by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 2, 2015: 

From October 22-23, Columbia University Arab Studies professor Rashid Khalidi gave a public lecture on “The Hundred Year War in Palestine” and convened a public forum with Duke faculty on the same topic. This two-day “Borders of the Middle East” symposium was co-sponsored by the Duke Middle East Studies Center, the Franklin Humanities Institute, Forum for Scholars and Publics, Duke University Department of History, Duke Department of Political Science, UNC-Chapel Hill history department, and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies.

The period since the Balfour Declaration of 1917 has witnessed what amounts to a hundred years of war against the Palestinian people,” said Khalidi, previewing the theme of his talk. “This war had a unique nature: formally sanctioned and authorized by the great powers, but largely waged by others. Against these heavy odds, the Palestinians have resisted what amounts to one of the last ongoing attempts at colonial subjugation in the modern world.”

He began his talk with this observation: “It’s an understatement to say that most portrayals of Palestinians do not feature the perspectives of Palestinians.. They’ve been elided from the historical narrative.” In fact he said that “it’s an article of faith from many of their opponents that Palestinians do not exist.” Continue reading

compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on NOVEMBER 25, 2015: 

November 23, 2015 Statement by Middle East Studies Association

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association condemns the increasing frequency and intensity of violent acts against civilians taking place in countries around the world. We are also alarmed at the related rise in the stereotyping and vilification of people of Middle East or Muslim background.

We urge, therefore, those with responsibility for United States policy in the Middle East and the Islamic world to avail themselves of the insights of scholarship as they seek to understand the background of these violent acts and to frame responses to them.

We are deeply concerned that people who are or appear to be Muslim or of Middle Eastern background—citizens, residents and displaced persons seeking refuge—have been and continue to be the victims of discrimination in the US as well as other countries. This discrimination can occur in any area of public life, including employment, travel, access to accommodation and access to other goods, services and facilities. It can involve harassment, vilification and at times actual violence.

We deplore the reckless rhetoric of some public figures that is only increasing the likelihood of discrimination and the violation of the civil rights of people of Middle East and Muslim background. We commend the efforts of public officials to prevent acts of harassment and retaliation and encourage them to redouble their efforts in this direction.

Ignorance and misunderstanding of the Middle East and the Islamic world are rife in the US and other Western countries. This lack of accurate information must be addressed by the educational system at all levels. We call upon MESA members to actively share their expertise about the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamic world with the communities in which they live and work, and to make every effort as educators to communicate their invaluable knowledge and understanding to representatives of the media and policy makers.

We advocate tolerance, education, understanding, and thoughtfully planned measures to assure that these acts of violence are not followed by further senseless destruction or discrimination. Continue reading

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on NOVEMBER 20, 2015:

KatzBookHow did Muslims and Jews create and inhabit shared spaces in post-World War I France?  Historian Ethan B. Katz examines the “triangular affair” between Muslims, France, and Jews in his new book, The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France (Harvard University Press, Nov. 2015).  Katz states that “it is impossible to understand the history of Jewish-Muslim relations in France if we fail to place the French state at the heart of the story.”

He argues that Muslims and Jews “related to one another through their respective relationships to the French state and society and to definitions of French national and imperial belonging.”  Katz draws on a wealth of sources to show how Muslims and Jews interacted with each other in common and communal ways.  “To date,” he writes, “the lived interactions of ordinary Jews and Muslims in France have been almost entirely overlooked in both collective memory and scholarship.  A complex history of varied encounters risks being lost in the powerful current of contemporary events.”

Katz is Assistant Professor of History at University of Cincinnati.  He was educated at Amherst College and University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His scholarly work has appeared in Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Journal of European Studies, Jewish Quarterly Review, and Journal of North African Studies.  He is a contributor to A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day (Princeton University Press, 2013), edited by Benjamin Stora and Abdelwahab Meddeb.

Ethan B. Katz discusses his new book in this interview.

Why do you think it is important to place Jews and Muslims “within a single story” to understand their history in France?

Even though historians have tended to study Jews and Muslims in France separately, the two groups’ fates have often been intertwined.  In addition, their respective histories in France can be better understood when the two groups are compared. In the late nineteenth century, France decided to give full French citizenship to Jews in Algeria but not to Muslims in Algeria.  Both advocates and policymakers defended the decision by actively contrasting Jews, as allegedly Western, modern, and civilized with the larger native Muslim population, depicted as barbaric, primitive, and disconnected from Western norms.

It’s also important to note that large numbers of Jews and Muslims from North Africa who came to France had much in common: language, food, dress, music, even certain rituals.  Therefore, their daily encounters often did not fit our contemporary assumptions – or those of French policymakers at the time – about sharp inter-group divisions. Continue reading

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by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary with NAZEEH ABDUL-HAKEEM on NOVEMBER 16, 2015: 

Nazeeh Zul-Kifl Abdul-Hakeem
Nazeeh Zul-Kifl Abdul-Hakeem

In 1981, a Durham city planner, Nazeeh Zul-Kifl Abdul-Hakeem, helped found the Durham, North Carolina-based Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman Inc. (an Islamic center). He served as its president from 1983 until 1994 and continues to be actively involved through the present day.

This summer he self-published a book — “The Athaan in the Bull City: Building Durham’s Islamic Community” — which Duke Asian & Middle Eastern studies professor Mbaye Bashir Lo has called “a welcome entry into the local stories of Islam in America.”

“Nazeeh Abdul-Hakeem’s personal stories of transformation and ongoing struggle to establish a Muslim community in the Bull City are a must read for anyone who is interested in the local discourse on Americanizing Islam and/or Islamizing America,” wrote Lo in a review.

Nazeeh estimates that about one-quarter to one-third of the more than 5,000 Muslims living in Durham County today are black. (A documentary produced by local WRAL-TV in 2012 estimated that there were around 26,000 total Muslims in North Carolina, or less than 1% of the state’s population.)

From the 1880s to the 1940s Durham was known as the “Black Capital of the South,” and blacks in Durham have been politically active since the Civil Rights Movement. Against this backdrop, Nazeeh writes, the Nation of Islam developed “a very strong presence” in Durham. This was during the time of Elijah Muhammad (the founder of NOI) and of Malcolm X, who came to Durham in 1963 to debate “the future of the Negro” with Floyd B. McKissick Sr. For a long time the Nation of Islam was the very face of Islam in America.

One of the major objectives of the Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman community, however, was to provide Islamic education for black Muslims in Durham that Nazeeh and others felt was lacking.

“Having escaped the woefully lacking Islamic understanding of the Nation of Islam and the World Community of Islam in the West, black American Muslims were faced with the onslaught of propagators of foreign Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat Islami, Jamaat Tabligh, and Sufism, along with Shee’ah Islam, which had a false standing among some black American Muslims as a result of the Iranian Revolution,” Nazeeh writes in his book. “Many of us found ourselves longing for the time when American Muslims would have their own scholars to help us follow the right way and focus on specific issues that Muslims faced in our country.” Continue reading

by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN for DUKE TODAY on SEPTEMBER 30, 2015:

Arabic instructor Abdel Razzaq Ben Tarif inside the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies.
Arabic instructor Abdel Razzaq Ben Tarif inside the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies.

Jordan native Abdel Razzaq Ben Tarif shares a favorite quote from the Dalai Lama: “Share your knowledge; it’s a way to achieve immortality.”

This fall, he’s following that command but teaching Arabic at Duke, joining the university’s team of Arabic instructors. He has six years of experience teaching Arabic in a classroom setting, a master’s of arts teaching Arabic for speakers of other language (2009), and a master’s in American studies (2014) from the University of Jordan.

“Ben Tarif was highly recommended by Duke students who studied with him in Jordan through the Kenan refugee program in Amman led by Suzanne Shanahan,” said Mbaye Lo, assistant professor of the practice and Arabic Language Program Coordinator at Duke. “So, he is somewhat familiar with the Duke culture; and with him, we hope to secure a diverse, and yet highly talented Arabic faculty to serve our students.”

Below, Ben Tarif talks with Julie Harbin, communications specialist for the Duke Islamic Studies Center.

QUESTION: You’re an award winning Arabic instructor who’s had a variety of experiences teaching Arabic, teaching UN employees, diplomats, defense department officials and U.S. soldiers and university students. How can you compare these experiences?

BEN TARIF: I think teaching Arabic for different groups is challenging, because

you are dealing with many people from many backgrounds, and each have their own goal to study the language. When we talk about diplomats, soldiers and defense department officials, going back to school again to learn a language can be frustrating to them. You have to create your own curriculum that meets their needs to learn the language, and this is fun.

QUESTION: Why is it so important for people to learn Arabic? What should people know about learning Arabic?

BEN TARIF: Arabic is the fifth most commonly spoken native language in the world and the official language in in more than 20 countries. There are more than 300 million native speakers of the language. The Arab-speaking world has a rich cultural heritage with its own unique art, music, literature, cuisine, and way of life. Also there are financial incentives for learning Arabic. The US government has designated Arabic as a language of strategic importance. Continue reading