Spring 2015

Mar. 3, 1:30pm, Johnson Center Room D

Rola el-Husseini (Graduate Center-CUNY) - "Levantine Kandahar: Islamism in North Lebanon"

Recent events in Lebanon have drawn attention to the city of Tripoli, the second-largest city in Lebanon. In the Lebanese press, Tripoli is now frequently compared to the Afghan city of Kandahar, another bastion of Islamic conservatism, while the plains to its north are often compared to the Anbar area in Iraq—an area where the Islamic State has received strong support in its war against the Shiʿa-dominated regime in Baghdad. Tripoli is regarded by many as a fertile recruiting ground for radical Sunni Islamist groups, and it is indeed an area where Sunni Islamist groups find a receptive audience. This talk will present the findings from recent fieldwork in Tripoli among different groups of Islamists, a typology of Islamist groups in the city, and an analysis of the Salafi movement in the city. Read More

Mar. 17, 4:30pm, Johnson Center Room F

Laurence Louër (Sciences Po-Paris) - "Shi'a and the State in the Gulf Monarchies"

In all the six Gulf monarchies, the Shi'a are a demographic and/or political minority and are not part of the higher strata of the social fabric. They are sometimes subjected to various forms of discrimination. However, discrimination is not always due to religious motives. Saudi Arabia is the exception rather than the rule in this respect. Moreover, in some Gulf states the Shi'a are close allies or associates of the rulers (Kuwait, Oman). This lecture will highlight how the state formation processes and configurations of the political arenas play out in building different models of relations between the Shi'a and the state. Read More

Mar. 25, 5:00pm, Research Hall Room 163

Jonathan Brown (Georgetown University) - "Sharia Law and the Modern World: A Talk on Islamic Justice"

Jonathan Brown is the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and he is the Associate Director of the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding. He is the author of The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunni Hadith Canon, Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World, and Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction, which was selected for the National Endowment for the Humanities' Bridging Cultures Muslim Journeys Bookshelf. His most recent book, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenges and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy, was named one of the top books on religion in 2014 by the Independent, and will be available for purchase at this lecture. Read More

Mar. 31, 1:30pm, Johnson Center Room G

Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) - "Islam on TV in the Arab World"

Television is still by far the most influential media in the Arab World, and since the 1990s satellite technology has enabled broadcasters to reach Arab audiences at a transnational and even transregional level, Islam has emerged as a central topic in a highly competitive pan-Arab television market with more than 700 channels. This talk will present key channels, personalities and genres, paying special attention to the musalsalat, the serials screened during the month of Ramadan. Read More 

Apr. 7, 1:30pm, Johnson Center Room C

Daromir Rudnyckyj (University of Victoria, Canada) - "Debating Islam, Consuming Finance: Islamic Banking, Halal Food, and Religious Authenticity in Contemporary Malaysia"

Malaysia’s ambitious Islamic finance project has made economic action a site of debate over correct Islamic practice. In this presentation, Dr. Rudnyckyj describes how Islamic finance experts frequently make analogies between Islamic economic action and Islamic dietary practices and note that Islamic banking and halal food consumption both share common origins in Islamic law. He also details how experts compare the prohibition against interest (riba) to restrictions on the consumption of meat that is not slaughtered according to religious prescriptions. This presentation documents the recurrent consternation of Islamic bankers as they are confronted by evidence that, while Malaysian Muslims are exceedingly fastidious ensuring that their dietary practices are halal (permissible), they exhibit far less discipline and reflection when it comes to ensuring that their financial practices are compliant with Islamic prescriptions. Read More

Apr. 14, 4:30pm, Johnson Center Room G

Mara Leichtman (Michigan State University) - "Conversion to Shi'i Islam and the Transformation of Religious Authority in Senegal"

Senegalese “conversion” to Shi‘i Islam resulted from cosmopolitan interactions with West Africa’s resident Lebanese population and Iranian revolutionary ideologies. Shi‘i advocates spread their religious convictions through teaching, conferences, holiday celebrations, and media publicity. Senegalese converts to Shi‘i Islam use their literacy in Arabic and individually acquired libraries of Islamic legal books to bypass the authority of Sufi marabouts. Some keep their feet in both Sunni and Shi‘i worlds, and their ability to compare religious texts of both traditions wins them disciples. Shi‘i leaders skillfully detach this foreign religious ideology from Middle Eastern politics and make this branch of Islam relevant to Senegalese through establishing religious centers as NGOs, which work to bring health care and economic development to neighborhoods in the name of Shi‘i Islam.  Read More

Apr. 21, 4:30pm, Johnson Center Room C

Ayesha Chaudhry (University of British Columbia, Canada) - "Who Speaks for the Qur'an? Exploring the Line Between Exegesis and Eisegesis"

Religious texts mean what their communities say they mean. Texts do not have a voice of their own. They speak only through their community of readers. So, with a community so large (1.3 billion) and so old (1,400 years), Islamic religious texts necessarily speak with many voices to reflect the varied histories and experiences of the many communities that call themselves Muslim. In this talk, Dr. Chaudhry will explore the ways in which modern Muslims interpret a controversial verse in the Qur’an (Q. 4:34), also known as the “wife-beating” verse.  Read More