Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

June 8th, 2017

On the recent past, fraught present, and tenuous future of Turkish Muslim civil society

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Muslim Civil Society and the Politics of Religious Freedom in TurkeyTo practice anthropology is to accept an implicit temporal double bind: We think we write ethnography, but frequently our expositions and analyses have become history by the time they achieve publication and elicit responses from readers and peers. When I set out to conduct the research that eventually became the basis for my new book, Muslim Civil Society and the Politics of Religious Freedom in Turkey (Oxford University Press, 2017), I envisioned a panoramic study of a vibrant, emergent field of religious and political action in Turkey, embedded in the institutions and discourses of civil society.

I began fieldwork at a relatively sanguine moment in recent Turkish history, in 2005, when the destabilization of the hegemonic, frequently illiberal forces of statist Kemalism, especially the military, carried the promise of a new, multi-centered public sphere that might incorporate a plethora of previously peripheral positions and silenced voices. At the time, I could not imagine that this climate of political optimism, as well as the very domain of Muslim civil society that I set out to study, would prove to be so evanescent.

May 17th, 2017

From Jefferson to Jeffersonian battles

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Thomas Jefferson's Qur'anAmong the scholars who have most inspired my work as a political scientist are multiple historians—whether intellectual, legal, or religious. From James Kloppenberg and Samuel Moyn, to Anver Emon and Patrick Boucheron, scholars of history have offered some of the most rigorous and original contributions to ongoing debates about democracy and religious freedom. History avoids the pitfalls that often characterize other disciplines, especially mine, including an excessive focus on the present and on refined quibbles about methods and positionality, sometimes at the expense of relevance.

Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Quran is one of the most significant illustrations of the need for more history in current academic and political disputes about secularism and citizenship. Hers is not a history of the supposedly linear process of integration of American Muslims. In lieu of the traditional “from migrants to citizens” narrative, Spellberg argues that Muslims were thought of as citizens by the Founding Fathers themselves. The estrangement of Muslims from the American nation and the construction of Muslims as foreigners are products of later developments of the nineteenth century.

May 11th, 2017

From the Founders to Trump: The legalities of “Muslims”

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Thomas Jefferson's Qur'anWriting about the image of the “Muslim” at America’s founding, Denise Spellberg writes how debates on religious tests for office were informed by European ideas about Muslims. As Spellberg points out, the delegates debating religious tests relied on ideas about Muslims that “had been filtered through a complex web of associations both foreign and frightening, as attested by their persistent allusions to Islam as a civilization of threat.” Without irony, slave-holding delegates debating religious tests construed the “Muslim” and the “Islamic” by reference to “Ottoman despotism or the predations of the four pirate states of North Africa,” despite the likelihood that “they themselves may have lived in proximity to real Muslims of West African origin, for whom they were the oppressors.” The Founding Fathers who debated the hypothetical of a Muslim president of the United States relied on inherited images of the “Muslim” as foreign, distant, and threatening, despite the fact that Muslims worked as slaves for those same men.

This irony continues to haunt me today, as I reflect on Islam as imagined by medieval Europeans at the same time that I watch the Trump administration construe the “Muslim” and the “Islamic.” Today’s irony, though, takes on different aspects in the two executive orders that are characterized as Muslim bans, an irony with a long, distant pedigree.

May 2nd, 2017

Muslim fears and Muslim rights

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Thomas Jefferson's Qur'anMuslims played a crucial role in determining the full extent of religious liberty in the early history of the United States of America. Even though the founders did not know any actual Muslims, the figure of a Muslim represented two ideas about authority and belonging. The first idea drew upon European fears of Islamic authority. For Americans who were familiar with Enlightenment texts, Muslims, and particularly Turks, supported despotism and enslavement, and it was believed that if the United States did not stamp out monarchical tendencies, then it was in danger of replicating tyrannical systems represented by the Ottoman Empire. The second idea celebrated the promise of civic rights by including hypothetical Muslims as potential citizens and office-bearers of the United States.

Denise Spellberg’s book Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders demonstrates that fear of Muslims may have played a role in American cultural perceptions of the world, but it was the second idea about rights of Muslims that guided the founders as they built a government based on religious liberty.

April 24th, 2017

For Love of the Prophet—A reply

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For Love of the ProphetFor Love of the Prophet certainly is a book about Sudan, but, like all ethnographies, it is also very much autobiographical. Indeed, the book starts with an anecdote about me and my own wanderings during my dissertation fieldwork: How what I assumed to be true in my framing of the project proved otherwise and how I was forced to rethink my own research questions in light of what I found. In a very real sense, For Love of the Prophet is a record of my own schooling by the people and situations I confronted, forcing me to ask new sorts of things of the individuals I met and to look at the world they inhabited in new ways.

Yet, in calling my book “autobiographical” I mean something more than that it is about me personally. Rather, the book serves as a mirror for a very particular moment of our history in the West, one in which “the Islamic” has unsettled how we imagine the state, not only in our examinations of experiments in Islamic statehood such as the one I study in Sudan, but at home as well. Everything we hold dear about our own state project—equality, liberty, rule of law, the very idea of a citizenship blind to religion—seems to be upset by the those who pose an Islamic exception. From the Muslim Ban to Brexit to the looming possibility of a Le Pen victory in France, the Islamic is frequently positioned as a challenge to the modern state, and in its conjuring often muddles the coherence of the principles the modern state claims to uphold.

April 20th, 2017

The inevitable Islamic State? The paradoxes of Sudanese politics and society

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For Love of the ProphetNoah Salomon’s recent book, For Love of the Prophet, is a lesson in academic creativity in the face of adversity. As the author details in his candid introduction, he went to Sudan in search of the “Islamic State,” only to discover that it was nowhere to be seen. Deprived of his object of study, he was able to conjure it by renaming it. What other researchers would call “civil society” was re-christened as an ubiquitous Islamic state that was found everywhere, from bus rides to mosques and mystical rituals. The enemies of this state, no less than its supporters, all became part of this amorphous phenomenon called the Islamic state. As he puts it, the opponents of Islamism vied with its constituencies (due to its “hegemony” and “magnetism”) in a contest to speak its language.

This “discovery,” Salomon argues, compelled him to ask his questions in a new form. Rather than focus on the state as a despotic entity, the question was re-formulated in terms of what can be learned from examining “state power as productive and not solely repressive.”

This radical claim is supported by an even more radical rejection of the widely accepted separation between state and civil society and its enveloping public sphere.

April 13th, 2017

Taking the Islamic in “the Islamic state” seriously

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For Love of the ProphetI want to focus on Salomon’s argument that the secular state—in this case the British colonial one—is in the business not of separating religious from political life but of administering and managing religion, which necessarily includes defining its proper form and molding the various practices the state finds on the ground to fit that form . . . .

Yet the Sudanese state is not, Salomon also wants to argue, merely another instantiation of a secular state; there is something specific to the “Islamic” in this Islamic state. As he writes, “the method by which Islamic sources are engaged in order to produce the present state, the way in which these sources inflect its politics in new directions unimagined by the state’s colonial pioneers, and the results of state projects in religion-making as they intersect with diverse spiritual practices on the ground, certainly distinguish the contemporary Islamic state from the secular colonial state.” . . .

The dexterity with which Salomon maps these continuities and discontinuities between the secular colonial state and the Islamic post-colonial one is compelling. But it made me wonder about the distinction he draws between a secular state and an Islamic state.

April 11th, 2017

Salafism in Nigeria: An introduction

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Salafism in NigeriaStudying Salafism is important not just for analyzing jihadist movements or clarifying twentieth-century Muslim history, but also for better understanding the role of religion in contemporary life. What claims to authenticity are religious movements making? What mechanisms sustain these claims? How do these mechanisms shape the preaching and writing of religious leaders, and the expectations and preoccupations of their audiences?

My new book, Salafism in Nigeria, explores these questions through a case study of Africa’s most populous country. The book argues that Salafism is animated by a canon of texts. This canon foregrounds the Qur’an and the reported words and deeds of the Prophet (texts known as hadith reports). At the same time, the canon gives a surprisingly prominent place to the work of twentieth-century scholars. The canon structures Salafi preaching and is a key tool that Salafis use in debates with other Muslims—and with each other.

April 6th, 2017

Tainted love

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For Love of the ProphetNoah Salomon begins his work with the provocative statement that the “state may have failed according to the criteria of Foreign Policy’s index, yet by producing and sustaining novel publics, it has in fact endured,” but ends with “the Islamic public sphere [the state] had enabled was turning out phenomena they could not control.” Namely, the Islamic state’s project towards public hegemony paradoxically engendered its rejection embodied by the secular secessionist movement in South Sudan and ISIL’s rejection of the Islamic nation-state model based on sovereignty. . . .

I’m left wondering how specifically these non-discursive, non-didactic, somatic and affective circulations in the “public” played a special role in these ruptures. Is Salomon simply left agreeing with Wael Hallaq that the Islamic nation-state is an “Impossible State” due to incommensurable modes of (now insert: “affective”) disciplinary subjectification and moral governance?

March 30th, 2017

The rhetoric of Islamic politics in local and global dimensions

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For Love of the ProphetNoah Salomon’s ethnography of politics provides a penetrating insight on the far-reaching effects of the Islamic state project in the Sudan. It is a welcome study of an Islamic state that is more than two decades old, at a time when a new experiment in the Levant seems to overwhelm the global imagination. The older models, including the Pakistani, the Iranian, the Libyan, and earlier still the Saudi, provide food for thought of Islamic politics in its local and global manifestations. These earlier projects offer a longer-term perspective of political projects in the face of continuing challenges in Muslim societies. These include questions of diversity, legitimacy, economic prosperity, deep inequalities, ever-present foreign interventions that constitute our global world, and fractured religious identities.

Salomon’s monograph is a close interrogation of Sudan’s Islamic state, particularly in the responses that it generates from other Islamic actors. Through this ethnography, he explores other kinds of politics and other kinds of publics that unfold in response to the state’s project that was launched in 1989.

March 22nd, 2017

When is the Islamic state? Historical time and the agenda of Islamic studies

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For Love of the ProphetFrom the Islamic revolutions in Iran (1978-79) and Sudan (1989) to the recent emergence of ISIS, the concept of an Islamic state is often greeted in North America and Western Europe with a distinct historical anxiety, as a phenomenon of pre-modernity erupting in our midst. Scholars of Islamic studies have long countered that in fact these entities are constituted squarely within the discourses and institutions of the modern state: the movement in Iran, for instance, followed the longstanding revolutionary-national tradition in claiming that it acted on behalf of the will of “the people,” and the Sudanese leadership embraced the idea of civilizing a pre-modern religiosity, a project that has been a hallmark of Enlightenment thought. Nation-states that claim to derive their law from Islam still typically codify sharia in the format of a constitution, often drawing on the conventions and language of international law as a guide.

In reminding readers of these points, scholars of Islamic studies challenge the relegation of Islamic politics to pre-modernity. But in showing the many ways in which actual political practices in the Muslim world remain within the fold of modernity, this line of critique risks reinscribing the same temporal division, leaving it in place as the very condition of intelligibility of Islamic politics. How might a different understanding of historical time reorient the agenda of Islamic studies?

March 20th, 2017

“I am not a racist, but . . .”: The perversity of the recent ECJ ruling on the “headscarf issue”

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Look through the window | Image via Flickr user Hernán PiñeraIt is by now commonplace that ostensibly “neutral” language—such as the notorious preamble “I am not a racist, but . . .”—can serve to mask or justify covert forms of discrimination. Yet, this basic linguistic insight seems to have escaped the judges of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and—perhaps even more worryingly—many advocates of “secularism” in Europe.

In a recent landmark judgment bearing directly on the long-standing European controversy over the admissibility of Islamic headscarves in various kinds of public spaces, the ECJ has ruled that it is legal for businesses to fire employees that insist on wearing the hijab in the workplace, as long as this is in compliance with a “general company policy” that forbids “the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs.”

While many religious groups and advocates deplored the ruling, several exponents of the “far right,” as well as some advocates of secularism, have celebrated it is as a long-overdue clarification of the European Union’s stance on religious freedom.

March 16th, 2017

New itineraries in the study of Islam and the state

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For Love of the ProphetFrom Wael Hallaq’s The Impossible State to Shahab Ahmad’s What is Islam?, recent scholarship on Islam and the state has been enriched by studies that seek to interrogate the boundaries of the concept and to push scholars in multiple fields to explore new empirical and analytic possibilities for an old question. Working from quite different theoretical and textual presuppositions, both Hallaq and Ahmad make the argument that we begin with where the Islamic is not: the Islamic is not to be found in the legal and governmental institutions of the modern nation state.

Noah Salomon makes a powerful case for a different starting point, grounded in ethnography: “What are we to make of Hallaq’s impossible state when it in fact becomes a practical possibility?” With admirable transparency, he notes what many of us have encountered in the field: “When I arrived in Sudan, I made the rather unsettling discovery that I could not find the state in the places where I had expected it to be.” Salomon finds the Islamic state not in government buildings, but in the logics and conduct of daily life, “structuring the landscape of discourse and debate on which diverse expressions of contemporary Sudanese life takes place.”

February 9th, 2017

Politicizing Islam: An introduction

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Politicizing IslamPoliticizing Islam is a comparative ethnography that analyzes the religious and political dynamics of the Islamic revival in France and India, home to the largest Muslim minorities in Western Europe and Asia. These two secular democracies make for a productive comparison on the topic of Islam and politics, despite their obvious differences. In both places, Muslims have long been racialized and suffer disproportionate rates of poverty and unemployment. Islamic revival and the reactions to it in the last two decades have struck at the core of both nations’ secular doctrines.

The arguments presented in the book draw on two years of participant observation research in Lyon and the Indian city of Hyderabad, two cities with significant numbers of Muslims and forms of Islamic revival that the state has targeted in various ways. Specifically, I show how the politics of Islamic movements differ across class, a crucial factor that existing literature has largely overlooked.

December 20th, 2016

Religion and the new populism

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Light trailThe push for stronger cultural identities and political borders in the new populism is inseparable from the general concern about Islam and immigration. Most of the new populists are promoting a one-sided criticism of Islam. This is connected to the public fears of terrorism, angst about Sharia, the status of women in Muslim communities, demographic tensions (aging European populations with lower birth rates and younger immigrant populations with higher birthrates), and issues surrounding the social integration of immigrants. In this context, talk about the Jewish and Christian heritage of the West has reemerged in secular Europe and in the United States as an alternative identity-forming heritage. . .

In light of this religious and political discourse today across the Western world, there is a need to have an open discussion about this idea of the Jewish and Christian heritage of the Western world. While some are using this concept to exclude others, the religious heritage of the West can actually be a positive resource for multiculturalism, peaceful social integration, and humanitarian aid.

December 1st, 2016

The refugee crisis and religion: Beyond physical and conceptual boundaries

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refugeecrisis_2dAccording to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of the end of 2015, 65.3 million people were displaced globally at a rate of twenty-four persons per minute. This is the largest number on record and is expected to have grown in 2016. Despite the enormity of the situation, responses from Western countries (who host a mere 24 percent of displaced persons in comparison to the 86 percent hosted in countries surrounding conflict zones) have been inadequate, to say the least. Their harsh exclusionary rhetoric has resulted in increasingly hardline immigration policies.

Australia has led the way in this regard, deploying a deterrence-driven model of offshore mandatory indefinite detention, which prevents asylum seekers from ever settling in the country, even if found to be “genuine refugees,” and laws that make family reunion almost impossible. Whilst this approach has been condemned by the UNHCR and multiple human rights organizations, it has been highlighted by numerous policymakers in Europe as a possible model for governing migration on the continent. Despite the notable exceptions of Germany and, to a smaller extent, Italy, European responses to the crisis have privileged exclusionary and securitizing policies, leading many commentators to observe that rather than a refugee crisis, this should be more properly described as a crisis of leadership or a crisis of solidarity.

November 29th, 2016

Muslim Cool: An introduction

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Muslim Cool

The book focuses on interminority relationships to articulate a narrative of race and racism in the United States that transcends the Black-White binary and also the fallacy of postracialism, which holds that racism, particularly anti-Black racism, is over and that any talk of race is actually counterproductive to the work of antiracism. I identify the ways in which race, and specifically Blackness, is marshaled in the work of antiracism.

For Muslim Cool, Blackness is a point of opposition to white supremacy that creates solidarities among differently racial­ized and marginalized groups in order to dismantle overarching racial hierarchies. Yet as the stories in this book illustrate, these solidarities are necessarily entangled in the contradictions inherent in Blackness as something that is both desired and devalued. The engagement with Blackness by young US Muslims, Black and non-Black, is informed by long-standing discourses of anti-Blackness as well as the more current co-optation of Blackness in the narratives of United States multiculturalism and American exceptionalism.

October 11th, 2016

A new “Christianist” secularism in Europe

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiThroughout much of the world, religion manifestly—and sometimes markedly—informs everyday understandings, cultural representations, and political and legal definitions of nationhood. The paradox I wish to explore, with reference to developments in Northern and Western Europe, is that religion also informs assertively secular understandings and discourses of nationhood—and not simply as their evident target, but as their putative foundation.

The categories “secular” and “religious” have deeply intertwined histories, and the Christian origins of the category “secular” have been amply discussed. My interest here is in the religious dimension of secularism, as a self-conscious, assertive political stance, and secularity, as a characterization of a culture or way of life.

August 29th, 2016

The Politics of Islamic Law: An introduction

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My new book, The Politics of Islam LawThe Politics of Islamic Law, presents an approach to the study of religion, comparative politics and law that begins with the contradiction and ambiguity produced by the interplay among sacred texts, institutions of state and society, and actors working with the tools they have at hand. By seeking to understand the development of the category of Islamic law as a “problem-space” for the modern state, the book invites further exploration of how Muslim futures are being framed and discussed, historicizing what David Scott has framed as “the particular questions that seem worth asking and the kinds of answers that seem worth having.” (2004:4) In this exploration the question – ‘whose law?’ – turns out to be as important, if not more important, than the question – ‘which law?’ This generates a new set of questions in the study of the politics of Islamic law: in what domains of Muslim life is Islamic law being raised once again, and by whom? In what domains of Muslim life has Islamic law been made silent? What political compacts and struggles underwrite these claims for presence or absence, and upon what institutional and social foundations do they rely? Over what kind of human subject do they lay claim, and how might this subject speak to the law? To what version of the past do they refer, and to which vision of the future?

June 1st, 2016

Post-Doctoral Opportunity at Columbia University IRCPL

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The Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life invites applications for postdoctoral scholar positions, for the 2016-2017 academic year.

May 12th, 2016

On France’s theologico-political crisis

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Nations have different ways of talking about themselves. Americans tend to discuss their country in an idiom of national greatness, however radically they may disagree about the nature of this providential blessing. The French, on the contrary, make berating their country a national sport. Anyone who has recently spent time in France has heard the exasperation with which its citizens are prone to speak of their homeland, often describing it as “little country” whose glory days are behind it. Such talk is hardly new. In the 1930s, the writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline—a master in the genre—mused about his nation’s fate: “We’ll disappear body and soul from this place like the Gauls … They left us hardly twenty words of their own language. We’ll be lucky if anything more than ‘merde’ survives us.”[footnote]Louis-Ferdinand Céline, L’École des cadavres (Paris : Denoël, 1938).[/footnote]

April 26th, 2016

The new global politics of religion: A view from the other side

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Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomIn the summer of 2013, the international Islamic magazine al-Bayan published its Ramadan issue with a striking cover. Flanked by titles on the Qur’anic and Biblical figure Haman, jihad and the great battles won by Muslims in the month of Ramadan, and an interview with the Iraqi Islamist intellectual ‘Imad al-Din Khalil, the image that the editors chose for the cover article was clearly meant to cause controversy. Casually strewn across a map of the Middle East and North Africa was a simple sibha, a chain of beads used to count repetitive prayers known collectively as adhkar. In recent years, the sibha has come to be associated as a marker of Sufi Mulims, given that non-Sufi reformist Muslims of various stripes have stipulated that it constitutes an innovation in worship and thus a straying from the perfect path laid down by the Prophet himself for praising God. Attached to the end of this sibha, where a bead or other decoration might normally be located, was a small American flag, resembling those lapel pins that US government officials began to wear following 9/11. If the implications of the image itself were not clear, the headline on which it sat most certainly was: “American Infiltration through the Sufi zawiyas.”

August 21st, 2015

The religious roots of ISIS

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At Arc of the Universe, Daniel Philpott draws from the recent New York Times article, “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape” and the earlier Atlantic article, “What ISIS Really Wants,” to add to the long-running debate on the universality of religious freedom, and emphasizes the importance of political theology.

August 19th, 2015

Coalitions and slippery slopes: The same-sex marriage debate continues

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Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court of the United States confirmed the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. Unsurprisingly, debates on the meaning and future of marriage have not subsided, but have taken on new directions. Among the hottest topics of debate are how American Muslims should respond to the ruling and whether polygamy will be the next battleground.

 

August 18th, 2015

A View from the Margins of the Banlieue

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What light does the experience of Salafi Muslim women shed on satire mocking Islam and Muslims?

New Directions in the Study of Prayer grantee Z. Fareen Parvez takes up this question in her recent article on the place of female Muslim piety in contemporary France.

August 5th, 2015

The public voice of Muslim women

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In an essay here back in 2011, I sounded the alarm about the ubiquity and mainstreaming of hate speech directed against Muslims in Norway. That item was published a mere month before a White, Norwegian, right-wing extremist—who claimed Christian conservative leanings, and who had, since 2006, drenched himself in the netherworld of far-right online conspiracy theories about Islam and Muslims in Europe—committed the worst terrorist attacks in modern Norwegian history, killing seventy-seven people in Oslo and at Utøya on July 22, 2011.

In that essay I was concerned with a state of affairs in Norway in which anti-Muslim ideas and sentiments had become so ubiquitous in the media and in public discourse—and legitimate and necessary critique of “religion” so conflated with hate speech—that few seemed to have the stomach to engage in any form of counter-speech, and hate speech against Muslims was hardly ever prosecuted.

April 20th, 2015

The Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy (and what you need to read to understand it)

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Graeme Wood’s “What ISIS Really Wants,” published in The Atlantic in February 2015, sparked a massive debate. The controversy concerns whether the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is Islamic or not, and especially whether ISIS accurately understands Islam’s “medieval tradition”whatever that may mean. Wood correctly argues that ISIS cannot be understood without reference to its understanding of Islam, but he also impliesdisturbingly, to manythat ISIS’s understanding of Islam is just as representative of the religion as any other view would be.

March 27th, 2015

Is ISIS Islamic? Why it matters for the study of Islam

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Recent months have witnessed considerable angst in the academy over what is and isn’t Islam(ic). Spurred by events from the attacks in Paris to Graeme Wood’s Atlantic article on ISIS, scholars of Islam have agonized over whether and how to apply the label “Islamic” or “Muslim” to characterize recent events. Reviewing various commentaries, there is a limited range of arguments that, by proffering competing positivist accounts of the Islamic, thereby play into a climate of moral panic about the threat Islam poses to domestic and international orders. By playing into the moral panic, such arguments, in the aggregate, preclude both critical interrogation of the scholarly production on Islam and Muslims and reflection on the possible contribution Islamic studies can make to advanced research more broadly.

February 20th, 2015

The ISIS shock doctrine

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The rapid and shockingly violent establishment of a self-declared Islamic Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq by The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), rebranded in 2014 as The Islamic State (IS), has led to what Issam Eido describes as an explosion of narratives about ISIS, many of which seek a doctrinal basis for its beliefs and behavior from within the Islamic tradition.

February 17th, 2015

Values and violence: Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo

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Until last month’s attack, Charlie Hebdo was little known beyond France. In the wake of the massacre, however, it was quickly valorized as a symbol of freedom of expression and French secularism, and the hashtag #JesuisCharlie (“I am Charlie”) spread rapidly across social media. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared a “war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity.” On January 11, 2015, more than a million people, including 40 of the world’s political leaders—not all of whom are otherwise known for their support of free speech—marched together in Paris.

The week after the massacre, Charlie Hebdo’s “All is forgiven” issue featured a cover depicting the prophet Muhammad in tears, holding a sign that read “Je suis Charlie.”

The violence, and responses to it, have raised a slew of questions. Is it helpful, or even accurate, to characterize these killings as religiously motivated? How have the attack and responses to it helped to construct or entrench the identities said to be in conflict? Should the events be understood in the context of France’s history of satire or its history of colonialism? Can the two be separated in this case? What is the significance of the willingness of many not only to affirm free expression, but also to identify themselves with the magazine? Are there limits to the freedom of expression?

January 21st, 2015

Twitter, scripture and practice: A twessay on #ttQuran

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In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful #ttQuran

What is #ttQuran?
We will tell you what is #ttQuran.

What is #ttQuran?
Truly you do not know what is #ttQuran.
To know #ttQuran is beyond.
It is only my ability to tell you about #ttQuran.
#ttQuran is a revelation.

Again, #ttQuran is a revelation.

January 16th, 2015

How to make someone famous for the wrong reason

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Shahin Najafi - Unplugged Concert in Toronto | Image via Flickr user Reza VaziriShahin Najafi never set out to be a rapper, much less “Salman Rushdie of Rap,” but in early 2012, global notoriety was thrust upon the exiled Iranian singer after an ayatollah issued a fatwa against his single, “Naghi.” No doubt the young songwriter aimed to provoke—the track’s cover art depicts the dome of a well-known Shiite shrine re-imagined as a woman’s breast with a rainbow flag flying from the summit—but his satirical rhymes took aim at much more than Islam or conservative clerics. Nevertheless, Najafi became both victim and beneficiary of “catastrophic celebrity.”

How do you create “catastrophic celebrity”? First, find an artist whose work outrages some representative of a religious tradition, landing the artist in dire circumstances. Next, export the story of the outrage and the resulting drama out of its original cultural context, and count on others to disseminate the story without discovering or exploring this context. Several things result, the combination of which creates catastrophic celebrity.

January 13th, 2015

The Charlie Hebdo shootings

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On Wednesday, January 7th, two masked assailants stormed the Paris headquarters of the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, killed 12 people, and wounded 11 others. Police quickly identified 3 suspects—the shooters and a suspected getaway driver. The following day, in a suburb of Paris, a masked gunman (later linked to the brothers suspected of carrying out the magazine massacre) fatally shot a policewoman. By Friday, all three gunmen had been killed in separate hostage situations, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying that they were intended to teach the French “that the freedom of expression has limits and boundaries.”

October 2nd, 2014

In whose name? ISIS, Islam, and social media

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Commentators routinely remark on the sophisticated use of media by the organization that calls itself the Islamic State, but in the past few weeks many Muslims have been using the Twitter hashtag #NotInMyName to offer a counter-narrative about Islam. The campaign began earlier this month with a video released by the London-based Active Change Foundation, featuring British Muslims speaking out against the organization (variously known as ISIS and ISIL), which, they say, does “not represent Islam or any Muslim.” A recent tweet using the hashtag stated that, “ISIS is not a representation of Islam. My religion is based upon principles of respect, love and harmony.”

September 4th, 2014

Short skirts and niqab bans: On sexuality and the secular body

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Introduced in Québec in March 2010, Bill 94 proposed requiring women to unveil their faces if they wanted to work in the public sector or access public services, including hospitals, universities, and public transportation. The bill was eventually tabled and was followed in November 2013 with Bill 60, which demanded in more generalist language the removal of conspicuous religious signs in order to dispense or use public services in the province. These Québécois bills—which have not passed—echo the logic of the April 2011 French law targeting the niqab (face veil) and banning the “dissimulation of the face” in public spaces. Both French and Québécois proponents of these laws cited gender equality and women’s emancipation—which they deemed foundational to French and Québécois values—as their primary goal. Despite Québec’s long insistence that it espouses a third path between Canadian multiculturalism and the French Jacobin model, Québec and France have increasingly converged to promote a model of secularism in which liberty and equality are articulated as sexual liberty and sexual equality. In fact, these niqab restrictions represent a broader secular-liberal discourse—what Joan W. Scott calls “sexularism”—that posits secularism as the best guarantor of women’s sexual freedom and sexual equality and, therefore, as that which distinguishes the West from the woman-oppressing rest, especially from Islam.

September 2nd, 2014

Faith in the nation: Nigerian publics and their religions

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The cityscape of Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, is dominated by two houses of worship known as the National Mosque and the National Church. Facing each other in the heart of the city, these impressive architectural monuments symbolize the crucial place of organized religion in the postcolonial Nigerian state’s efforts at forging a unified national public. The national population of 160 million is notoriously heterogeneous, comprising hundreds of languages, ethnicities, and so-called “traditional” religious and political institutions. For political and rhetorical expediency, this diversity is often reduced to the country’s 36 states, 6 geopolitical zones, and 3 majority languages (plus English). But the Muslim/Christian dichotomy is arguably the central organizing trope in contemporary discourses of Nigerian nationhood.

June 25th, 2014

The politics of divine intervention

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What role do divine interventions play in Egypt’s current political climate? Is Abdel Fattah el-Sisi a Sufi? Is the Muslim Brotherhood anti-Sufi? To understand the interplay of religion and politics in Egypt today, it is not enough to pay attention to political parties, constitutions, and political slogans. We need to also look at how the invisible and the divine are invoked in the public sphere. The belief in divine interventions, divinely inspired dreams and visions, and direct contact with the prophet Muhammad and his saintly descendants is often associated with Sufism. In recent months, however, dreams and visions have also figured in the supposedly moderate, liberal, secular Sisi camp and in the supposedly Islamist Muslim Brotherhood camp.

April 9th, 2014

Searching for the church of Islam

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Amid the conflict currently underway in Egypt—between state authorities led by the military-backed government and the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies—another momentous battle is being waged over the country’s mosques and pulpits. Sermons, religious lessons, and charitable and development activities centered in mosques are an important sphere of influence for Islamist movements of various stripes. This arena is also a space to affirm the legitimacy of the regime in Egypt, whose government directly runs many mosques and oversees many more through the Ministry of Endowments (Awqaf). As such, mosques have long been the locus of struggles over power and influence between the regime and its men in the official religious establishment on one hand, and Islamist groups on the other. Currently, the Ministry of Endowments is instituting strict policies aimed at tightening its exclusive control over all Islamic rites and mosque-centered activities, in tandem with a sweeping security campaign targeting the activities of all Islamist movements, with the exception of the pro-government Salafi al-Nour Party.

March 21st, 2014

The Muslim Marvel

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At Religion Dispatches, TIF editorial associate Wei Zhu reviews the landmark first issue of Ms. Marvel, which features a teenaged Muslim girl from Jersey City.

March 19th, 2014

The future of political Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egyptian politics

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Shortly after the late Omar Suleiman, the Hosni Mubarak era head of Egypt’s military intelligence, had been appointed vice president in a belated attempt to appease Egyptian protesters, he gave an infamous interview to Christiane Amanpour, in which he declared that the Egyptian people were not ready for democracy. While his remarks were rightly dismissed at the time as a self-serving declaration intended to justify why the regime was not moving faster to respond to the demands of the protesters, it certainly invites one to ask why Egyptians have had such a difficult time building a viable democracy. A popular theory, invoked by many Egyptian liberal democrats and supported by the military’s ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, is that there exists a fundamental incompatibility between Islamist politics and democracy, or at least between the Islamist politics of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and democratic politics. (Ironically, that was precisely one of Suleiman’s claims in that interview—that elections would only empower what he derisively called the “Islamic current.”)

March 11th, 2014

Political Islam becomes less political

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For the past few years, much of the scholarly literature on Islamist movements has danced around the “participation/ moderation” idea: that participation in democratic politics tends to moderate the ideology and positions of Islamists. I choose my term deliberately. When I say “danced around” I do not mean that scholars have endorsed its automatic applicability; far from it. Most have eschewed the vague term “moderation,” but even those who have used it have tried to give it specificity. And they have noted that the “participation” in question has generally been in non-democratic systems, so that a generalization culled from scholarship on political party behavior in democratic electoral systems (one that has plenty of qualifications and exceptions attached) is unlikely to be transferable to elections in which the existing regime will not allow itself to lose.

March 10th, 2014

Egypt after the coup

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On July 3, 2013, after four days of intense public protests, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was removed, by force, from elected office.

February 20th, 2014

The Charter of Quebec Values

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On November 7th, 2013, on the heels of a heated public debate about the role of religion in public life, the government of Quebec tabled its controversial Bill 60, “Charte affirmant les valeurs de laïcité et de neutralité religieuse de l’État ainsi que d’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes et encadrant les demandes d’accommodement” (Charter affirming the values of state secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests). The legislation, introduced by Bernard Drainville, the minister for Democratic institutions and active citizenship, seeks to affirm the religious neutrality of the state, specifically by prohibiting public sector employees—including those working in hospitals, schools, daycare centers, and universities—from wearing “signes ostentatoires” [conspicuous religious symbols], examples of which include hijabs, kippas, Sikh turbans, and “large” crucifixes. The legislation also proposes to amend Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, in order to enshrine the equality of men and women as the highest human right, to which other rights (e.g. freedom of religious expression) would be subordinated.

February 18th, 2014

Religion in European migration studies

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In recent years, religion has come back to the research agenda of the European social sciences with full strength. Important authors such as José Casanova, Timothy A. Byrnes, and Peter J. Katzenstein have identified this renewed interest in the topic, both in politics and in academia, as a “return of religion” to European public spheres. One of the chief reasons for the return of religion in the view of these sociologists is the large influx of non-secularized populations to Europe through immigration. In particular, conflicts surrounding Islam and the practices of Muslim immigrants have attracted enormous attention both in the media and in academia.

October 8th, 2013

The “good” and the “bad” Muslims of China

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The slim crescent that rose above the skyline on July 9th signifies the beginning of this year’s holy month of Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where I have been teaching for the last four years. Pious Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking, sex, swearing, and other unlawful behaviors from dawn to dusk, following the traditions of the Prophet to get closer to God. During this sacred month of spiritual renewal, the ritual of sharing food after sunset, known as Iftar, serves important social functions such as bringing families together and reinforcing community bonds. As the last strands of sunlight disappear from the horizon, many celebrate the day by enjoying a lavish dinner with friends and family. In the UAE, as everywhere else, Iftar parties have also become an opportunity for Muslims to reach out to non-Muslims and for non-Muslims to reciprocate the hospitality.

I have been fortunate enough to attend a number of Iftars parties this Ramadan, hosted by several institutions, both secular and religious. The most recent Iftar party that I attended was hosted by the Chinese Consulate General in Dubai, in a popular family restaurant situated on the legendary Sheikh Zayed Road. To strengthen the Unified Front and in the interest of building harmonious relationships among Chinese communities overseas, the Consul General extended invitations to more than 150 Chinese expatriates from various walks of life and different ethnic backgrounds, both Muslims and non-Muslims.

October 1st, 2013

What is religion in China? A brief history

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The complex and ever-changing relationship between the Chinese state and the nation’s religions stretches back thousands of years. While the state never struggled with religious leaders for power, it governed an embedded religiosity in the population, one best described as diffused, non-exclusive, and pluralistic. As a companion to The Immanent Frame’s newly launched series of essays on the state of religion in China, this piece embarks on a brief historical survey, outlining the wide variety of beliefs and practices that religion in China encapsulates, and paying particular attention to the events and philosophies that have shaped the policies of the atheist People’s Republic of China.

September 30th, 2013

Law’s fragile state

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Mark Fathi Massoud, Assistant Professor of Politics and Legal Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, examines the trials and tribulations of law in Sudan in his new book, Law’s Fragile State: Colonial, Authoritarian, and Humanitarian Legacies in Sudan. In an interview with Jadaliyya, Massoud speaks about his motivation to uncover the essence of how law—and lawlessness—operate in the context of fragile states. Massoud also elaborates on his topic in a blog post at the Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa Blog.

September 20th, 2013

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship opening at Williams College

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Williams College has posted an opportunity in the Department of Religion. The college seeks a two-year Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Islam in Context, a position that begins in the fall of 2014.

August 21st, 2013

Religion and the environment

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Climate change and the environment can be contentious issues, particularly in American politics. Despite political differences, weather events such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires in the United States have highlighted environmental issues for impacted communities, including various religious groups and faith traditions. In recent years religious individuals and organizations have become increasingly vocal about various environmental issues, and the following roundup presents some of the latest perspectives from different faiths.

August 6th, 2013

Why the West Fears Islam

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Political scientist Jocelyne Cesari‘s recent book, Why the West Fears Islam: An Exploration of Muslims in Liberal Democracies, analyzes the Muslim experience in the context of international politics.