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 →
“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 →
by SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on MARCH 4, 2016:
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 JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN for ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 8, 2016:
Are Muslims embraced as part of the mosaic of Europe? Or, are they considered and treated as outsiders, foreigners, and invaders? Political Scientist Peter O’Brien deconstructs this issue in his new book, The Muslim Question in Europe: Political Controversies and Public Philosophies (Temple University Press, 2016).
“There exists,” he writes, “no great, let alone unbridgeable, gulf in outlook or lifestyle forever separating ‘Islamic’ from ‘Western’ civilization.” He argues that there is not a “clash of civilizations,” but “clashes within Western civilization.”
O’Brien dissects the hotly-debated and contentious topics of headscarves, terrorism, and secularism (mosque-state relations) within the broad historical and political contexts of “intra-European tensions.” He argues that European Muslims should not be viewed “as a distinct group of political actors.” Rather, he states that European Muslims and non-Muslims both inhabit “a normative landscape in Europe dominated by the vying public philosophies of liberalism, nationalism, and postmodernism.”
O’Brien is Professor of Political Science at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. He was educated at Kalamazoo College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has served as a Social Science Research Council Fellow at the Free University in Berlin and as a Fulbright Professor at Bogazici University in Istanbul and the Humboldt University in Berlin. O’Brien is the author of Beyond the Swastika (Routledge, 1996) and European Perceptions of Islam and America from Saladin to George W. Bush (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).