Islamic Finance and the Dubai Crisis

islamBankingA year ago we wrote a post about the seemingly unstoppable growth of Islamic finance while Western bankers and investors were entangled in the worst financial mess since the Great Depression. But the recent debt crisis in Dubai has caused many people to wonder whether the phenomenal growth in Islamic finance is a “mirage in the desert” after all. For me, the trouble in Dubai is another example of challenges faced by any socially responsible investment, Islamic or not. Continue reading

Islam and Politics

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” Antonio says to Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Religion is often used and misused by politicians to gain power. To understand the intricate relationship between Islam and politics, Brandon Kendhammer, a PhD candidate in political science at UW-Madison, went to Northern Nigeria and studied the implementation of sharia law in the region since the country’s democratic transition in 1999. He sat down with Inside Islam recently to share his experience and research findings. You can watch the whole interview by clicking on the video below. Continue reading

Inside Islam Wins Brass Crescent Award

brasscrescentThe Inside Islam team returned from the Thanksgiving holiday to discover, much to everyone’s surprise and delight, that Inside Islam has been named one of the winners of the 2009 Brass Crescent Awards. To find ourselves in the company of influential Muslim bloggers from all over the world is thrilling, and to be recognized for a “groundbreaking effort” is a great reward, especially for those of us who plunged into this project with a lot of faith, but very little prior experience. We are humbled and honored. On behalf of our entire team, please accept our sincere gratitude.

Music and Islam

SuttonThe complicated relationship between music and Islam has been something which has interested Inside Islam from the very beginning. Even though religious chanting is allowed–even encouraged–in Islam, there is an ongoing debate whether other music is permitted. Some Muslim communities ban non-chanting music all together, while others allow it as long as it doesn’t contain messages (e.g. sex, alcohol) that go against the teachings of Islam.

The Muslims in Indonesia adopt the latter attitude. As Prof. Anderson Sutton told Inside Islam, Islamic music is not only allowed but is also a huge part of the popular culture in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. You can listen to the whole interview  by clicking on the player below.

(11:20) [audio:http://insideislam.wisc.edu/audio/dStory/andySutton.mp3]

Continue reading

Art and Islam: Interview with Ken George

kenArt0Many of the world’s greatest art works are inspired by religion (for example, Leonarda da Vinci’s The Last Supper) and arouse an almost religious sense of awe (think of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings). This close relationship between art and religion is very much alive in contemporary Indonesia, home of the largest Muslim population in the world. Nobody understands this better than Kenneth George, UW-Madison professor of anthropology and author of an upcoming book, Picturing Islam: Art and Ethics in a Muslim Lifeworld. Prof. George sat down with Inside Islam recently to share his diverse experience with Muslim culture, from living in a small rural Muslim community to working with cosmopolitan Muslim artists and urban intellectuals. Continue reading

Interview with Francis Bradley

bradleyThe first understanding of Islam beyond stereotypes for many non-Muslims starts with a Muslim friend. That’s the case with Francis Bradley, a PhD candidate in the Department of History at UW-Madison. The personal connection with a friend from Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, not only introduced him to Muslim culture, but also played a critical role in his research and career. He sat down with me earlier this month to talk about his experience with Islam. Continue reading

Interview with Arabic Students

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Muslims do not live in Arabic-speaking countries, Arabic is still the language of Islam. As images of the prophet Muhammad are forbidden, Islam relies heavily on language to pass down ideas and stories from generation to generation. Language is, of course, open to multiple interpretations, mistranslations, and misunderstandings. For example, jihad, literally meaning “striving in the path of God,” can be understood as both an internal struggle to live a moral and virtuous life and an external struggle against injustice and oppression. But in English, unfortunately, the word is often translated to “holy war” and implies fanatical violence against non-believers of Islam. This is just one example why an in-depth knowledge of Arabic is important to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

More and more Americans, especially young people, are realizing the critical role of the Arabic language in breaking down misperceptions about Islam and in working with Muslim communities. As a result of 9/11, enrollment in Arabic in American colleges increased by 126.5% from 2002 to 2006. This fall, 225 students are taking Arabic at UW-Madison, up from 120 students in fall 2006 and the UW’s summer Arabic language program continues to grow. Earlier this month I talked to a few students in a first-semester Arabic class to see how their perceptions of Islam and the Muslim world might differ from others. Continue reading

A Swedish Perspective on the Muslim World

Michael Winiarski, a Transatlantic Media Fellow and Middle East correspondent for Sweden’s largest circulating daily newspaper, will become that newspaper’s Washington correspondent in January. Last month he gave a talk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about the Swedish perspective on the Middle East, and answered a few of my questions. Continue reading

Interview with Uli Schamiloglu

A member of the Inside Islam executive committee, Uli Schamiloglu is also a professor in Languages and Cultures of Asia (a department that he helped to create) and the Director of UW-Madison’s Middle East Studies Program, among many other things. I first met him in 2007 when he was a guest on the Here on Earth radio show to talk about Sunni-Shia conflict and lessons from WWI. He was so knowledgeable and articulate about the past and present in the Middle East that the show has invited him back a couple of times to launch our Inside Islam radio series and to comment on Obama’s outreach to Muslims and his speech in Cairo. Continue reading