by IMAN SULTAN for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on AUGUST 24, 2015:

Iman Sultan
Iman Sultan

Granada is renowned as the last stronghold of Andalusian Muslims before the shadow of the Spanish Inquisition descended on the entire peninsula and drove them out. It is the inspiration of teary poets reminiscing of the bygone Golden Age of the Muslim ummah, and the site of political nostalgia among Muslim nationalists. Recently, it has also become a center of epistemic resistance among people from around the world and across different faith groups, nationalities and academic disciplines.

A program called Critical Muslim Studies (CMS), an intensive two-week summer school, convened there in early June with activists, intellectuals and professors who specialize in liberation theology and believe in utilizing religion and spirituality to achieve political justice. Roberto Hernandez — a Latino professor and activist, who had been involved in the Berkeley student strike of 1999 when students took to the streets because the university was disbanding the Ethnic Studies department — was the director of this program.

The Critical Muslim Studies program took place in the old Arab neighborhood of Al-Baizin in Spain. (photo by Iman Sultan)
The Critical Muslim Studies program took place in the old Arab neighborhood of Al-Baizin in Spain. (photo by Iman Sultan)

The location proved key. Ramon Grosfoguel, an ethnic studies professor and critical scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, explained why we were in Granada. The historical city was not only the last outpost of Muslim civilization in Spain, it was the first victim of colonial modernity that was about to sweep the world, and which the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella were forging.  The same tactics used in the Inquisition, he explained, were used in the conquest of the Americas and and in the genocide of indigenous and African peoples. Current-day Granada is fraught with this history and divisive consciousness. Near Plaza Nueva, a public square filled with restaurants and shops, a gigantic statue of Columbus kneeling at Isabella’s feet and giving her his plans for conquest rises into the sky with the beacon of the Alhambra gleaming on the horizon.

Grosfoguel postulated that the Muslim conquest of Iberia was in fact not a conquest, but a liberation. In the 8th century, Spain did not exist as we know it today, but constituted different languages and peoples. The Iberian people were primarily Unitarian Christians and Jews, suffering under the boot of foreign Visigothic rule. An army of 8,000 Muslims (at the most) defeated an army of 150,000 Visigoths in only three years, a seemingly impossible feat. What enabled the Muslims to triumph? The answer lay in the people. The inhabitants of Iberia had not only joined the incoming Muslim armies in liberating themselves, they had also appealed to Morocco several times for help. What resulted? Interfaith relations flourished and there was unity amongst these Mediterranean peoples. The invisible line in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa, West and East, did not exist at the time, but only appeared with The Inquisition and the advent of colonialism.

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Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN for ISLAMiCommentary/TIRN on OCTOBER 9, 2014: 

Lives of Muhammad by Kecia Ali The life of Prophet Muhammad has inspired the development of a vast body of literature over the centuries. Kecia Ali takes a look at this diverse literature in her new book, The Lives of Muhammad (Harvard University Press, 2014). She points out that “among Muslims and among non-Muslims, various approaches to the Prophet’s life story coexist.” This is the heart of her fascinating study. “In the twenty-first century,” she argues, “it makes no sense to speak of Muslim views of Muhammad in opposition to Western or Christian views. Instead, the images of Muhammad that contemporary Muslims hold fervently and defend passionately arose in tandem and in tension with western European and North American intellectuals’ accounts of his life.”

For an excerpt from The Lives of Muhammad, focusing on The Prophet’s wife Aisha, see here.

Ali is an Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University who writes on early Islamic law, women, ethics, and biography. In addition to her newest book The Lives of Muhammad (2014), other books include Sexual Ethics and Islam (2006), Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (2010), and Imam Shafi’i: Scholar and Saint (2011). From time to time she blogs at feminismandreligion.com, cognoscenti.wbur.org, and huffingtonpost.com.

Here’s an exclusive Q & A with Ali:

What inspired your interest in how Muhammad has been portrayed over the centuries?

Kecia Ali
Kecia Ali

My first two books (linked above) focused on Islamic law, with a lot of attention to marriage. In doing that research, I came across quite divergent portraits of Muhammad as a husband in early texts compared to modern ones, which started me thinking. Then I wrote a biography of the ninth-century jurist Imam Shafi‘i, which got me interested in biography as a genre: what does it mean to tell the story of someone’s life? It was a natural progression to start looking at biographies of the Prophet. Once I started, I was fascinated with how authors rejected, recycled, and reworked earlier material. A twentieth century Indian author references—without apparent irony—a seventeenth-century English polemicist. An Egyptian author plagiarizes a French biographer, while simultaneously lambasting Orientalists. The way that Muslim and non-Muslim writings about Muhammad have become inextricably intertwined says a great deal about a shared turn to ideals of objectivity, historicity, and fact.

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by ZAHEER KAZMI for LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS on APRIL 4, 2014: 

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.

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by TIRN on NOVEMBER 15, 2012: 

The Islamophobia Studies Journal (ISJ), a bi-annual publication “that focuses on the critical analysis of Islamophobia and its multiple manifestations in our contemporary moment,” has published its first issue.

According to the editorial statement, “the inaugural edition of the Islamophobia Studies Journal is an attempt to forge the bonds for strengthening our commitment to justice, to be accountable and responsible for the work that we produce, and more importantly, to focus our passions – the basis of the human condition – as we strive to work in our collective and related projects for justice.” Continue reading