During a recent debate on the Senegalese television channel TFM about the ongoing violence in Palestine, Tariq Ramadan accused one of his interlocutors Bakary Sambe of the most offensive crime for an African intellectual: having a colonized mind.
Sambe, a professor at Senegal’s Gaston Berger University and coordinator of the Observatory of Radicalisms and Religious Conflicts in Africa, had been asked about American leadership in peace talks when his response solicited Ramadan’s comments. In a clear departure from the flow of the conversation, Sambe offered his reflections on the Islamist threat of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood while staring directly at Ramadan. Observing that Sambe’s comments had “nothing to do with” the conversation, Ramadan asked Sambe if he was speaking live from Washington or London. Humorously, Sambe slips and says that he is speaking from Washington, before correcting himself by saying that he was speaking from here (here being Dakar). Ramadan then gives a dismissive gesture while Sambe appears clearly flustered and at a lost for words.
When our class arrived to the cluster of assigned readings on Gender and Contemporary Islamic Civilization, as a similar exercise to another that I have described on the blog, I asked my section to write down the first thing they imagine when I say, “Identify a stereotype regarding Muslim women.” This time, I decided to ask directly to identify stereotypes rather than what first comes to mind when I say “Muslim woman.”
Again, I wanted them to be honest so I asked the students to submit their answers anonymously. As I expected, it was a much easier and faster exercise for them than the one about fictional Muslim characters. However erroneous the narratives about Muslim women may be, they are ample and accessible.*
I collected the slips of paper and read them out loud so the class could hear what their colleagues wrote. This is what they wrote, exactly how they wrote it:
First stereotype of Muslim women that comes to mind
The study of Islam in Africa has long been in need of a coherent work of synthesis that bridges specific and substantive knowledge on Islamic contexts in Africa with a broad continental view that places those African experiences of Islam in a larger world history. Many a scholar have tried gallantly, but even more have failed miserably. At last, with Muslim Societies in Africa(IUP), Roman Loimeier has provided us a resource to sit with and digest, a resource that will likely prove to be a foundation for the study of Islam in Africa for years to come.
Few scholars would attempt to produce a work of such scale and scope. Loimeier, uniquely positioned as a scholar who has done research in Senegal, northern Nigeria, and Tanzania, has written a historical anthropology that emphasizes the importance of place. The result is a book organized largely by geographic region with some attention to periodization.
Mid-semester, I asked my Contemporary Islamic Civilizations section* to write down the first thing that pops in their mind when I say, “Name a fictional Muslim character.” I gave the students a minute, collected the names and then read them out loud.This is what they wrote (and how they wrote it):
Aladdin: 4 students (one student also wrote: maybe not Muslim?)
Salah al-Din/Saladin: 3 students (one specified Saladin from Kingdom of Heaven)**
Malcolm X: 2 students**
Scheherazade: 2 students
Can’t think of anyone: 2 students
Jafar (Muslim or just Arab?)
Jasmine (Disney princess)
Marji (from the book/movie Persepolis)
Amir Khan in Fanaa (Bollywood film)***
Lead male actor in Kite Runner (not sure if he’s Muslim)
Characters portrayed by the Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri
Changez in TheReluctant Fundamentalist
Abu Nazir in Homeland
*All the students are Ivy League undergrads majoring in various subjects; most of them were raised and educated in the U.S.
**These are not fictional characters. I definitely expected the Aladdin characters, and I was not surprised that the students listed Saladin. I was surprised, however, to read names of 20th century North American historical figures…especially since the Autobiography of Malcolm X was required reading (in addition to Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi). Was it a result of mishearing the question (i.e., the student listed the first name s/he could think of rather than consider whether that figure was fictional)? Was it a reflection of their age? Or was it from ignorance of more recent U.S. history (i.e. post-World War II) and that U.S. high school students often receive a cursory treatment of the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, Cointelpro, Immigration Act 1965, etc. (if they are able to reach that time period at all)?
***Out of all the Bollywood movies with identifiably Muslim characters, a student who watches Hindi films first thought of Fanaa. It does make depressing sense. The film flattens the local and material context of the Kashmiri struggle with India as a powerful nation-state by crafting a narrative which echoes narratives on U.S. national-security and the War on Terror. In a way, it’s another commercial film giving a Bollywood flavor to a Hollywood story. In this case, violence is de-contexualized and subsequently generalized under the category of “Muslim violence.” Here, Indian nationalism as love of nation (and national security) is made relatable to an American palate which has acquired a taste for the “Islamic terrorist/national-security threat” as a popular character, making Amir Khan’s Kashmiri character as a terrorist easily identifiable (and insidiously memorable) as “Muslim.”
In Covarrubia’s seventeenth century dictionary Tesoro de La Lengua Castellana O Española, moro (from the Latin Maurus) is defined as “one from the province of Mauritania.” The term is meant to be used pejoratively as in the proverb, “A Moro muerto, gran lanzada” (p.1150). The Real Academia Española offers more than eleven definitions, including the natural border of North Africa and Spain; one who professes the religion of Islam; a Muslim who lived in Spain from the eighth to the fifteenth century; a black mare with a star on the forehead and shoes on one or two limbs; Muslims of Mindanoa and Malaysia; etc. In the Oxford English Dictionary, moor is defined as “originally a native or inhabitant of ancient Mauretania” and “later usually a member of a Muslim people of mixed Berber and Arab descent inhabiting north-western Africa (now mainly present-day Mauritania), who in the eighth century conquered Spain.”
In An Early Modern Dialogue with Islam: Antonio de Sosa’s Topography of Algiers (1612), Sosa devotes an entire chapter—“The Inhabitants and Neighbors of Algiers”—to defining the “Moor” as a category of people among other inhabitants in Algiers, including Jews, Turks and Christians. The rest of the text, however, does not always use the term in the same way; rather, its usage reveals and reproduces the conflation of race, ethnicity and religion in the early modern period.
Multiple attacks on Sufi religious and historical sites last week highlight two threats to Libya’s democratic transition: Islamic extremism and the failure of the government to take action. On 25 August, Salafist extremists destroyed a Sufi shrine and library in Zlitan. The following day, Salafist extremists attacked the Sha’ab Mosque in Tripoli, which contained the graves of revered Sufi figures. In response, Libyan activists, local civil society groups, and international organizations, such as UNESCO, have protested these attacks, calling on the government to protect historical Sufi sites.
According to Foucault, the production of discourse in every society is simultaneously controlled, organized, selected and redistributed according to particular procedures. These procedures are meant to “avert its [the discourse’s] power and its dangers, to cope with change events, and to evade its ponderous and awesome materiality.”I Islamic feminist discourse is no different. Just like any other discourse, it contains internal and external systems for the control and delimitation of its discourse. But does this process actually serve to safeguard the proliferation and utility of Islamic feminist scholarship, or does it fulfill a larger purpose?
Many studies of Islamic feminist discourse have failed to address the historical moment in which the discourse emerged. Specifically, they neglect the influences of global feminist paradigms. Female scholars, who theorize sexual and gender equality as part of a larger Islamist paradigm, have been constant outliers within the production of Islamic feminist discourse since its induction into academic discussion. Their work is repeatedly contrasted to the ‘canon’ of Islamic feminist scholarship. Due to its discursive link with global feminism, Islamic feminist scholarship is unwittingly embedded within a theorization of sexual equality that hinges on secular liberal modernity. This article strives to understand the implications of power located within the process of marginalization of Islamist women scholars. It will also examine the larger political ramifications of the disputed label, “Islamic feminism.” Continue reading Politics of Labeling and Marginalization: Deconstructing Islamic Feminist Discourse→
He caught up with me as I turned the corner in Connaught Place (C.P.), the shopping hub in central Delhi where I had been running some errands. He was fair-skinned and wearing a checked shirt, jeans and bright sneakers–the basic uniform of young men in urban India. He was probably one of the Kashmiris who hang around C.P. waiting to chat up lost, sweaty tourists. He asked me where I was from, what I was doing in India. I gave the short answer, that I am an American who lives in Delhi for part of each year and that I am a student.
“I am also a student. My subject is English. You study which subject?”
“I study Farsi,” I said, using the name for Persian more commonly understood in India.
“What is… Farsi?”
“It’s a language.”
Our impromptu meeting ended there because I had to catch the metro. In any case, these conversations typically continue with “Would you like to see some shawls?” or “I can sell you cheap tickets to Kashmir—lovely place, where kings used to stay.”