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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Review: Al-Asil The Pure Bred Arabian by Ashraf Dockrat

Title: Al-Asil: The Pure Bred Arabian A unique blend of Islamic and Modern research on the Arabian Horse

Some two years ago the Saudi Aramco World magazine printed a calendar which featured the most beautiful photos of Arabian horses I have ever seen. This and the accompanying articles on the Arabian horse are exceptional and are sure to interest readers. One can go to their website for this. When I first came across the book we review this morning, a similar type of excitement filled my mind.

Al-Asil: The Pure Bred Arabian Horse

This book has an intriguing title and is certainly not your run of the mill topic in Islamic books.

The word "Aseel'" Is an Arabic name and adjective that means: original, Authentic, Genuine, Pure, Origin, Root, Unique.

The word "asil" is Arabic in origin and means "pure", noble, or of long pedigree (as in purebred). It is used in several different contexts:

Asil (chicken), a breed of chicken. Some of us wear asil kurtas even.

Asil Nadir, Turkish Cypriot businessman

Arabian horses who have pedigrees that can be traced in every line to identifiable desert-bred horses from the Middle East. The term "Asil Arabian" is commonly used in Europe. Horses of similar bloodlines are sometimes referred to as Al Khamsa in the United States.


Asil or Aseel also refers to a person of Arabian descent who has a long ancestral chart. Normally Arabs in the Gulf States use it to make a distinction between themselves and other Arabs or other Muslims who just settled recently in their countries, or don't belong to one of the old and often noble families; like the al-Chalifa, al-Maktoum or the House of Saud.

This book, through an investigation of the many Prophetic Traditions on the topic of horses, the author passionately describes the close relationship between the Prophet of Allah and horses. This book synthesises scholarly work on the subject of the Arabian horses, both by Muslim and scholars over the centuries and contemporary researchers in the humanities and sciences. He enriches their wealth of information with first hand accounts of his travels to Arabian studs around the world-whether in the royal stables of the Gulf or deep in the Syrian desert with Bedouin tribesmen-making this book a must have reference for people passionate about horses. In this work the author

presents the basics of the historical background of the modern Arabian horse.

Al-Asil – The Pure-bred Arabian, is a treat for all horse enthusiasts and a highly enlightening read for the rest of us. The author has not only delved into the sea of hadith and retrieved a large number of them pertaining to horses, but has also managed to revive numerous works on the subject by traditional Islamic scholars in the early centuries of Islam. He has, in a completely unique manner, managed to synthesize these disregarded contributions with contemporary research on the Arabian horse. By recollecting his personal travels to various Arabian studs around the world, he flavours the theory with real life accounts of meetings with royalties as well as the masters of equitation – the desert Bedouin!

There are two exceptional features of the book:

In the first chapter, many of the excerpts from classical scholars in the first 3 centuries, were translated into English for the first time. Their contributions in this field have therefore been overlooked by contemporary scholars.

The relationship of Rasullulah SAW with horses and the contribution of Islam to the spread of the Arabian horse around the world is also overlooked by Western scholars and was highlighted in the book.

The book was very informative, I enjoyed reading it, and especially studying the pictures and pedigrees of past generations of Arabians.

Perhaps it is because I once owned a horse and rode myself from a young age that I could so closely relate to this book and that I enjoyed reading it so much! Although I suspect that even if I didn't...the enjoyment would still be there! The book contains many historical facts, is written in a wonderful, easy-to-read style, and is interesting. This book comes very close to the ultimate book of Arabian history. Great book! I loved every moment.

Every page of this book exudes the author's passion for the subject of Arabian horses.

He has put the book together in a very logical way and after a forward and introduction, he mentions that his aim of writing this book is to revive the sunnah of riding and love for horses. Our youth have regressed physically and sunnah entertainments need to be revived, archery, swimming and horse riding are amongst these. This is a noble aim and I hope and pray that this book does something to help our youth. I will never forget the child who asked me on Eid day at the camel rides we offered “Uncle, where do the batteries go in?”

Chapter I

Horses in Islam, Horses mentioned in the Quran and ahaadith, Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wasallam and horses. The names of sallallhu alaihi waslaams horses. Eight horses altogether are mentioned: Sakb, Lizaar, Luhaif, Ya’sub, Murtajiz, Sabhah, Ward and Dharib. The names of horses depending on the colour combinations of their socks. Some works of Muslim scholars over the 1400 years on the subject of horses.

Chapter two is devoted to the characteristics of the classic Arabian horse. Always drawing on original classical Arabic works, the author is able to quote what the classical writers such as al-Asmai have said about the features of the Arabian horse. Line sketches provide the reader with the necessary graphics, classic Arabian head-concave below eyes, small, alert ears, large extended nostrils and deep wide jowls. A prominent arched neck curved like a palm branch with a throatlatch following the same curve. The tail carriage should be elevated when excited or in action. Distinctive features of the head body and movement are described before moving onto a discussion on the inner qualities of temperament, stamina and adaptability and then concluding this section with a discussion on the strains and bloodlines. One of the most important topics concerning the Arabians.

Chapter Three is titled: The desert, the Bedouin and their horses and here the author has an anthropological approach. He explores some myths, the deserts of Arabia, the Bedouin people and the laws of the desert, the Bedouin and his horse and mentions that they are really one. He would stay hungry to feed his horse and sacrifice the baby camel so that the milk of the she camel can be fed to the filly. A section is devoted to breeding and training and another to horse riding. Poetry and horses is discussed in a section. This is followed by a discussion of pure bloodlines and the records that were kept in traditional societies. The horse breeding tribes of Arabia are identified as well as their ability to memorise the linage.

Chapter Four is titled: The history of the Arabian Horse and begins with a timeline which is followed by a detailed history. What I found fascinating is the way the history of the preservation of the Arabian horse follows closely the history of the rise and fall of Islam. The role of Islam in the spread of the Arabian horse and the contributions of Muhammad Ali Pasha and especially Abbas Pasha of Egypt in the middle of the 19th century is remarkable to note. He had kept more than 300 she-camels alone to provide milk for the foals of his stud which he housed in fabulous stables he constructed, one of which cost him one million Egyptian pounds and was built on a hill. Water was brought fifty miles away from the Nile river through an underground cistern.

The book, Makhtut Abbas Pasha compiled by Ali Bey his slave in which he compiled all the information on the genealogies of the Arabian has been hailed as “the greatest encyclopedia on the Arab horse’ “in a beautifully handwritten book illuminated in gold and inscribed in black, red and blue ink.

Chapter five surveys the Arabian Horse Today and a section is set aside each for the following geographical regions: The middle east Europe, The Americas, South Africa, Australia. World Arabian Horse Organisation is mentioned and there are some stats provided about the Arabian Horse populations around the world; the greatest number being in the USA (656628) and South Africa having 7316.

Chapter Six: ‘My Sojourns’ is really the travelogue part were the author in some detail and with interesting accompanying facts about the culture and context. Stud farms in Qatar, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, South Africa, The United Kingdom, Uruguay and Argentina have all been visited by the author. What one is happy to note is how a South African aalim is so well connected and received by other breeders (royal some of them) and is hosted by some of the finest stud farms in the world. The air conditioned, under floor heating and imported food that some of the horses receive will make most of our listeners, husbands and wives envious!

In his conclusion the author makes a case for a return to the original habitat of the Arabian. The qualities of stamina, living on meagre rations, living intimately with man, he argues can only be passed on to subsequent generations should the Arabians genetics retain the Bedouin setting. They should be bred in areas where they were originally found in order to retain their invaluable genetic traits-the genetic traits of the Kehailaan (pure bred Arabian. )

The book is relevant because it gives us, as believers a glimpse into the extraordinary relationship, that the sahabah and the Arabs, at the time of the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wasallam, had with their Arab mares and steeds.

The author has travelled extensively and visited some of the best stables and stud farms in the Muslim lands of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and other places. He shares his experiences, and photographs with the readers and this section of the book reads like a travelogue with accounts of some of the equally passionate breeders he meets on his sojourns.

The author, Mawlana Yusuf Bemath, a graduate of Darul Ulum Zakariyyah, completed an alim and qari course here and simultaneously did a BA degree in communication science through UNISA. In addition to that he completed an Arabic for journalism course in Egypt and then went to study in Syria for a short while. He has also completed a course in International law through Kings college London last year. He is currently teaching at a Darul Ulma and madrassahs in PE.

Apart from his passions for Arabians and the breeding of Arabians he is, it would seem, linked to the stud Bembro Arabians and lets out in his book that his cousin Haroun Bemath founded the Bembro Arabian Stud. The son of San Joaquin V who features on the cover of this book is from this farm this black colt won the Supreme National Stallion Award in 2011.

The book is in Hard cover, well referenced, is missing an index, is very well illustrated with photographs and line drawings; the services of an expert calligrapher have been used for the Arabic calligraphy. There is a useful glossary at the beginning for non-Muslim readers.

The book is currently stocked at:

Available after launch on the 7th December 2012 in:

Johannesburg: Radio Islam (011 854 7022), CII, (011 494 7000) and Al-Huda Stores (011 839 3790)

Durban: Al-Ansar (031 208 1601) and Darul-Ihsan Bookstores (031 377 7868)

Cape Town: Timbuktu Books (021 671 9819)

Or place an order at asilorders@yahoo.com for a signed copy to be posted to you.

So get your horses over to one of these stores and purchase a copy.

Inshalah Exclusive books will be stocking it from January.

In conclusion: To quote the author: I sincerely hope that that this modest work on this subject has shed some light on the work of Muslim scholars throughout history, as well as being a means of re-kindling within our hearts the desire to take up horse riding, the noble sunnah of the Final Prophet sallallahu alaihi wasallam.


Holiday time, get your children to read! Computer games etc should be dropped in favour of the many good books that are available to read!


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