by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN, for DUKE TODAY on JULY 22, 2014:

Omid Safi
Omid Safi

Omid Safi, (pictured) a prominent Islamic studies professor and scholar, joined the faculty of Duke this month as director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC).

As the new William and Bettye Martin Musham Director for Islamic Studies, Safi will oversee DISC, the university’s hub of teaching, learning and research about Islam and Muslim communities.

Bettye Musham, whose $3 million gift supported the creation of the directorship, is also a founding member of the DISC advisory board. (For more information about the gift, click here.) Continue reading

by MUHAMMED HARON (UNIVERSITY OF BOTSWANA) for TIRN on FEBRUARY 11, 2014:

Muhammed Haron (left) and Gil Merkx
Muhammed Haron (left) and Gil Merkx

Many Muslim institutions of higher learning have emerged on the African continent over the past few decades. These institutions have in one way or another made their contributions towards the societies and environments where they are situated. Despite the noble objectives of some that were set up, the objectives often have been unrealized as a result of a lack of financial and other resources. There have, however, been other institutions that have flourished and made invaluable inputs to their respective communities.

It is hard to find a text that adequately covers these institutions, even in places where one might expect it, including in Paul Scrijver’s authoritative Bibliography of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa (Leiden: E.J. Brill 2009),

So when Duke University’s Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC) announced a workshop to discuss and engage scholars on “Islamic Institutions of Higher Learning in Africa: Their History, Mission and Role in Regional Development,” there were eager responses to participate in what may be regarded as an oft-neglected area of Islamic studies research. The Duke Islamic Studies Center and its Carnegie Corporation of New York-supported Transcultural Islam Project (to be explained in-depth later in this paper) offered an interesting platform for this exploratory workshop.

AfricaIslamGraphicThe workshop organizers, under the co-directorship of Duke professors Mbaye Lo and Bruce Hall, hosted a group of scholars who came from different parts of the continent (and elsewhere from the US and Europe) — scholars who have been evaluating these types of institutions’ status in the transnational Muslim arena.

The organizers were interested to know, inter alia, to what extent these institutions were involved in pursuing research, perpetuating traditional Muslim scholarship, and creatively contributing towards the society’s economic development.

With these noble aims and objectives in mind, let us offer an overview in this report of our two-day workshop at Duke University. (Other sponsors included the International Institute of Islamic Thought  (headquartered in Virginia); The Africa Initiative (Duke); Asian & Middle Eastern Studies (Duke); African & Afro-American Studies (Duke); Duke History Department; Duke Religion Department; Center for Muslim Life (Duke); Franklin Humanities Institute (Duke), Duke Center for International Development; The Kenan Institute for Ethics; Duke Divinity School; and Duke University Center for International Studies.)

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by EMILIE ANNE-YVONNE LUSE for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JANUARY 8, 2014: 

A 2009 poster combining the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah with the "Biggest Sushi Party in the City." Sao Paolo, Brazil
A 2009 poster combining the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah with the “Biggest Sushi Party in the City.” Sao Paolo, Brazil

The study of ethnic identity is a daunting endeavor, which, if treated too simply, fails to account for the richness and complexity of human existence.

In diasporic studies especially, the researcher faces heterogeneity and hybridity that escape tidy categorization and require constant re-assessment of the object of study itself. This was the consensus of a vivid and productive workshop “The Jewish & Muslim Diasporas in Latin America: New Comparative Perspectives,” held in early October 2013 at the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University, with the goal of providing “new approaches to the comparative study of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Argentina and Brazil.”

The workshop was part of a project on “Jews & Muslims: Histories, Diasporas, and the Meaning of the European,” launched by the Duke Center for European Studies in the spring of 2013 and supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Duke University Office of the Provost.

New Approaches to the Study of Jews and Muslims in the Americas

The workshop began with a methodological presentation, “New Approaches to the Study of Jews and Muslims in the Americas,” given jointly by Jeffrey Lesser, Professor and Chair of History at Emory University, and Raanan Rein, Professor of Latin American and Spanish History and Rector of Tel Aviv University. Building on a theoretical paper the two published together in Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, the two drew on years of experience researching Jews in Brazil and Argentina respectively to argue for a change in the way ethnic diasporas are studied.

Too often, they argued, scholars rely on sources and archives (community groups, religious organizations and umbrella groups) which privilege the ethnic or religious identity of the group without accounting for the variety of experiences, especially national experiences, within such groups. Alternately, study of the diaspora often focuses on how negative experiences, i.e. discrimination in the host country, shaped identity, and fails to account for the lived reality of diasporic subjects, who are just as likely to identify as nationals as they are to see themselves as part of their ethnic group.  Indeed, they might decide to stress certain parts of themselves in different contexts.”

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ISLAMiCommentaryDURHAM, N.C. — Protests in the Middle East, conflict in Syria, Muslim voters in the upcoming U.S. elections and other diverse topics involving Islam and the Muslim experience are the focus of a new website where scholars from leading universities have begun sharing their perspectives and research.

ISLAMiCommentary aims to inform public knowledge and discourse about the diversity of thought and cultures within Islam and Muslim communities, including those in the United States. Continue reading