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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“Tribal Modern: Branding New Nations in the Arab Gulf” by miriam cooke (University of California Press, January 21, 2014)

Tribal Modern by miriam cookeSUMMARY FROM THE PUBLISHER: In the 1970s, one of the most torrid and forbidding regions in the world burst on to the international stage. The discovery and subsequent exploitation of oil allowed tribal rulers of the U.A.E, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait to dream big.

How could fishermen, pearl divers and pastoral nomads catch up with the rest of the modernized world? Even today, society is skeptical about the clash between the modern and the archaic in the Gulf. But could tribal and modern be intertwined rather than mutually exclusive? Exploring everything from fantasy architecture to neo-tribal sports and from Emirati dress codes to neo-Bedouin poetry contests, Tribal Modern explodes the idea that the tribal is primitive and argues instead that it is an elite, exclusive, racist, and modern instrument for branding new nations and shaping Gulf citizenship and identity—an image used for projecting prestige at home and power abroad.

miriam cooke is Braxton Craven Distinguished Professor of Arab Cultures at Duke University and author of several books, most recently Dissident Syria: Making Oppositional Arts Official (Duke, 2007) and Nazira Zeineddine: Biography of an Islamic Feminist Pioneer (Oneworld, 2010). Continue reading

December 10, 2013:

Beginning with Volume 11 (2015), the Editors of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies will be miriam cooke (Duke), Banu Gökarıksel (University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill), and Frances Hasso (Duke). Also beginning with Volume 11, JMEWS will be published by Duke University Press Journals. JMEWS is the interdisciplinary scholarly journal of the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies and publishes three issues per annual volume. Continue reading

by miriam cooke for TIRN on JULY 2, 2013:

miriam cooke in Mardin, Turkey near the Syrian border (2012)
miriam cooke in Mardin, Turkey near the Syrian border (2012)

(Introduction): Twenty-five participants from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, Ghana, Turkey, Italy, Holland, Canada and the U.S. gathered in Fez June 21-23 to share their research on developments in the southern Mediterranean in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. The two major concerns were the backlash against women revolutionaries, and the political Islamization of the MENA region.

Scholars, activists, university administrators, diplomats and physicians exchanged views on the meaning of the events that have shaken the Middle East and North Africa during the past two years. Women and several men reported on developments in individual countries, many focused on women’s roles during the protests and the negative consequences of such participation. Subjects ranged from Libyan women’s courageous stance against the government, to the status of women’s rights in the new constitutions of Tunisia and Egypt to sustainable economic empowerment for rural Moroccan women.

My paper (below, as delivered) dealt with the revolutionary memoirs of two influential feminist writers, Egyptian Nawal El Saadawi and Syrian Samar Yazbek, who participated in their countries’ uprisings and then wrote about their hopes and disappointments.

The conference organizer Fatima Sadiqi, founder of the Isis Center for Women and Development and President of the National Union of Women’s Associations, concluded the meeting with some recommendations. She challenged participants and the consistently large audience to work toward ensuring that the achievements of the uprisings are maintained and that the current pessimism not dampen such efforts. Above all, the dialogue among countries must continue with attention to specificities. Continue reading

by miriam cooke for BOUNDARY 2 (International Journal of Literature and Culture/Duke University Press) on MAY 17, 2013: 

miriam cooke
miriam cooke

The tiny peninsula state of Qatar is building an empire. Ever since the current emir Shaykh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani wrested power from his father in 1995, he has worked ceaselessly to place his tribal shaikhdom on the world stage. He has the money to buy this place among the world’s leading nations and also the desire to play emperor.

The first step was to establish a 24-hour satellite television station that bypassed the censors of local media agencies and ministries. Within weeks of its creation Al-Jazeera had crippled Arab autocracies’ absolute control over the information their people received. Al-Jazeera has become the go-to place for all trying to understand regional crises like the Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan, Yemeni, Bahraini and Syrian uprisings of the past two years. Continue reading