Tag Archives: Religion in the Middle East

Conference: “Confronting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (July 24)

The Middle East Institute will be hosting a conference, “Confronting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria: Challenges and Options,” at the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University on July 24:

The Middle East Institute and the Conflict Management Program at SAIS are pleased to a host a discussion about combating the rising influence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Middle East Institute scholars Richard A. ClarkeSteven Simon, and Randa Slim will examine the current status of the organization and its support network, focusing on the steps that Iraqi political actors and the U.S. administration can take to address the spread of its influence. Daniel Serwer (SAIS, The Middle East Institute) will moderate the event.

Details are here.

The Dhimma Returns in Iraq

al arabiya

Photo: Al Arabiya

Sad news from Iraq this weekend. In response to an ultimatum from ISIS–the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” or, if you prefer, just the “Islamic State–Christians have evacuated the northern city of Mosul. For thousands of years, Mosul has been a center of Christianity, particularly the various Syriac Christian communions: Chaldean-rite Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, and the Assyrian Church of the East, a church that once spread as far as China. As recently as a decade ago, tens of thousands of Christians lived in Mosul. After this weekend, virtually none remain.

The expulsion of Christians from Mosul suggests something very worrying about the possible future of Islamism. And it serves as a reminder of what can happen to religious minorities when secular dictatorships in the Arab world collapse.

Mosul lies within the territory of the “caliphate” that ISIS, a militant Sunni Islamist group, has proclaimed in parts of Iraq and Syria. Its ultimatum to the Christians of Mosul is the same it gave the Christians of Raqqa, Syria, last spring. “We offer them three choices,” ISIS announced last week: “Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.” In recent days, ISIS operatives went through Mosul marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter “Nun” for “Nasara,” from “Nazarenes,” a word that refers to Christians. The implications were clear.

Some readers may be unfamiliar with the term dhimma. The dhimma is the notional contract that governs relations between the Muslim umma and Christians (and Jews) in classical Islamic law. Theoretically, it dates back to the “agreement” one of the early caliphs made with the Christian community of Syria. The dhimma allows Christian communities to reside in Muslim society in exchange for payment of a poll tax called the jizya—in Mosul, ISIS was requiring a jizya of about $500—and submission to various social and legal restrictions. The dhimma forbids Christians from attracting attention during worship, for example, from building new churches, and generally from asserting equality with Muslims.

It’s wise to take ISIS at its word. On Saturday, ISIS operatives expelled the 52 Christian families who remained in the city–after first requiring them to leave all their valuables behind. For good measure, ISIS also burned an 1800-year-old church and the Catholic bishop’s residence, along with its library and manuscript collection.

One could say much about this sad uprooting of Christianity from a place where it has survived for millennia, but here are two observations. First, a psychological line has been crossed, and this may have dire consequences in future. For the moment, ISIS is unique among Islamist groups in calling for formal reinstatement of the dhimma. Although Islamists everywhere reject the idea of equality for Muslims and Christians, they typically avoid calling for the dhimma, as they understand that most contemporary Muslims find the concept abhorrent. Nothing succeeds like success, however. ISIS has now shown that it is possible to reestablish the dhimma at the center of the Muslim world. Other Islamist groups will no doubt take notice. Christians who remain in the Middle East have great cause for worry.

Second, although principal responsibility for this outrage lies with ISIS, and with Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose misgovernment has created a situation in which ISIS can gain a following, the United States bears responsibility as well. Its invasion of, and hasty withdrawal from, Iraq set in motion a chain of events that has allowed radical groups like ISIS to succeed. In the Middle East, secular dictatorships can be very brutal. But they are often the only thing that stands in the way of the absolute destruction of minority religious communities. Toppling such dictatorships and hoping for their replacement by “moderate” elements is not a good bet. Incredibly, this seems to be a lesson the United States still has to learn.

Katz, “Women in the Mosque”

In September, Columbia University Press will publish Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice by Marion Holmes Katz (New York University).  The publisher’s description follows: Women in the Mosque

Juxtaposing Muslim scholars’ debates over women’s attendance in mosques with historical descriptions of women’s activities within Middle Eastern and North African mosques, Marion Holmes Katz shows how over the centuries legal scholars’ arguments have often reacted to rather than dictated Muslim women’s behavior.

Tracing Sunni legal positions on women in mosques from the second century of the Islamic calendar to the modern period, Katz connects shifts in scholarly terminology and argumentation to changing constructions of gender. Over time, assumptions about women’s changing behavior through the lifecycle gave way to a global preoccupation with sexual temptation, which then became the central rationale for limits on women’s mosque access. At the same time, travel narratives, biographical dictionaries, and religious polemics suggest that women’s usage of mosque space often diverged in both timing and content from the ritual models constructed by scholars. Katz demonstrates both the concrete social and political implications of Islamic legal discourse and the autonomy of women’s mosque-based activities. She also examines women’s mosque access as a trope in Western travelers’ narratives and the evolving significance of women’s mosque attendance among different Islamic currents in the twentieth century.

Alianak, “The Transition Towards Revolution and Reform”

This month, Oxford University Press releases The Transition Towards Revolution and Reform: The Arab Spring Realised?, by Sonia L. Alianak (University of Texas). The publisher’s description follows:

The Arab Spring created a transition toward democracy for the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, who initially elected moderate Islamist parties to lead them out of economic deprivation and corruption. This study looks at the relative success of the move to democracy in these four Middle Eastern countries, comparing the secular leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and their desire for revolution with the monarchs of Morocco and Jordan and their priority of reform. In contrast with the monarchs, the secular leaders avoided resort to the palliative of religion to ensure the stability of their rule and were, as a result, unable to survive.

Conference: “The Making of Jerusalem” (Jerusalem, July 2-4)

The Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem in hosting a conference, “The Making of Jerusalem: Constructed Spaces and Historic Communities,” from July 2 to July 4:

Jerusalem is one of the most contested cities around the world with a rich and complex history. With its web of sacred sites, quarters, and neighbourhoods, it represents a polyglot of historical communities. Today’s Jerusalem is a testament to its temporal, physical and demographic transformations over the centuries. The purpose of this inter-disciplinary conference is to explore various aspects in the making of the city while focusing on historic communities and their concept of – and relationship with – space (be it sacred or secular). It brings together papers from different fields such as history, the social sciences, art, literature, religious studies and area studies, emphasising the Early Modern and Modern periods.

Details are here.

Mecham & Hwang (eds.), “Islamist Parties and Political Normalization in the Muslim World”

This month, the University of Pennsylvania publishes Islamist Parties and Political 15245Normalization in the Muslim World, edited by Quinn Mecham (Brigham Young University) and Julie Chernov Hwang (Goucher College). The publisher’s description follows.

Since 2000, more than twenty countries around the world have held elections in which parties that espouse a political agenda based on an Islamic worldview have competed for legislative seats. Islamist Parties and Political Normalization in the Muslim World examines the impact these parties have had on the political process in two different areas of the world with large Muslim populations: the Middle East and Asia. The book’s contributors examine major cases of Islamist party evolution and participation in democratic and semidemocratic systems in Turkey, Morocco, Yemen, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh. Collectively they articulate a theoretical framework to understand the strategic behavior of Islamist parties, including the characteristics that distinguish them from other types of political parties, how they relate to other parties as potential competitors or collaborators, how ties to broader Islamist movements may affect party behavior in elections, and how participation in an electoral system can affect the behavior and ideology of an Islamist party over time.

Through this framework, the contributors observe a general tendency in Islamist politics. Although Islamist parties represent diverse interests and behaviors that are tied to their particular domestic contexts, through repeated elections they often come to operate less as antiestablishment parties and more in line with the political norms of the regimes in which they compete. While a few parties have deliberately chosen to remain on the fringes of their political system, most have found significant political rewards in changing their messages and behavior to attract more centrist voters. As the impact of the Arab Spring continues to be felt, Islamist Parties and Political Normalization in the Muslim World offers a nuanced and timely perspective of Islamist politics in broader global context.

Al-Arian, “Answering the Call”

Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Answering the Call: Popular Islamic Activism in Sadat’s Egypt by Abdullah Al-Arian (Georgetown University). answering the callThe publisher’s description follows.

When revolutionary hero Gamal Abdel Nasser dismantled and suppressed Egypt’s largest social movement organization during the 1950s, few could have imagined that the Muslim Brotherhood would not only reemerge, but could one day compete for the presidency in the nation’s first ever democratic election. While there is no shortage of analyses of the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent political successes and failures, no study has investigated the organization’s triumphant return from the dustbin of history.

Answering the Call examines the means by which the Muslim Brotherhood was reconstituted during Anwar al-Sadat’s presidency. Through analysis of structural, ideological, and social developments during this period in the history of the Islamic movement, a more accurate picture of the so-called “Islamic resurgence” develops-one that represents the rebirth of an old idea in a new setting.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s success in rebuilding its organization rested in large part on its ability to attract a new generation of Islamic activists that had come to transform Egypt’s colleges and universities into a hub for religious contention against the state. Led by groups such as al-Gama’ah al-Islamiyyah (The Islamic Society), the student movement exhibited a dynamic and vibrant culture of activism that found inspiration in a multitude of intellectual and organizational sources, of which the Muslim Brotherhood was only one.

By the close of the 1970s, however, internal divisions over ideology and strategy led to the rise of factionalism within the student movement. A majority of student leaders opted to expand the scope of their activist mission by joining the Muslim Brotherhood, rejuvenating the struggling organization, and launching a new phase in its history.

Answering the Call is an original study of the history of this dynamic and vibrant period of modern Egyptian history, giving readers a fresh understanding of one of Egypt’s most pivotal eras.

Baron, “The Orphan Scandal”

Next month, Stanford University Press will publish The Orphan Scandal: Christian Missionaries and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood by Beth Baron The Orphan Scandal(The Graduate Center, CUNY).  The publisher’s description follows.

On a sweltering June morning in 1933 a fifteen-year-old Muslim orphan girl refused to rise in a show of respect for her elders at her Christian missionary school in Port Said. Her intransigence led to a beating—and to the end of most foreign missions in Egypt—and contributed to the rise of Islamist organizations.

Turkiyya Hasan left the Swedish Salaam Mission with scratches on her legs and a suitcase of evidence of missionary misdeeds. Her story hit a nerve among Egyptians, and news of the beating quickly spread through the country. Suspicion of missionary schools, hospitals, and homes increased, and a vehement anti-missionary movement swept the country. That missionaries had won few converts was immaterial to Egyptian observers: stories such as Turkiyya’s showed that the threat to Muslims and Islam was real. This is a great story of unintended consequences: Christian missionaries came to Egypt to convert and provide social services for children. Their actions ultimately inspired the development of the Muslim Brotherhood and similar Islamist groups.

In The Orphan Scandal, Beth Baron provides a new lens through which to view the rise of Islamic groups in Egypt. This fresh perspective offers a starting point to uncover hidden links between Islamic activists and a broad cadre of Protestant evangelicals. Exploring the historical aims of the Christian missions and the early efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood, Baron shows how the Muslim Brotherhood and like-minded Islamist associations developed alongside and in reaction to the influx of missionaries. Patterning their organization and social welfare projects on the early success of the Christian missions, the Brotherhood launched their own efforts to “save” children and provide for the orphaned, abandoned, and poor. In battling for Egypt’s children, Islamic activists created a network of social welfare institutions and a template for social action across the country—the effects of which, we now know, would only gain power and influence across the country in the decades to come.

Haider, “The Origins of the Shī’a: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kūfa”

This July, Cambridge University Press will publish The Origins of the Shī’a: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kūfa by Najam Haider (Barnard College). The publisher’s description follows.

The Sunni-Shi’a schism is often framed as a dispute over the identity of the successor to Muhammad. In reality, however, this fracture only materialized a century later in the important southern Iraqi city of Kufa (present-day Najaf). This book explores the birth and development of Shi’i identity. Through a critical analysis of legal texts, whose provenance has only recently been confirmed, the study shows how the early Shi’a carved out independent religious and social identities through specific ritual practices and within separate sacred spaces. In this way, the book addresses two seminal controversies in the study of early Islam, namely the dating of Kufan Shi’i identity and the means by which the Shi’a differentiated themselves from mainstream Kufan society. This is an important, original and path-breaking book that marks a significant development in the study of early Islamic society.

“Popular Protest in the New Middle East” (Knudsen & Ezbidi eds.)

Later this month, I.B. Taurus releases Popular Protest in the New Middle East: Islamism and Post-Islamist Politics, edited by Are Knudsen (Christian Michelsen Institute- Norway) and Basem Ezbidi (Birzeit University). The publisher’s description follows:

In the wake of the protests that spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa in late 2010 and early 2011, Islamist movements of varying political persuasions have risen to prominence. This is especially the case in post-Mubarak Egypt and post-Ben Ali Tunisia. Popular Protest in the New Middle East examines Islamist approaches to political participation and integration and asks whether regional trends can be discerned with respect to either the strategy of disparate movements or the challenges they face. It offers analysis of the ideologies and actions of these movements, ranging from countries where Islamism is in control of the state as an Islamic theocracy (Iran), the ruling party (for example, Turkey), part of the ruling coalition (Lebanon), or a parliamentary minority (such as in Jordan or Yemen). Are Knudsen and Basem Ezbidi’s analysis of the various experiences of protest, participation and integration make this book vital for researchers of the impact of religion on politics (and, indeed vice versa).