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Furusiyya today?

Posted on 9th September, 2011


The Arabic term for equitation, horsemanship and caring for horses.


In days of old this usually meant in a military context - so "Military Equitation" or "Combat Horsemanship" might constitute fair attempts at translating the concept.


In later and less tumultuous times, other aspects came to be more prominent - elegant and elevated mastery of the horse, naturally, but also, crucially, those connected to mastery of the self. 

The personal attributes aspired to by the 'faris' - the horseman, or 'cavalier', as would be particularly apt a translation - are a reflection of their roots in military ethics and codes of conduct expected of the high-status troops entrusted with assets as valuable (militarily as well as logistically) as horses.

These noble characteristics include not just bravery and courage (that was a given) but also magnanimity and generosity (particularly to a foe), championing the innocent and weak against the unjust strong, trustworthiness and integrity - as well as, uniquely perhaps, eloquence and poetry.  The latter so much so that one might almost all but regard examplars as balladeers and minstrels on horseback.

There are also shades of other aspects that parallel related concepts such a 'honour' and 'manliness' in the archetypal psyche of the region and era such as implacability, vengeance and word-as-bond.


In modern times, conventional usage covers sporting and recreational disciplines where a high level of mastery and horsemanship is called for, such as dressage, eventing, showjumping and polo, tentpegging and buzkashi - perhaps even Western riding disciplines and other horse-sports such as endurance (although the modern horse-racing industry generally would not included as such, the undoubted skill of the specialist jockeys notwithstanding).


Sadly, the prevalence and popularity of such pursuits have waned somewhat in the heartlands where once such were legendary and yet commonplace at the same time.  Now they remain legendary.


Happily, we see a resurgence very recently, perhaps driven by a sudden shocked recognition of how far these arts have declined, how much the chain of heritage has been weakened over time if not outright sundered, through neglect - a chain that might even be too late to reconnect.

Perhaps it is driven by nostalgia, harking back to a misty pre-eminent past, when times were purportedly simpler and daily challenges one supposes more clearly defined. 


Or perhaps in these modern times, it is the dawning realisation that the very modernisation that seemed set to consign it as antiquated and obsolete and irrelevant and outmoded, now itself has begun to seem shallow and soulless devoid of the character and context that heritage and 'tarbiyyah' provided as bedrock to human enlightenment and progress.


Tarbiyyah - the complex concept of grooming/raising/educating/nurturing/shaping/forming/loving/preparing the for the challenges and trials of living while being conscious of the higher goals and purposes of mankind. One of our duties as humans is to give our kids good tarbiyyah.


And if there ever was a compelling reason - and a forward-looking one at that - to revive the arts of horsemanship and reinculcate the practice of furusiyya in our times.. this would be it.