The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam

The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam
“Arabian Adventurer: The Story of Haji Williamson” is by Stanton Hope. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 September 2022

The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam

The remarkable life story of an early British convert to Islam
  • ‘Arabian Adventurer’ tells the story of ‘Haji’ Williamson — an early 20th-century visitor to the Middle East

DUBAI: Among the many valuable rare books at London’s Firsts Book Fair stands an orange-toned, slightly-torn biography of a gutsy traveler you’ve likely never heard of. He was something of a rebel in Victorian times, escaping family pressures by sailing abroad during adolescence and eventually leading a life of his own in the Middle East. His name was William Richard Williamson, but he became known, simply, as Haji Williamson. 

“Arabian Adventurer: The Story of Haji Williamson” was offered by the antiquarian bookseller Maggs Bros. Published in 1951, seven years prior to Williamson’s death, the book was penned by journalist and adventure-story writer Stanton Hope, who was taken by Williamson’s extraordinary life.




Haji Abdullah Fadhil Williamson aged 75. (Supplied)

 Maggs Bros.’ travel books specialist Sam Cotterell offered insight into Williamson’s jack-of-all-trades character. 

“He went to sea at 13 and had a bewildering array of jobs before turning 20, including cowboy, gold prospector and amateur boxer,” Cotterell told Arab News. “He even spent a short period as a juggler in a circus troupe.” 

Williamson was born in Bristol in 1872, where he was raised by a strict father. His voyages landed him in San Diego, the Caroline Islands, and Manila, where he was jailed for selling rifles to rebel tribesmen. 

“He was born to have a regular life somewhere in Victorian Bristol, but ended up experiencing things that would have been practically incommunicable to his friends and family in England — an experience totally removed from its initial context,” said Cotterell. “I always think stories like his are the most interesting because you learn about how different cultures interacted, and sometimes clashed, at specific points in history.” 




Haji Williamson at Kut-el-Hajjaj. (Supplied)

After escaping imprisonment, Williamson went to sea once again, making his way to Aden, Yemen to join the British police force. During the voyage, he came across a book on Islam, written by Abdullah Quilliam, an influential Briton who converted to Islam and established Britain’s first mosque in Liverpool in 1889. Reading the book was a turning point in Williamson’s life, and he eventually also converted. 

“Christianity was a consistent part of his early life, even on his first travels, such as when he stayed in California with his aunt who was a Seventh-day Adventist,” noted Cotterell. “It seems his study of Islam quickly became an obsession, which his shipmates noticed when he no longer wished to join them for football matches on land, preferring to read in the ship’s library.” 

What was considered a personal decision actually led to controversy in the establishment. “At first, he was considered a good policeman, but the British authorities became highly suspicious of his interest in the local community and Islam. And then, from the moment he converted, he was viewed as a potentially dangerous outsider,” said Cotterell. Their behavior towards Williamson shifted when Williamson took on the coveted role of inspector of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. 




Hadji Williamson (right) and Yusef in Zobair. (Supplied)

“A narrative about his life would never have been published early on, because it was only later, when his knowledge was deemed essential to securing oil concessions, that he regained acceptance from the British,” he continued. “There was a period of time in which he was completely apart from his country of birth.”  

Haji, meaning a male who performed the Hajj, became Williamson’s nickname, and indeed, he completed the pilgrimage in 1894, 1898 and 1936. 

“What’s communicated in the book — and this is not coming directly from Williamson — is that he found a clarity in Islam beyond what he’d experienced as a Christian,” noted Cotterell. 

Studying the Arabic language and culture, Williamson lived in Kuwait and an area close to Basra in Iraq, where he owned a dhow, and traveled widely in the Gulf region. He made a living through pearling, horse trading, and camel dealing. He fitted in, looking like a traditional Arab. One of the unique aspects of Maggs’ book is the curious cover, showing a large frontispiece of the eye-catching Haji Williamson.

“The portrait on the dust-jacket is memorable, showing him in his role as agent for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company,” said Cotterell.” He wears a Western suit but also a ghutrah and golden agal. It’s a kind of between-worlds image.”  


Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador
Razane Jammal most recently starred in blockbuster Netflix series “The Sandman.” (AFP)
Updated 05 October 2022

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal unveiled as Dior’s Middle East ambassador

DUBAI: Lebanese British actress Razane Jammal has been unveiled as the Middle East’s brand ambassador for French luxury label Dior.

“I’m so unbelievably excited to finally announce that I will be joining Dior as a brand ambassador in the Middle East!” Jammal posted on Instagram on Wednesday.

“Ever since I joined the fashion community, I wanted to collaborate with people I can truly grow with, to join a family that I value as much as it values me. It’s been a long journey but I can confidently say I’ve found my home! The ME Dior team you have been so incredible. An extra special thank you to @sandrasawaya for believing in me and making this happen. This is the start of a wonderful collaboration. I cannot wait to embody the timeless creations of @mariagraziachiuri,” she added, referring to Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri and the Head of PR & Communications Middle East for Christian Dior Couture Sandra Sawaya Nehme.

Jammal most recently starred in blockbuster Netflix series “The Sandman,” based on the legendary graphic novels written by award-winning British author Neil Gaiman.


How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition
Updated 05 October 2022

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition

How time flies at Riyadh ‘nostalgia’ exhibition
  • Misk Art Institute’s ‘Tales of Nostalgia’ opened at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall on Oct. 2 to showcase conceptual artworks by creators from Europe and the Middle East
  • ‘Cold Flux’ by London-based Ben Cullen Williams, explores the effects of global warming on the Larsen-B ice shelf, which splintered and almost entirely collapsed 20 years ago

RIYADH: A Riyadh art gallery has opened an exhibition exploring time, the mind and the changing world through installations by a dozen local and international artists.

Misk Art Institute’s “Tales of Nostalgia” opened at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Fine Arts Hall on Oct. 2 to showcase conceptual artworks by creators from Europe and the Middle East.

“Cold Flux” by London-based Ben Cullen Williams, explores the effects of global warming on the Larsen-B ice shelf, which splintered and almost entirely collapsed 20 years ago. The artist’s installation uses video taken during his own trip to Antarctica, and comparisons with later satellite imagery. 

His footage was passed through an AI algorithm that distorts and morphs the images as the shelf changes and disappears over time.

“I thought it’d be interesting to kind of potentially rebuild these landscapes through the use of technology, a thing that kind of destroyed it,” Williams told Arab News. “Fundamentally, it talks about our changing planet, how our planet is constantly moving and morphing. But it also kind of brings the question, is technology the solution to our current problems?”

“Novae”, an audio-visuel work by the French art collective Lab212, uses a recreated star field to explore the constellations and the history of astronomy, while sounds of nature and a poem by Prince Badr bin Abdulmohsen, “Khouf wa Sikat,” plays.

Saudi artist Abeer Sultan’s work, “An Imagined Perpetual Past” focuses on Medini marital traditions, and the bride’s anonymity and the extravagance of her clothing.

Daniah Alsaleh’s “Rewind, Play, Glitch” explores nostalgia and the distortion of memory by time through the use of digital photos on a living room wall that change and morph.

The MAI also exhibits various works from artists Muhannad Shono, Ayman Zedani, Asma Belhamar, Sultan bin Fahad, Zimoun, Fuse, Katie Paterson, and Laurent Grasso.

Nawaf Al-Harbi, MAI’s acting strategy & development director, told Arab News that he hoped the exhibition could also be used as a platform for cultural exchange opportunities.

“The aim is to continue the conversations, to get artists, especially the international ones, to run some workshops and master classes, so it's also part of the connection,” 

The exhibition runs until January 15, and is open to the public from 4 pm to 10 pm.


Italian designer Gaia Repossi to join Fashion Trust Arabia’s 2022 advisory board

Italian designer Gaia Repossi to join Fashion Trust Arabia’s 2022 advisory board
Updated 05 October 2022

Italian designer Gaia Repossi to join Fashion Trust Arabia’s 2022 advisory board

Italian designer Gaia Repossi to join Fashion Trust Arabia’s 2022 advisory board

DUBAI: Gaia Repossi, the creative director of contemporary Italian jewelry brand Repossi, has been appointed as a member of Fashion Trust Arabia’s 2022 advisory board.

Fashion Trust Arabia was established in 2018 as a prize to support up-and-coming fashion designers from the Middle East and North Africa region. The organization’s mission is to support local creatives by providing them with global opportunities and by creating a network in which they can participate in important conversations and the exchange of ideas.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by GAIA repossi (@gaiarepossi)

The advisory board is responsible for selecting 24 finalists who will then get the chance to showcase their work before the jury. The ceremony itself will take place during the week of Oct. 24, 2022 through a series of local activations in Doha, Qatar.

"The Turin-born,cult-favorite jewelry designer was a natural fit for the FTA advisory board, who assumed her role at the family business at the young age of 21 and has helped turn Repossi into a brand beloved for its luxe minimalism and contemporary aesthetic. Gaia’s extensive involvement and networks in the world of fashion make her the perfect member to provide expertise and guidance for the up-and-coming regional talents in the competition (sic)," read a released statement.


Miss Universe Bahrain Evlin Khalifa to open Arab Fashion Week

Miss Universe Bahrain Evlin Khalifa to open Arab Fashion Week
Updated 05 October 2022

Miss Universe Bahrain Evlin Khalifa to open Arab Fashion Week

Miss Universe Bahrain Evlin Khalifa to open Arab Fashion Week
  • Evlin Khalifa will walk the runway for celebrity-loved brand  Amato by Furne One.

DUBAI: The newly crowned Miss Universe Bahrain, Evlin Khalifa, will be the official show opener for the new season of Arab Fashion Week in Dubai on Oct. 11.

The 24-year-old pianist and model from Riffa, who won the beauty pageant last month, will open the premiere show of the Couture Fall-Winter 22/23 season, which will be staged by Dubai-based brand Amato by Furne One.

Amato has been worn by many international celebrities over the years, including Beyonce, Katy Perry, Tyra Banks and Shakira.

“I am so thrilled to be a part of this fabulous show. It has always been my dream to walk on the runway of Arab Fashion Week and now that dream will finally come to life. This is even more special as I will be walking for the world-renowned fashion designer to the royalties and stars, Furne Amato of Amato Couture.” said Khalifa in a released statement.

“This whole journey of Miss Universe has been incredible so far and I cannot wait to see you all as we have been preparing to represent the Gulf region on the global stage of Miss Universe,” she added.


Gigi Hadid wades into fashion week bullying row

Gigi Hadid wades into fashion week bullying row
Updated 05 October 2022

Gigi Hadid wades into fashion week bullying row

Gigi Hadid wades into fashion week bullying row

DUBAI: US rapper Kanye West sparked controversy at Paris Fashion Week by wearing a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt at his runway show — and now US Palestinian Dutch model Gigi Hadid is wading into the ensuing debate.

The model made a statement via Instagram Stories showing support for Vogue US fashion editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, who slammed West over his choice of attire.

Karefa-Johnson shared her thoughts on social media following the rapper’s show.

Kanye West at Paris Fashion Week. (AFP)

“It didn’t land and it was deeply offensive, violent, and dangerous,” she wrote in a series of IG story slides that featured screenshots of her conversation with someone else about Kanye’s shirt. “The idea that white supremacy is in danger of extinction is what justifies mass incarceration, murder en masse, indeed the advent of slavery,” she added.

In true Kanye style, the rapper reacted with an online attack on Karefa-Johnson and posted pictures of her, shared a screenshot of her Instagram account and critiqued her fashion choices in a series of potshots aimed at the editor.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid)

But models are showing support for Karefa-Johnson, with the likes of Hadid and Hailey Bieber voicing their concerns over West’s reaction.

 ”As if the ‘honor’ of being invited to your show should keep someone from giving their opinion? Lol. You’re a bully and a joke (sic),” Hadid wrote.

“You wish you had a percentage of her intellect… If there’s actually a point to any of your s***, she might be the only person that could save you,” the model added, referring to West’s new sartorial offerings.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Vogue (@voguemagazine)

Vogue US also released a statement in support of Karefa-Johnson.

“She was personally targeted and bullied. It is unacceptable. Now more than ever, voices like hers are needed and in a private meeting with Ye today she once again spoke her truth in a way she felt best, on her terms,” the magazine posted on Instagram, referring to West by his legal name, Ye.

For her part, Bieber wrote “my respect for you runs deep my friend!” in a comment on Karefa-Johnson’s Instagram account.

Meanwhile, Karefa-Johnson shared an updated statement following the online furor, saying “there is no excuse, there is no art here. I’m sorry I failed to make that clear — I thought I did… I do think if you asked Kanye, he’d say there was art, and revolution, and all of the things in that T-shirt. There isn’t.”