by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JULY 20, 2015:

51HAWqC1GHL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_“One of the most visible public faces of the 2011 revolution in Egypt was Asmaʾ Mahfouz, a young woman who posted a video blog on Facebook calling for the January 25 protest in Tahrir Square “so that maybe we the country can become free, can become a country with justice, a country with dignity, a country in which a human can be truly human, not living like an animal.” 

She describes a stark imbalance of power: a lone girl standing against the security apparatus of the state. When she initially went out to demonstrate, only three other people came to join her. They were met with vans full of security forces, “tens of thugs” (balṭagiyyīn) that menaced the small band of protesters. Talking about her fear (ruʿb), she epitomizes the voice of righteous indignation against the Goliath of an abusive military regime.

“I am a girl,” she says, “and I went down.” The skinny, small, pale girl bundled up in her winter scarf and sweater speaks clearly and forcefully, despite a slight speech impediment, rallying a political community to action against tyrannical rule.

Mahfouz’s vlog is not necessarily famous for actually sparking the revolution, as some have claimed in the revolution’s aftermath. Rather, she visually embodies and vocally advocates what the Islamic activist Heba Raouf Ezzat calls “soft force,”al-­quwwa­ al-n­āʿima.” Raouf Ezzat uses the term to refer to nonviolent protest, or what she calls “women’s jihad,” wielded against “tyrannical government.” — beginning of the Introduction to “Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening” (Princeton University Press, May 2015)  by Ellen Anne McLarney


In Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening Duke University professor Ellen McLarney argues against the misconception of Muslim women as “oppressed by Islam,” with her “in depth, nuanced, and careful” examination of the lives and activism of women who write about Islam as liberating them from sexual and political oppression, ignorance, exploitation, and dominance.

Focusing on writings spanning the last six decades in Egypt — and especially Egypt’s Islamic awakening — McLarney charts a genealogy of women’s writings on gender relationships in Islam. These popular religious texts have circulated widely in Egypt and reached audiences as far away as Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, and France through republication and translation.

These writers include scholars like Heba Raouf Ezzat and Bint al-Shati, preachers like Niʿmat Sidqi, television personalities like Kariman Hamza, actresses like Shams al-Barudi, activists like Zaynab al-Ghazali, cultural critics like Safinaz Kazim, and journalists like Iman Mustafa. Continue reading

by EHAB GALAL for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JANUARY 19, 2014:

Ehab Galal
Ehab Galal

Scholarly interest in Arab media has increased dramatically over the past two decades, especially since the advent of the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera in 1996, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the global conflicts that followed this tragedy.

Arab media are increasingly seen as global players; not only as regional or local tools of communication. There are an ever-increasing number of Arab satellite TV channels that transmit to a large area of the world. Among these are also a number of important religiously oriented TV channels. While research into their history, development, content and circulation is still limited, it is rising. Very little has been published about the Arab audiences and the relationship between these new transnational channels (both religious and secular media) and their viewers worldwide.

I am editor of a new book Arab TV Audiences: Negotiating Religion and Identity (Peter Lang, 2014) that attempts to fill the gap by presenting six case-based studies focusing on how Arab audiences, in the Arab world and Europe, respond to mainly Islamic programming on Arab satellite television across a range of different national contexts: Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, and the United States.

The case studies examine audiences from various perspectives offered by scholars with different research interests and theoretical approaches to their analyses of Arab audiences.

Fragmented Audiences

Many insights can be gained, in this volume, into different aspects of the Arab media landscape, including the fragmentation of Arab audiences, and the role of religious media in religious identity formation and negotiation.

Knowledge about Arab audiences suffers from a lack of accurate television audience measurement systems. Speaking of a typical or characteristic Arab audience (Muslims and Christians) is extremely difficult, given the fact that Arab audiences are fragmented across a region of approximately 7.5 million square kilometers, a population of more than 250 million people and an extensive number of spoken dialects, as well as major differences, when it comes to literacy, living conditions and generational divides. Market-based studies do, however, give us some general information.

In the Arab world, television is still the most popular media outlet despite the global trend towards other platforms. Continue reading


These articles are freely available until 31 January 2015!*

Islamic Law in the Modern World
Author: Aharon Layish
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 276-307)

An Epistemic Shift in Islamic Law
Author: Aria Nakissa
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 209-251)

Reconstructing Archival Practices in Abbasid Baghdad
Author: Maaike van Berkel
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 7-22)

The Early Ḥanafiyya and Kufa
Author: Christopher Melchert
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 23-45)

The Prayers of Abū Muslim and al-Maʾmūn. An Exercise in Dating Ḥadīth
Author: Stijn Aerts
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 66-83) Continue reading


bookcover-1“Many Palestinians see the Israelis as aggressive colonizers of Palestinian land and resources or as jailers; many Israelis see the Palestinians as irrational, violent and a ticking demographic time bomb that endangers a Jewish-majority state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. One thing is sure: Palestinian and Israeli youth are the hope for a resolution of the differences; their elders seem unable to get that job done.” — University of Michigan History professor Juan Cole

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by *JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN for ISLAMiCommentary on August 4, 2014:

Juan Cole is one of the most astute and knowledgeable observers of the Middle East. His keen understanding of the Middle East was shaped by graduate study at the American University in Cairo and decades of research and travel in the region. Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He is the author of many books, including Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), and Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi’ite Islam (I.B. Tauris, 2002).

In The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster, 2014), Cole takes a detailed look inside the recent revolutions by Arab youth in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Cole salutes their courage and states that “this generation of New Arabs has shaken a complacent, stagnant, and corrupt status quo and forever changed the world.”

In this interview Juan Cole discusses his new book, the challenges Middle Eastern youth face in this time of “violent experimentation,” “wrenching transformations,” and “new forms of politics,” and his hopefulness for their future.



9780199372003Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by *JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN for ISLAMiCommentary on August 4, 2014:

Muslims have a long and rich history in Greater Detroit, Michigan, but it has not been thoroughly documented – until now. Sally Howell brings this history to life in her new book out next month — Old Islam in Detroit: Rediscovering the Muslim American Past (Oxford University Press, 2014). In her book she intends to “lay groundwork for a new interpretation of the Muslim American past that makes sense of the tactical amnesias, persistent discontinuities, and narrative breaks that have kept crucial aspects of the history of Islam in America from being remembered and effectively understood.”

Sally Howell is Assistant Professor of History and Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Howell is an editor of Arab Detroit 9/11: Life in the Terror Decade (Wayne State University Press, 2011) and Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit after 9/11 (Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2009). She is also a contributor to The Cambridge Companion to American Islam (Cambridge University Press, 2013), edited by Omid Safi and Juliane Hammer. Sally Howell discusses her new book in the exclusive interview.



In his semi-fictional account of Barbary Coast Pirate Utopias, Peter Lamborn Wilson traces the unwritten dissident history of a communion of outsiders — heterodox Muslims and Christian renegades. Unanchored from the conformist dictates of law and organized religion, “temporary autonomous zones” like the Coast flourished for a time between the 16th and 18th centuries, and they were the embodiment of a mode of engagement between Islam and the West detached from interreligious conflict or any dialogue patronized by power. Wilson aims to show how radical forms of religious liberty can be the harbingers of progress and understanding between civilizations, creating the space to experiment with novel forms of cross-cultural exchange. “[O]nly later,” he laments, “do the Orthodox Authorities arrive to straighten everyone out and make them toe the line.” The practice of stamping out the dual sins of radicalism and heterodoxy has continued to color the character of religious practices. Today, it is most evident in the largely state-sponsored strategies of moderate or liberal Muslims in an age of resurgent militancy and sectarianism in the Muslim world.