Dana Sajdi
Dana Sajdi

41mqa7HhOdL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_In her stunning new book The Barber of Damascus: Nouveau Literacy in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Levant (Stanford University Press, 2012), Dana Sajdi, Associate Professor of History at Boston College, presents a riveting narrative of the intersection of literature, religion, and history in early modern Muslim societies. She does so by focusing on the chronicle of a common Barber in 18th-century Damascus Shihab al-Din Ahmad Ibn Budayr. Through a close reading of the intellectual and political conditions that gave rise to such forms of nouveau literature and by carefully interrogating the themes, tensions, and reception of this text, Sajdi’s analysis provides a fascinating window into the complexity and diversity of knowledge traditions in the early modern context. Most importantly, this book serves the immensely important task of bringing into central view non-Ulama archives and imaginaries of history and history writing. In our conversation we discussed the key themes of this book such as the concept of nouveau literacy, the literary and political disorders in 18th century Damascus, Ibn Budayr’s biography and intellectual milieu, the emergence of non-‘ulama’ chronicle writers, and the later reception and reworking of Ibn Budayr’s chronicle. This nicely paced book should work very well in undergraduate and graduate courses on Muslim intellectual history, historiography, early modern Islam, and in surveys of Middle Eastern history. Continue reading



LUISS Guido Carli University & John Cabot American University present the conference “Imams in Western Europe – Authority, Training, and Institutional Challenges” on November 5-7, 2014 in Rome, Italy. (Attendance is open and free but registration is required for space management (please write to Mohammed Hashas, [email protected], or Niels Valdemar Vinding, [email protected] A small amount of grants are available for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers to help with accommodation. To apply for a grant, contact the conveners above.)

Conceptual Framework

The social facts of globalization, transnational migration and the various interpretations of secularism have challenged the visibility of religion in the public sphere in “Western” societies. This has most importantly and urgently required religious authorities to revisit their organization, governance and internal hierarchy, which link believers and their community to God. Islamic religious authority is no exception. All over the Islamic world and Europe, Islamic religious authority is still struggling to negotiate its place among the institutions of the modern state. The imamate is one of the institutions that is experiencing a shift in roles and functions in society amidst these institutions.

The religious affairs of the early Muslim community in Europe after WWII were hardly institutional, and consequently lacked state recognition and its support, as well as professional and trained Imams. Without formal prayer spaces, they were also poorly organized and officially “Imam-less.” Muslims themselves had either to choose a respected believer to become their leader of prayers or, afterwards, sought to import an Imam from their own village or city in the country of origin. Because the situation of religious education in the wider Islamic world was still in the making in the postcolonial era, these imported imams had either a conservative education and were not open to modern state institutions or to liberal multicultural society, or they were not trained as Imams at all, but were lay men who had learnt the Quran, or part of it, by heart at the madrassas (al massid or al kuttab), and not at modern schools or universities.

On arrival in Europe, these Imams faced considerable problems. They often lacked the mastery of the language of the host country, and mostly lacked the understanding of the place of religion in the public space, and the role of religious authority within the community of believers. Also, the economic difficulties of these early “guest-workers” contributed to making institutionalized religious training and schooling unthinkable. The international rise of political Islam, the flow of funds of the Muslim communities from the countries of origin (through embassies and international religious movements), and the internal increasing “fear of Islamism” and the “feel of Islamophobia” made the idea of home-grown Imams beyond the scope of policy-making and state institutions at first. However, terrorist attacks (9/11, 7/7, etc.), increasing state surveillance of Islamic religious affairs, as well as the Muslim community need for recognized religious authority in European societies have made the idea again thinkable.

The last decade witnessed a remarkable increase in debates over the necessity to ground European Islam on the European soil, and through state institutions. Islamic representatives and schools are building partnerships with prestigious universities in the UK, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, for co-designed religious curricula and for the training of home-grown imams and the establishment of a domestic religious authority.

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Oxford Handbook of Islam and PoliticsOverview:

The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics (Oxford University Press, 2013)

  • Provides a comprehensive analysis of what we know and where we are in the study of political Islam
  • Includes over 40 essays from leading scholars in the field


Over the past three decades, scholars, government analysts and terrorism experts have examined the relationship between Islam and politics. But specialists have tended to limit their analysis to a specific country or focus. Few works have provided a geographically comprehensive, in-depth analysis. Since 9/11, another wave of literature on political Islam and global terrorism has appeared, much of it superficial and sensationalist. This situation underscores the need for a comprehensive, analytical, and in-depth examination of Islam and politics in the post-9/11 era and in an increasingly globalizing world. The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics, with contributions from prominent scholars and specialists, provides a comprehensive analysis of what we know and where we are in the study of political Islam. It enables scholars, students, and policymakers to understand the interaction of Islam and politics and the multiple and diverse roles of Islamic movements, as well as issues of authoritarianism and democratization, religious extremism and terrorism regionally and globally. Continue reading