I wrote here, last week, about Professor Hans King and his theory of the ethics of religions. I studied with him for some time in 1973 at the University of Tübingen in the Federal Republic of Germany. Hans King passed away on 5/4/2021 in Tübingen. On the same day, the prominent Yemeni scholar Yusef Abdullah al-Shaibani died in his exile in Cairo. I also met Yusef Abdullah at the University of Tübingen, and we did not meet in the lessons of Professor King, but in the lessons of the Sabian language (South Arabic) at the well-known professor of Semitic languages, Gustav Miller. From the first days we became friends; Youssef did not just possess the magic of scientific prominence, but rather he possessed a confident leadership figure and broad plans for university work in the field of antiquities and museums, which his classmates also knew about at the American University of Beirut in the second half of the sixties.
As I remember, Yusef Abdullah, after obtaining his doctorate in 1975, left for Sana’a, and within three decades he managed to establish a school in its university for ancient Yemeni studies, as dozens of male and female students graduated from his hands, he also became director of antiquities, and established a small museum of antiquities (and mummies) in the Department of Archeology at the Faculty of Arts He contributed with the sheikhs and colleagues in the acquisition and preservation of thousands of manuscripts from private collections. This is due to the publication of dozens of books and studies on Yemeni inscriptions (some of them were discovered), the most important of which is the “Sabai Lexicon”, which he collaborated with his teacher, Miller.
I attended the first conference organized by Yusef Abdullah in 1980 on the tongue of Yemen, “Abu Muhammad al-Hamdani,” the author of my book “Describing the Arabian Peninsula” and “Al-Ekleel”. Since then, Yusef has wanted me, as long as I am interested in the mediocre heritage of Yemen, to go to teach there, especially since the civil war was raging in Lebanon and the Lebanese University was almost idle. At the invitation of Professor Abdulaziz Al-Maqaleh, President of Sana’a University, I actually went and lived in the dormitories of the university next to Professor Yusef (1988-1991). It was a few years ago, but it was flourishing with the Yemenis that I got to know and became friends, and with the jurisprudential, historical and verbal manuscripts that I still use today.
Yusef was not a partisan, nor was he even among the critics of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He considered stability the president’s most important achievement. He used to say: How do we teach, write, or educate our students in the midst of revolutionary upheavals, be it in the way of nationalists or Islamists. And he did not like the Sahrawi tribal alliance in the “Reform Party”. I was more afraid of the congestion that I felt in the Zaidi regions, which I visited throughout the 1990s and until 2004.
After the Houthi coup in 2014, many Yemeni politicians and academics went to Amman, then dispersed into exile. It was the share of my friend Youssef to go to Cairo. There I saw him many times. He was depressed, worried about the issues of living with his young family. He said he was no longer writing and could hardly read. The last thing I received from him a few months ago was a message on the phone informing him of the administration of Sana’a University that they had “seized” his apartment in the university dormitories because of his long absence! I replied: O Brother Youssef, the Houthis are not blamed, but we are educated people who were unable to shelter or help one another as it should!
I was shocked by the injured Youssef Al-Siddiq and the distinguished professor. There is no doubt that he shocked many Yemenis, Arabs, Germans, British and French, who were attracted by Yusef and shared with them in the studies of Yemen and its effects. And my condolences in particular to the professor and friend Hussein Al-Omari, who was not left by Yusef while he was steadfast in Sana’a!
* Professor of Islamic Studies at the Lebanese University
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