Professor Abdul Sattar Jawad recently presented, “The Arabian Nights in America” during his Wednesdays at the Center lecture at the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University.
The Thousand and One Nights [alf Layla wa Layla] is the most popular world literature in the West. These Oriental Frame Tales captured the imagination of generations of Western readers and prominent writers in presenting fairy tales, romances, fables, legends, parables, anecdotes, erotica, debates, and exotic adventures. Ali Baba, Sindbad, and Aladdin and his Magic Lamp, hooked the attention of young and adults readers all over the world. The Nights, in their rich and exotic imagination, inspired poets, writers, and artists from medieval European Literature to Postmodernism. Professor Abdul Sattar Jawad explored how the Arabian Nights inspired leading American writers like Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and Herman Melville as well as folklore artists.
For Scholars, No Easy Answers on World War I & the Transformation of the Middle East
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“We have to recognize that there are several shattered political visions that are still with us and there are several unhealed traumas or wounds – the Armenians, Kurds, Palestinians (for example)…we are still dealing with the long-term legacy of these unhealed wounds.” — Cemil Aydin, UNC-Chapel Hill
by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary, on APRIL 20, 2016:
It’s been 100 years since the Sykes–Picot Agreement divided the Middle East into spheres of British and French influence that transformed the Middle East. In the aftermath of World War I, the religiously, linguistically and ethnically diverse Ottoman Empire was divided up into a collection of small states, each with its own ruling group under the control of European powers. “Ottomans” became Syrians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis and Turks.
“New states created new refugees, new nationalities defined new minorities, and new codes of law demanded new rights,” said UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Sarah Shields, who organized this year’s Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies conference – a forum that sought to bring much-needed historical context to today’s struggles over belonging, identities and the map of the Middle East.
In introductory remarks at the public conference, UNC-Chapel Hill sociologist and co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East & Muslim Civilizations Charles Kurzman reminded the audience that “those new nations, after generations may seem like they were always here but in fact World War I and its aftermath helped to create them.”
Continue reading →
The Roots of Homophobia and Anti-Gay Sentiment in the Muslim World (by Ali Olomi)
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by ALI OLOMI for ISLAMiCommentary on MARCH 30, 2016:
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 →
LISTEN: Kenneth Garden on Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and his Revival of the Religious Sciences
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by KRISTIAN PETERSEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on MARCH 21, 2016:
Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111) is one of the most famous Muslim thinkers in history. His autobiographical account, The Deliverer from Error, tells us of his spiritual crisis and transformative experience of journeying, which lead to his subsequent life as a pious recluse. From this experience al-Ghazali wrote his magnum opus, The Revival of the Religious Sciences, filled with mystical knowledge. At least that is how it has generally been read in the Euro-American tradition.
Kenneth Garden, Associate Professor at Tufts University, reexamines al-Ghazali’s work from an historical hermeneutical in The First Islamic Reviver: Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and his Revival of the Religious Sciences (Oxford University Press, 2014). Garden outlines the social and political contexts al-Ghazali’s life demonstrating he was an active participant in Seljuk empire. A close reading of The Revival of the Religious Sciences reveals al-Ghazali’s promotion of a revivalist vision of the tradition, which he called “Science of the Hereafter.” Garden also presents the strategies al-Ghazali utilized to campaign for The Revival of the Religious Sciences, the tactics of his opponents, and the historical context that may force us to rethink the purpose of his autobiography, The Deliverer from Error. In our conversation we discussed al-Ghazali’s social and political life, his relationship to philosophy and mysticism, the connections between his early and later writings, the content of The Revival of the Religious Sciences, accusations against him and his legal trial, and what lead to the widespread popularity and influence of al-Ghazali’s work. Continue reading →
“Opinion leaders and policy-makers unfortunately have a tendency to equate Lebanese Shi‘ism with Hizbullah and to assume all Shi‘a are connected to Iran. My book documents very different dynamics. I do examine the spread of the Arab-Israeli conflict to Senegal, but this plays out differently in the diaspora than it does in Lebanon. I also illustrate the making of an indigenous African Shi‘ism that, while inspired by the Iranian revolution, does not aim to establish an Islamic government and overthrow Senegal’s secular state. It is important that policy-makers better understand the complexities of the dynamic – not static – Shi‘i Muslim world.” —- Mara Leichtman, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University
by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary with MARA LEICHTMAN on MARCH 18, 2016:
This past Fall, Mara Leichtman, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University, published her latest book — Shi‘i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese Migration and Religious Conversion in Senegal (Indiana University Press, 2015). It followed her 2009 edited volume (with Mamadou Diouf) New Perspectives on Islam in Senegal: Conversion, Migration, Wealth, Power, and Femininity (Palgrave Macmillan).
Educated at the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, and Brown University, Leichtman has been a visiting fellow at Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin, the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World in Leiden, the Netherlands, and the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University.
How did she come to be interested in the topic of Lebanese Shi‘a in Senegal?
Leichtman told ISLAMiCommentary that while earning her master’s degree in international relations from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University a professor gave her an article about the Lebanese community in Ivory Coast — knowing of her interests in both Africa and the Middle East. It piqued her curiosity.
So when she started the doctoral program in sociocultural anthropology at Brown University, she decided to research the Lebanese community in Abidjan.
“This was in 1999, when there was a coup d’état in Ivory Coast, which is what led me to Senegal, as a more stable option,” she said in a written interview with ISLAMiCommentary.
As her research got underway, Lebanese in Senegal regularly asked her why she wanted to study their community. In response she said she drew upon her origins in Michigan — and its significant Lebanese (and particularly Lebanese Shi‘i) community.
“My mother happened to work at the time with a woman of Lebanese origin who was born in a village in Senegal,” she said. “Lebanese in Senegal were delighted to hear of this personal connection.”
While she set out to study the Shi‘i Lebanese community in West Africa, she didn’t know in advance that she would also find Senegalese Shi‘i converts.
Senegal is predominantly Sunni Muslim (94%) following the Maliki school of jurisprudence with Sufi influences. While Shi‘i Muslims make up only a small minority of the population, Leichtman said the number is growing as Senegalese convert. (Christians make up about 5% of the Senegalese population, and an even smaller demographic continues to practice what is referred to as “African traditional religion.”)
It was the first Lebanese shaykh in Senegal, Shaykh Abdul Mun‘am al-Zayn, who initially told Leichtman that Senegalese were converting to Shi‘i Islam. She was able to eventually connect with Senegalese Shi‘i leaders through Walfadjri, a media conglomerate that hosted a weekly radio show featuring Muslims of different denominations and regularly invited various Senegalese Shi‘a to participate.
In this interview, Leichtman introduces us to these communities and the importance of learning more about them. Continue reading →