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  Book review

The Al-Hasan bin Al-Qasim Mosque Complex

An Architectural and Historical Overview of a Seventeenth Century Mosque in Duran, Yemen 

by Bruce Paluck and Rayya Saqqar

The American Institute for Yemeni Studies and Le Centre Francais d’Archeologie et de Sciences Sociales de Sana’a, 2002. Pp. 29. Drawings. Photographs. Notes. Bibliog. ISBN 1-882-10-7. Distributed by Middle East Studies Association of North America, 1643 Helen Street, Tucson AZ 85721 USA; Librairie de l’Institut du Monde Arabe, 1, rue des Fosses-Saint-Bernard, 75236 Paris cedex 05 France.

This slim A4-sized soft-back is the fruit of a two year project (1998-2000) sponsored jointly by AlYS and CEFAS. Duran, situated a few kilometres west of Ma’bar on the Sana’a-Taiz road, served briefly as a seat of the Qasimi Imamate in the mid-l7th century The mosque complex which is the subject of this carefully researched and annotated study bears the name of the man who played a central role in the liberation of Yemen from its first period of Ottoman occupation.

Al-Hasan bin al-Qasim (1588-1639) visited Duran in 1630, was struck by its strategic and scenic attractions, and by the time of his death had transformed it into an important regional centre. Al-Hasan’s brother, al-Mutawakkil ‘ala Allah Isma’il bin al-Qasim, whose reign (1644-1676) saw the imamate’s greatest territorial expansion, made Duran his capital.

The highland village of Duran was devastated by the major earthquake of 1982 and evacuated by its surviving inhabitants. Photographs taken before this calamity show a working mosque, its roof intact, its cisterns full, its congregation active. As a result of the earthquake the roof and parts of its walls collapsed, leaving the buildings exposed to the destructive effects of wind and rain. People removed its wooden beams and lintels; children rolled its stone columns into the cistern.

The aim of the project was to map the ruins, and to describe and illustrate the original lay-out, structure and decorative features of the complex. The authors provide a detailed architectural description of the mosque, courtyard, minaret, tomb of al-Hasan bin al-Qasim, cisterns and ablution structures, which is elegantly illustrated with numerous drawings. They describe al-Hasan’s tomb with its rich colour and intricate plasterwork as ‘the jewel in the crown’ of what now remains. A further chapter records details of all surviving inscriptions (mostly Quranic).

An unusual feature of this publication, reflecting its dual AIYS/CEFAS provenance, is that two of its four chapters are in English and two in French, while it includes an Arabic translation of all four chapters. One chapter (in French/Arabic) chronicles the life of al-Hasan bin al-Qasim who first took up arms against the Turks at the age of 15. It is a fascinating story He was clearly an exceptional leader: an allied reason for preserving the memory of his mosque and burial place, as this admirable study has now done.

John Shipman