by KRISTIAN PETERSEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on MARCH 21, 2016: 

Kenneth Garden
Kenneth Garden

51J4NDLuKML._SL160_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: 

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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 SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on MARCH 4, 2016:

Eileen M. Kane
Eileen M. Kane

In her gripping new book Russian Hajj: Empire and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Cornell University Press, 2015), Eileen M. Kane, Associate Professor of History at Connecticut College, presents a compelling narrative of the Russian empire’s patronage of the Hajj in the late nineteenth century. Through a careful study of a variety of sources including previously unexplored archives and memoirs, Kane provides a vivid picture of the often arduous journey to the Hajj, of the benefits reaped and the challenges confronted by the Russian empire in patronizing the Hajj, and of the relationship between the Hajj and global imperial politics. Wonderfully written, this book provides vital insights into Islam in the Russian empire and a fascinating window into the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized in the context of the Russian empire. Conceptually innovative, this book invite its readers to take seriously the importance of mobility in the construction of the transnational networks of travel and human encounters that defined the Hajj at the cusp of modernity, networks in which non-Muslim powers also played a vital role. Russian Hajj will also make an excellent text for courses on Islam in Europe, the Hajj, Islam and Modernity, and on Religion and Empire.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH KANE 

In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project of which TIRN 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.

by SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on FEBRUARY 8, 2016: 

Kishwar Rizvi
Kishwar Rizvi

51Nnb3ZnCXL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_In her excellent new book The Transnational Mosque: Architecture and Historical Memory in the Contemporary Middle East (UNC Press, 2015), Kishwar Rizvi, Associate Professor of the History of Art at Yale University, interrogates the interaction of history, memory, and architecture by exploring arguably the most important sacred space in Islam: the mosque.

By combining the study of religion, history, and architecture in the most compelling of ways, Rizvi highlights the material and political significance of the mosque as a transnational symbol. While focused on the contexts of Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, the theoretical insights of this richly textured book extend much beyond the contemporary Middle East. In our conversation, we talked about the concept of the transnational mosque, the historicist desires and assumptions that often undergird projects of mosque construction in Muslim societies, the transnational mosque, religious identity and international politics, and ways in which mobile networks of architects and corporations reorient our understanding of what we mean by the Middle East. Continue reading