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

Seth Kimmel
Seth Kimmel

51M7Ob7M8gL._SL160_In his path clearing new book, Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Seth Kimmel, Assistant Professor of Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia University, presents a fascinating account of how conversion from Islam to Christianity was imagined, debated, and contested in early modern Spain. Shifting focus from the experiences of converts to intellectual discussions and disputes on matters such as coercion and assimilation, Kimmel demonstrates that such discussions were intimately tied to not only questions of religious reform but also to the demarcation of varied scholarly disciplines within Christianity. It is this nexus of knowledge, religious reform, and conversion that this book brilliantly explores and uncovers.

Questioning binaries such as tolerance/intolerance and religious/secular, Kimmel highlights the complex material, intellectual, and political conditions and considerations that informed scholarly engagements with the questions and puzzles of religious conversion in early Modern Spain. In our conversation, we talked about the major themes and arguments of the book and its striking relevance to discourses on religious tolerance in the present. Parables of Coercion is at once beautifully written and unusually multilayered for a first book. It will also make an excellent choice for courses on Muslim-Christian relations, early modern religion, religious conversion, secularism, and Islamic Spain.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH KIMMEL

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 ALI OLOMI for ISLAMiCommentary on MARCH 30, 2016: 

An image from the "Kitab Al-Aghani" by Al Isfahani, who wrote detailed biographies of the mukhannathum in the Umayyad and Abbasid period.
An image from the “Kitab Al-Aghani” by Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, who wrote detailed biographies of the mukhannathum in the Umayyad and Abbasid period.

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

Mary and Jesus in Persian miniature (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Mary and Jesus in Persian miniature (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 22, 2015: 

Zeki Saritoprak
Zeki Saritoprak

41JOC1bsy7L._SL160_Islam’s Jesus (Interview with Zeki Saritoprak by Elliott Bazzano, New Books in Islamic Studies, December 17, 2015)In Islam’s Jesus (University of Florida Press, 2015), Zeki Saritoprak explores an old topic from a fresh perspective. The status of Jesus in Islam has been of interest for centuries, and relates to both Christianity and Islam, but the level of synthesis that Professor Saritoprak’s monograph offers is remarkable.

He draws on a variety of Islamic literature, including commentaries on the Qur’an, works of theology, and collections of prophetic sayings. Moreover, he surveys not only the vast Arabic sources on his topic but also Turkish sources, and his research covers multiple schools of thought and time periods. Another hallmark of the monograph is the attention it gives to Jesus’ role in Islamic eschatology. Notably, Saritoprak demonstrates how mainstream as well as lesser known Islamic discourses on eschatology encompass numerous hermeneutical strategies; some, for example, understand the descent of Jesus as a physical phenomenon while others understand it as a non-material, spiritual phenomenon. The book highlights a number of other competing discourses as well, which are likely to challenge and even surprise the reader. The author’s clear writing style, combined with meticulous attention to scholarly rigor and textual engagement, makes the text accessible to a range of readers, which should render it useful to general audiences, as well as scholars of eschatology, Christian-Muslim relations, and Qur’anic studies. LISTEN TO INTERVIEW HERE

In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project, which includes TIRN and ISLAMiCommentary), 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.

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05-110Jesus in the Quran: Pious, Obedient, Favored Servant of God (Francis X. Clooney, American Magazine, December 21, 2015): EXCERPT: Then God will say, “O Jesus son of Mary! Remember My Blessing upon thee, and upon thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit, that you mightest speak to people in the cradle and in maturity; and when I taught thee the Book, the Wisdom, the Torah, and the Gospel;” and how thou wouldst create out of clay the shape of a bird, by My Leave; and how though wouldst breathe into it, and it would become a bird, by My Leave; and thou wouldst heal the blind and the leper, by My Leave; and thou wouldst bring forth the dead, by My Leave; and how I restrained the Children of Israel from thee, when thou didst bring the clear proofs, and those disbelieved among them said, “This is naught but manifest sorcery.” And when I inspired the apostles to believe in Me and in My messenger, they said, “We believe. Bear witness that we are submitters.” (5:110-111) KEEP READING

Francis X. Clooney, S.J., is the Parkman Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, where he has taught since 2005, after teaching for 21 years at Boston College. Since 2010 he is the Director of Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions. Continue reading

This article below, “How Muslim Students’ Knowledge of Christianity Is Related to Their Attitudes to Mainstream Australia and Australians: A National Survey” originally appeared in Social Sciences (ISSN 2076-0760), an international, open access journal with rapid peer-review, which publishes works from a wide range of fields, including anthropology, economics, law, linguistics, education, geography, history, political science, psychology and sociology. Social Sciences is published quarterly online by MDPI.

by ABE ATA for SOCIAL SCIENCES on SEPTEMBER 7, 2015:

Abstract: Outlined below are selected results of a 5-year long national survey which investigated the knowledge, values and attitudes of 430 Year 11 and 12 Muslim students in eight Muslim High schools towards the mainstream Australia and Australians society. The findings reflect a wide spectrum of responses with a strong implication that much work is needed to bring about an appropriate degree of adjustment. Providing awareness sessions to students and parents—both non-Muslims and Muslims—which address critical social, religious and cultural issues including stereotyping and inclusivity, is key.

Social media are abuzz with daily articles asking the same questions: Do Muslims find it harder than other migrants to integrate, or is the bigotry of some that perpetuates it? Is Islamophobia the flipside of inherent racism that some Australians lashed in stages against Aboriginals, Greeks, Italians, Chinese, Africans and Middle Easterners? Or perhaps it is the cultural and historical (and religious!) differences between the Christian and Muslim communities worldwide that are too wide to make a complete reconciliation? Why do religious minorities in Muslim countries have fewer rights than Muslims do in Western societies? Do Muslims need reform and reflection similar to those of Catholic Priests? Are Muslim and Australian identities compatible or are they mutually exclusive? And lastly, are the schools doing enough in fostering goodwill and inter-communal relationship!

I will not pretend to have set theories or clinical remedies to these questions. I will, however, address the government’s key question. What kinds of programs and initiatives are needed to identify, and eventually modify falsehoods and incorrect information that precipitates attitudes to mainstream Australia?

Continue reading

One scholar’s response to Reza Aslan and Hasan Minhaj’s “Open Letter to American Muslims on Same Sex Marriage” 

by ALI A. OLOMI for ISLAMiCommentary on JULY 17, 2015:

"Aqa Mirak" - 16th Safavid watercolor by Aqa Mirak depicting two young princes and lovers. (currently located in the Smithsonian)
“Aqa Mirak” - 16th Safavid watercolor by Aqa Mirak depicting two young princes and lovers. (currently located in the Smithsonian)

Since the legalization of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26th 2015, various religious groups have responded to the ruling. Muslim Americans, who themselves are a minority group in the United States, have struggled to find consensus.

Some have openly condemned the ruling. Others have urged a more hesitant acceptance of the court’s decision. Cognizant of the precarious position of minorities in the United States, Imam Suhaib Webb posted an online message where he encouraged a nuanced perspective that respected the ruling and supported it politically, while acknowledging the theological and ethical dilemmas for conservative Muslims. A group of Afghan American thinkers and activists on The Samovar Network took a more accepting stance when they held an online panel (via a Google hangout) and showed support for the ruling and the LGBTQ community as a whole.

Author, Reza Aslan and comedian, Hasan Minhaj wrote an open letter, published in Religion Dispatches, to Muslim Americans encouraging acceptance and tolerance, reminding Muslims that they too are a minority in the United States and should stand for the rights of their fellow minorities.

People were surprised by the letter and some have attributed the position of the authors to Western influence. Popular representations in America and Europe, tend to depict Muslims as staunchly against same-sex marriage. But I would point out that positions like Reza’s and others like him actually highlight a forgotten part of Islamic history. Continue reading