by ALI OLOMI for ISLAMiCommentary on MARCH 30, 2016: 

An image from the “Kitab Al-Aghani” by Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, who wrote detailed biographies of the mukhannathum in the Umayyad and Abbasid period.

In March 2016 Payam Feili, a young Iranian poet, took refuge in Israel because he faced persecution in his home country for being openly gay. Feili’s situation is not unique for many LGBTQ individuals in the Middle East. Homosexuality is a crime in nearly two dozen Muslim countries carrying severe punishments in ten of those counties.

While it is tempting to ascribe this to Islam, the historical context is more nuanced and complex.

The status of LGBTQ rights in the Muslim world today is perplexing given that Islamic history is characterized by its relative tolerance of sexual diversity and same-sex desire.

Though homosexuality as an identity and category is a predominantly modern construction, gay, lesbian, transgender, and intersex individuals have always been present in history.

From the time of Prophet Muhammad on, intersex individuals known as mukhannathum lived in Islamic society and occupied publicly visible, though sometimes marginalized spaces. Many of these individuals, like Gharid and Al Dalal, were openly gay and had lovers. They enjoyed positions as musicians and intermediaries between men and women in the role of matchmakers. In both Umayyad and Abbasid history, gay individuals were not only present, but quite public. The first time they faced state violence was at the hands of Caliph Sulayman ibn Abd-al Malik. The 10th century historian, Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani writes in his Kitab al-Aghani that Sulayman had all the mukhannathum castrated, not because of their sexual desires, but because their music had distracted one of his lovers while she was attending him. Continue reading

Posted in Americas, Arts & Culture, Europe, History, Islamic Law, Middle East & North Africa, Muslim Life, Religion, Security & Civil Liberties, Sexuality.
Road leading from Meknes to Ifrane with Morocco’s national motto (Allah “God,” Al-Watan “Nation,” and Al-Malik “King”) painted on hillside at town of El Hajeb. Photo by Jonathan Wyrtzen (2011)

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on MARCH 12, 2016: 

Jonathan Wyrtzen

The motto of the Kingdom of Morocco is “Allah, al-Watan, al-Malik” (God, the Nation, the King). This motto was the spark for Yale University professor Jonathan Wyrtzen’s new book, Making Morocco: Colonial Intervention and the Politics of Identity (Cornell University Press, 2015).

Enroute to begin his teaching job at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco in 2001, Wyrtzen noticed the motto painted on a hillside at the town of El Hajeb. He wondered how it came to be written on this hillside and what it said about Moroccan identity.

In Making Morocco, he offers an expansive way to look at Morocco’s colonial past (1912-1956); showing how “a constellation of Moroccan actors” interacted in the debates and struggles over national identity, including Jews, Berbers, and women.

This Moroccan mix of voices found expression in the Preamble to the 2011 Constitution: “The Kingdom of Morocco, a sovereign Muslim state attached to its national unity and territorial integrity, intends to preserve, in its plenitude and diversity, its one and indivisible national identity. Its unity, forged by the convergence of of its Arabo-Islamic, Amazigh [Berber], and Saharan-Hassanian components, is nourished by its African, Andalusian, Hebrew, and Mediterranean influences.” The constitution also recognized Tamazight (Berber) as an official language as “common patrimony of all Moroccans without exception” in addition to Arabic. Berber languages are spoken by 35-40% of Moroccans.

Today, Morocco is a country of nearly 34 million people; approximately 99% Muslim and 1% other (Christians, Jews, and Baha’i). There are between 4,000-8,000 Christians and 350-400 Bahais, according to the U.S. State Department’s Morocco 2014 International Freedom Report. While its Jewish population currently stands at about 5,000, before the establishment of Israel in 1948 some 250,000-300,000 Jews lived in Morocco — the largest in the Muslim world.

Wyrtzen is Associate Professor of Sociology, History, and International Affairs at Yale University. Educated at The University of Texas at Austin, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Georgetown University, his scholarly work has appeared in Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World, The Journal of Modern History, and the International Journal of Middle East Studies. He discusses the themes of his new book in this interview. Continue reading

Posted in Books, Citizenship, Colonialism, Cosmopolitanism, Gender, History, Interfaith, Middle East & North Africa, Political Science, Race and Ethnicity, Sociology.

by BANAFSHEH MADANINEJAD for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on MAY 16, 2015: 

Asaad al-Saleh

Asaad al-Saleh is assistant professor of Arabic, comparative literature, and cultural studies in the Department of Languages and Literature and the Middle East Center at the University of Utah. His research focuses on issues related to autobiography and displacement in Arabic literature and political culture in the Arab world.

His book Voices of the Arab Spring: Personal Stories from the Arab Revolutions (Columbia University Press, 2015) is narrated by dozens of activists and everyday individuals, documenting the unprecedented events that led to the collapse of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH AL-SALEH Continue reading

Posted in Arab Spring, Books, Middle East & North Africa.

“One of the most important outcomes of these movements has been the return of politics to the public sphere and the return of the square as the place for it” — Nezar AlSayyad, professor of architecture, planning, urban design and urban history at the University of California at Berkeley 

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on APRIL 1, 2015: 

In the postscript to his 2011 book Cairo: Histories of a City (reproduced by The New York Times as an op-ed), and in lectures and articles since, UC Berkeley architecture professor Nezar AlSayyad has argued that Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square, finally lived up to his name with the 2011 Egyptian uprising. Four years later, however, there are questions about whether Egypt really has been “liberated.”

While AlSayyad said it may be “too early to tell” if the 2011 Egyptian uprising can ultimately be deemed a failure, and though “many wish the Arab Spring had never come” — “Are we more comfortable with our dictators?” he wondered aloud —  he seems convinced that what happened in Tahrir Square and in other public squares in the Middle East did indeed have a positive impact.

“People of all classes are now more politically active and politically aware,” he said. Continue reading

Posted in Arab Spring, Architecture, Citizenship, Conference, History, Middle East & North Africa, Political Science, Security & Civil Liberties, Social Media & Visual Media.

by EHAB GALAL for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JANUARY 19, 2014:

Ehab Galal

Scholarly interest in Arab media has increased dramatically over the past two decades, especially since the advent of the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera in 1996, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the global conflicts that followed this tragedy.

Arab media are increasingly seen as global players; not only as regional or local tools of communication. There are an ever-increasing number of Arab satellite TV channels that transmit to a large area of the world. Among these are also a number of important religiously oriented TV channels. While research into their history, development, content and circulation is still limited, it is rising. Very little has been published about the Arab audiences and the relationship between these new transnational channels (both religious and secular media) and their viewers worldwide.

I am editor of a new book Arab TV Audiences: Negotiating Religion and Identity (Peter Lang, 2014) that attempts to fill the gap by presenting six case-based studies focusing on how Arab audiences, in the Arab world and Europe, respond to mainly Islamic programming on Arab satellite television across a range of different national contexts: Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, and the United States.

The case studies examine audiences from various perspectives offered by scholars with different research interests and theoretical approaches to their analyses of Arab audiences.

Fragmented Audiences

Many insights can be gained, in this volume, into different aspects of the Arab media landscape, including the fragmentation of Arab audiences, and the role of religious media in religious identity formation and negotiation.

Knowledge about Arab audiences suffers from a lack of accurate television audience measurement systems. Speaking of a typical or characteristic Arab audience (Muslims and Christians) is extremely difficult, given the fact that Arab audiences are fragmented across a region of approximately 7.5 million square kilometers, a population of more than 250 million people and an extensive number of spoken dialects, as well as major differences, when it comes to literacy, living conditions and generational divides. Market-based studies do, however, give us some general information.

In the Arab world, television is still the most popular media outlet despite the global trend towards other platforms. Continue reading

Posted in Americas, Arts & Culture, Books, Europe, Islamic Theology & Practice, Middle East & North Africa, MyTIRN, Religion, Social Media & Visual Media.