“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: 

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Mara Leichtman
Mara Leichtman

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

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 17, 2015: 

We at the Duke Islamic Studies Center are pleased to announce that the work of the Carnegie Corporation of New York-supported Transcultural Islam Project (ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN) has been highlighted in a new report by the Social Science Research Council — “Religion, Media and the Digital Turn.” The report surveyed 160 digital projects and documents the effects that digital modes of research and publication have on the study of religion.

“While our primary goal is to chronicle emerging forms of intellectual production shaping the study of religion, we hope that a greater awareness of this new work will generate more recognition of the high quality and innovative work that already exists,” report authors Chris Cantwell (University of Missouri) and Hussein Rashid (New York University) write, explaining that “the most innovative digital projects are often those that creatively combine a number of these models or genres.”

ISLAMiCommentary was mentioned at the top of several subsections, for this reason, and a lengthy case study of ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN has been included in the report (in Appendix 1) because, as the report authors told us, they find the project “exemplary.” Other projects highlighted with lengthy case studies (in Appendix 1) include the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (MAVCOR) at Yale, the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project at the University of Loyola; and Mapping Ararat — a project of York University, the University of Toronto and Emerson College.

Appendix 2 lists the 160 projects surveyed.

The report can be downloaded HERE.


by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 14, 2015:

Last month, the Duke Middle East Studies Center (DUMESC) had the honor of hosting Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk for a series of events at Duke University. With co-sponsorship from the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, Duke Global Education/Duke in Turkey, Franklin Humanities Institute, Arts of the Moving Image and Mellon Foundation’s Partnerships in a Global Age grant, Pamuk’s visit included a public conversation at the Nasher Museum of Art auditorium hosted by DUMESC Director Erdağ Göknar, and a faculty forum. He also sat down with Göknar for an interview at Duke Studios.

Göknar, who authored the 2013 book “Orhan Pamuk, Secularism and Blasphemy: The Politics of the Turkish Novel” (Routledge, 2013) and was the English translator for Pamuk’s Nobel Prize- winning “My Name is Red” (Knopf, 2001), said Pamuk’s work – nine novels to date — “embraces the idea of the novelist as archivist and curator.”

“Since winning the Nobel award in 2006, Pamuk’s work has continued to push the boundaries of literary form and content,” said Göknar, adding that it “brings together narrative strains such as Ottoman Turkish history, the confines of identity, double-ness, excavations of the city, conspiracy, Islamic art, Sufism, the power of the Middle Eastern nation state, the (1980) coup, obsession, mystical love, the archive, collecting, lament and the Istanbul melancholy known as khuzun.”

All of this plays out through the city of Istanbul that in Pamuk’s words, is a space that has become “the memory of his fiction.” Continue reading

by KRISTIAN PETERSEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on APRIL 6, 2015: 

M. Brett Wilson
M. Brett Wilson

Muslim debates regarding the translation of the Qur’an are very old. However, during the modern period they became heated because local communities around the globe were rethinking their relationship to scripture in new social and political settings. M. Brett Wilson, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College, provides a rich history of how this conversation unfolding with the late Ottoman period and Republic of Turkey in Translating the Qur’an in an Age of Nationalism: Print Culture and Modern Islam in Turkey (Oxford University Press, 2014).

41hVbRuZO9L._SL160_The Qur’an’s translatability is contested from various perspectives (both old and new) but emerging print technologies, shifting political authority, and changing economies of knowledge production offer contemporary challenges that mark the demand for Turkish translations. Wilson narrates the production of vernacular interpretations and commentaries, unofficial translations, and a state-sponsored project. In many cases, translation was viewed as a tool of progress, modernization, and Turkish nationalism. For others, it led to vernacular ritual practice and the disharmony of the global Muslim community. Continue reading

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via TAYLOR & FRANCIS ONLINE on MARCH 8, 2015: 

Sunday 8th March 2015 is International Women’s Day (IWD). To mark the occasion, Routledge are delighted to offer you free online access to a wide range of articles exploring the role women play in a variety of industries. With access to over 200 articles, we know what you’ll be doing this IWD!

Continue reading