Road leading from Meknes to Ifrane with Morocco's national motto (Allah "God," Al-Watan "Nation," and Al-Malik "King") painted on hillside at town of El Hajeb. Photo by Jonathan Wyrtzen (2011)
Road leading from Meknes to Ifrane with Morocco’s national motto (Allah “God,” Al-Watan “Nation,” and Al-Malik “King”) painted on hillside at town of El Hajeb. Photo by Jonathan Wyrtzen (2011)

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville


Jonathan Wyrtzen
Jonathan Wyrtzen

The motto of the Kingdom of Morocco is “Allah, al-Watan, al-Malik” (God, the Nation, the King). This motto was the spark for Yale University professor Jonathan Wyrtzen’s new book, Making Morocco: Colonial Intervention and the Politics of Identity (Cornell University Press, 2015).

Enroute to begin his teaching job at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco in 2001, Wyrtzen noticed the motto painted on a hillside at the town of El Hajeb. He wondered how it came to be written on this hillside and what it said about Moroccan identity.

In Making Morocco, he offers an expansive way to look at Morocco’s colonial past (1912-1956); showing how “a constellation of Moroccan actors” interacted in the debates and struggles over national identity, including Jews, Berbers, and women.

This Moroccan mix of voices found expression in the Preamble to the 2011 Constitution: “The Kingdom of Morocco, a sovereign Muslim state attached to its national unity and territorial integrity, intends to preserve, in its plenitude and diversity, its one and indivisible national identity. Its unity, forged by the convergence of of its Arabo-Islamic, Amazigh [Berber], and Saharan-Hassanian components, is nourished by its African, Andalusian, Hebrew, and Mediterranean influences.” The constitution also recognized Tamazight (Berber) as an official language as “common patrimony of all Moroccans without exception” in addition to Arabic. Berber languages are spoken by 35-40% of Moroccans.

Today, Morocco is a country of nearly 34 million people; approximately 99% Muslim and 1% other (Christians, Jews, and Baha’i). There are between 4,000-8,000 Christians and 350-400 Bahais, according to the U.S. State Department’s Morocco 2014 International Freedom Report. While its Jewish population currently stands at about 5,000, before the establishment of Israel in 1948 some 250,000-300,000 Jews lived in Morocco — the largest in the Muslim world.

Wyrtzen is Associate Professor of Sociology, History, and International Affairs at Yale University. Educated at The University of Texas at Austin, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Georgetown University, his scholarly work has appeared in Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World, The Journal of Modern History, and the International Journal of Middle East Studies. He discusses the themes of his new book in this interview. Continue reading

An Interview with Duke’s new Turkish lecturing fellow, Didem Havlioglu


Didem Havlioglu
Didem Havlioglu

Didem Havlioglu, a new Turkish Lecturing Fellow in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, did her MA and PhD at the University of Washington, Seattle in Near and Middle East Studies. Her research focuses on Ottoman and Modern Turkish language and literature — in particular, gender and women in literature.

She’s been teaching Modern and Ottoman Turkish language for 15 years, and comes to Duke as a Turkish lecturing fellow, after having taught at Istanbul Sehir University (a new private school in Istanbul) for the past five years. During her tenure at Sehir, she helped start the Turkish language and literature department and the Turkish for International students program.

QUESTION: Which courses are you teaching this semester and next semester?

HAVLIOGLU: I am teaching Elementary and Intermediate Turkish this year at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. My students are interested in Turkish because they want to study Middle East history and culture. They usually go to a study abroad program at Bogazici University in Istanbul or through the Duke in Istanbul program. Upon their return, they take second or third year Turkish. They are all very good students who like thinking outside of the box. For this reason, the classes are fast paced and very enjoyable for all of us.

QUESTION: Do you think interest from students is picking up for learning Turkish?

HAVLIOGLU: I am very happy to find that more students are interested in Turkish language and culture every day. The study abroad and Duke in Istanbul programs are the initiators of this growing interest. After living in Turkey briefly, the students come back to Duke with a good understanding of what they want to do next. For instance, they want to continue exploring, if not expand their initial immersion in Turkish language and culture.

QUESTION: Why should students learn Turkish?

HAVLIOGLU: I have always found it odd when I hear people talking about teaching language, teaching culture, and teaching literature as three distinct areas. For me, language is culture, and literary and other texts are tools that offer insights into the target community’s minds and souls. Carefully chosen texts draw the learners in and awaken them to perspectives that they never knew they had, not only of the other, but also of themselves and their own culture. Likewise, language learning consists not only of learning linguistic structures but also of understanding how meaning, mentality, and worldview vary in different communities that use similar words.

Therefore, I believe, learning Turkish, just like any other language and culture can be instrumental in students’ ability to become world citizens where there are more differences than similarities. We live in a time now where the question is, “How will the world be different because I lived in it?” and I believe my students are the people who will change the way we think about borders that make people apart. Continue reading


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


Raymond Farrin
Raymond Farrin

Interest in the structure of the Qur’an has its beginnings in the ninth century CE with Muslim scholars. Since that time, Muslim and Western scholars have debated the coherence of the Qur’an’s structure. Raymond Farrin, professor of Arabic at the American University of Kuwait, opens his newest book, Structure and Qur’anic Interpretation: A Study of Symmetry and Coherence in Islam’s Holy Text (White Cloud Press, 2014) with a historical synopsis of the views adopted by the two primary camps regarding the structure of the Qur’an and the development of the study of the Qur’an’s constitution.

51nSYTU5e4L._SL160_Following in the footsteps of Muslim scholars and Western scholars of Islam who acknowledged and demonstrated patterns of connectivity between verses and chapters, Farrin argues that the entirety of Qur’an is organized according to three common patterns of symmetry: parallelism, chiasm, and, the most ubiquitous of three, concentrism.

As the reader moves form chapter to chapter, Professor Farrin explores how these patterns of symmetry are found in the individual chapters, chapter pairs, groupings of chapters, systems of chapters, and then the entire corpus. This structural analysis provides Farrin the opportunity to explore the overall connectivity of messages throughout the Qur’an. Continue reading

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Islamic Studies Professor Carl W. Ernst has shared the beginning of the draft with TIRN. The entire draft can be accessed on his website

by CARL W. ERNST (draft prepared for Duke University Arabic Halaqa on December 8, 2014): 

Carl Ernst
Carl Ernst

(EXCERPT) The early Sufi movement arose in the society of the `Abbasid Empire, an environment that by the late ninth century was saturated with the culture of Arabic literature. Poetry had been enormously important for the pre-Islamic Arabs, and it continued to serve as a powerful means of communication both in the heartland of the caliphate and in the far-flung provinces from North Africa to central Asia. It is not surprising to find that the mystics resorted to the dense literary medium of poetry to convey both deep emotion and abstract insight. Poetry became a natural ancillary to the exposition of Sufi discourse on the soul and its experiences, and it was pervasive in Sufi discourse. As Sarraj related,

I heard al-Wajihi say, I heard al-Tayalasi al-Razi say, I visited Israfil, the teacher of Dhu al-Nun (may God have mercy on them both), and he was sitting and drumming his fingers on the ground, chanting something to himself. When he saw me, he said, “Can you recite something beautiful?” I said, “No.” He replied, “You have no heart.”[1]

Arabic verses are sprinkled liberally in the collections of Sufi teachings that emerged in the late 10th-century works of Sulami, Sarraj, Kalabadhi, Khargushi, and Sirjani. The Baghdadian Sufi Ja`far al-Khuldi claimed that he knew by heart the collected poems of 130 Sufis.[2] Many of the verses quoted in early Sufi writings, when they are not anonymous, are credited to the famous pioneers of Baghdadian Sufism, including Junayd, Abu `Ali al-Rudhbari, Sari al-Saqati, Abu al-Husayn al-Nuri, Sumnun al-Muhibb, and others. Surprisingly, this body of Arabic mystical poetry has received very little scholarly attention.

One of the problems in the study of early Sufi poetry is related to a widespread tendency to identify this mystical tradition primarily with its Iranian and Indian examples, in contrast to the supposedly inferior spiritual and intellectual capacities of the Semitic races, particularly the Arabs. This attitude was an example of the larger prejudice against Arabic poetry, which many Orientalist scholars considered to be extravagant and lacking in literary merit.[3] In part this opinion could be charitably interpreted as a result of the widespread recent popularity of the Persian poetry Rumi, which tends to eclipse other figures in Sufi tradition. Continue reading