Funerary curiosities

A discussion of funerary customs notably the placement of Aloe vera plants on graves

 

subaitnah_34

 

 

There was even a type of Aloe which was traditionally planted over the graves because it was thought to give the dead the necessary patience to wait until the resurrection day.

http://www.aligelgroup.com/english/aloe_story.htm

“Throughout history and in every human society, the disposal of the dead has been given special significance. The practice was originally motivated not by hygienic considerations but by ideas entertained by primitive peoples concerning human nature and destiny. This conclusion is clearly evident from the fact that the disposal of the dead from the earliest times was of a ritual kind. Paleolithic peoples, such as the Neanderthals and later groups, not only buried their dead but provided them with food, weapons, and other equipment, thereby implying a belief that the dead still needed such things in the grave. This very significant practice can be traced back to great antiquity, possibly to about 50,000 BC.

“The ritual burial of the dead, which is thus attested from the very dawn of human culture and which has been practiced in most parts of the world, stems from an instinctive inability or refusal on the part of man to accept death as the definitive end of human life. Despite the horrifying evidence of the physical decomposition caused by death, the belief has persisted that something of the individual person survives the experience of dying. In contrast, the idea of personal extinction through death is a sophisticated concept that was unknown until the 6th century BC, when it appeared in the metaphysical thought of Indian Buddhism; it did not find expression in the ancient Mediterranean world before its exposition by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC).

“The belief that human beings survive death in some form has profoundly influenced the thoughts, emotions, and actions of mankind. The belief occurs in all religions, past and present, and decisively conditions their evaluations of man and his place in the universe. Mortuary rituals and funerary customs reflect these evaluations; they represent also the practical measures taken to assist the dead to achieve their destiny and sometimes to save the living from the dreaded molestation of those whom death had transformed into a different state of being.”

[http://cyberspacei.com/jesusi/inlight/religion/rites/Death.htm]

 

 

“Plant aloe on the graves of loved ones to promote a peaceful existence until the deceased is reborn. Use for success in the world. Prevents feelings of loneliness.”

http://www.earthwitchery.com/herbsa-g.html

 

Contents

(Numbers refer to the pages of the original MS Word version of the document.)

Contents. 3

Table of Figures. 5

Tables. 6

Introduction. 7

Mountain Oasis Communities. 7

First observation. 8

Subaitah. 8

Aloe vera ‘crop circles’ 10

Other cemeteries. 11

Aloe vera on the Oman peninsula. 15

Elixir of Youth, Plant (Herb) of Immortality. 20

Records of Aloe vera on graves. 21

Other instances of plants on graves. 25

Plant attributes responsible. 28

Conclusion. 31

Death. 32

Funerary customs. 33

Conclusion. 40

Acknowledgements. 41

Appendices. 42

Appendix A: Muslim funerary rites. 43

Appendix B: Other discussions of death in Islam.. 44

Care for the Dying. 44

Washing and Shrouding. 44

Funeral Prayers. 44

Burial 45

Mourning. 45

More Information. 45

Death Rites. 46

Islamic Burial 46

Appendix C: References to aloe in the Bible. 48

Appendix D: How Romans Buried Their Dead. 49

Death and Burial in the Roman Culture. 49

Appendix E: Death and Burial in Greek Culture. 50

Appendix F: Death, funerary customs, and afterlife in Judaism.. 51

Appendix G: Other discussions of Aloe vera. 52

Aloe vera taxonomy and etymology. 62

Folk medicine. 62

For combating vampires. 62

Research for possible medical uses. 63

Aloe (Aloe vera) aka burn plant, medicine plant 64

Research papers cited. 66

Global Healing Center. 67

Equine In Motion. 67

Aloe4HealthOonline. 68

Appendix H: Communities and associated cemeteries where Aloe vera observed. 70

Subaitah. 70

Wadi Khutwah communities. 71

Khutwah. 71

Jazira. 72

Khabbayn. 73

Musah. 73

Aboul 74

Sharam.. 75

A’Dahir. 76

Appendix I: Authentic Step-by-Step Illustrated Janazah Guide. 78

Acknowledgments. 78

Introduction. 80

  1. A) Death. 82
  2. B) Mourning the dead. 87
  3. C) Al-Ghusul (washing the dead Muslim) 88

Place of washing: 88

  1. D) Al-Kafan (shrouding the dead Muslim) 90

Steps of shrouding: 91

  1. E) Salatul Janazah (the funeral) 94
  2. F) Following the Janazah. 99
  3. G) Al-Dafin (burial) 100

How to enter the body into the grave. 101

  1. H) Special cases. 105

1) Miscarried Fetus: 105

2) Children: 105

3) Martyr: 105

  1. I) Condolences. 106
  2. J) The Edda (waiting period) of Muslim widows (females) 107
  3. K) Rewards after death. 109
  4. L) Visiting the cemetery. 110
  5. M) References. 112

Appendix J: Religious Rites. 113

4.10 Death Rites and Customs. 113

4.10.1 Relevant Concepts and Doctrines. 114

4.10.2 Patterns of Myth and Symbol 116

4.10.3 Death and Funerary Rites and Customs. 118

4.10.4 Cults and Memorials of the Dead. 123

4.10.5 Psychological and Sociological Aspects of Death. 125

4.10.6 Modern Notions of Death. 126

Appendix K: Photographs of graves with Aloe vera. 127

Appendix L: Other plants associated with immortality and special powers. 132

 

Table of Figures

(Numbers refer to the pages of the original MS Word version of the document.)

Figure 1: The graves (right) separated from the housing and date gardens by a wide, deep wadi. 8

Figure 2: Grave at Subaitah with Aloe vera in a circle. 9

Figure 3: Grave with scattering of Aloe vera plants at Subaitah. 9

Figure 4: Meter-long stick shows size of Aloe vera circle of plants; remains of dead plants in center of circle. 10

Figure 5: General view of cemetery at Khutwah with clumps of Aloe vera visible throughout the cemetery. 12

Figure 6: A large number of Aloe vera plants in the vicinity of several graves at Khutwah. 12

Figure 7: At Jazira, Aloe vera plants cover a large area making it difficult to identify individual graves; however, this is a cemetery containing more than a dozen graves (one lower left). 13

Figure 8: Settlements (blue markers) with cemeteries that include graves with Aloe vera plants growing on top of the interment. City of Al Ain (UAE) and Mahadah (Oman) included for reference. 14

Figure 9: Countries and locations where the custom of placing Aloe vera plants on graves has been reported (red pins). Also marked are Yemen and Socotra (blue pins) where the plant may have originated based on some sources. 22

Figure 10: Google Earth image of Queshm Island and its proximity to the Musandam peninsula. 23

Figure 11: The distance, as calculated on Google Earth, from Queshm Island to the tip of the Oman peninsula is approximately 51 kilometers. 23

Figure 12: Communities (blue markers)  where the custom of placing Aloe vera on graves was noted; communities of Mahadah (Oman) and Al Ain (UAE) included (red labels) for reference.

Figure 13: The mausoleum of Mohammed bin Ali near Birkat, Oman. The mausoleum is surrounded by a large Islamic cemetery. 25

Figure 14: One one of the graves in the cemetery that includes the Mausoleum of bin Ali, this Aloe plant was recorded. 26

Figure 15: Wadi Subaitah on edge of Wadi Jizzi, Oman. 70

Figure 16: Settlement and cultivated area on left, graves on terrace on opposite side of wadi bed. 70

Figure 17: View of three mountain oasis communities in close proximity to one another, each with cemeteries with Aloe vera planted on graves. 71

Figure 18: Khutwah (Oman) with cultivated area bottom left and graves several hundred meters upstream. 71

Figure 19: Jazira (Oman) located upstream from Khutwah and Khabbayn is still without electricity, phone or other municipal services. 72

Figure 20: Graves at Jazira are located adjacent to the settlement area. 72

Figure 21: Khabbayn (Oman) is a large oasis with cemetery located south of the oasis and west of the new housing. 73

Figure 22: Musah (Oman) is located several kilometers deep into the mountains. 73

Figure 23: Cemetery at Musah is located on narrow ledge downstream from the oasis and above the access road and terraces. 74

Figure 24: Aboul (Oman) features a small fort; the supply of fresh water has decreaed significantly in the past few decades. 74

Figure 25: Older graves at Aboul are clustered upstream from the oasis (oldest graves) and adjacent to the oasis but on the opposite side of the watercourse. 75

Figure 26: Sharam (Oman) once a large community that likely regulated caravan traffic in Wadi Sharam. 75

Figure 27: Cemetery is located several hundred meters inland (away from wadi and cultivation areas) beyond abandoned structures. 76

Figure 28: A’Dahir (Oman), one of four communities in close proximity, has a separate  source of water from wadi system southwest of the settlement. 76

Figure 29: With one of the larger cemeteries in the area, A’Dahir shows evidence of having been a large and successful settlement for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. 77

Figure 30: Kafan of a male. 91

Figure 31: Kafan of a female. 93

Figure 32: Arrangement of men, women, and children at Salatul Janazal 96

Figure 33: Salatul Janazah for a Muslim female (left), Salatul Janazah for a Muslim male (right) 97

Figure 34: Types of graves:  Al Lahed (left) and Al Shaq (right) 100

Figure 35: How to place the body in the grave. 101

Figure 36: Looking into the grave. The deceased inside the grave laying on his right side and facing the Qiblah. 102

Figure 37: A single clump of Aloe vera on this grave. 127

Figure 38: What appear to be two circles of Aloe vera plants on this grave. 127

Figure 39: Clumps of Aloe vera at each end of this grave. 127

Figure 40: Another view of a circle of Aloe vera with remains of dead plants inside. This is one end of the grave; another circle is present at the other end. 128

Figure 41: This is perhaps the largest circle of Aloe vera plants with remains of dead plants inside the circle. 128

Figure 42: Clusters of plants at either end of this grave. 129

Figure 43: Only grave with prominent stones in the middle of the grave suggesting the deceased may be female. 129

Figure 44: Close up of a circle of plants. 129

Figure 45: Another Subaitah grave with clusters of plants at both ends. 129

Figure 46: Perhaps the largest population of Aloe vera plants on any of the graves at Subaitah. 130

Figure 47: A single Aloe vera plant on this grave in the community of Al Sa’franna (Oman). [Photo courtesy of Cheryl Dance.] 131

 

 

Tables

Table 1: Coordinates of graves at communities observed. 11

Introduction

In the course of touring abandoned settlements along the western slopes of the Hajjar Mountains, it is not uncommon to find the remains of structures, including houses, copper smelters, “donkey” trails, irrigation systems and defensive constructions, such as walls and towers. Associated with these settlements, as has been the case for all of human history perhaps, are the places where the living accommodate the dead.

Many ancient graves have been located – one believed to date back to the Umm an Nar period was documented near the oasis at Hayl al Nawafil – and most appear to be from the Islamic period. Dating graves using just the visible clues is a very inexact science, but much can be discerned from the surface conditions, visible aspects of the graves’ construction, and any items which, because of their location, might be associated with the cemetery, such as pottery.

While documenting and recording these gravesites – using photography and GPS data – a curious correlation has been observed: the presence of Aloe vera plants on the graves, inside the observed interment area.

In this paper, I will consider possible explanations for the existence of Aloe vera plants on graves in cemeteries in the area including:

— list of the communities where the practice was observed;

— discussion of the history of Aloe vera in the region;

— discussion of Aloe vera as a medicinal plant (along with other uses);

— evidence of Aloe vera and other plants planted on graves; and

— discussion of funerary practices and customs.

While the communities themselves are very old – most have been in existence for up to 4000 years in all likelihood – the graves with Aloe vera plants all appear to be relatively recent, Islamic, and with grave features common in the area for late-Islamic graves. The explanation for the custom is more difficult to determine, especially given Islamic instructions regarding the burial of the deceased.

 

Mountain Oasis Communities

The western slopes of the Hajjar Mountains, the backbone of the Oman peninsula, have been occupied for thousands of years. There is evidence of human settlement activity throughout the mountains, reflecting more than 4000 years of farming and hunting activity. Ancient occupants were adept at finding and exploiting sources of fresh water whether mountain stream, freshwater spring, or hotspring. (At the mountain oasis communities of Musah, all three types of water sources are exploited.)

One simplistic overview of life in the region in the ancient past was that human activity was concentrated in three general groups:

— those who lived along the coast and survived by fishing (fish and shellfish) and trade;

— those who lived in the mountains and survived by farming (dates, fresh fruit, vegetables), producing charcoal, smelting copper, and exploiting water resources; and

— those who had not sedentary lifestyle but, rather, were constantly on the move, trading, managing caravans, surviving with sheep, goats and camels along with the scarce resources of the desert.

This discussion concerns the occupants of the mountain farming communities who built houses, developed elaborate water management systems (aflaj), produced goods for trade, and buried their dead.

First observation

The correlation was first realized at Wadi Subaitah (24°15’54.92″N  56° 9’38.79″E), a small mountain oasis community situated on a narrow strip of arable land clinging to the steep mountain slopes, the terraces built on the remains of a gravel plain that has been eroded over the years. The wadi bed is an impressive 30 or more meters deep and approximately 20 meters wide as it curves around the houses and mosque. These structures, and the gardens that remain, are located on the southern side of the wadi.

The wadi serves to separate the living from the dead.

Subaitah

Graves b

Figure 1: The graves (right) separated from the housing and date gardens by a wide, deep wadi. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

On one side of the wadi (generally the land south of the wadi), a falaj system, fed by a mountain stream, brings water several hundred meters to a reservoir, around which houses and a mosque were constructed on the slope of the mountain ridge. Beyond the houses and reservoir (down stream), farming activity takes place on the narrow ledge as the wadi bends to the west and south. (Subaitah is one of few still-active mountain oasis communities without a supply of electricity or telephone service; until recently, vehicles were unable to cross the wadi but today a bridge/weir allows vehicles to the gardens though not inside the farmed area. For some period of time, the oasis was supplied by a cable transfer service.)

On the opposite side of the wadi, the gravel plain shows only a few signs of human activity; there are a handful of stone structures, commonly associated with early Islamic occupation. However, most of the area remains covered with the common ‘desert armor’, a dense field of large, smooth-surfaced stones that feature a dark ‘desert varnish’ stain. The plateau is divided into a number of sections by the various side wadis that drain into the main channel.

On one of the sections, located almost opposite the village structures, is a collection of graves that number more than fifteen (15). Remarkably, almost all (12) have Aloe vera plants growing in the interment area. The graves appear to be from the same period as they have common characteristics (single course of stones defining the area of the interment, large flat rectangular stones placed on end at either end of the grave). Judging from the relative size of the graves, the interred appear to have been adults of the short stature associated with the ancient mountain inhabitants; that is, the graves are approximately one and a half (1.5) meters in length.

A relationship or correlation between the Aloe vera plants – known as ‘sabar’ or  ‘saqal’ in Arabic according to Marijcke Jongbloed’s ‘Wildflowers of the United Arab Emirates’ (pp 29) – was noted by Marijcke in her book; “Remarks: Often planted on or near graveyards.” She also noted its many traditional uses, many of which are medicinal applications.

subaitnah_31

Figure 2: Grave at Subaitah with Aloe vera in a circle on the internment area. [Brien Holmes]

subaitnah_40

Figure 3: Grave with scattering of Aloe vera plants at Subaitah. [Brien Holmes]

 

Aloe vera ‘crop circles’

Research conducted on the Aloe vera plant has failed to provide any clues on the growth patterns of the plant. It is assumed from observation that the plant grows outward from the point where the first plant was placed as propagation of Aloe vera is a combination of seed production and new shoots spreading under the surface around the base of the parent plant. Over time, the plant spreads outward while the original plants in the center die, leaving a circle of healthy plants surrounding the remains of the older plants. The rate of growth and spreading from that central point is affected by a number of factors including weather and soil conditions.

Some of the circles of Aloe vera plants measured more than a meter with few, if any, living plants inside the circle. On other graves, there were only one or two plants and no evidence of a circle of plants.

Given the variables – soil, climate, plant condition – it is not possible to determine the age of the plants nor whether the plants are the remains of original plants placed on the graves, plants resulting from subsoil propagation, or plants that may have developed from seed distribution.

subaitnah_38

Figure 4: Meter-long stick shows size of Aloe vera circle of plants; remains of dead plants in center of circle. [Brien Holmes]

Clive Winbow, author of a book on the native plants of Oman, said the ‘crop circle’ pattern may be common for the plant.

I can confirm that ‘crop circle’ effect. In my garden this has happened
with Aloe vera in 2 locations taking I would say, approx eight – ten
years, for the circle to emerge, with dieback in the centre. You would
recall that the common aromatic Cymbopgon schoenanthus grass also does
this, but I could only guess the reason in either case, I’m afraid,
connected with colonisation. Aloe is an excellent horticultural ground
cover, I find, as it forms offsets quite aggressively, through long
underground shoots. – Clive Winbow, personal communication

As noted, given all the variables, it is difficult to estimate the age of the plants and ‘crop circles’ at Subaitah though it appears the plantings may be 100 years old, perhaps older.

Other cemeteries

Having observed the situation at Subaitah, it was decided to visit other known graves to see if these featured Aloe vera plants. It was also decided that known clusters of Aloe vera plants would be inspected again to see whether there were graves located nearby.

After one season of informal inspections, no Aloe vera could be found growing “wild”; all were associated with graves. (One mountain oasis community, still occupied, did have a small “garden” that included cactus and Aloe vera plants but no graves.) However, not all graveyards had Aloe vera plants. The area investigated included all of the communities on the western slopes of the Hajjar Mountains between Wadi Jizzi and Wadi Sharm, a distance of almost 50 kilometers and an area populated by the Ka’abi.

Aloe vera was observed growing on graves in cemeteries at Khutwah, Jazira, Aboul, Khabbayn, Musah, Sharam, and A’Dahir. (For Google Earth images showing location of these communities and associated cemeteries, see Appendix H.)

Table 1: Coordinates of graves at communities observed

Settlement North East
Subaitah 24°15’53.92″N 56° 09’46.32″E
Jazirah 24°19’13.93″N 56° 09’02.07″E
Khabbayn 24°18’34.96″N 56° 07’37.88″E
Khutwah 24°19’11.67″N 56° 07’44.99″E
Aboul 24°26’09.31″N 56° 03’51.88″E
Musah 24°22’15.54″N 56° 04’43.97″E
Sharam 24°29’50.47″N 55°59’24.25″E
A’Dahir 24°18’03.82″N 56° 07’37.09″E

DSC_0142

Figure 5: General view of cemetery at Khutwah with clumps of Aloe vera visible throughout the cemetery. [Brien Holmes]

DSC_0129

Figure 6: A large number of Aloe vera plants in the vicinity of several graves at Khutwah. [Brien Holmes]

DSC_3273

Figure 7: At Jazira, Aloe vera plants cover a large area making it difficult to identify individual graves; this is a cemetery containing more than a dozen graves (one lower left). [Brien Holmes]

communities b

Figure 8: Settlements (blue markers) with cemeteries that include graves with Aloe vera plants growing on top of the interment. City of Al Ain (UAE) and town of Mahadah (Oman) included for reference. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

 

 

Aloe vera on the Oman peninsula

Tracing the path Aloe vera has taken from its origins in the Arabian Peninsula and northern Africa, does not appear to have been documented though it is evident its medicinal qualities have been widely known for thousands of years. From references on Sumerian tablets in the third millennium to use of the plant in Egypt and records of Alexander the Great (b. 356 BC, d. 323 BC) dispatching emissaries to the island of Socotra to secure a supply of the plant for his army, Aloe vera has evidently been a medicinal plant employed in many different cultures and, as such, would have been transported widely by traders, fishermen, Bedouin, and others.

“The earliest record of Aloe vera is found on a Sumerian clay tablet from the city of Nippur. The record dates back to 2100 BC, during the reign of the famous King Sargon of Akkad. The plant was depicted in stone carvings and Egyptian vases. Aloe vera also appeared in the famous “Ebers Papyrus”, an ancient Egyptian book of remedies and one of the oldest preserved medical documents dating to about 1550 BC. “Ebers Papyrus” provides many uses for Aloe vera claiming both internal and external benefits.

In ancient Egypt, Aloe vera, known as the ‘plant of immortality’, was presented as a burial gift to deceased pharaohs. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported it was a customary gift, as the Egyptians believed it would usher the departed into a new life. According to legend, Aloe vera surrounded the pyramids and was planted along the route to the Valley of Kings. When they came to flower, it symbolized that the pharaoh reached the other side.”

From: http://www.aloe1.com/history/aloe-vera-part-1

Samantha Munro, in her article ‘Aloe vera – History Use and Benefits’ on the Aloe Health UK site (www.aloehealthuk.com) suggests the plant and its medicinal – and other – benefits have been known for more than 4000 years.

“Often called the ‘miracle plant’ or the ‘natural healer’, Aloe vera is a plant of many surprises. It flourishes in warm and dry climates, and to many people it looks like a cactus with fleshy thorny leaves. In fact it is a member of the Lily family, staying moist where other plants wither and die by closing its pores to prevent moisture loss.

“There are around 400 species of Aloe, but it is the Aloe Barbadensis Miller (Aloe vera or “true aloe”) plant which has been of most use to mankind because of the medicinal properties it displays. Ancient records show that the benefits of Aloe vera have been known for centuries, with its therapeutic advantages and healing properties surviving for over 4000 years. The earliest record of Aloe vera is on a Sumerian tablet dating from 2100 BC.

“Its antiquity was first discovered in 1862 in an Egyptian papyrus dated 1550 BC. It was used to great effect by Greek and Roman physicians. Researchers have found that both the ancient Chinese and Indian used Aloe vera. Egyptian Queens associated its use with their physical beauty, while in the Phillipines it is used with milk for kidney infections. Aloes are referred to in the Bible, and legend suggests that Alexander the Great conquered the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean to secure supplies of Aloes to treat the battle wounds of his soldiers.”

There is no mention of Alexander the Great having been to Socotra in the discussion of his life and conquests at the History of Macedonia website [http://www.historyofmacedonia.org/AncientMacedonia/AlexandertheGreat.html] In fact, some Internet sites associated with Socotra discount the story [http://www.socotraislandadventure.com/Socotra_People&Culture.htm]:

Socotra is distinguished by a distinct and unique cultural history.  Although it is unlikely that the legend that Aristotle advised Alexander the Great to send colonists to Socotra to harvest aloe is true, the existence of such a legend points to Socotra being “on the map” already in ancient times.  Archaeological work over the last century has shown that the island was inhabited from at least the first centuries A.D., and that Socotra was visited and settled by Africans, Arabs and Indians.

However, other Socotra sites suggest the legend may be true as Socotra was considered a source of at least four items that were much-valued in the ancient world [http://www.socotra-eco-tours.com/products/socotra-history/].

The importance of the island had always been based on four almost miraculous commodities: frankincense with its deeply mysthic meaning for ancient nations, myrrh as a medicine and basis for luxurious perfumes, dragon blood used for body decorations and medical treatments, and aloe also very precious in traditional medicine. The value of these substances resulted in Socotra being much more famous in the ancient times than it is nowadays. As legends put it, the Egyptians used to visit Socotra to establish frankincense orchards because its resin was said to help spirits to reach the afterlife. According to the Phoenicians, the island used to be a home to the legendary Phoenix bird that lived on the frankincense and flew to the Egyptian city of Heliopolis every 500 years in order to rise from its ashes. Possibly due to high quality of local frankincense and its market value, the South Arabian tribes began to settle down on Socotra around 1000 BC. 

The first mention of Socotra in record however does not concern the heavy smell of frankincense but the noise of weapons. During his war adventures, the young Greek titan Alexander the Great got attracted by Socotra. It is said that it was Alexander’s tutor, Aristotle, who peaked interest in Socotra by referring to the availability of myrrh some time around 330 BC. Those sent to colonize the island were handpicked by Aristotle and came from his native town of Stageira. Their task was to colonize the island and turn it into Alexander’s base for his invasion to India and a rich source of healing myrrh that was more than handy to the Greeks so much involved in wars. Interestingly, this story was related by the Arab historian al-Masudi writing in the tenth century AD. As we all know, Alexander’s invasion to India was everything but success. However Socotra became a part of the Helenic world and was mentioned by many ancient authors.

Perhaps story tellers, recounting the conquests of Alexander the Great, Gilgamesh, and Sinbad over time, have contributed to the confusion. No doubt the legends are valuable assets for tour operators, among others, to exploit [http://adimiziani.wordpress.com/tag/alexander-the-great/]:

Records in the ancient tomes such as Periplus dating to the 1st century EC (Common Era), indicate that Socotrans, likely descended from South Arabian tribes, made incense from the ubiquitous frankincense trees on the island when it was considered the “gold of the east”. They also produced cinnabar, aloe, turtle shells and ambergris. Legendary figures such as Gilgamesh and Sinbad supposedly visited the island, as well as Alexander the Great, Marco Polo and Chinese Admiral Zheng He.

One site dedicated to the history of Macedonia discusses the history of the island of Socotra – and the origin of the island’s current name – as well as the legend of Alexander the Great’s conquest of the island and removal of the original population to establish a colony of Greek-speaking individuals responsible for aloe cultivation.

Scotra, probably represented the usual pronunciation of the name SOCOTRA, which has been hypothetically traced to a Sanskrit original, Dvvpa-Sukhadhara, “the island Abode of Bliss,” from which (contracted Diuskadra) the Greeks made “the island of Dioscorides.”

So much painful interest attaches to the history of a people once Christian, but now degenerated almost to savagery, that some detail may be permitted on this subject.

The Periplus calls the island very large, but desolate; . . . the inhabitants were few, and dwelt on the north side. They were of foreign origin, being a mixture of Arabs, Indians, and Greeks, who had come thither in search of gain . . . The island was under the king of the Incense Country . . . . Traders came from Musa (near Mocha) and sometimes from Limyrica and Barygaza (Malabar and Guzerat), bringing rice, wheat, and Indian muslins, with female slaves, which had a ready sale. Cosmas (6th century) says there was in the island a bishop, appointed from Persia. The inhabitants spoke Greek, having originally settled there by the Ptolemies. “There are clergy there also, ordained and sent from Persia to minister among the people of the island, and a multitude of Christians. We sailed past the island, but did not land. I met, however, with people from it who were on their way to Ethiopia, and they spoke Greek.”

The ecclesiastical historian Nicephorus Callistus seems to allude to the people of Socotra, when he says that among the nations visited by the missionary Theophilus, in the time of Constantius, were “the Assyrians on the verge of the outer ocean towards the East . . . whom Alexander the Great, after driving them from Syria, sent thither to settle, and to this day they keep their mother tongue, though all of the blackest, through the power of the sun’s rays.” The Arab voyagers of the 9th century say that the island was colonized with Greeks by Alexander the Great, in order to promote the culture of the Socotrine aloes; when the other Greeks adopted Christianity these did likewise, and they had continued to retain their profession of it. The colonizing by Alexander is probably a fable, but invented to account for facts.

[Edrisi says (Jaubert’s transl. pp47, seqq) that the chief produce of Socotra is aloes, and that most of the inhabitants of this island are Christians; for this reason: when Alexander had subjugated Porus, his master Aristotole gave him the advice to seek after the island producing aloes; after his conquest of India, Alexander remembered the advice, and on his return journey from the Sea of India [nb Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 B.C.] to the Sea of Oman, he stopped at Socotra, which he greatly admired for its fertility and the pleasantness of its climate. Acting on the advice of Aristotle, Alexander removed the inhabitants from their island, and established in their place a colony of Ionians, to whom he entrusted the care of cultivating aloes. These Greeks were converted when the Christian religion was preached to them, and their descendants have remained Christians. – H.C.]

http://history-of-macedonia.com/2011/04/19/alexander-socotra/

(The site includes a link labeled “Source” which goes to Gutenberg.org; no specific source is available.)

Tracing the history of Aloe vera suggests it originated in the Arabian peninsula [http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Aloe-vera.htm]:

Aloe vera is native to the Arabian Peninsula and is widely cultivated around the world. It has escaped from cultivation and become naturalised in the Mediterranean, north Africa, the Indian subcontinent, South America and the Caribbean.

Its uses, as summarized on the Kew website, are considered with the plant’s uses still very popular today:

Aloe vera has been used for centuries and it is more popular today than ever. It is cultivated around the world as a crop for its colourless jelly-like leaf parenchyma known as ‘aloe gel’. It is used for a variety of purposes in food, food supplements, herbal remedies and cosmetics.

Aloe vera leaf parenchyma (aloe gel) may be effective when used on the skin against psoriasis, burns, frostbite, and sores caused by the Herpes simplex virus. Research has shown that, taken orally, aloe gel can help to lower cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol, and can help to lower blood glucose levels in people with type II diabetes.

The green outer layer of the leaves of Aloe vera yields a bitter, yellow exudate which has very different properties from those of the colourless parenchyma. The bitter leaf exudate has traditionally been used as a laxative. However, research has indicated that the active constituents may have harmful effects and can interact with other medicines and herbal remedies. It should not be given to children or to pregnant or breastfeeding women.

David Cutler, former staff member at the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens was co-author (Gale, R. and Cutler, D.F. (2000)) of Plants in Archaeology – Identification Manual of Artefacts of plant origin from Europe and the Mediterranean (Westbury Scientific Publishing & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 512 pp.) was asked if, in the course of research for the book, whether the authors had identified the use of Aloe vera on grave sites. “I have not come across any records of Aloe vera from archaeological sites.  There may be some, but I have been retired now for a number of years, and haven’t kept up on the literature in this area!” he replied. (http://www.kew.org/science-research-data/directory/people/Cutler_David.htm)

The uses of the plant today are many and varied. A collection of almost 40 papers on the uses of Aloe vera can be found at http://www.nupro.net/aloe/aloebook.pdf.

One of the more detailed summaries of the history of the plant [http://www.aloe1.com/history/aloe-vera-part-1] includes this discussion:

The earliest record of Aloe vera is found on a Sumerian clay tablet from the city of Nippur. The record dates back to 2100 BC, during the reign of the famous King Sargon of Akkad. The plant was depicted in stone carvings and Egyptian vases. Aloe vera also appeared in the famous “Ebers Papyrus”, an ancient Egyptian book of remedies and one of the oldest preserved medical documents dating to about 1550 BC. “Ebers Papyrus” provides many uses for Aloe vera claiming both internal and external benefits.

In ancient Egypt, Aloe vera, known as the ‘plant of immortality’, was presented as a burial gift to deceased pharaohs. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported it was a customary gift, as the Egyptians believed it would usher the departed into a new life. According to legend, Aloe vera surrounded the pyramids and was planted along the route to the Valley of Kings. When they came to flower, it symbolized that the pharaoh reached the other side.

Besides it’s healing potential, Aloe vera, which over the centuries, has also been called the ‘lily of the desert’, ‘elephant’s gall’ and the ‘burn plant’, was reportedly used by Egyptian queens like Cleopatra to give them younger, more radiant skin.

Aloe vera is referenced multiple times in the Bible for its’ healing properties. The Aloe Barbadensis Miller Stockton species of Aloe vera is known as the “Virgin Trinity” plant because it is claimed to be a descendant of the variety that Nicodemus used to anoint Jesus’ body after the crucifixion, as found in John 19:39.

Documents dating back to 40 AD prove the ancient Greeks and Romans also used the Aloe vera plant. The Greek physician Dioscorides and the famed Hippocrates, referred to as the father of modern medicine, both touted the curative effect of Aloe vera when applied to stomach ailments and open wounds. Dioscorides, a doctor who served in the Roman army, wrote in his “De Materia Medica” that Aloe vera juice treats issues of the gums and mouth and “loosens the belly, cleansing the stomach”.

Aloe vera was used in many cultures across the ancient world. There is evidence that the Phoenicians dried the Aloe vera pulp and exported it throughout the Greco-Roman empire, exposing more people to it’s uses and benefits. There is further documentation that Alexander the Great, who conquered and created one of the largest empires in ancient history, used the plant’s gel to doctor his soldier’s wounds on a campaign in the Indian Ocean.

Other cultures, like China, the Philippines and India, have records of Aloe vera use. According to “Copra’s Indigenous Drugs of India”, “the uses of aloe…for external application to inflamed painful parts of the body and for causing purgation [internal cleansing] are too well known in India to need any special mention.”

After being used throughout the ages, Aloe vera was brought to the new world by Spanish conquistadors and missionaries when they colonized South America and the Caribbean in 1600 AD. In 1720, Carl Von Linne, a Swedish physician known as the father of modern taxonomy, gave the healing plant the scientific title—Aloe Barbadensis Miller. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the plant was grown in warm climates, with the first commercial United States farm established in Florida in 1912. Up until the present day, international research is still being conducted on the uses and healing properties of the curative Aloe vera plant.

Many of these details are also mentioned at http://www.aloeria.co.uk/html/body_aloe_vera_history.html.

The plant, having made its way from the Arabian peninsula (and/or Egypt), was eventually available in India where it has been known by different names including mussabar. The plant is discussed on many websites dedicated to medicinal plants of India, including a site dedicated to the herbal garden of the President of India [http://presidentofindia.nic.in/herbal_gardens.html].

 

Elixir of Youth, Plant (Herb) of Immortality

Given its history and the use, over millennia, as a medicinal plant, it is not a surprise that it has earned a reputation as a unique and much-prized plant. Different cultures and groups, over time, have identified it as the ‘Plant of Immortality’ and ‘Elixir of Youth’, to name a few.

Also called “the elixir of youth” by the Russians, “the herb of immortality” by the old Egyptians or the “harmonious remedy” by the Chinese, Aloe vera is without a doubt the medicinal herb most widely known for its noticeable impacts on health and at the same time the ingredient most widely used in the cosmetic industry. Not one study conducted so far was fully able to explain the wonders which lie within this herb and how its compounds work together in a miraculous way to bring about the treatment or the alleviation of some of the most serious illnesses like cancer or AIDS.  

Aloe vera or “Aloe Barbadensis” is a plant which originated in North Africa and spread to the fertile lands with mild climate. Its physical aspect is similar to that of the cactus; the thick rind hides a succulent core formed mostly of water.

The aforementioned herb gained worldwide recognition and has been intensively used from the oldest of times due to its extraordinary features. A clear proof of this fact is a clay plank found in the antic city of Nippur, Babilon (the Irak from today) dating from year 2200 b.c. From Greek physicians like Celsius and Dioscorides to Romanians (Pylni the Great) and Arabs (Al-Kindi) to C.E. Collins, the one who published the first modern medical thesis in United States (1934), “Aloe vera” has always been an issue with a long history behind it. Just about every important civilization used it for its benefical effects over health and beauty. Egyptians would mix aloe with other herbs while preparing remedies for internal and external anomalies. After the Second World War, Aloe vera was introduced in treating the victims of the catastrophies from Nagasaki and Hiroshima because of its ability of mitigating the pain of the patients and renewing skin tissues.

http://www.liveandfeel.com/medicinalplants/aloe_vera.html

However, as noted in Appendix L, many plants have been associated with immortality and other special qualities.

 

 

Records of Aloe vera on graves

The custom of planting Aloe vera on graves does not appear as common as are the medicinal applications. To date, only a handful of references have been found reporting the planting of Aloe vera on a grave though there are many references to the use of the plant and its derivatives in funeral preparations.

In the horn of Africa, the use of the plant on graves has been mentioned in Ethiopia and Somalia but specific locations are not given. Likewise, the custom has been reported from Iran, but only on Queshm Island located in the Straits of Hormuz immediately opposite the tip of the Musandam peninsula.

This plant is very good adaptad [sic] in South Iran. It also grows in dryland regions of Iran. This plant was brought to Gheshm (the land in Iran) by businessman many years ago. It is narrated in “Sabir name” in Persian that this plant relaxes men. This plant is put on the grave that relaxes the family of decesed [sic]. In Gheshm few hectars [sic] of old grave yard has Aloe vera as traditional plant of graves. This paper reviews history, its chemicals, medical usage, plant morphology, extracts and agronomy of Aloe vera.

http://www.aensiweb.com/aeb/2010/464-468.pdf

It is interesting that the reason mentioned for planting Aloe vera on the graves on Queshm Island is for the benefit of the relatives of the deceased, not in connection with any benefit the plant may provide on Judgment Day, or any other explanation.

locations

Figure 9: Countries and locations where the custom of placing Aloe vera plants on graves has been reported (red pins). Also marked are Yemen and Socotra (blue pins) where the plant may have originated based on some sources. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

qshm

Figure 10: Google Earth image of Queshm Island and its proximity to the Musandam peninsula. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

distance

Figure 11: The distance, as calculated on Google Earth, from Queshm Island to the tip of the Oman peninsula is approximately 51 kilometers. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

One other reference to the planting of Aloe vera in cemeteries was included in a blog recounting a visit to Egypt:

We took the road south from Tobruk, past the World War Two cemeteries with their neat rows of headstones and swept pathways, stippled with aloe vera plants, flowering cacti, and simple dedications. These burial grounds were tidy, orderly, nothing like the mass graves slowly filling in Tripoli.

http://www.utne.com/blogs/blog.aspx?blogid=30&tag=Libya

One source (Symbolism and Design in Ancient Egyptian Gardens by Alix Wilkinson) was reviewed for any reference to Aloe vera as a common plant in Egyptian gardens; however, there was no mention of Aloe vera nor of any custom of placing living plants on graves.

The Earthwitchery website makes reference to the custom but provides no details and no references:

Aloe (Aloe vera) aka burn plant, medicine plant

Feminine. Moon. Water.

Protection, Luck. Guards against evil influences and prevents household accidents. Plant aloe on the graves of loved ones to promote a peaceful existence until the deceased is reborn. Use for success in the world. Prevents feelings of loneliness.

http://www.earthwitchery.com/herbsa-g.html

The text (above) appeared verbatim on the site http://www.wiccantogether.com/group/cronesandelders/forum/topics/magical-properties-of-herbs.

The practice has also been observed in at least one other place in Africa, a custom of the Bantu tribes of Africa.

Aloe products, such as dried leaves, have been found amongst the items used for fetish purposes by traditional priests and witch-doctors. As uprooted aloes can survive for years, and even flower in this condition, they are often hung over doors of houses as charms intended to ensure long life for the occupants. An uprooted A. aristata Haw. Plant in the home of a childless woman in Botswana is supposed to indicate whether or not the woman will bear a child, according to whether the plant flowers or dries up. Several species, such as A. rivae and A. vera, are planted on graves. In southern Africa a Sotho man maintained a plant of A. arborescens as the home of the spirits of his male ancestors.

(Jackson, 1964). (p. 28 Aloes The genus Aloe Edited by Tom Reynolds [http://www.scribd.com/doc/117406711/ALOES-THE-GENUS-ALOE]

[Jackson, A.O. (1964) An unusual Bantu household altar. Aloe, 2, 14–15.]

The custom has also been recorded in Somalia and Ethiopia, which could explain the custom adopted elsewhere in Africa. The other possible explanation is that the custom was a cultural exchange between Omani sailors and traders and African populations during the centuries when Oman controlled most of the east coast of Africa. If the cultural exchange had taken place, it is possible that the custom passed from the African populations to the Omani populations based on some African custom or may have been passed to African populations by the Omanis as a byproduct of the introduction of Islam during the colonization process.

Tangentially, there is a reference to research conducted on the Tourin Shroud. Evidently Italian researchers who were analyzing a fragment of a thread from the Shroud found traces of Aloe and myrrh (http://www.sindone.info/FAZIO2.PDF). The research team members, authors of the report cited here did not find any traces of “aromas or burial ointments” was “negative” (page four).

Numerous Internet sites, including some presented in Appendix F, include mention of the use of Aloe vera as an ointment used in the embalming process practiced in several ancient cultures.

 

Other instances of plants on graves

It is not certain that any plant appearing on a grave was placed there deliberately; however, in the instance of Aloe plants, the practice does appear to be deliberate. While the use of Aloe vera was noted and recorded specifically in several cemeteries, the author has noted only one other instance of a plant being (evidently) placed on a grave was in the Salalah district of Oman.

bin_Ali_07

Figure 12: The Mausoleum of Mohammed bin Ali near Birkat, Oman. The Mausoleum is surrounded by a large Islamic cemetery. [Brien Holmes]

bin_Ali_01

Figure 13: One of the graves in the cemetery that include the Mausoleum of bin Ali, this Aloe  plant was recorded. [Brien Holmes]

Clive Winbow, author of the book ‘Native Plants of Oman’, identified the plant as Aloe inermis.

“ . . . the plant is Aloe inermis, now renamed A praetermissa. It is identifiable as the leave tips curve outwards.”

“Both that species and the other Dhofari aloe, the endemic A dhofarense, may be used as dyes, and also (used to) have local medicinal uses. Wherever you come across A vera in the northern wadis you assume it is a relic of past habitation in that area.”

Other references to the Aloe vera plant appearing on graves:

Aloe and world cultures

In Arabic, the Aloe plant is called sabbar, an Arabic word that means burden bearer. The Arabs used to sling Aloe plants on the doors of their homes, supposedly to prevent evil from entering. The plants will stay green and alive for extended periods of time and may even flower. Egyptians, who have a long relationship with Aloes, still grow the plants around graveyards to symbolize the patience which is to be exercised during the long suffering from losing the deceased person. The Gala, a hematic tribe who now lives in Ethiopia and Somalia in East Africa grow the plants around their graves and they believe that when the plants flower, the deceased has been admitted to heaven.

[http://www.garudaint.com/product.php?id=35]

 

The Mahometans, especially those in Egypt, regard the Aloe as a religious symbol. In Cairo, the Jews adopt the practice of hanging up the Aloe.

In the neighbourhood of Mecca , at the extremity of every grave, on a spot facing the epitaph, Burckhardt found planted a low shrubby species of Aloe whose Arabic name, saber, signifies patience. This plant is evergreen and requires very little water.

[http://dratiq.com/aloevera.html]

The account above may have originated at the www.botanical.com site:

History

The Mahometans, especially those in Egypt, regard the Aloe as a religious symbol, and the Mussulman who has made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Prophet is entitled to hang the Aloe over his doorway. The Mahometans also believe that this holy symbol protects a householder from any malign influence.

In Cairo, the Jews also adopt the practice of hanging up the Aloe.

In the neighbourhood of Mecca, at the extremity of every grave, on a spot facing the epitaph, Burckhardt found planted a low shrubby species of Aloe whose Arabic name, saber, signifies patience. This plant is evergreen and requires very little water. Its name refers to the waiting-time between the burial and the resurrection morning.

[http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/a/aloes027.html]

 

As per legend, it was the miraculous healing power of Aloe vera that prompted Alexander the Great to conquer the island of Socotra. Cleopatra’s famed beauty is also attributed to the natural goodness of Aloe vera. While the Arabs have a tradition of placing it at graves as a symbol of regeneration and resurrection, the African hunters used its gel as a deodorant.

[http://www.svlele.com/herbal/aloevera.htm]

The references, if any, cited at these websites did not provide any additional details to substantiate these claims. Like many historical details, it seems, the custom of placing Aloe vera plants on graves is passed on as a legend and, as such, there is likely some truth to the claims.

Prior to the introduction of Islam in the Arabian peninsula, Aloe vera appears to have been used for its medicinal qualities rather than any association with the afterlife or resurrection. The ancient Egyptians did, however, make a connection between the plant and funerary customs though there is no record of the plant being placed on graves.

Ancient Egypt

The Aloe vera history is found with the ancient Egyptians to have the reputation as a beauty product for women. The Pharaohs considered it an “elixir of long life”. It was traditional to bring a plant of Aloe vera to the funeral as a gift, which was a symbol of a new life.

The Aloe vera planted along the route leading to the Valley of the Kings and that around the pryramids, accompanied the Pharaoh during his passage to the beyond. They believed it would feed and care for him on his journey in eternity.

When it came into flower, it was the sign that the Pharaoh had reached the “other bank”. The priests used the Aloe vera plant during the funeral rituals by incorporating it in the embalming formula under the name of “the plant of immortality”.

http://www.aloe-vera-advice.com/aloe-vera-history.html

 

Plant attributes responsible

While there is no reliable confirmation or explanation to explain the custom of placing Aloe vera plants on graves, it does seem there are two credible explanations: resurrection beliefs and medicinal benefits.

Given the fact that the custom of planting Aloe vera on graves appears to be confined to the time of Islam, and in countries where one or more branches of Islam are and have been practiced, it is logical to consider an association between the religion and the custom.

While all of the mono-theistic western religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – include the belief in a day of resurrection, Islam appears to have a less contradictory understanding, and therefore teaching, of the belief. Jews and Christians are taught of an impending Day of Judgment when all will rise from the dead and their fate determined, though interpretations and explanations do vary.

In Judaism, the day of judgment happens every year on Rosh Hashanah (a day which is also known as Yom HaDin, Judgment Day), therefore the belief in a last day of judgment for all mankind is disputed. Some Rabbis hold that there will be such a day following the resurrection of the dead. Others hold that there is no need for that because of Rosh Hashanah. While yet others hold that this accounting and judgment happens when one dies. Yet others hold that the last judgment only applies to the nations and not the Jewish people.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Judgment#Judaism]

In Christianity, opinions vary from Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Esoteric Christian traditions. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Judgment] The Wikipedia discussion, evidently well cited, summarizes the different positions among Christians; only the section on Catholicism is noted here.

Belief in the last judgment (often linked with the General judgment) is held firmly inside Catholicism. Immediately upon death each soul undergoes the particular judgment, and depending upon the state of the person’s soul, goes to heaven, purgatory, or hell.

The last judgment will occur after the resurrection of the dead and the reuniting of a person’s soul with own physical body. The Catholic Church teaches that at the time of the last judgment Christ will come in His glory, and all the angels with him, and in his presence the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare, and each person who has ever lived will be judged with perfect justice. Those already in heaven will remain in heaven; those already in hell will remain in hell; and those in purgatory will be released into heaven. Following the last judgment, the bliss of heaven and the pains of hell will be perfected in that those present will also be capable of physical bliss/pain. After the last judgment the universe itself will be renewed with a new heaven and a new earth in the World to Come.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Judgment#Christianity]

In Islam, as is practiced in most subsets of the religion, the Day of Judgment appears to have more significance.

Belief in al-Qiyāmah is considered a fundamental tenet of faith by all Muslims. Belief in the day of Judgement is one of the six articles of faith. The trials and tribulations associated with it are detailed in both the Qur’an and the hadith, as well as in the commentaries of the Islamic expositors and scholarly authorities such as al-Ghazali, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Majah, Muhammad al-Bukhari, and Ibn Khuzaimah who explain them in detail. Every human, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, is believed to be held accountable for their deeds and are believed to be judged by God accordingly.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Judgment#Islam]

All western religions, and most eastern religions, also include a belief in some form of afterlife [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterlife].

Modern teaching of the western religions does appear to place more emphasis on the idea of afterlife with the exception of Islam which still emphasizes the connection between resurrection and an afterlife.

That teaching may be one explanation for the use of the plant on graves owing to the reputation the plant has among cultures and societies in the region, notably that the plant represents longevity and immortality while, at the same time, providing medicinal benefits.

As a result, the act of planting Aloe vera on the grave of a deceased individual would serve:

— the notion of longevity and immortality, confirming that the deceased, though dead, retains the promise of immortality which will (may) come on Judgment Day; and

— the practical value of the plant for use by the deceased who may have been ill or injured at the time of death and could use the medicinal qualities of the plant to tend to any illness or injury when that individual rises on Judgment Day.

Why is this custom not widely embraced? The most logical explanation for that is that the teachings of Islam discourage, if not outright prohibit, the “beautification” of a grave with a plant or other item.

In the United Arab Emirates and northern Oman, the instances of the planting of Aloe vera appear to have occurred over the past 100 or 200 years in an area concentrated along the western slopes of the Hajjar Mountains, an area populated by the al Ka’abi.

While the al Ka’abi occupied the area, individuals from many other countries were a part of those communities, often as laborers. For example, the trading of slaves from Africa was a part of the culture in the Oman peninsula for centuries, the individuals transported to the peninsula from Zanzibar and other points along the east coast of Africa. Some of these individuals would have ended up in the territory controlled by the al Ka’abi. The fact the custom of planting Aloe vera on graves does not appear elsewhere in the Oman peninsula suggests this custom may have roots in Africa as other regions of the Oman peninsula, notably along the Arabian Gulf coast, were populated by individuals from the north (present-day Iraq and Iran, for example).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusions and explanations

It seems evident that the plant, having originated in the Arabian peninsula, was transported by armies and explorers to all corners of Asia, Europe and Africa and, eventually, every corner of the world. It is now cultivated on large farms to supply the evidently growing demand for the plant in medicine and cosmetics.

How it came to be in the Oman peninsula specifically is not covered in any of the material reviewed. However, it is likely that the plant made its way to the region as a result of a combination of the invading armies of conquest, individuals involved in the frankincense trade, and individuals involved in the ancient civilizations, such as Hili.

The association of the plant with graves and the interment of deceased Muslims in the mountain oasis communities from Wadi Jizzi (Oman) to Juwaif (Oman) is unclear. (The author is not asserting that the planting of Aloe vera occurs only in this area along the western slopes of the Hajjar Mountains; however, there are no reports and the author has not observed this practice elsewhere during almost 30 years of travel in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.)

The fact that there are reports of the custom being practiced in southern Iran and in Somalia and Ethiopia suggests the custom could have originated in either location and have been brought to the territory of the al Ka’abi by trade, among other means. Caravan routes existed along the western edge of the Hajjar Mountains, from Salalah and Nizwa to points north including the Buraimi Oases for thousands of years. Likewise, trade existed along the southern coast of the Oman peninsula, connecting all points between the Straits of Hormuz and the Horn of Africa, for thousands of years; individuals could have brought the custom to the al Ka’abi territory via any of the east-west wadi routes that linked the interior with the coast (Nizwa, Jizzi, Helo, Dibba etc).

Several factors contribute to the challenge to trace the events that led from the original discovery of the plant to its use on graves. These factors include:

— the period of time between the first recorded use of Aloe vera and the present;

— the patterns of trade and human migration and political activity in the region; and

— the lack of a culture of writing among populations in the Oman peninsula.

In conclusion, while the precise path of the plant’s use leading to its inclusion in funerary customs in northern Oman may be impossible to identify, it may be concluded that trade, human migration, evolution of local societies, and political activity combined to produce the results.

 

 

Death

The second path of investigation is to consider human reaction to the inevitable fact of death of family members, community colleagues, and others. Different cultures have evolved a variety of customs to deal with death. Among the factors creating to the evolution of customs has been the adoption of religious customs and beliefs.

Much has been written about death. Dying has been a part of mankind’s history from the beginning of time and individuals, societies, religions, cultures have all developed theories, customs and beliefs surrounding death, developing funerary practices that embrace or accommodate these theories, customs and beliefs.

One discussion of death (cyberspacei.com/jesusi/inlight/religion/rites/Death.htm#_Toc503706341#_Toc503706341) discusses some of these aspects of death:

Throughout history and in every human society, the disposal of the dead has been given special significance. The practice was originally motivated not by hygienic considerations but by ideas entertained by primitive peoples concerning human nature and destiny. This conclusion is clearly evident from the fact that the disposal of the dead from the earliest times was of a ritual kind. Paleolithic peoples, such as the Neanderthals and later groups, not only buried their dead but provided them with food, weapons, and other equipment, thereby implying a belief that the dead still needed such things in the grave. This very significant practice can be traced back to great antiquity, possibly to about 50,000 BC.

The ritual burial of the dead, which is thus attested from the very dawn of human culture and which has been practiced in most parts of the world, stems from an instinctive inability or refusal on the part of man to accept death as the definitive end of human life. Despite the horrifying evidence of the physical decomposition caused by death, the belief has persisted that something of the individual person survives the experience of dying. In contrast, the idea of personal extinction through death is a sophisticated concept that was unknown until the 6th century BC, when it appeared in the metaphysical thought of Indian Buddhism; it did not find expression in the ancient Mediterranean world before its exposition by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC).

The belief that human beings survive death in some form has profoundly influenced the thoughts, emotions, and actions of mankind. The belief occurs in all religions, past and present, and decisively conditions their evaluations of man and his place in the universe. Mortuary rituals and funerary customs reflect these evaluations; they represent also the practical measures taken to assist the dead to achieve their destiny and sometimes to save the living from the dreaded molestation of those whom death had transformed into a different state of being.”

 

Funerary customs

As discussed in the excerpt above and numerous articles and books – and songs and poems and paintings – the way communities, families, and religions deal with a death varies considerably today and have varied over time and among cultures.

In the Oman peninsula, societies developed some dramatic funerary customs, many of which are still evident today. Tombs of the Umm an Nar culture have been excavated and studied on the coastline at Abu Dhabi [http://www.adach.ae/en/portal/umm.alnar.aspx]. The former Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) (now part of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority) discusses important archaeological sites at Marawah Island [http://www.adach.ae/en/portal/marwa.island.aspx], Jebel Hafit [http://www.adach.ae/en/portal/jabel.hafit.tombs.aspx], Bida Bint Saud [http://www.adach.ae/en/portal/bida.bint.saud.aspx], and Hili (Al Ain) [http://www.adach.ae/en/portal/alhilli.archaelogical.park.aspx]. At archaeological sites in the ‘Buraimi Oasis’ region, especially at Jebel Hafit, Bida Bint Saud, and Hili, burial systems are the most dominant features of the sites. Archaeological teams including those from Denmark, France, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates have observed and reported much of the funerary customs associated with the tombs. However, none of the investigations appears to have drawn any connection between graves and Aloe vera.

Likewise, a review of literature and websites for archaeological sites in Oman, notably publications in the series The Journal of Oman Studies, has likewise failed to find any reference of the use of Aloe vera on graves in the region. One of the few published accounts is Marijcke Jongbloed’s book on the plants of the United Arab Emirates.

The funerary customs associated with Islam are well documented and, assumed, have been followed by the local population for centuries following the adoption of Islam in the region in the 7th century. Numerous books, periodicals, and websites discuss the history of Oman and the coming of Islam. One thorough discussion was published in Saudi Aramco World in the magazine’s May/June 1983 issue, pages 4-7  [http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/198303/oman-a.history.htm].

With the advent of Islam, ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, later famous as the conqueror of Egypt, and one of the most important political and military leaders of the early Muslim community, was sent to Oman by the Prophet Muhammad. This was probably in the year 632, for while he was in Oman he learned of Muhammad’s death that year in Medina, and hastened back. His mission, however, was successful: the two sons of the Julanda of Oman accepted Islam, and immediately, with their Azd kinsmen, set about driving the Persians out of the country: they sent a letter to the pagan Sasanid governor at Rustaq, inviting him to embrace Islam and, when he refused, defeated him in battle. The Azd then besieged the Persian garrison at Sohar, forcing the governor to surrender and leave the country. The Azd subsequently played a major role in the Islamic conquests. They were one of the five tribal contingents that settled in the newly founded garrison city of Basra at the head of the Arabian Gulf: under their great general al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra, they also took part in the conquest of Khurasan and Transoxania.

Another important group in Oman’s history was the Kharijites, who fled south following the battle of Siffin, in 657, when the forces of Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet, fought the armies of Mu’awiya, the governor of Syria, and founder of the Umayyad dynasty, over the issue of the succession to the caliphate. The Kharijites refused to accept either Ali or Mu’awiya as the legitimate successor, believing the caliphate should be elective, and many took refuge in Oman, far from the authority of the central government. In 750, when the Umayyad dynasty was overthrown by the Abbasids, an Omani branch of the Kharijites known as the Ibadis picked as their spiritual leader Julanda ibn Mas’ud – a descendant of the same Julanda brothers who first embraced Islam, and despite an expedition to Oman sent by the Abbasids, these Imams ruled in Oman thereafter.

The article suggests the Ibadi branch of Islam dates back to 750 AD.

The differences between the Ibadi branch of Islam and other branches is the subject of many papers, books, websites, and articles. The concern here is whether there is any significant difference between Ibadi and other branches of Islam regarding funerary procedures and the interment of the dead.

One way to consider the scope of the difference between the branches is with regard to hadiths, a hadith being “a saying or an act or tacit approval or disapproval ascribed either validly or invalidly to the Islamic prophet Muhammad.” (Islahi, Amin Ahsan (1989 (tr:2009)) (in Urdu). Mabadi Tadabbur-i-Hadith (translated as: Fundamentals of Hadith Interpretation). Lahore: Al-Mawrid. Retrieved 2 June 2011.

The Wikipedia site discussion of Ibadi Islam has the following discussion of Hadith from the perspective of Ibadi followers [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibadi]:

View of hadith

Ibāḑīs accept as authentic far fewer hadīth than do Sunnīs, and some hadith accepted by Ibāḑīs are rejected by Sunnīs. Ibāḑī jurisprudence, naturally, is based only on the ḥadīth accepted by Ibāḑīs. Several of Ibāḑīsm’s founding figures – in particular Jābir ibn Zayd – were noted for their ḥadīth research, and Jābir ibn Zayd is accepted as a reliable narrator by Sunnī scholars as well as by Ibāḑī ones.

The principal ḥadith collection accepted by Ibāḑīs is Musnad al-Rabī’ ibn Ḥabīb, as rearranged by Abū Ya’qūb Yūsuf ibn Ibrāhīm al-Warijlanī. Ibāḑī jurists use the rules set by Abū Ya’qūb al-Warijlanī to determine the reliability of a ḥadīth. These are largely similar to those used by Sunnīs.

Ibāḑī jurists, however, criticize some of Muḥammad’s companions, believing that some were corrupted after the reign of the first two caliphs. Still, they accept hadith narrating the words of the companions as a third basis for legal rulings, alongside the Qur’an and ḥadith relating Muḥammad’s words.

There is nothing, however, to suggest that the funerary practices/customs followed in Ibadi Oman vary significantly from those generally prescribed for all Muslims.

One of the most thorough discussions of funerary customs was found at [http://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/janazahstepbystep.htm] (copy enclosed).

Of particular interest were the sections of the discussion pertaining to the cemetery and individual graves. In the discussion of interment (Al Dafin), the authors note:

There is no Islamic teaching of putting flowers, food, water, or money around the grave that will benefit the deceased.

There is no Islamic teaching of putting anything in, on or around the grave that will benefit the deceased.

However the authors do note that “Some of these practices are done by some Muslims in different countries, but that does not make it the Islamic way.

Likewise, practices may have varied in the past.

Quoting specific teachings, the authors report:

It is prohibited to build any form of construction on the grave, or decorate the grave.

From the authentic traditions, it is clear that to erect domes over graves or build mausoleums or Mosques on graves is strictly forbidden. Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “Do not build Mosques in the graveyard.” (Muslim)

Ali ibn abi Taleb reported that: “Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) instructed him to destroy all statues, and not to leave a grave raised high without leveling it with the ground,” (Muslim) which means no construction on the grave.

The following is from the Encyclopedia of Islam (personal copy of the author):

“The dead body was washed by those of the same sex though  [II:442a] there were exceptions;

Abå Bakr [q.v.] gave orders that he should be washed by his widow. It was a mark of piety for one at the point of death to wash himself in readiness. The body was not stripped entirely and was washed several times, always an uneven number, and for the last sidr leaves or camphor was steeped in the water. If disease made it unwholesome to touch the body, it was enough to pour quantities of water over it. Washing began with the right side and the parts washed in the ritual ablution. Martyrs who fell in battle were not washed and were buried in their blood-stained clothes without prayers. Grave-clothes might be the everyday garments, usually three, though sheets were used; white was the normal use though colours were allowed but not red. The eyes were closed, the jaw tied up and the graveclothes tied tightly but were loosened in the tomb. If the clothes were short they had to cover the head while the feet might be covered with reeds. The body was carried to the grave on an open bier with a cloth thrown over it, and there was an extra covering for a woman. Burial might be in the house but was more usual in a cemetery. The funeral moved quickly for, “If I am good, hurry me to God; and if I am bad, get rid of me quickly”. It was better to walk in the procession than to ride and it was a work of merit to help carry the bier, if only for a few steps. A halt might be made at a mosque for prayers which differed from the  ßal§t  [q.v.] because the mourners stood throughout. Prayers were said by the grave. A near relative officiated though the governor or a famous scholar might be asked to lead or might insist on doing so. The im§m  [q.v.] stood by the head of a man or by the trunk of a woman. Prayers were said over an infant if it had cried once but not over a suicide. Those sitting in the street should stand as a funeral passes. Women were not allowed to be present; this was to avoid the lamentation customary in the ò3§hiliyya [q.v.] because lamentations added to the pains of the dead. The earth must not press on the body which must sit up to answer Munkar and NakÊr so the grave was a pit with a narrower trench at the bottom or a niche hollowed out at the side; the trench was roofed with flagstones and the niche shut off by a wall of sun-dried bricks. Grave-diggers specialized in one or other of these forms and MuÈammad’s grave depended on whether a “trencher” or a “nicher” came first. If this tale is true, these forms of burial existed before Islam but the details are so precise that the whole is suspect. The nearest relatives descended into the grave to put the body in position with the face towards Mecca and to loosen the grave-clothes. One man one grave is the rule; after the battle of UÈud two bodies were put in one grave but one was taken away later; if a man and a woman had to be laid in one grave, there had to be a partition between them. Burial might be on the day of death or the following day but a hurried burial at night was not approved. Some held that the earth over a grave should be level though others allowed a small mound. Covering it with plaster and inscriptions was forbidden but headstones with name, date and sentences from the |ur”§n soon became common. Water was often sprinkled on the grave; rain watered that of a saint and in later times, if there was a horizontal stone, it had a hole in it to let water through. Coffins were not used at first but by the 6th century they were common. There might be a meal with gifts of food to the poor. Customs changed; women followed funerals, professional |  [II:442b] mourners were employed and masonry tombs became common.[1]

And later: “Aloes seems to be mentioned by Arabic writers only in the story of ø9amåd; otherwise it is found only in a Syriac lexicon.”

The discussion from the Encyclopedia of Islam is very similar, though with less detail, than that in the paper enclosed, namely Authentic Step-by-Step Illustrated Janazah Guide. The Encyclopedia of Islam also notes that “Customs change . . .”.

One source [http://www.nagpuronline.com/people/rit_mslm.html] noted: “When the grave is completely filled in, two stones are kept over it on either ends and two plants or branches or trees are planted.” (Entire article appears as Appendix A.)

However, another reference site [http://islam.about.com/cs/elderly/a/funerals.htm ] discourages the planting of flowers on the grave:

The deceased is then taken to the cemetery for burial (al-dafin). While all members of the community attend the funeral prayers, only the men of the community accompany the body to the gravesite. It is preferred for a Muslim to be buried where he or she died, and not be transported to another location or country (which may cause delays or require embalming the body). If available, a cemetery (or section of one) set aside for Muslims is preferred. The deceased is laid in the grave (without a coffin if permitted by local law) on his or her right side, facing Mecca. At the gravesite, it is discouraged for people to erect tombstones, elaborate markers, or put flowers or other momentos. Rather, one should humbly remember Allah and His mercy, and pray for the deceased. [The entire discussion of death, funerals etc is contained in Appendix B.]

 

The history of Aloe vera

In the unattributed discussion of the history of the plant at http://www.garudaint.com/product.php?id=35, it is confirmed that the plant has been associated with medicine for thousands of years.

As discussed in the article, the aloe plants “belong to the liliaceae family which contains over 200 genera” with the aloe – in its different variations – accounting for 1/10th the lily family. “Aloeneae is the tribe of the liliaceae family to which the aloe genus belongs. According to different botanical sources, there are from 325 to 380 different species and varieties of Aloe.”

The article reports that the plant was known and used in the Arab world more than 3000 years ago, the earliest printed reference reported from Egypt.

“Records of ancient knowledge of the Egyptians about Aloe vera is [sic] available to us through the everas papyrus which was written in the year 1552 B.C. and is kept now in the German University in Leipzig.”

Eventually, Arab traders and sailors took the plant to India where its use was widespread. It is believed it spread from India to China and beyond.

The article is the only one located to date discussing the relationship between the plant and Arab/Islamic culture.

“In Arabic, the Aloe plant is called sabbar, an Arabic word that means burden bearer. The Arabs used to sling Aloe plants on the doors of their homes, supposedly to prevent evil from entering.

“The plants will stay green and alive for extended periods of time and may even flower. Egyptians, who have a long relationship with Aloes, still grow the plants around graveyards to symbolize the patience which is to be exercised during the long suffering from losing the deceased person. The Gala, a hematic tribe who now lives in Ethiopia and Somalia in East Africa grow the plants around their graves and they believe that when the plants flower, the deceased has been admitted to heaven.”

The reference to the practices in Ethiopia and Somalia leads to an interesting speculation. Perhaps the planting of Aloe vera on graves has been passed to the people of northern Oman after centuries of movement of people from the west coast of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula; the history of the plant is often linked to the island of Socotra, located near the coast of Somalia and currently part of Oman. Is it possible the custom was brought to the region by persons brought from Somalia or Ethiopia? Or has the custom been passed from community to community along the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula over the millenia?

In a brief discussion of Aloe vera by Satish Lele (http://business.vsnl.com/nelcon/herbal.htm), the origin of the plant is traced to Somalia.

“The word ‘aloe’ has its roots in the Arabic word ‘alloeh’, which means ‘radiance’. A native plant of Somalia with a history dating back to the fourth century B.C, Aloe vera also figures prominently in Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, Indian and Christian literature. As per legend, it was the miraculous healing power of Aloe vera that prompted Alexander the Great to conquer the island of Socotra. Cleopatra’s famed beauty is also attributed to the natural goodness of Aloe vera.”

Lele’s discussion of Aloe vera in Arab culture varies slightly from the previously cited source: “ . . . the Arabs have a tradition of placing it at graves as a symbol of regeneration and resurrection . . .”

Another source (http://www.aloeria.co.uk/html/body_aloe_vera_history.html) also notes the mention of aloe on a Sumerian clay tablet as well as the reference to aloe in Egypt a few centuries later.

“One of the earliest books on the subject of natural medicine (the only kind known at the time) was the Rig Vede, compiled in India sometime between B.C.E. 4500 and B.C.E. 1600. While it lists hundreds of plants deemed useful in medicine and is the logical starting point for any discussion of alternative medicine, it does not specifically mention Aloe vera. Many believe that a Sumerian clay tablet, found in the city of Nippur, written around B.C.E. 2200, was the first document to include Aloe vera among plants of great healing power. The first detailed discussion of Aloe’s medicinal value is probably that which is found in the Papyrus ebers, an Egyptian document written around B.C.E. 1550. This document gives twelve formulas for mixing Aloe with other agents to treat both internal and external human disorders.

“The first milestone in Western man’s detailed understanding of medicinal plants is the work of Hippocrites (460B.C.- 375B.C.), the father of modern medicine (doctors today still take the Hippocratic Oath). His Material Medica makes no direct mention of Aloe, but during that same period, the plant, according to Copra’s Indigenous Drugs of India, had come into widespread use. Interestingly, Copra writes, ‘The use of Aloes, the common musabbar, for external application to inflamed painful parts of the body and for causing purgation [internal cleansing] are too well known in India to need any special mention.’”

 

Aloe and the Bible

The use of aloe for various purposes is mentioned in a number of locations in the Bible, the one mention of aloe and funerary practices being in John 19: 38-40:

“And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.”

The complete set of verses from John and other instances where aloe is mentioned in the Bible are listed in Appendix C.

 

 

Conclusion

Aloe vera has been a part of numerous cultures for thousands of years as a result of its medicinal qualities which were recorded as early as Sumerian society. Like many other plants, Aloe vera has been associated with special powers including immortality and longevity. As a result, it is not surprising that it has been used, from time to time, as part of funerary customs in different cultures.

The earliest association of the plant with funerary customs appears to be in ancient Egypt in connection with the burial of Pharaohs. However it is not until the time of Islam that there is any specific mention of the living plant being placed on graves; while there are references to the practice, there are few, if any, details so it is difficult at this time to conclude when the practice may have begun.

The practice appears to be limited to a relatively small geographical area between the Horn of Africa and southern Iran at the Straits of Hormuz. This is an area where trade and hunting and human migration has taken place for thousands of years so it is not surprising that a funerary custom, along with language, food, dress, arts, or lifestyle would be shared and even common among families and tribes in the region.

Cultures that have occupied the region for thousands of years have used a variety of different means of disposing of the deceased including elaborate tombs and subterranean burials. These different burial systems have been studied and documented extensively.

However, the custom of planting Aloe vera plants on graves appears to be a recent development that seems to be in contravention of Islamic instructions regarding the burial of the dead. Burials, along with preparation of the body of the deceased, are detailed in Islamic teachings due, in part, to the belief in a Day of Resurrection.

Although families and tribes in the Oman peninsula share much history, the custom of planting Aloe vera on graves appears limited to an area associated with the al Ka’abi family, in an area along the western slopes of the Hajjar Mountains in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

It would be helpful to have a more comprehensive record of the presence of Aloe vera plants on graves in the UAE and Oman, a more accurate estimation of the age of the plants and the graves, and any reference to the plant in the available histories of the peoples of the UAE and Oman. The custom may be known in the oral history of the region and steps to record and document that oral history should be promoted extensively.

With modern living standards and policies to relocate populations from mountain oasis communities, the custom of burying the dead in cemeteries adjacent to these communities appears to be abandoned.

 

 

Acknowledgements

A survey of this nature – considering the graves of unknown individuals in mountain oasis communities – has not been one to attract a great deal of interest among friends and colleagues. However, a few have been especially supportive and helpful in collecting information on the topic. Cheryl Dance (Al Ain) has looked for evidence of the planting of Aloe vera on graves in communities she visits in Oman and the United Arab Emirates and her photographs and documentation has been very much appreciated. Lynn Kordus (USA) has been exceedingly generous in her forwarding of websites and other information that has contributed to the understanding of ancient funerary customs and uses of Aloe vera. Clive Winbow (Muscat), author of the book ‘The Native Plants of Oman’ has likewise been generous with his time; his expertise in identifying plants and his extensive knowledge of plants and their uses in the Oman peninsula is very much appreciated. Thanks also to Peter Hellyer for his support and encouragement over the years. Finally, a sincere note of appreciation to Zaki al Nusseibeh for his patience and contributions as he and I discussed different aspects of this custom.

Appendices

Appendix A:   Muslim Funerary rites

Appendix B:   Other discussions of death in Islam

Appendix C:   References to aloe in the Bible

Appendix D:   How Romans Buried Their Dead

Appendix E:    Death and Burial in Greek Culture

Appendix F:    Death, funerary rites, and other customs in Judaism

Appendix G:   Other discussions of Aloe vera

Appendix H:   Communities and associated cemeteries where Aloe vera observed

Appendix I:     Authentic step-by-step illustrated Janazah guide

Appendix J:    Religious Rites

Appendix K:    Photographs of graves with Aloe vera

Appendix L:    Other plants associated with immortality and special powers

 

Appendix A: Muslim funerary rites

(as discussed at: http://www.nagpuronline.com/people/rit_mslm.html)

Funeral Rites: Muslims bury their dead, and the same word janazah is used for the corpse, the bier and the funeral. When a man is at the point of death a chapter of the Kuran telling of the happiness awaiting the true believer in the future life, is read, and he is given a few drops of sarbat. After death the body is carefully washed and wrapped in three or five clothes for a man or woman, respectively. Some camphor or other sweet-smelling stuff is placed on the bier. Women do not usually attend funerals, and the friends and relations of the deceased walk behind the bier. To carry a bier is considered a very meritorious act, and four to the relations, relieving each other in turn, bear it on their shoulders. Muslims allow no delay for carrying their dead to the place of interment, and necessarily attend the funeral on foot. The funeral service is recited in a mosque or in some open space close to the graveyard. Usually the family priest or the village Kazi recites the service. Coffins are only used by the rich. When the body has been lowered in the grave each person takes up a clod and pronouncing over it a verse of the Kuran places it gently over the copse. When the grave is completely filled in, two stones are kept over it on either ends and two plants or branches or trees are planted. Then the fatima, i.e., the opening chapter of the Kuran, is read. On the third day is feast is given in the morning and after that trays of flowers with a vessel containing scented oil are handed round and the guests pick flowers and dip them into the oil. They then proceed to the grave, when the oil and flowers are poured over the grave. On the morning of the tenth t his offering of flowers and scented oil is repeated. Other feasts are given on the fortieth day, and at the expiration of four, six and nine months and one year from the date of death, and the rich sometimes spend large sums on them. These observances though not prescribed by the Kuran have been retained either form pre-Islamic times or adopted in imitation of the Hindus.

 

Appendix B: Other discussions of death in Islam

(as discussed at http://islam.about.com/cs/elderly/a/funerals.htm)

“Death is a very painful and emotional time, yet one that may be filled with hope and mercy. Muslims believe that death is a departure from the life of this world, but not the end of a person’s existence. Rather, eternal life is to come, and we pray for God’s mercy to be with the departed, in hopes that they may find peace and happiness in the life to come.

Care for the Dying

“When a Muslim is near death, those around him or her are called upon to give comfort, and reminders of God’s mercy and forgiveness. They may recite verses from the Qur’an, give physical comfort, and encourage the dying one to recite words of remembrance and prayer. It is recommended, if at all possible, for a Muslim’s last words to be the declaration of faith: “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah.”

“Upon death, those with the deceased are encouraged to remain calm, pray for the departed, and begin preparations for burial. The eyes of the deceased should be closed, and the body covered temporarily with a clean sheet. It is forbidden for those in mourning to excessively wail, scream, or thrash about. Grief is normal when one has lost a loved one, and it is natural and permitted to cry. When the Prophet Muhammad’s own son died, he said: “The eyes shed tears and the heart is grieved, but we will not say anything except which pleases our Lord.” One should strive to be patient, and remember that Allah is the One who gives life and takes it away, at a time appointed by Him. It is not for us to question His wisdom.

“Muslims strive to bury the deceased as soon as possible after death, avoiding the need for embalming or otherwise disturbing the body of the deceased. An autopsy may be performed, if necessary, but should be done with the utmost respect for the dead.

Washing and Shrouding

“In preparation for burial, the family or other members of the community will wash and shroud the body. (If the deceased was killed as a martyr, this step is not performed; martyrs are buried in the clothes they died in.) The deceased will be washed respectfully, with clean and scented water, in a manner similar to how Muslims make ablutions for prayer. The body will then be wrapped in sheets of clean, white cloth (called the kafan).

Funeral Prayers

“The deceased is then transported to the site of the funeral prayers (salat-l-janazah). These prayers are commonly held outdoors, in a courtyard or public square, not inside the mosque. The community gathers, and the imam (prayer leader) stands in front of the deceased, facing away from the worshippers. The funeral prayer is similar in structure to the five daily prayers, with a few variations. (For example, there is no bowing or prostration, and the entire prayer is said silently but for a few words.)

Burial

“The deceased is then taken to the cemetery for burial (al-dafin). While all members of the community attend the funeral prayers, only the men of the community accompany the body to the gravesite. It is preferred for a Muslim to be buried where he or she died, and not be transported to another location or country (which may cause delays or require embalming the body). If available, a cemetery (or section of one) set aside for Muslims is preferred. The deceased is laid in the grave (without a coffin if permitted by local law) on his or her right side, facing Mecca. At the gravesite, it is discouraged for people to erect tombstones, elaborate markers, or put flowers or other momentos. Rather, one should humbly remember Allah and His mercy, and pray for the deceased.

Mourning

“Loved ones and relatives are to observe a 3-day mourning period. Mourning is observed in Islam by increased devotion, receiving visitors and condolences, and avoiding decorative clothing and jewelry. Widows observe an extended mourning period (iddah), 4 months and 10 days long, in accordance with the Qur’an 2:234. During this time, she is not to remarry, move from her home, or wear decorative clothing or jewelry.

“When one dies, everything in this earthly life is left behind, and there are no more opportunities to perform acts of righteousness and faith. The Prophet Muhammad once said that there are three things, however, which may continue to benefit a person after death: charity given during life which continues to help others, knowledge from which people continue to benefit, and a righteous child who prays for him or her.

More Information

“A complete discussion of death and burial rites in Islam is given in the Authentic, Step-by-Step, Illustrated Janazah Guide by brother Mohamed Siala, published by IANA. This guide discusses all aspects of a proper Islamic burial: what to do when a Muslim dies, details of how to wash and shroud the deceased, how to perform the funeral prayers and the burial. This guide also dispels many myths and cultural traditions that are not based in Islam.”

A copy of the website is enclosed; the material on the site was edited to correct errors in punctuation, typesetting, and grammar; no changes were made to the text or the highlighting of text.

(as discussed at http://www.netplaces.com/understanding-islam/life-events-in-muslim-families/death-and-funeral-rituals.htm)

“Islam sees death not as an end to life but rather as the beginning of the world to come. Muslims recognize that all creatures will die and believe that God determines our time and place of death. ““Every soul shall have a taste of death; in the end to Us shall you be brought back…. Nor does any one know in what land he is to die. Verily, with Allah is full knowledge, and He is acquainted with all things.”” (Qur’an 29:57, 31:34)

Death Rites

“Muslims see death as a natural event, and they prefer to face death in the company of family and friends, not among strangers in a sterile medical ward. When a Muslim nears death, his loved ones gather around to help him turn his thoughts to God, encourage him to repent his sins, remind him about the good things he did during his life, and give him hope about the mercy of God. They may also prompt him, very gently, to utter words of faith as his last words.

“After death has been confirmed, those present close the eyes of the deceased, cover the body with a clean sheet, and supplicate God to forgive him for anything he did wrong during his life. They then hasten to prepare the body for washing, shrouding, and burial.

“It is common in some Muslim countries to declare a 40-day national mourning period upon the death of a dignitary. This practice has no basis in Islam. The mourning period in Islam is limited to three days, except in the case of a widow mourning her husband’s death.

Islamic Burial

“Muslims strive to bury the dead as soon as possible after death, and many Islamic burials occur within twenty-four hours. Family members or other members of the Muslim community care for the deceased. They wash the body several times with water, following the same general process as in the ablutions for prayer. In the final wash, perfume or camphor is added to the water. Finally, the body is dried with a towel and shrouded in plain white cloths.

“According to a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims may bequeath up to one-third of their estate in a written will to any person or organization of their choosing. In addition, transfers of estate may be done at any time during a person’s lifetime. These amounts are not included in the inheritance calculations.

“At the time of burial, Muslims gather to pray the funeral prayer, called salaat-l-janazah. This is a congregational prayer during which worshipers ask God for forgiveness and mercy for the deceased. The congregation gathers in front of the body, standing in rows. The funeral prayer is said silently except for a few words. After the prayer, the body is transferred directly to the cemetery for burial.

“Muslims prefer simple and natural burials. If permitted by local law, the deceased is buried without even a casket. The shrouded body is placed in the grave resting on the right side, facing Mecca. Muslim cemeteries are characterized by simplicity, humility, and economy. One will not find ornate monuments or elaborate floral displays. A grave is usually marked with a simple stone marker, level to the ground.

“The official mourning period in Islam is three days. For widows, this period is extended to four months and ten days, as described in the Qur’an (2:234). The Prophet Muhammad advised his followers to be humble and patient in mourning. Grief at the death of a loved one is natural, but Muslims are not to despair or lose faith.”

– – –

(as discussed on page 24 of http://www.islam-in-oman.com/fileadmin/booklet/en/book_RTO_en.pdf)

“The rituals for the burial of the dead are based on religious teachings and may differ slightly depending on the ethnic group and traditional practices. All are agreed, however, that the dignity of the dead must be respected, whether man or woman. The ritual begins with the washing of the body, which is then perfumed and wrapped in a white shroud. The funeral bier is carried on the shoulders to the cemetery where prayers are held. The prayer includes asking for mercy and forgiveness for the departed and imploring for his or her entrance into paradise.

“Then the body is carried to the grave, which is a simple pit dug in the appropriate size and depth, into which the body is laid. It is covered with stones so that the funeral bier is not sullied with dust and dirt. Only then is the grave filled with earth.

“Usually there is no indication who is buried in a grave, but grave sites may be marked to provide information about the gender of the deceased. A simple upright stone on either end of the grave marks the final resting place of a man; these plus a third stone in the center indicates that of a woman. On occasion someone may write the name of the deceased on a stone or a small table, which then fades with time. The Omanis rarely visit the graves of their loved ones. The care and maintenance of cemetery plots as is common among Christian denominations as a means of venerating the dead is not practiced in Islam.”

 

Appendix C: References to aloe in the Bible.

How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens by the riverside, like aloes planted by the LORD, like cedars beside the waters.
Num 24:5-6

All Your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, by which they have made You glad.
Psalms 45:8

Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with pleasant fruits, fragrant henna with spikenard, Spikenard and saffron, Calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices– A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon. THE SHULAMITE
Song 4:13-15

I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; let us delight ourselves with love.
Prov 7:17-18

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.
John 19:38-40

Appendix D: How Romans Buried Their Dead

“Funeral Preparation

“When a person died, he would be washed and laid out on a couch, dressed in his finest clothes and crowned, if he had earned one in life. A coin would be placed on his mouth, under the tongue, or on the eyes so he could pay the ferryman Charon to row him to the land of the dead. After being laid out for 8 days, he would be taken out for burial.”

http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/deathafterlife/a/RomanBurial.htm

 

Death and Burial in the Roman Culture

Romans could either bury or burn their dead, and depending upon the personal customs, people would choose one ritual over the other. Roman treatment of the deceased in terms of the cremation rituals perpetuated their life status.

Burial

The Romans believed the soul of a deceased person could only find peace when the physical body was buried in a proper manner and all ceremonies were conducted appropriately. If this was not done, the soul would haunt its home and other family members. It was the solemn religious duty of the living to perform solemn religious rituals for the dead.

Cremation

For those who preferred cremation over burial, there were strict religious rites to be performed. Also, the interment of the body, either the bones or ashes, had to be duly buried in the earth in order to bring happiness and peace to the soul of the deceased person. However, children less than forty days old and slaves were to be buried.

http://www.netplaces.com/evidence-of-the-afterlife/afterlife-beliefs-in-ancient-and-modern-cultures/death-burial-and-the-afterlife-in-greece-and-rome.htm

Appendix E: Death and Burial in Greek Culture

The Greeks believed that when a person dies, his spirit or psyche leaves the physical body in the form of a little breath or puff of air. The deceased was then prepared for burial according to Greek customs. The dead body was washed, anointed with oil, and dressed for the rituals. Relatives, primarily women, conducted the burial ceremonies, which can be divided into three main parts:

  • The prosthesis:This refers to the laying out and display of the body, so relatives, friends, and acquaintances could come and pay their respects to the deceased.
  • The ekphora:Ekphora is the funeral procession, where the deceased was brought to the cemetery for burial. Ekphora usually took place just before dawn, and it involved building the funeral pyre (if the dead body was to be burned) or filling up the grave with objects of daily use. More elaborate objects such as monumental earth mounds, specially built tombs, and marble statues were erected around the grave, to ensure that the deceased would not be forgotten.
  • The interment:The remains of the body, or ashes, if cremated, were placed inside the tomb specially built for the deceased. The tomb could be a family plot (peribolos), a communal grave (polyandreion), or a monumental tomb for the elite. Immortality lay in the continued remembrance of the deceased person by his family members.

The burial ceremonies in the ancient Greek culture were a representation of the social and financial status of the deceased, as the tombs of wealthy men were built in an extravagant manner. Jewels and extravagant objects were considered essential grave offerings.

The Greeks believed those who were not buried or cremated in the appropriate manner would be destined to suffer between the two worlds and would not be given an entry into the underworld, the land of the dead, until these rites were completed.

http://www.netplaces.com/evidence-of-the-afterlife/afterlife-beliefs-in-ancient-and-modern-cultures/death-burial-and-the-afterlife-in-greece-and-rome.htm

 

Appendix F: Death, funerary customs, and afterlife in Judaism

Resurrection and Reincarnation

Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is a fundamental belief of traditional Judaism. It was a belief that distinguished the Pharisees (intellectual ancestors of Rabbinical Judaism) from the Sadducees. The Sadducees rejected the concept, because it is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. The Pharisees found the concept implied in certain verses.

Belief in resurrection of the dead is one of Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith. The second blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, which is recited three times daily, contains several references to resurrection. (Note: the Reform movement, which apparently rejects this belief, has rewritten the second blessing accordingly).

The resurrection of the dead will occur in the messianic age, a time referred to in Hebrew as the Olam Ha-Ba, the World to Come, but that term is also used to refer to the spiritual afterlife. When the messiah comes to initiate the perfect world of peace and prosperity, the righteous dead will be brought back to life and given the opportunity to experience the perfected world that their righteousness helped to create. The wicked dead will not be resurrected.

There are some mystical schools of thought that believe resurrection is not a one-time event, but is an ongoing process. The souls of the righteous are reborn in to continue the ongoing process of tikkun olam, mending of the world. Some sources indicate that reincarnation is a routine process, while others indicate that it only occurs in unusual circumstances, where the soul left unfinished business behind. Belief in reincarnation is also one way to explain the traditional Jewish belief that every Jewish soul in history was present at Sinai and agreed to the covenant with G-d. (Another explanation: that the soul exists before the body, and these unborn souls were present in some form at Sinai). Belief in reincarnation is commonly held by many Chasidic sects, as well as some other mystically-inclined Jews.

[http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm]

Appendix G: Other discussions of Aloe vera

This section is intended to highlight some of the discussions (in English) about Aloe vera, its history, names, and uses.

Most of these sites do not provide bibliographies or references for the information shared or other details of the plant’s history.

It is interesting that several sites offer different translations or interpretations of the Arabic word for the plant. Some of this may be the result of different adjectives or terms used to describe the effect or application of the plants rather than a literal translation of the proper name for the plant.

The sites are presented in no particular order though a leading commercial site is shown first followed by two more scientific sites. The collection includes a handful of unexpected sites to illustrate how broad the appeal of the plant; for example, the plant’s “powers” are said to extend to witchcraft and vampires.

– – –

The AliGel company promotes the use of the plant extracts for medicinal purposes.

Aloe was a well-known plant already at the time of the Ancient Greeks. Indeed Dioscorides and Plinius inform us that it has been used as medical treatment since the IV century B.C.

Aloe was native to the Socotra Island and in Islam it was worshipped and considered a religious symbol. Islamic pilgrims used to bring it to the Temple of the Prophet and also to hang it above the doorstep of their houses to protect their homes.

There was even a type of Aloe which was traditionally planted over the graves because it was thought to give the dead the necessary patience to wait until the resurrection day.

The Sanskrit name of Aloe is kumari, which means “maiden” or “virgin”. This is because Aloe seems to give back to women the energy they had when they were young.

Aloe’s therapeutic properties are well-known in many countries. In the USA it is called “Medicine Plant”; in Spain it is called Sàvila; in Sanskrit and in the Ayurvedic medicine it is called Ghrita-Kumari; in Malaysia it is called Jadam; in China it is called Luhui; in Potugal and its domains it is known as Erba Balbosa; in Greek, Latin, Italian, German, Russian, French and Hawaiian it is simply known as Aloe.

The name “Aloe” derives from the Arabic word “Alloch” which means “bitter and shiny substance”. The adjective “vera” (“true”) has been added a long time ago to refer to the Barbadenis variety and to point out that only that variety of Aloe has the better healing properties. Nevertheless later on it was discovered that also other Aloe species similar to the Barbadenis one have exactly the same precious properties.

For centuries – or better: millennia – the almost magic properties of Aloe derivates (oil, lymph and mucilage) has been renowed [sic] among many different eastern as well as western cultures. Aloe has been used both for internal and external topic application, to heal burns and wounds, to soothe many different types of pain and also to treat some diseases.

News about Aloe have been found on Sumerian clay tablets where it is referred to as Musabbar. In the Ebers papyrus – the most ancient document about medicine ever discovered up to now, indeed it dates back to 1500 b. C.- are listed all the medical properties of Aloe discovered by traditional Egyptian medicine, not to mention a large number of treatments and remedies where Aloe features as one of the main ingredients. The medical receipts written on papyri systematically alternate with magical formulae that in ancient times were thought to make the treatments more effective and powerful.

http://www.aligelgroup.com/english/aloe_story.htm

– – –

Two of the more credible discussions of Aloe vera are from WebMD and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

WebMD

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-607-Plant%20of%20Immortality%20(ALOE).aspx?activeIngredientId=607&activeIngredientName=Plant%20of%20Immortality%20(ALOE)

Aloe (often called Aloe vera) is a plant related to cactus. It produces two substances, gel and latex, which are used for medicines. Aloe gel is the clear, jelly-like substance found in the inner part of the aloe plant leaf. Aloe latex comes from just under the plant’s skin and is yellow in color. Some aloe products are made from the whole crushed leaf, so they contain both gel and latex. The aloe that is mentioned in the Bible is an unrelated fragrant wood used as incense.

Aloe medications can be taken by mouth or applied to the skin. Aloe gel is taken by mouth for osteoarthritis, bowel diseases including ulcerative colitis, fever, itching and inflammation, and as a general tonic. It is also used for stomach ulcers, diabetes, asthma, and for treating some side effects of radiation treatment.

But most people use aloe gel topically, as a remedy for skin conditions including burns, sunburn, frostbite, psoriasis, and cold sores. Some people also use aloe gel to help surgical wounds and bedsores heal faster. There is some science supporting these uses. Some chemicals in aloe gel seem to be able to increase circulation in the tiny blood vessels in the skin, as well as kill bacteria. Together, these effects suggest that aloe gel might be effective in speeding wound healing. But it’s too early to come to that conclusion. Evidence is contradictory. One study suggests that aloe gel may actually delay wound healing.

Some people take aloe latex by mouth, usually for constipation. Less often, aloe latex is used orally for epilepsy, asthma, colds, bleeding, absence of menstrual periods, colitis, depression, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, bursitis, osteoarthritis, and glaucoma and other vision problems.

But taking aloe latex by mouth is likely unsafe, especially at high doses. There is some concern that some of the chemicals found in aloe latex might cause cancer. Additionally, aloe latex is hard on the kidneys and could lead to serious kidney disease and even death.

A number of years ago, the FDA became concerned about the safety of aloe latex, which was an ingredient in many laxatives. The FDA’s concern was heightened by the fact that people develop a kind of “tolerance” to aloe latex. They have to take more and more of it to get a laxative effect. That means they are likely to increase their dose — and their risk. The FDA requested safety data from the makers of laxatives that contained aloe latex, but they didn’t comply, possibly because of the expense involved in doing safety studies. In the absence of safety data, the FDA required manufacturers to remove or reformulate all over-the-counter (OTC) laxative products in the U.S. market that contained aloe. The deadline for compliance was November 5, 2002.

How does it work?

The useful parts of aloe are the gel and latex. The gel is obtained from the cells in the center of the leaf; and the latex is obtained from the cells just beneath the leaf skin.

Aloe gel might cause changes in the skin that might help diseases like psoriasis.

Aloe seems to be able to speed wound healing by improving blood circulation through the area and preventing cell death around a wound.

It also appears that aloe gel has properties that are harmful to certain types of bacteria and fungi.

Aloe latex contains chemicals that work as a laxative.

– – –

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

http://nccam.nih.gov/health/aloevera

This fact sheet provides basic information about Aloe vera—common names, what the science says, potential side effects and cautions, and resources for more information.

Aloe vera’s use can be traced back 6,000 years to early Egypt, where the plant was depicted on stone carvings. Known as the “plant of immortality,” aloe was presented as a burial gift to deceased pharaohs.

Historically, aloe was used topically to heal wounds and for various skin conditions, and orally as a laxative. Today, in addition to these uses, aloe is used as a folk or traditional remedy for a variety of conditions, including diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, and osteoarthritis. It is also used topically for osteoarthritis, burns, sunburns, and psoriasis. Aloe vera gel can be found in hundreds of skin products, including lotions and sunblocks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Aloe vera as a natural food flavoring.

– – –

While Aloe vera is now produced commercially to meet industrial demands for the plant material, there are also many who grow the plant privately, encouraged by garden clubs and botanists and garden centers everywhere. The icangarden.com site is typical of many on the Internet today.

When the conquered Egyptians told Alexander the Great about a miracle plant that would heal his soldiers’ wounds, he decided he had to have it—and that’s why he invaded the island of Somalia, the home of aloe vera (pronounced a-lo veer-a). Cleopatra used aloe gel ointment to keep her skin soft, the Arabs used aloe on graves as a symbol of regeneration and resurrection, and you can use it to heal burns. If you don’t already have an aloe plant growing on your kitchen window sill, get one, and see for yourself the many different uses of this amazing plant.

Aloe is a succulent that belongs to the Lily family. It has fibrous roots and thick, fleshy leaves (varying from gray to bright green) with blunt teeth along the edges. If you peel off the green skin, you’ll find a jelly-like substance inside. It is this aloe gel, which is made up of a number of plant chemicals that possesses such remarkable healing properties.

The aloe is an African native, and from there made its way into many different cultures. Aloe is mentioned in the Papyrus Ebers, an Egyptian document of 1500 B.C. By the time of Jesus, the plant had traveled to the Mediterranean area, where it was used to treat wounds, burns, skin ailments, skin cancers, ulcers, hemorrhoids, hair loss, mouth and gum diseases, and even insomnia [sic]. Arab traders took aloe to India and China in the sixth century, but because the plant doesn’t survive freezing, it was much less used in Northern European medicines.

http://www.icangarden.com/document.cfm?task=viewdetail&itemid=1313&categoryid=74#ixzz2KFIPXmii

– – –

Garuda International Inc. is one of thousands of companies involved in the marketing of products that include extracts from Aloe vera plants. On its website, the company gives its own version of the history of the plant and its adoption in different world cultures.

History of Aloe
Aloe plants belong to the liliaceae family which contains over 200 genera. Aloe, with its different species composes 1/10th the size of the lily family. Aloeneae is the tribe of the liliaceae family to which the aloe genus belongs. According to different botanical sources, there are from 325 to 380 different species and varieties of Aloe. The oldest known picture of an Aloe plant is believed to have been shown in color in a manuscript prepared at Istanbul, Turkey. Records of ancient knowledge of the Egyptians about aloe vera is available to us through the everas papyrus which was written in the year 1552 B.C. and is kept now in the German University in Leipzig. Ancient records of the Egyptians, Arab, African, Asians and Americans have discussed the different uses and pathological cases in which Aloes were administered. Aloe was cultivated in Egypt thousands of years ago and was used by the people of the Mediterranean at least 400 years before Christ. Aloe is also mentioned in the Bible’s New Testament. The Arabs had taken Aloe vera plants to India and the Indian people called it savari, a name from which the name savila (Spanish for aloe vera) might have been derived. The Indians also named Aloe Ailwa from which the Greek word alon might have been derived. Aloe was also mentioned in ancient Chinese transcripts. It was employed medicinally for eczematous skin conditions in China and India under the name Luhui in China and Musabbar in India. The Greeks knew Aloe through the Indians. The Greek physician Peter Pedanius Dioscoriades wrote about Aloe in his medicinal plant collection materna medica. Aloe was first illustrated in the Codex Aniciae Julianae which was written around the year 512 A.D. by Dichotomous. Aloe was also mentioned in the writings of the Latin writer, Aurelius Celsus, who wrote a book about medicine and called it De Medicina, which appeared for the first time in the year 1378. Aurelius Celsus was a well-known writer in agriculture and medicine. In America, Aloe was mentioned in Columbus’ journals. The earliest record of using Aloe’s bitter material as a drug in America was 1697.

Aloe and world cultures
In Arabic, the Aloe plant is called sabbar, an Arabic word that means burden bearer. The Arabs used to sling Aloe plants on the doors of their homes, supposedly to prevent evil from entering. The plants will stay green and alive for extended periods of time and may even flower. Egyptians, who have a long relationship with Aloes, still grow the plants around graveyards to symbolize the patience which is to be exercised during the long suffering from losing the deceased person. The Gala, a hematic tribe who now lives in Ethiopia and Somalia in East Africa grow the plants around their graves and they believe that when the plants flower, the deceased has been admitted to heaven. Hindus in North India, practice the tradition of feeding their newborn children a little of Aloe mixed with honey in a golden spoon. It is normally administered by the father. It is supposed to help discharging the meconium. In 1893 there was a preparation from Aloe that was described in the Pharmacographia Indica. The preparation was described as follows: a mixture of worm wood, jatamesi, chiretta, cinnamon, cassia, herba schoenenthi, asarum and mastich to be boiled, then strained and mixed with the powered Aloe, and then a solution will be made and drank in the morning. The British Medical Association issued a couple of books called Secret Remedies, What They Cost and What They Contain, in 1909 through 1912. Many of the drugs that were mentioned contained Aloes. Some of these drugs were: Hugh’s Black Pills, Gloria Pills, Graziona Reducing Treatment, Mother Siegel’s Curative Syrup and Tablet-45. The Aloe content of these was used as the active agent in conjunction with a few other ingredients, such as rhubarb and seaweed.

From: http://www.garudaint.com/product.php?id=35

– – –

A lengthy discussion of the plant’s history can be found on the ‘Dr. Christopher’s Herbal Legacy’ site. The discussion of the plant and its history appears to be well documented at first glance (see footnotes below) however two of the oft-cited sites are no longer available so the tenacity of that information cannot be verified.

History of Aloe vera

http://www.herballegacy.com/Baldwin_History.html

The generations of past mention the healing methods of Aloe vera plants being handed down through the centuries by word of mouth.  We find that the use of Aloe vera appears throughout history with many testimonials of its medicinal values.  The earliest record of Aloe vera use comes from the Egyptians.  There are records of the Egyptians drawing pictures of Aloe vera plants on the walls of the temples. Many cultures such as the Egyptians would have even elevated the plant to a ‘god-like’ status. The healing properties of the Aloe vera were utilized for centuries earning the name “Plant of Immortality”. One of the common myths about the Aloes was that the two Egyptian queens, Nefertiti and Cleopatra used Aloe vera as part of their beauty treatments. However some sources refute these findings.1

The Mahometans of Egypt thought of Aloe vera as a religious symbol, and. they believed that the holy symbol hanging in the doorway would protect them from slanderous and evil influence.2  The Egyptians used the Aloe vera to make papyrus like scrolls as well as for treatment of tuberculosis.3  In ancient Egypt when a Pharaoh died, the funeral ceremony was by invitation only with a price tag included:  a pound of Aloes.  Egyptians used the odorous mixture of Aloe and myrrh for embalming and also placed it with the burial clothes.  A man’s wealth and esteem for the king were estimated by the number of pounds of Aloes he brought.4

 The aged people of Mesopotamia, a country located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in present day Iraq used the Aloe vera to hold off the evil spirits from their residences.  During the Crusades, the Knights of Templar created a drink of palm wine, Aloe pulp and hemp, which was named ‘the Elixir of Jerusalem’ and they believed that it added years to their health and life.5

The island of Socotra which lies near the Horn of Africa, became known for its Aloe vera plantations as early as 500 BC.  The Aloe produced was used for trade to other countries such as Tibet, India and China.  Aristotle convinced Alexander the Great to overtake the Isle of Socotra for their Aloe supply containing aloin.6 The Hindu people thought that Aloe vera grew in the Garden of Eden and named it the ‘silent healer’.  The Chinese doctors of old thought that Aloe vera had therapeutic properties so they called it ‘harmonic remedy’.7  In China the juice of Aloes was used to wipe out all rashes. 8  The Russians called Aloe vera ‘the Elixir of Longevity’.  The native American Indians used Aloe for its emollient and rejuvenating powers. 9

 Aloe vera was grown and used by King Solomon (971-931 BC).  He highly valued its usage. In Psalm 45:8a it says,”All your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.” Aloes were used on the occasion of a king’s wedding, maybe King Solomon’s wedding. He most likely grew his own Aloe vera.  In Song of Solomon 4:14b it says,”…myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest spices.”10 Aloes were esteemed high with the finest spices. The fleshy leaves contained aloin, a substance which, dissolved in water and added to myrrh, was used in Biblical times for their highly perfected art of embalming. 11  John 19: 38-40 says, “And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for the fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body.  And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.”12

Aloe vera had traveled to Persia and India by 600 BC. by Arab traders.  The Arabs called Aloe the ‘Desert Lily’ for its internal and external uses.  They discovered a way to separate the inner gel and the sap from the outer rind.  With their bare feet they crushed the leaves, then they put the pulp into the goatskin bags.  The bags were then set in the sun to dry and the Aloe would become a powder.13

Dioscorides gained most of his knowledge about Aloe vera from traveling with the Roman armies.  He first wrote of it in his ‘De Materia Medica’ in AD 41-68.  His commentary uses Aloe vera for boils, healing the foreskin, soothing dry itchy skin, ulcerated genitals, tonsils, gum and throat irritations, bruising, and to stop bleeding wounds.  Pliney the Elder, a physician from 23-79 AD, confirmed in his ‘Natural History’ the discoveries of Dioscorides. Some additional uses that Pliney found for Aloe vera included the healing of leprosy sores and it reduced perspiration as our first anti-perspirant.  Two thousand years ago Pliney and Dioscorides saw a difference in the quality of different Aloe vera plants and their processing before use. 14

Galen (AD 131-201), a physician to a Roman emperor, used Aloe vera as a healing agent.  Galen authored over 100 books on herbal and conventional medicine.  He gained his knowledge from doctoring the Roman gladiators.  Galen followed after the works of Hippocrates and Aristotle. 15

In the 7th century the Chinese Materia Medicas wrote of using the Aloe vera for sinusitis and other skin conditions. “In the 15th century, a time which heralded a massive explosion in exploration by the then leading maritime powers, namely, Spain, Portugal, Holland, France and Britain, it was the Jesuit priests of Spain who were instrumental in bringing Aloe vera back to the New World as they called it.”16 Many give the Spanish credit for bringing Aloe vera not only to the New World but passing it on to Central America, West Indies, California, Florida, and Texas.17

Early Spanish missions had padres that would dispense the healing aids. Some padres would carry an Aloe vera plant up to 50 miles to comfort the sick.  Aloes were always found in the mission’s yards. During Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to America in 1494, a letter was written by his doctor, Dr. Diego Alverez Chanca, said, “A species of Aloes we doctors use are growing in Hispaniola.”18  Christopher Columbus once said, “Four vegetables are indispensable for the well being of man:  Wheat, the grape, the olive, and aloe.  The first nourishes him, the second raises his spirit, the third brings him harmony, and the fourth cures him.”19

Aloe vera lost its potency for healing when it started being imported.  The pulp worked best when fresh.  This hindered Aloe vera’s reputation in the medical community.  Europe and North America’s medical profession quit using Aloe vera and replaced it with drugs.  The scientists determined that the oxidation process hindered the healing properties of Aloe vera.  It caused the plant to loose quality and effectiveness, gradually leading to its loss of popularity in areas where it is not grown.

In the 1950’s many processing techniques were tried but they failed because of over heating the Aloe can cause it to loose [sic] its medicinal value.  By the 1970’s there was a breakthrough in processing techniques and they successfully; stabilized the leaf gel by using natural ingredients and cold pressing.  They also found a way to separate the rind and aloin.  These new found processing techniques have created a new market for Aloe vera.21

Aloe sales currently supports a multi-billion dollar business world wide.  For thousands of years Aloe vera was part of myths and legends but today it plays a role to help improve health and nutrition.22  Some say that Aloe existed as a predecessor to cortisone on the island of Hawaii in Kona. The Hawiaan people would mash the leaves and stems of Aloe to make a poultice for arthritic conditions.  It was quite successful.23 “

Aloe vera maintains being the only thing known to heal atomic burns…the U.S. Government purchased the entire crop from a man in Texas…to make a salve for atomic burns.”24 The invention of the x-ray and atomic bomb brought Aloe vera back into popularity again as it protected against radiation burns. Aloe vera acted as an old natural remedy that is definitely superior to many synthetic drugs and could be called a modern miracle plants.25

WEBMASTERS NOTE:  Two of the main online references in this article (www.JoJaffa.com and http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com) are no longer valid URLs.

1 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),  http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

2 Greive, Mrs. M., A Modern Herbal, Volume 1, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1971), p.26-29.

3 Baker, O.T., The Amazing Ancient to Modern Useful Plant Aloe vera: Amazing Plant of the Magic Valley, (Lemon Grove, CA: R .Prevost, 1975), p.13-16.

4 Brown, Sylva, The Amazing Ancient to Modern Useful Plant Aloe vera: Could it be the  Magical Ingredient for the Fountain of Youth?, (Lemon Grove, CA: R. Prevost, 1975), p.24-26.

5 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer,(www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),  http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

6 Baker, O.T., The Amazing Ancient to Modern Useful Plant Aloe vera: Amazing Plant of the Magic Valley, (Lemon Grove, CA: R .Prevost, 1975), p.13-16.

7 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999), http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

8 Safran, S., The Amazing Ancient to Modern Useful Plant Aloe vera: Aloe vera Ancient Key to Health and Beauty, (Lemon Grove, CA: R. Prevost, 1975), p.44-46.

9 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),

http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

10 New American Standard Bible, (MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2000), Song 4:14b.

11 Tenney, Merrill, Ed., Pictorial Bible Dictionary, (MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), p.661.

12 New American Standard Bible, (MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2000), John 19:38-40.

13 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),  http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

14 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),

http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

15 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),

http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

16 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),

http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

17 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),

http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

18 Baker, O.T., The Amazing Ancient to Modern Useful Plant Aloe vera: Amazing Plant of the Magic Valley, (Lemon Grove, CA: R .Prevost, 1975), p.13-16.

19 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),

http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Home site Quotation.

20 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),

http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

21 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),

http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

22 Barcroft, Alasdair, Aloe vera Healer, (www.JoJaffa.com, 1999),

http://www.AloeVeraHealer.com, Online: Chapter 3.

23 Safran, S., The Amazing Ancient to Modern Useful Plant Aloe vera: Aloe vera Ancient Key to Health and Beauty, (Lemon Grove, CA: R. Prevost, 1975), p.44-46.

24 Baker, O.T., The Amazing Ancient to Modern Useful Plant Aloe vera: Amazing Plant of the Magic Valley, (Lemon Grove, CA: R .Prevost, 1975), p.13-16.

25 Safran, S., The Amazing Ancient to Modern Useful Plant Aloe vera: Aloe vera Ancient Key to Health and Beauty, (Lemon Grove, CA: R. Prevost, 1975), p.44-46.

– – –

Aloe vera taxonomy and etymology

“The natural range of Aloe vera is unclear, as the species has been widely cultivated throughout the world. Naturalised stands of the species occur in the southern half of the Arabian peninsula, through North Africa (Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt) as well as Sudan and neighbouring countries, along with the Canary, Cape Verde, and Madeira Islands. This distribution is somewhat similar to the one of Euphorbia balsamifera, Pistacia atlantica, and a few others, suggesting that a dry sclerophyl forest once covered large areas, but has been dramatically reduced due to desertification in the Sahara, leaving these few patches isolated. Several closely related (or sometimes identical) species can be found on the two extreme sides of the Sahara: Dragon trees (Dracaena) and Aeonium being two of the most representative examples.

“The species was introduced to China and various parts of southern Europe in the 17th century. The species is widely naturalised elsewhere, occurring in temperate and tropical regions of Australia, Barbados, Belize, Nigeria, Paraguay and the United States. It has been suggested that the actual species’ distribution is the result of human cultivation.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aloe_vera#Taxonomy_and_etymology

– – –

Folk medicine

“Early records of Aloe vera use appear in the Ebers Papyrus from 16th century BC, in both Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica and Pliny the Elder’s Natural History written in the mid-first century AD along with the Juliana Anicia Codex produced in 512 AD.” The species is used widely in the traditional herbal medicine of many countries.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aloe_vera#Folk_medicine

– – –

For combating vampires

Apotropaics, i.e. objects intended to inhibit or ward off vampires (as well as other evil supernatural creatures), include garlic (confined mostly to European legends), sunlight, a branch of wild rose, the hawthorn plant, and all things sacred (e.g., holy water, a crucifix, a rosary) or an Aloe vera plant hung backwards behind the door or near it, in South American superstition. This weakness on the part of the vampire varies depending on the tale. In stories of other regions, other plants of holy or mystical properties sometimes have similar effects. In Eastern legends, vampiric creatures are often similarly warded by holy devices such as Shinto seals.

http://www.theunexplainedmysteries.com/vampires.html

 

– – –

Research for possible medical uses

Wound and lesion treatment

“Aloe vera may be effective in treatment of wounds. Evidence on the effects of its sap on wound healing, however, is limited and contradictory. Some studies, for example, show that Aloe vera promotes the rates of healing, while, in contrast, other studies show that wounds to which Aloe vera gel was applied were significantly slower to heal than those treated with conventional medical preparations. A 2007 review concluded that the cumulative evidence supports the use of Aloe vera for the healing of first to second degree burns. Topical application of Aloe vera may also be effective for genital herpes and psoriasis. However, it is not effective for the prevention of radiation-induced injuries. Gels from Aloe vera have been compared to those derived from other aloe species and with other plants belonging to the family Asphodelaceae. Bulbine frutescens, for example, is used widely for burns and a host of skin afflictions. Aloe vera extracts might have antibacterial and antifungal activities, which possibly could help treat minor skin infections, such as boils and benign skin cysts and may inhibit growth of fungi causing tinea. For bacteria, inner-leaf gel from Aloe vera was shown in one study to inhibit growth of Streptococcus and Shigella species in vitro. In contrast, Aloe vera extracts failed to show antibiotic properties against Xanthomonas species.

Skin protection and cancer

“Although anecdotally useful, Aloe vera has not been proven to offer protection for humans from sunburn, suntan, or other damage from the sun.

“However, the plant polysaccharides present in Aloe vera, although offering no direct protection against sunburn, may offer skin protection by specifically targeting pathways activated by UV radiation that can lead to non-melanoma skin cancer. UV radiation causes local depletion of antigen-presenting Langerhans cell (LCs), as well as systemic immunosuppression. In experiments in laboratory mice, polysaccharides preserved the number and morphology of immunosuppresive LCs and dendritic cells (DCs) in skin that was damaged by UV. These saccharides have also been seen to preserve delayed-type hypersensitivity and cutaneous contact hypersensitivity suppressed by acute UV radiation. Delayed-type hypersensitivity-protective saccharides extracted from A. vera also prevented the systemic suppression of T-cell-mediated immune responses and the production of keratinocyte-derived Interleukin 10 by UV-irradiated epidermal cells in mice. Compounds extracted from Aloe vera have been used as an immunostimulant that aids in fighting cancers in cats and dogs; however, this treatment has not been scientifically tested in humans.

 

Dental care

“In a double-blind clinical trial, both the group using an Aloe vera containing dentifrice and the group using a fluoridated dentifrice had a reduction of gingivitis and plaque, but no statistically significant difference was found between the two.

 

Diabetes and blood lipids

“There is preliminary evidence that Aloe vera extracts may be useful in the treatment of diabetes and elevated blood lipids in humans. These positive effects are thought to be due to the presence of compounds such as mannans, anthraquinones and lectins. Internal intake of Aloe vera has been linked in preliminary research with improved blood glucose levels in diabetics, although it has been suggested by the NTP that aloe may lower blood glucose levels. It has also been linked with lower blood lipids in hyperlipidaemic patients, but also with acute hepatitis (liver disease).”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aloe_vera#Research_for_possible_medical_uses

 

– – –

 

Aloe (Aloe vera) aka burn plant, medicine plant

“Feminine. Moon. Water.

“Protection, Luck. Guards against evil influences and prevents household accidents. Plant aloe on the graves of loved ones to promote a peaceful existence until the deceased is reborn. Use for success in the world. Prevents feelings of loneliness.”

http://www.earthwitchery.com/herbsa-g.html

– – –

Aloe vera: Plant of Immortality

This discussion is part of a paper (http://www.ijpsr.info/docs/IJPSR-10-01-01-02.pdf) by Sikarwar Mukesh. S., Patil M. B., Sharma Shalini, and Bhat Vishnu of the Department of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, K.L.E’S  College of Pharmacy,  Ankola-581314, Uttar Kannada, Karnataka, India, and the Department of Dravyaguna, Dhanvantari Ayurvedic Medical College, Siddapur, Karnataka, India.

History

Aloe has played a significant medicinal role for thousands of years. Egyptians, Assyrians, and Mediterranean peoples used the dried latex primarily, but also the gel. In Egypt, aloe was called “the plant of immortality” and was given as an offering at the funerals of pharaohs and used in the baths of Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra. According to the Roman scholar, Pliny, the plant was also used for embalming. Alexander the Great conquered Socotra Island, reportedly at the request of Aristotle, just to obtain aloe. In the first century C.E., the Greek physician Dioscorides used aloe for mouth infections, sores, wounds and as a purgative. In the10th century, aloe was used in England and during the 17th century, records show that the East India Company frequently purchased aloe from the king of Socotra. Today, Egyptians still hang an aloe plant over the door of a new house to provide a long and fruitful life for its occupants. In India the whole leaves, exudate, and fresh gel aloe are used as a cathartic, stomachic, emmenagogue, and anthelmintic. In China, Mexico, and the West Indies, it has become a common household remedy for a variety of uses. Until the 1930s in the U.S., the primary commercial use of aloe was the dried latex as a laxative.

 

– – –

 

Herbal Information Center and Vitamin Directory

This site (http://www.kcweb.com/herb/aloevera.htm) is typical of several as it maintains, without substantiation, that the plant extracts are acceptable to treat a long list of human ailments; only a sample of the material from the site is included here.

Aloe vera, native to the Africa continent, is also known as “lily of the desert”, the “plant of immortality”, and the “medicine plant”. The name was originated from the Arabic word alloeh, meaning “bitter”, because of the bitter liquid found in the leaves. Around 1500 B.C., the Egyptians were known to use the herbal plant for treating burns, infections and parasites.

There are over five hundred types of aloe growing around the world. Greeks, Arabs and Spaniards have all used the plant throughout history. African hunters still use the gel on their bodies to reduce perspiration and their scent.

Research since the 1930’s has shown that the plants gel has the ability to heal wounds, ulcers and burns by adding a protective coating on the affected areas which speeds up the healing rate.

Aloe vera is about 95% water. The rest contains active ingredients including essential oil, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, enzymes and glycoproteins. Herbalists have used it since the 1930’s as a staple treatment. Many liquid solutions are made, some adding the juice with other plants and herbs. The juice is comforting to digestive tract irritations, such as colitis and peptic ulcers.

– – –

Research papers cited

The following references from the site http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/benefits-of-aloe-vera/ include several articles discussing research into the qualities of Aloe vera. None of the articles appear to draw any connection between the plant and any aspect of death, dying, interment, or rising from the dead.

References:

Foster M, Hunter D, Samman S. Evaluation of the Nutritional and Metabolic Effects of Aloe vera. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22593933

 

Dat AD, Poon F, Pham KB, Doust J. Aloe vera for treating acute and chronic wounds. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22336851

 

Takzare N, Hosseini MJ, Hasanzadeh G, Mortazavi H, Takzare A, Habibi P. Influence of Aloe vera gel on dermal wound healing process in rat. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19778236

 

Mendonça FA, Passarini Junior JR, Esquisatto MA, Mendonça JS, Franchini CC, Santos GM. Effects of the application of Aloe vera (L.) and microcurrent on the healing of wounds surgically induced in Wistar rats. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19377785

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22279374

 

Babaee N, Zabihi E, Mohseni S, Moghadamnia AA. Evaluation of the therapeutic effects of Aloe vera gel on minor recurrent aphthous stomatitis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23162576

 

Ranade AN, Wankhede SS, Ranpise NS, Mundada MS. Development of Bilayer Floating Tablet of Amoxicillin and Aloe vera Gel Powder for Treatment of Gastric Ulcers. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23135966

 

Saito M, Tanaka M, Misawa E, Yamada M, Yamauchi K, Iwatsuki K. Aloe vera Gel Extract Attenuates Ethanol-Induced Hepatic Lipid Accumulation by Suppressing the Expression of Lipogenic Genes in Mice. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23132591

 

Moniruzzaman M, Rokeya B, Ahmed S, Bhowmik A, Khalil MI, Gan SH. In Vitro Antioxidant Effects of Aloe barbadensis Miller Extracts and the Potential Role of These Extracts as Antidiabetic and Antilipidemic Agents on Streptozotocin-Induced Type 2 Diabetic Model Rats. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2311742

 

Lee S, Do SG, Kim SY, Kim J, Jin Y, Lee CH. Mass Spectrometry-Based Metabolite Profiling and Antioxidant Activity of Aloe vera ( Aloe barbadensis Miller) in Different Growth Stages. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23050594

 

Devaraj S, Yimam M, Brownell LA, Jialal I, Singh S, Jia Q. Effects of Aloe vera Supplementation in Subjects with Prediabetes/Metabolic Syndrome. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23035844

 

López-Jornet P, Camacho-Alonso F, Molino-Pagan D. Prospective, randomized, double-blind, clinical evaluation of Aloe vera Barbadensis, applied in combination with a tongue protector to treat burning mouth syndrome. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22957483

 

Beneke C, Viljoen A, Hamman J. In Vitro Drug Absorption Enhancement Effects of Aloe vera and Aloe ferox. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22896832

 

Ahmadi A. Potential prevention: Aloe vera mouthwash may reduce radiation-induced oral mucositis in head and neck cancer patients. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22855041

 

Site: http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/benefits-of-aloe-vera/

– – –

Global Healing Center

The 2011 2nd edition of Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects cites the extraordinarily long use of Aloe vera for its therapeutic benefits, both internal and external. Its use extends as far back as biblical times and was mentioned in the New Testament as an herb for embalming.

http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/benefits-of-aloe-vera/

– – –

Equine In Motion

For centuries, Aloe Vera has been used by many different cultures. The ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Babylonians, Indians and the Chinese have all used Aloe Vera as a medicinal plant. Throughout the years, Aloe Vera (Aloinae) has been called many things: Potted Physician, Wand of Heaven, Wonder Plant, Heaven’s Blessing, and Plant of Life.

Botanists have identified at least 200-300 different types of Aloe Vera plants. Of all these types of Aloe, only five have demonstrated medical benefits: Aloe Barbadensis Miller, Aloe Perryi Baker, Aloe Ferox, Aloe Arborescens and Aloe Saponaria. Aloe Barbadensis Miller is the most widely used as well as the most potent. Indigenous to Africa, it is now grown all around the world specifically in warmer, drier climates.

Aloe Vera has the ability to provide essential nutrients, kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeasts and reduce inflammation. Dr. Atherton claims, “Tissues that die and are renewed rapidly such as the lining of the gut, which renews itself about every four days, and the skin every 21 to 28 days or so, need a rich and ready supply of building materials to produce and maintain healthy, efficient cells.” A proper diet supplemented with Aloe Vera is an effective way to get these essential nutrients. Aloe Vera can also reduce inflammation to injured tissue. Inflammation occurs when healthy tissue is injured and blood begins to clot around the tissue to repair the injured tissue. Aloe Vera is a natural anti-inflammatory that is much more delicate on the human body.

The benefits of Aloe Vera have long been tested throughout history. It is only in recent years that studies have scientifically proven many of the medicinal benefits of Aloe Vera. Perhaps the longer that scientist and botanists study the benefits of Aloe Vera, the more improvements it will create to human health and well-being.

Atherton, P. (1997). The Essential Aloe Vera. Newport Pagnell: Mill Enterprises.

http://www.equineinmotion.co.uk/About_Aloe.pdf

. . .

Aloe4HealthOonline

Aloe Vera goes by many names which have survived the 4000 or so years which this amazing medicinal herb has benefited mankind. For many centuries, civilisations around the world have used aloe vera for its health benefits It was used by both the ancient Chinese and Indian cultures. Greek and Roman physicians used it to great effect, and the Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra also rated it highly as a beauty therapy.

Aloe Vera (or Aloe Barbadensis Miller) is a succulent plant concealing a pure inner Gel that has been used for centuries to benefit health and enhance beauty. To benefit from Aloe Vera, the Gel can be taken internally for its nutritional and immune balancing effect. It can also be combined with other ingredients to produce topical creams and lotions to nourish and improve the quality of the skin.

Aloe Vera contains over 75 known active ingredients (and probably many more). Also included are 19 of the 20 amino acids required by the human body and 7 of the 8 essential amino acids (that the body cannot make), as well as vitamins and minerals. The most nutritionally potent is the Aloe Barbadensis Miller – the only variety that we cultivate and use in our products. Our natural, patented stabilisation process allows our aloe to reach our consumers in its natural state. Forever Living was the first company to receive the prestigious International Aloe Science Council Seal of Approval for consistency and purity.

Aloe Vera has been used by many different cultures. The ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Babylonians, Indians and the Chinese have all used Aloe Vera as a medicinal plant. Throughout the years, Aloe Vera (Aloinae) has been called many things:  Potted Physician, Wand of Heaven, Wonder Plant, Heaven’s Blessing, and Plant of Life.

Botanists have identified at least 200-300 different types of Aloe Vera plants. Of all these types of Aloe, only five have demonstrated medical benefits: Aloe Barbadensis Miller, Aloe Perryi Baker, Aloe Ferox, Aloe Arborescens and Aloe Saponaria. Aloe Barbadensis Miller is the most widely used as well as the most potent. Indigenous to Africa, it is now grown all around the world specifically in warmer, drier climates.

The structures of most Aloe plants are very similar. Aloe grows to maturity in approximately four years, at which time the leaves begin to sprout. They taper to a point near the top of the plant, and the leaves have soft spines every few inches lining their silhouette. The Aloe Barbadensis Miller has about a 12-year life span.

http://www.aloe4healthonline.com/about/aloevera

 

 

 

Appendix H: Communities and associated cemeteries where Aloe vera observed

Subaitah

Subaitah

Figure 14: Wadi Subaitah on edge of Wadi Jizzi, Oman. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

Graves Subaitah

Figure 15: Settlement and cultivated area on left, graves on terrace on opposite side of wadi bed. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes] 

Wadi Khutwah communities

Khutwah Khabbayn Jazira

Figure 16: View of the three mountain oasis communities in close proximity to one another, each with cemeteries with Aloe vera planted on graves. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

Khutwah

Khutwah graves

Figure 17: Khutwah (Oman) with cultivated area bottom left and graves several hundred meters upstream. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes].

Jazira

jazira

Figure 18: Jazira (Oman) located upstream from Khutwah and Khabbayn is still without electricity, phone or other municipal services. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

Jazira graves

Figure 19: Graves at Jazira (Oman) are located adjacent to the settlement area. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

Khabbayn

Khabbayn graves

Figure 20: Khabbayn (Oman) is a large oasis with cemetery located south of the oasis and west of the new housing. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes] 

Musah

Musah

Figure 21: Musah (Oman) is located several kilometers deep into the Hajar Mountains. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

Musah graves

Figure 22: Cemetery at Musah (Oman) is located on a narrow ledge downstream from the oasis and above the access road and terraces. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes] 

Aboul

Aboul

Figure 23: Aboul (Oman) features a small fort; the supply of fresh water has decreased significantly in the past few decades. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

Aboul Graves

Figure 24: Older graves at Aboul (Oman) are clustered upstream from the oasis (oldest graves) and adjacent to the oasis but on the opposite side of the watercourse. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

Sharam

Sharam

Figure 25: Sharam (Oman) once a large community that regulated caravan traffic in Wadi Sharam. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

Sharam graves

Figure 26: Cemetery at Sharam (Oman) village is located several hundred meters inland (away from wadi and cultivated area) beyond abandoned structures. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

A’Dahir

A'Dahir

Figure 27: A’Dahir (Oman), one of four communities in close proximity, has a separate source of water from wadi system southwest of the settlement. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

A'Dahir graves

Figure 28: With one of the largest cemeteries in the area, A’DAhir (Oman) shows evidence of having been a large and successful settlement for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

 

Appendix I: Authentic Step-by-Step Illustrated Janazah Guide

Compiled by Mohamed Ebrahim Siala

 

Acknowledgments

 

First all praise is due to Allah; we praise Allah and seek Allah’s help and forgiveness. Without Allah’s guidance and help nothing can be achieved.

 

Behind every endeavor there are some individuals who make it possible. This compilation is no exception. My sincere thanks and appreciation goes to all brothers and sisters of the Salman Al – Farisi Islamic Center.

 

To mention some of those who helped: Br. Sheik Aqeel Al – Maqtary, Br. Sheik Magdy Wardah, Br. Awad Elgarguri, Sr. Huda (Christine Dodge), Br. Mansour Al – Mutairi, Br. Ghassan Al – Soraihi, Br. Umar Gunderson, Br. Abdennour Moussaoui, Br Abdulsalam saif, Br Ali Al-Shomrani and many others.

 

They gave their time, and knowledge, time after time, to review, correct, draw, and add, they were always willing to offer their assistance.

 

I ask Allah to accept our efforts, overlook our shortcomings and cover us all with His Mercy in this world and in the hereafter.

 

 

 

 

 

[Note: The original text at http://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/janazahstepbystep.htm has been edited to correct punctuation and spelling errors along with typesetting inconsistencies. The graphics have been modified to enable Table of Figures formatting. The index table and other hyperlinks built into the web document have been removed. No changes have been made to the text. – BH]

 

Contents

Introduction. 80

  1. A) Death. 82

1) When a Muslim is at the point of death. 85

2) Just after death has been determined. 85

  1. B) Mourning the dead. 87
  2. C) Al-Ghusul (washing the dead Muslim) 88

Place of washing: 88

Steps of washing: 88

  1. D) Al-Kafan (shrouding the dead Muslim) 90

1) The Kafan of a male. 90

Steps of shrouding: 90

  1. The Kafan of a female. 91

Steps of shrouding: 91

  1. E) Salatul Janazah (the funeral) 94

Steps of Salatul Janazah. 95

  1. F) Following the Janazah. 99
  2. G) Al-Dafin (burial) 100

Steps of burial: 101

How to enter the body into the grave. 101

Important rules in the cemetery. 103

  1. H) Special cases. 105

1) Miscarried Fetus: 105

2) Children: 105

3) Martyr: 105

  1. I) Condolences. 106
  2. J) The Edda (waiting period) of Muslim widows (females) 107
  3. K) Rewards after death. 109
  4. L) Visiting the cemetery. 110
  5. M) References. 112

 

Table of Figures

 

Figure 1: Kafan of a male. 91

Figure 2: Kafan of a female. 93

Figure 3: Arrangement of men, women, and children at Salatul Janazal 96

Figure 4: Salatul Janazah for a Muslim female (left), Salatul Janazul for a Muslim male (right) 97

Figure 5: Types of graves:  Al Lahed (left) and Al Shaq (right) 100

Figure 6: How to place the body in the grave. 101

Figure 7: Looking into the grave. The deceased inside the grave laying on his right side and facing the Qiblah. 102

Introduction

In the name of Allah Most Merciful Most Gracious

All praise is due to Allah; we praise Allah and seek Allah’s help and forgiveness. And we seek refuge in Allah, Most High, from the evils of our own selves. Whomsoever has been guided by Allah, none can misguide him, and whomsoever is misguided, no one can guide him except Allah.

And I bear witness that there is no god worthy of being worshipped except Allah Al Mighty, alone, without partner or associate. I further bear witness that Muhammad (P.B.U.H) is his true worshipper and messenger, may Allah the exalted bestow His peace and blessings upon him.

Allah says in the Quran “O you who believe! Fear Allah as Allah should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam.” (Quran 3:102).

“O mankind! Be grateful to your lord, Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate, and from them both Allah created many men and women, and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual rights and do not cut relations of Kinship. Surely Allah is ever a watcher over you “(Quran 4:1).

“O you who believe! Keep your duty to Allah, and speak always the truth. Allah will direct you to do good deeds and will forgive you your sins. And whosoever obeys Allah and His messenger, he verily has got a great success.” (Quran 33:70-71).

Know then that the most truthful book is that of Allah (The Quran) and that the best guidance is that of the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.).

As Muslims, we all must submit to the will and commandments of Allah. Those commandments are in the Quran, the word of Allah, and in the Sunnah, the authentic teachings of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H), and whatever his companions said or did of which he did not disapprove.

Allah in the Quran says: ” We have explained in detail in this Quran, for the benefit of Mankind, every kind of similitude “(Quran 18:54), “And we have sent down to you the Book explaining all things: a guide, a mercy, and glad tidings ” (Quran 16:89).

The Sunnah is the secondary source of Islamic law, it is the Prophet’s sayings, actions, and what his companions did to which he showed no objection. Allah in the Quran says that Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) does not speak from himself, but is inspired by Allah: “Nor does he say ought of his own desire and wishes; it is just inspiration sent down to him.” (Quran 53: 3-5)

Muslims are ordered in the Quran to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (P.B.U.H), this means to obey and practice the commands of the Prophet.

Allah in the Quran says: ” Whatever the Prophet ordered you to do, you should do, and whatever he forbids you, you should reject “(Quran 59: 7), ” The sayings of the faithful believers when they are called to Allah (His Words (the Quran) and His Messenger) to judge between them is only that they say: ” We hear and we obey,” And such are the successful. And whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger fears Allah and keeps his duty (To Him), such! They are the successful ” (Quran 24: 51-52).

” But no, by your lord, they can have no (Real) faith, until they make you (Muhammad) a judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against your decisions, but accept them with the fullest conviction ” (Quran 4:65).

After the death of the Prophet, his companions gave sharp attention to preserving the Sunnah of the Prophet. Each one tried to find out what the Prophet did or said in certain situations, and then recorded it.

Later many scholars spent their lives investigating those who transmitted the Sunnah; they compiled the authentic Hadiths. Among these scholars are Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim; both wrote books that contain only authentic Hadiths.

The Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) in many authentic Hadiths showed us in great detail how and what to say and do in our everyday lives.

Allah’s last revelation states that Islam is the perfect religion: “Today I have perfected your religion for you, bestowed my favor upon you and chosen for you Islam as your religion “(Quran 5:3). Thus it is fitting for us as Muslims to follow the perfect guidance of Allah and His messenger through the Quran and the Sunnah.

But unfortunately, people listen to this and that, see the non-Muslim’s ways of doing things and then copy it and it becomes the norm. The Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) predicted this by saying: “You would copy the same path as was done by those before you inch by inch and step by step so that if they had entered into the hole of a Dhab (a desert lizard) you will enter too.” They (The Prophet companions) asked him: “You mean Jews and Christians by your words ’Those before you’?” He said: “Who else (than those two religious groups)” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Some Muslims say: “In our country we do things this way and that way, so it must be the right way “, others say: “We think this way is much better than the other way.”

So as long as the tendency remains among the Muslims in taking blind bride in following their ancestry or tribal heritage or culture or nationality, and as long as Muslims are hardly bothered to learn and take their practices from the pure knowledge, the Quran and the authentic Sunnah, more confusion, and more divisions will continue to hammer the body of the Muslim Ummah.

The message of Islam covers all aspects of life, commanding all things that will benefit a person in this life and the hereafter.

This includes caring for this person when he dies by making dua’ for him, washing and shrouding his body, performing Salatul Janazah for him (where people pray and ask Allah to forgive him and have mercy on him), then putting him in the grave.

The caring extends to his family too, by comforting his relatives, sharing with them their sorrow, and offering them condolences, sympathy and support.

Hoping to fill the need for a simplified Janazah guide to all Muslims, I have followed the method described in the authentic Hadiths, explanatory step by step notes and several illustrated drawings.

I have also included an introduction on importance of following the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.), and an explanation of scholars’ ruling on issues which should be known by every Muslim.

 

A) Death

 

This topic is very important, as each and every one of us will experience it one day and that is: Death.

Almost every day we hear of the death of someone, yet most people ignore the fact that one day they will die too, they go on with their life as if nothing has happened feeling that their time has not yet come for them to die.

Allah says in the Quran: “Everyone shall taste death. And only on the day of resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is removed away from the fire and admitted to paradise, this person is indeed successful. The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception.” (Quran 3:185) ”Every soul shall have the taste of death.” (Quran 29:57)

In an authentic Hadith Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “Remember the destroyer of pleasures-death, for not a day passes upon the grave except it says ‘I am the house of remoteness; I am the house of loneliness; I am the house of soil; I am the house of worms’” (Authentic-Thermithi).

The knowledge of the reality of death helps people understand it and prepare themselves for its coming.

Death is simply a transition state from one world to another, as birth is. No one knows when and where he will die or knows how.

In this respect Allah says in the Quran in Surat (chapter) Luqman: “Nor does anyone know what it is that he will earn tomorrow: Nor does anyone know in what land he is to die. Verily with Allah is full knowledge and Allah is acquainted with all things.” (Quran 31: 34)

Islam is the only religion that explains death in full detail, how it happens, and what Muslims should do before, during, and after the death of a Muslim.

Allah has assigned angels responsible for taking our souls out of our bodies. In the Quran Allah mentioned the Archangel name “Angel of Death”.

Allah says in the Quran: “Say The Angel of Death put in charge of you, will (duly) take your souls, then you shall be brought back to your Lord.” (Quran 32:11).

Death involves agony and hardship as mentioned in an authentic Hadith: “When Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) was dying, he put his hands in a large cup of water which was close to him and wipe his face with it, saying: ‘O Allah help me over the hardship and agony of death.’” (Authentic-Termithi).

For the faithful believers Allah says in the Quran: “Those who have said ‘Our Lord is Allah’, and then have become upright, the angels will descend upon them saying ‘Do not fear nor be sad, but receive good news of the paradise which you have been promised. We are your protectors in this life and in the hereafter: therein you shall have all that you desire; therein you shall have all that you ask for.” (Quran 41:30-31)

Allah also says: “When the angels take the lives of the righteous, the angels say to them: ‘Salaamun Alikum, enter paradise, because of the good deeds that you used to do (during your life)’.” (Quran 6:32).

For the unbelievers, Allah says in the Quran: “If only you could see when the angels take the souls of those who disbelieved, striking their faces and their backs, and saying: ‘Taste the punishment of the fire. That is for what your own hands have put forth (of evil deeds)’.” (Quran 8:50-51)

Allah also says: “If you only could see when the transgressors are going through the agonies of death, and the angels stretching forth their hands saying ‘Deliver your souls; this day you shall be recompensed the torment of degradation because of what you use to utter against Allah other than the truth, and you used to reject Allah’s signs with disrespect’.” (Quran 6:93)

The grave is the first station of the stations of the hereafter. The Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “When the deceased is placed in his grave and when his friends depart and leave him, he hears their footsteps, then two angels will make him sit and ask him: What did you say about this man (Muhammad (P.B.U.H))? The Believer will say: I bear witness that he was the servant and Messenger of Allah.

They (the two Angels) will say to the deceased: Look to your place in Hell. Allah has substituted it with a place in paradise. They see it all together.

However, the unbeliever or the hypocrite, will be asked about Muhammad (P.B.U.H). He will say: ’I don’t know! I used to say what people used to say’. The two angels say to him: ‘How come you did not know and you did not read about him’. Then they beat him heavily with a metal hammer. This causes him to scream painfully and all his surroundings will hear him except human beings and Jinns.” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Another authentic Hadith narrated by Imam Ahmed states that the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said two or three times: “Seek refuge in Allah from the punishment of the grave,’ then he said: ‘When a believer is about to leave this world, angels with bright faces like the sun come down to him from heaven with a shroud from the shrouds of paradise and some of the perfume of paradise and sit away from him as far as the eye can see.

Then the angel of death comes and sits at his head and says: ’O good soul, come out to forgiveness and acceptance from Allah.’ The soul then comes out gently as a drop flows from a water faucet and he seizes it.

Then the other angels take the soul from the angel of death and shroud it with the shroud from paradise, perfume with the perfume of paradise; its fragrance will be like that of the sweetest musk found on the face of the earth.

They then take the sweet-smelling soul up, and whenever they pass by a group of Angeles, they ask: ‘Who is this good soul?’ The angels, accompanying the soul, reply using the best of his names that people used to call him by during his life: ‘So and so, the son of so and so.’ When they reach the first heaven they request permission to enter, and the gates will open to them.

The same is done in the following heavens until they reach the seventh heaven, and Allah says: ‘Record the book of my slave in the highest place and take him back to earth, for I created mankind from it, into it they shall return, and from it shall be brought another time.’

The soul returns to the body, and two angels come to him, make him sit and ask him: ‘Who is your Lord?’ He replies: ‘My Lord is Allah. They ask: ‘What is your religion?’ and he replies: ‘My religion is Islam.’ They ask again: ‘Who is this man who was sent among you?’ He replies: ‘He is Allah’s messenger.’ They ask: ’What is your knowledge?’ He replies: ’I read the book of Allah, believed in it and declared it to be true.’

Then it will be said: ‘My slave has spoken the truth, so spread out carpets from paradise for him, cloth him from paradise, and open a gate for him into paradise.’

Then some of its joy and fragrance come to him, his grave is made spacious for him as far as he can see, a man with a glorious face, beautiful garments and sweet perfume comes to him and says: ’Rejoice in what pleases you for this is your day which you have been promised.’

He asks: ’Who are you, for your appearance brings goodness?’ The man replies: ’I am your good deeds.’ He then says: ‘O Allah, bring the hour, so that I may return to my family and property.’

But when a non-believer is about to leave this world, angels with ugly faces come down to him from heaven with a hard and rough cloth, and sit away from him as far as the eye can see.

Then the angel of death comes and sits at his head and says: ‘O wicked soul, come out to anger and displeasure from Allah.’ It then becomes dissipated in his body.

The angel draws it out violently as a spit is drawn out from moistened wool, and he seizes it; then the other angels take the soul and put it in that rough cloth which emits a very offensive bad stench like the worst smell found on the face of the earth.

They then take the foul-smelling soul up, and whenever they pass by a group of Angels, they ask: ‘Who is this wicked soul?’ The angels, accompanying the soul, reply using the worst of his names that people used to call him by during his life: ‘So and so, the son of so and so,’ when they reach the first heaven they request permission to enter and the gates will not open to them.

Then the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) recited this verse from the Quran: “The gates of the heaven will not be opened to them.” (Quran 7:40) The Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) continued saying: ‘Allah then says: “Record his book in the lowest place,” and his soul falls down to earth.

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) then recited another verse from the Quran: “He who assigns partners with Allah is as if he had fallen down from heaven and been snatched up by birds, or made to fall by the wind in a place far distant.” (Quran 22:31)

The soul returns to the body, and two angels come to him, make him sit and ask him: ’Who is your Lord?’ He replies: ‘My Lord? Oh, I do not know.’ They ask: ‘What is your religion?’ and he replies: ‘My religion! Oh, I do not know.’

They ask again: ‘Who is this man who was sent among you?’ He replies: ‘Oh, I do not know’. Then it will be said: ‘He has lied, so spread out carpets from hellfire for him, and open a gate for him into hellfire.’

Then some of its heat and poison come to him, his grave is made so narrow for him so that his ribs are pressed together in it.

A man with a horrifying face, ugly garments and offensive odor comes to him and says: ‘Be grieved with what displeases you for this is your day which you have been promised.’ He asks: ‘Who are you, for your appearance brings evil?’ The man replies: ‘I am your wicked deeds.’ He then says: ‘O Allah, do not bring the hour.’ (Authentic-Ahmed).

All of this, and the day of judgment has not yet started. So I remind myself first and I remind you as my brothers and sisters to prepare for this day; prepare for it by truly and sincerely submitting to Allah, doing good deeds according to Allah’s commands in the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet.

Avoid all types of wrong and evil which Allah and the Prophet asked us to avoid, but do not delay or postpone since you do not know when death will come.

The following are simple step by step procedures for a Muslim funeral that explain what should be done Islamically when death occurs.

 

1) When a Muslim is at the point of death

Family members of the dying person and his most pious friends should be informed and should be present at his side to help him turn his thoughts to Allah, encourage him very gently to repent, remind him about all the good deeds that he did, about Allah’s mercy, and Allah’s forgiveness so that he may anticipate Allah’s mercy and Allah’s favors.

Allah in the Quran said: “And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord, but those who are misguided.” (Quran 15:56).

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “Let no Muslim die except expecting and hoping the best from Allah.” (Muslim)

Those who are present near a dying Muslim should do the following:

  • They should be kind and patient;
  • They should never leave him alone;
  • They should give him hope, not allowing him to collapse out of pain or panic;
  • They should prompt him very gently (encouragement without insistence) every now and then to say the Shahada: “La ilaha ella Allah”, which means ‘There is no God but Allah,’ in a very kind and sincere manner as these may be his last words;
  • Abu-Saeed Al-Khuduri reported that Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: ” Help Muslims who are dying to say: ‘ La ilaha ella Allah’ ” (Muslim); and
  • They should make Dua’ (supplicate) to Allah to help him go through situation easy, and forgive him.

Note:

There is no authentic proof of reading chapter (yasin) beside a dying Muslim.

There is no authentic proof of directing the dying Muslim to the Qiblah.

There is no Islamic teaching of putting the Quran under the head of a dying Muslim.

There is no Islamic teaching of asking junubs (those who did not take a shower after a sexual act), or menstruating women, to leave the room .

2) Just after death has been determined

When the person is confirmed dead, family members or those who are present should:

  • Close the eyes of the deceased;
  • Um Salma reported that: “When her husband died, Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) closed his eyes.” (Muslim);
  • They should bind his lower jaw to his head so that it does not sag;
  • They should cover all his body completely with a clean sheet;
  • Aisha reported that: “Muslims covered the body of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) when he died.” (Bukhari and Muslim);
  • They should make Dua’ (supplicate) to Allah to forgive him;
  • They should hasten to prepare the body for washing, shrouding and burial;
  • Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “You should hasten with his burial.” (Bukhari and Muslim); and
  • They should pay his debts from his money, or if there is not enough, then from any family member or any relative, this matter is important since the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) encouraged Muslims to pay the debts of the deceased.

Note:

There is no Islamic teaching of putting the Quran under the pillow of the deceased.

There is no Islamic teaching of asking junubs (those who did not take a shower after sexual act), or menstruating women to leave the room of the deceased.

There is no Islamic teaching of putting flowers, candles etc., in the deceased’s room.

 

B) Mourning the dead

 

Mourning over the dead is allowed in Islam, but there is a great difference between what is allowed Islamically and the practice of some Muslims at the present time.

Grief at the death of a beloved person is normal, and weeping for the dead is allowed in Islam. What is prohibited is to express grief by wailing (bewailing refers to mourning in a loud voice), shrieking, beating the chest and cheeks, tearing hair or clothes, breaking things or scratching faces or saying phrases that makes a Muslim lose faith.

All of this is totally prohibited, and the deceased may feel pain by these actions, Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “The deceased suffers when someone bewails loudly” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “Two things in people are Kufr (ignorance), one is to ridicule someone on his family genealogy, and the other is bewailing loudly the dead “(Muslim).

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) also said: ” I detest a woman who cries out very loudly, or shaves her hair, or tears her clothes when a beloved one dies ” (Bukhari & Muslim).

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said:” He is not of us who beats his face, tears his clothes and bewails loudly when misfortune happens to him as was done before during the days of ignorance ” (Bukhari & Muslim).

Some people let their beard grow to show their sadness, then after several days they shave it. Others wear black clothes, or black ties. All of this has no basis in Islam..

It is a Muslim’s duty to advise gently those who do these things to stop doing so, since it is totally prohibited. No loss, however great, should lead a Muslim to sour his faith. They should however bear patiently and accept Allah’s destiny.

There is no objection to quiet weeping as Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) did when his son died and said: ” It is a mercy that Allah made in the hearts of his servants” (Bukhari).

Relatives of a deceased Muslim may mourn him for three days only, but a widow may mourn her husband four months and ten days.

This is due to Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) who said: ” It is prohibited for a woman who believes in Allah and the day of judgment to mourn any dead person more than three days except her husband four months and ten days ” (Bukhari). This period is called the Edda (waiting period) which is prescribed by Allah in the Quran (2: 234).

 

 

C) Al-Ghusul (washing the dead Muslim)

 

When a Muslim dies, it is the responsibility of his family or other Muslims to wash him according to the Islamic rites of washing the deceased. Two or three persons may perform the washing.

The person(s) who may wash the deceased should:

Be a trustworthy, and honest adult Muslim(s).

Know the Islamic way of washing the dead and be able to carry out the washing.

Not make any comment on the body of the deceased.

Note:

If the deceased is a male, then ONLY males should wash him.

If the deceased is a female, then ONLY females should wash her.

For a married person, the spouse may perform the washing.

For a child, either males or females may do the washing.

 

Place of washing:

The deceased’s body should be washed in a clean, secluded, and private place where clean water and soap are available. Gloves or pieces of cloth are needed.

The body of the deceased should be washed with water and, if available, lotus leaves, or camphor (to be used in the final wash).

The washing should be done three or five, or any more odd number of times if necessary.

Steps of washing:

The body of the deceased should be placed on a table or alike, the deceased’s clothes should be removed, and the body should be covered with a sheet of cloth.

The head and the upper body should be raised slightly to insure the washing water with exudations from the body flows down and does not run back to the body.

The Aura (private parts) of the deceased should be covered with a piece of cloth (the aura of a male is from the belly button to the knee in the presence of males, for the female is the same in the presence of females).

The washer should start washing by saying:” Bismil-lah “,” In the name of Allah “.

The washer winds a piece of cloth around his hand, and with this he cleans away any impurities from the body using water. Then he should dispose of this piece.

The washer should take another piece of cloth around his hand, press lightly the stomach of the deceased so as so to expel, if possible, any remnants from it, and then wash the body of all impurities using water. Then he should dispose this piece of cloth.

The washer should take another piece of cloth around his hand (may use gloves), and wash the covered private parts, then dispose of this piece of cloth.

The washer should perform Wudu (ablution) on the deceased without inserting the water in the nose and in the mouth.

The washer should clean the body with water and soap (if available), starting from the head (hair, face and beard (men)), then the upper right side of the body then the left side, after that the lower right side then the lower left.

In the case of a female, her hair should be loosened, washed, combed, and be braided in three braids, and placed behind her back.

The washing should be done three times, or five times, or seven times, as needed, providing that after washing the head, wash the right side before the left, and the upper parts before the lower ones.

In the last wash, the washer may use camphor, or some perfume with the water.

After that the body should be dried with clean towel.

Then the body should be totally covered with a white sheet.

Get ready to start the shrouding.

Special Note: In case the deceased is a female in her menstrual period or have child birth bleeding, padding should be used to prevent blood from leaving the body.

Note:

It is recommended that those who performed the washing should take a bath .

It is recommended that those who performed the washing should make Wudu.

All of this is based on authentic Hadith that Um Atiyah narrated that: ” When the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) died, he instructed us:‘ Wash her three times, or more than that if you feel it is necessary, with water and sidr (good smelling leaves), and then after the last wash apply some camphor to the body , then loosen her hair, wash it, comb it, and make it in three braids laid behind her back ” (Bukhari & Muslim).

Note:

There is no Islamic teaching of reading the Quran during the Ghusul.

There is no Islamic teaching of making special dthiker (certain words to remember Allah) during the Ghusul.

 

 

D) Al-Kafan (shrouding the dead Muslim)

 

Shrouding should start Just after washing the body of the deceased. It is recommended to use white sheets from inexpensive material. Extravagance is not recommended in the Kafan (shroud).

Aisha relates that: “When the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) died, he was shrouded in three white sheets from Yemen.” (Bukhari & Muslim).

1) The Kafan of a male

The Kafan of a male should consist of three white winding sheets about 7 x 7 feet, clean and large enough to conceal the whole body, after having been perfumed with incense. Use 4 tie ropes, each 7 feet long (Figure 1).

The material of the sheet should not be silk, nor should any gold be used.

Steps of shrouding:

The winding sheets should be spread out one on the top of the other.

The deceased, covered with a sheet, is lifted and laid on his back on the winding sheets.

Some scent or perfume may be put on those parts of the body upon which one rests during prostration; that is, the forehead, nose, hands, knees, and feet.

If it is possible the deceased’s left hand should be placed on his chest, then put his right hand on the left hand like the way in the Salat (prayer).

The edge of the top sheet is folded over the deceased right side, then the other edge over his left side. Then the second sheet should be folded the same way. The third and the largest sheet should be treated the same way.

These sheets should be fastened with a piece of cloth (tie ropes), one above the head, another under the feet, and two around the body.

 

male kafan

Figure 29: Kafan of a male

 

2. The Kafan of a female

The Kafan of a female should consist of five white garments, (two winding sheet, a long loose sleeveless shirt (from shoulder to feet), a waist wrapper, and a head veil), these should be large enough to cover the whole body and may be perfumed with incense, a loin cloth may be used to bind the upper part of her legs, use 4 tie ropes, each one is 7 feet long (Figure 2).

Steps of shrouding:

The garments are spread out:

  • First:winding sheets (7 x 7 feet),
  • Second:the long loose sleeveless shirt (3 1/2 x 14 feet, with a hole in the middle line for the head),
  • Third: waist wrapper (6 feet x 3 1/2 feet ),
  • Fourthhead veil (a 4×4 square feet white sheet), and
  • Fifth: the loin cloth (12 inches wide x 4 feet long).

The deceased, covered with a sheet, is lifted and laid on her back on the shroud.

Some scent or perfume may be put on those parts of the body upon which one rests during prostration; that is, the forehead, nose, hands, knees, and feet.

The loin cloth is bound round her upper legs (acts like underwear).

The waist wrapper is tied in place.

Put on the sleeveless shirt (long to cover the body from the shoulder to the feet) .

Put the head veil.

The deceased’s left hand should be placed on her chest, then put her right hand on the left hand like the way in the Salat (prayer).

The edge of the top sheet is folded over the deceased right side, then the other edge over his left side. Then the second sheet should be folded the same way.

These sheets should be fastened with a piece of cloth (tie ropes), one above the head, another under the feet, and two around the body.

 

Note:

There is no Islamic teaching of writing anything on the shrouds.

 

female kafan

Figure 30: Kafan of a female.

E) Salatul Janazah (the funeral)

A divine service is held over the dead body of every Muslim, young or old, even of infants who have lived only a few minutes. When the soul leaves the body, preparations are made for bidding him the last farewell.

It is highly recommended that, after washing and shrouding the body of the deceased, the body not to be kept long, but rather taken quickly, prayed for, and then buried.

Salatul Janazah is required to be performed in congregation to request pardon for the deceased and all dead Muslims, and to wrap them all in Allah’s Mercy.

It is preferable that Salatul Janazah be performed outside the Mosque or the Musalla (prayer room), like in activity rooms or courtyards.

Salatul Janazah is a collective obligation. A Muslim should not hesitate to participate in it, whether or not the deceased or his relatives are known to him.

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “If a Muslim dies and forty Muslims, who do not associate anything with Allah, join in the Salatul Janazah, Allah accepts their prayers for him.” (Muslim)

Salatul Janazah is said silently, except the Takbeer and Tassleem. All conditions for regular Salat are required in Salatul Janazah such as Tahara, Wudu, clean body and clothes, neeyah (intention), and facing the Qiblah.

There is a reward for attending Salatul Janazah for both the deceased and those who make the Salat according to the following Hadith.

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “Whoever attends the Janazah until it is finished, will earn a Qirat, and who ever stays until the burial, will earn two Qirats. Someone asked: What does Qirat mean?, the Prophet answered: ‘It means rewards as big as great mountain.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

There are specific times when it is prohibited to perform Salatul Janazah, unless it becomes necessary, due to the condition of the body, to perform it quickly and then bury the body.

This is due to the Hadith of the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) who forbade us to pray, or bury our dead during these specified times (Muslim).

These prohibited times are:

From sunrise until the sun is fully risen,

At the zenith of the sun (the sun at meridian), until it passes the meridian,

From when the sun pales before sunset until it has set.

Steps of Salatul Janazah

It is preferable that Salatul Janazah be performed outside the Mosque / the Musalla.

All conditions for regular Salat are required in Salatul Janazah such as Tahara, Wudu, clean body and clothes, neeyah (intention), and facing the Qiblah.

Muslims should form a minimum of three lines facing the Qiblah. The one who leads the Salat is the leader or his deputy, or the deceased’s father.

If there is only one Muslim with the Imam, he should stand behind the Imam.

The body (bodies) should be placed in front of the person who leads the prayer.

In case there are more than one dead Muslim (males and females), then the female(s) should be placed in the first row(s) in the direction of the Qiblah, then the male(s) in the following row(s), then the Imam.

For example: If there are: a dead Muslim male, a female, a young girl, and a young boy, then behind the Qiblah, first place the body of the young girl, then the adult female, then the young boy, then the adult male, so the bodies are arranged in a way that females’ bodies are first, then the males (Figure 3).

 

arrangement

Figure 31: Arrangement of men, women, and children at Salatul Janazal.

 

positions

Figure 32: Salatul Janazah for a Muslim female (left), Salatul Janazah for a Muslim male (right).

The Imam should stand by the middle of a female body, and by the head for a male body, this is due to the Hadith in which Anas related that Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) leading Salatul Janazah for a dead male, the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) stood in front of the deceased head, and for a dead female, the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) stood in front of the middle of her body. (Authentic-Abu Dawood) In another Hadith Samura ben Jundub said when Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) made Salatul Janazah for a dead Muslim female, he stood in front of her waist (Muslim) (see Figures 3, 4).

Behind the Imam, males stand in lines, then children, then females (Figures 3,4).

There are NO Rukuh, Sujud, Athan, or Eqama.

Having the appropriate neeyah (intention), raise your hands in the usual manner and say: Alla-who Akbar.

Fold your right hand over the left hand in the usual manner.

Recite the Fatiha silently.

Then say: Alla-who Akbar.

Then recite the Tashahood.

The Tashahood is: Allahumma sallee ala-Muhammad wa’ala alee Muhammad kama sallayta ala Ibrahim wa ala alee Ibrahim, wa barik ala Muhammad wa’ala alee Muhammad kama barakta ala Ibrahim wa ala alee Ibrahim, innaka hamidun Majeed.

This means: “O Allah! Grant peace to Muhammad and his family as you did to Ibrahim and his family. O Allah! Bless Muhammad and his family as you blessed Ibrahim and his family. Truly you are Most Glorious and Most Praiseworthy.”

Then say: Alla-who Akbar.

Then make dua’ (supplicate) for the deceased.

Then say: Alla-who Akbar.

Then make dua (supplicate) for all dead Muslims.

In the case of a dead baby or young child, make dua (supplicate) for his parents.

Then say: Assalamu alykum like you say in other Salats. Tasleem could be said only once.

Note:

Salatul Janazah for the one who died far away is allowed.

There is no Islamic teaching of putting the picture of the deceased or some of his clothes or flowers in front of or around the Kafan (shroud).

To use a coffin (box) is not allowed, unless there is necessity to use it, such as the body of the deceased is damaged, or for health reasons, or when the grave is wet and cannot be dried.

 

F) Following the Janazah

After Salatul Janazah, the deceased should be transferred to the Muslim cemetery. Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said:  Visit the sick and walk with the Janazah, it will remind you of the hereafter(Muslim).

It is recommended for those following the Janazah on foot to keep behind or either on the right or on the left of those who are carrying the body.

They should walk calmly, quietly, and not crowd or push others who are carrying the deceased.

Following the Janazah with incense or candles, mentioning Allah’s name loudly, weeping loudly or reading Quran, playing music, or carrying the body of the deceased on a military car, all are not allowed when escorting the body of the deceased.

The reward of Janazah prayer and following the Janazah until the burial is finished is explained in the following Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) who said: “Whoever attends the Janazah until it is finished, will earn a Qirat, and who ever stays until the burial, will earn two Qirats. Someone asked: What a Qirat means? The Prophet answered: ’It means rewards as big as a great mountain.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

 

G) Al-Dafin (burial)

Islam has a unique style of building graves and cemeteries that is characterized by humility, simplicity and economy in costs and that avoids glorifying the dead with elaborate monuments.

It is of great importance that a special cemetery be devoted exclusively for the use of Muslims. Muslims may not be buried in the cemeteries of non-Muslims, nor can non-Muslims be buried in a Muslim cemetery.

The deceased should be buried in the locality in which he lived. It is undesirable to take the body to the person’s own country or to another city.

In Muslim cemeteries, there are two types of graves:

Al-Shaqq: is to make a deep vertical hole in the ground.

Al-Lahed: is to make a deep vertical hole in the ground, then in the bottom make a side horizontal hole big enough to cover the whole body.

Both types are used, but it is preferable to use Al-Lahed if the land is solid (Figure 5).

 

types of graves

Figure 33: Types of graves: Al Lahed (left) and Al Shaq (right).

The burial should be done as soon as possible after death, but the following times should be avoided:

At night. From sunrise until the sun is fully risen. At the zenith of the sun (the sun at the meridian), until it passes the meridian.

When the sun pales before sunset until it has set.

During these times burying is prohibited unless there is an urgent necessityaccording to the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) that was narrated by. (Muslim)

 

Steps of burial:

A grave is dug deep enough to totally hide the body of the deceased.

The grave should be always perpendicular (horizontal) to the direction of Qiblah. Only men are allowed to attend the burial. All Muslims who are present should remember death, the hereafter, and that one day he too will be buried. They should keep quiet (no talking unless it is necessary).The deceased’s male relatives are expected to put the body in the grave, putting the body in the grave should be carried out only by Muslim men. A female is placed in her grave either by her husband, her sons, her father, her brothers, or her uncle.

The deceased’s body should be entered to the grave from the direction where his feet will be (from the rear of the grave) (Figure 7).

How to enter the body into the grave

 

enter

Figure 34: How to place the body in the grave.

 

Those who enter the body of the deceased in the grave should say: (Bismil llah wa ala millati rasulil llah), which means: “In the name of Allah and in the faith of the Messenger of Allah.”

The deceased’s body should rest on his right side, and should be close to the wall and supported so that the body will not fall back, the deceased’s face should be towards the Qiblah. (Figure 6, 7).

in the grave

Figure 35: Looking into the grave. The deceased inside the grave lying on his right side and facing the Qiblah.

 

Those who put the deceased in the grave should not have had sexual intercourse with their wives the night before.

According to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H). Anas Ibn Malik related that: “During the burial of the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.), Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) was sitting, tears coming out from eyes, he asked us: “Who did not have sexual intercourse with his wife last night?” Abu Talha answered: “I, Prophet Muhammad.” Then Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said to him: “You get down in the grave and lay her down.” (Bukhari)

They should undo the tie on the head and the feet.

They should put above the body a layer of wood or big stones, so that earth will not be put directly on the body when they fill the grave with earth.

After the body is totally coveredit is desirable to throw three handfuls of soil into the grave.

Then the grave should be filled up with sand.

It is allowable to put a mark on the grave or a stone to know the grave.

It is also Sunnah to make the grave convex from sand, according to the Hadith that was reported by Sofyan who said: “That I saw the grave of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) is made convex [out of sand].” (Bukhari)

Just after the burial all Muslims, including the deceased’s relatives, may stay in the cemetery for a while and make dua’ (supplicate) for the deceased, since he is being questioned by the Angels.

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) in an authentic Hadith said: “Make dua’ of Istighfar (supplicate for forgiveness) for your brother and request steadfastness for him because he is now being questioned. (Authentic-Abu Dawood)

Note:

There is no Islamic teaching of transferring the deceased to another country.

There is no Islamic teaching of revealing the face of the deceased after putting the body in the grave.

There is no Islamic teaching of shouting with special dthiker (certain words to remember Allah) before, during, and after burial.

There is no Islamic teaching of reading the Quran in the cemetery.

There is no Islamic teaching of putting flowers, food, water, or money around the grave that will benefit the deceased.

There is no Islamic teaching of putting anything in, on or around the grave that will benefit the deceased.

There is no Islamic teaching of slaughtering an animal during or after burial.

There is no Islamic teaching of staying in a state of sadness for one year.

There is no Islamic teaching that the relatives of the deceased should wear black clothes.

There is no Islamic teaching that planting flowers on, or around the grave will benefit the deceased.

Important rules in the cemetery

It is prohibited to step over, lean, or sit on a grave.

Abu Hurrairah relates that the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) said: “It is better for a person to sit on burning coal by which his clothes may catch fire and the heat thereof may touch his skin, rather than that he sits on a grave. (Muslim)

It is prohibited to build any form of construction on the grave, or decorate the grave.

From the authentic traditions, it is clear that to erect domes over graves or build mausoleums or Mosques on graves is strictly forbidden. Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: Do not build Mosques in the graveyard.  (Muslim)

Ali ibn abi Taleb reported that: “Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) instructed him to destroy all statues, and not to leave a grave raised high without leveling it with the ground, (Muslim) which means no construction on the grave.

It is prohibited to plaster the grave, whitewash the grave, or use cooked stones.

Jabir relates that the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) has forbidden that a grave should be made strong (of bricks and plaster), or durable or one should sit over it or the same should have a construction over it. (Muslim)

Jabir also reported: “Prophet Muhammad forbade the whitewashing of a grave, sitting on it, or erecting any type of structure on it. (Muslim)

It is prohibited to pray facing towards the graves.

Abu Martad al-Ghanawi reported that Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) said: Do not pray facing towards the graves. (Muslim)

Women are forbidden from attending the burial.

This is according to the authentic Hadith of Um-Atiyah who reported that we were forbidden to accompany funeral processions. (Bukhari and Muslim)

It is prohibited to slaughter animals around the grave.

Arranging a mourning gathering on the day of death, or on the third day after death, or on the seventh, or on the twentieth day, or on the fortieth day, or on the anniversary of the death, all are abominable and heretical practices which people have introduced.

These practices have no basis whatsoever in the Quran, in the Sunnah of the Prophet, or in the practices of the early Muslims, may Allah the Exalted have mercy upon them. Some of these practices are done by some Muslims in different countries, but that does not make it the Islamic way.

It is prohibited to cremate the body of dead Muslim, even if the deceased requested it before his death.

It is prohibited to put candles on the grave. Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) said in an authentic Hadith: “Curse those who light lamps on graves. (Authentic-Ahmed)

It is also disliked (Makruh) to pray in the cemetery (Bukhari).

Performing autopsy on a dead Muslim is totally prohibited, unless it is requested by court order.

H) Special cases

1) Miscarried Fetus:

If the fetus is less than four months old (mother was pregnant for less than four months), then the fetus may not be washed; the fetus should be wrapped in a piece of white cloth and buried. Then there is no Salatul Janazah for this fetus.

If the fetus is more than four months old (mother was pregnant for more than four months), then the fetus may be washed, shrouded (using one or two winding sheets to cover the whole body), and then Muslims have the choice whether to perform Salatul Janazah or not.

 

2) Children:

  1. A) Before reaching the age of puberty,a child may be washed by males or females. Shrouding a child for females use a shirt and two winding sheets and for males two or three winding sheets may be used.
  2. B) For those children who reached the age of puberty, they should be dealt with as an adult (female child like female adult, and male child like male adult), but then Salatul Janazah be performed.

 

3) Martyr:

The body of a Martyr should not be washed, nor be shrouded but buried with the same clothes that people found him with.

The strongest opinion of Muslim scholars is not to offer Salatul Janazah for martyrs since Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) did not offer it for the martyrs of the battle of Uhud.

 

I) Condolences

It is a Muslim’s duty to offer condolences, comfort, and sympathy to the family and the relatives of the deceased. This strengthens the relationships within the Muslim community.

When offering condolences, words should be chosen carefully and said gently to convey sympathy and to encourage the family and the relatives of the deceased to accept Allah’s will and to help them to get back to their normal life.

Condolences may be offered to the family and to the relatives of the deceased before, during or after burial for up to three days, but it may be offered even at later time if someone did not hear about it or he was far away.

It is recommended to leave after offering condolences to give the family time to take care of their other affairs, assistance may be offered for anything the family may need, and one may stay to help, if asked.

Some families hold gatherings for three days or more, and hire people to recite Quran loudly. While the Quran is recited, others eat, drink or talk, disregarding the rules of listening to the Quran, and inflicting the family with high expenses.

It is Sunnah that friends, neighbors and relatives prepare food for the family of the deceased, for the loss of the loved one occupies the family’s whole attention.

 

J) The Edda (waiting period) of Muslim widows (females)

Upon hearing the news of the death of her husband, a Muslim wife should be steadfast and patient. Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “Patience (endurance) is to be present from the first shock.” (Muslim)

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “Allah says: I have no better reward than Paradise for a believer servant of Mine who is patient and resigned when I take away one of his/her beloved, one among those he/she most cherishes in the world.” (Bukhari)

She should accept all that Allah plans for her and her family with sincerity and patience, as Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “When a person suffers from some calamity and supplicates: ‘Inna lil-la-he wa inna ilay he ra je oon,’ ‘to Allah we belong and to Allah shall we return,’ O Allah make good the loss in this calamity, and grant me something good, Allah then compensates him/her for the loss, and give a better substitute.” (Muslim)

It is prohibited to express grief by wailing, shrieking, beating the chest or cheeks, tearing hair or clothes, or saying phrases that makes a Muslim lose faith.

Um Atiyyah reports: “The Messenger of Allah made us pledge that we will not wail over the dead.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said: “I detest a woman who cries out very loudly, or shaves her hair, or tears her clothes when a beloved one dies.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

She may cry, as the Prophet did when his son died. He said: “The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord.” (Bukhari)

Allah in the Quran prescribed the Edda (waiting period) for those wives whose husbands die: “And those of you who die and leave wives behind them, they (the wives) shall wait for four months and ten days .” (Quran 2:234)

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) said in an authentic Hadith: “It is prohibited for a woman who believes in Allah and the day of judgment to mourn a dead person more than three days except her husband, in which case it is four months and ten days. (Bukhari)

Edda is prescribed for widows in order to mourn the death of their husbands, observe their memory, fulfill any obligations toward them, and to see if the widow is pregnant or not.

In the following authentic Hadith, Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) explains the way that she should conduct herself during this time.

Um Atiyyah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: A woman should not mourn for any deceased person for more than three days, except in the case of her husband’s death, which she may mourn for a period of four months and ten days. Such a woman in mourning is not to wear any fancy, bright clothes, but only plain clothes, not use any adornment or make-up, nor use perfume, nor die her hands or feet with Henna. (Bukhari and Muslim)

If the widow is pregnant, then her waiting period ends when she delivers her baby, according to Allah’s command in the Quran: “And for those who are pregnant, their Edda is until they deliver.” (Quran 65:4)

DURATION OF EDDA

PREGNANT

NOT PREGNANT

Until delivery

Four Months and Ten Days

So a widow during the Edda should:

  • Stay in her home, and only leave when it is necessary.
  • Sleep in her home.
  • Not wear fancy, bright clothes.
  • Not wear jewelry.
  • Not use makeup including eyeliners (kohol).
  • Not use perfume.

This time is not to deprive herself from lawful things, or to suffer more than a human could bear. It is time to remember all the memories of her husband, make Dua’ for him, think about herself, and plan for the future.

 

K) Rewards after death

While the life span of a Muslim is short, and deeds and actions stop after death, a Muslim may continue to earn rewards for certain things even after his death.

Good deeds, such as perpetual charity, are the ones that follow him a Muslim (get the rewards), even while the person is in the grave, such deeds like: useful knowledge, a good child that prays for him, a Mosque that he built, teaching Quran to another person, a house he built for public use, a water fountain or a river that he rented and made it free for people, or a charity that he gave during his life while he was in good health; all are rewardable even after death.

In this respect the Prophet (P.B.U.H) said: “After the death of a person his actions stop, except three things that he leaves behind: First continuous charity, Second a knowledge from which some benefit may be obtained, Third a virtuous son who makes Dua’ (pray, supplicate) on his behalf.” (Muslim)

Charity will benefit the deceased, as the following Hadiths show: “A man came to the Prophet (P.B.U.H) and asked him: My father died leaving wealth but no will, would he be pardoned if a charity is given on his behalf?” The Prophet (P.B.U.H) answered: “Yes.(Muslim)

Another Hadith: “A man came to the Prophet (P.B.U.H) and asked him: My mother has died without making up for missed days of fasting in the month of Ramadan, can I fast for her?” The Prophet (P.B.U.H) said to him: “Would you pay her debt if she owed someone?” The man said: “Yes.” Then the Prophet (P.B.U.H) said: “Then Allah is more deserving of payment in settlement of his debt.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Ibn Abbas reported that: A woman came to the Prophet (P.B.U.H) and said: My mother had vowed to perform Hajj (pilgrimage), but she died before she could fulfill her vow, should I do it on her behalf?” The Prophet (P.B.U.H) said to him: “Yes perform Hajj on her behalf. Would you not pay the debt of your mother if she had owed someone? Fulfill it. Allah is more deserving of receiving payment for what is due to Allah.” ” (Bukhari and Muslim)

So from the previous authentic Hadiths there are generally three things that benefit the dead:

1) Charity; continuous charity; and

2) A knowledge left by the deceased from which some benefit may be obtained; and

3) A virtuous son or daughter who makes Dua’ (pray, supplicate) on the deceased’s behalf, or perform duties that the deceased did not do during his lifetime such as fasting missed days or Hajj, or pay his debts.

People put flowers, candles, food, perfume, on the grave all of this will not benefit the deceased.

L) Visiting the cemetery

In the beginning of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) advised Muslim males not to visit the cemeteries, but after that he the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) gave them the permission to visit the cemetery to remind them of the hereafter.

This is based on the Hadith of the Prophet (P.B.U.H.): “I advised you not to visit the cemetery, but from now you may visit the cemetery, it will remind you of the hereafter.(Muslim)

All scholars have no dispute about the point that it is prohibited for Muslim females to frequently visit the cemetery. This is due to the authentic Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) who said: “May Allah curse the women who are frequently visiting the cemetery. (Authentic, Termithi)

But if the visit is not frequent , most scholars say it is Makrouh (hated action), while other scholars say it is permissible for Muslim females to visit the cemetery provided that the visit is not frequent and it is for the sole purpose of remembering death and hereafter.

When Muslim females visit the cemetery, they should wear proper clothes, no make-up or perfume, they should not cry loudly or say words of discontent or behave unIslamically .

The purpose of visiting the cemetery is to remember the fact that everyone is going to die and that we must prepare for the day of judgment.

Visiting the cemetery benefits the dead too, since the visitors will make dua’ (supplicate) for the dead to forgive his sins and have mercy on him.

Note:

There is no Islamic teaching of visiting the grave after three days, or seven days, or twenty days, or forty days.

There is no Islamic teaching of visiting the grave of the parents every Friday.

There is no Islamic teaching of visiting the grave any special days such as Eid days, Ashura day, or Ramadan.

There is no Islamic teaching of reading the Quran during the visit to the cemetery.

There is no Islamic teaching of wiping hands over the grave, or kissing the grave.

This is only a quick look at this final journey. A mature person before taking any trip should prepare all that is needed to have a safe journey, and since no one knows when this journey will start, then it becomes logical to get ready right away.

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) said in an authentic Hadith “Be in this world as a traveler or stranger.” (Bukhari)

Allah says in the Quran: “Everyone shall taste death. And only one the day of resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is removed away from the fire and admitted to the paradise, indeed this person attained success, and this life is only enjoyment of deception.” (Quran 29:57).

Finally one famous poet said: “When you are born, you were crying while other people were very happy, so make sure that when you die, you will be very happy, while others cry.”

 

M) References

The Holy Quran, English translation of the meaning of the Quran, Saudi Arabia.

Interpretation of the Meaning of the Noble Quran in the English language, Saudi Arabia .

Sahih Al-Bukhari, Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Beirut, Lebanon.

Sahih Muslim, Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, Lahore , Pakistan.

Riyadh-Us-Saleheen, Imam An-Nawawi, S.M.Madani Abbasi, Saudi Arabia.

Fiqh Us-Sunnah, As-Sayyid Sabiq, Saudi Arabia.

Ahkam Al-Janahiz, M.Naser Al-Deen Al-Albani, Jordan .

Funeral Regulations in Islam, Muslim World League, Saudi Arabia.

Al-Moghni, Ibn Qudama, Saudi Arabia.

 

This document was placed without the publisher’s permission.

Appendix J: Religious Rites

[from the website http://cyberspacei.com/jesusi/inlight/religion/rites/Death.htm%5D

 

[N.B. hyperlinks embedded in the original document have been removed; visit the site to take advantage of hyperlinks in the original document]

 

 

 

Religion

 

 

RELIGIOUS RITES

 

4 THE CONCEPT AND FORMS OF RITUAL

4.10 Death Rites and Customs

4.10.1 RELEVANT CONCEPTS AND DOCTRINES

4.10.1.1 Life and death.

4.10.1.2 Human substance and nature.

4.10.1.3 Forms of survival.

4.10.1.4 The ultimate destiny of the dead.

4.10.2 PATTERNS OF MYTH AND SYMBOL

4.10.2.1 Geography of the afterlife.

4.10.2.2 Means of approach to the afterworld.

4.10.2.3 Forms of final determination.

4.10.3 DEATH AND FUNERARY RITES AND CUSTOMS

4.10.3.1 Before and at death.

4.10.3.2 Modes of preparation of the corpse and attendant rites.

4.10.3.3 Modes of disposal of the corpse and attendant rites.

4.10.3.4 Post-funerary rites and customs.

4.10.4 CULTS AND MEMORIALS OF THE DEAD

4.10.4.1 Commemorative rites and services.

4.10.4.2 Cult of the dead.

4.10.5 PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF DEATH

4.10.6 MODERN NOTIONS OF DEATH

4.10.6.1 Continuation of traditional responses.

4.10.6.2 Avowed secular inattention and unconcern.

4.10.6.3 Rites and customs among secular materialists.

Throughout history and in every human society, the disposal of the dead has been given special significance. The practice was originally motivated not by hygienic considerations but by ideas entertained by primitive peoples concerning human nature and destiny. This conclusion is clearly evident from the fact that the disposal of the dead from the earliest times was of a ritual kind. Paleolithic peoples, such as the Neanderthals and later groups, not only buried their dead but provided them with food, weapons, and other equipment, thereby implying a belief that the dead still needed such things in the grave. This very significant practice can be traced back to great antiquity, possibly to about 50,000 BC. (see also primitive religion, Paleolithic Period)

The ritual burial of the dead, which is thus attested from the very dawn of human culture and which has been practiced in most parts of the world, stems from an instinctive inability or refusal on the part of man to accept death as the definitive end of human life. Despite the horrifying evidence of the physical decomposition caused by death, the belief has persisted that something of the individual person survives the experience of dying. In contrast, the idea of personal extinction through death is a sophisticated concept that was unknown until the 6th century BC, when it appeared in the metaphysical thought of Indian Buddhism; it did not find expression in the ancient Mediterranean world before its exposition by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC). (see also afterlife)

The belief that human beings survive death in some form has profoundly influenced the thoughts, emotions, and actions of mankind. The belief occurs in all religions, past and present, and decisively conditions their evaluations of man and his place in the universe. Mortuary rituals and funerary customs reflect these evaluations; they represent also the practical measures taken to assist the dead to achieve their destiny and sometimes to save the living from the dreaded molestation of those whom death had transformed into a different state of being.

4.10.1 Relevant Concepts and Doctrines

4.10.1.1 Life and death.

The evidence of Paleolithic burials shows that already, in that remote age, various ideas were held about death and the state of the dead. The provision of food, ornaments, and tools in the graves implies a general belief that the dead continued to exist, with the same needs as in this life. Other customs, however, indicate the currency of a variety of notions about postmortem existence, particularly about the potentialities and destiny of the dead. Thus, the presence of red ochre in some burials suggests the practice of contagious magic: the corpse had possibly been stained with the colour of blood in order to revitalize it. The fact that in Paleolithic burials the skeleton has often been found lying on its side in a crouched position has been interpreted by some prehistorians as evidence of belief in rebirth, in that the posture of the corpse imitated the position of the child in the womb. In some crouched burials, however, there is reason for suspecting a more sinister motive; for the limbs are sometimes so tightly flexed that the bodies must have been bound in that position before rigor mortis set in. Such treatment of the corpse was doubtless prompted by fear of the dead, for similar customs have been found among later peoples. Preventive action of this kind has a further significance, for it implies a belief that the dead might be malevolent and had power to harm the living. (see also resurrection, spirit)

That death was sometimes regarded as transforming those who experienced it into a state of being balefully different from that of those living in this world is evident in later mortuary rites and customs. Indeed, the proper performance of funerary rites was deemed essential by many peoples, to enable the dead to depart to the place and condition to which they properly belonged. Failure to expedite their departure could have dangerous consequences. Many ancient Mesopotamian divinatory texts reveal a belief that disease and other misfortunes could be caused by dead persons deprived of proper burial. The fate of the unburied dead finds expression in Greek and Roman literature. The idea that the dead had to cross some barrier that divided the land of the living from that of the dead also occurs in many religions: the Greeks and Romans believed that the dead were ferried across an infernal river, the Acheron or Styx, by a demonic boatman called Charon, for whose payment a coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased; in Zoroastrianism the dead cross the Bridge of the Requiter (Cinvato Paratu); bridges figure also in Muslim and Scandinavian eschatologies (speculations concerning the end of the world and the afterlife)–the Sirat bridge and the bridge over the Gjöll River (Gjallarbrú) — and Christian folklore knew of a Brig o’ Dread, or Brig o’ Death. (see also Mesopotamian religion, Greek religion, Roman religion, Christianity)

It is significant that in few religions has death been regarded as a natural event. Instead, it has generally been viewed as resulting from the attack of some demonic power or death god: in Etruscan sepulchral art a fearsome being called Charun strikes the deathblow, and medieval Christian art depicted the skeletal figure of Death with a dart. In many mythologies death is represented as resulting from some primordial mischance. According to Christian theology, death entered the world through the original sin committed by Adam and Eve, the progenitors of mankind.

4.10.1.2 Human substance and nature.

The conception of death in most religions is closely related to the particular view held about the constitution of human nature. Two major traditions of interpretation have provided the basic assumptions of religious eschatologies and have often found expression in mortuary rituals and funerary practice. The more primitive of these interpretations has been based on an integralistic evaluation of human nature. Thus, the individual person has been conceived as a psychophysical organism, of which both the material and the nonmaterial constituents are essential in order to maintain a properly integrated personal existence. From such an evaluation it has followed that death is the fatal shattering of personal existence. Although some constituent element of the living person has been deemed to survive this disintegration, it has not been regarded as conserving the essential self or personality. The consequences of this estimate of human nature can be seen in the eschatologies of many religions. The ancient Mesopotamians, Hebrews, and Greeks, for example, thought that after death only a shadowy wraith descended to the realm of the dead, where it existed miserably in dust and darkness. Such a conception of man, in turn, has meant that, where the possibility of an effective afterlife has been envisaged, as in ancient Egyptian religion, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam, the idea of a reconstitution or resurrection of the body has also been involved; for it has been deemed essential to restore the psychophysical complex of personality. In Egypt, most notably, provision was made for the eventual reconstitution in an elaborate mortuary ritual which included the mummification of the corpse to preserve it from disintegration.

The alternative view of human nature may be termed dualistic. It conceives of the individual person as comprising an inner essential self or soul, which is nonmaterial, and a physical body. In many religions based on this view of human nature, the soul is regarded as being essentially immortal and as existing before the body was formed. Its incarnation in the body is interpreted as a penalty incurred for some primordial sin or error. At death the soul leaves the body, and its subsequent fate is determined by the manner in which it has fulfilled what the particular religion concerned has prescribed for the achievement of salvation. This view of human nature and destiny finds most notable expression in Hinduism and, in a subtly qualified sense, in Buddhism; it was also taught in such mystical cults and philosophies of the Greco-Roman world as Orphism (an ancient Greek mystical movement with a significant emphasis on death), Gnosticism (an early system of thought that viewed spirit as good and matter as evil), Hermeticism (a Hellenistic esoteric, occultic movement), and Manichaeism (a system of thought founded by Mani in ancient Iran). (see also human body)

4.10.1.3 Forms of survival.

The conception of human nature held in any religion has, accordingly, determined the manner or mode in which postmortem survival has been envisaged. Where the body has been regarded as an essential constituent of personal existence, belief in a significant afterlife has inevitably entailed the idea of the reconstitution of the decomposed corpse and its resurrection to life. In turn, a dualistic conception of human nature, which regards the soul as intrinsically nonmaterial and immortal, envisages postmortem life in terms of the disembodied existence of the soul. This dualistic conception, in many religions, has also involved the idea of rebirth or reincarnation. In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Orphism this idea has inspired a cyclical view of the time process and produced esoteric explanations of how the soul becomes reborn into a physical body, whether human or animal.

4.10.1.4 The ultimate destiny of the dead.

Belief in postmortem survival has been productive also of a variety of images concerning the destiny of the dead. This imagery is closely related to the conception of man that is held in each religion. Thus, the magical resuscitation of the dead in ancient Egypt was designed to enable them to live forever in their well-furnished tombs; according to Christian and Islamic belief, God will ultimately raise the dead with their physical bodies and assess their merits for eternal bliss in heaven or everlasting torment in hell; the Buddhist concept of Nirvana (Enlightenment) is achieved only when the individual has eradicated all desire for existence in the empirical world. (see also Last Judgment)

4.10.2 Patterns of Myth and Symbol

4.10.2.1 Geography of the afterlife.

Inhumation naturally prompted the idea that the dead lived beneath the ground. The mortuary cults of many peoples indicate that the dead were imagined as actually residing in their tombs and able to receive the offerings of food and drink made to them; e.g., some graves in ancient Crete and Ugarit (Ras Shamra) were equipped with pottery conduits, from the surface, for libations. Often, however, the grave has been thought of as an entrance to a vast, subterranean abode of the dead. In some religions this underworld has been conceived as an immense pit or cavern, dark and grim (e.g., the Mesopotamian kur-nu-gi-a [“land of no return”], the Hebrew Sheol, the Greek Hades, and the Scandinavian Hel). Sometimes it is ruled by an awful monarch, such as the Mesopotamian god Nergal or the Greek god Hades, or Pluto, or the Yama of Hindu and Buddhist eschatology. According to the view of man’s nature and destiny held in a particular religion, this underworld may be a gloomy, joyless place where the shades of all the dead merely survive, or it may be pictured as a place of awful torments where the damned suffer for their misdeeds. In those religions in which the underworld has been conceived as a place of postmortem retribution, the idea of a separate abode of the blessed dead became necessary. Such an abode has various locations. In most religions it is imagined as being in the sky or in a divine realm beyond the sky (e.g., in Christianity, Gnosticism, Hinduism, and Buddhism); sometimes it has been conceived as the “Isles of the Blessed” (e.g., in Greek and Celtic mythology) or as a beautiful garden or paradise, such as the al-firdaws of Islam. Christian eschatology, which came to conceive of both an immediate judgment and a final judgment, developed the idea of a purgatory, where the dead expiated their venial sins in readiness for the final judgment. Although the dead suffered there in a disembodied state, because their bodies would not be resurrected until the last day, the purifying flames of purgatory were usually regarded as burning in a physical sense, as Dante’s Purgatorio vividly shows. The idea of a postmortem purgatory had been adumbrated in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC in Jewish apocalyptic literature (I Enoch 22:9-13). The ten hells of Chinese Buddhist eschatology may be considered as purgatories, for in them the dead expiated their sins before being incarnated once more in this world. (see also heaven)

4.10.2.2 Means of approach to the afterworld.

The idea that the dead had to make a journey to the otherworld, to which they belonged, finds expression in many religions. The oldest evidence occurs in the Egyptian Pyramid Texts (c. 2375-c. 2200 BC). The journey is conceived under various images. The dead pharaoh flies up to heaven to join the sun-god Re, in his solar boat, on his unceasing voyage across the sky, or he joins the circumpolar stars, known as the “Imperishable Ones,” or he ascends a ladder to join the gods in heaven. Later Egyptian funerary texts depict the way to the next world as beset by awful perils: fearsome monsters, lakes of fire, gates that cannot be passed except by the use of magical formulas, and a sinister ferryman whose evil intent must be thwarted by magic. The idea of crossing water en route to the otherworld, which first appears in Egyptian eschatology, occurs in the eschatological topography of other religions, as was noted above. Many mythologies describe journeys to the underworld; they invariably reflect the fear felt for the grim experience that was believed to await the dead. Ancient Mesopotamian literature records the visit of the goddess Ishtar to the realm of the dead, the way to which was barred by gates. At each gate the goddess was deprived of some article of her attire, so that she was naked when she finally came before Ereshkigal, the queen of the underworld. It is possible that this successive stripping of the celestial goddess was meant to symbolize the stripping away of the attributes of life that the dead experienced as they descended into the “land of no return.” An 8th-century Japanese text, the Koji-ki tells of the first contact with death experienced by the primordial pair, Izanagi and Izanami. When his wife died, Izanagi descended to Yomi, the underworld of darkness, to bring her back. His request was granted by the gods of Yomi, on condition that he did not look at her in the underworld. Impatiently he struck a light and was horrified to see her as a decomposed corpse. He fled in terror and disgust. Blocking the entrance to Yomi with a great rock, he then sought desperately to purify himself from the contagion of death.

Such myths doubtless reflect an instinctive feeling that death works an awful change in those who experience it. The dead cease to belong to the world of the living and become uncanny and dangerous: hence, their departure to the world of the dead must be expedited. To assist that grim journey, various aids have been provided. Thus, on some Egyptian coffins of the 11th dynasty, a plan of the “Two Ways” to the underworld was painted, and from the New Kingdom period (c. 1567-1085 BC), copies of the Book of the Dead, containing spells for dealing with perils encountered en route, were placed in the tombs. Orphic communities in southern Italy and Crete provided their dead with directions about the next world by inscribing them on gold laminae deposited in the graves. Advice about dying was given to medieval Christians in a book entitled Ars moriendi (“The Art of Dying”) and to Tibetan Buddhists in the Bardo Thödol (“Book of the Dead”). Chinese Buddhists were informed in popular prints of what to expect as they passed after death through the ten hells to their next incarnation. More practical equipment for the journey to the next world was provided for the Greek and Roman dead: in addition to the money to pay Charon for their passage across the Styx, they were provided with honey cakes for Cerberus, the fearsome dog that guarded the entrance to Hades.

4.10.2.3 Forms of final determination.

Those religions that have taught the possibility of a happy afterlife have also devised forms of postmortem testing of merit for eternal bliss. Ancient Egypt has the distinction of conceiving of a judgment of the dead of an essentially moral kind. This conception finds graphic expression in the vignettes that illustrate the Book of the Dead. The heart of the deceased is represented as being weighed against the symbol of Maat (Truth) in the presence of Osiris, the god of the dead. A monster named Am-mut (Eater of the Dead) awaits an adverse verdict. The judgment of the dead as conceived in other religions (e.g., Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Orphism) is basically a test of orthodoxy or ritual status, although moral qualities were included to varying degrees. The Last Judgment, as presented in Jewish apocalyptic literature, was essentially a vindication of Israel against its Gentile oppressors. Religions that held no promise of a significant afterlife (e.g., those of ancient Mesopotamia and classical Greece) had no place for a judgment of the dead. (see also Ma’at)

 

4.10.3 Death and Funerary Rites and Customs

4.10.3.1 Before and at death.

The process of dying and the moment of death have been regarded as occasions of the gravest crisis in many religions. The dying must be especially prepared for the awful experience. In China, for example, the head of a dying person was shaved, his body was washed and his nails pared, and he was placed in a sitting position to facilitate the exit of the soul. After the death, relatives and friends called the soul to return, possibly to make certain whether its departure from the body was definitive. Muslim custom decrees that the dying be placed facing the holy city of Mecca. In Catholic Christianity, great care is devoted to preparing for a “good death.” The dying person makes his last confession to a priest and receives absolution; then he is anointed with consecrated oil: the rite is known as “anointing of the sick” (formerly called extreme unction). According to medieval Christian belief, the last moments of life were the most critical, for demons lurked about the deathbed ready to seize the unprepared soul as it emerged with the last breath. (see also Chinese religion, Islam)

4.10.3.2 Modes of preparation of the corpse and attendant rites.

After death, it has been the universal custom to prepare the corpse for final disposal. Generally, this preparation has included its washing and dressing in special garments and sometimes its public exposure. In some religions this preparation is accompanied by rites designed to protect the deceased from demonic attack; sometimes the purpose of the rites has been to guard the living from the contagion of death or the malice of the dead; for it has often been believed that the soul continues to remain about the body until burial or cremation. The most elaborate known preparation of the dead took place in ancient Egypt. Because the Egyptians believed that the body was essential for a proper afterlife, a complex process of ritual embalmment was established. This process was intended not only to preserve the corpse from physical disintegration but also to reanimate it. The rites were based upon the belief that, because the dead body of the god Osiris had been preserved from decomposition and raised to life again by the gods, the magical assimilation of a dead person to Osiris and the ritual enacting of what the gods had done would achieve a similar miracle of resurrection. One of the most significant of these ritual transactions was the “opening of the mouth,” which was designed to restore to the mummified body its ability to see, breathe, and take nourishment. (see also mummy)

Mummification in cruder forms has been practiced elsewhere (notably in Peru), but not with the same complex motives as in Egypt. The preparation of the corpse has also frequently included the placing on or in it of magical amulets; these were variously intended to protect or vitalize the corpse. Evidence found in tombs of the Shang dynasty (c. 1766-c. 1122 BC) suggests that the Chinese placed life-prolonging substances, such as jade, in the orifices of the corpse. Crosses or crucifixes are frequently placed upon the Christian dead, and sometimes in the Middle Ages the consecrated bread of the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) was buried with the body. It has also been a Christian custom to furnish a dead priest with a chalice and paten, the instruments of his sacerdotal office.

4.10.3.3 Modes of disposal of the corpse and attendant rites.

The form of the disposal of the dead most generally used throughout the world in both the past and present has been burial in the ground. The practice of inhumation (burial) started in the Paleolithic era, doubtless as the most natural and simplest way of disposal. Whether it was then prompted by any esoteric motive, such as the return to the womb of Mother Earth, as has been suggested, cannot be proved. Among some later peoples, who have believed that primordial man was formed out of earth, it may have been deemed appropriate that the dead should be buried–the idea found classical expression in the divine pronouncement to Adam, recorded in Genesis 3:19: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” There is evidence that in ancient Crete the dead were believed to serve a great goddess, who was the source of fertility and life in the world above and who nourished and protected the dead in the earth beneath.

The mode of burial has varied greatly. Sometimes the body has been laid directly in the earth, with or without clothes and funerary equipment. It may be placed in either an extended or crouched position: the latter posture seems to have been more usual in prehistoric burials. Sometimes evidence of a traditional orientation of the corpse in the grave can be distinguished, which may relate to the direction in which the land of the dead was thought to lie. The use of coffins of various substances dates from the early 3rd millennium BC in Sumer and Egypt. Intended probably at first to protect and add dignity to the corpse, coffins became important adjuncts in the mortuary rituals of many religions. Their ritual use is most notable in ancient Egypt, where the mummies of important persons were often enclosed in several human-shaped coffins and then deposited in large, rectangular wooden coffins or stone sarcophagi. The interiors and exteriors of these coffins were used for the inscription of magical texts and symbols. Sarcophagi, elaborately carved with mythological scenes of mortuary significance, became fashionable among the wealthier classes of Greco-Roman society. Similar sarcophagi, carved with Christian scenes, came into use among Christians in the 4th and 5th centuries and afford rich iconographic evidence of the contemporary Christian attitude to death.

In the ancient Near East, the construction of stone tombs began in the 3rd millennium BC and inaugurated a tradition of funerary architecture that has produced such diverse monuments as the pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, and the mausoleum of Lenin in Red Square, Moscow. The tomb was originally intended to house and protect the dead. In Egypt it was furnished to meet the needs of its magically resuscitated inmate, sometimes even to the provision of toilet facilities. Among many peoples, the belief that the dead actually dwelt in their tombs has caused the tombs of certain holy persons to become shrines, which thousands visit to seek for miracles of healing or to earn religious merit; notable examples of such centres of pilgrimage are the tombs of St. Peter in Rome, of Muhammad at Medinah, and, in ancient times, the tomb of Imhotep at Saqqarah, in Egypt. (see also resurrection)

The disposal of the corpse has been, universally, a ritual occasion of varying degrees of complexity and religious concern. Basically, the funeral consists of conveying the deceased from his home to the place of burial or cremation. This act of transportation has generally been made into a procession of mourners who lament the deceased, and it has often afforded an opportunity of advertising his wealth, status, or achievements. Many depictions of ancient Egyptian funerary processions graphically portray the basic pattern: the embalmed body of the deceased is borne on an ornate sledge, on which sit two mourning women. A priest precedes the bier, pouring libations and burning incense. In the cortege are groups of male mourners and lamenting women, and servants carry the funerary furniture, which indicates the wealth of the dead man. Ancient Roman funerary processions were notable for the parade of ancestors’ death masks. In Islamic countries, friends carry the corpse on an open bier, generally followed by women relatives, lamenting with disheveled hair, and hired mourners. After a service in the mosque, the body is interred with its right side toward Mecca. In Hinduism the funeral procession is made to the place of cremation. It is preceded by a man carrying a firebrand kindled at the domestic hearth; a goat is sometimes sacrificed en route, and the mourners circumambulate the corpse, which is carried on a bier. Cremation is a ritual act, governed by careful prescriptions. The widow crouches by the pyre, on which in ancient times she sometimes died. After cremation, the remains are gathered and often deposited in sacred rivers. (see also Roman religion)

Christian funerary ritual reached its fullest development in medieval Catholicism and was closely related to doctrinal belief, especially that concerning purgatory. Hence, the funerary ceremonies were invested with a sombre character that found visible expression in the use of black vestments and candles of unbleached wax and the solemn tolling of the church bell. The rites consisted of five distinctive episodes. The corpse was carried (in a coffin if one could be afforded) to the church in a doleful cortege of clergy and mourners, with the intoning of psalms and the purificatory use of incense. The coffin was deposited in the church and covered with a black pall, and the Office of the Dead was recited or sung, with the constant repetition of the petition: “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.” Next, requiem mass was said or sung, with the sacrifice offered for the repose of the soul of the deceased. After the mass followed the “Absolution” of the dead person, in which the coffin was solemnly perfumed with incense and sprinkled with holy water. The corpse was then carried to consecrated ground and buried, while appropriate prayers were recited by the officiating priest. Changes in these rites, including the use of white vestments and the recitation of prayers emphasizing the notions of hope and joy, were introduced into the Catholic liturgy only following the second Vatican Council (1962-65). (see also Roman Catholicism)

In some societies the burial of the dead has been accompanied by human sacrifice, with the intention either to propitiate the spirit of the deceased or to provide him with companions or servants in the next world. A classic instance of such propitiatory sacrifice occurs in Homer’s Iliad (xxiii:175-177): 12 young Trojans were slaughtered and burned on the funeral pyre of the Greek hero Patroclus. The royal graves excavated at the Sumerian city of Ur, dating c. 2700 BC, revealed that retinues of servants and soldiers had been buried with their royal masters. Evidence of a similar Chinese practice has been found in Shang-dynasty graves (12th to 11th centuries BC) at An-yang. In ancient Egypt models of servants, placed in tombs, were designed to be magically animated to serve their masters in the afterlife. A particular type of these models, known as an ushabti (“answerer”), was inscribed with chapter VI of the Book of the Dead, commanding it to answer for the deceased owner if he were required to do service in the next world. (see also ushabti figure)

The custom has also existed among some peoples of dismembering the body for burial or subsequently disinterring the bones for storage in some form. There is Paleolithic evidence of a cult of skulls, which suggests that the rest of the body was not ritually buried. The Egyptians removed the viscera, which were preserved separately in four canopic jars. The Romans observed the curious rite of the os resectum: after cremation a severed finger joint was buried, probably as a symbol of an earlier custom of inhumation. In medieval Europe the heart and sometimes the intestines of important persons were buried in separate places: e.g., the body of William the Conqueror was buried in St. Étienne at Caen, but his heart was left to Rouen Cathedral and his entrails for interment in the church of Chalus. To be noted also is the Zoroastrian and Parsi custom of exposing corpses on dakhmas (“towers of silence”) to be devoured by birds of prey, thus to avoid polluting earth or air by burial or cremation. (see also Zoroastrianism)

The alternative use of inhumation or cremation for the disposal of the corpse cannot be interpreted as generally denoting a difference of view about the fate of the dead. In India, cremation was indeed connected with the fire god Agni, but cremation does not necessarily indicate that the soul was thus freed to ascend to the sky. Burial has been the more general practice, whether the abode of the dead be located under the earth or in the heavens. (see also Hinduism)

4.10.3.4 Post-funerary rites and customs.

Funerary rites do not usually terminate with the disposal of the corpse either by burial or cremation. Post-funerary ceremonies and customs may continue for varying periods; they have generally had two not necessarily mutually exclusive motives: to mourn the dead and to purify the mourners. The mourning of the dead, especially by near relatives, has taken many forms. The wearing of old or colourless dress, either black or white, the shaving of the hair or letting it grow long and unkempt, and abstention from amusements have all been common practice. The meaning of such action seems evident: grief felt for the loss of a dear relative or friend naturally expresses itself in forms of self-denial. But the purpose may sometimes have been intended to divert the ill humour of the dead from those who still enjoyed life in this world.

The purification of mourners has been the other powerful motive in much post-funerary action. Death being regarded as baleful, all who came in contact with it were contaminated thereby. Consequently, among many peoples, various forms of purification have been prescribed, chiefly bathing and fumigation. Parsis are especially intent also on cleansing the room in which the death occurred and all articles that had contact with the dead body. (see also purification rite)

In some post-funerary rituals, dancing and athletic contests have had a place. The dancing seems to have been inspired by various but generally obscure motives. There is some evidence that Egyptian mortuary dances were intended to generate a vitalizing potency that would benefit the dead. Dances among other peoples suggest the purpose of warding off the (evil) spirits of the dead. Funeral games would seem to have been, in essence, prophylactic assertions of vitalizing energy in the presence of death. It has been suggested that the funeral games of the Etruscans, which involved the shedding of blood, had also a sacrificial significance. (see also sacred dance)

Another widespread funerary custom has been the funeral banquet, which might be held in the presence of the corpse before burial or in the tomb-chapel (in ancient Rome) or on the return of the mourners to the home of the deceased. The purpose behind these meals is not clear, but they seem originally to have been of a ritual character. Two curious instances of mortuary eating may be mentioned in this connection. There was an old Welsh custom of “sin eating”: food and drink were handed across the corpse to a man who undertook thereby to ingest the sins of the deceased. In Bavaria, Leichennudeln, or “corpse cakes,” were placed upon the dead body before baking. By consuming these cakes, the kinsmen were supposed to absorb the virtues and abilities of their deceased relatives. (see also feast)

A remarkable post-funerary custom has been observed in Islam; it is known as the Chastisement of the Tomb. It is believed that, on the night following the burial, two angels, Munkar and Nakir, enter the tomb. They question the deceased about his faith. If his answers are correct, the angels open a door in the side of the tomb for him to pass to repose in paradise. If the deceased fails his grisly interrogation, he is terribly beaten by the angels, and his torment continues until the end of the world and the final judgment. In preparation for this awful examination the roof of the tomb is constructed to enable the deceased to sit up; and, immediately after burial, a man known as a fiqi(or faqih) is employed to instruct the dead in the right answers. (see also Last Judgment, death rite)

4.10.4 Cults and Memorials of the Dead

4.10.4.1 Commemorative rites and services.

The attitude of the living toward the dead has also been conditioned by the particular belief held about the human nature and destiny. Where death is regarded as the virtual extinction of the personality, the dead should logically have no more importance beyond that which their memory might stir in those who knew them. Even in the negative eschatologies of ancient Mesopotamia and Greece, however, the dead were thought of as still existent and capable of malevolent action if food offerings were not made to them. In those religions that have envisaged a more positive afterlife, the tendance of the dead has been developed in varying ways. In Egypt, it led to the building and endowment of mortuary temples or chapels, in which portrait images preserved the memory of the dead and offerings of food and drink were regularly made. In China, an elaborate ancestor cult flourished. The ancestral shrine contained tablets, inscribed with the names of ancestors, which were revered and before which offerings were made. The number of tablets displayed in the shrine was determined by the social status of the family. When the tablet of a newly deceased member was added to the collection, the oldest tablet was deposited in a chest containing still older ones: offerings to the remoter ancestors were made collectively at longer intervals. In India, three generations of deceased ancestors are venerated at the monthly shraddha festival, at which mortuary offerings were made. (see also Mesopotamian religion, ancestor worship, Hinduism)

The Christian cult of the dead found early expression in the catacombs, where mural paintings and inscriptions record the names of those buried there and the hopes of eternal peace and felicity that inspired them. Special chapels were made where the bodies of martyrs were entombed, and the anniversaries of their martyrdoms were commemorated by the celebration of the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper). The development of cults of martyrs and other saints in the medieval church centred on the veneration of their relics, which were often divided among several churches. The introduction of the doctrine of purgatory profoundly affected the postmortem care devoted to the ordinary dead. It was believed that the offering of the sacrifice of the mass could alleviate the sufferings of departed souls in purgatory. Consequently, the celebration of masses for the dead proliferated, and wealthy Christians endowed monasteries or chantry chapels where masses were said regularly for the repose of their own souls or those of their relatives. Prayers for the well-being of the dead have an important place in Mahayana Buddhism, and so-called “masses for the dead” were celebrated by Chinese Buddhists, influenced originally perhaps by the practice of the Nestorian Christians, who entered China in the 7th century AD. (see also Buddhism)

In many religions, in addition to private cults of the dead, periodic commemorations of the dead have been kept. The oldest of the Hindu sacred texts, the Rigveda (Rgveda), records the practice of the ancient Aryan invaders of India. The sacred beverage called somawas set out on “the sacred grass,” and the ancestors were invited to ascend from their subterranean abode to partake of it and to bless their pious descendants. A similar ceremony, called the Anthesteria, was held in ancient Athens. On the day concerned, the souls of the dead (keres) were believed to leave their tombs and revisit their former homes, where food was prepared for them. At sundown they were solemnly dismissed to the underworld with the formula: “out, keres, the Anthesteria is ended.” Buddhist China kept a Feast of Wandering Souls each year, designed to help unfortunate souls suffering in the next world. The Christian All Souls’ Day, on November 2, which follows directly after All Saints’ Day, commemorates all the ordinary dead: requiem masses are celebrated for their repose, and in many Catholic countries relatives visit the graves and place lighted candles on them. After World War I the public commemoration of the fallen was instituted on November 11, the day of the armistice in 1918, in many of the countries concerned: the memory of the dead was solemnly recalled in a two-minute silence during the ceremony. The body of an unknown soldier, killed in the fighting, was also buried in the capital cities of many countries and has become the accepted focus of national reverence and devotion. (see also Veterans Day)

4.10.4.2 Cult of the dead.

Among many peoples it has been the custom to preserve the memory of the dead by images of them placed upon their graves or tombs, usually with some accompanying inscription recording their names and often their achievements. This sepulchral iconography began in Egypt, the portrait statue of King Djoser (second king of the 3rd dynasty [c. 2686-c. 2613 BC]), found in the serdab (worship chamber; from the Arabic word for cellar) of the Step Pyramid being the oldest known example. The Egyptian images, however, had a magical purpose: they not only recorded the features of the deceased but also provided a locus for his kathe mysterious entity that constituted an essential element of the personality. The sculptured gravestones of classical Athens deserve special notice, for they are among the noblest products of funerary art. They are expressive of a restrained grief for those who had departed to the virtual extinction of Hades. The deceased are often shown performing some familiar act for the last time. The inscriptions are very brief and usually record only the name and parentage; sometimes the word farewell is added. Etruscan mortuary art is characterized by the effigy of the deceased, sometimes with his wife, represented as reclining on the cover of the funerary casket. These images are obviously careful portraits, but whether they had some magical use as substitute bodies or are only commemorative is unknown. Roman funerary images seem to have been essentially commemorative, as were those of Palmyra. (see also Roman religion)

Christianity has provided the richest legacy of funerary monuments. In the catacomb art of the 4th and 5th centuries, the deceased was sometimes depicted on the plaster covering of the niche in which his body was laid. From the early Middle Ages onward, the more affluent dead were represented in sculptured effigy or engraved in outline on stone or brass. In this tomb iconography, they are shown in a variety of postures: lying, kneeling, seated, standing, and sometimes on horseback. They are generally presented in the dress appropriate to their office or social standing: kings wear crowns, knights their armour; bishops are in copes and mitres and ladies in the fashionable attire of the day. This iconography is patently commemorative of the appearance in life, the achievements, and the status of the persons concerned. In the later Middle Ages, however, there was a remarkable innovation in this funerary art, which was designed to emphasize the horror and degradation of death. In what are known as memento mori tombs, below the effigies of the deceased as they were in life, there were placed effigies of their naked decaying corpses or skeletons. Such tomb sculpture reflected a contemporary obsession with the corruption of death.

4.10.5 Psychological and Sociological Aspects of Death

The Paleolithic burials reveal that the pattern of man’s reaction to the fact and phenomena of death has been set from the dawn of culture. Unlike the other animals, man has been unable to ignore the mysterious cessation of activity and lapse of consciousness that cause his body to decay and befall members of his own kind. Death has, accordingly, constituted a problem for man, and he has felt impelled to take special action to cope with it. The pattern of his reaction has been twofold: confronted with the deaths of his companions, he has recognized an obligation to attend to their needs as he has conceived them, believing that they continued to exist in some form, either in the grave or in an underworld to which the grave gave access. But man’s concern with death has not been confined to his tendance of the dead; for in the deaths of his fellows he has seen a presage of his own demise. This anticipation on the part of the living of the experience of dying has been a factor of immense psychological and social import. It is essentially a human characteristic; it stems from a consciousness of time, of which the immense cultural significance is only now beginning to be properly evaluated. (see also Paleolithic Period)

Awareness of time in its three categories of past, present, and future has decisively contributed to man’s success in the struggle for existence. For it has enabled him to draw upon past experience in the present to anticipate future needs. Thus, from the making of the first stone tools to the complex structure of his modern technological civilization, man has sought by planning to render himself economically secure and to improve the standard of his living. But his time consciousness, which has made this immense achievement possible, is an ambivalent endowment. For, although it has enabled man to win economic security, it has also made him acutely aware of his own mortality and the inevitability of his own demise. Hence, his anticipation of death presents him with a profound emotional challenge, unknown to other species. The repercussions of this challenge can be traced in almost every aspect of his social and cultural life; but it is in his religions that man’s reaction to death finds its most significant expression. All religion is concerned with postmortem security–with linking mortal man to an eternal realm–whether it be achieved by ritual magic, divine assistance, or mystic enlightenment.

4.10.6 Modern Notions of Death

4.10.6.1 Continuation of traditional responses.

Religious rites and customs continue to be practiced, because of conservatism, long after the ideas and beliefs that originally inspired them may be forgotten or abandoned. This is particularly true with regard to rites and customs pertaining to death. It is difficult to assess to what extent in the more sophisticated societies of the modern world the traditional eschatologies are still effectively held. Although a general skepticism obviously manifests itself toward the medieval imagery of death and judgment, of purgatory, heaven, and hell, modern modes of thinking have not lessened the mystery of death and its impact on the emotions. Indeed, in modern society, where expectation of life has been prolonged and standards of living raised, the negation of death is probably felt more keenly and also more hopelessly than in any other age.

 

4.10.6.2 Avowed secular inattention and unconcern.

The reaction to death most apparent today among those having no effective religious faith is that of seeking to treat it as a disagreeable happening that must be dealt with as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. Funerals are no longer elaborately organized, mourning attire is rarely worn, and graveyards are landscaped, thus discreetly removing the earlier memorials of death. The increasing use of cremation facilitates this disposition to reduce the social intrusion of death and banish the traditional grave as a reminder of human mortality.

4.10.6.3 Rites and customs among secular materialists.

It is significant, however, that, even where secularist principles are consciously professed, the dead are rarely disposed of without some semblance of ceremony. A deeply rooted feeling prompts most people to treat a dead human body with a respect that is not felt for a dead animal. It is significant that Communists make pilgrimages to the graves of Lenin and Marx; and, in the modern State of Israel, great effort is being made to record in the shrine of Yad va-Shem the names of those who died in the persecution of the Jews in Germany during the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and ’40s and, if possible, to bring their ashes there. In America, morticians strive to preserve the features of the dead as did the embalmers of ancient Egypt, though for somewhat different motives. Finally, as further evidence of modern preoccupation with death, it may be noted that, in Western society, Spiritualism witnesses to a widespread desire to have communication with the dead, and recently, in England, there has even been a recrudescence of necromancy. (S.G.F.B.)


Appendix K: Photographs of graves with Aloe vera

 

 

subaitnah_32

Figure 36: A single clump of Aloe vera on this grave at Subaitah (Oman). [Brien Holmes]

 

 

subaitnah_35

Figure 37: What appears to be two circles of Aloe vera plants on this grave at Subaitah (Oman). [Brien Holmes]

 

subaitnah_34

Figure 38: Clumps of Aloe vera at each end of this grave at Subaitah (Oman). [Brien Holmes]

subaitnah_37

Figure 40: This is perhaps the largest circle of Aloe vera plants with remains of dead plants inside the circle. This is one of the graves at Subaitah (Oman). [Brien Holmes]

subaitnah_50

Figure 41: Clusters of Aloe vera plants at either end of this grave at Subaitah (Oman). [Brien Holmes]

subaitnah_47

Figure 42: Only grave at Subaitah (Oman) with prominent stones in the middle of the grave suggesting the deceased may be female. [Brien Holmes]

 

subaitnah_49

Figure 43: Close up of a circle of Aloe vera plants on a grave at Subaitah (Oman). [Brien Holmes]

subaitnah_51.jpg

Figure 44: Another Subaitah (Oman) grave with clusters of Aloe vera plants at both ends. [Brien Holmes]

 

subaitnah_53

Figure 45: Perhaps the largest population of Aloe vera plants on any of the graves at Subaitah (Oman). [Brien Holmes]

 

Cheryl grave Al Sa'franna

Figure 46: A single Aloe vera plant on this grave in the community of Al Sa’franna (Oman). [Photo courtesy of Cheryl Dance]


Appendix L: Other plants associated with immortality and special powers

 

The following is a sample of claims on the Internet of plants with special powers.

 

Gynostemma pentaphyllum

The plant is best known for its use as an herbal medicine. Jiaogulan is most often consumed as a tisane (herbal tea), and is also available as an alcohol extract and in capsule or pill form.[8] It has not seen widespread use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) because it grows far from central China where TCM evolved; consequently, it was not included in the standard pharmacopoeia of the TCM system. Until recently it was a locally-known herb used primarily in mountainous regions of southern China and in northern Vietnam. It is described by the local inhabitants as the “immortality herb”, because people within Guizhou Province, where jiaogulan tisanes are consumed regularly, are said have a history of unusual longevity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gynostemma_pentaphyllum

. . .

Amanita Muscaria

p13

4. Amanita Muscaria

Legendary Herb of Immortality

The ancient Indo-Europeans called the Amanita Muscaria mushroom “Maga”

(The Great Gift) and so great was this Gift that its fame and name echoes down the ages as the root of our modern word Magic. The “Magus” or “Magi” (Great Gift bearers) used this truly wondrous great Gift of Nature; that healed their bodies of sickness and inspired their minds with wisdom and poetry, and they praised it in story and song, even worshiping the Gift as a God, it being the only source of an incredible magic.

http://www.ambrosiasociety.org/files/herbofimmortality.pdf

– – –

Sage

Dear Health Conscious Reader,

You probably know sage as a cooking spice. But it’s too good just to keep in your kitchen and break out only for your Thanksgiving turkey.

Your ancient ancestors prized sage. They thought people who drank sage tea never got old.

They called sage the “herb of immortality.”

In ancient Rome, if you wanted to pick sage you had to have a ceremony. The ancient Aztecs also revered it, and used the leaves to make face paint that marked rank in their society.

Sage can have an incredible influence on your health. Not only can it make breathing problems and headaches go away very quickly, but it has a mental effect.

It tends to be calming and somehow clarifying. You get a mental focus.

If you don’t believe it, just get some sage and try it. You break up sage and breathe it in, and right away you feel like you just woke up from a dream, or you just finished meditating. I feel like I went to the beach and just came back.

It seems to relieve you of whatever is bothering you. Sage is remarkable in that way. And you know, that’s what the Indians used it for. They used it to clarify the mind.

Sage gets its scientific name salvia from the Latin word “salvare,” which means save, or rescue. There are different kinds of sage – almost 900 different types. But the ones used for healing and wellness are garden sage (salvia officinalis) and Spanish sage (salvia lavandulaefolia).

http://www.alsearsmd.com/the-herb-of-immortality/

– – –

Jiaogulan Tea, The Herb of Immortality

It regulates blood fat, lowers cholesterol level, helps to build immunity, delays the aging process, prevents cells from turning cancerous and prevents arteriosclerosis.

Scientific research studies in China have shown that Jiaogulan (Jiao Gu Lan) decreases cholesterol by improving the liver’s ability to send sugar and carbohydrates to the muscles for conversion to energy instead of turning the sugar into triglycerides which the body stores as fat.

Quantity

It lowers LDL’s (bad cholesterol) while raising HDL’s (good cholesterol). It improves fat metabolism, reduces blood fat levels and depresses lipid peroxide and fat sediment in the blood vessels.

While it is great for rectifying high cholesterol and obesity problems, it can also improve and strengthen the digestion, allowing an underweight person to increase absorption of nutrients and gain weight in the form of lean muscle mass.This regulatory effect on bodily functions is the hallmark of an adaptogen.

This is all-natural healthy, herbal, product from the plant Jiaogulan.

Jiaogulan prevents cells from turning cancerous and also inhibits the growth of tumors already formed by stimulating the body’s immune system cells. Cancer patients given Jiaogulan show marked improvement in white blood cell count antibody levels, and raised T and B lymphocyte levels.

Jiaogulan is one of the best broad-spectrum adaptogenic herbs known, containing polysaccharides, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, flavones, saponins and many essential trace elements. Very safe for long-term use. Highly effective in reducing the side-effects of radiation and chemotherapy by boosting the immune system.

Athletes use Jiaogulan to enhance their performance because it enhances the heart pumping function, improving contraction of the heart muscle. The most pronounced benefits are increased endurance during strong physical activity, and more rapid recovery afterwards.

Jiaogulan contains 84 beneficial saponins – three times more than ginseng, yet it has no side-effects. Due to its significantly higher quantity of beneficial saponins, it has been widely studied and used worldwide, including for patients recovering from exposure to ultraviolet, beta and gamma-rays. It also dramatically reduces cholesterol levels, normalizes blood pressure, protects the heart, and increases fat metabolism.

Over 300 scientific research findings back up nearly every claim for Jiaogulan (also known as Gynostemma pentaphyllum). Jiaogulan is a superb immune-enhancer and antioxidant for all ages.

[1] Arabic text from the original article appears in indecipherable text though the likely word can sometimes be deduced by context.

http://herbs4cure.com/jiaogulan%20tea.htm

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Geoglyphs, stone piles in the UAE

 

The art and act of piling stones

 

Figure 1

Figure 1: Quadrant D1 from Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah. Three areas were mapped with a three-meter grid, the contents of each square recorded. In quadrant D1, there are two stone piles visible, the one in the center of the square degraded (scattered). The lines were created by depositing a fine line of wheat flour. [Brien Holmes]


Introduction
The act and art of moving stones, large and small, have been human activities for millennia; often the purpose has been obvious while on other occasions the rationale has been unclear. This paper discusses some of the common reasons for piling stones, possible explanations why individuals would pile stones, and details of stone piling in different locations in the United Arab Emirates.

 

Stone piles can serve as markers for travelers, as tributes for individuals or reminders of events, an eternal home for the deceased, and for other purposes and functions, some still not understood or appreciated.

One practice of piling stones can be considered an art form where the moving and placing of stones create a design. In other cases, the stone pile is purely functional. The assumption here is that humans move and pile stones for a reason.

Wind, water, and earthquakes can cause stones to be moved from a position of rest to a new position but seldom does nature manage to lift and place one stone on top of another, let alone lift and place dozens or hundreds of stones in a single location. In the northern hemisphere, much of the landscape has been shaped by glaciers that were responsible for moving staggering quantities of soil and rock. There is, however, no evidence of glaciations in the Oman peninsula.

In the Gulf region, as elsewhere in the world, individuals have been piling stones for millennia, some of the activity understood, some not. This paper discusses investigations of two areas where the purpose and function of the stone piling, some of which may be interpreted as geoglyphs, remains unclear.

 

Figure 2

Figure 2: Google Earth image showing Jebel Hafit and the communities of Showkah and Khadrah. [edited screen capture]

 

The two areas discussed are located on two gravel plains, one immediately east of Jebel Hafit, located in Al Ain, in Abu Dhabi emirate of the United Arab Emirates, the second in the vicinity of the two communities of Showkah and Khadrah in Ras al Khaimah emirate.

Geoglyphs
Rocks and stones often represent the most abundant materials available for individuals who may wish to construct or arrange items to convey a message or idea or emotion. The design created by the act of moving rocks and stones by individuals is known as a geoglyph which, as Wikipedia notes, is

“. . . a large design or motif (generally longer than 4 meters) produced on the ground and typically formed by clastic rocks or similarly durable elements of the landscape, such as stones, stone fragments, gravel, or earth. A positive geoglyph is formed by the arrangement and alignment of materials on the ground in a manner akin to petroforms, while a negative geoglyph is formed by removing patinated clasts to expose unpatinated ground in a manner akin to petroglyphs.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoglyph]

“The ‘Works of the Old Men’ in Arabia, ‘stone-built structures that are far more numerous than (the) Nasca Lines, far more extensive in the area that they cover, and far older,” have been described as geoglyphs by Amelia Sparavigna, a physics professor at Politecnico di Torino in Italy. The use of this term to describe these features is probably inaccurate, as recent research has shown that most were not constructed primarily as art, but were rather built to serve a range of purposes including burial sites and funerary customs, aiding in the trapping of migratory animals, and as cleared areas for camps, houses and animal enclosures.’”

 

Figure 3

Figure 18: Detail of collection area of kite in Jordan. [http://www.archaeogate.org/vicino_oriente/article/1445/stone-structures-in-the-syrian-desert-by-amelia-carolin.html]

 

The ‘kites’ of Jordan appear to have been constructed with a specific, practical purpose in mind and are not intended as art or spiritual. The kites are elaborate constructions including walls and one-or-more corrals used more than 2000 years ago for the trapping and slaughter of wild animals, including gazelles and ibexes, and the collection of feral donkeys [http://news.discovery.com/history/desert-lines-hunting-tool-kites.html].  (More illustrations of Jordanian kites are included in the Appendices and Galleries section of this report.)

The kites of Jordan, as well as other constructions from Syria to Saudi Arabia, are positive geoglyphs or other practical constructions; that is, the surface stones are collected and piled to form the walls and cairns and other constructions, some of which may be art or spiritual representations. Archaeologists and others studying these constructions believe they understand the function and purpose of some, notably the kites of Jordan, while the purpose and function of others, including circular structures – “wheels” – observed in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, remain uncertain. (Illustrations of some of the “wheels” of Saudia Arabia are included in the Appendices and Galleries section of this report.)

Some of the most famous geoglyphs in the world are the Nasca lines of Peru [http://www.world-mysteries.com/mpl_1.htm]. The Nasca designs are negative geoglyphs; that is, the surface stones have been removed to create the pattern. The construction of negative geoglyphs seems to have been a part of many ancient cultures including those in ancient China and the United Kingdom. While the item represented in many of these negative geoglyphs is obvious – bird, human, geometric design – the function and purpose remain uncertain.

 

Figure 4

Figure 3: A section of one of the motifs at Nasca, Peru. [http://www.students.sbc.edu/sungo8/senior%20seminar/Nazca/TheNazcaLines.html]

 

The availability of Google Earth software has meant individuals and professionals now can search the landscape for these structures; before the availability of the software, the constructions were observed and noted by aircrews. Investigators are still studying how individuals were meant to observe some geoglyphs, notably the Nasca lines, which can only be appreciated and recognized from the air.

Piles of stones
Throughout the mountains and countryside around the world, there are many individual piles of stones – cairns – that, observation suggests, are often practical and functional in nature. These piles of stones, occasionally topped with one or more white stones along trails observed in the Hajar Mountains, are located on tracks and are used to advise or warn the traveler that the track direction will change or to re-affirm that the traveler is on the correct course. The construction of a cairn at the highest point of a mountain or hill is likewise common around the world.

 

 

Figure 5

Figure 4: Former Chair of the Abu Dhabi chapter of the Emirates Natural History Group, Drew Gardner, beside a cairn constructed to mark the summit of Jebel Sumayni, a mountain on the western flank of the Hajar Mountains near the Abu Dhabi village of Schwaib. [http://www.flickr.com/photos/drewgardner/356093516/]

Cairns have been constructed in many cultures:

Such cairns are often placed at junctions or in places where the trail direction is not obvious, and may also be used to indicate an obscured danger, such as a sudden drop, or a noteworthy point such as the summit of a mountain. Most trail cairns are small, a foot or less in height, but may be built taller so as to protrude through a layer of snow. Hikers passing by often add a stone, as a small bit of maintenance to counteract the erosive effects of severe weather. North American trail marks are sometimes called “ducks” or “duckies”, because they sometimes have a “beak” pointing in the direction of the route. The expression “two rocks do not make a duck” reminds hikers that just one rock resting upon another could be the result of accident or nature rather than intentional trail marking. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairn].

This practice of trail marking eventually led to the trail and road markers that informed travelers of the distance to the next destination [http://www.greenwichlibrary.org/blog/historically_speaking/2011/06/marking-the-trail.html].

 

 

Figure 6

Figure 5: Cairns, such as thse on a summit on a popular hiking trail in Oman, are often used to mark the summit while, en route, a cairn would affirm that the hiker is on the correct path. [http://billdan.blogspot.ca/2007/02/stone-cairns-wadi-sidr-hajar-mountains.html]

Figure 5: Cairns, such as these on a summit on a popular hiking trail in Oman, are often used to mark the summit while, en route, a cairn would affirm that the hiker is on the correct path. (http://billdan.blogspot.ca/2007/02/stone-cairns-wadi-sidr-hajar-mountains.html)

Tumuli
The piling of stones to form tumuli has also been a part of many cultures, including historic cultures in the Gulf states. Along the western slopes of the Hajar Mountains, beehive tombs constructed many hundreds of years ago were used as the final resting places for individuals. The Danish and French archaeological teams working in the Al Ain (UAE) area recorded hundreds of what are now recognized as Jebel Hafit tombs. This beehive-shaped tomb was often constructed on ridges and mountain tops using available and undressed stones and rocks.

 

 

Figure 7

Figure 6: Beehive tombs such as these at Al Ayn, Oman, are common along the western slopes of the Hajar Mountains between Hatta (UAE) and Nizwa (Oman). Construction styles vary from site to site, reflecting the different building materials available and the period of construction. Adjacent to the city of Al Buraimi (Oman) and immediately across the border from the Hili Archaeological Park in Al Ain (UAE) is a ridge with an estimated 1000 Hafit-style tombs. [http://catbirdinoman.wordpress.com/category/oman/al-dhahirah-region/beehive-tombs-of-al-ayn/]

Tumuli in the Oman peninsula, notably the dome-shaped ‘Jebel Hafit’ tombs, are located along the Hajar Mountains of the UAE and Oman. “There are about 600 cairn tombs on the eastern side of Jebel Hafit South of Al Ain on the Eastern border of the UAE to Oman, dating to between 3200–2800 BCE. Only about 100 of these ‘Beehive’ type tombs have been excavated and partially reconstructed. The rest lie in rubble. Painted grave offering pottery found suggests trading links between the local inhabitants and the Sumerian civilization of Mesopotami.” [http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=14976]

 

 

Figure 8

Figure 7: Beehive tombs at Bat, Oman. [http://atlasobscura.com/place/beehive-tombs-of-bat]

 

 

Figure 9

Figure 8: Hafit-style “beehive” tombs in Oman. The availability of a considerable supply of flat, large stones made the construction of the tombs easier than the tombs at Jebel Hafit (UAE), for example, where stones were odd-shaped. the fact most of these tumuli were constructed on ridge tops meant the tombs were visible from a considerable distance suggesting the purpose may have been twofold: burial in a significant location and visible to communicate some messagte to passers-by. [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140196304002277]

Triliths
On the Oman peninsula, not all ancient stone constructions are understood. While the purpose and function of tumuli are generally known, the purpose and function of arranged stones, known as triliths, are not as well understood.

 

Figure 10

Figure 9: Triliths, found in Oman including the island of Socotra, are usually arranged in a line more than a dozen meters in length. Three flat stones are “socketed” – placed on end with one end inserted into a pocket in the gravel plain – and occasionally with a fourth stone placed horizontally on top. Outside Arabia, a “trilith” usually refers to a stone construction consisting of three stones; triliths have been recorded at Stonehenge. At some sites, the three stones framing a doorway – two large vertical stones and a lintel slab – are sometimes referred to as a trilith. [http://antiquity.ac.uk/antiquityNew/projgall/mccorriston/index.html]

 

Details – purpose, function, builders, date – of the construction of triliths [http://www.arabian-archaeology.com/research1triliths.htm] remain a mystery. A trilith is an arrangement of three stones, standing vertically in a triangular shape, often with a fourth stone laid horizontally across the top. Often triliths are found in lines several meters in length. The stones of each trilith are socketed and there are reports of some writing on the stone placed on top [http://www.arabian-archaeology.com/research1triliths.htm]. While the specific purpose of these stone arrangements is unclear, some believe the stones are associated with burial systems.

 

In summary, individuals have moved stones to create a pattern or motif in the space/area where the stones were located (Nasca) or moved stones to create useful, practical, or significant structures, notably cairns (trail markers, summit markers), tumuli (Hafit tombs), and practical structures (kites of Jordan, walls, buildings).

Stone piles and geoglyphs in the UAE
Some stone piling still unexplained includes the small piles of stones located at two locations in the UAE (Abu Dhabi emirate and Ras al Khaimah emirate). Small areas of similar stone piling have been observed on at least one of the offshore islands of Abu Dhabi emirate and further investigation may reveal other areas of similar examples of stone piling in the region.

These stone piles differ from cairns, tumuli, and triliths as they number in the hundreds (perhaps thousands) and cover huge areas (several hectares).

Whether the concentrations of stone piles represent geoglyphs or just a cultural activity remains to be determined. All of the stone piles observed are considered to be positive – as opposed to “negative” or activity to expose the material between the stone piles and beneath surface material  – though it is likely the individual piles of stones are not geoglyphs as they do not, it appears, represent an image or motif.

(In the course of this study of the stone piles at Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah, the author contacted a professor at an American university who had been studying the Nasca lines for more than five years. After sharing some photographs of stone piles at Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah, the professor replied with an email with a photograph showing piles of stones almost identical to those in the UAE. The individual joked that the purpose and function of the stone piles at Nasca are, it seems, as unclear as piles of stones in the UAE; while there are many theories about the purpose and function of the lines and shapes at Nasca, the professor and his team had no explanation for the piles of stones at Nasca.)

While individual piles of stones, notably cairns, appear to exist around the world, the practice of constructing hundreds of individual piles of stones in a concentration is not as common. In addition to the Nasca site, perhaps some of the most widely known are in Iceland.

 

Figure 11

Figure 10: Stone piles inside an incomplete trapezoid geoglyph from Nasca, the image shared by an American archaeologist who spent more than five years studying the Nasca lines. the piles appear very similar in size and arrangement to those observed at Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah in the UAE.

 

The two concentrations observed and discussed in this report are:

— gravel plain east of Jebel Hafit, Abu Dhabi emirate

— gravel plain in the vicinity of Showkah and Khadrah, Ras al Khaimah emirate.

Both areas are visible using Google Earth software.

 

Jebel Hafit concentration

 

 

Figure 12

Figure 11: One of the odd-shaped designs at the Jebel Hafit site. The fist-sized stones have been significantly in-filled and partially covered by wind-blown sand. The number of shaped piles of stones was very few compared to the simple small piles that measured a half-meter in diameter. All stone piles were low-profile elevated less than 20 centimeters above the gravel plain. The curved shape (above) is approximately one meter wide and more than five meters long. [Brien Holmes]

The stone piles in the vicinity of Jebel Hafit are arranged in several concentrations stretching along the gravel plain immediately east of Jebel Hafit, not more than a few hundred meters from the base of the mountain in areas between the truck road (to the north) and the Oman border (to the south).

(Whether there were similar stone piles north of the truck road is unknown. If stone piles had existed, they are likely no longer visible as the area has been used as a military base for several decades.)

The stone piles were first noticed by this author several years ago in the course of driving to and from the restored Jebel Hafit tombs located immediately adjacent to the base of the mountain at 24° 2’41.60″N 55°47’59.93″E.

Interest in the stone piles by archaeological teams has evidently been diminished by the published comments of Serge Cleuziou who, discussing the activities of the French archaeological team during the 1977 season, reported that the Hafit-style cairns may have been degraded as a result of local residents hoping to earn some income by collecting stones to be sold to crushers. This activity was assumed to have taken place during the initial rush of construction activity in the 1970’s when aggregate was in high demand for road building and other construction. No mention is made of the stone piles or stone arranging in either reports by the French archaeological team after seasons 1976-77 (Archaeology in the United Arab Emirates Vol. I) or 1978-79 (Archaeology in the United Arab Emirates Vol. II-III).

“As no settlement has been located, they [the Hafit tombs] are now the only remains of the culture of the peninsula during this period available for study. Almost all of them have been plundered at different times and their destruction was recently accelerated by the collection of stones for gravel-crushing needed by the growing modern city. The Department of Archaeology has taken steps to stop this destruction. Anyway, the archaeologist often has to deal with poor remains. The re-uses of the cairns do not help in the making of a chronological scheme, as frequently, their material has been mixed with the original content by the robbers. We shall come back to it after the analysis of the results in our 1977 excavation.” (Page 13, Archaeology in the United Arab Emirates Vol. I (1976-77) Serge Cleuziou, Director of the French Archaeological Mission in the United Arab Emirates)

There do not appear to be any drawings, photographs or written descriptions of the individual small piles of stones, the individual piles of larger stones, or the patterns constructed of small stones in either of these reports by the French team. It does seem that the reference to the collection of stones and degradation of the tombs has been extended to the stone piles without justification.

 

 

Figure 13

Figure 12: Typical of many of the small piles of stones at Jebel Hafit, this pile is approximately a half a meter in diameter and consists of fist-sized stones uniform in size.

 

The stone piles at Jebel Hafit vary:

— the most numerous are small (about a half-meter in diameter), low profile piles consisting of more than a hundred fist-sized stones (number estimated);

— the most dramatic stone piling consists of areas where the stones have been arranged in patterns and designs including rectangles, curves bands, crescents, parallel lines, and other geometric shapes; and

— there are a few areas of stone piles composed of larger stones (up to 20 or 30 centimeters in diameter); these are located in a few areas of the gravel plain close to the base of the mountain where the surface stones are considerably larger in size.

All of these areas are visible using Google Earth software.

 

 

Figure 14

Figure 13: The curve of this shape suggests a question mark. Other rectangles and squares are also visible. [Brien Holmes]

In the immediate vicinity of the stone piles – within 200 meters – are several tumuli of the Jebel Hafit period. There is no evidence of any connection between the stone piles/patterns and the tumuli other than physical proximity.

Although the entire area was not searched exhaustively, there was no evidence of any other human activity; that is, there were no bones, charcoal, pottery, or jewelry (beads, glass) in areas where stone piles and designs exist. A single shell was observed and recorded; it appears to be a fossil.

Several of the areas of stone piles east of Jebel Hafit have been degraded by human activity. For several decades, livestock farms were located along the gravel plain; most of the farms were distant from the stone piles but a few were located in or near some areas where stone piles were constructed. Vehicular damage to the stone piles continues to the present; some is associated with the farming activity (now almost entirely halted), some the result of visitors in search of the Hafit tombs, some the result of the military and police patrols.

The area where the stone piles are located is inside the boundaries of a proposed national park at Jebel Hafit.

The reconstructed Hafit tombs are located approximately 200 meters from one of the areas of stone piles.

 

Figure 15

Figure 14: View looking north, dome mentioned in text on right. This area of individual piles changes to rectangles, parralel lines, and other curved shapes in the distance. At the base of the mountain, just left of center, are the reconstructed Jebel Hafit tombs. [Brien Holmes]

(The author published a collection of photographs of the Hafit stones at [http://www.enhg.org/Home/Resources/AlAinBuraimi/StonePatterns.aspx]

 

An exhaustive investigation of older local residents was not carried out but a few individuals living in Mezyad were asked about the stone piles. None of the residents made any mention of the arranging of stones to sell to crushers. The residents did indicate that they believed the stone piles and patterns had been there a very long time. Not all were aware of the stone piles. These details are purely anecdotal.

 

Figure 16

Figure 15: A screen capture from Google Earth showing patterns and individual stone piles at Jebel Hafit. [Google Earth}

Figure 15 is a screen capture using Google Earth software of one of the areas of stone patterns immediately east of the mountain. The approximate center of the image is at 24° 2’40.02″N  55°48’39.85″E.

In the upper right hand corner of the image is a small dome; a vehicle track is located immediately south of the dome and continues in a northwesterly direction along the edge of the area. Vehicles have destroyed numerous small piles along the track.

Small piles of stones are visible immediately west of the dome; these appear in Google Earth imagery as small dark-gray dots. The black dots in Figure 15 are acacia bushes. The small individual piles of stones continue immediately south of the area of stone patterns.

In the area are several interesting shapes. The patterns are constructed, it appears, in the same manner as the individual piles; that is, surface stones, generally fist-sized or smaller, are gathered and piled or, in the case of the patterns, arranged.

In the bottom right (south, southwest of the dome) of Figure 15 are more than a dozen parallel lines with several hundred small piles immediately east of the first line. The first few lines are gently curving while those near the west limit of parallel line construction are almost straight.

Elsewhere in the area, the stones are arranged in lines in various directions, some curved. Not obvious in the Google Earth image are curved shapes.

The three areas in Figure 15 where the surface appears almost white in color are indications of recent activity. These appear to be old burrow locations for spiny-tailed lizards (dhubs Uromastyx leptieni). Whenever the surface is disturbed, surface material with even a light coat of desert varnish appears lighter; areas appear very light if the area is covered with subsoil as happens when dhubs excavate their burrows.

 

 

Figure 17

Figure 16: View From atop the small dome showing wadi (right) with Hafit tombs (reconstructed) at the base of the mountain, center of the image. Area of shaped piles is to the left. [Brien Holmes]

 

Figure 18

Figure 17: A shell (in situ) observed among the stone piles at Jebel Hafit. Most of the small stones in the photograph appear to be exhinoidea or other fossil commonly found on and near Jebel Hafit. If this is the case, the shell could be a fossil (the shell was not removed for testing). [Brien Holmes}

The stones at Jebel Hafit were the subject of an article in The National newspaper (http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/jebel-hafeets-riddle-written-in-stones) in January 2010 when reporter Rym Ghazal interviewed United Arab Emirates University history professor Dr. Hasan al Naboodah about the site.

“No one knows how or why the rocks were grouped in this way, says Hasan al Naboodah, a history professor at UAE University as he picks his way across the rough terrain to reach the rocks in his four-by-four. “This mountain and the areas around it carry many stories, most of them untold and lost, like the story of these piles of rocks,” he says. Over an area of approximately 10,000 square metres there are dozens of piles, each made from fist-sized stones.

 

“Some are grouped together to form low, circular pyramids, positioned at almost equal distance from each other. Others are arranged into parallel rectangular shapes. In addition to stones, some of the piles have pieces of coral. Seen from a height, the overall effect is of a geometric floral design. “There are many theories about these piles, some more mystical, and others less romantic,” says Prof al Naboodah.

 

“ ‘Given their careful design and wide span of the terrain, they could have been aligned with the stars, as the stars were used by our ancestral tribes for geographical landmarks and for marking down the seasons.’ Indeed, it is tempting to read the patterns as constellations reproduced in stone by human hands on the desert floor. Similar formations of rock piles can be seen in the Al Madam area, south of Al Dhaid in Sharjah, a wide plain where the remains of a major Iron Age mud-brick settlement were discovered in the 1980s.” (http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/jebel-hafeets-riddle-written-in-stones)

 

 

Figure 19

Figure 18: Image accompanying article from The National. Original caption: “Hasan al Naboodah, a history professor at UAE University, walks among the piles of stone near Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain. Photos by Stephen Lock / The National”

 

 

 

Showkah/Khadrah concentration

 

Figure 20

Figure 19: Estimated area of stone piling in the Showkah-Khadrah area using map from the 1960’s showing wells (rawi) and routes used by residents. The area is a few kilometers north of the point where many trails converge, at Showkah, where there was fresh water and relatively easy access to the east coast via Wadi Qor and Wadi Hilo. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

 

Figure 21

Figure 20: In the foreground, square X9 of the grid constructed in Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah, the perimeter of the area running diagonally through the square. Individual piles are visible in the middle distance. Study Area One was chose as a site for mapping as it was isolated from other concentrations and was relatively small in size. [Brien Holmes]

The stone piles of Showkah/Khadrah were first noted in a small concentration of “molehills” observed by Peter Hellyer and Christian Welde in the course of their environmental impact assessment relating to a pipeline construction project. The “molehills” numbered a few dozen and were located in the vicinity of a larger archaeological site that included Islamic period copper smelters, a copper mine, and numerous remains of associated structures. (Also observed and noted later were several Islamic-style graves located between the “molehills” reported and the copper smelting site.)

The gravel plain where the stone piles are located appears to be the result of ancient geological activity when debris was washed from the Hajar Mountains (generally east to west flow). The material was not segregated as it was deposited; road cuts near different sites indicate the material, to a depth of several meters, is a mix of silt, fine gravel, fist-sized stones, and larger stones.

All of the stones observed and recorded showed evidence of being part of an alluvial deposit as all stones had smooth edges though not rounded as classic wadi stones (oval and smooth).

 

Figure 22

Figure 21: Google Earth image showing original “molehills” (bottom left) noted by Hellyer/Welde, the copper mining and smelting sites, Islamic graves, the pipeline, three Hafit-style tombs, and Study Areas One and Two.

 

The stone piles of Showkah/Khadrah extend over a very large area, several square kilometers in total. The piles vary in concentration from dense to sparse with some of the areas degraded; in some locations the piles appear to have sunk into the gravel plain and are visible now as shadows on the surface.

The stone piles near Showkah and Khadrah are arranged in concentrations, some large in area, some small. The smaller areas feature a dozen or fewer piles of stones; the larger areas number several hundred piles of stones.

Like the areas east of Jebel Hafit, the stone piles appear to be concentrated in areas where the surface stones were relatively small in size. The average size of the original surface stones would be similar to the size of a clenched fist; there are no piles of stones in areas where the surface stones are larger.

In the Showkah/Khadrah area, the stones were almost exclusively piled into piles of a uniform size. Spacing does not appear to conform to any plan and is generally irregular unlike the stone piling near Jebel Hafit where some of the stones were arranged into shapes. In Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah, several piles of stones were constructed using very small stones only a few centimeters in size.

 

Study Area One

 

 

Figure 23

Figure 22: Study Area One  at the Showkah/Khadrah site, the stone piles located in the apex of the bed in the wadi bed. The area had been disturbed by one vehicle track and two scrapes by a bulldozer. [Google Earth screen capture edited by Brien Holmes]

Study Area One (above) is surrounded on three sides by a wide wadi bed. A vehicle track is located on the south side of the site. Just beyond the eastern limits of the site is a wide, substantial track that was likely constructed and used during the construction of the high-voltage electrical towers located nearby.

In Figure 22, a yellow line indicates the path of a vehicle track that cuts through the site, roughly parallel to the wadi bed. As a result of the activity several of the stone piles were degraded significantly.

 

 

Figure 24

Figure 23: Working sheet of graph paper showing the grid and reference points with the centers of stone piles indicated in Study Area One. (The direction ‘north’ is at the bottom of the grid, ‘south’ at the top; ‘west direction is to the right and ‘east’ to the left.) [Brien Holmes]

The individual stone piles were mapped and are represented in Figure 23, a scan of one of the sheets of graph paper used in the field. In constructing the grid, the intent was to include all areas where clearing and piling activity was evident. Given the irregular shapes of the areas studied, it was inevitable that some of the squares would not include any stone piles but would include the ‘boundary’ of the area.

Viewed in this format, the stones do not appear to represent any recognizable pattern, design, or motif.

A total of 127 piles of stones were recorded in Study Area One. The total number of squares constructed in the grid is 131. With each square covering an area of nine (9) square meters, the total area of the grid was (131 X 9) 1179 square meters. There were 11 squares on the perimeter of the grid without any evidence of stone piles though the clearing activity extended into these squares. Along the south side of the grid (the top of the image in Figure 22), there are seven (7) squares without any evidence of stone piles and there were squares in the area where no piles were recorded; as noted, the grid was constructed so that the perimeter of the grid extended far enough to include all of the cleared area.

The total area represents more accurately the area cleared of stones; that is, although there were no discernible piles in the 11 grid squares on the perimeter without stones, some or all of the area inside the square had been cleared of surface stones used to construct piles nearby.

The approximate concentration of stone piles for the total area is one pile for each 9.3 square meters.

Table 1: Study Area One

Grid Details

Row number           Number of squares            Column letter            Number of squares

1 (8 empty)                               12                                         T (3 empty)                      3

2 (1 empty)                               12                                         U (2 empty)                     3

3 (1 empty)                               16                                           V (0 empty)                    5

4 (5 empty)                               19                                         W (1 empty)                     7

5 (5 empty)                                18                                          X (3 empty)                     8

6 (3 empty)                               17                                           Y (3 empty)                     8

7 (3 empty)                                15                                           Z (3 empty)                     8

8 (1 empty)                                14                                           A (2 empty)                    8

9 (1 empty)                                  5                                            B (0 empty)                    8

10 (3 empty)                               3                                             C (3 empty)                     8

D (1 empty)                     8

E (1 empty)                      9

F (1 empty)                      8

G (1 empty)                       8

H (4 empty)                      8

I (2 empty)                      8

J (1 empty)                       7

K (0 empty)                       5

L (0 empty)                       4

Totals:

9 (31 empty)                        131                                                     19 (31 empty)                 131

(Summary: 131 grid addresses, 127 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)

 

Table 2: Study Area One concentration

Number        Area                                  Stone piles                   Concentration

of squares    (one square = 9 square meters)                    (square meters per pile)

Total area              131                  1179                                   127                                    9.28

 

Table 3: Study Area One grid summary: distribution of the 127 piles of stones among the 131 grid squares

Grid       Number of     Grid        Number of      Grid         Number of       Grid       Number of

address    stone piles    address   stone piles     address   stone piles    address    stone piles

01/A                  0                    02/E              1                  02/I                 3                  08/V                2

02/A                 0                    03/E               1                  03/I                 1                  03/W                2

03/A                 3                     04/E               1                  04/I                1                  04/W                 1

04/A                0                     05/E                2                 05/I                2                 05/W                  1

05/A                 3                     06/E               1                  06/I                1                 06/W                  1

06/A                 1                     07/E               1                  07/I                0                 07/W                  1

07/A                 1                     08/E               1                  08/I                1                   08/W                 1

08/A                 0                    09/E               1                  01/J                 0                  09/W                0

01/B                 1                      01/F               0                  02/J                 1                  03/X                 2

02/B                 1                      02/F              2                  03/J                  1                  04/X                0

03/B                  1                     03/F               1                  04/J                  2                  05/X                1

04/B                  1                     04/F              2                  05/J                  2                  06/X                 1

05/B                  2                     05/F              1                   06/J                 1                   07/X                 0

06/B                  1                     06/F              1                   07/J                 1                    08/X                1

07/B                  1                     07/F              1                   01/K                 2                   09/X                1

08/B                  0                    08/F               1                   02/K                3                   10/X                0

01/C                   0                    01/G               0                  03/K                1                    03/Y               0

02/C                  3                     02/G              2                   04/K               1                     04/Y              2

03/C                  1                      03/G              1                   05/K                2                    05/Y               0

04/C                  2                     04/G              1                   01/L                 1                    06/Y               1

05/C                  0                      05/G             1                    02/L                1                     07/Y              1

06/C                  0                      06/G             1                    03/L                2                    08/Y              2

07/C                  1                       07/G             1                    04/L                1                    09/Y              1

08/C                  1                       08/G             1                     04/T               0                    10/Y              0

01/D                  1                       01/H              0                    05/T               0                    03/Z              1

02/D                  1                       02/H             1                     06/T               0                    04/Z             0

03/D                  1                       03/H              2                    04/U               0                    05/Z             1

04/D                  1                       04/H              0                   05/U                0                   06/Z             0

05/D                  2                       05/H              0                   06/U                 1                   07/Z             1

06/D                  1                       06/H              1                    04/V                 1                    08/Z            2

07/D                  1                       07/H              0                   05/V                  1                    09/Z            1

08/D                  0                      08/H              1                    06/V                  1                    10/Z             0

01/E                   0                      01/I                 0                   07/V                  1

Totals:

33                       32                       33                 31                     33                   36                    32              28

(Summary: 131 grid addresses,127 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)

 

 

Figure 25

Figure 24: The “centers” of stone piles in Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah. The symbols “S”, “N”, and “E” are assigned to three piles that were observed to be slightly apart from the general concentration of piles and coincidentally aligned with three of the four cardinal points of the compass. [Brien Holmes]

Three stone piles that were located slightly apart from the main collection of stone piles are noted in Figure 24. These three stone piles are located (respectively) on the north, south, and east sides of the concentration of stone piles. (There did not appear to be a pile of stones at the western edge of the concentration that was apart from the others or would line up with the other piles which may have been aligned with the cardinal compass points.)

When the grid was being constructed, no notice was taken of the cardinal points; instead, the grid was designed to be the most compact for the cleared area. As it developed, the grid lines ran close to N-S and E-W though the result was unintended and unplanned.

The fact the three piles were arguably apart or distant from the concentration may, in fact, be purely coincidental; there is no evidence the stone piles have anything to do with information that may be related to or relevant to direction.

 

 

Figure 26

Figure 25: Work sheet showing the plot of the vehicle track through Study Area One. The ‘x’ marks indicate stone piles along the track, many of which were degraded by the activity. To the left are two patches showing results of activty by a bulldozer, one area the cut made my the loader, the second the pile of debris created when the scoooped material was dumped. [Brien Holmes]

As noted in Figures 25 and 26, a few stone piles were degraded when a bulldozer operator scooped some of the surface material, leaving a cut. The material was evidently dumped nearby.

 

Figure 27

Figure 26: Photograph shows evidence of scoop by bulldozer (left, center) and the material subsequently dumped (top, right) in the area. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 28

Figure 27: Photograph shows damage done to stone piles by vehicles driving over the site. The traffic was likely in relation to the construction of electrical pylons for high-voltage transmission lines nearby. [Brien Holmes]


Study Area Two

 

 

Figure 29

Figure 28: A screen capture from Google Earth of Study Area Two (red perimeter). Three other areas are also visible in the image. In the concentration immediately northeast of Study Area Two, the stone piles appear to be aligned in parallel lines. Some lines of stones were observed in the very large area of stone piles in the adjacent to the paved road. {Google Earth edited by Brien Holmes]

 

Study Area Two Grid
The grid constructed at Area Two at Showkah-Khadrah was another three-meter gird constructed in the same way as in Study Area One.

The general state of the stone piles in Area Two was very similar to that in Area One; that is, individuals had collected all stones larger than three or four centimeters in diameter and arranged them in small piles that appear to be spaced randomly, likely a function of the number of available stones.

The grid consisted of ten rows (generally in an east-west direction) and twenty columns. As the area was irregularly shaped, the number of squares in each row (or column) varied.  The grid was constructed to include all of the area cleared; as the perimeter of the cleared area is irregular, the perimeter of the cleared area transects the squares around the perimeter of the grid.

The total number of squares in the grid was 111. There were no piles of stones in 44 of the squares. There is no specific significance to this, it seems; the distribution pattern appeared to be random. There were a total of 16 squares around the perimeter of the grid that did not have any piles of stones. In some instances this was the result of the fact that the area that had been cleared was only a part of the square.

 

Table 3: Study Area Two Grid Details
Row number        Number of squares        Column letter        Number of squares

1                          16 (7 empty)                           A                             3 (3 empty)

2                          16 (11 empty)                          B                             4 (2 empty)

3                         16 (4 empty)                            C                            5 (2 empty)

4                          15 (6 empty)                             D                            6 (4 empty)

5                           15 (6 empty)                            E                             6 (4 empty)

6                           16 (4 empty)                            F                             6 (3 empty)

7                           8 (3 empty)                               G                            6 (1 empty)

8                           6 (2 empty)                              H                             6 (2 empty)

9                           3 (1 empty)                               I                               6 (3 empty)

J                               9 (3 empty)

K                              9 (2 empty)

L                               9 (3 empty)

M                               8 (2 empty)

N                               8 (3 empty)

O                                8 (3 empty)

P                                7 (2 empty)

Q                                 3 (2 empty)

R                                1 (0 empty)

S                                  1 (0 empty)

Totals:     9                        111 (44 empty)                                   19                                 111 (44 empty)
(Summary: 111 grid addresses, 77 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)

Table 4: Study Area Two concentration

Number                             Area                                             Stone piles                   Concentration

of squares      (one square = 9 square meters)                                             (square meters per pile)

Total area
111                                             999                                                   77                                      12.97
Table 5: Study Area Two grid summary: distribution of the 77 piles of stones among the 111 grid squares

Grid       Number of     Grid        Number of      Grid         Number of       Grid       Number of

address    stone piles    address   stone piles     address   stone piles    address    stone piles

01/A              0                 05/F               0                    09/J               1                   02/N              0

02/A              0                 06/F              0                    01/K              1                   03/N               1

03/A              0                 01/G              1                     02/K              0                   04/N              0

01/B              0                  02/G             0                    03/K               2                   05/N               1

02/B             0                  03/G              1                     04/K              1                    06/N              1

03/B              1                  04/G              0                    05/K               0                   07/N              0

04/B             3*                05/G               1                    06/K               1                    08/N              1

01/C              0                  06/G              1                     07/K               1                    01/O              1

02/C             0                  01/H               1                     08/K               3                   02/O               0

03/C             2                   02/H              0                    09/K               1                    03/O               0

04/C             1                    03/H              1                     01/L               0                    04/O              2

05/C              1                   04/H              0                     02/L               1                    05/O               0

01/D              0                   05/H               1                     03/L                1                   06/O              1

02/D              0                   06/H              1                     04/L               1                    07/O              1

03/D              1                    01/I                1                      05/L               1                    08/O              1

04/D              1                    02/I               0                     06/L               1                     01/P              0

05/D              0                    03/I               1                      07/L               2                     02/P              1

06/D              0                    04/I              0                      08/L               0                    03/P               1

01/E               0                     05/I              0                      09/L               0                   04/P               1

02/E               1                     06/I              1                       01/M               2                   05/P               0

03/E               0                     01/J              1                        02/M              0                   06/P               1

04/E               0                     02/J             0                        03/M              2                    07/P              1

05/E               1                       03/J             0                       04/M               1                    05/Q              1

06/E               0                      04/J             2                       05/M               1                     06/Q             0

01/F               1                       05/J              1                       06/M               1                     07/Q              0

02/F              1                        06/J              1                       07/M              1                     06/R               1

03/F              1                        07/J              0                       08/M              0                     06/S              1

04/F              0                       08/J              1                        01/N               1

Totals:

28                15                         28               17                          28               27                       27                18
*Note: Grid square 04/B is the location of the ‘Three Stones’ as discussed in the text.

(Summary: 111 grid addresses, 77 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)

 

 

Figure 30

Figure 29: Scan of field notes for Area Two showing position of perimeter posts and approximate shape of the cleared area. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 31

Figure 30: Area Two stone piles plotted. Density – piles per square meter – was lower compared to two other Showkah/Khadrah sites mapped. The ‘Three Stones’ are in quadrant B3. [Brien Holmes]

Figure 29 illustrates how the perimeter of the cleared area fit inside the grid. In one part of the grid, the cleared area extends beyond the grid (M9) and the equivalent of two squares could have been added (extend columns M and N). Elsewhere in the grid area, occasionally the cleared area extends beyond the grid, in other areas the grid was constructed beyond the cleared area. In summary, a precise calculation of density is not practical.

There were at least three other areas where stone piling had been carried out within a few meters of Area Two. While each area had some unique aspects – in one location stone piles appeared to form straight lines, in another piles were arranged in lines which intersected at right angles. However, given the incredible number of stone piles and the number of combinations of arrangements, any number of patterns may be imagined; the fact that any observed pattern was not apparently repeated in other areas of stone piling suggested a single example was unintended.

Large stones
In Study Area One, there were few large stones imbedded in the surface; instead, several large stones had been moved to be amalgamated with smaller stones in piles. In Study Area Two, only three large stones appeared to have been moved into position while several large stones had been left in the ground.

 

The Three Stones
The most curious placement of stones in Area Two consisted of three stones located in grid square B3 in the extreme western end of the area and near the perimeter of the cleared area.

 

 

Figure 32

Figure 31: The ‘three stones’ observed in Study Area Two. Small stones had been arranged on one side of two of the stones. There were no other large stones on the surface among the piles of stones in the study area. [Brien Holmes]

At the Area Two site, three large stones were located on the edge of the concentration. The arrangement of the stones was striking though there was no direct evidence the placement of the stones had any significance. However, since the placement of the stones was striking and since the placement of small stones on only one side of each stone was exceptional, special attention was paid to the stones in grid square B3.

Considerable time was spent observing and mapping these stones as they were unlike anything observed at Jebel Hafit or elsewhere at Showkah/Khadrah. Two of the three large stones had a small concentration of small stones on the outside edge of the stones.

Information recorded for the three stones included:

— coordinates

— angle of each line of the three stones (northwest, southwest, north)

— distance between the stones

— arrangement of the three stones in respect to nearby piles of stones

The angles were noted and compared to the location of the sunrise and sunset on both the summer and winter solstice (see table).

 

 

Figure 33

Figure 32: Theee stones plotted with distance (center to center) noted long with angles of lines connecting centers of the stones. [Brien Holmes]

Table 6: Estimate of angle of sunset for winter solstice.

Winter Solstice sunset location

                                    Location One                                                   26.0 degrees
Location Two                                                   23.0 degrees
Location Three                                                25.0 degrees
Location Four                                                  25.0 degrees

 

 

Figure 34

Figure 33: Graphic from http://www.starynight.com showing relative positions of the three stars which make up the Summer Triangle.

 

One of the theories tested was whether the stones, in combination, pointed to the spot on the horizon of the sunrise or sunset on the summer and/or winter solstice. While the angles were reasonably close to the angles for the sunrise locations, the error was considerable.

A second theory tested was whether two of the stones (on the eastern side of the pattern) pointed to the northern star. Again, while the angle was in the general direction of the northern star, the error was considerable.

A third theory tested was whether the arrangement of the three stones was an attempt to mimic the arrangement of the three stars of the ‘summer triangle’ [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_Triangle ]. The three stars, Altair, Deneb, and Vega, are the brightest stars of the constellations Aquila, Cygnus, and Lyra.

In the classic “New Handbook of the Heavens,” (McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1941), authors Hubert J. Bernhard, Dorothy A. Bennett and Hugh S. Rice do speak of Vega, Altair and Deneb as a “brilliant triangle composed of three of the 20 brightest stars in the heavens.”

But in a twist, the triangle is designated not as a summer star pattern, but rather, is described under the chapter “Autumn and Winter Stars,” since, as the authors point out, the “big triangle” passes overhead on September evenings. That is indeed the case, although it is only during the summer months of June and July that the Triangle is visible for the entire night, from dusk till dawn. [http://www.space.com/1206-doorstep-astronomy-summer-triangle.html]

The designation “Summer Triangle” is evidently very recent (mid-20th century) though astronomers have noted for centuries that the three stars are among the brightest in the night sky and are a highlight of the summer months. The stars aid those who are in need of some assistance to locate other constellations, as the constellation Orion is for those searching the winter night sky.

The interest in the three stones and the ‘Summer Triangle’ was to investigate some association of the stone piles and astronomy. No association was obvious or evident.

One of the suppositions considered was that the individuals who had constructed the stone piles had some reason to appreciate the significance of the coming and going of what is now popularly known as the “Summer Triangle”. In other cultures, elaborate constructions like Stonehenge were used to calculate the changing of the seasons, something ancient residents of the Oman peninsula would have been interested in given the ferocious heat of summer and the seasonal rains. It is reasonable to assume that ancient residents of the Oman peninsula had a sophisticated understanding of the regular movements of the sun and moon as well as the planets and prominent stars. The three stones in Area Two may have served as a teaching aid to pass on information from one generation to another, for example.

The argument that the three stones are placed as they are for three individuals to sit and talk may be discounted by the fact that small stones were placed on only one side of two of the three stones.

While it is understandably dangerous to read too much into the placement of three large stones the situation seems too exceptional to have no significance.

 

The ‘Dots’ area

 

 

Figure 35

Figure 34: The study area ‘Dots’ (red perimeter) was first noted when using Google Earth to look for other evidence of stone piling. The gravel plain west of Showkah/Masafi road is extensively covered with piles of stones as can be seen from the Google Earth image in this Figure. [Google Earth]

The third area of small piles of stones mapped was a small concentration located more than seven (7) kilometers from Areas A and B. The area was chosen after the piles were observed using Google Earth.

The collection is a small concentration of stone piles on the gravel plain which has several expanses of stone piling. However, owing to the soil conditions, many of the stone piles are barely visible as the piles have settled into the soil and are recognizable as shadows on the surface.

(A ‘chevron’ of stones was observed near the concentration referred to as ‘Dots’. Initially, it was unclear whether there was a connection between the chevron and ‘Dots’. On a subsequent visit, it was observed that small piles of stones extended from one arm of the chevron, the small piles equally spaced and in a straight line. Further examination resulted in the location of three other ‘chevrons’, each of which marked the corners of a runway. Individuals who were piloting planes in the mid-20th century confirmed that there was a runway for use by officials based in Showkah though the author was unable to locate any pilot who had used the runway. Further discussion of the landing strip appears later in this report.)

The ‘Dots’ area was mapped with a grid similar to that constructed for Area A and Area B; that is, a grid of three-meter squares was constructed using flour to outline the grid squares.

A total of 21 squares were constructed in the grid which consisted of four horizontal lines and a total of eight vertical lines. The longest line of squares was six units long and the area was an irregular shape. The total area mapped was 189 square meters.

A total of 49 piles of stones were counted in the area mapped.

The concentration of stone piles per square meter was one stone pile for each 3.86 square meters.

One of the features of the ‘Dots’ was that several of the stone piles appeared to be arranged in straight lines running in an east-west direction; however less than half of the stone piles could be considered to have been constructed in lines.

Of the 49 stone piles, only two appeared to have been constructed apart from the other piles of stones. These were located on the eastern edge of the concentration. These two piles of stones were at least three meters from all other stone piles but there was no obvious explanation.

Like Area One and Area Two, the ‘Dots’ collection of piles of stones did not include any charcoal, pottery, glass, or bone. Like other areas, the surface consisted of fist-sized stones. Unlike Area One and Area Two, the ‘Dots’ collection did not include any large stones either placed on the surface or partially embedded in the gravel plain.

 

 

Figure 37

Figure 36: Grid under construction at the ‘Dots’ site. Diagonally, in the foreground, are the nylon string and tape measure. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 38

Figure 37: The ‘Dots’ area with the grid in place. The rebar posts, flour, and nylon string are all visible. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 43

Figure 42: Graph paper representation of the grid constructed at the ‘Dots’ study area. The area covered a total of 21 squares (189 square meters). [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 44

Figure 43: Graph paper identifying locations of the piles recorded at the ‘Dots’ study area. (The corners of the grid squares are marked in yellow, the dark dots represent the approximate center of each pile of stones.) A total of 49 piles of stones was recorded. [Brien Holmes]

Table 7: Study Area ‘Dots’ Grid Details

Row number              Number of squares                Column letter           Number of squares

1                                      6 (0 empty)                                A                               1 (0 empty)

2                                     5 (0 empty)                                 B                               2 (0 empty)

3                                     5 (1 empty)                                  C                                3 (0 empty)

4                                     5 (0 empty)                                 D                                4 (0 empty)

E                                4 (1 empty)

F                                 4 (0 empty)

G                                 2 (0 empty)

H                                 1 (0 empty)
Totals:
4                                     21 (1 empty)                                8                                 21 (1 empty)
(Summary: 21 grid addresses, 49 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)

Table 8: Dots Area summary

Number                             Area                                             Stone piles                   Concentration

of squares      (one square = 9 square meters)                                             (square meters per pile)

Total area
21                                            189                                                 49                                       3.86
Table 9: Study Area ‘Dots’ grid summary: distribution of the 49 piles of stones among the 21 grid squares

Grid       Number of     Grid        Number of      Grid         Number of       Grid       Number of

address    stone piles    address   stone piles     address   stone piles    address    stone piles

01/A               1                    02/B            3                     03/C              1                   04/D              4

01/B               1                    02/C             2                    03/D              2                  04/E               4

01/C               1                    02/D             5                     03/E              4                  04/F               4

01/D               1                    02/E             4                     03/F              0                   04/G              5

01/E               1                     02/F             1                      03/G              2                   04/H             2

01/F               1

Totals:
6                    6                        5                15                        5                  9                      5                19

(Summary: 21 grid addresses, 49 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)

Bone Fragments
No objects of any kind were observed in the area of the grid constructed at the Dots site. However, approximately 10 meters north of the grid two fragments of bone were collected. It is not uncommon to find remains of bones in the desert and on the gravel plains; the bones may be the remains of a deceased animal (camel, donkey, dhub, goat, chicken etc) or refuse from a camping site where individuals may have consumed any of the above and left the bones as refuse.

However, these two bone fragments were located on their own; there were no other bones or bone fragments in the vicinity. Nor were there any signs within a reasonable distance (several hundred meters) of any camping activity. The only evidence of human activity in the general vicinity was the landing strip and the hundreds of piles of stones, including those in the concentration identified here as the Dots area.

 

 

Figure 45

Figure 44: Back side of the two bone fragments found a few meters from the ‘Dots’ study area. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 46

Figure 45: Front side of the two bone fragments found a few meters from the ‘Dots’ study area.

 

For this observer, the two bone fragments appear to be considerably weathered. The shape, the observer believes, is not normal; that is, it is unlikely there are bones from any of the animals (mammals, reptiles, birds etc) normally found in the region that would have a bone similar to these. No othere material – pottery, shells, bone, etc – was found in the vicinty of the ‘Dots’ area.

The pointed end on each bone fragment and the palm-sized proportion of each piece of bone suggest to this observer that the bone fragments may have been rudimentary awls. However others with more experience with such material doubt that conclusion.

 

 

Figure 47

Figure 46: Grid square E4 of the ‘Dots’ site with six piles in or partially inside the square showing the density of piles at this site. [Brien Holmes]

 

Other sites
Piles of stones have been observed and recorded on islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi emirate and along the coastline. There is also one report of small piles of stones observed in a wadi in Oman.

 

Islands

During the course of an environment impact assessment for a proposed development on Han Island (Abu Dhabi emirate coastline), stone piles were observed on a narrow spit of land above the high-water mark.

 

 

Figure 48

Figure 47: Archaeoloogical/cultural artifacts observed and recorded on Han Island, Abu Dhabi emirate. Much of the island is close to sea level and only a few sites are above the normal high-water mark. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

The site (Stone Pattern) in the western corner of the island appeared to be of recent construction and consisted of piles of large stones used to construct what appeared to be a temporary structure. Most interesting was the collection of sites and material along the northern edge of the island on a narrow spit of land and a small island accessible at low tide.

 

 

Figure 49

Figure 48: Concentration of archaeological/cultural sites on the northern edge of the island. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

Small piles of stones, similar in appearance, size, and spacing compared to those in photographs taken of stone piles on other Abu Dhabi islands, were noted on the small island immediately north of Han Island and at the western edge of a series of features. Two pottery scatters were observed, one a single pot shard, the other several pieces of a large storage pot (both appeared to be late Islamic). Three structures that resembled mosques were also noted. These consisted of an outline, in small stones, of the mihrab with a small area nearby that had been cleared of stones. There was also a circle of large stones that appeared to be similar to the stone pattern in the western corner of the island; that is the structure appeared to be an impromptu shelter constructed recently.

Given the proximity of the spit (and island) to the open water – Han Island is separated from the open water by mangroves and sand bars – the site may have been more accessible in the past and used as a shelter by fishermen and sailors.  The presence of Islamic features could be considered evidence connecting the piles of stones to the Islamic period. (Likewise, the presence of Hafit-style tombs near stone piles at Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah could suggest a connection. The practice of piling stones in both pre-Islamic and Islamic times is discussed later in this report.)

 

 

Figure 50

Figure 49: Though channels have been dredged and land reclamation has changed the topography of the area, the current view (provided by Google Earth) shows how Han Island would have been a place of temporary shelter for any boats and crews in the open water of the Gulf. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 51

Figure 50: A photograph of piles of stones on slopes of this hill on an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Photography contributed by Dr. Mark Beech of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (formerly Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage [ADACH]). [Dr. Mark Beech]

The stone piles in the photograph shared by Dr. Mark Beech (Figure 48) of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority appear similar in concentration and construction to those observed at Jebel Hafit and in the Showkah/Khadrah areas. The small stones, darker in color due in part to ‘desert varnish’ staining, appear clearly against the lighter colored surface. No explanation was offered for the construction of these piles of stones.

Peter Hellyer, of the former Abu Dhabi Island Archaeology Survey (ADIAS) also shared photographs of small piles of stones observed on islands studied by ADIAS over the years (Figures 49 through 54).

 

 

Figure 52

Figure 51: One of the small piles of stones observed by  the Abu Dhabi Island Archaeology Survey (ADIAS) teams on one of the islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi emirate. [Peter Hellyer]

 

 

Figure 53

Figure 52: A photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators. These stone piles appear to have been degraded, perhaps by weather and soil conditions, in a way similar to that of stone piles observed at Showkah/Khadrah. [Peter Hellyer]

 

 

Figure 54

Figure 53: Stone piles few in number in this photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators. [Peter Hellyer]

 

 

Figure 55

Figure 54: The stone piling illustrated in this photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators do not seem comparable in density to those observed at Jebel Hafit or at Showkah/Khadrah though the scarcity of fist-sized stones in the area could be a possible explanation. [Peter Hellyer]

 

 

Figure 56

Figure 55: Detail of one stone pile contributed by ADIAS investigators. The stone pile lacks a build-up of wind-blown sand and dust between and among the stones suggesting this and nearby piles of stones were constructed recently. [Peter Hellyer]

 

 

Figure 57

Figure 56: A general view of the area with stone piling on one of the islands off the coastline of Abu Dhabi emirate, the photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators. The sites does not appear to have many aspects that are similar to those observed at Jebel Hafit, Showkah/Khadrah, or the island were stone piles were observed by Dr. Mark Beech (Figure 37). [Peter Hellyer]

 

Not observed
Those who have spent much time in the desert and mountains of the Oman peninsula know that the region is populated with evidence of human activity over the estimated 7000 years of human presence, notably along the gravel plains and mountains where activity is not hidden by moving sand.

At both Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah, there was no evidence of human activity other than the piles of stones. No pottery, no shells, no charcoal, no bones, and no decoration (beads, glass etc) were observed other than the single shell and two bone fragments noted above. Any of these would have allowed for an estimation of age.

 

 

Mapping
Officials in Abu Dhabi emirate declined a request to map an area of the stones on the gravel plain at Jebel Hafit but officials in Ras al Khaimah did not object to a request.

The mapping was carried out on three areas of stone piles that were not contiguous to other stone piling activity. The first area chosen was a small concentration located on a flat piece of ground on a plateau lower than most of the surrounding area with a deep, wide wadi curving around the site; a vehicle track arched across the site with vehicular traffic having flattened a number of the stone piles. The second area was on a piece of ground on a higher level than all surrounding land with no sign of any disturbance; immediately west of the site was a collection of debris from the nearby quarry but there was no indication any vehicles dumping the material had crossed or degraded the site. (Elsewhere in the area of the second site mapped, tracks of a bulldozer were observed crossing the stone piles.) The third area mapped is a small area of stone piles located several kilometers from Areas One and Two and is referred to in this report as Area ‘Dots’ as the concentration appears as an isolated, small collection of dots on the gravel plain when viewed using Google Earth.

The mapping was carried out for two specific reasons: to record the number of stone piles and to record the relative positioning of each pile viz a viz other stone piles.

The purpose of the first objective was to collect sufficient data to be able to more accurately estimate the total number of stone piles in each area. The mapping resulted in a per-square-meter count that could be applied to any of the areas of the Showkah/Khadrah concentrations. (The density could not be applied to the Jebel Hafit site since it is a combination of stone piles like those at Showkah/Khadrah, shapes (designs), and piles of larger stones.)

The purpose of the second objective was to be able to compare the map of the stone piles to other known patterns to see if there was some obvious or apparent correlation.  For example, one of the suppositions was that the stone piles were an attempt to map or record some information, such as a celestial map of stars. Once the area was represented by dots on a piece of paper, and cardinal directions were noted, perhaps the pattern would represent some information.

 

Mapping Procedure
Materials used included half-meter-long pieces of small-diameter re-enforcing bar (re-bar) which had been dipped in white paint to highlight one end. The lengths of re-bar were hammered into the ground three meters apart to set up a grid of three-meter-by-three-meter squares. (The decision to make the squares three meters in each direction was arbitrary but based on the fact that each stone pile was approximately half a meter in diameter and it seemed a manageable grid size.)

Each site was surveyed in general taking note of the area cleared. Each of the three sites at Showkah/Khadrah had one side that was almost a straight line, so it was decided to place the first corner post at one end of this length and begin construction of the grid. Once the first re-bar was hammered into the ground, a length of nylon string/rope was stretched along the edge of the area. With the string still in place, a tape measure was attached to the first post and extended along the edge. Posts were hammered in at three-meter intervals.

Constructing a grid of lines at right angles was achieved using Pythagoras geometry. Once the second post was in place (90 degrees opposite to the first line of posts), construction of the remainder of the grid was relatively easy using two long measuring tapes and lengths of plastic string.

It was decided to use wheat flour to mark the grid lines. Initially, a mixture of water and flour was tried but the process was messy and impractical as the mixture dried a light shade of beige, difficult to see, especially in the glare of the summer sun. The most practical solution was to use large plastic drinking water bottles with the tops removed. These bottles were filled with dry flour from 20-kilogram bags of the most inexpensive flour available. The flour was carefully tipped out of the bottles to cover the nylon string looped between all the re-bar stakes. It was a challenging procedure given the heat and lengths of the grid lines. (It was also challenging as feral donkeys in the area would visit the site and eat the flour, as would desert larks.)

The flour lasted about one month before it was consumed or blown away; at the end of the mapping operations, the grid lines were not visible at all.

Once the grid had been overlaid, each square was photographed and the location of the stone piles was recorded. This allowed for a precise mapping of each stone pile in the area as well as an accurate count of the stone piles. (Copies of all photographs are available to the public online via Picasa.)

Each grid was mapped onto sheets of standard graph paper which were subsequently scanned and the sheets combined using basic computer software to produce a composite map of each area.

(The procedure evidently provided some amusement for the shopkeeper of the grocery in Showkah who had, it is safe to assume, never sold so many bags of flour to western expatriates.  Likewise, the operators of the gravel trucks entering and exiting the quarry nearby were evidently amused with the antics of western expatriates bent over the gravel plain scattering flour!)

 

Discussion, Results of the Mapping
The mapping provided a reasonably precise representation of three areas of geoglyphs (stone piles) in the Showkah/Khadrah area where, as opposed to the Jebel Hafit site, the stone piling involved only the creation of thousands of small piles of stones; at Jebel Hafit, though there are stone piles very similar to those at Showkah/Khadrah, there are also areas of patterns and designs as well as areas with piles of larger stones.

The mapping activity also established, the author concluded, that the original explanation for the stone piles at Jebel Hafit was very unlikely i.e. that local residents had made the small piles of stones in anticipation of selling the stones to crusher companies trying to meet the sudden, large demand for aggregate when development hit the region in the 1970’s and 1980’s. (This published explanation does not support anecdotal evidence from local residents of Mezyad who simply said that the piles of stones had been there at Jebel Hafit for as long as anyone could recall.)

What remains to understand is the when, why, what, where, who, and how of the stone piles.

When were the piles constructed?
Given the lack of any evidence of the age of the geoglyphs, an observer could consider the construction of so many piles of stones for three general time periods: recent past; the period from the arrival of Europeans to the recent past; and the time period before Europeans arrived.

If the stone piles were constructed during the first period, it seems logical to assume that someone would have some recollection of the stone piles being constructed and a reason for the construction. While the anecdotal evidence collected was not exhaustive, and the search of the literature was limited to published materials available in the UAE and online, it seems reasonable to conclude that the stone piles were not constructed in the last 50 or 60 years. If so many stone piles had been constructed, it seems reasonable to assume someone would have some recollection or the activity would have become part of a communal collective memory.

If the stone piles had been constructed during the middle period, that is late Islamic period after the arrival of the Portuguese in the region and the introduction of non-traditional materials and foodstuffs and construction, it seems likely that the activity of constructing such large areas of geoglyphs would have been recorded by the Europeans. At Jebel Hafit, with the historical significance of the collective of the Buraimi Oases and the traffic along the north-south and east-west caravan routes, it seems a reasonable assumption that such activity would have been noted. During this period, there were individuals with a history of writing and recording in the region, a population that had not been in the region before given the lack of a literate society that recorded any information in writing.

(The number of individuals able to read and write even after the embrace of Islam, based on the literature available and the field evidence published, was evidently very small; while the members of the society had language skills, communication was almost exclusively oral. The only evidence of writing and recording appears to be rock art, notably the considerable rock art on the western slopes of the Hajar Mountains, and a very few examples of any other written language, the most publicized being the rock-art writing recorded on rocks in Wadi Hatta.)

If the stone piles had been constructed during the earliest period, it seems illogical for a population to invest so much time and effort in an exercise for which no obvious practical explanation yet presents itself. The consensus is that life from the Iron Age until just a few hundred years ago was extremely challenging. Populations would have had to invest considerable time in water management (construction and maintenance of falaj systems), crop management, livestock management, and food gathering and hunting. (The challenge to have enough food to survive is not something relegated to the distant past given some anecdotal evidence collected by the author. At one mountain oasis community, the author asked an older resident of the oasis about a large cave located near the modern houses. The gentleman explained that he can recall the residents of the oasis community hiding in the cave when residents of a nearby oasis raided their community in search of food. The gentleman was in his 50’s or 60’s when he was recounting an episode from his youth suggesting the search for food to survive continued well into the 20th century for some communities.)

 

 

Figure 58

Figure 57: The image shows the material immediately below the fine gravel and stone that provides the ‘desert armor’ in the Showkah – Khadrah ara. When one stone pile was disassembled, the surface beneath the pile of stones did not appear to have been disturbed. [Brien Holmes]

Individuals familiar with the gravel plains west of the Hajar Mountains are aware of the ‘desert varnish’ that colors the ‘desert armor’. At Jebel Hafit, there is very little varnish on any of the material in the area, perhaps the result of run-off from the eastern flank of Jebel Hafit or the chemical nature of the aggregate. At Showkah/Khadrah, however, the gravel plain does feature varnish on the surface stones to the extent that an experienced observer can note where a vehicle or camel has crossed relatively recently as a sufficient number of stones are disturbed to leave a visible track. At Showkah/Khadrah, the desert varnish on the stones in the stone piles and that exposed surface in the cleared areas seems to be very similar and is much more recent than the surrounding areas that are undisturbed. That is there are three ranges of color: dark varnish on the undisturbed areas, mid-range varnish on the stone piles and area between the piles, and very light appearance – and evidently no varnish – on areas stripped of surface stones recently or areas where subsoil has been deposited on the surface, as noted at Jebel Hafit where dhubs had excavated burrows.

Imagery from Google Earth makes it relatively easy to spot concentrations of stone piling; the disturbed areas are lightly varnished while the undisturbed areas have the common dark-red, maroon varnish. In each individual stone pile, the surface varnish can be observed on the individual stones. One can observe how an individual stone, once part of the extensive gravel plain’s ‘desert armor’, was relocated and placed in a different position so that some of the entire varnish portion of the stone is not exposed. In summary, the undisturbed material (‘desert armor’) is covered with a dark-maroon varnish, the exposed area where stone piling has taken place has a very light covering of desert varnish, and the recently exposed surface (and subsoil material exposed) is a very light color. In the Showkah/Khadrah area, as can be seen on Google Earth imagery, the three variations are visible and evident.

Considering the factors associated with each of these time frames, it seems there is no obvious clue as to the time when the stone piles may have been constructed. That is:

— the stone piles were arguably not constructed within the last 60 years as the activity would have been observed and be known;

— the stone piles were arguably not constructed after the arrival of the Europeans as that activity would have been observed and reported by the Europeans who were observing and recording details; and

— the stone piles were arguably not constructed prior to the arrival of the Europeans as the small populations had more important things to do to survive in the harsh conditions.

Who constructed the stone piles?
The matter of who constructed the stone piles seems to indicate that local residents were responsible for constructing the piles. It was an activity that any member of the community could have carried out as there do not appear to be any special skills required to pile the stones (all piles observed indicated a random stacking of the stones).

Where are the stone piles constructed?
Where the stone piles are located may be considered in terms of other constructions or highlights nearby. The two areas (Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah) are on the eastern flank of the Hajar Mountains. Both are located in the vicinity of Hafit-style tombs (in the case of Jebel Hafit, several hundred tombs; in the case of Showkah/Khadrah, three recorded). Both are on significant routes: Jebel Hafit stone piles are within sight of the north-south route along the western edge of the Hajar Mountains (Nizwa to Hatta) and the east-west corridor created by Wadi Jizzi; the Showkah/Khadrah site is near the entrance to the Hajar Mountains for caravans entering the mountains at Showkah to connect with Wadi Hilo, the top end of which can be reached with only one ridge crossing. The Showkah/Khadrah site is on the eastern edge of arguably the largest gravel plain in the Oman peninsula stretching from Madam to Manama along the mountains and west to the edge of the coastal dunes; numerous significant archaeological sites have been recorded in and around the Madam Plain, notably at Mileiha. While both sites are located near historically significant routes, there is no obvious connection between the stone piles and the routes.

Another consideration was the location of wadis (and seasonal water) near the two sites (Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah). At both locations rainfall and subsequent run-off has eroded the gravel plain leaving large and small wadis near all of the areas of stone piling observed. It was noted that none of the smaller individual areas of stone piling has been eroded by run-off at either location. (The only damage to the stone piles has been in the past 40 or 50 years as a result of motor vehicles; Area One at Showkah/Khadrah has a substantial vehicle track swerving through the area east-west while at Jebel Hafit, the stone piles have been severely disturbed by large numbers of vehicles, some associated with farming activity, some no doubt the result of visitors in search of Hafit burial tombs, and others evidently recreational. At Jebel Hafit, the stone piles are also being degraded by the daily patrols of military evidently patrolling the area.) It does seem reasonable to conclude that the individuals who organized the construction of the stone piles – and the stone arrangements at Jebel Hafit – did not construct piles that would be in danger of being eroded or damaged by run-off.

Some archaeologists who have worked in the region maintain that the key to understanding ancient activity requires a study of water as water was essential for life given the climate and geology. The stone piling west of Jebel Hafit is within site of the Buraimi oases where, it is believed, oasis cultivation has been taking place continuously for 5000 years or more. At Showkah, there are several wadis that would have seasonal water supplies but there are also strong springs which would likely have provided a significant supply of water over a period of centuries if not millennia. (It would be interesting if evidence of stone piling could be recorded nearby other known ancient settlements along the western slopes of the Hajar Mountains.) There does not seem to be any connection between the stone piles and the production, preservation, movement, or transportation of water.

Why construct hundreds (thousands) of piles of small stones?
Why a community would invest so much time to construct stone piles remains a mystery. One possibility considered was with regard to the recording and storage of information. Given the evidence that the cultures of the past in this region lacked any written language skills and no means to record information other than the rock art noted, perhaps the stone piles were intended to record and pass on some information. Another consideration was that the stone piles were meant to communicate something to a visitor to the area, a consideration discounted given that, if geoglyphs were intended to warn or inform visitors and passers-by, some indication of that may have been passed on in folklore and other recorded history.

Other explanations suggested included preparation for agriculture (unlikely given the fact the piles remained in place and there is no evidence of falaj system to provide water), quarrying (unlikely given the fact there is no evidence of any stone being removed, only surface stones moved into piles or arrangements), and some spiritual or artistic activity (unlikely as a. there was likely little time for this in the distant past and b. there would have been some recording of the activity if it took place more recently).

Another factor complicating many of the suggestions to explain why the stone piles were constructed is that stone piles appear to have all been constructed on the surface; that is, there was no evidence of any disturbance of the surface below the pile of stones nor the area between the piles.

Given the commonly held belief in jinn among the populations of the Oman peninsula, the most logical explanation may be that the piling of stones is related in some way to the beliefs held about the power of the jinn.

A cursory investigation of the belief in jinn (The Religion of Islam website [www.islamreligion.com] discusses some of the Muslim beliefs in jinn in articles at http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/669/ and http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/674/. ) There are reported to be archaeological sites and objects which indicate the belief in jinn and their powers pre-dates Islam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinn) but the Wikipedia article makes no specific mention of a site or author. Many sites and articles discuss the reference to jinn in the Quran and common practices taken to avoid any harm from jinn; none of the practices mentioned includes any reference to piling of stones. The only references to stones in articles surveyed were:

— an individual, alone in the desert or deserted place, may hear the sound of a thrown stone, or indeed be hit by a thrown stone, and, seeing no other person, belief that jinn were responsible for throwing the stone; and

— the wearing of some semi-precious or precious stones to protect oneself from the jinn, similar to the belief that the wearing of an amulet or stone could protect an individual from the ‘evil eye’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_eye).

The connection between piles of stones and superstition is not restricted to the Oman peninsula or Islam or other modern religions based on the practice of piling stones elsewhere in the world, notably Iceland (http://www.rock-on-rock-on.com/iceland.html).

 

 

Figure 59

Figure 58: These cairns in Iceland (http://www/rock-on-rock-on.com/iceland.html) are constructed to commenorate a farm destroyed by the first eruption of the volcano Katla according to the legend cited on the website.

 

 

Figure 60

Figure 59: The author (“Veraflame” http://modernvespa.com/forum/topic 49123) included this explanation: “According to folklore, you are supposed to make a small pile of rocks before you travel across the black sands below the glacier for the first time. One of those piles is mine. I forget with one . . . I made it 24 years ago.”

 

 

One of the arguments put forward by my friend Rachel Chapman, who assisted in the construction of the grids and joined me for many hours on site, was that the site could be interpreted by considering the stones as the only remaining evidence of some activity that had taken place in the past, that other things or features or objects that had been there when the stone piles were constructed are no longer there. In the excerpt below there is a description of a custom that could result in small piles of stones where a tree or bush may have been.

One of the practices in antiquity, as reported by Charles Montagu Doughty (Travels in Arabia Deserta et al) and others (http://answering-islam.org/Books/Zwemer/Animism/chapt11.htm), was the accumulation of small piles of stones around the base of trees.

“In Islam the same beliefs and practices exist and go back to Arabian paganism or were adopted by Moslems in their local or national environment and Islamized. The subject was treated by Goldziher in a brief paper translated for the Moslem World (July, 1911, p. 302). Other facts have since come to our notice and all travelers in the Near East witness to the wide prevalence of this superstition. Special veneration to holy trees is offered in Syria, Palestine, and all North Africa. The Bedouins inhabiting the tracts of land traversed by Doughty look upon certain trees and shrubs as manhals, or abodes of angels and demons. To injure such trees or shrubs, to lop their branches, is held dangerous. Misfortune overtakes him who has the foolhardiness to perpetrate such an outrage, and as may be imagined, the Arabs have many delectable stories calculated to win over the skeptic. The holy tree is hung with a variety of buntings and like ornaments. The diseased and maimed of the desert resort to it, offer it a sheep or goat, and besprinkle it with the blood of the sacrificed animal. The flesh is cooked and distributed among the friends present, a portion being left suspended from a branch of the magic tree; and the patient returns tranquil in the faith that the angel will appear in a dream and instruct him with a view to his cure. But again it is the patient only who may sleep in the shades of the sacred tree; to a healthy man the attempt would involve ruin. Professor Sachu’s attention was arrested in the rocky land Jabal-ul-Amiri, southeast of Aleppo, by a stunted desiccated thorny tree of a man’s height which he beheld hung on all sides with variegated rags. “Stones were heaped around its stem, and all manner of stones, large and small, were placed in the branches. Such a tree, called zarur, is the altar of the desert. When a woman yearns for a child, when a peasant longs for rain, or when he yearns for the restoration to health of his horse or camel he takes a stone and deposits it at the foot of the zarur, or fixes it somewhere between its two branches.”

(http://answering-islam.org/Books/Zwemer/Animism/chapt11.htm)

Later in the same article is a reporting of another incident of stones piled around or on a tree: “near Harpout is a thorn-bush nearly buried in stones which cures fever”.

However, none of the stone piles observed in the course of mapping the three areas, nor during any survey activity at Jebel Hafit or Showkah/Khadrah, was there any evidence that trees or bushes may have been growing at any of the locations where stone piles exist today. That is there was no evidence of wood, regardless of condition, or spacing to suggest a bush or tree may have been present. In addition, had the number of trees and bushes been that large at some time in the past, why were the trees and bushes only growing in certain areas, some areas only a few meters apart? When one of the stone piles was dis-assembled, there was no evidence of any tree or bush having been growing in that location as the surface beneath the stones showed no indication of ever having been disturbed.

The same article makes reference to the construction of piles of stones – cairns – associated with travel.

“Another form of stone-worship very common throughout the Moslem world is that of raising up stone heaps on sacred places: “In Syria it is a common practice with pious Moslems when they first come in sight of a very sacred place, such as Hebron or the tomb of Moses, to make a little heap of stones or to add a stone to a heap which has been already made. Hence every here and there the traveler passes a whole series of such heaps by the side of the track. In Northern Africa the usage is similar. Cairns are commonly erected on spots from which the devout pilgrim first discerns the shrine of a saint afar off; hence they are generally to be seen on the top of passes. For example, in Morocco, at the point of the road from Casablanca to Azemmour, where you first come in sight of the white city of the saint gleaming in the distance, there rises an enormous cairn of stones shaped like a pyramid several hundreds of feet high, and beyond it on both sides of the road there is a sort of avalanche of stones, either standing singly or arranged in little pyramids. Every pious Mohammedan whose eyes are gladdened by the blessed sight of the sacred towns adds his stone to one of the piles or builds a little pile for himself”.4[Frazer’s “The Scapegoat,” pp.21, 22.] The custom of passers-by putting stone on a heap is a form of fetish worship. This is clear from what we read concerning the practice in West Africa.

“All day we kept passing trees or rocks,” writes Nassau, “on which were placed little heaps of stones or bits of wood; in passing these, each of my men added a new stone or bit of wood, or even a tuft of grass. This is a tribute to the spirits, the general precaution to insure a safe return. These people have a vague sort of Supreme Being called Lesa who has good and evil passions; but here (Plateau of Lake Tanganyika), as everywhere else, the Musimo, or spirits of the ancestors, are a leading feature in the beliefs. They are propitiated, as elsewhere, by placing little heaps of stones about their favorite haunts.”5[Nassau’s “African Fetichism,” p. 91.] The stoning of “The Three Devils” at Mecca may be some form of ancestor worship if it is not in memory of the old idols.”

(The article also makes mention of ‘Three Stones’ on several occasions which could relate to the three stones recorded at Site Two.)

Hikers often come across cairns whether intended to mark a critical point along the track, indicate a change in direction, or mark the summit of a hill or mountain. It is not uncommon for hikers to add a stone to such cairns, perhaps out of superstition, perhaps a sense of participation, or other reason.

The practice of piling stones for religious or superstitious reasons is also discussed in E.J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 4. Brill concludes from his research that the piling of stones is ancient with each pile, or the act of piling stones, known as kerkur.

KERKUR, a heap of stones, especially a sacred heap of stones. The cult of heaps of stones is extremely ancient and distributed all over the world. It seems to come not from an act of litholatry in the strict sense but from a rite of transference or expulsion of evil; the individual, picking up a stone, causes the evil of whatever kind that afflicts him to pass into it — as the case may be, fatigue, physical or moral suffering, sin, the dangerous power that attaches itself to a man in certain sacred neighbourhoods, or all these things together – and gets rid of it by throwing it or depositing it with the stone on a place suitable for absorbing it; the accumulation of these expiatory pebbles forms the sacred piles of stones which rise all along the roads, at different passes and at the entrances to sanctuaries. Alongside of these, the throwing or placing of a pebble or the building of a little pyramid of stone often becomes one of the obligatory rites of the pilgrimage and the rite losing its primitive character has been sometimes taken for a true offering-rite (cf. R. Dussaud’s view, La Materialisation de la priere eu Orient, in the Bull. et mem. de la Soc. d’Anthr. de Paris, 1906, p. 213-220). The kerkur are often built at the place where a man has been killed and buried; this has been explained from the desire to bury more deeply a dead man whose spirit might be tempted to come out and avenge itself or, less plausibly, as a kind of homage to the dead; but this casting of stones can also be explained rather as a rite for the expulsion of evil (a dangerous place, the infection of death, proximity of disturbing magical forces). It appears therefore that we always find rites of purification in the origin of the kerkur.

Pre-Islamic Arabic knew the rite of casting stones and sacred heaps of stones. The rites of the hadjdj have preserved evidence of this. It may be asked if there is not a rite of this kind in the origin of the lapidations at Mina (for other explanations see the art. HADJDJ, ii. 201), and in any case, as G. Demombynes (Le Pelerinage a la Mekke, Ch. 1) has recently shown, the raised stones or radjam which stand at the mawakit marking the haram of Mekka are exactly comparable to the kerkur which are found from Central Asia to North America along the roads at points where one begins to approach the great sanctuaries; there are also examples of this practice to be found equally in Christian countries.

Islam found the cult of piles of stones in all or almost all the lands that it conquered and although orthodoxy looked askance at it, it had to accommodate itself, as to so many other popular practices, which owed their origin to paganism in the remote past. The kerkur are especially numerous in certain regions, Syria for example, but nowhere has their cult been so developed and is so vigorous as in North Africa, especially in the south of Morocco, where it has been especially studied by E. Doutte. There, one may say, there is not a pass, or ravine or cross-roads which has not its little pyramids of stones or its great kerkur to which every passer-by adds his pebble, not a rustic sanctuary but has its sacred piles of stones.

Sometimes the kerkur itself, as in other cases a spring, a tree or a rock, has given rise to a sanctuary which has become Islamised in a marabout fashion. It is also very common to find under the aegis of a saint several of these cults combined, — strange sanctuaries which perpetuate the ancient rites of paganism, still vigorous after twelve centuries of Islam.

Bibliography: The bibliography of the subject is very extensive. What is essential from the general point of view is given in Frazer, Golden Bough, third ed., part vi., The Scapegoat, p. 8-30, where also are given certain number of references to Muslim countries; from the Muslim standpoint in Doutte, Merrakech, Paris 1905, p. 58-108; do., Magie et religion dans l’Afrique du Nord, Algiers 1908, ch. x. Since the publication of this last work, E. Westermarck, The Moorish Conception of Holiness (Baraka), Helsingfors 1916, p. 26 sqq. (on Morocco). (Henri Basset) (pp 857-858 http://books.google.ca/books?id=7CP7fYghBFQC) (pages http://books.google.ca/books?id=7CP7fYghBFQC&pg=PA858&lpg=PA858#v=onepage&q&f=false)

These and other references suggest a connection between stone piles and pagan (and later) beliefs that the act of piling stones may have some influence over unseen forces.

There may be some connection between the act of piling stones and some belief system. One argument considered is that only the influence of such a belief could motivate individuals to invest the time and energy to construct so many piles of stones over such large areas.

The other possible argument to support a connection between the piles of stones and belief systems involving jinn or other unseen forces is the possible connection of the act of piling stones with ancient graves/tombs. At Jebel Hafit, dozens of tombs were recorded by the Danish and French archaeological teams, most within meters of the arrangements of stones. At Showkah/Khadrah, only three Hafit-style tombs were noted in the immediate vicinity of Area One and Area Two. However, in the general region – within a few kilometers – there are several Hafit-style tombs atop ridges.

The fact that some reference material suggests the act of piling stones for belief or superstitious reasons predates Islam does not help in answering the question of when the piles of stones may have been constructed.

Any discussion of why individuals may have constructed so many piles of stones should also include a quick summary of (Abraham) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (discussed and summarized at numerous sites and in numerous books including http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs).

 

Figure 61

Figure 60: Summary of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs

As noted in the articles cited, Maslow’s conclusions have been debated and, while not debunked, have been found perhaps incomplete. As noted in the article at http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html , the sequence has been expanded to a total of eight levels or topics (Maslow never presented his hierarchy in the form of a pyramid, many insist). The summary of hierarchal needs could be (from most basic to most sophisticated):

 

Level One: Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc

Level Two: Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.

Level Three: Belonging and Love needs – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.

Level Four: Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.

Level Five: Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.

Level Six: Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.

Level Seven: Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

Level Eight: Transcendence needs – helping others to achieve self-actualization.

It is difficult to see how the act of piling stones into individual piles or, as is the case at Jebel Hafit, elaborate shapes, meets any of the needs in Level One or Two. If the construction of the piles and shapes was a community activity in which all members of the community participated, then perhaps the act could meet some societal and individual Level Three needs (belonging). Level Four needs do not seem to apply. If the stone piles convey or store some information or instructions, then perhaps Level Five needs are met. Level Six needs (aesthetic) may be relevant when considering the elaborate designs at Jebel Hafit; the act of decorating the gravel plains using the materials at hand could be considered an aesthetic activity though the motivation – art for art’s sake – seems extravagant given the challenging living conditions of the past. Level Seven needs may be involved and certainly Level Eight needs would be addressed if the act of piling stones was related in some way to a belief system, including superstitions.

As noted in some discussions of Maslow’s theory (hypothesis), it is not necessary for individuals to meet all of the needs of any one level before moving on to the next. In this sense, ancient members of communities at Jebel Hafit and the Showkah/Khadrah area could have been dealing with the constant search for food, water, and security and still have had the time and inclination to construct piles of stones to meet some perceived higher need.

How were the stone piles constructed?
How the stone piles were constructed assumes each pile was constructed of materials within the reach of the individual constructing each pile. There are very few uncollected stones between the piles. The density of the piles varies from area to area and, given that the size of the stone piles appears very consistent, it seems that the number of piles is a function of the number of surface stones there originally. The density of stone piles (pile per square meter) is a function of the number of surface stones rather than an intention to have a certain density, it seems. That is, the fields of stone piles at Jebel Hafit and at Showkah/Khadrah consist of stone piles that are remarkably similar in size. The exception may be the few piles of very small stones observed at Area One. Even in areas where the piles have sunk into the landscape, the size and distribution appears constant with that observed elsewhere.

There is no evidence of a specific method of constructing each pile; the stones appear to be stacked randomly with no evidence of constructing a specific shape. (Wall building, for example, required the builders to select stones carefully and arrange the stones in a specific pattern for strength and solidity.) As noted, the spacing appears to be a function of the density of the surface stones when activity began.

As noted, one stone pile was carefully excavated and observations suggested that the site was not prepared in any way; that is, it appears the stones were simply piled on a random spot. The silt/soil surface was undisturbed; there was no evidence of any excavation in the area of the pile. The only stone placement of any note was the location of a large flat stone on the apex of the pile.

 

Conclusions

The art or custom of construction stone piles appears to have been – and may continue to be – a practice carried out by individuals for some unknown reason or purpose. The fact that individuals contacted by this observer have reported – and shared photographs – of small piles of stones that, from all appearances, were constructed very recently (a matter of months, as opposed to years) suggests the practice is ongoing.

However, the overwhelming number of stone piles observed at Jebel Hafit and in the Showkah/Khadrah area suggests this is a practice or custom that has been going on for a number of years, perhaps centuries.

There does not appear to be sufficient information at any of the sites mapped or observed to answer the basic questions who constructed the piles, why were the piles constructed, when were the piles constructed, nor why were they constructed in these locations.

 

 

Figure 62

Figure 61: Feral donkey eating the flour lines of the grid at Area Two.

 

 

Showkah Landing Strip
The observance of a ‘chevron’ just a few meters from the ‘Dots’ site of stone piles was initially assumed to be part of the practice of piling stones. However, further observation suggested the ‘chevron’ was actually one corner of landing strip.

While pilots and others with firsthand knowledge of aviation in the region during the 1950’s and 1960’s confirmed the landing strips observed at other locations, no one who had actually used a landing strip at Showkah was contacted; however, the existence of a landing strip near Showkah was known. It would be logical for the Trucial Oman Scouts and others to have established a landing strip in the area given the importance of Showkah (access to mountain route to the coast, fresh water).

 

 

Figure 63

Figure 62: The landing strip appears on this map from the 1960’s and is labeled ‘Wadi Shawkah’ in red letters (center, right just below label ‘Bani Kitab’). The landing strip is represented by a rectangle outlined in red. The proportions and angle (deflection north-south) are consistent with those observed and recorded. [Brien Holmes}

Twenty-three (23) markers were observed and recorded along both lengths of the landing strip. The conclusion the ‘chevrons’ and markers were used to mark a landing strip was re-enforced by the observation of what appeared to be ‘whitewash’ on some of the stones in the ‘chevrons’ and the markers. Of the four corner markers – chevrons – three were in very good condition; the fourth had been degraded by a vehicle track.

The landing strip is approximately 27 meters (30 yards) wide and 370 meters (400 yards) long. The landing strip has a bearing of approximately 115 degrees true.

 

Figure 64

Figure 63: The ‘chevron’ located near the ‘Dots’ site of stone piles. A rebar post was added to measure distance from the ‘chevron’ to markers along the length of the landing strip and width of the strip. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

 

Figure 65

Figure 64: Not all landing strips were abandoned and forgotten; in Wadi Sumayni the corner chevrons (one above) and name of the landing strip were white-washed and the strip and marking stones remain in good condition today. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 66

Figure 65: One of the landing strip markers with flecks of what appear to be whitewash on some of the stones. (The piece of rebar was added by the author as part of the process of measuring distances between the markers.) [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 67

Figure 66: Landing strip image from MapSource software (Garmin GPS). The circles mark the corner ‘chevrons’ and the individual markers along the north and south sides of the strip. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 68

Figure 67: The MapSource (Garmin GPS) data super-imposed on Google Earth. The ‘star’ icon marks the ‘Dots’ study area. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

 

Acknowledgements
Dave Clark (Al Ain) was the first individual I encountered who had also noticed the stone piles at Jebel Hafit and helped point out different concentrations between the ‘truck road’ and the Oman border. Rachel Chapman (Sharjah) gave up many weekends – and injured a shin – to map and study the scatter at Showkah/Khadrah. Rachel unselfishly joined many visits to the sites to construct the grid including stringing line between posts and spreading flour. I especially appreciated the time Dave and Rachel invested sharing their thoughts of the stone piling, including occasions when we discussed and debated possible explanations for the piles of stones while enjoying chicken buryani at one of the restaurants in Showkah. Special thanks to Dr. Christian Welde (resident archaeologist, Ras al Khaimah) for agreeing to allow the mapping of some of the stone piles at Showkah/Khadrah. Also much appreciated is the support and encouragement of Peter Hellyer, editor, Tribulus, for his many years of support and encouragement, and for sharing news of the “molehills” he had recorded near Showkah. Thanks also to Gary Feulner, Chair, Dubai Natural History Group, for comments and discussion regarding interpretation of the stones. Dr. Mark Beech (formerly Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, now Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority) provided support and encouragement that was very much appreciated; I also appreciated Mark’s sharing of a photograph of stone piles on one of the islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi.  What little I know of the history of aviation in the region is due the unselfish generosity of Dr. Laurence Garey who has provided encouragement for many years and has shared his extensive knowledge, experience and interest in aviation. Thanks to Cheryl Dance who forwarded a photograph of stone piling observed in Oman; Cheryl visited the sites and was one of the individuals who expressed an interest. Finally my thanks to Dr. Fredi Devas of the BBC Natural History Unit who took time from his very busy schedule during a too-brief visit to the UAE to visit the sites. The interest and enthusiasm of these individuals made the hours of constructing grids and spreading flour most enjoyable.

 

Figure 69

Figure 68: Dr. Fredi Devas (right) and the  author at Area One.

 

 

Appendices and Galleries
1.       Hafit-style tombs near Area One and Area Two………………………………………. 83

2.       Relative position of Features and Spacing…………………………………………….. 86

3.       Geoglyphs, triliths, tumuli……………………………………………………………….. 88

4.       Jordanian Kites……………………………………………………………………………… 89

5.       Unknown structures in Saudi Arabia…………………………………………………… 92

6.       Nasca lines…………………………………………………………………………………… 93

 

Hafit-style tombs near Area One and Area Two

 

 

Figure 70

Figure 69 : One of the three Hafit-style tombs within sight of Area One and Area Two. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 71

Figure 70: The highest of the three tombs with trucks (in the background) on the access road heading to the nearby quarry; Area Two is close to the access road. [Brien Holmes}

 

 

Figure 72

Figure 71: Curiously this wadi stone (no sharp edges) was among the stones used to construct one of the Hafit-style tombs. [Brien Holmes]

 

 

Figure 73

Figure 72: Detail of one section of the tomb showing the preponderance of angular stones used in the construction of the tomb. [Brien Holmes]

 
Relative position of Features and Spacing
Table 10: Coordinates of key features

GPS Coordinates
Feature                                                                                 North                    East

Islamic graves                                                              25°10’36.97″        56° 1’59.04″

Pipeline                                                                          25°11’1.68″           56° 1’53.82″

Hafit tomb 1                                                                  25°11’8.62″         56° 2’32.76″

Hafit tomb 2                                                                  25°11’6.31″         56° 2’34.07″

Hafit tomb 3                                                                   25°11’4.98″         56° 2’30.69″

Study Area A                                                                  25°11’19.89″        56° 2’8.71″

Study Area B                                                                   25°11’15.13″         56° 2’22.66″

Study Area ‘Dots’                                                          25° 8’7.00″          55°59’33.83″

Copper smelters A                                                        25°10’42.18″       56° 1’58.94″

Copper smelters B                                                        25°10’36.77″       56° 2’1.45″

Copper smelters C                                                        25°10’38.09″       56° 2’1.52″E

‘Molehills’                                                                      25°10’36.55″        56° 1’56.57″

Hafit tombs (Al Ain, Abu Dhabi)                             24° 2’42.43″        55°48’0.19″

Table 11: Distances between key features

Separation of Features

Feature                                                                                                   Estimated Distance (kilometers)

Study Area ‘Dots’ to Study Area B                                                                             7.44 km

Study Area ‘Dots’ to Study Area A                                                                             7.40 km

Study Area A to Hafit tomb 1                                                                                        0.75 km

Study Area B to Hafit tomb 1                                                                                         0.35 km

Study Area A to Hafit tomb 2                                                                                         0.8 km

Study Area Showkah (general) to Hafit tombs (Al Ain, Abu Dhabi)                  130 km

Study Area B to Hafit tomb 2                                                                                        0.42 km

Study Area A to Hafit tomb 3                                                                                        0.77 km

Study Area A to Hafit tomb 3                                                                                        0.39 km

Figure 74

Figure 73: The approximate distance separating Study Area A from Study Area ‘Dots’.

 

 

Figure 75

Figure 74: The approximate distance separating Study Area B from Study Area ‘Dots’. [Google Earth edited Brien Holmes]

 

Geoglyphs, triliths, tumuli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 78

Figure 77: “Trilith in Wadi Sana later modified for runoff water diversion. The ring of stones around the hearth in foreground has been robbed to create a low wall incorporating in-situ standing stones of the trilith elements.” (http://antiquity.ac.uk/antiquityNew/projgall/mccorriston/images/figure11big.jpg)

 

 

 

Recently constructed stone piles, Oman

 

 

Figure 79

Figure 78: This photograph, contributed by Cheryl Dance, shows small piles of stones in a wadi in Oman. On a subsequent visit, the piles were gone. There was no explanation offered for the construction of these piles of stones. [Cheryl Dance]

 

Jordanian kites

 

 

Figure 80

Figure 79: Enchanced Google Earth image of kites and other structures in Jordan. (http://www.archaeogate.org/vicino_oriente/article/1445/1/stone-structures-in-the-syrian-desert-by-amelia-carolin.html)

 

 

 

Figure 81

Ffigure 80: Kite in Jordan showing walls directing wildlife to the collection (slaughter?) area. Often referred to as ‘star-shaped’ kites. (http://news.discovery.com/history/desert-lines-hunting-tool-kites.html)

 

 

 

Figure 82

Figure 81: Details of different kites in Jordan. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S03034403110019047)

 

 

Unknown structures in Saudi Arabia

 

 

Figure 83

Figure 82: “Wheels” from the Azraq Oasis in the Kingdome of Saudi Arabia. (http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/09/16/visible-only-from-above-mystifying-nazca-lines-discovered-in-mideast/)

Nasca lines

 

 

Figure 84

Figure 83: The ‘hummingbird’, one of the motifs at Nasca, Peru. The ‘hummingbird’ is an example of the negative geoglyph, the lines highlighted in this image. (http://explorebyyourself.com/en/peru/about_the_country/nasca_lines/)

 

Table of Contents

(numbers refer to the page numbers in the original MS Word document)

Table of Figures. 4

Introduction. 9

Geoglyphs. 11

Piles of stones. 13

Tumuli 14

Triliths. 17

Stone piles and geoglyphs in the UAE. 18

Jebel Hafit concentration. 20

Showkah/Khadrah concentration. 28

Study Area One. 31

Study Area Two. 38

Study Area Two Grid. 38

Large stones. 42

The Three Stones. 43

The ‘Dots’ area. 47

Bone Fragments. 52

Other sites. 55

Not observed. 61

Mapping. 62

Mapping Procedure. 62

Discussion, Results of the Mapping. 64

When were the piles constructed?. 64

Who constructed the stone piles?. 66

Where are the stone piles constructed?. 66

Why construct hundreds (thousands) of piles of small stones?. 67

How were the stone piles constructed?. 75

Conclusions. 76

Showkah Landing Strip. 77

Acknowledgements. 81

Appendices and Galleries. 82

Hafit-style tombs near Area One and Area Two. 83

Relative position of Features and Spacing. 85

GPS Coordinates. 85

Separation of Features. 85

Geoglyphs, triliths, tumuli 87

Recently constructed stone piles, Oman. 89

Jordanian kites. 90

Unknown structures in Saudi Arabia. 92

Nasca lines. 93

 

Table of Figures

Figure 1: Quadrant D1 from Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah. Three areas were mapped with a three-meter grid, the contents of each square recorded. In quadrant D1, there are two stone piles visible, the one in the center of the square degraded (scattered). The lines were created by depositing a fine line of wheat flour. (Brien Holmes). 1

Figure 2: Google Earth image showing Jebel Hafit and the communities of Showkah and Khadrah. 9

Figure 3: A section of one of the motifs at Nasca, Peru. (http://www.students.sbc.edu/sung08/senior%20seminar/Nazca/TheNazcaLines.html). 12

Figure 4: Former Chair of the Abu Dhabi chapter of the Emirates Natural History Group, Drew Gardner, beside a cairn constructed to mark the summit of Jebel Sumayni, a mountain on the western flank of the Hajar Mountains near the Abu Dhabi village of Schwaib. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/drewgardner/356093516/). 13

Figure 5: Cairns, such as these on a summit on a popular hiking trail in Oman, are often used to mark the summit while, en route, a cairn would affirm that the hiker is on the correct path. (http://billdan.blogspot.ca/2007/02/stone-cairns-wadi-sidr-hajar-mountains.html). 14

Figure 6: Beehive tombs such as these at Al Ayn, Oman, are common along the western slopes of the Hajar Mountains between Hatta (UAE) and Nizwa (Oman). Construction styles vary from site to site, reflecting the different building materials available and the period of construction. Adjacent to the city of Al Buraimi (Oman) and immediately across the border from the Hili Archaeology Park in Al Ain (UAE) is a ridge with an estimated 1000 Hafit-style tombs. (http://catbirdinoman.wordpress.com/category/oman/al-dhahirah-region/beehive-tombs-of-al-ayn/). 15

Figure 7: Beehive tombs at Bat, Oman. (http://atlasobscura.com/place/beehive-tombs-of-bat). 16

Figure 8: Hafit-style “beehive” tombs in Oman. The availability of a considerable supply of flat, large stones made the construction of the tombs easier than the tombs at Jebel Hafit (UAE), for example, where stones were odd-shaped. The fact most of these tumuli were constructed on ridge tops meant the tombs were visible from a considerable distance suggesting the purpose may have been twofold: burial in a significant location and visible to communicate some message to passers-by. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140196304002277). 16

Figure 9: Triliths, found in Oman including the island of Socotra, are usually arranged in a line more than a dozen meters in length. Three flat stone are “socketed” – placed on end with one end inserted into a pocket in the gravel plain – and occasionally with a fourth stone placed horizontally on top. Outside Arabia, a “trilith” usually refers to a stone construction consisting of three stones; triliths have been recorded at Stonehenge. At some sites, the three stones framing a doorway – two large vertical stones and a lintel slab – are sometimes referred to as a trilith. (http://antiquity.ac.uk/antiquityNew/projgall/mccorriston/index.html). 17

Figure 10: Stone piles inside an incomplete trapezoid geoglyph from Nasca, the image shared by an American archaeologist who spent more than five years studying the Nasca lines. The piles appear very similar in size and arrangement to those observed at Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah in the UAE. 19

Figure 11: One of the odd-shaped designs at the Jebel Hafit site. The fist-sized stones have been significantly in-filled and partially covered by wind-blown sand. The number of shaped piles of stones was very few compared to the simple small piles that measured about a half-meter in diameter. All stone piles were low-profile elevated less than 20 centimeters above the gravel plain. The curved shape (above) is approximately one meter wide and more than five meters long. (Brien Holmes). 20

Figure 12: Typical of many of the small piles of stones at Jebel Hafit, this pile is approximately a half a meter in diameter and consists of fist-sized stones uniform in size. 21

Figure 13: The curve of this shape suggests a question mark. Other rectangles and squares are also visible. 22

Figure 14: View looking north, dome mentioned in text on right. This area of individual piles changes to rectangles, parallel lines, and other curved shapes in the distance. At the base of the mountain, just left of center, are the reconstructed Jebel Hafit tombs. 23

Figure 15: A screen capture from Google Earth showing patterns and individual stone piles at Jebel Hafit. (Google Earth)  24

Figure 16: View from atop the small dome showing wadi (right) with Hafit tombs (reconstructed) at the base of the mountain, center of the image. Area of shaped piles is to the left. 25

Figure 17: A shell (in situ) observed among the stone piles at Jebel Hafit. Most of the small stones in the photograph appear to be echinoidea or other fossil commonly found on and near Jebel Hafit. If this is the case, the shell could be a fossil. 26

Figure 18: Image accompanying article from The National. Original caption: “Hasan al Naboodah, a history professor at UAE University, walks among the piles of stone near Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain. Photos by Stephen Lock / The National”  27

Figure 19: Estimated area of stone piling in the Showkah-Khadrah area using map from the 1960’s showing wells (tawi) and routes used by residents. The area is a few kilometers north of the point where many trails converge, at Showkah, where there was relatively easy access to the east coast via Wadi Qor and Wadi Hilo. 28

Figure 20: In the foreground, square X9 of the grid constructed in Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah, the perimeter of the area running diagonally through the square. Individual piles are visible in the middle distance. Study Area One was chosen as a site for mapping as it was isolated from other concentrations and was relatively small in size. 29

Figure 21: Google Earth image showing original “molehills” (bottom left) noted by Hellyer/Welde, the copper mining and smelting sites, Islamic graves, the pipeline, three Hafit-style tombs, and Study Areas One and Two. 30

Figure 22: Study Area One at the Showkah/Khadrah site, the stone piles located in the apex of the bend in the wadi bed. The area had been disturbed by one vehicle track and two scrapes by a bulldozer. (Google Earth). 31

Figure 23: Working sheet of graph paper showing the grid and reference points with the centers of stone piles indicated in Study Area One. (The direction ‘north’ is at the bottom of the grid, ‘south’ at the top; ‘west’ direction is to the right and ‘east’ to the left.). 32

Figure 24: The “centers” of stone piles in Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah. The symbols “S”, “N”, and “E” are assigned to three piles that were observed to be slightly apart from the general concentration of piles and coincidentally aligned with three of the four cardinal points of the compass. 35

Figure 25: Work sheet showing the plot of the vehicle track through Study Area One. The ‘x’ marks indicate stone piles along the track, many of which were degraded by the activity. To the left are two patches showing results of activity by a bulldozer, one area the cut made by the loader, the second the pile of debris created when the material scooped was dumped. 36

Figure 26: Photograph shows evidence of scoop by bulldozer (left, center) and the material subsequently dumped (top, right) in the area. 37

Figure 27: Photograph shows damage done to stone piles by vehicles driving over the site. The traffic was likely in relation to the construction of electrical pylons for high-voltage transmission lines nearby. 37

Figure 28: A screen capture from Google Earth of Study Area Two (red perimeter). Three other areas are also visible in the image. In the concentration immediately northeast of Study Area Two, the stone piles appear to be aligned in parallel lines. Some lines of stones were observed in the very large area of stone piles in the area adjacent to the paved road. 38

Figure 29: Area Two stone piles plotted. Density — piles per square meter — was lower compared to two other Showkah/Khadrah sites mapped. The ‘Three Stones’ are in quadrant B3. 42

Figure 30: The ‘three stones’ observed at Study Area Two. Small stones had been arranged on one side of two of the stones. There were no other large stones on the surface among the piles of stones in the study area. 43

Figure 31: Three stones plotted with distance (center to center) noted along with angles of lines connecting centers of the stones. 44

Figure 32: Graphic from http://www.starrynight.com showing relative positions of the three stars which make up the Summer Triangle. 45

Figure 33: The study area ‘Dots’ (red perimeter) was first noted when using Google Earth to look for other evidence of stone piling. The gravel plain west of the Showkah/Masafi road is extensively covered with piles of stones as can be seen from the Google Earth image in this Figure. 47

Figure 34: The ‘Dots’ area before grid was constructed. 48

Figure 35: Grid under construction at the ‘Dots’ site. Diagonally, in the foreground, are the nylon string and tape measure. 49

Figure 36: The ‘Dots’ area with the grid in place. The rebar posts, flour and nylon string are all visible. 49

Figure 37: The pattern of parallel lines continues in row 4 at the ‘Dots’ site. 50

Figure 38: Row 3 of the grid at the ‘Dots’ site had fewer piles but the pattern of parallel lines continued. 50

Figure 39: In the second row at the ‘Dots’ site, the stone piles appear to be arranged in parallel lines. 50

Figure 40: The stone piles at the ‘Dots’ site appeared to be in lines — roughly east-west — compared to other sites observed. 50

Figure 41: Graph paper representation of the grid constructed at the ‘Dots’ study area. The area covered a total of 21 squares (189 square meters). 51

Figure 42: Graph paper identifying locations of the piles recorded at the ‘Dots’ study area. (The corners of the grid squares are marked in yellow, the dark dots represent the approximate center of each pile of stones.) A total of 49 piles of stones were recorded. 51

Figure 43: Back side of the two bone fragments found a few meters from the Dots study area. 53

Figure 44: Front side of the two bone fragments found a few meters from the Dots study area. 53

Figure 45: Archaeological/cultural artifacts observed and recorded on Han Island, Abu Dhabi emirate. Much of the island is close to sea level and only a few sites are above the normal high-water mark. 53

Figure 46: Concentration of archaeological/cultural sites on the northern edge of the island. 53

Figure 47: Though channels have been dredged and land reclamation has changed the topography of the area, the current view (provided by Google Earth) shows how Han Island would have been a place of temporary shelter for any boats and crews in the open water of the Gulf. 53

Figure 48: A photograph of piles of stones on slopes of this hill on an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Photograph contributed by Dr. Mark Beech of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (formerly Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage [ADACH]). 53

Figure 49: One of the small piles of stones observed by the Abu Dhabi Island Archaeology Survey (ADIAS) teams on one of the islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi emirate. 53

Figure 50: A photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators. These stones piles appear to have been degraded, perhaps by weather and soil conditions, in a way similar to that of stone piles observed at Showkah/Khadrah. 53

Figure 51: Stone piles few in number in this photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators. 53

Figure 52: The stone piling illustrated in this photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators do not seem comparable in density to those observed at Jebel Hafit or at Showkah/Khadrah though the scarcity of fist-sized stones in the area could be a possible explanation. 53

Figure 53: Detail of one stone pile contributed by ADIAS investigators. The stone pile lacks a build-up of wind-blown sand and dust between and among the stones suggesting this and nearby piles of stones were constructed recently. 53

Figure 54: A general view of the area with stone piling on one of the islands off the coastline of Abu Dhabi emirate, the photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators. The site does not appear to have many aspects that are similar to those observed at Jebel Hafit, Showkah/Khadrah, or the island where stone piles were observed by Dr. Mark Beech (Figure 37). 53

Figure 55: The image shows the material immediately below the fine gravel and stone that provides the ‘desert armor’ in the Showkah-Khadrah area. When one stone pile was disassembled, the surface beneath the pile of stones did not appear to have been disturbed. 53

Figure 56: These cairns in Iceland (http://www.rock-on-rock-on.com/iceland.html) are constructed to commemorate a farm destroyed by the first eruption of the volcano Katla according to the legend cited on the website. 53

Figure 57: The author (“Veraflame” http://modernvespa.com/forum/topic49123) included this explanation: “According to folklore, you are supposed to make a small pile of rocks before you travel across the black sands below the glacier for the first time. One of those piles is mine. I forget which one…I made it 24 years ago.”. 53

Figure 58: Summary of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs  53

Figure 59: The landing strip appears on this map from the 1960’s and is labeled ‘Wadi Shawkah’ in red letters (center, right just below label ‘Bani Kitab’). The landing strip is represented by a rectangle outlined in red. The proportions and angle (deflection north-south) are consistent with those observed and recorded. 53

Figure 60: The ‘chevron’ located near the ‘Dots’ site of stone piles. A rebar post was added to measure distance from the ‘chevron’ to markers along the length of the landing strip and the width of the strip. 53

Figure 61: Not all landing strips were abandoned and forgotten; in Wadi Sumayni the corner chevrons (one above) and name of landing strip were white-washed and the strip and marking stones remain in good condition today. 53

Figure 62: One of the landing strip markers with flecks of what appear to be whitewash on some of the stones. (The piece of rebar was added by the author as part of the process of measuring distances between the markers.). 53

Figure 63: Landing strip image from MapSource software (Garmin GPS). The circles mark the corner ‘chevrons’ and the individual markers along the north and south sides of the strip. 53

Figure 64: The MapSource (Garmin GPS) data super-imposed on Google Earth. The ‘star’ icon marks the ‘Dots’ study area. 53

Figure 65: One of three Hafit-style tombs within sight of Area One and Area Two. 53

Figure 66: The highest of the three tombs with trucks (in the background) on the access road heading to the nearby quarry; Area Two is close to the access road. 53

Figure 67: Curiously this wadi stone (no sharp edges) was among the stones used to construct one of the Hafit-style tombs. 53

Figure 68: Detail of one section of the tomb showing the preponderance of angular stones used in the construction of the tomb. 53

Figure 69: The approximate distance separating Study Area A from Study Area ‘Dots’. 53

Figure 70: The approximate distance separating Study Area B from Study Area ‘Dots’. 53

Figure 71: Triliths in Oman (http://i173.photobucket.com/albums/w71/duffyden_bucket/Triliths.jpg). 53

Figure 72: Triliths in Oman. (http://thetugboat-oman2005.buzznet.com/user/photos/trilith-near-mudhai-oman/?id=2509466). 53

Figure 73: “Trilith in Wadi Sana later modified for runoff water diversion. The ring of stones around the hearth in foreground has been robbed to create a low wall incorporating in-situ standing stones of the trilith elements.” (http://antiquity.ac.uk/antiquityNew/projgall/mccorriston/images/figure11big.jpg). 53

Figure 74: Enhanced Google Earth image of kites and other structures in Jordan. (http://www.archaeogate.org/vicino_oriente/article/1445/1/stone-structures-in-the-syrian-desert-by-amelia-carolin.html). 53

Figure 75: Kite in Jordan showing walls directing wildlife to the collection (slaughter?) area. Often referred to as ‘star-shaped’ kites. (http://news.discovery.com/history/desert-lines-hunting-tool-kites.html). 53

Figure 76: Details of different kites in Jordan. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440311001907)  53

Figure 77: “Wheels” from the Azraq Oasis in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/09/16/visible-only-from-above-mystifying-nazca-lines-discovered-in-mideast/)  53

Figure 78: The ‘hummingbird’, one of the motifs at Nasca, Peru. The ‘hummingbird’ is an example of the negative geoglyph, the lines highlighted in this image. (http://explorebyyourself.com/en/peru/about_the_country/nasca_lines/)  53

 

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White Stones

 

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One of the things I enjoyed most in my time in the UAE and Oman was hiking in the Hajar Mountains.

Over the period of almost two decades of hiking, I don’t recall ever being some place where there were not many signs of others having been there before me, probably over hundreds of years.

Anyone who has ever done any hiking is familiar with the stone cairns that appear along popular routes; those hiking the trail are unable to resist the urge to add a stone to the cairn, to leave a marker that s/he was there, too.

The construction of small cairns, long before a popular activity for hikers, was to communicate information about a trail to those who followed.

One of the most common features was the construction of a small pile of stones to indicate a change in the trail, usually a change in elevation. These small cairns were often spotted along the edge of a wadi indicating to the hiker that the trail descended into the wadi. It would continue once you had hiked up the other side, but finding the route to the top was not always easy. Hikers could construct small cairns in the wadi bed, of course, but these would be wiped out with the next rain. So it was a matter of first deciding whether you imagined the trail continued upstream or downstream — from my experience in the Hajar Mountains, upstream — and then looking for a semblance of a trail up. It was usually easy to spot the trail to the top; it was not always so easy deciding whether to go upstream or downstream!

 

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A piece of magnesite [magnesium carbonate] weathered in a wadi.

One thing that struck me as unique along the trails on the western slopes of the Hajar Mountains was the use of magnesite to mark the trail.

These rocks were plentiful in the Hajar Mountains, the result of material being spread through cracks in the crust.

The white stones are often found atop a stone cairn or, as in the image above, on a clearly visible spot along the trail, visible from a considerable distance, to assure the hiker that s/he is still on the trail.

 

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A piece of magnesite on a small ledge. In this case, the stone appears to be indicating the location of the rock art below the ledge.

 

 

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The white rock in this location on the ‘Ramthah Loop’ route appears to mark a small shelter. There is evidence of hikers having camped here (empty food cans). Such structures were built in a straight line or shallow arc and provided individuals with a barrier against a cool breeze overnight.

 

 

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Typical route cairn with white stones on top.

 

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An information cairn on the ‘Ramthah Loop’ route, but no white stone marker. The path of the trail is visible on the left. The trail at this points descends about 20m into the main wadi channel that feeds the mountain oasis community of Ramthah, Oman.

 

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On the ‘Rainbow Ridge’ route just outside of Mahadah, Oman, the modern trail cairn has been so enthusiastically augmented that it is in danger of collapsing.

 

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The message intended by those who constructed this marker is unclear. It is located in Wadi Khudrah where several trails converge and split again. Perhaps it is intended to advise the traveller that s/he has many options!

 

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The addition of the white stone to this structure is also unclear, though it is visible from several hundred meters away. There are many structures in the immediate area, a spot that seems to have been popular with families given the food containers and footwear (football cleats) left. The structure in this image appears to be a silt trap; water drains from right to left and, when the water evaporates, silt is trapped. However, there is no arable land within several kilometers so the purpose of a silt trap in this location seems illogical.

 

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The white stones here mark the spot where the hiker passes from Wadi Aboul (behind photographer) into Wadi Khudrah (ahead).

 

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Two markers in close proximity, perhaps because this is a tricky spot on the Aboul-Khardrah trail with the trail, difficult to follow as it is with the heavy ‘desert armour’, cuts across a small tributary of the main wadi channel at an odd angle.

 

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At Abu Qala, there are some magnificent swimming holes. The plentiful fresh water could explain the extensive terraces (opposite side of the wadi) that had one of the most challenging falaj systems ever found in the Hajar Mountains. This marker indicated the trail headed down the slope to the water below.

 

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One of the popular short hikes was to ‘Big Structures’, a cluster of very large stone buildings several kilometers into the mountains. At this point in the trail, the trail splits and I am constructing a cairn for our group, planning to put the large piece of magnesite on top!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Obaid

 

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Obaid weaving a cone-shaped food cover

 

For some who come to the United Arab Emirates to live and work, bridging cultural chasms is a challenge that can be unresolved. Building bridges between cultures, among individuals, enriches all who take on the engineering challenge.

It is not uncommon for a newcomer, including those of us arriving from North America, to abandon efforts to share all that is new with friends and relatives back home; instead, it is easier to list the few things that are common.

For some, the differences are too daunting to deal with: language, food, religion, lifestyle, work environment — the list can seem endless.

For others, however, there are opportunities to build bridges, to share experiences, and begin to catch a glimpse of another man’s perspective on the world.

For me, such a man was Obaid Saeed.

Obaid was my friend at Khutwah, a mountain oasis community in the Mahadah district of Oman, an oasis made famous in an off-road guide for foreigners.

 

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We almost always sat on the small concrete step just outside the door, always open, to the main room of his small house. Nearby were gas canisters and an element for cooking, and, stacked one on the other, countless plastic bags in all sizes.

 

I first met Obaid about in the late 1990’s when I walked past the blue doors of his modest home and poked my head inside. My intrusion was met with an enthusiastic greeting and he and I sat down for dates and coffee. I saw him a few more times that season and was introduced to his sister Fatima.

No one knew how old Obaid was. He could not stand erect, the result of an accident many years ago. His eyes were clouded with cataracts but the limited vision he had plus his acute hearing meant he recognized individuals almost instantly.

After our initial meeting, a period passed when, for one reason or another, we did not see each other. As Obaid told the story, it was five or six years, but my recollection is that it was only one.

Nonetheless, one day I rang the bell and wandered in again. Immediately Obaid smiled and it was obvious that he recognized me. And so began a friendship that lasted for many years.

How does a friendship develop between such different individuals? Though I had been in the Gulf, off and on, for decades, my Arabic language skills were extremely modest. Obaid knew no English. He was born in Khutwah, had lived his entire life in Khutwah, and, he smiled and said one day, he would die there.

I took several of my Arabic-speaking friends to meet him, in hopes of learning more about him and his life. He’d been to Muscat once and had met the Sultan. He had been to Mahadah, about 25 km distant, several times. And he had been to the oases at Al Buraimi — now Al Ain (UAE) and Al Buraimi (Oman) — two or three times; his recollection was not clear.

He loved his life in Khutwah, though a visitor might think the living conditions squalid. Knotted plastic bags containing unknown material were piled everywhere. The television was often on, but ignored, and his old rotary phone had a lock on it; it was, I soon learned, the only land line into Khutwah where mobile phone reception was almost non-existent.

Obaid understanding of the world outside Khutwah was always one of the things I wanted to know. Understanding Obaid’s world at Khutwah was equally challenging.

For many years, Obaid was a generous host to members of the natural history group any time we visited the oasis. He always had fresh coffee and dates for visitors. He sometimes shared his mid-day meal with me; rice and mutton that was always delicious. A few years ago, he was featured on the front page of the Friday magazine of Gulf News after we invited a Gulf News reporter and photographer to join us for a visit to Khutwah.

Coffee was always ready when anyone at Obaid’s home, and he, like most Arab men I know, took great pride in his coffee making. The way his face radiated left no doubt in the joy he felt preparing and sharing coffee with friends or complete strangers. One day he asked if I would bring him some coffee beans and I was thrilled at the opportunity. I visited several roasteries in Al Ain and settled on a couple of kilos of what seemed to me the finest roasted coffee available. In typical fashion, Obaid received the bag of coffee beans without a fuss and we enjoyed our time together that day without any mention of the beans. The next time I arrived, Obaid was angry with me. He had eventually opened the bag of beans I had delivered and had promptly roasted them to a charcoal consistency; I had not appreciated that roasting green beans was part of the joy and chore of preparing coffee.

 

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The nearly completed food cover, the small plastic bowl with dates, the Thermos bottle of coffee, and the bowl with water and coffee cups . . . always ready for visitors.

 

He was equally proud of his dates which he kept in the ubiquitous plastic tub. As a sign of respect, as I was sipping coffee, he would separate a date from the compressed mass of dates, massage it slowly between his thumb and fingers, expertly extract the pit, and hand me the warm, softened date. It was always humbling.

There are many stories about Obaid:

Early in our relationship, we were sitting and chatting and I realized he was asking for a length of plastic pipe, the PVC pipe that was everywhere in the old villages, used to move water from the falaj system to the house where it was pumped to the roof tanks. ‘Mia meters,’ he would say, and that was some of the very little Arabic that I understood from our conversations. I took note of the size and type of pipe he had in his yard and returned a week later with a huge coil of pipe. It was then I realized that Obaid did not have any family that visited him regularly and so he was often unable to get things he needed.

On one visit, at one point in our ‘conversation,’ he grabbed my arm and started to rub it firmly with his gnarled fingers. He kept repeating a word in Arabic. He would rub his own arm, showing me the motion, and then rub his shoulders. I had no idea but I did make a note of the word he kept repeating, using a form of phonetic recording that I later would use with my students to try to translate Obaid’s mountain dialect. No success! Even when I used a phone to record his request, none of my students, even the ones from Oman, could understand his request. But I had a phonetic version and, thanks to one of my students, an approximation in Arabic. Then one day, I was shopping in a general store and noticed Arabic script that was very similar to the script my student had offered. It was a small massage unit. I bought one, and a large supply of the large batteries required, and delivered it to Obaid the following weekend. It was exactly what he wanted, I suspect for his arthritis.

His home in Khutwah was a common cinderblock home with painted cement plaster, ceiling fans and large carpet on the floor. The classic Arab-style ‘seating’ was a foam cushion on the floor with numerous pillows for back rests and arm rests. There was no central heating system but Obaid did have a small electric heater. One winter, I arrived to find him and Fatima obviously suffering from the cold; the element in his electric heater had burnt out. Fortunately, I was able to find a replacement in a hardware shop in Al Buraimi and get the heater working again the next weekend.

One weekend, I was leading a small group of female students from one of the campuses of the Higher Colleges of Technology to the mountains and abandoned villages around Khutwah. It would not be a trip to Khutwah without a visit to Obaid’s home. Obaid was thrilled to see the young visitors though they had a little difficulty communicating given Obaid’s dialect. The young ladies were, to say the least, surprised and speechless that Obaid and I had such a friendship.

Obaid was always happy; I don’t recall ever seeing him dour or upset. But one day, he was beaming from ear to ear. One of my favorite things to do while living in the region was to find a baker who prepared flat bread in the traditional way, in a tandoor oven. There was a baker in Mahadah who always was preparing bread for the daily meals; bread must be fresh for each meal; none is ever kept for a meal later in the day. One day, my drive through Mahadah en route to Khutwah, allowed me to pick up some bread. When I delivered the bag of fresh bread to Obaid, his face beamed. Other than fresh (green) coffee beans, I doubt there was anything I could have offered that was more appreciated. We feasted that day on coffee, dates, and fresh baked bread.

There was one occasion, however, that left me humbled beyond words. It was the weekend I and three others had been stuck in the mountains as we tried to walk from Musah to Khutwah. I had left my truck in the town square beside Obaid’s house, as I had a hundred times before. (Obaid always insisted he knew the sound of my truck and would reprimand me thoroughly if I visited the oasis and did not stop in to see him.) After the rescue helicopter picked us up, I was given a ride to Khutwah to retrieve my truck. When we pulled in to the square, waiting there were several of the laborers who worked the farms at Khutwah and, crouched on the rocks outside his gate, Obaid. If you were a regular at Khutwah, you knew Obaid seldom, if ever, wandered outside the gate. When he saw me and realized we were all safe, he smiled.

It is impossible to describe that smile. It was not so much that he was relieved. Instead, it seemed to reach deep down into his character, his culture. A devout man, there was, on his tired, wrinkled face, that sense of calm that radiates from a person who has resolved many of life’s mysteries and placed his life, his soul, in the hands of his God.

He grinned and insisted I go to the market and buy a sheep so we could all celebrate the happy ending.

It was an incredible moment.

I am sad to report that my dear friend Obaid of Khutwah has passed away.

One Friday morning I arrived at the ‘town square’ and noticed that the gate to Obaid’s was locked. I had never seen it locked before . . . closed, yes, but never locked. One of the laborers explained that Obaid had been ill and was taken to hospital in Buraimi a few weeks earlier. He passed away at the hospital.

In many of our conversations, Obaid had asked about my religion. There was genuine concern, not that I shared his faith, but that I had faith. Given the language barrier, he and I never had the conversation we might have enjoyed.

But one day, a friend who seemed to have no difficulty understanding Obaid, began a conversation with my dear friend. Obaid insisted, my friend explained, that regardless of my religious convictions, he was sure that I would not have to crawl into paradise as he anticipated he would. I would be able to walk into paradise, he insisted.

And then, my very surprised colleague explained, Obaid had insisted that I be ready to attend to his funeral when he died. He was frightened that he might die in his villa and, with no relatives nearby, the foreigner laborers in the village would simply remove his remains and bury him without the appropriate customs in a simple grave outside the village.

Obaid had a way of making an individual feel humble.

 

An observer would recognize immediately that Obaid and I had little if anything in common. Our individual worlds were about as dissimilar as one could imagine.

Nonetheless, we were able to bridge those differences and come to appreciate, respect and, I suspect, love one another, sharing what will always remain precious moments together.

Differences between individuals can be exploited or overcome; the rewards of building bridges across the chasm can be some of the most valuable in any individual’s life. I know it has been in mine; recalling the sparkle in his eyes, the smile on his face, I am certain it was for my dear friend Obaid, as well.

 

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Obaid had fallen at some time, many years earlier, and could stand erect so was most comfortable sitting. He stooped terribly when he got up to fetch more dates or coffee.

 

 

 

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Khutwah was one of the mountain oasis communities abandoned in the 1970’s or 1980’s as the Oman government encouraged families to move to modern houses in nearby settlements complete with a reliable water supply, room for hygiene sewage disposal, electricity, phone service, and, if the population was large enough, some shops. The houses that were in reasonable condition were taken over by the Afghani laborers who tended the oasis.

 

 

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Almost all of the Omanis who lived in the original Khutwah settlement had left but Obaid and his sister Fatima remained in their home, as did two other elderly gentlemen.

 

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Obaid serving me coffee as we tried to communicate.

 

 

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Obaid’s conversations were always very expressive, making use of his hands to emphasize his words. I would understand, if lucky, 20 percent of his message. But we managed to communicate more than I ever imagined possible. 

 

 

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The blue doors of Obaid’s home. When I arrived one day and found the doors closed, I knew something bad had happened. Obaid had died.

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Grand Canyon’

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View from bottom of the wadi I called ‘Grand Canyon’ in Oman, near Juwaif.

This was one of my favorite places to visit . . . the drive down the steep track into the wadi bed was always fun, as was the equally steep track on the opposite side.

For those interested in the geology of the area, Grand Canyon offered an ideal site to see the different layers of conglomerate and the relatively loose material deposited on top over thousands of years.

In the wadi bed, there were often small pools with wadi fish and toads; was always a mystery where on earth these critters came from between wet seasons.

View down the wadi towards the 'white triangle' that marks the spot where the wadi crosses the Juwaif road the first time; it crosses back and forth a few times before merging with Wadi Sha'arm.

The view down the wadi towards the ‘white triangle’ that marks the spot where the wadi crosses the Juwaif road the first time; it crosses back and forth a few times before merging with Wadi Sha’arm.

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Like wadis everywhere in the Hajar Mountains, one side was featured the conglomerate, the other the solid bedrock. The water always found the line of least resistance: the interface of the bedrock and the conglomerate.

Some of the conglomerate layers.

Each geological period featured a different recipe of conglomerate, and so various layers of cemented material.

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Within the bedrock material, any crack was filled with material that had been extruded ages ago; often the material was magnetite but in other instances softer material had filled the cracks. The pressure exerted to fill the cracks must have been enormous.

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The view from slightly above the floor of the wadi, showing the various layers of conglomerate (right) above the bedrock. Feral date palms and assorted bushes and trees survived as there was usually water just a short below the wadi bed.

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Some years the small pools lasted almost all summer, though more often than not they were gone by June. If the wildlife was fortunate, they lasted long enough for the frog eggs to hatch and the tadpoles mature though, some years, there was a mat of dried carcasses at the bottom of the pools.

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In side channels, one often found pools that survived later into the season as they were not exposed to direct sunlight. In late winter, these were ideal for a quick swim; later, because there was no fresh water, they were unsafe for swimming.

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Detail of one layer of conglomerate, the wadi stones cemented in place. It is likely that ancient occupants noticed the natural cementing of the material and began experimenting, leading to the production of ‘Omani cement’, sarooj, which was manufactured in great quantities for falaj systems, houses, and other structures. At least two sarooj factories, using traditional production means, were in operation during my time in Oman.

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The wadi beds were the natural highways for some travelers and explorers as the wadi bed was flat and consisted of gravel. However, the footing would have been too difficult for camels, though donkeys could have managed. Getting in and out of a massive wadi was sometimes tricky but trails in the mountains included sets of marker stones to show where it was safe to drop down into a wadi.

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Sections of Grand Canyon were well used. Some used short sections of Grand Canyon when crossing from one side to the other, using steep access roads. Beyond Grand Canyon there were a number of farms. Though there were alternative access routes, for some farms crossing Grand Canyon offered the shortest route. When the swimming hole was large and fresh, there would be considerable traffic after Friday prayers.

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The dark gabbro was common throughout the Hajar Mountains. The other common rock was ophiolite. The geology of Oman attracted geologists from around the world as such deposits are relatively rare. The limestone cap that made ‘The Swiss Mountains’ so recognizable was another feature of the geological history of the region.

The Nissan parked at the pool, the furthest one drive upstream from Wadi Sha'arm.

My trusty Nissan parked at the pool, the furthest one can drive upstream from Wadi Sha’arm. The pool is as close to a permanent feature as you can find in that section of Grand Canyon as the location is a choke point with hard gabbro on both sides of the wadi, creating a relatively narrow channel.

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This year (2010) the pool was relatively deep and clean; a few seasons later the debris washed downstream had filled it almost completely.

This year (2010) the pool was relatively deep and clean; a few seasons later the debris washed downstream had filled it almost completely.

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The natural barrier at the pools.

The natural barrier at the pools.

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The choke point where the pool is located. The exposed gabbro below the pool is smooth from thousands of years of wadi flows containing sand, gravel, and stones.

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A small, secondary pool, just below the larger swimming pool. The dark gabbro ‘dam’ below the pool is visible.

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A farmer using the wadi to cross to one of the farms in the foothills.

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At the bottom of the vertical (right), a small depression where, in winter, water would have collected and, perhaps, a new generation of frogs were born.

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View from the edge of the wadi looking north towards Juwaif.

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The oasis of Juwaif visible (left) with ‘Grand Canyon’ on the right.

View upstream from ridge; over the years I enjoyed many of the wadis that fed 'Grand Canyon', always full of fresh water.

View upstream from ridge; over the years I enjoyed many of the wadis that fed ‘Grand Canyon’, always full of fresh water.

View from ridge; fails to portray the depth and majesty of the wadi.

View from ridge; fails to portray the depth and majesty of the wadi.

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