Archives:


5/8/2014

Usaama al-Azami (NES)

Methodological Considerations in the Study of Contemporary Islamist Thought

The attached chapter will probably be the first chapter of my dissertation on contemporary Islamist thought. The broader dissertation is concerned with understanding how prominent Islamist intellectuals reflect on Western values like secularism, democracy, and liberty; and how they selectively acquire and/or reject aspects of these concepts into their own Islamic conceptions of such ideas. As a preface to this project, this chapter considers certain theoretical and methodological questions that pertain to the study of contemporary Islamist thought. Drawing mainly from the reflections of Western intellectual historians and philosophers, I argue that a proper description of Islamist thought and motivations must be one that can be recognizable to Islamists themselves. Two specific methodological proposals that are presented here include: 1. Approaching the subject of one’s study through the interpretive lens known as the “Principle of Charity;” and 2. Presupposing minimalist conception of “truth” and “rationality” in assessing the ideas and arguments of Islamists. This would entail self-consciously suspending value judgments regarding these ideas, including subtle value judgments; and instead focusing on “seeing things their way.” A second essay, related to the first, is attached as an appendix. This essay goes further to reconsider the normative-descriptive divide in Islamic studies, and suggests that it rests upon a conception of objectivity that has been called into question in recent decades. Such a conception, as is argued in the first essay, often presents subtly normative arguments as descriptive scholarship. The appended essay suggests that in the absence of incontestable forms of “objectivity,” overt normative perspectives could be accepted into the field, and that this could potentially even enrich the scholarly conversation. An example of this in action could be seen in the work of Andrew March.

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5/1/2014

Kevan Harris (NES)

Creating a Martyrs Welfare State: 1979, War, and the Survival of the Islamic Republic

As theories of revolution predicted, the 1979 rupture in Iran enlarged the state. This was accomplished not only by adding on to the public sector but also by creating a series of parallel institutions alongside the old Pahlavi bureaucracies. These revolutionary organizations, including ones purposed for welfare, allowed Khomeini loyalists to both absorb the social mobilizations from below as well as outflank the revolutionary rivals on the secular and Islamic left.  The invasion by Iraq in late 1980 forced the Khomeinist cadres, still in the midst of revolutionary competition, to lock in these parallel structures of governance as tools of war mobilization.  Interviews with key members of the new government show that the Islamic Republic hardly relied on existing notions of “Islamic Economics” to run the state.  Instead, the government that emerged took the shape it did because of war exigencies, social demands, and intra-elite bargaining.  By the end of the war, 1 in 6 Iranians was employed or volunteering in some sort of revolutionary institution. This was not just due to charismatic diktat by Khomeini, but rather because the mobilizational push that came out of the 1979 revolution was channeled into war institutions on and off the front lines.  As a result, the Islamic Republic survived its first decade but hardly resembled the blueprint its revolutionary leaders had in mind.  Come peacetime, the political elites were immediately faced with a quandary: how to prove the revolution was worth the sacrifice of the war years.

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4/24/2014

Daniel Sheffield (NES/ Society of Fellows)

Colonizing the Persianate: Gender, Patronage, and Empire in the Georgenāma of Mullā Fīrūz

The Georgenāma (Book of King George), composed by the Parsi priest Mullā Fīrūz ibn Mullā Kā’ūs in Bombay between 1811 and 1830, is an epic poem comprising ca. 40,000 couplets recounting the story of the British conquest of India in Persian in the style of the Shāhnāma of Firdawsī. As the most prolific Parsi scholar to write in the Persian language, Mulla Fīrūz (1758-1830) represented the culmination of the centuries-long Parsi engagement with Persian. Yet, paradoxically, Fīrūz belonged to the last generation of Parsis to write in Persian as opposed to Gujarati or English. Born in the city of Bharuch in Gujarat, Mullā Fīrūz traveled with his father to Iran at the age of eight, where he received training as a Zoroastrian priest. Educated in traditional Persianate forms of learning, Mulla Fīrūz was remarkably progressive in adapting to the intellectual environment of early colonial Bombay, making extensive use of the printing press, reading European literature, and interacting with colonial authorities. In this paper, I examine Fīrūz’s longest composition, the Georgenāma, in order to comment on poetic patronage and reception in the colonial metropole. Imagining his patron as the beloved, Fīrūz depicts himself as the maddened Zulaykhā, longing for a Yūsuf to appreciate his pure Iranian diction among the multitudes of poets whose Persian has been corrupted by Indian usage. Ultimately, this Joseph appears in the form of the British governor of Bombay, Jonathan Duncan, who provides Fīrūz a stipend to compose a Shāhnāma for a new age. Finally, I argue that an analysis of the production of the Georgenāma, the last and perhaps the greatest Indo-Persian epic, provides a uniquely compelling lens through which to scrutinize the gendered encounter between Persianate and European forms of learning in early colonial Bombay.

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3/12/2014

James Pickett (HIS)

Opportunity from Upheaval: Lineages, Patronage, and the Alliance of Convenience
between Islamic Scholars and Turkic Nobility

Throughout Islamdom family dynasties of the ulama have shown remarkable longevity and resilience in the face of constantly shifting politics. The conquest of Transoxiana by Nadir Shah in 1740 and the subsequent entrenchment of the Manghit dynasty in Bukhara offered the opportunity for new families of scholars to secure material resources and prestige. Relying primarily on unpublished Persian- and Arabic-language biographical materials, this chapter traces the rise to prominence of several such families of ulama during this period of transition in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and follows the careers of their descendants and acolytes into the early twentieth century. The scholars reaping political windfall from this dramatic political upheaval bequeathed a remarkably stable social power dynamic to their heirs, who formed the core of a Persianate elite buttressing Central Asian society until the Bolshevik conquest.  The chapter argues that a seemingly esoteric set of scholarly competencies (poetry, mysticism, jurisprudence, calligraphy, inter alia) were in fact of critical value to the Turkic military elite who patronized the ulama, particularly in periods of crisis.

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2/27/2014

Jacob Olidort (NES)

The Politics of the Publishing House: Albānī and al-Maktab al-Islāmī

The role of the publishing house (dār), to be distinguished from the bookstore (maktaba) and press (maṭba‘a), has, with few exceptions (Rosiny, Shia’s Publishing in Lebanon; Lauzière, “The Construction of Salafiyya”) remained a gaping chasm in studies of Islam in the modern Middle East. This is especially surprising given the broad-ranging influence that this institution has played, with obvious examples being the wider distribution of texts, the decentralization of authority (from teacher-student to reader-book), and, in the case of Gulf presses, the further extension of the Wahhābī reach. As a case study meant in part to help fill this lacuna, this dissertation chapter examines the relationship between the Salafī thinker Muḥammad Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī (d. 1999) and the Qatarī-funded al-Maktab al-Islāmī, based first in Damascus and then in Beirut.

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2/20/2014

Simon Wolfgang Fuchs (NES)

Importing the Revolution: Pakistani Readings of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The paper is a work-in-progress and draft of a dissertation chapter. I am comparing in this piece three distinct time periods, trying to capture the immediate Pakistani reactions to the Iranian revolution in 1979 up to roughly 1982, the heyday of Shi'i activism in the mid-1980s and the situation in present-day Pakistan. I argue that during the early months and years after the Iranian revolution, Pakistani Shi'i 'ulama, remained primarily occupied with domestic events. Even ardent supporters of Khomeini were not entirely sure what the latter's authority should precisely mean for them outside of Iran. A lack of both available literature and direct contacts with Iran also led these religious scholars to make sense of the revolution in familiar South Asian terms like non-violence or the concept of the "renewer of religion" (mujaddid). A second step in the reception can be discerned with the rise of the young cleric Sayyid 'Arif Husayn al-Husaynī to the helm of Pakistan's most influential Shi'i organization of the time, the Tahrik-i Nifaz-i Fiqh-i Ja'fariyya (The Movement for the Implementation of Shi'i Law) in 1984. Husayni, who had studied briefly in Iran, clearly and consistently drew on the hallmark themes of the Iranian revolution. Yet, in doing so he was more often than not forced to bend aspects of the revolutionary message like Muslim unity or the leadership of the clerics to his Pakistani context. Finally, I will briefly turn to a full-fledged and - at least in Pakistan - unprecedented embrace of the Iranian project that is anchored in present day Lahore. This last group is represented by the influential cleric Javvad Naqvi who spent nearly his entire adult life in Iran. Naqvi goes to unprecedented lengths to promote the Iranian concept of the direct rule of a cleric (vilayat-i faqih) as a viable, desirable option for Pakistan and criticizes the Iranians for not doing enough to export the revolution; a role - so much is implied - which he has to fill himself.

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11/21/2013

Samuel Helfont (NES)

Challenging Saddam's Omnipotence: A Reexamination of Ba'thist Discourse on Shi'ism

Saddam Hussein's rule over Iraq is often described in absolute terms. Scholarship on Iraq in this period often assumes that he and his top officials were somehow omnipotent - able to control all aspects of Iraqi society at all times. Contrary to the notion of an omnipotent regime, this article argues that Saddam was sometimes unable to control how his decisions were implemented. To do so, it examines two case studies involving Sunni-Shi'i relations. In each case, Saddam and other high-ranking Ba'thist officials promoted unity between Sunnis and Shi'is. However, by the time their policies reached the Iraqi people, they often acquired clear anti-Shi'i features. As such, this article will demonstrate the difficulties for an authoritarian, post-colonial state - even one as brutal as Saddam's Iraq - to implement policy and control ideological discourses.

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11/07/2013

Elizabeth Nugent (POL)*

Islamism and the Problem of Western Hegemony: Experimental Evidence from Egypt

Scholars have long held that support for political Islam is in part a response to the rise of the West. In this telling, the West's cultural, economic, and military hegemony produce grievances or psychological strains that naturally and inexorably lead to Islamism. This paper explores this phenomenon through a survey experiment conducted in Egypt, in which we vary the salience of different aspects of Western hegemony for a representative sample of adult respondents, and observe the effect on their attitudes toward Islamist principles and politicians. We are interested in observing whether respondents who are reminded of the West's hegemony are more likely to evince support for Islamism than those who are not, why they turn to Islamism than to other, equally anti-Western, but non-religious, ideologies, and what factors most predispose individuals to Islamist responses to the West's ascendance. In a pre-test of the survey experiment, conducted in the summer of 2013, we find that the extent to which respondents turned to Islam in response to Western hegemony was mediated by gender, with women in the treatment groups moving toward Islamism, and men moving toward militarized nationalism. The differential effect by gender undermines the hypothesis that Islamism possesses a unique cognitive advantage in an era of Western hegemony, and instead suggests the importance of contextual factors. It also sheds light on important, and hitherto overlooked, features of Islamism as it may be experienced by Muslim women.

*Co-Written with Amaney Jamal (POL)and Tarek Masoud (Harvard)

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10/03/2013

Thomas Carlson (HIS)

Contours of Conversion: The Geography of Islamization in Syria, 600-1500

In the early 7th/13th century Qāra, the first caravan stop from Ḥimṣ on the road to Damascus, was entirely Christian, while a century later the geographer Abū al-Fidā described it as "mostly Christian." In the 8th/14th century it was still impossible for a Muslim traveler to venture north from Damascus without moving through spaces where Christians outnumbered Muslims. No tax registers survive from pre-modern Syria to give us demographic information, but geographic texts provide clues to the progress of Islamization, understood as a broad social and cultural process which includes but is not limited to demography. This broader process of Islamization was far slower than scholars have realized, and more variable across different locales. This article analyzes ten Arabic geographical works, along with one in Persian and one in Hebrew, and argues that Islamization was initially fastest among rural Arabs, major cities, and coastal towns, not evidently expanding into the sedentary rural population before the 4th/10th century. The division of Syria between Muslim and Christian rule from the Byzantine reconquest of the 350s/960s to the Mamlūk capture of Acre from the Crusaders in 690/1291 created axes of religious geography between northern and southern Syria and between coastal and inland areas. During this period, most Jews and some Muslims preferred inland areas of central and southern Syria ruled by Muslims, while coastal and northern Syria were known for Christian populations. The Mamlūk capture of the region in the later 7th/13th century devastated the coastline, and northern Syria became the imperial frontier between the Cairo sultanate and their Turkmen neighbors to the north and east. The Ottoman defters of the 10th/16th century indicate a total population which was 90% Muslim or higher, but still with significant local variation. Nevertheless urban Jewish populations were smaller than earlier and predominantly Christian villages more remote.


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09/14/2013

Lindsey Stephenson (NES)

Geography and Belonging: Social Navigation in the Kuwaiti Houla

The Arab states of the Gulf have undergone rapid transformations since the discovery of oil in the early 20th century. In response to these changes governments and individuals alike have attempted to preserve a "pure" Arabian culture understood to be the "original" culture of the region. This study explores the attempts of the Sunni Persians of Kuwait to establish and assert their forgotten Arab heritage, particularly through personal naming as well as the social circumstances under which such arrangements are made attractive and necessary.


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05/23/13

Teije Hidde Donker (EUI/NES)

Mobilization Mechanisms of an Islamist Resurgence: Comparing Syria and Tunisia

This paper is one of the chapters of my Phd thesis. It draws on a "processes and mechanisms" approach in Social Movement Studies (SMS)to analyze Islamist mobilization in Syria and Tunisia. It focuses on a process of "upward scale shift" to draw attention to the divergence of and interaction between political and social forms of Islamist mobilization; in addition to showing the role public institutions and state bureaucracies can have in these interactions. Simplified, I content that, next to implementing Islamist policies, Islamist parties can gain legitimacy by supporting the "Islamization" of bureaucracies and public institutions.


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05/09/13

Oded Zinger (NES)

"I do not Accept This:" Women in front of Geniza Courts

This chapter examines the experiences of women in geniza courts. Previous scholarship has often noted that women appeared regularly in courts and in a manner similar to that of men. This was used as evidence for the high status of women in geniza society. While the recurrent appearance of women in courts is irrefutable (although recent studies on other Islamic societies show that it is hardly unique), this chapter argues that women's experiences in courts was gendered in several ways. We begin with an introduction to geniza courts and court records and explore some of the problems that arise from the use of legal records as historical sources. Problematizing the relationship between what may have occurred in court and how it was recorded in the legal record leads us to examine women's experiences in the courts as reported by sources other than legal records (petitions, responsa and letters). These sources show that the experiences of women lacking male backing (orphaned women, widows or foreigners)could play out quite differently from the benign depiction assumed by scholars. Furthermore, a literary sensitivity reveals that courts tended to show a greater degree of 'understanding' to men's predicaments and adopted men's perspectives on the events that led to litigation. As a result, they often put a greater share of their pressure on women in their attempts to reach a compromise. These pressures tended to take the form of religious admonitions ('God cast this duty upon you,' 'the divine law requires you to do so')rarely found when the courts addressed men. The fact that these religious admonitions were often not required by Jewish law reveals that they reflect societal rather than legal expectations. Thus, they tell us more about the way courts approached and dealt with women than about the legality of the women's actions. In this way, by proposing a new way of reading geniza legal records, this chapter exposes the interaction of gender and status in communal courts.


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04/25/13

Aaron Rock-Singer (NES)

The Medium and the Message: The Rise of Islamic Magazines and the Formation of the Islamic Revival in Egypt, 1976-1981

Egyptians of all political stripes and ideological orientations agree that the "Islamic Revival" began in the 1970s and academic scholarship has largely mirrored this assumption without interrogating the pathways through which revivalism emerged as a key component of Egypt's political, social and economic debates. This dissertation chapter identifies the key pathway for the nationalization of Islamic Revival - Islamic magazines - and shows how magazines emerged as the key medium through contingent political, economic and social shifts and strategic (mis)calculations by political elites. It first historicizes the rise of Islamic magazines in Egypt since the late 19th century with attention to changes in technological infrastructure, economic opportunities, readership and political opportunities. It then turns to Sadatist Egypt as a distinct period and argues that, in contrast to traditional explanations which identify the entirety of Sadat's rule (1970-1981) as one of free activism for Islamists, both political and economic circumstances mitigated against the publication of magazines -and the rise of the Islamic Revival as a national phenomenon - prior to 1976.


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PISC Graduate Student Conference, 12-13 April 2013


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03/28/13

Elizabeth Nugent (POL)

What Drives Preferences for sharīʿa? Evidence from 10 Muslim Countries

Islamism -- defined as the phenomenon of parties and organizations advocating for the introduction of Islamic tenets into political life through the implementation of sharīʿa -- has become one of the dominant and most popular political movements in the Muslim world since its emergence in the mid-twentieth century. The literature has largely explained this popularity through a number of individual-level mechanisms, arguing that certain individual characteristics or opinion positions explain an individual's level of support for Islamism. Scholars have largely relied on observational data from single or grouped case studies, suggesting that Islamism does not function exactly the same in all countries. A focus on national context has prevented the development of a general theory of support for Islamist parties and movements, and as a result, an understanding of how common contextual features drive support for Islamism in Muslim-majority countries has not been well considered or understood.

The paper begins to address the lacuna in the literature by employing 2010 Arab Barometer data to test a number of individual- and country-level hypotheses about predictors for strong support of Islamism, both across a large cross-national sample as well as within 10 Muslim-majority countries. The analysis provides evidence in support of existing but previously untested 'Islamism as opposition' hypotheses, and moves the literature forward by unpacking the meaning of this opposition by issue area. In addition, the paper identifies the repressive strength of the regime as an important national-level predictor for individual support of Islamism. I suggest a theory in which the repressive strength of the regime is influential in creating support for Islamism by influencing the nature and shape of opposition. The paper concludes by moving towards a unifying theory, supported by evidence, sensitize to national level factors as well as the importance of common features across contexts.


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03/07/13

Joel Blecher (REL)

In the Sultan's Garden: Ḥadīth Commentary in the Presence of Patrons, Students and Rivals

To what extent did live debates over Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī impact the written tradition of medieval Islamic ḥadīth commentaries? Did the presence of political patrons, students and rivals at live commentary sessions play a direct role in shaping the function or form of the written commentary? Drawing on evidence culled from Mamluk era chronicles, biographical dictionaries, commentaries and their prolegomena, the following study shines a light on a spectrum of formal and less formal live events that shaped how ḥadīth and ḥadīth compilations were explicated. Building on the recent work of Konrad Hirschler, who has documented the popularization of "writerly culture and reading practices" in Mamluk Cairo, I show how ḥadīth commentators responded to the pressures of their expanding and transregional audiences.

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02/14/13

Simon Wolfgang Fuchs (NES)

Tapping Sources: The marājiʿ and their followers in Pakistan

Anthropological accounts of Pakistani Shiʿis suggest that the issue of taqlīd, the emulation of a high-ranking jurist, remains a strictly theoretical concept with little influence on the sort of Shiʿa piety practiced in the subcontinent today. In this paper, I would like to qualify this view of Pakistan as a mere Shiʿi "backwater" by focusing on the intensive discussions over the subject in the 20th century. In particular, I am interested in exploring how the leading Grand Ayatollahs, the marājiʿ (Sources of Emulation), residing mostly in the Shiʿi heartlands of the Middle East, attempted to influence the debate about whom should be recognized as the next leading scholar in Pakistan and how these claims to authority were received in the country. Additionally, I show how local Shiʿi ʿulamāʾ bolstered their own authority by either emphasizing their roles as representatives (wukalāʾ) or by stepping in the void of leadership during times of uncertainty. Relying primarily on hitherto untapped Shiʿi journals and newspapers in Urdu, I discuss the crucial moments of succession after the death of a widely accepted marjaʿ such as Muḥsin al-Ḥakīm (d. 1970) and demonstrate the creativity jurists in the "periphery" display when arguing about the "center".


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12/06/12

Megan Brankley Abbas (History)

Modernizing Islam at McGill: Encounters between Academia and Islamic Thought

This paper represents a sizable portion (little over a half)of the first dissertation chapter that I have written, although it will ultimately be chapter 2 of the overall project. My dissertation as a whole examines the encounter between the Western academic study of Islam and modern Islamic thought in the 20th century, arguing that the Western university has been a critical interlocutor for various reformist movements - both modernist and Islamist (although I find the latter term a bit awkward for some of my Indonesian and other Islamic figures)- in the Islamic world. While I am focusing on Indonesia in particular I bring in other key scholars (here Fazlur Rahman and Isma'il Faruqi)in order to both shed light on the Indonesian case and to make space for myself to argue beyond Indonesia. This chapter, which focuses on the McGill Institute of Islamic studies in the 1950s and 1960s, brings work done at McGill University, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and a wide range of published material. In addition to establishing the importance of McGill for Indonesian and other Muslim thinkers, it aims to interrogate how historical methods from academia have been deployed and challenged by Muslim academics through these academic-Islamic-encounters.

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11/15/12

David Selim Sayers (NES)

A Morphology for Literature on the Wiles of Women in Ottoman and Azeri Texts

Literature on the ostensible wiles of women has been widespread and popular for millenia. My research shows that Near Eastern Turks continued and developed this literary genre under the name of Mekr-i Zenan. This dissertation chapter proposes a morpholoy based on seventeen Mekr-i Zenan stories from various sources. The stories can be subdivided into three main categories I have called "mistake", "complicity", and "transgression". In the "mistake" stories, men cause no offense to anyone. Their mistake is simply to trust a guileful woman, who then lands them in trouble. In the "complicity" stories, men do cause offense for someone, but they do so because they become embroiled in the schemes of a guileful woman. In the "transgression" stories, finally, men cause unprovoked offense to someone, either the women herself or someone else, and the wiles of women are set in motion as a result of the offense.


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10/18/12

Jacob Olidort (NES)

'Pray as you have seen me pray': al-Albani, the Prophet's Prayer and the Efforts to Redefine the Sources of Legal Authority

In this paper, I lookt at al-Albani's first written work, the annotated version of his widely-distributed Sifat Salat al-Nabi. The latter has seen no less that fourteen publications and is certainly among the earliest works to outline al-Albani's vision for how Islamic jurisprudence should operate. I argue here that the Sifat could be seen as a case study of Salafi methodology in which an alternative to the madhhab is put forward through the explicit promotion and application of takhrij (extraction)of hadith reports and the resurrection of a particular "canon" of pre-modern texts. Taken more globally, I also imply that these two techniques are perhaps the two single most defining features of Salafism and its relationship to religious knowledge - that it must be redefined throught hadith and through the editing (and distribution)of a particular genre of works.


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10/04/12

James Casey (HIS)

Pious Property and Colonial Crises: Religious Endowments, Modernity, and the Colonial Encounter in Syria and Lebanon under French Mandate

This paper is an exploration of a dissertation project in which I am looking to explore the role of waqf in the colonial moment and its relationship to the emergence of the modern state.


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09/20/12

Samuel Helfont (NES)

Coopting, Coercing, and Creating Religion in Saddam's Iraq

The following dissertation chapter relies on captured Iraqi records to discuss Saddam Hussein's religious policies. More specifically, it aims to demonstrate how Saddam's Ba'thist regime co-opted, coerced, and created religion in Iraq as means of deepening authoritarian control. The chapter attempts to fit this into a framework of post-colonial state-society relations wherein a "weak state" works to impose itself on society.


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04/06/12

Michael Dann (REL)

Hybrid Historiography in Saudi Arabia: The Case of Ḥasan Farḥān al-Mālikī

Hasan Farḥān al-Mālikī is a contemporary Saudi Arabian scholar whose critiques of Wahhabism and sympathetic views of Shiʿite interpretations of early Islamic history have generated considerable controversy in his native country and beyond. In this paper, I examine al-Mālikī's historiographical critique as embodied in a collection of articles published in a single volume under the title Towards Saving Islamic History. I highlight the diverse influences that shape the historiographical tradition engaged by al-Mālikī, with particular attention to the influence of Western historiography in shaping the methodology that he uses as the basis for his historiographical critique. I examine specific examples of his critique, which centers on issues of controversy between Sunnīs and Shīʿites and attempts to expose historical distortions and methodological infidelities arising from anti-Shīʿite biases. Finally, I discuss the broader aims embedded in al-Mālikī's critique, chief among which is the promotion of a critical intellectual discourse which he sees as the key to Saudi Arabia's advancement.


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03/15/12

Amin Venjara (NES)

What does it mean to 'translate' the Qurʾan: a view from early 20th century Egypt

This paper seeks to examine the intellectual foundations of debates on Qurʾan translation. The primary trend in the literature has been to focus on Muslim understandings of the Qurʾan which make it resistant to translation. I argue that while conceptions of the Qurʾan are important, debates on Qurʾan translation hinge equally, if not more so, on how one thinks about translation itself. To explore this theme, I examine a debate on Qurʾan translation from early 20th century Egypt exploring how both opponents and proponents conceptualize translation. In addition, I examine how the debates construct popular understandings of translation and the impact this has on legal rulings. I conclude by looking at how considerations of reading practices inflect the debates and what this lens can reveal about the dividing line between opponents and proponents of Qurʾan translation.


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03/08/12

Bella Tendler (NES)

Concealment, Revelation and the role of the Bāb: rehabilitating the heresiarchs of the Islamic tradition

The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, the heterodox Shi'ite sect currently in power in Syria, are some of the only survivors of the ghulāt, the early Islamic groups who believed in the divinity of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib. This sect is particularly well known for their strict religious secrecy, which is preserved by members on pains of death. Even their own children are forced to undergo a lengthy and rigorous process of initiation before being introduced to the doctrines of the sect. It is therefore quite surprising that they revere and even deify several notorious Islamic heresiarchs, including ʿAbd Allāh b. Sabaʾ and Abū al-Khaṭṭāb, who are known to have publicly preached the divinity of ʿAlī to the masses. How did the Nuṣayrīs reconcile the public declarations of these men with the exhortations to secrecy that appear everywhere in their literature? In answering this question the chapter uncovers a little known but fundamental aspect of Nuṣayrī cosmology, sacred history, and educational theology.


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02/23/12

Dan Stolz (NES)

Correcting the Clock: Mechanical Timekeeping in 18th/19th-century Egypt

This paper comes from a dissertation (in progress)on the history of astronomy in Late Ottoman Egypt, with a focus on the changing place of astronomy in Islamic culture. The paper is the first half of a chapter that looks at scholars in traditional Islamic astronomy who engaged with European science in some way. This half specifically examines the topic of mechanical timekeeping. It argues that the Islamic astronomical tradition was an important site for the assimilation of mechanical timekeeping into Ottoman-Egyptian culture, with implications for the role and authority of the ʿulamā. It also establishes that the Egyptian use of mechanical timepieces dates to the early 18th century.


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02/09/12

Lev Weitz (NES)

Marital Ethics: The Reception of al-Ghazālī in Bar Hebraeus' Ethicon

This paper compares the sections on the qualities desirable in a wife in Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī's Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn and Bar Hebraeus' Ethicon, which the West Syrian writer modeled on Ghazālī's work. The paper first establishes that Ghazālī based his profile of the ideal wife on a jurisprudential discussion of the topic by his teacher, Imām al-Ḥaramayn al-Juwaynī. Ghazālī expands it, however, by adding anecdotes from Ṣūfī literature and reasoned arguments on how "the good wife" will best facilitate her husband's devotion to God, bringing the Juwaynī source material in line with the overall program of the Iḥyāʾ. The paper then moves to consider how Bar Hebraeus appropriates, reconfigures, and regrounds in Christian teachings Ghazālī's chapter on the qualities desirable in a wife. Bar Hebreaus adopts Ghazālī's profile of the good wife largely wholesale, translating its characteristics from Arabic to Syriac. He then effectively grounds this image in Christian tradition with proof texts drawn from biblical wisdom literature, especially Ecclesiasticus and Proverbs. Finally, the paper argues that the similarity between Ghazālī and Bar Hebraeus' texts demonstrates that both function to carve out a particular notion of male piety intelligible and resonant in their different religious traditions and the broader monotheistic culture of the pre-modern Middle East.

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12/08/11

Nebil Husayn (NES)

Contempt for the Canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim

According to most Sunni scholars of ḥadīth, two canonical collections are revered as an "authentic" corpus of reports that describe the words and actions of the Prophet Muḥammad, the Ṣaḥīḥ of al-Bukhārī and the Ṣaḥīḥ of Muslim, frequently referred to in union as the Ṣaḥīḥayn. Despite the tendency of apologists within the Sunni ḥadīth tradition to dominate a discourse which promotes the sanctity and the prophetic origins of ḥadīth, especially those in the Ṣaḥīḥayn, various Muslim scholars have consistently objected to such claims. In addition to maintaining skepticism toward the authoritative and authentic nature of solitary ḥadīth, jurists have unabashedly dismissed ḥadīth, both before and after their inclusion in the Ṣaḥīḥayn. This investigation shall review the works of Muslim scholars in the 20th century who have not only argued against the authenticity of ḥadīth in the collections of al-Bukhārī and Muslim, but have viewed the veneration of the Ṣaḥīḥayn with contempt.

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11/17/11

Thomas Carlson (History)

Christians in Islamic Society: The Case of Fifteenth Century Jazira and Iraq

This chapter sketches the social diversity of Jazira and northern Iraq in the fifteenth century, focusing specifically on the place of diverse Christian minorities within society. This includes the range of interactions between Christians and their Muslim rulers, their Muslim neighbors (whether urban or rural), and their other Christian neighbors. In order to situate this study within the broader scope of Islamic history and approach the relations between Muslim rulers and Christian subjects, I argue first that effective governing power in this region in the fifteenth century was local and regional, and that distant sultans affected policies in this region only when and as long as they showed up at the head of conquering armies. In order to clarify how Christian subjects were treated by Muslim rulers, I argue that the explicit general evaluations of the sources themselves are problematic, and I propose a criterion for generalizing the way a ruler treated one Christian minority to other minorities as well. I analyze the rulers' complex relations with the patriarchs and the populace in terms of ecclesiastical politics, taxation, and discriminatory legal regulations. In order to study the relationships between Christians and their non-ruling neighbors, urban and rural as well as Muslim and other Christians, we are forced to rely upon Christian sources which emphasize the conflicts and antagonism, but which equally provide hints of occasional cooperation and stability.

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10/20/11

Joel Blecher (Religion)

'Open to Our Era': The Making of New Meanings in a ḥadīth Commentarial Tradition

In the 10th and 11th centuries, some Muslim scholars wondered whether the problematic chapter headings (tarājim) in Bukhārī's Ṣaḥīḥ were typos. A marked change occurs among later commentators, such as Ibn al-Munayyir (d. 683/1284) and Ibn Ḥajar (d. 852/1449), who viewed the tarājim as a window into Bukhārī's hidden intentions. What can explain this dramatic interpretive shift? My chapter argues that, as the Ṣaḥīḥ was awarded an authoritative status, Bukhārī's tarājim justified the enduring need for commentarial expertise on the text, and became key sites in which ḥadīth commentators were at liberty to bring the Ṣaḥīḥ's meaning into line with their own theological and legal interests. Ibn al-Munayyir for example, whose al- Mutawārī survives as the earliest complete work devoted to explaining Bukhārī's tarājim, uses the genre to advance an Ashʿarī reading of the Ṣaḥīḥ. Ibn Ḥajar was more subtle in his employment of the technique, but nevertheless made the tarājim the backbone of his hermeneutic. Whereas previous scholarship on the Ṣaḥīḥ has examined how the development of a canonical culture - in the face of much contestation - imbued the Ṣaḥīḥ with an authoritative status, this chapter examines the impact of this development on the texts' meaning for a community of readers.

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9/29/11

Aaron Rock (NES)

From Seminary to Public Sphere Daʿwa: Yusuf al-Qaradawi's Claim to Islamic Authority - (cancelled due to illness)

This article explores the educational vision of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Islamist-ʿālim and how he sought to balance between da'wa and the maintenance of Islamic orthodoxy. It argues that this educational project attempted to extend a reformist "orthodoxy" into the public sphere and that this step contributed to the further fragmentation of the authority of the ʿulamāʾ, even as it strengthened that of Qaradawi. This vision reveals the tensions that emerge when the authority of the ʿulamāʾ is claimed outside of the confines of seminary and suggests the development of a "public orthodoxy" that consciously yet incompletely reconciles itself with the diffusion of religious authority that is characteristic of Egypt in the second half of the 20th century. The article focuses on four books written during the 1970s and 1980s: Al-Tarbiyya al-Islāmiyya wa-Madrasat Ḥasan al-Bannā (1979), Thaqāfat al-Dāʿiya (1983), al-Rasūl wa-l-ʿIlm (1984), and Risālat al-Azhar Bayna al-Ams wa-l-Yawm wa-l-Ghad (1984). It also incorporates relevant portions of two others books: al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn: Sabʿīn ʿĀman fī-l-Daʿwa wa-l-Tarbiyya wa-l-Jihād (1999) and Fiqh al-Jihād (2009).

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9/22/11

Christian Sahner (History)

From Augustine to Islam: Translation and History in the Arabic Orosius

How does a Christian translator retell the history of the Roman Empire for a Muslim prince? This is the central question of my paper on the Kitab Hurushiyush (KH), a tenth-century Arabic translation of Orosius' Historia - one of the most famous Latin histories from late antiquity, written as a historical companion to Augustine'sCity of God. The text was translated in Cordoba, the capital of Muslim Spain, and provides a fascinating window onto several wider social and cultural themes. By examining the relationship between translator and patron, I try to gauge the survival of Latin in an Arabic-speaking environment, relations between Muslims and Christians, Muslim attitudes towards the ancient past, and general developments in medieval historiography. The paper draws on a variety of fields, from Islamic studies and late-antique history, to the study of the classical tradition, medieval historiography, and translation.

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3/24/11

Luke Yarborough (NES)

'I Will Not Accept Aid from a Mushrik'

This essay studies three well known ḥadīth, set on the rural periphery of Medina, in which the Prophet gives voice to a doctrine that would become widespread, though not universal, among jurists: non-Muslims ought not be permitted to fight for Muslim causes alongside Muslim combatants. The three are linked by their use of a normative dictum: "I'll not accept aid from a mushrik." Thus we may consider them textually related. Using methods developed by Harald Motzki and Behnam Sadeghi, I argue that the narrative form of the three ḥadīth first circulated in Medina no later than the first half of the second/eighth century, and is thus indicative of the view from that city, at that time. I then suggest that during the period of their most dramatic military gains the Arabs are unlikely to have shared principled reasons for not allying with non-Muslims (as such). Finally, I consider the rhetorical significance of the extra-urban setting of the ḥadīth in their birthplace, and lay groundwork for a determination of their historical accuracy.

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3/24/11

Youshaa Patel (Program in Religion, Duke University)

From Imitation to Difference: The Emergence of the Tashabbuh (Imitation) Discourse and the Canonization of Hadith in Sunnī Islam

The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: "Whoever imitates a people is one of them." Over Islamic history, this hadith has become the keynote expression of an ethic that warns Muslims not to imitate non-Muslims. Drawing inspiration from this tenet, many modern Muslims have proscribed celebrating holidays such as Halloween and Valentine's Day, and modes of dress such as jeans and baseball hats because of their associations with "non-Muslim" practices and identity. The plain sense meaning of this statement indicates no such danger however. How did a relatively straightforward statement about imitation become a mandate for Muslims to be different? An attempt to answer this question follows.

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3/10/11

Jessica Marglin (Department of Near Eastern Studies)

Jews Seeking Justice: Addressing Shikāyāt (Complaints)in Morocco, 1889-1893

This chapter is an excerpt from my dissertation on Jews in the Moroccan legal system during the nineteenth century. I draw on the records of the Ministry of Complaints (from 1889 to 1893) as a window onto how Jews used the state to pursue legal matters. I first trace the history and functioning of the Ministry of Complaints, which has hitherto received scant scholarly attention. I then discuss Jews' use of the ministry for cases of unpaid debts, theft, and murder. (For the sake of brevity, this excerpt includes only the section on theft.)I argue that the records of the Ministry of Complaints suggest new ways of understanding Jews' relationship with the Moroccan state. The fact that Jews appealed to the state to demand their rights suggests that they felt they were stakeholders in the state and its system of justice. The state, on the other hand, took Jews' claims seriously, indicating that the ministry considered itself responsible for upholding justice for the sultan's subjects regardless of their faith.

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2/24/11

Faculty Scholar: Mark Cohen (Department of Near Eastern Studies)

Maimonides' Code of Jewish Law and the Economic Realities of the Islamic World

My paper, part of a chapter from a book in progress, examines aspects of commercial law in Moses Maimonides' Code of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah (completed ca. 1178 in Egypt). It is based on an approach that, as far as I have been able to ascertain, has not been applied to the study of this important work. I seek to show how Maimonides adapted and updated classical Jewish law from the pre-Islamic period (the Talmud and related literature) in the light of economic realities of the Islamic world, as they are reflected in the documents of the Cairo Geniza and in the rabbinic responsa from the Islamic period. These sources describe economic customs of the interdenominational marketplace and reflect commercial life as it was practiced "on the ground" during Maimonides' day, and earlier. Though Maimonides was not the first Jewish legist of the Islamic world to adapt ancient Jewish law to the new economy, his contribution, incorporated into a new and comprehensive code of Jewish law meant to stand for all time, is more subtle.

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12/09/10

Sarah Kistler (Department of Near Eastern Studies)

Managing Her Own Affairs: Reconsidering the Role and Significance of Gender in Maliki Marriage Doctrines

In this paper, I argue for a reconsideration of recent scholarship on doctrines relating to marriage in Maliki law, particularly the Mudawana and its later commentaries. Modern scholars have argued that Maliki marriage laws, as they relate to women, are discriminatory, and can only be fully understood in the context of slavery, coercion and patriarchy. They further argue that any attempts to reform these doctrines, and bring them in line with contemporary norms of gender equality, necessitate demonstrating the weakness of the juristic justifications supporting them. A careful reading of Maliki texts, I argue, reveals that marriage doctrine as it relates to women is not inextricably linked with notions of slavery or servitude. In addition, jurists often upheld laws due to the practice of legal inertia and supported them for a range of stated reasons, which may or may not have reflected their actual values. Thus, one should be cautious with respect to reading values into the justifications given for legal doctrines, and be wary of the notion that legal change is, and can be, enacted through close analysis and critique of doctrinal rationales. A brief look at recent reforms of the Mudawana in Morocco indicates how legal change and reform actually is enacted.

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12/09/10

Simon Fuchs (Department of Near Eastern Studies)

'Proper Signposts for the Camp: The Reception of the Sunni Tradition in the Ǧihādī Manual al-ʿUmda fī Iʿdād al-ʿUdda'

This paper is an attempt to explore how jihadi authors make use of the Sunni tradition in order to bolster their case. Such a discussion is a desideratum even in Islamic studies since oftentimes radical authors are chastised a priori for their untenable misrepresentation of religion. Similarly, their arguments are tossed aside as a simple recycling of an irrelevant stream of thought that stretches directly from Ibn Taymīya over Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb to Sayyid Quṭb. In revisiting this claim, I employ a close reading of a crucial jihadi text. Al-ʿUmda was written in the context of the Afghan jihad by an influential ideologue who is widely known as Dr. Faḍl. My paper presents and evaluates all the religious sources and authorities the author puts to use. I argue that Dr. Faḍl makes a convincing case for a political project in the camps that is deeply embedded in the Sunni tradition while reading Ibn Taymīya faithfully: he does not turn him into a proponent of violence but rather sticks to the profound quietism the Damascene scholar is known for.

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11/18/10

Nadav Samin (Department of Near Eastern Studies)

'Religion, Bureaucracy, and the Contest for Early Modern Education in Saudi Arabia: 1926-1969'

A complex history of contestation lies behind the emergence of modern education in Saudi Arabia. The establishment of the Directorate of Education in 1926 marked the beginnings of a struggle between traditional religious authorities and technocratic modernizers for the attention and resources of the state. Examining the human drama behind this contest, this paper argues that the subversion of the Saudi ʿulamaʾ's traditional religious authority was a necessary outcome of the rise of the modern Saudi state. To support this argument, it gives critical scrutiny to the education legacy of influential Saudi cleric Muhammad b. Ibrahim Al al-Shaykh, as well as the records of the modernizing intellectuals, ARAMCO officials, and Saudi government technocrats he contended against. While underscoring the influence of the religious establishment on the development of the modern state's educational institutions, this essay also makes the claim that the clergy's exercise of power was necessarily transformed by the modernizing institutions emerging around them, institutions to whose functioning religious scholars like Ibn Ibrahim were compelled in large measure to conform.

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10/21/10

Oded Zinger (Department of Near Eastern Studies)

'As My Fortunes with Women Turned Upside Down': The Marital Woes of a Medieval Egyptian Country Physician

Towards the end of the twelfth century, a desperate Jewish physician wrote a long and bitter letter in Judeo Arabic to his uncle from his hiding place in the Egyptian countryside. Linking his repeated financial disasters to his sad marital life, the writer movingly mourned the death of his first wife while attacking the wife he married afterwards. This unique and previously unpublished letter from the Cairo Geniza sheds light on the realities of marital life of medieval Islamicate Egypt when husbands and wives living in geographical separation were a ubiquitous reality. Re-constructing the physician's marital history from his confused narrative reveals the interplay between profession, the marriage market, travel and destitution. Going beyond marital realities, the letter allows us to examine the strategies and tactics available to the writer in a marital dispute. The negotiations of domestic politics took place in several interrelated yet different venues: wealth, law, distance and children. The paper shows how dynamics of reciprocity regulated these different venues over which neither party had absolute control. The result was marital dispute which on occasions boiled over and in other times was brought to a gentle simmer. The analysis of the marital dispute offers a model which includes the legal aspects of the dispute without completely submitting it to a narrow legal perspective. Finally, a literary reading of the letter as an ego-document reveals how the physician maneuvered between the constraints of social expectations and his personal anxieties. Examining the language of the letter shows how the physician constructed, against much evidence to the contrary, a dichotomy of "the good wife" and "the bad wife" in context of long distance marriages. This dichotomy, familiar from medieval Hebrew literature allows us to examine the construction of gender roles, both feminine and masculine, and what happens when these are overturned.

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10/07/10

Jacob Olidort (Department of Near Eastern Studies)

"'Follow the Religion of Abraham': The Place of Laws Revealed Before Islam (shar' man qablana) in Qur'ānic Exegesis and Islamic Legal Theory"

A central theme in Islamic dogma is the notion that the message delivered by Muhammad in the form of the Qur'an was a clarification and perfection of the messages contained in the scriptures of Moses and Jesus (which come to form the basis for Judaism and Christianity, respectively). Despite the clear status ascribed to the Qur'an and the Islamic faith in this formulation, one finds hints of hesitation and nuance among Muslim scholars in their understanding of this relationship- a hesitation perhaps reinforced both by certain Qur'anic verses as well as by the contextualization of the life of Muhammad. The following paper attempts to serve as a preliminary foray into the debate on shar' man qablana ("The Laws Revealed Before Islam")by examining some of the most oft-cited Qur'anic verses used in support of this concept, their treatment by exegetes and their place in the broader discourse on the subject (introduced here by way of mentioning the debate in contemporary Islamic legal theory).

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9/23/10

Christian Sahner (Department of History)

"The Monasticism of my Community is Jihad: Islam, Christianity, and the Anxiety of Influence"

When discussing Muslim-Christian relations, scholars often cite a famous prophetic hadith: "There is no monasticism (rahbaniyya)in Islam." There are a number of variations, including one more ancient, fascinating, and elusive than the rest: "Every community has its rahbaniyya; the rahbaniyya of my community is jihad." In this paper, I try to identify the origins of the hadith, its permutations, and various meanings. It serves as a vantage point for examining broader issues, including Muslim attitudes toward monks, interreligious polemic, and the overlapping expressions of piety in Christianity and Islam. The hadith sheds light on a much wider discourse among the different religious groups of the late-antique Near East: How to establish distinctiveness in an intensely competitive, yet sometimes "homogeneous" environment; a symptom of what I call (borrowing from Harold Bloom), "the anxiety of influence."

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4/08/10

Joel Blecher (Department of Religion)

"Slander and Consensus in the Rhetoric of Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab"

This paper traces the application of the terms ijtihad and ijma' in Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's (d. 1206/1792) letters and treatises as well as his brother's well-known refutation al-Sawa'iq al-Ilahiyah. The author argues that, contrary to some existing views, the reformer never made explicit claims to ijtihad, a term which was initially attributed to him as an opprobrium by his opponents. Moreover, Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab claimed that his theology was supported by the binding authority of scholarly consensus (ijma'). The paper provides a unique counter-point to some scholars of Islamic history who argue that Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab recognized and even actively pioneered ijtihad as an organizing principle of religious and political reform in order to undercut the consensus of the scholars.

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3/25/10

Bella Tendler (Department of Near Eastern Studies)

"Marriage, Birth, and Batini Ta'wil: a Study of Nusairi Initiation Based on the Kitab al-Hawi fi-al-Fatawi of Abu Sa'id Maymun al-Tabarani"

This paper explores the description of Nusairi initiation found in the Kitab al-Hawi fi l-Fatawi of the eleventh century Nusairi scholar al-Tabarani. Like other so called ghulat sects, the Nusairis (more recently known as the Alawites) believed that religious knowledge must be hidden from the masses and should only be revealed to the elite after proper initiation. Tabarani's work gives new insight into this process, showing how the laws of Nusairi initiation were systematically modeled on Islamic marital laws. Tabarani's description of initiation is a perfect example of the type of esoteric exegesis characteristic of the batini sects active in early Islamic times and reveals the extent to which the Nusairis made use of the Qur'an and hadith. The findings of this paper show that rather than discarding Islamic precepts, as they have often been accused of doing, the early Nusairis paid great attention to the laws of Islam, extracting inner meanings from the text of the Qur'an in order to create their own legal system that was at the same time Islamic and distinctly sectarian.

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3/11/10

Prof. Tamer el-Leithy (New York University)

"Towards a Historical Anthropology of pre-Ottoman Archives: The Evidence of Non-Muslim collections and practices"

For well over a century now, scholars have confidently asserted the absence of pre-Ottoman archives in the Middle East; they have used this proposition - ultimately an ex silentio argument - to make certain claims about the nature of Islamic law (its preference for oral over documentary evidence)and of Middle Eastern societies (that they lacked an 'archiving mind'; failed to use documents in social competition, etc.). In this paper I will challenge this view

1. by reviewing the extant collections of pre-Ottoman documents, including some recently-discovered troves located in non-Muslim communal institutions (monasteries; central Church archives; synagogues, etc.).

2. I then present a micro-historical reading of four cases - a witty 15th-c. Damascene woman; the stray leaves of an Egyptian historian's notebook; a wayward document in the Geniza; and two Jewish communities sprinting to the nearest Muslim mufti - that present evidence not only of archiving practices in action, but also a new way to think about the life-cycle of a medieval document.

3. Finally, I will use these cases to propose a new research agenda for rethinking Middle Eastern archives, one that investigates archiving practices rather than looking for objects (collections) that conform to our (Euro-centric) definition of an archive.

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2/18/10

Amin Venjara (Department of Religion)

"Power to the People: Protesting Judicial Corruption through the Shari'a in an 18th century Punjab town"

In the early 18th century, the Muslim and non-Muslim residents of Batala, a small town northeast of Lahore, organized a petition (mahzar)protesting the corruption of their sitting judge on shari'a-based grounds. In this paper, I read the petition through its local social and political context as well as the broader tradition of Islamic legal discourse (fiqh)to understand the conception of shari'a invoked by the residents. I argue that they implicitly recognize the power of the local community, not the state or its officials, to be the ultimate arbiters of correct shari'a practice. Using contemporary property contracts from the town, I further demonstrate that shari'a, through the position of the judge, served as a central framework for protecting the property interests of both Muslims and non-Muslims. Thus, I argue that judicial corruption entailed a threat to the economic order motivating the residents to petition for reinstating proper application of the shari'a.

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12/09/09

Harvey Stark (Department of Religion)

"Ethics as a Platform for Reform in the Work of Tariq Ramadan"

Tariq Ramadan has spent the majority of his career explicating his vision for Islamic reform. Culminating with the publication in 2009 of Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation, his work has been increasingly focused on the contribution of ethics to reform. In this new book, Ramadan presents an explicit methodology of applied Islamic ethics and in turn shows that his focus on ethics has become the single most important basis by which he harmonizes Islam with his vision of concepts such as freedom, equality, and justice. The reform is radical because it moves from an adaptive stage to a transformative one, which indicates Ramadan's desire for Muslims to contribute to the world with a view to changing it for the better. In order for reform to be truly transformative, ethics are constantly being negotiated against the application of Islamic law, in a struggle to reposition the higher objectives of the law as primary to the letter of the law itself. In Ramadan's estimation this involves a shift in the textual sources of the law as well as a shift in the center of gravity of legal authority. This struggle and negotiation between law and ethics creates an implicit degree of ambiguity; and as such, what ethics means, how it is to be applied, and whether it is Islamic, legal, personal or universal is not always clear. Keeping in mind the aforementioned ambiguities, this paper unpacks the meaning and implication of Ramadan's understanding of reform and engages with his methodology of applied ethics.

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11/19/09

Luke Yarbrough (Near Eastern Studies)

"Two reports concerning 'Umar and a Christian scribe"

Muslim writers in the pre-modern period are virtually unanimous in their opposition to the appointment of non-Muslims in government. In justifying their opposition, these writers often cite two reports attributed to the second caliph, 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, in which he rejects a scribe on account of the latter's religious affiliation. These reports have not been examined systematically. In this paper I make a preliminary study of both reports, examining their content (matn)and chains of transmission (isnads)in order to gather as much information as possible about their origins. I argue on the basis of this information that they are unlikely to have originated with 'Umar. In fact, both were probably forged in late Umayyad al-Kufa. While it is impossible to date the earlier and simpler report with any degree of confidence, the second report was probably invented in the 110s/730s by a transmitter named Simak b. Harb, or by his students, in response to the inflammatory policies of the governor of Iraq, Khalid b. 'Abd Allah al-Qasri. These findings have implications not only for the history of non-Muslims' political participation in Islamic societies, but also for the origins of legal attitudes toward such participation.

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10/22/09

Susan Gunasti (Deptartment of Religion)

"A Diachronic Survey of the Ottoman Exegetical Tradition"

This paper is an examination of trends in the Ottoman exegetical tradition from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. I examine the main works of the tradition, and explore the popularity of these works with reference to the Ottoman learned hierarchy and the madrasa system. The Samarqandi tradition exerted an early but brief influence, but it was quickly replaced in the sixteenth century with what we now recognize as the classical Ottoman exegetical tradition. The nineteenth century marked an important transitional period between the earlier tradition and the twentieth century. Nineteenth-century Qur'an commentaries were basic and readable works. In addition to being produced for religious scholars (the usual audience), Qur'an commentaries were produced for non-specialists as well. Another noteworthy feature of the nineteenth-century tradition is the rise of the vernacular.

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10/08/09

Felicitas Opwis (Georgetown University)

"Shifting Authority in Islamic Legal Reasoning: The Punishment for Drinking Wine"

This paper argues that the encroaching claims of the political authorities over the sphere of religious law in the 5th /11th century led jurisprudents to seek a firmer basis of authority for their law-finding. Taking the punishment for drinking wine, the paper illustrates how Islamic legal theorists shifted the base of authority of post-prophetical rulings from traditional to cultural authority. It analyzes the rationalization process of this ruling in the work of al-Juwayni (d. 478/1085), al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111), and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 606/1210) and demonstrates that a shift occurred from legitimizing the punishment in terms of the traditional authority of the Companions to explaining it as an analogy (qiyas)to the qur'anic ruling on slander (qadhf). This shift includes a conscious rejection of forms of legal reasoning that, with the absorption of Greek logic in law, were deemed questionable, such as the counter-implication (mafhum al-mukhalafa), and reflects the rising power of the 'ulama' in Islamic society.

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9/24/09

Intisar Rabb (Near Eastern Studies)

"Islamic Law, Society, and the Jurisprudence of Doubt, 7th-9th Centuries"

Legal maxims reflect settled principles of law to which jurists appeal when confronting new legal cases. One such maxim of Islamic criminal law stipulates that judges are to avoid imposing hudud and other sanctions when beset by doubts as to criminal liability (idra'u 'l-hudud bi'l-shubahat). Jurists of the first three centuries of Islamic history - and indeed of all periods - apply this maxim widely. Arguably, the very fact that they articulate and even exaggerate hudud avoidance through the maxim often points to a wider socio-political backdrop of actual hudud enforcement and other criminal law policies against which the maxim was balancing. In the 7th through 9th centuries (the period with which we are concerned here), while political authorities asserted increasingly wide discretion over criminal matters and sometimes used it to benefit the elite, most jurists insisted on an egalitarian "jurisprudence of doubt." In part, this meant requiring the enforcement of hudud laws even against high-status offenders. It also meant using the hudud maxim for avoiding harsh sanctions whenever there was doubt about the culpability of the offender, regardless of social status. In this paper, I argue that at issue was a high degree of moral anxiety on the part of jurists responding to shifting social and political developments in the young Muslim community. This anxiety stemmed from the juristic community's desire for subservience to divine legislative will, and they pursued this goal by forwarding certain moral imperatives that they attempted to situate in foundational legal texts to counter political pressures and resolve epistemological doubts when it came to criminal law.


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Last updated: May 2014.

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