University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Islamic Studies Professor Carl W. Ernst has shared the beginning of the draft with TIRN. The entire draft can be accessed on his website

by CARL W. ERNST (draft prepared for Duke University Arabic Halaqa on December 8, 2014): 

Carl Ernst
Carl Ernst

(EXCERPT) The early Sufi movement arose in the society of the `Abbasid Empire, an environment that by the late ninth century was saturated with the culture of Arabic literature. Poetry had been enormously important for the pre-Islamic Arabs, and it continued to serve as a powerful means of communication both in the heartland of the caliphate and in the far-flung provinces from North Africa to central Asia. It is not surprising to find that the mystics resorted to the dense literary medium of poetry to convey both deep emotion and abstract insight. Poetry became a natural ancillary to the exposition of Sufi discourse on the soul and its experiences, and it was pervasive in Sufi discourse. As Sarraj related,

I heard al-Wajihi say, I heard al-Tayalasi al-Razi say, I visited Israfil, the teacher of Dhu al-Nun (may God have mercy on them both), and he was sitting and drumming his fingers on the ground, chanting something to himself. When he saw me, he said, “Can you recite something beautiful?” I said, “No.” He replied, “You have no heart.”[1]

Arabic verses are sprinkled liberally in the collections of Sufi teachings that emerged in the late 10th-century works of Sulami, Sarraj, Kalabadhi, Khargushi, and Sirjani. The Baghdadian Sufi Ja`far al-Khuldi claimed that he knew by heart the collected poems of 130 Sufis.[2] Many of the verses quoted in early Sufi writings, when they are not anonymous, are credited to the famous pioneers of Baghdadian Sufism, including Junayd, Abu `Ali al-Rudhbari, Sari al-Saqati, Abu al-Husayn al-Nuri, Sumnun al-Muhibb, and others. Surprisingly, this body of Arabic mystical poetry has received very little scholarly attention.

One of the problems in the study of early Sufi poetry is related to a widespread tendency to identify this mystical tradition primarily with its Iranian and Indian examples, in contrast to the supposedly inferior spiritual and intellectual capacities of the Semitic races, particularly the Arabs. This attitude was an example of the larger prejudice against Arabic poetry, which many Orientalist scholars considered to be extravagant and lacking in literary merit.[3] In part this opinion could be charitably interpreted as a result of the widespread recent popularity of the Persian poetry Rumi, which tends to eclipse other figures in Sufi tradition. Continue reading

Evaluating a Complex Landscape


Zeynep Tufekci
Zeynep Tufekci

SUMMARY: Recently, social movements have shaken countries around the world. Most of these movements have thoroughly integrated digital connectivity into their toolkits, especially for organizing, gaining publicity, and effectively communicating. Governments, too, have been adapting to this new reality where controlling the flow of information provides new challenges. This article examines the multiple, often novel, ways in which social media both empowers new digitally-fueled movements and contributes to their apparent weaknesses in seemingly paradoxically ways. This article also integrates the evolving governmental response into its analysis. Social media’s empowering aspects are real and profound, but these impacts do not play out in a simple, linear fashion. The ability to scale-up quickly using digital infrastructure has empowered movements to embrace their horizontalist and leaderless aspirations, which in turn have engendered new weak- nesses after the initial phase of street actions ebbs. Movements without organizational depth are often unable to weather such transitions. While digital media create more possibilities to evade censorship, many governments have responded by demonizing and attacking social media, thus contributing to polarized environments in which dissidents have access to a very different set of information compared to those more loyal to the regime. This makes it hard to create truly national campaigns of dissent. This article provides an overview of this complex, evolving environment with examples ranging from the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt to the Occupy movement.

Continue reading

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville


struggleforpakistan-197x300Pakistan is a nation with a strong will to survive. It has endured political upheavals, ethnic discord, military dictatorships, and the challenges of religious extremism. In her new book, The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), Ayesha Jalal examines Pakistan’s history from its creation in 1947 to the present. “Pakistan’s tumultuous history,” she writes, “exhibits a daunting combination of contradictory factors that must affect any decisions made about its future. More than six and a half decades since its establishment, Pakistan has yet to reconcile its self-proclaimed Islamic identity with the imperatives of a modern nation-state.”

Ayesha Jalal is Mary Richardson Professor of History and Director of the Center for South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies at Tufts University. Born in Pakistan, Jalal was educated at Wellesley College and the University of Cambridge. She was a MacArthur Fellow from 1998-2003. Jalal is the author of many books, including The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League, and the Demand for Pakistan (1985) and Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia (2008).

Ayesha Jalal discusses The Struggle for Pakistan in this interview. Continue reading

by BRUCE B. LAWRENCE for CRITICAL MUSLIM (Critical Muslim 12 – Dangerous Freethinkers (Oct-Dec 2014)

Bruce Lawrence
Bruce Lawrence

Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Biruni liked school. No, he loved school.The challenge to read and recite, to count and to calculate was fun, but the real sport was to contest the ideas of others, to engage their motives and call into question their goals. A Muslim, he was also a Persian. And the Persian gene – some would call it ‘genius’ – was to argue, to debate, to advance through active exchange with the ideas of thoughtful others. Not everyone in his community was born thoughtful. Some never went to school. Some went to school and only memorised or repeated what others told them. He only did battle with equals, but he never ceased to find even his equals lacking.

Biruni was privileged to have a private tutor from a very early age. Born in 973, in the outskirts of Khwarizm (hence the name Al-Biruni, the outsider, or suburban), he may have lost one or both parents when he was very young. As a result, his academic tutor, Abu Nasr al-Mansur, also became his familial mentor. He made certain that Biruni learned all the basics of scientific inquiry in Arabic, and literary inquiry mostly in Persian. Abu Nasr also made it possible for his young protégé to undertake experiments on his own.

Biruni was impatient. A devout Muslim, he was also a sceptic about all received forms of knowledge. Continue reading

Fachrizal Halim, Department of Religion and Culture at the University of Saskatchewan, has announced the publication of his new book: Legal Authority in Premodern Islam (Routledge 2014) 


Unknown-1Offering a detailed analysis of the structure of authority in Islamic law, this book focuses on the figure of Yahya b. Sharaf al-Nawawi, who is regarded as the chief contributor to the legal tradition known as the Shafi’ madhhab in traditional Muslim sources, named after Muhammad b. Idrs al-Shafi’? (d. 204/820), the supposed founder of the school of law.

Al-Nawawi’s legal authority is situated in a context where Muslims demanded to stabilize legal disposition that is consistent with the authority of the madhhab, since in premodern Islamic society, the ruling powers did not produce or promulgate law, as was the case in other, monarchic civilizations. Al-Nawawi’s place in the long-term formation of the madhhab is significant for many reasons but for one in particular: his effort in reconciling the two major interpretive communities among the Shafi’ites, i.e., the tar?qas of the Iraqians and Khurasanians. This book revisits the history of the Shafi’? school in the pre-Nawawic era and explores its later development in the post-Nawawic period.

Presenting a comprehensive picture of the structure of authority in Islamic law, specifically within the Shafi’ite legal tradition, this book is an essential resource for students and scholars of Islamic Studies, History and Law.