WE HAVE already stated that the Arab bow is either composite or non-composite. The non-composite bows are those of the people of the Hijāz. They make them out of the nab‘, shiryān, or shawḥaṭ; wood; out of a single stave, one or two staves divided lengthwise, or a stave backed with sinew and lined with horn.
The bows may either be round, with round limbs, or flat, with flat limbs.
The composite bow is of elaborate make and careful workmanship. Its construction parallels the make-up of living things. Just as man is made of four component parts (bone, flesh, arteries, and blood) so is the bow made of four component parts. The wood in the bow corresponds to the skeleton in man, the horn to the flesh, the sinews to the arteries, and the glue to the blood. Similarly, a human being has a belly and a back, and so has a bow. And just as a man can bend inward upon his belly without any harm, but may be injured if he bends outward upon his back, so it is with a bow. It can be bent inward upon its belly but will break if it be bent upon its back.
Again, the composite bow has five sections or parts, and four joints or connecting points. The sections or parts are the two siyahs, the two arms, and the grip. Each section may measure one and a half spans, or one and two thirds spans, but should not go beyond that. Al-Ṭabari considered the short grip a blemish. The best opinion regarding its length is that it should be eight fingers. The joints mark the meeting points of the siyahs with the arms and the arms with the grip.
A bow has two parts: an upper and a lower. The upper part is that which points heavenward at the time of shooting, while the lower part is that which points downward toward the earth. The limits of the upper part are the extreme end of the upper siyah and the width of a finger down the grip. The limits of the lower part include the rest of the bow, namely, the lower siyah, the lower arm, and the grip less the width of one finger which belongs to the upper part. The center of the bow would then be at a point in the grip the width of one finger from the upper arm. This is called the kabid, or center, and is where the arrow passes the bow at the time of shooting. As a result, the upper arm is longer than the lower and the upper siyah longer than the lower. This has been so designed in order to have the grip, less the width of one finger, together with the lower arm and its siyah, constitute one half of the bow, while the width of one finger of the grip together with the upper arm and its siyah constitute the other half. The arrow then passes at the middle point of the bow, which is the kabid. The desired balance will then obtain, and the shooting will be perfect.
The upper limb, which is also the longer of the two, is called the shooting limb (bayt al-ramy), and its siyah that of the shooting limb. It is also called the sky limb (bayt al-ma‘ani) and the head. The shorter limb is called the dropping limb (bayt al-isqāt), and its siyah that of the dropping limb. It is also called the nether limb and the foot. The upper limb is called the shooting limb because it accounts for most of the shooting. It is called the head because of its upward position at the time of shooting. The lower limb is called the dropping limb because it is dropped toward the ground at the time of shooting. It is called the nether limb because it is shorter than the upper limb and because it points downward at the time of shooting. For this reason it is also called the foot.
The curved or reflexed ends of the bow are called the siyahs. The indentation on each siyah where the string is held is called the nook (farḍ). The part between the nock and the extremity of the siyah is called by the Arabs the fingernail (al-ẓifr), and by the professional archers the bird (al-‘uṣfūr). The projecting part at the lower edge of each nock is called by the Arabs the cuticle (uṭrah), and by the professionals the string-stopper (‘aqabah).
The part between a siyah and the grip is called an arm (bayt). The junction between an arm and its siyah is called the knee (rukbah). It is the part which bulges in and curves. What lies next to the siyah, toward the grip, is called the neck (ṭā‘if, or, ‘unq). The middle part of the arm extends from the sharp point of the siyah to the sharp point of the grip. What lies over the ibranjaq, connecting it with the grip, is called by the Persians dustār. It is the part connected with the face of the grip from the kabid. The part next to the kabid, which is thicker and slightly higher than the grip, is called the kidney (kulyah). The end of each arm adjacent to the grip, where flexibility begins, is called a daffah. The part of the arm next to the kidney is called the spine (abhar). The grip is the part which the archer holds within his grasp at the time of shooting. The place where the arrow passes the bow at the time of shooting, which lies on the grip at the width of one finger from the upper arm, is the kabid al-qaws [literally the middle of the bow]. The sinew which is on the back of the grip is called by the Arabs the cockscomb (al-‘urf) and the professionals call it the horse (al-faras). The ibranjaq, according to the professionals, is a wooden piece placed on the surface of the grip on which the horns of the two arms end. The bone which covers the grip is called khudrud.
The bow has a back and a belly. The back is the side reinforced with sinew, and is toward your face at the time of bracing. The belly is lined with horn, and is toward your face at the time of shooting.
The Arab bows are, therefore, of four kinds: one made of a whole stave; one made of a single stave or of two staves split lengthwise; one reinforced but not composite; and one composite