones destroyed and desecrated. Over the last decade, a significant portion of the cemetery has been razed and human remains have been desecrated so that the Simon Wiesenthal Center can build a facility, shamelessly called the Museum of Tolerance.

The Mamilla Cemetery, shown here in a 1951 aerial photo, sat undistributed for centuries until the Israeli government paved the way for the construction of the Museum of Tolerance atop its historic ruins

Since 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Campaign to Preserve Mamilla Cemetery have worked to halt the construction of the new facility and preserve what remains of the ancient site. To this end, petitions have been filed with various UN bodies, including UNESCO, to protect the sacred site.

The “Museum of Tolerance,” as it is called, has resulted in the disinterment of hundreds of graves, and the whereabouts of the countless human remains that have been disposed of are unknown. Recognized as one of the most prominent Muslim cemeteries in the world, where seventy thousand warriors of Saladin’s armies are interred, is now all but gone.

Bab al-Rahmeh is yet another famous Islamic cemetery in Jerusalem. It extends from Lions Gate to the end of the wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque near the Umayyad palaces in the south. The Israeli government is in the process of confiscating parts of the cemetery to implement a settlement project. Plans include creating, “paths of biblical gardens,” once again erasing historical sites in order to build monuments to commemorate a history that never was.

Another classic example of the destruction of real history for the sake of mythology is the opening of the so-called “Temple’s Baptism station” on the historic land of the Umayyad palaces in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Temple in question is the Jewish Temple and the Umayyad palaces on which it is to be built date back nearly 1,400 years, built in the early stage of the Islamic period, and used to house the Islamic Caliphs and institutions that managed the affairs of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Monuments in disrepair

Zionist authorities have not only destroyed precious historical sites in search of mythical ones, they have also allowed invaluable historical sites to fall into disrepair. There are countless such sites throughout Palestine, such as the mosque of Dhaher Al-Umar in Tabariya, which now stands alone, in ruins, a solitary witness to the glorious Arab past of the city.

Daher al-Umar was a Palestinian leader who ruled most of Palestine and shaped its history throughout the entire 18th century. Not only has his memory been erased, but the monuments that carry his name and still exist now lay in ruins.

The mythology of the Old Testament was turned into history through a successful attempt to make the stories and the figures in these stories, mythical as they may have been, into actual historical events and figures. At the same time, the real history of Palestine, a glorious history of culture and religion, politics, commerce, and unmatched art and architecture, has all but been lost so that Zionists can claim that they are the true successors of Joshua and King David.

There is no harm in enjoying the wonderful illustrations that adorn the Bible, the likes of which one finds at Jarndyce Bookseller. In fact, I intend to continue to visit that store whenever I can and enjoy those wonderful renditions of Old and the New Testament stories. However, we must be careful not to confuse those stories and the illustrations with the actual history of Palestine.

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