“We have to recognize that there are several shattered political visions that are still with us and there are several unhealed traumas or wounds – the Armenians, Kurds, Palestinians (for example)…we are still dealing with the long-term legacy of these unhealed wounds.” — Cemil Aydin, UNC-Chapel Hill


i-WD6Jb54-X3It’s been 100 years since the Sykes–Picot Agreement divided the Middle East into spheres of British and French influence that transformed the Middle East. In the aftermath of World War I, the religiously, linguistically and ethnically diverse Ottoman Empire was divided up into a collection of small states, each with its own ruling group under the control of European powers. “Ottomans” became Syrians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis and Turks.

“New states created new refugees, new nationalities defined new minorities, and new codes of law demanded new rights,” said UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Sarah Shields, who organized this year’s Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies conference – a forum that sought to bring much-needed historical context to today’s struggles over belonging, identities and the map of the Middle East.

In introductory remarks at the public conference, UNC-Chapel Hill sociologist and co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East & Muslim Civilizations Charles Kurzman reminded the audience that “those new nations, after generations may seem like they were always here but in fact World War I and its aftermath helped to create them.”

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Maqam Rast (two parts)
Muhammad al-Qubbanchi
First Cairo Congress of Arab Music (1932)
Cairo, Egypt. 78rpm recording.

Maqam Rast by Muhammad al-Qubbanchi and members of the Iraqi delegation to the First Cairo Congress of Arab Music (Le Congrès du Caire) in Egypt, ِ1932. The poetry sung here is a takhmis by Sayyid Ja’far al-Hilli al-Najafi (1861-1898) of a poem by Muhammad Sa’id al-Habbubi (1849-1916).

by ABDUL SATTAR JAWAD for ISLAMiCommentary on SEPTEMBER 16, 2015: 

Remembering Baghdad in the salad days or during the monarchy era, seems now as if retrieving a reverie from the time of yore or as the Arab narrative goes : kan ya ma kan. What happened to Baghdad, Scheherazade’s abode, in the last sixty years or so, invites a flow of memories and emotions.

Having been born in a mixed neighborhood of this cosmopolitan city in 1943 , I still long for a time when religion was not an issue. Tolerance was a value to maintain and honor. Everyone cherished it. Continue reading


Marion Homes Katz
Marion Homes Katz

Recently, there have been various debates within the Muslim community over women’s mosque attendance. While contemporary questions of modern society structure current conversations, this question, ‘may a Muslim woman go to the mosque,’ is not a new one. In Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice (Columbia University Press, 2014), Marion Holmes Katz, Professor of Islamic Studies at New York University, traces the juristic debates around women’s mosque attendance.

Unknown-1Katz outlines the various arguments, caveats, and positions of legal scholars in the major schools of law and demonstrates that despite some differing opinions there was generally a downward progression towards gendered exclusion in mosques. were engaged in at the mosque, the time of day, the permission of their husbands or guardians, attire, and the multitude of conditions that needed to be met. Later interpreters feared women’s presence in the mosque because they argued it stirred sexual temptation.

Katz pairs these legal discourses with evidence of women’s social practice in the Middle East and North Africa from the earliest historical accounts through the Ottoman period. In our conversation we discuss types of mosque activities, Mamluk Cairo, women’s educational participation, the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the transmission of knowledge, European travelers accounts of Muslim women, night prayers, mosque construction, debates about the mosque in Mecca, and modern developments in legal discussions during the 20th century.


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.

“Often one might ask the question: Do we see the light at the end of the tunnel? I would say we don’t see the entrance of the tunnel because there’s a wall there separating us from the tunnel. We need to bring down this wall. And we need to see the tunnel as is in order to have a rebirth of a people who have been held without real freedom for a long time.”Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, Dean of the College of Islamic Studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, the first holder of the Chair for the Study of Imam Al-Ghazali at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Quds University


PalestineIsrael-smallDespite anger from Democrats, the Obama administration, and even opposition from some Republicans, it appeared this week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no plans to cancel his upcoming speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress — scheduled just two weeks before Israel’s election. President Obama says he won’t be meeting with him while he’s here.

Netanyahu, who was invited by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH 8th district) , is expected to speak before the Congress on March 3 where, according to The Washington Post, “he plans to argue against any accord with Iran that allows the country to retain centrifuges to enrich uranium and hover anywhere near a threshold for building a nuclear weapon.”

On Tuesday Netanyahu tweeted: “I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but to speak up for the very survival of my country.”

Last month, as the news of the Netanyahu visit first broke,  ISLAMiCommentary had the opportunity to interview prominent Palestinian Scholar Mustafa Abu Sway about Netanyahu’s Iran distraction — i.e. his “avoidance of the real issue at home”  (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) — and the role of the U.S. administration and Congress in helping broker a peaceful resolution to that pressing (forgotten?) conflict.

Dr. Sway is Dean of the College of Islamic Studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, the first holder of the Chair for the Study of Imam Al-Ghazali at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Quds University, and is on the list of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world. He was at Duke to deliver a lecture and speak to classes on the 21st century relevance of the teachings of Al-Ghazali (a medieval Muslim theologian who spent a good deal of time in Jerusalem 900 years ago — and on the importance of working toward peace in Jerusalem. Continue reading