The Disappearance of Muslim Scholarship?

Islamic Calligraphy Depicting the 13th Century Andalusian Morrish Sufi Mystic and Philosopher, Ibn Arabi

We hear a lot about the decline of  intellectual and cultural production in the Muslim World, but very little attention is paid to the actual heyday of Islamic scholarship itself. Many of these traditions have indeed declined, but so too have recognition and knowledge of the most important spiritual, artistic, and scientific contributions Muslims have made. Islamic scholarship—from poetry to the philosophy of metaphysics—has been rich since the founding of Islam in the 7th century, but very few even know it exists.

A variety of factors have prevented many of the most insightful and stunning works of art and scholarship from gaining recognition. Pieces remain hidden treasures in the minds of a handful of academics and on the dusty shelves of libraries and museums around the world.

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Elif Shafak: Most-Read Female Author in Turkey

On Thursday, Jean Feraca will talk with Elif Shafak, an acclaimed Turkish writer. Shafak, who writes in English and Turkish, is the author of ten books, eight of which are novels.  Her novels have been translated into more than 30 languages. In her works, Shafak explores a number of issues. She writes about the East and West, motherhood,  feminism, tradition, rationalism, Sufism, and cultural ghettos.  Morever, she addresses the different aspects of her identity that include being a woman, a Muslim, a Turk, an author, and a mother. For Shafak, literature, specifically, can play in important role in breaking through cultural walls to help us recognize and embrace our differences.

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“The 99”: Muslim Superheroes?

cover-of-the-first-issue-0011In July 2006, Naif al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti clinical psychologist, launched the first Islamically themed superhero comics. Al-Mutawa began the series “The 99” to provide Muslim children with superheroes with whom they could identify. Perhaps surprisingly, half of the heroes are females. The name of the series stems from the 99 attributes of God outlined in the Qur’an, the holy text of Islam. Each of the 99 heroes embodies one of the attributes and represents some aspect of the core Islamic values. All the characters also come from different countries from around the world and thus represent the diversity of the worldwide Muslim community. Continue reading

Review of “Reclaiming Islam”

Mosque in Duisberg, Germany. Photo from Archi Press

Mosque in Duisberg, Germany. Photo from Archi Press

I recently listened to a show from “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” a sister program to Inside Islam’s Here on Earth on Wisconsin Public Radio. The show titled “Reclaiming Islam” aired on June 12th, 2009, and featured a number of interesting guests: Reza Aslan, Tissa Hami, Christopher Caldwell, Youssou N’Dour & Chai Vasarhelyi, and Kamran Pasha (who will be joining Inside Islam on July 21st). I was impressed by both the vastness of the content and the coherence of the idea that underlay all of the guests’ contributions: the diversity of how Muslims relate to Islam. Echoing our message here on Inside Islam, “To the Best of Our Knowledge” nicely showed that there is no one manifestation of Islam and no one medium to explore what it means to be Muslim. Continue reading

When Poetry Meets Twitter

Baghestani

Parham

When hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the street to protest against the presidential election results last month, many of them also flooded to Twitter, a popular social networking tool, to distribute information and voice their opinions. In the torrent of tweets from Iran, one voice stands out with its Persian prose and poetic power. That voice belongs to Parham Baghestani,  a 26-year-old engineering student and web developer from Isfahan. “My love has gone underground. The taste of night is nothing but awareness.” His tweets like this one caught the attention of NPR and landed him an interview on the Weekend Edition program. When poetry meets Twitter, readers are just one click away from the poet, but more importantly, the poet knows exactly who is following his words. He’s not alone, he’s within a network of readers, a network of support.

Parham's tweet

Parham's tweet

“Poets are the refuge of every wounded nation,” Roger Cohen of The New York Times wrote. When their voices are silenced in official media during political turmoils, poets with a will to speak will find another outlet. In China, the country where I grew up, underground poets posted their poems on a wall along a busy street in Beijing during the democracy movement in the winter of 1978. Twitter is much harder to close down than a brick wall. A network of readers in cyberspace is much harder to dispel than a crowd on a street. Poets in Iran, one tweet at a time, shall always have their voices heard.

Have you come across any poetry in Twitter? Do you know any other creative use of Twitter during the protests in Iran? What other technologies are useful in getting around information censorship? Please share with us by commenting on this entry.

Digital Islam

In an earlier post here on Inside Islam, we discussed “Understanding Islam Through Virtual Worlds,” a documentary in the online world of Second Life. The term we used to describe the project — “digital Islam” — is actually a popular term. In fact, a research project under the same name follows similar developments more broadly. As the tagline for Digital Islam says, the site follows “research on the Middle East, Islam, and digital media.”

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Poetry Festivals and TV Shows

The Dubai International Poetry Festival was held the first week of March as a way to open the eyes of the world to poetry and increase global interconnectedness. The festival is significant in a larger religious struggle against fundamentalism and cultural repression in the region as well. Poetry is part of a debate of whether the arts are permissible expressions of worship in Islam.

Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, has in fact a long and vibrant tradition of poetry, music, and dance. The sufi poet Rumi may sound familiar to foreign ears, for instance. For this reason, sufi tombs are often important cultural epicenters of Muslim communities and have become symbolic of a centuries-long conflict with fundamentalists who have literal understandings of the Koran and want to repress mystical traditions, sometimes violently.

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What is your image of Pakistan?

Author Daniyal Mueenuddin

Author Daniyal Mueenuddin

What’s your image of Pakistan? A nuclear-armed, Taliban-infested, desperately poor nation of 170 million people on the edge of anarchy? A barbaric backwater where women get buried alive for refusing to be forced into marriage, or are condemned, like Mukhtar Mai, to be gang-raped for an offense allegedly committed by a younger brother? These are images that come to us from trustworthy journalists and reputable sources. Share your own impressions about Pakistan below.

So, how are we to square them with the Pakistani author Daniyal Mueennaddin who delivers in his hip debut collection of linked stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders: a Pakistan where Islam is hardly mentioned except in passing; where sophisticated urbanites routinely indulge in sex and drugs with impunity; and where everybody from the maid to the manager to the local judge cheats as a modus operadum.

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“Honeymoon in Tehran” Thursday on Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders

Honeymoon in Tehran (via Random House)

Honeymoon in Tehran (via Random House)

Author of Honeymoon in Tehran and Time magazine reporter Azadeh Moaveni will tell her tale of love and anguish in the Islamic Republic Thursday, February 26, 2009, on Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders. The show will air live at 3:00 pm CST and re-broadcast at 9:00 pm. To find out how to listen, or download the show after it airs, click here.

Is there a question or comment you would like to hear read live on the air. Leave it here, on this post, or send us an email! “Honeymoon in Tehran” will also be included as a related radio program in the Inside Islam radio series. Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and listen to past shows.

Muslim Women in Comic Books

Noora, The Light

Noora, The Light

Blogger Jehanzeb Dar’s critique of the depiction of Muslim women in comic books provides an insightful continuation to broader discussions of depictions of these women in other venues, such as the showcase of portraits of Muslim women I wrote about in November here on Inside Islam. His two-part essay entitled “Female, Muslim, and Mutant” has been featured on prominent Muslim and non-Muslim blogs alike. You can find his commentary on Racialicious and Muslimah Media Watch. The series also received the Best Post or Series Award in The 2007 Brass Crescent Awards last month.

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