Friday, July 27, 2012

Ramadan Taraweeh: A 14-century legacy

What captures me most during the Holy Month of Ramadan is the Taraweeh.
These are special prayers featuring recitations of the Qur'an after 'Isha (the last evening prayer).
From the Arabic word meaning rest and relax, the Taraweeh are long prayers, sometimes lasting over an hour. They are performed at the mosque, where the congregation prays and listens to passages from the Qur'an.
After each cycle -- standing, bowing, prostrating -- one sits for a period of rest before continuing, hence the name rest prayer or Taraweeh.
About a thirtieth of the Qur'an is recited each evening so that by the end of the blessed month, the entire Holy Book would have been completed.
Attending Taraweeh in congregation at the mosque after 'Isha is recommended but non-compulsory. They are a very popular and anticipated feature of the day.
Tradition says the Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] initially prayed the Taraweeh in congregation for three consecutive nights but discontinued this practice out of fear that it would be made mandatory, rather than Sunnah.
According to a hadith:
The Prophet [PBUH] took a room made of date palm leaves mats in the mosque. Allah's Apostle prayed in it for a few nights till the people gathered (to pray the night prayer, Taraweeh, behind him). Then on the fourth night the people did not hear his voice and they thought he had slept, so some of them started humming hoping he might come out.
The Prophet then said,
"You continued doing what I saw you doing till I was afraid that this (Taraweeh prayer) might be enjoined on you, and if it were enjoined on you, you would not continue performing it. Therefore, O people! Perform your prayers at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is what is performed at his home except the compulsory (congregational) prayer." [Sahih Bukhari -- Volume 9, Book 92, Number 393, narrated by Zaid ibn Thabit. Also see Hadith No. 229, Vol. 3 and Hadith No. 134, Vol. 8]
Under the second caliphate of Omar ibn al-Khattab, praying the Taraweeh in congregation was reinstated. A hadith by Sahih Bukhari, narrated by Abu Huraira states:
Allah's Apostle said, "Whoever prayed at night the whole month of Ramadan out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven." Ibn Shihab (a sub-narrator) said, "Allah's Apostle died and the people continued observing that (i.e. Nawafil offered individually, not in congregation), and it remained as it was during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and in the early days of Omar's Caliphate." Abderrahman bin Abdulqari said, "I went out in the company of Omar ibn al-Khattab one night in Ramadan to the mosque and found the people praying in different groups, a man praying alone or a man praying with a little group behind him. So, Omar said, 'In my opinion I would better collect these (people) under the leadership of one qari (reciter, to pray in congregation)'. So, he made up his mind to congregate them behind Ubai bin Ka'ab. Then on another night I went again in his company and the people were praying behind their qari. On that, Omar remarked, 'What an excellent bid'a (innovation in religion) this is; but the prayer which they do not perform, but sleep at its time is better than the one they are offering.' He meant the prayer in the last part of the night. (In those days) people used to pray in the early part of the night."
Cars in front of a mosque in Umm Suqeim during Taraweeh
In Dubai this fasting month, all the mosques are packed with men, women and children participating in the nightly prayers. There are often dates, juices and water on offer, usually donated to the congregation by neighbors or patrons of the mosque.
The Ramadan night only starts after the Taraweeh, when at around 10 p.m. Dubai time, people head to visit their families and friends, join majlis gatherings, make their way to the malls, or head to Ramadan tents and restaurants in order to pass time until Suhur (the meal consumed before daybreak and the beginning of the fast).
Listening to the Taraweeh in my garden
I live right next to a mosque and rush home after work at 9 p.m., sit out in the garden to join in these prayers and try to connect as much as possible.
Although my Arabic is not good enough to follow all the recitations, it is still a time to pray, reflect, give thanks and participate.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ramadan Kareem

Some 1.6 billion Muslims around the world today begin celebrating the Holy Month of Ramadan.
It is an obligation on every adult and healthy Muslim to fast -- abstain from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn to dusk. But it is also a spiritual journey to avoid immoral behavior, anger and show compassion.
The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Holy Quran was gradually revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUP) over a period of 23 years.
Allah's Apostle said, "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of Paradise are
opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained."
[Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith no. 123, narrated by Abu Huraira]
The Prophet also said, “Whoever fasted the month of Ramadan
out of sincere Faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his past sins will be
forgiven, and whoever stood for the prayers in the night of Qadr out of sincere Faith
and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.”
[Sabih al-Bukhafi, Hadith no. 231, narrated by Abu Huraira]
I wish you all a blissful and blessed fasting month of Ramadan.
May Allah reward your self-restraint and answer your supplications.
Ramadan Mubarak! 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A feast of 12 summer readings

There is something magical about books.
It’s a long process that starts with trying to choose what to read, scanning the back cover to get an idea about the story, opening the first few pages to read about the author and his previous works, then drowning in the tale and sometimes not wanting to come up for air.
There’s a lot of talk about books being a thing of the past, how everyone will soon be reading on computers, tablets, mobiles and whatever new gizmos come up. I think this will take a long time because it is linked to whether you can afford to buy these gadgets, and a lot of people, me included, can’t. And please, don’t even mention “saving the trees.”
I can’t be persuaded that reading a book on a machine is better than holding the actual hardcopy in your hand, turning the pages, placing your bookmark, smelling the special odor of paper print…
In a dream world, I would live in a bookstore and spend my days reading. Before the Internet, books were the way to discover the world. Libraries were a journey into a new universe. In some countries, and for many people, they still are.
Reading is an act of freedom – you can choose what to read.
Although I am addicted to my laptop, I don’t feel secure if I don’t have at least two books on my bedside table. Part of the pleasure is the anticipation of what you will discover in your next read. Every night, the laptop is switched off and I dedicate at least an hour to reading.
It seems we have more time to read in summer and the summer reading lists are published. So for what it’s worth, here are 12 suggestions, in no specific order. I have the habit of going through all of an author’s books, so there are some in the list by the same writer.
I omitted the Harry Potter series because I am sure everyone has read them. It’s a great pity if you didn’t. And you are too blazé to be reading this post.
A last thought: books are to be read and then passed on. Read them forward, they are too precious to be kept on bookshelves.

1. The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Turkish Nobel-laureate Orhan Pamuk is one of my favorite authors. I have read all of his books and they just keep getting better. The Museum of Innocence is about the obsessive love Kemal, a wealthy businessman, bears for Füsun for over 30 years, starting in 1975.  Kemal becomes an obsessive collector of objects of his life with Füsun.
During the first few chapters, there are many times I just threw the book across the room only to pick it up again and get more engrossed in the brilliance that is Pamuk’s storytelling. And as there were more pages to the left than right of the book, I slowed down, not wanting to finish it.
Pamuk has established an actual "Museum of Innocence," which opened in April 2012, based on the one described in the book, down to the cigarette butts. It displays a collection evocative of everyday life and culture of Istanbul during the period in which the novel is set. I would visit Turkey just to go to the museum.
2. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
I was introduced to Pamuk with this book. It is one of the few I have reread three times already. It evokes all the senses -- it’s like reading, listening to good music and viewing art all in one.
In the late 1590s, Ottoman Sultan Murat III secretly commissions a great book to celebrate his life and his empire. It is to be illuminated by the best artists of the day -- in the European manner. But one of the artists goes missing…
3. The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis de Bernières 
There is so much more to de Bernières than Captain Corelli’s Mandolin that I think was ruined by the film. Once you have read Don Emmanuel, you will surely rush to get Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman. Be careful if you are reading in public -- these three books will have you laughing out loud and gripped till the very last page.
Set in a fictional South American country, de Bernières’s humor, passion and genius emerge in his description of the place, the characters and ancient history through military atrocities, gangsters and religious upheaval.

4. The Hakawati (The Storyteller) by Rabih Alameddine
“Listen. Allow me to be your god. Let me take you on a journey beyond imagination. Let me tell you a story…”
From those first words, you do listen and go on a journey that you hope will prove unending. It takes you into the lives of the al-Kharrat family and the parallel world of myths. The themes and characters go back and forth in the narrative that is brilliant and dazzling. You get lost in the tales, only to be brought back to the family nursing their ailing father. But with the word “listen…” you are once again in the enchanting world of the hakawati.
5. The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany 
This Egyptian novel is alive and as relevant today as when it was published. Welcome to the Yacoubian Building, Cairo. Like many buildings, it was once grand, now dilapidated, and full of stories and passion. It is a tale of various characters in Egyptian society, some living in squalor on rooftops, others in the apartments and offices below. There is religious fervor, bribers, modern life and ancient culture… all of which make up everyday life.
6. Leo The African by Amin Maalouf 
The book is based on the true life-story of Hassan al-Wazzan, the 16th century traveler and writer who came to be known as Leo Africanus, or Leo the African. From his childhood in Fez, having fled the Christian Inquisition, through his many journeys to the East as an itinerant merchant, Hassan’s story is a quixotic catalogue of pirates, slave-girls and princesses, encompassing the complexities of a world in a state of religious flux. Hassan too is touched by the instability of the era, performing his hajj to Mecca, then converting to Christianity, only to revert to Islam later in life. Through Hassan’s travels and extraordinary experiences, Maalouf sketches a portrait of the Mediterranean world as it was some five centuries ago -- the fall of Granada, the Ottoman conquest of Egypt, Renaissance Rome under the Medicis…
Having finished Leo The African, I rushed to find more of Maalouf’s works. The Lebanese author last month joined the “immortals” at the French Academy. His first book, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, is a masterwork and eye-opener and definitely a must read too.

7. Samarkand by Amin Maalouf
Accused of mocking the inviolate codes of Islam, the Persian poet and sage Omar Khayyam fortuitously finds sympathy with the very man who is to judge his alleged crimes. Recognizing Khayyam’s genius, the judge decides to spare him and gives him instead a small, blank book, encouraging him to confine his thoughts to it alone.
Thus begins the seamless blend of fact and fiction that is Samarkand. Vividly re-creating the history of the manuscript of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyaat, Maalouf spans continents and centuries with breathtaking vision: the dusky exoticism of 11th-century Persia, with its poetesses and assassins; the same country's struggles 900 years later, seen through the eyes of an American academic obsessed with finding the original manuscript; and the fated maiden voyage of the Titanic, whose tragedy led to the Rubaiyaat's final resting place.
8. The Rock Of Tanios by Amin Maalouf
An exploration of myth, passion and loyalty from the Lebanon's troubled past, The Rock of Tanios is another superbly rich and rewarding novel from the author of Samarkand and Leo the African. Expertly controlling his multifaceted narrative with prose of great beauty and power, Maalouf delves into the history of an extraordinary life: that of Tanios, child of the mountains. Magic and brilliance on every single page by Maalouf.
9. Some Prefer Nettles, by Junichiro Tanizaki
The marriage of Kaname and Misako is disintegrating. Whilst seeking passion and fulfillment in the arms of others, they contemplate the humiliation of divorce. Misako's father believes their relationship has been damaged by the influence of a new and alien culture, and so attempts to heal the breach by educating his son-in-law in the time-honored Japanese traditions of aesthetic and sensual pleasure. The result is an absorbing, chilling conflict between ancient and modern, and between young and old.
Written in 1929, Some Prefer Nettles is considered one of Tanizaki’s finest works and is as relevant today as it was then. It also gives a rare glimpse into the life of the conflicts inside a Japanese family and the clash between traditional and Western pursuits.
10. Olives, A Violent Romance by Alexander McNabb
Yes, I know. The author is a very dear friend, but Olives would not be on this list if I didn’t think his book makes perfect summer reading and also the perfect present to take to family and friends if you are flying out of Dubai.
Olives makes for compulsive reading as you get taken in by the romance, and by McNabb’s tackling of the more serious themes, including the fight for the region’s water resources, the effects of Israel’s construction of the “security wall,” Palestine, and Jordan. The politics are so well mixed with the romance that the narrative could be taking place in any hotspot and usually does. The characters – the English girlfriend, the embassy representative, the Swede -- are all well placed and credible. I posted about Olives earlier this year and you can read the review here.
In the meantime, I look forward to McNabb’s second novel, Beirut, An Explosive Thriller where we will meet the embassy representative in a much more exciting and lovable role.
11. The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
In 1900 Lady Anna Winterbourne travels to Egypt where she falls in love with Sharif, an Egyptian Nationalist utterly committed to his country's cause. Some 100 years later, Isabel Parkman, an American divorcee and a descendant of Anna and Sharif, goes to Egypt, taking with her an old family trunk, inside which are found notebooks and journals which reveal Anna and Sharif's secret.
The Map of Love is a massive saga, a story that draws its readers into two moments in the complex, and troubled, history of modern Egypt.
12. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 
In 1960s Nigeria, a country blighted by civil war, three lives intersect. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university professor. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. The third is Richard, a shy English writer in thrall to Olanna’s enigmatic twin sister. When the horror of the 1960s Biafra War engulfs them, their loyalties are severely tested, as they are pulled apart in ways none of them imagined.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

For a free and open Internet

Can we live without the Internet?
Definitely! Should we? No.
Would our lives be any richer? Certainly not.
Billions of Internet connections are joining people around the world on desktops, laptops, mobile phones and tablets. And although this medium can be abused, for the most part it is a powerful platform that allows us to communicate, learn, share and be heard.
The Internet is now practically synonymous to freedom. What that freedom of expression can accomplish is written daily all over one’s face.
Two events this month cemented this yearning and defense of a free Internet: The Declaration of Internet Freedom and the landmark July 5 vote by the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsing a resolution upholding the principle of freedom of expression and information on the Internet.
The Declaration of Internet Freedom by Sascha Meinrath and Craig Aaron was published on July 2 and originally appeared in Slate.
They say, “Internet freedom isn’t a left or right issue -- it should matter to everyone who cares about the health and future of democracy.
“Today a full third of the world’s population is now online. And as the importance of the Internet as a platform for participation and expression increases, it’s all the more vital that we keep it open and free from censorship, surveillance and discrimination.
“At this very moment, opposing political, commercial and ideological forces are fighting to determine how open or closed the Internet will become. Fundamentally, we are faced with the very real possibility that the most important communications platform in society today could devolve into a fragmented, censored archipelago.
“But there are signs that we can avoid that fate. On January 18, more than 100,000 websites and more than 7 million users [including Mich Café] spoke out against the Stop Online Piracy Act [SOPA] and the Protect IP Act [PIPA] -- the two bills in [the U.S.] Congress that would have undermined participatory democracy and human rights by censoring the Internet. As much as this battle demonstrated the power of online organizing, it also demonstrated the need for a proactive vision for the future of the Internet.
“Today, we -- representatives of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute and Free Press -- join more than 100 organizations, ranging from Amnesty International and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to Mozilla and Cheezburger, Inc., in announcing a Declaration of Internet Freedom. Centered on core principles of free expression, access, openness, innovation and privacy, the declaration's goal is to spark a global discussion among Internet users and communities about the Internet and our role in protecting it.
“The Internet is now inseparable from the functioning of democracy. When corporations or governments undermine freedom of expression online or block innovative technologies, they manipulate the democratic process, marginalize important constituencies and often silence voices of dissent.
“In December 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned: ‘Fragmenting the global Internet by erecting barriers around national Internets would change the landscape of cyberspace…’
“As a global interconnected platform, the Internet has tremendous potential for cross-cultural conversations and debate, but only insofar as the medium remains free from government and commercial censorship and abuse.
“The Declaration of Internet Freedom is offered as a starting point to reinforce this conversation and to demonstrate that the remarkable coalition that came together around the SOPA fight was not ephemeral…”
The authors of the Declaration emphasize, “The declaration is designed not to be the final word but rather to spark a much larger discussion. If you agree with the principles we’ve crafted, we welcome you to sign on. But we are just as interested in why you disagree with them or what you think is missing.”
At the UNHRC special event held in Geneva, under the theme Social Media and Human Rights, participants were universally of the view the Internet should remain an open and free forum, accessible to all at any time. However, there was also a common view the extraordinary freedom of expression offered by the Internet carried with it additional responsibilities which had to be accepted by everyone -- governments, individuals and the companies providing the social media platforms.
The resolution is a landmark in view of the continuous blocking of the Internet in many countries as well as the harassment and imprisonment of bloggers and online activists. It also upholds the principle of freedom of expression and information on the Internet.
The governments of the Human Rights Council confirm for the first time that freedom of expression applies fully to the Internet. A global coalition for a global and open Internet has been formed. The challenge now, the Council says, “is to put these words into action to make sure people all over the world can use and utilize the power of connectivity without having to fear for their safety.”
The Human Rights Council resolution (A/HRC/20/L.13) was adopted without a vote. The Council affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression; calls upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and decides to continue its consideration of how the Internet can be an important tool for development and for exercising human rights.
The resolution reads:
The Human Rights Council,
Guided by the Charter of the United Nations,
Reaffirming the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and relevant international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
Recalling all relevant resolutions of the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Council on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, in particular Council resolution 12/16 of 2 October 2009, and also recalling General Assembly Resolution 66/184 of 22 December 2011,
Noting that the exercise of human rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression, on the Internet is an issue of increasing interest and importance as the rapid pace of technological development enables individuals all over the world to use new information and communications technologies,
Taking note of the reports of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, submitted to the Human Rights Council at its seventeenth session, and to the General Assembly at its sixty-sixth session on freedom of expression on the Internet,
1. Affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
2. Recognizes the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms;
3. Calls upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications facilities in all countries;
4. Encourages special procedures to take these issues into account within their existing mandates, as applicable;
5. Decides to continue its consideration of the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, on the Internet and in other technologies, as well as of how the Internet can be an important tool for development and for exercising human rights, in accordance with its program of work.
If I sometimes look back in time, I wonder whether the Lebanon civil war would have lasted 15 years had the Internet existed in 1975. How different my life would have been…
Whereas now we can’t live for a couple of hours without being connected, we spent all the war years trying to forget telephones existed. The fax was the great novelty that we could only contemplate because there were no telephone lines!
But that’s history!
I am a firm believer and defender of a free and open Internet as a Human Right as well as free WiFi.
Related post:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Syria: Free Bassel

Free Bassel banner by Naeema Zarif (more CC sets here)

As the crisis in Syria enters its 16th month, and the international community continues to turn a blind eye to the daily atrocities and human rights violations, the number of activists rounded up by government forces is swelling by the day.
The latest online campaign is to #FreeBassel – i.e. Bassel Khartabil, who was detained last March.
A #FREEBASSEL site allows visitors to sign a support letter calling for Bassel’s safe and immediate release.
According to the site:
#FREEBASSEL is a campaign to bring about the safe and immediate release of Bassel Khartabil from wrongful detainment in Syria since March 2012. He is a well-known contributor to global software and culture communities like Creative Commons, Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia, Open Clip Art Library, Fabricatorz, and Sharism. He is missed by these communities, his family, friends and loved ones. We will not stop campaigning for him until we see him as a free global citizen once again.
On March 15, 2012, Bassel Khartabil was detained in a wave of arrests in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. Since then, his family has received no official explanation for his detention or information regarding his whereabouts. However, his family has recently learned from previous detainees at the security branch of Kfar Sousa, Damascus, that Bassel is being held at this location.
Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-born Syrian, 31, is a respected computer engineer specializing in open source software development, the type of contributions the Internet is built upon. He launched his career ten years ago in Syria, working as a technical director for a number of local companies on cultural projects like restoring Palmyra and Forward Syria Magazine.
Since then, Bassel has become known worldwide for his strong commitment to the open web, teaching others about technology, and contributing his experience freely to help the world. Bassel is the project leader for an open source web software called Aiki Framework.
Since his arrest, Bassel’s valuable volunteer work, both in Syria and around the world, has been stopped. His absence has been painful for the communities that depend on him. In addition, his family, and his fiancée, whom he was due to marry this past April, have had their lives put on hold.
Bassel Khartabil has been unjustly detained for nearly four months without trial or any legal charges being brought against him.
We, the signees of the #FREEBASSEL campaign, demand immediate information regarding his detention, health, and psychological state.
We urge the Syrian Government to release the community member, husband-to-be, son to a mother and father, and celebrated International software engineer Bassel Khartabil, immediately.
Joi Ito, who is also chairman of Creative Commons, has joined the campaign. He wrote on June 29:
“Creative Commons supports efforts to obtain the release of Bassel Safadi, a valuable contributor to and leader in the technology community. Bassel’s expertise and focus across all aspects of his work has been in support of the development of publicly available, free, open source computer software code and technology. He pursues this not only through his valuable volunteer efforts in support of Creative Commons, but in all of his work in the technology field. Through his efforts, the quality and availability of freely available and open technology is improved and technology is advanced.”
Although the Syrian regime has so far ignored all international appeals regarding political prisoners, it is only right, as a Creative Commoner, a supporter of open source and human rights, to back the call for helping #FREEBASSEL by signing the support letter at

Related posts:
How Effective Are Free Speech Campaigns? by Jillian C. York, July 19, 2012

Free Bassel by Jillian C. York – June 30, 2012
The forgotten bloggers by Jillian C York – June 23, 2012
Jailed Syrian teen defines terrorFebruary 17, 2011
Another Syrian blogger heldFebruary 22, 2011

Monday, July 2, 2012

Happiness is… pasta

Pasta Al Forno... ready to go into the oven
Who invented pasta is what I would like to know. May all the honors be bestowed upon them!

There is a great deal of debate about that: Was it the Chinese, the Italians or Arabs?

The Chinese are on record as having eaten pasta as early as 5,000 BC. Marco Polo probably brought pasta back to Italy from China in the 13th century. 

But does it really matter? Pasta, the staple food of traditional Italian cuisine, is now so popular and widespread that no one cares.

Pasta is also my very favorite meal I could have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never complain.

My love for this simple dish, which can be prepared in so many different ways, started when I was very young and a half-boarder at the St. Joseph nuns’ primary school in Tunis. The dining hall was a large room with tables for eight. A big bowl of whatever was for lunch was positioned in the middle of the table for us to help ourselves. Once a week it was spaghetti in tomato sauce. It was delicious. My classmates, who didn’t share my opinion, gave me their portions. I would even ask the nuns if I could take some home for dinner as well.

The YMCA in Jerusalem, circa 1933 (via Wikimedia)
But even before that episode, I remember a story my mom Vicky used to tell. So “listen,” as the hakawati (or teller of tales) would say… Vicky recounts:

“When I was about 13 or 14 years of age (1933-1934), your uncle Adeeb (Abu Fadil) said he would take me for a lunch treat. Where else to go in Jerusalem at the time other than the YMCA? So we set off from Haifa, got a table and the menu to order what to eat. Adeeb spotted something new: spaghetti! We tentatively ordered that. When the plates came, we looked at them and didn’t really know how to eat what was there. I tried to put some on the fork, but the spaghetti strands were so long they kept slipping off. I was making a mess and giggling at the same time. I tried sucking them in and making an even bigger mess. Then the waiter suggested we might try winding them on the fork. And that was the first time I had spaghetti.”

Pastas can be divided into two broad categories: dried or fresh. Both come in a number of shapes and varieties, with 310 specific forms known by over 1,300 names recently documented. I love the fresh kind, because you can cook it for three minutes and you’re good to go. Unfortunately, it is too expensive in Dubai, so I am back to the dried variety.

As a category in Italian cuisine both dried and fresh pastas are used in one of three kinds of prepared dishes. Pasta asciutta is cooked pasta served with a complementary sauce or condiment. Pasta in brodo is part of a soup-type dish. Pasta al forno is baked in the oven. Al forno is my latest favorite, as pictured in this post!

Out of the oven...
... and ready to be enjoyed. Bon appetit!
Historians write of the Arabs adapting noodles for long journeys in the 5th century, the first written record of dry pasta. Libyan Arabs introduced durum wheat pasta during their conquest of Sicily in the late 7th century. In the 14th and 15th centuries, dried pasta became popular for its easy storage aboard ships when exploring the New World. In the 16th century, the Spanish discovered tomatoes as a new ingredient for a pasta sauce. Before that, it was eaten dry with the fingers.

Pasta helped me out often in times of financial straits given its affordability but fulfilling nature as a complex carbohydrate.

I won’t go into my favorite recipes here but will leave you with two I found on my friend Sally Prosser’s blog, My Custard Pie. The first is a Locally-made cheese and a spicy pasta recipe; the second is Pasta that refreshes the parts.

You can also look up some pasta ideas on the excellent Fooderati Arabia website.

I have relied on pasta a great deal over the years. You can eat it in a different way every single time. One day, when I have a kitchen, I shall blog about 365 ways to eat pasta. Until then, what’s your favorite food?