Saturday, July 01, 2006

Did King Offa Become a Muslim?

Offa was the King of Mercia from 757 until his death until 796. Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in what is now the Midlands of England. Mercia was a Christian Kingdom but some are now making the claim that King Offa was a convert to Islam.

The only evidence of this claim is that a coin was issued during his reign. Written in Arabic was the phrase, "There is no god but ALLAH and there is no associate unto Him." The Muslim (London), V. 15, no. 3 claimed a conspiracy based on this, "Like the FLAG of any country, so its MONEY is a sign of its SOVEREIGNITY and independence, and Offa's gold coins represent this beyond any dispute and doubt! If any man is found dead in the street and he carries the passport of a country with his photo, name and signature, certainly he has the Nationality and Citizenship of that passport that had been found on him! When I asked several Englishmen (male and female alike) all of them were unanimous in their decision that King Offa must have acquired the Faith of Islam, and this is the reason that all English history-books state that they have very little documents about him; these documents might have been destroyed by The Church of England at its infancy!"

Paul Hannah refuted this in Did King Offa Become a Muslim? He wrote, "Unfortunately, the coin in question provides no evidence of Offa's supposed conversion. Perhaps the most obvious thing to point out is that the Latin inscription is upside-down with relation to the Arabic text. This can clearly be seen on the helpful images of the coins provided by Dr Zahoor[4]. Further to this, although the Arabic text is generally a good reproduction, the word for year has been bungled, something that an Arabic speaker would never do. It is clear, then, that neither Offa, his coin-makers nor his officials could read Arabic. Seeing as the first Latin or English translations of the Qur'an were made after Offa's time, it seems certain that he did not understand what he was printing. If his coins had been in order to declare his faith in Allah to the people of his realm, he would surely have written the Muslim creed in a language which his subjects could have understood. If Offa's purpose was not to declare Islam, what was it? Copying the coins of other kingdoms is a well-known practice and was done for several reasons, not necessarily forgery. For purposes of international trade, it was necessary for coins to be accepted in the country to which they were going. Copying the established currency of that country would be a logical way to ensure that coins were accepted in trade."

Although the coin provides little evidence of a supposed conversion by King Offa to Islam, it is interesting. Who would have thought a coin from 8th century England would be proclaiming "La Ilaha Il-ALLAH wahido la shareeka laho?" It is clearly a strange historical artifact and one many coin collectors would love to have!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Asian History Carnival Coming to the World History Blog

I will be hosting the next Asian History Carnival here at the World History Blog on July 7th. Nominate posts here or send them directly to “miland[at]usa2014[dot]com”.

Here is some information on the Asian History Carnival from Jonathan Dresner:

"When recommending postings for inclusion in the carnival you may submit your own work or suggest good posts by someone else. You may submit multiple posts, but not by the same blogger. The host, of course, is not bound by such restrictions, though we will attempt to provide as much geographical and chronological coverage as possible. Carnivals will be limited to posts written since the previous installment. As with most such carnivals, each host has final, absolute, and arbitrary authority with regard to inclusion, exclusion, scope, scale, format and presentation."

"You do not have to be Asian, an historian, or a carny (you do have to be a blogger, at least once); all you have to do is blog about Asian history. Our definition of Asia, for the purposes of this carnival, is pretty much the same as that of the Association for Asian Studies: East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, North Asia, Southeast Asia, Far East, Middle East, Near East, all regions are welcome. Our definition of history (and of good blogging), for the purposes of this carnival, is pretty much that of the History Carnival."

I look forward to reading some good submissions and I will be doing some active hunting as well in hopes of having a worthwhile carnival.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Letter of Advice to Queen Victoria

Letter of Advice to Queen Victoria. In the 19th century, China got serious about drug abuse. Millions of Chinese were addicted to opium. While the drug was illegal, foreign merchants (mostly British) continued to smuggle drugs into China. Lin Zexu was put in charge of Chinese efforts to end the opium trade.

Lin Zexu was not successful. He was able to seize and destroy tons of opium. However, his actions are often considered to have directly lead to China's participation and loss in the First Opium War. Despite a promising start, he failed to end the opium problem.

Before the war, he wrote a letter to Queen Victoria. He was frank in demanding an end to the barbarian's (the British) drug dealing. He wrote, "All those people in China who sell opium or smoke opium should receive the death penalty. We trace the crime of those barbarians who through the years have been selling opium, then the deep harm they have wrought and the great profit they have usurped should fundamentally justify their execution according to law. We take into to consideration, however, the fact that the various barbarians have still known how to repent their crimes and return to their allegiance to us by taking the 20,183 chests of opium from their storeships and petitioning us, through their consular officer [superintendent of trade], Elliot, to receive it. It has been entirely destroyed and this has been faithfully reported to the Throne in several memorials by this commissioner and his colleagues."

It is unknown if the Queen ever read the letter. As mentioned earlier, the resulting war ended Lin Zexu's attempt to put a stop to opium abuse in China. As western nations now themselves are attempting to fight illegal drugs to varying degrees of success, it is interesting to look back and see how a western power created and maintained an illicit drug program in China in the 19th century. Despite the war lose, it is easy to admire Lin Zexu and the bluntess of his letter to Queen Victoria.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Carnival of Bad History #6

Carnival of Bad History #6. The newest edition of the Carnival of Bad History is up at Frog in a Well. This is a group blog which focuses on Japanese history.

Would you like to host the Carnival of Bad History? Volunteer! Luker at Cliopatria notes, "Jonathan Dresner is seeking hosts for the Asian History Carnival and the Carnival of Bad History. If you are interested in hosting either of them, contact him at dresner*at*hawaii*dot*edu ."

This carnival is going monthly and will need a good group of history bloggers willing to help out. I will volunteer the World History Blog for this. Do you have an established blog that would help with this too?

Monday, June 26, 2006

History of Jamaica

History of Jamaica. This is a short essay covering the history of this Caribbean nation.

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes, "Island country, West Indies, located south of Cuba. The third largest island in the Caribbean, it is 146 mi (235 km) long and 35 mi (56 km) wide. Jamaica has three major regions: the coastal lowlands, which encircle the island and are heavily cultivated; a limestone plateau, which covers half of the island; and the interior highlands, with forested mountain ranges, including the Blue Mountains. Agriculture employs about one-fifth of the workforce, and the major agricultural export is raw sugar, with molasses and rum as by-products. Industry focuses on the production of bauxite and alumina and on the garment industry. Tourism is very important. "

From the site:

Arawaks from South America had settled in Jamaica prior to Christopher Columbus' first arrival at the island in 1494. During Spain's occupation of the island, starting in 1510, the Arawaks were exterminated by disease, slavery, and war. Spain brought the first African slaves to Jamaica in 1517. In 1655, British forces seized the island, and in 1670, Great Britain gained formal possession.

Jamaica was discovered by Columbus on 3 May, 1494. He landed probably at or near St. Ann's Bay, called by him Sancta Gloria, owing to the great beauty of the environs. Nine years later his caravels were wrecked at Puerto Bueno — the present Dry Harbour. He gave the name Santiago to the island, which was but partially colonized by the Spaniards, and was never popular with them. They first introduced horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and domestic poultry. To the Spaniards Jamaica is also indebted for the orange, lemon, lime, and other fruit trees; the coffee tree is due however to British initiative about the year 1721. From the constituents of the shell mounds throughout the island and the absence therefrom of all objects of a European character, it would appear that these accumulations represent the kitchen middens of the pre-Columban aboriginal inhabitants. These remains found principally in caves, comprise: (a) crania and other bones (human), (b) stone implements (celts, etc.), (c) objects of pottery (various), (d) ornamental beads (chalcedony), kitchen middens containing shells (principally marine), broken pottery, fish and coney bones, stone implements, and ashes. Their cottages were built on stockade posts set vertically side by side in a trench. For animal food they depended principally on the sea, and on their festivals or barbecues the entire village went out on marine or river excursions. Their gardens yielded arrow-root, beans, cassava, cucumbers, melons, maize, and yams; for fruit they cultivated the guava, mammee, papaw and star-apple. They cultivated cotton and wound it for cordage and twisted it into yarn for making garments. The only domestic animals were probably the muysea duck and the alca, a small dog. The aborigines were most probably a tribe of the Arawak Indians, and not Caribs, who were cannibals. The Arawaks were a gentle and inoffensive people as their name (meal-eaters) signifies. They believed in a Supreme Being (Jocahuna), in a future state, and had a tradition about a deluge. Their form of government was patriarchal. They smoked tobacco and played a football game called bato, in which both men and women joined.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Alaskan History Cruise, Part Seven - Back in Seattle

(The Space Needle in Seattle from below.)


The cruise is over. I am now back home. After disembarking from the ms Zaandam, Kate and I explored Seattle (including the Space Needle) and then flew home. This blog will now return to normal programming.

Was this worth doing?

Was history blogging while on vacation worthwhile? Or, was it an inane vanity? I guess that others will have to make that decision. I enjoyed doing it but I realize others may be less tolerant.

The overall quality of my posts was not as informative and as deep as I hoped. The high internet charges on the ship (and a lack of any word processing software) made writing difficult and expensive. Clearly, the Holland America Line is not going to encourage bloggers to travel on their ships. However, this is probably a temporary problem. I avoided the cruise line phones by making calls on my cell phone. It is only a matter of time before a portable internet system will work for passengers too.

More on Alaska

This series of posts did a good job of giving basic historical information on the ports of call I made in Alaska on this cruise. However, it did not give a good overview to Alaskan history as a whole. I missed all of Alaska outside of the southeast panhandle. What is the history of the state as a whole? How have earthquakes shaped the state? Why do some separatists believe that Alaska is not legally an American state?

Here are some additional places to look:

Regional: North America: United States: Alaska: Society and Culture: History - The Open Directory Project category on the subject.

Arts > Humanities > History > By Region > U.S. States > Alaska - The Yahoo! Category for Alaskan history.

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