Delta blues is one of the earliest-known styles of blues music. It originated in the Mississippi Delta, a region of the United States stretching from Memphis, Tennessee, in the north to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the south and from Helena, Arkansas, in the west to the Yazoo River in the east. The Mississippi Delta is famous for its fertile soil and for its poverty. Delta blues is regarded as a regional variant of country blues. Guitar and harmonica are its dominant instruments; slide guitar (usually played on a steel guitar) is a hallmark of the style. Vocal styles in Delta blues range from introspective and soulful to passionate and fiery.

Although Delta blues certainly existed in some form or another at the turn of the 20th century, it was first recorded in the late 1920s, when record companies realized the potential African-American market for “race records“. The major labels produced the earliest recordings, consisting mostly of one person singing and playing an instrument. Live performances, however, more commonly involved a group of musicians. Current belief is that Freddie Spruell is the first Delta blues artist to have been recorded; his “Milk Cow Blues” was recorded in Chicago in June 1926.[1] Record company talent scouts made some of the early recordings on field trips to the South, and some performers were invited to travel to northern cities to record. According to Dixon and Godrich (1981), Tommy Johnson and Ishmon Bracey were recorded by Victor on that company’s second field trip to Memphis, in 1928. Robert Wilkins was first recorded by Victor in Memphis in 1928, and Big Joe Williams and Garfield Akers by Brunswick/Vocalion, also in Memphis, in 1929.

Son House first recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin, in 1930 for Paramount Records. Charley Patton also recorded for Paramount in Grafton, in June 1929 and May 1930. He also traveled to New York City for recording sessions in January and February 1934. Robert Johnson recorded his only sessions, for ARC, in San Antonio in 1936 and Dallas in 1937.

Subsequently, the early Delta blues (as well as other genres) were extensively recorded by John Lomax and his son Alan Lomax, who crisscrossed the southern United States recording music played and sung by ordinary people, helping establish the canon of genres we know today as American folk music. Their recordings, numbering in the thousands, now reside in the Smithsonian Institution. According to Dixon and Godrich (1981) and Leadbitter and Slaven (1968), Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress researchers did not record any Delta bluesmen or women prior to 1941, when he recorded Son House and Willie Brown near Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, and Muddy Waters at Stovall, Mississippi. However, this claim has been disputed, as John and Alan Lomax had recorded Bukka White in 1939, Lead Belly in 1933 and most likely others.

Scholars disagree as to whether there is a substantial musicological difference between blues that originated in the Mississippi Delta and blues from other parts of the country. The defining characteristics of Delta blues are instrumentation and an emphasis on rhythm and “bottleneck” slide guitar;[citation needed] the basic harmonic structure is not substantially different from that of blues performed elsewhere. Delta blues is a style as much as a geographical form: Skip James and Elmore James, who were not born in the Delta, are considered Delta blues musicians. Performers traveled throughout the Mississippi Delta, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Tennessee. Eventually, Delta blues spread out across the country, giving rise to a host of regional variations, including Chicago blues and Detroit blues.

Delta blues songs are typically expressed in the first person and often concern love, sex, the traveling lifestyle and its tribulations, sin, salvation and death. Several blues musicians were imprisoned in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman Farm, which is referred to in songs such as Bukka White‘s “Parchman Farm Blues” and the folk song “Midnight Special“.

In big-city blues, women singers such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith dominated the recordings of the 1920s.[2] However, women rarely recorded Delta blues and other rural or folk-style blues. In Delta blues female performers often had some romantic connection to more notable male performers: Geeshie Wiley was reportedly linked with Papa Charlie McCoy, whose brother Kansas Joe McCoy was married to Memphis Minnie, and the seminal Charlie Patton sometimes played and recorded with his wife, Bertha Lee. It was not until late in the 1960s that women began to be heard in recorded performances at the level they had previously enjoyed. It was then that Janis Joplin arrived as the first female performer to achieve both accolades from her peers as a blues performer and crossover commercial success, reaching diverse audiences with a powerful and emotive vocal delivery. Other women influenced by Delta blues, who learned from some of the most notable of the original artists still living, include Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block, and Susan Tedeschi.

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The Khazars were a semi-nomadic Turkic people who created a powerful kingdom, Khazaria, 618-1048 CE, on the steppes of southern Russia, extending from the Crimean peninsula to Caucasus and northward to the foothills of the Urals. During the seventh- and eighth-centuries the Khazars allied themselves with Byzantium and fought a series of wars with the Umayyads and the Abbasids, but they always managed to maintain their independence. Nicely positioned at the crossroads of several important trade routes, Khazaria was one of greatest trading emporia of the medieval world. Many Khazars were pastoralists while others made good use of the abundance of fish in the Volga river or traded in sable skins, squirrel pelt, swords and honey. Another important commodity were slaves who were exported to the Arab caliphates. The Khazars had a centralized administration, a standing army, and exacted tribute from some thirty different tribes. The king was recruited from among the nobility in a ceremony in which he was asked how many years he wished to reign while simultaneously being throttled almost to death. At the end of his requested reign the king was killed.

Beginning in the eighth-century CE, the Khazar kings converted to Judaism while a majority of the population remained Tengrist, Christian or Muslims.[Read more: Tengrism] Some Jews who suffered from persecution elsewhere took their refuge in Khazaria and the kings saw themselves as defenders of Jews living outside of their own borders too. It could be that conversion to Judaism was a way to retain Khazar independence both from the Muslim caliphates and the Christians in Byzantium.

In the nineteenth-century, a few European scholars began arguing that the Jewish population of Europe are descendants of Khazarian Jews who had emigrated after the fall of their kingdom rather than descendants of Jews who originated in Palestine itself. The thesis which became widely known through Arthur Koestler’s book The Thirteenth Tribe, 1976, has been used in antisemitic propaganda and in order to undermine Israel’s claim to statehood. Yet the theory cannot possibly be true since not a sufficiently large portion of the Khazar population converted to Judaism and since not that many Khazars proceeded to emigrate to Europe.

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Nestorius, the fifth-century patriarch of Constantinople who was condemned as a heretic by the council of Ephesus in 431. among the Assyrian beliefs that Rubruck held to be heretical was that the virgin Mary was the mother of Christ, but not the mother of god. They also differed from Catholics in their steadfast refusal to portray Christ on the cross as a violation of the Mongol taboos on depicting death or blood.

References to the four first caliphates are common in the political rhetoric of many contemporary radical Islamic groups. The four first caliphates, goes the argument, were ruled directly by Islamic principles and as such they provide the only truly Islamic alternative to modern societies and to a modern way of life. One prominent group which makes this claim is Hizb ut-Tahrir, the “Party of Liberation,” founded in 1953 by the Palestinian scholar Taqiuddin al-Nabhani. Al-Nabhani was disillusioned with capitalism, with colonialism and democracy, but also with nationalism which was the predominant Muslim response to these challenges. The nation-state divided the ummah, the Islamic community, and set Islamic brothers against each other. The situation was made worse by the way each state in the Muslim world allied itself with various imperialist powers. As Al-Nabhani explained in books such as The Islamic State and Economic System of Islam, a restored caliphate would unite all Muslims into one political community ruled by a religious leader, a caliph, or “successor” to Muhammad. The ummah-wide caliphate would be organized according to sharia law and it would be founded on Islamic economic principles, which, for example, would ban the charging of interest rates. The caliphate would be a welfare state of sorts, where charity would extend to the elderly, the poor, widows and the disabled. The leaders would be accountable and government based on the rule of law. Political parties would no longer be needed since the community would be united under the precepts of the Quran.

Although often banned, Hizb ut-Tahrir has spread to more than 40 countries and has an estimated one million members worldwide. The organization is active in Europe, in Britain in particular, but also in several countries in Central Asia. The movement is strongly anti-Zionist and regards Israel as an abomination. In Europe Hizb ut-Tahrir has often been accused of trying to take over local schools and to change the curriculum to reflect its agenda. In 2007, the movement caused headlines in Denmark by changing the curriculum of a nursery school, and in the spring of 2014, it was implicated in what British newspapers called “Operation Trojan Horse,” an alleged plot to replace head-teachers and change learning objectives in schools in Birmingham and elsewhere. The British authorities have begun monitoring the group, suspecting it of links to terrorist organizations. And the political agenda of a terrorist group such as Al Qaeda is indeed very close to that of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Al Qaeda too rejects the principles of modern societies and hopes that the caliphate can be restored. Indeed, in the spring of 2014, ISIL, the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” captured large territories in Iraq and Syria and proceeded to announce the reestablishment of the caliphate. The great difference between groups such as these and Hizb ut-Tahrir is that the latter always has rejected terrorist methods and regards the taking of innocent lives as a crime against the Quran.

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Omar al Farouk is a TV series in 30 episodes, directed by the Syrian actor/director Hatem Ali and co-produced by the Dubai-based TV station MBC1 and Qatar TV. The plot tells the story of the founding of the first caliphate and is based on the life of Umar, the second caliph, who viewers get to follow from the time he was 18 until his death. Umar is revered by all Muslims, but in particular by the Sunnis to whom he is the very model of the perfect caliph – modest, strong and fair-minded. The TV series Omar was shot over an entire year, with several battle-scenes involving up to 500 actors, and it was touted by MBC as the biggest TV production ever in the Arab world, to rival historical Hollywood dramas.

Omar aired during Ramadan in the summer of 2012, and was shown all over the Middle East and North Africa and has been dubbed into Turkish and Bahasa Indonesia. The entire series, with English subtitles, is available on YouTube and the Internet Archive. Among the all-star cast, Omar was played by Syrian actor Samer Ismail. There was considerable speculation in the Arab press regarding his religious affiliation, yet in interviews he refused to discuss his personal beliefs, regarding them as irrelevant to his job as an actor.

Already before it was shown, the series attracted criticism from conservative Muslims, including scholars at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, who believe that close companions of the prophet should not be depicted on television. Hundreds of people joined a Facebook campaign demanding the show not be broadcast and the campaign trended for a month on Twitter. A rich Saudi businessman volunteered to buy the whole TV series so as to stop it from airing, and in Riyad, the Saudi capital, demonstrators threatened to burn down the MBC building. Other Muslims, including some scholars, praised the series for its historical accuracy and for making the Rashidun caliphate relevant to contemporary TV viewers. The actors’ use of classical Arabic was often also praised.

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15 Minute History, “The succession to Muhammad”

15 Minute History, “Islam’s enigmatic origins”

Hugh Kennedy, “The establishment of the Islamic state”

15 Minute History, “Islam’s first civil war”

Short-stories of the Sahabahs (in Arabic):

The Battle of Talas in 751 CE was a military engagement which took place in the Talas river valley, in Transoxiania, close to today’s border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. In the battle the forces of the Abbasid caliphate, together with its Tibetan allies, met the forces of the Chinese Tang dynasty. The battle ended with the defeat of the Chinese, and thus marked the end of China’s territorial expansion westward.

Ever since the Han dynasty, 206 BCE – 9 CE, Chinese emperors had dispatched missions to the lands to the far west of their empire. One important aim was to try to capture the wild horses — the horses of of the rich Ferhana valley, in today’s Uzbekistan — which were considered to be the best horses in the world.  In addition, this part of Central Asia was an important hub where trade-routes — the “Silk Road” — connected the various parts of the Asian continent.  The Sogdians were people in charge of much of this trade [read more: Sogdian letters].

First engagement between Arab and Chinese armies. Marks the point of the easternmost extension of the Arab caliphate. But also where the Chinese expansion stopped.

Why did the conquest start. Immediately after Muhammed’s death. 650 all of Iran was under Muslim rule. Uzbekıstan and Turkmenistan — more difficult to conquer. There were Sogdians here. They had contacts with the Chinese. The Arabs were pulled by these commercial opportunities. Umayyad up to 750, ruled everything. Why were they so effective? Exhaustion of Sassanians and Byzentines. Good leadership and ideology which did not confine them to borders. Very quick moving on horses. No supply trains.

The Tang, a major player, moved into Afghanistan — for the first time. They were others too — Koreans, Times, Uighur,

Ever since the Han dynasty, 206 BCE – 9 CE, Chinese emperors had dispatched missions to the lands to the far west of their empire. One important aim was to try to capture the wild horses — the horses of of the rich Ferhana valley, in today’s Uzbekistan — which were considered to be the best horses in the world.  In addition, this part of Central Asia was an important hub where trade-routes — the “Silk Road” — connected the various parts of the Asian continent.  The Sogdians were people in charge of much of this trade [read more: Sogdian letters].

According to legend, rather than recorded history, Chinese prisoners of war captured by the Arab armies brought paper-making techniques with them to the Abbasid capital of Baghdad. Even if the technology was not a direct consequence of this particular battle, it was nevertheless the case that paper-mills began to be established all over the Arab world at this time. The ability to make cheap, good-quality, paper is in some ways more important for the dissemination of knowledge than the printing techniques.

Central Asia started using old clothes for making paper. The Arabs encountered paper for the first time. Alabi’s account spreading the story of tthe captured paper-makers from Talas, but there were previous cases of paper in Central Asia.

Al-Tha’alibi. [Read more: “”]

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Jonathan Bloom, “Paper”

In Our Time: “The Battle of Talas”

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BBC Radio 4, “Wang An-shi”

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