21-year-old university student and former Afghan refugee, Gulwali Passarlay,speaks to Duke undergrads. photo by Catherine Angst
21-year-old university student and former Afghan refugee, Gulwali Passarlay,speaks to Duke undergrads. photo by Catherine Angst

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 29, 2016: 

“Before I died, I contemplated how drowning would feel. It was clear to me now; this was how I would go: away from my mother’s warmth, my father’s strength, and my family’s love. The white waves were going to devour me, swallow me whole in their terrifying jaws, and cast my young body aside to drift down into the cold black depths,” Gulwali Passarlay wrote in the prologue to “The Lightless Sky: A Twelve-Year-Old Refugee’s Harrowing Escape from Afghanistan and His Extraordinary Journey Across Half the World.” (HarperOne, 2016)

At the age of 12 Gulwali was sent away from his rural Afghanistan home by his mother who paid a smuggling agent at $8,000, in installments, to get him safely to Italy. “However bad it gets,” the mother told her son. “Don’t come back.” Ten months into his journey, he nearly drowned (described above) in an overcrowded boat on his way to Greece. He’s now a man in his third year at the University of Manchester in the UK — alive to tell the tale of his year-long 12,500-mile perilous journey, which he likened to “a game of Chutes and Ladders” through Pakistan; Iran (twice); Turkey (twice); Bulgaria; Greece; Italy; France (twice); Belgium, Germany, and finally the UK.

While the trip took place back in 2006-2007, his book, written with Nadene Ghouri, is an instructive lens through which to view the current refugee crisis and the complicated human smuggling and trafficking networks that have refugees and migrants using air, rail, cars, trucks, boats, and their own tired feet, across rivers and seas and over mountains — to get them to a better life.

Last month Gulwali spoke via Skype for nearly an hour with more than a dozen Duke University undergraduate students enrolled in the Refugee Lives: Violence, Culture and Identity class, co-taught by professors miriam cooke, Maha Houssami, and Nancy Kalow.

The 21-year-old politics and philosophy major answered questions and shared stories with his contemporaries about his experiences in safe-houses, prisons/detention centers and refugee camps; the dozens of unscrupulous (and a few kind) agents, smugglers, and guides he encountered; and the friends and enemies he made along the way. Continue reading

by SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on JANUARY 26, 2015: 

Anita Weiss
Anita Weiss

51XkJ6fCOML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Pakistan is often caricatured and stereotyped as a volatile nuclear country on the precipice of disaster. Such depictions are often especially acerbic when comes to the issue of Women’s rights in the country. In her important new book, Interpreting Islam, Modernity, and Women’s Rights in Pakistan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), Anita Weiss, Professor of International Studies at the University of Oregon, provides a much-needed corrective to such sensationalist stereotypes. By exploring how multiple state and non-state actors have engaged the question of gender and women’s rights over time and space, Weiss demonstrates ways in which a diversity of voices in Pakistan conduct what she calls “everyday Ijtihad,” thus offering a much more nuanced and informed perspective.

In our conversation, we talked about a range of issues such as the history of the Pakistani state’s approach towards defining and engaging women’s rights, the role of Progressive NGOs like the Aurat Foundation, Orthodox Islamist voices on this question, and the Tehrik-i Taliban in Swat. This lucidly written book contains a plethora of useful information and analysis for specialists and non-specialists alike.

Continue reading

WATCH ABOVE: A poetry reading and contextualization of the Islamic Mystic Ibn Al-Arabi by Professor Michael Sells, John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature, University of Chicago Divinity School. (Introduction to Sells by Ellen McLarney, Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature and Culture)

 

An Interview with University of Chicago Islamic History & Literature Professor Michael Sells

by ABDUL LATIF for ISLAMiCommentary on NOVEMBER 3, 2015:

Michael Sells holds a workshop at Duke University on the Qu’ran and it’s listeners.

In early October the University of Chicago’s John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature Michael Sells visited Duke University for two talks; “Translator of Desires” — a poetry reading of the Islamic mystic Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi; and a workshop on the Qur’an and its listeners.

Sells studies and teaches in the areas of Qur’anic studies, Sufism, Arabic and Islamic love poetry, mystical literature (Greek, Islamic, Christian, and Jewish), and religion and violence.

I had the opportunity to sit down with him on October 2 to talk about his research.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

QUESTION: What brought you to the study of Islam and Arabic poetry?

SELLS: In college, I was a student abroad in Italy and we had vacations. In one vacation I went to Tunis. I walked from the French part of the city into the old city and saw the different textures and intricacies of life, and I thought, “This is a culture and a world I want to be involved in.” I subsequently went back to Tunis, and later went to Cairo for a year. There I became fascinated with the pervasiveness of the Qur’an recitation. And Cairo of course was the center of the explosion of the use of radio and cassettes. The great Egyptian reciters played on television, radio. People were reciting in the streets on different occasions, and I became convinced that this was a central aspect of the Qur’an. Continue reading

by SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on AUGUST 1, 2015: 

Venkat Dhulipala
Venkat Dhulipala

In the historiography on South Asian Islam, the creation of Pakistan is often approached as the manifestation of a vague loosely formulated idea that accidentally emerged as a nation-state in 1947.

51MuVgYdVVL._SL160_In his magisterial new book Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India (Cambridge University Press, 2015), Venkat Dhulipala, Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, thoroughly and convincingly debunks such a narrative. Creating a New Medina is an encyclopedic masterpiece. Through a careful reading of a range of sources, including the religious writings of important 20th-century Muslim scholars, Dhulipala shows ways in which Pakistan was crafted and imagined as “The New Medina” that was to represent the leader and protector of the global Muslim community. What emerges from this thorough examination is a nuanced and complicated picture of the interaction of nationalism, religion, and politics in modern South Asian Islam. In our conversation, we talked about a range of issues including the rise of Muslim nationalism in late colonial India, the contribution of B.R. Ambedkar to the public discussions and debates on Pakistan, ‘Ulama’ discourses and debates on Pakistan, and the partition and its afterlives. This wonderfully written and painstakingly researched book will be of tremendous interest to students and scholars of Muslim politics, nationalism and religion, and South Asian Islam.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH DHULIPALA

In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project of which TIRN and ISLAMiCommentary is a part), announced its official institutional affiliation with New Books in Islamic Studies — a bi-weekly audio podcast featuring hour long conversations with authors of exciting new research. For an archive see HERE.