ABOUT THE ABOVE RECORDING:

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

“We invoke the name of Allah to bless a meal. We invoke His name before opening a book we are about to read. We invoke His name to anticipate an action. We invoke His name to mark a ritual slaughter. Why do all religions put such a focus on the name of this or that deity, divinity, prophet, saint, or savior? Because the name moves beyond the unbounded, unspecified space that surrounds and engulfs all life, whether human, animal, animate, inanimate, earthly or celestial. For Muslims, Allah is that name beyond all names that becomes the singular, most potent name to be invoked, remembered, and reproduced day after day, time and again, in joy and sorrow, in life and death.” – Bruce Lawrence 

by BRUCE LAWRENCE for ISLAMiCommentary on FEBRUARY 25, 2015:

Bruce Lawrence
Bruce Lawrence

Who is Allah? No one really knows but many claim to know. In framing my book, I highlight twin needs: to look at Islam with fresh eyes, and to understand Allah with dispassionate insight. The alternative is to settle for journalistic sloganeering, too often sensationalist even when it is highbrow.

The very name Allah is interwoven into the everyday experience of millions of Muslims. While Allah does not belong to Muslims, Allah is supreme for Muslims. In the Islamic tradition, Allah creates, motivates, and sustains the universe as well as humankind. It is a name invoked over 2500 times in the Holy Qur’an. It is the basis of the ‘witness’ (or shahada), a creed as integral to Islam as is the Shema to Jews or baptism to Christians.

19781469620039But Allah is also contested. Believing Muslims advocate the superseding power of Allah, while disbelieving or disputatious others claim Allah as the tribal deity, or moon god, of Arabs.

Is Allah the same as God in Christianity or Yahweh in Judaism? Brahmin in the Hindu tradition, and the Buddha (or Bodhisattva) in the Buddhist tradition? Yes, but that easy identity of celestial doorstops, or ultimate spiritual authorities, does not help us understand the contemporary power of Allah.

What is most needed now is to understand both the historical nuance of Allah throughout the past 1500 years and Allah’s relevance today, in 2015.

For Muslims, as for adherents of other religions, intentions as well as practices are paramount in one’s religious life. While the practice of the heart demonstrates how Allah is remembered in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, the practice of the mind examines how theologians and philosophers have defined Allah in numerous contexts, often with conflicting aims.

It is the practice of the ear that marks the contemporary period, as we hear competing calls for jihad, or religious struggle, within the cacophony of an immensely diverse umma, the worldwide Muslim community. Continue reading

Professor Mark R. Cohen delivering a lecture to a seminar room full of professors and graduate students at King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (December 2014) Cohen gave two lectures there: “What is the Geniza and What does it tell us”  and “The Importance of the Geniza for Islamic History”
Professor Mark R. Cohen delivering a lecture to a seminar room full of professors and graduate students at King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (December 2014)
Cohen gave two lectures there: “What is the Geniza and What Does it Tell Us?” and “The Importance of the Geniza for Islamic History”

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE for ISLAMiCommentary on JANUARY 13, 2015: 

j8050(Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) History is a witness to the close relationship between Muslims and Jews. That was the message Profesor Mark R. Cohen delivered in two lectures at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last month on the Cairo Geniza and its importance for Islamic and Jewish history. The Geniza is a treasure trove of medieval Jewish documents housed in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, Egypt.

Cohen is Emeritus Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Emeritus at Princeton University. He was a visiting professor at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus during the Fall 2014 semester.

A professor at Princeton University from 1973-2013, Cohen is the author of Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt (Princeton University Press, 2005), The Voice of the Poor in the Middle Ages: An Anthology of Documents from the Cairo Geniza (Princeton University Press, 2005), and Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, 1994; revised edition, 2008). He was awarded the first Goldziher Prize in 2010 for his scholarship promoting a better understanding between Muslims and Jews.

In this exclusive interview conducted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Mark R. Cohen discusses his visit to Saudi Arabia, his career at Princeton, and his views on Muslim-Jewish coexistence. While the interview was conducted in December, its publication closely following the attacks in Paris is particularly timely.

Joseph Preville (l) and Mark Cohen (r) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Joseph Preville (l) and Mark Cohen (r) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Welcome to Riyadh. You’ve been writing about Islam and in particular the Jews of the Islamic world for many decades. What is it like to come to Saudi Arabia for the first time?

Here and also in Abu Dhabi, where I’ve been a visiting professor at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus this past semester, it’s been an eye-opening experience. It’s one thing to study Islam and the Arab world from far away, and, while I’ve visited Egypt and Jordan, I’ve never lived in an Arab country before. Here in Riyadh I’m the guest of King Saud University, particularly the Department of History. I was invited by the wing of the department that teaches Islamic history. They’ve welcomed me with open arms. They know my work.

My host is Dr. Torki Fahad Abdullah Al Saud. He finished his Ph.D. in Jewish Studies at Boston University in 2008 and wrote his dissertation on Maimonides and one other Jewish thinker from that time peiod. We’ve been in correspondence over the years, and he sends me his publications in Arabic. He’s an excellent scholar and one of the very few historians in the Arab world writing about the Jews under Islam. Continue reading

by Sümeyye Kocaman for ISLAMiCommentary on JANUARY 7, 2015:

Sümeyye Kocaman
Sümeyye Kocaman

As we hear more and more about the Caliphate, the ummah, Islamic law and the Islamic State, I am surprised by many things: the so-called experts’ lack of information; how the facts are being politically manipulated; how people of faith are letting religion be used in this minefield; and worse, how people of faith believe that religion can be used to legitimize inhumane, political arguments.

When we hear religion as a political argument — e.g. how an ‘Islamic state’ is needed to provide freedom for Muslims who have been victimized for centuries — we must see this as merely a new wave of nationalism backed up by the power of religious discourse. Religious discourse has the highest potential to mobilize crowds. If the discourse is powerful enough some local groups or even the society at large can be mobilized into an emotional mob that cares little for reason. Their voices — pure political ideology.

In the modern world religion and politics continue to be dangerously intertwined. We can regard this crisis of religion as a chance to reverse a vicious cycle. Continue reading

Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, 3 vols., University of Chicago Press, 1974, 1633 pp., $105
Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, 3 vols., University of Chicago Press, 1974, 1633 pp., $105

Bruce B. Lawrence celebrates Marshall Hodgson’s moral vision

by BRUCE LAWRENCE for MARGINALIA (AT LA REVIEW OF BOOKS) on NOVEMBER 11, 2014: 

Bruce Lawrence
Bruce Lawrence

Marshall Hodgson was both a genius and a visionary. While he may have seemed to be just another university professor, at once restless, innovative, and genial, he was also an academic Übermensch with a global agenda. He wanted to change the world by changing the way we saw, understood, and engaged Islam within world history. Born in 1922, he was drafted but as a Quaker refused to fight in World War II. After serving five years in detention camp, he returned to school, graduating from the University of Chicago with a PhD in the early 1950s. He had been teaching from the notes that became The Venture of Islam for over a decade before his demise in 1968. Forty-six years after his death, and 40 years since the posthumous publication of his magnum opus, his legacy remains puzzling. Was he ahead of his time, or has he been overtaken by the Cold War and its aftermath, including the horror of 9/11, along with its own, persistent aftermath? Continue reading