Al Mutanabbi Street

The Al Mutanabbi Street Coalition is a group of artists, writers and poets. Named after the 10th century classical Arab poet, Al-Mutanabbi Street is the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community. On March 5, 2007, a car bomb was detonated on the street. At least 30 people were killed and 100 were wounded. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition was formed soon afterwards, in response to not just the tragic loss of life, but also to the idea of a targeted attack on a street where ideas have always been exchanged. The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition was founded by San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil.


I have been asked to produce a print as part of the project :-

al mutanabbi

When I was in my twenties I lived in Sudan for two years teaching, travelling and working with refugee  welfare agencies. I was always struck by the desolate sight of Sudanese cemeteries. They are dusty, open fields of graves with indistinct markers – sometimes with a carved stone, sometimes just a rock. There would often be ragged white flags flying from rough sticks in the ground grouped around some graves. The image has become imbedded in my memory of Sudan and came immediately to my mind in connection with Al Mutanabbi.

I have used this image as a mark of respect to the book sellers and also to all of those Muslims who have died as a result of  Western interventions in the Middle East.

The Umayyad dynasty (661–750) used white as a symbolic reminder of Muhammad’s first battle at Badr and their colour of mourning, to distinguish themselves from the black of the Abbasids. The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four major Islamic caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. At its greatest extent it covered 5.17 million square miles, making it the fifth largest empire ever to exist. White is one of the pan-Arab colours because of that period.

The colour white in Islam is believed to symbolise purity and peace. Many Muslims wear the colour white when they attend Friday prayers. The colour black is considered the colour of mourning in Western countries; however, it is considered a colour of modesty in Islam. It is often worn by Shi’ite Muslims, who mourn the death of Husayn ibn Ali, killed at the Battle of Karbala. It is the colour of the chador worn by devout Iranian Shi’ite women and of the cloaks worn by the Ayatollahs, the Shi’a clergy. In many Shi’a countries, a black turban is worn only by male sayids, men who descend from Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah and his son-in-law Ali. In Sunni tradition, Prophet Muhammad wore a white kufi or head cap with a black amaana turban.

My time spent in Sudan, living and working within an Arab, Islamic culture was some of the happiest time in my life. From the outset, the warmth and welcome I encountered was in stark contrast to my own culture. I hope that the Al Mutanabbi Street projects can go some way to re-kindle and embed respect and trust between countries scarred by conflict.

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