Islam in America


On September 14 the new Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada opened. Details below:

The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada offers visitors a window into worlds unknown or unfamiliar: the artistic, intellectual, and scientific heritage of Islamic civilizations across the centuries from the Iberian Peninsula to China.

Its mission is to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Islamic civilizations have made to world heritage. Through education, research, and collaboration, the Museum will foster dialogue and promote tolerance and mutual understanding among people.

As a vibrant educational institution, the Museum encourages the full spectrum of public engagement with its diverse Permanent Collection of more than 1,000 objects and its ever-changing roster of exhibitions and innovative programs – including music, performances, culinary traditions, lectures, debates, special events, or film.

The Aga Khan Museum has an international mandate. It maintains strong ties with such institutions as the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. It is also deeply committed to forging relationships with Canadian institutions and communities. Together, these global and local connections generate exciting opportunities to enhance scholarship, inspire temporary exhibitions, and produce public programs honouring the spirit of collaboration upon which the Museum is built.

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The following is an excerpt from the 2013 Presidential Address (“Islam in the Public Square”) of John Esposito for the American Academy of Religion. His entire talk is free to read online here.

The response of colleagues and family to my chosen career was interesting: Why study Islam, they asked. When I began to speak publicly, both Muslims and Christians asked why I studied Islam, but they had very different agendas in their mind. The best comment I heard was “You’ll never get a job!” At that time I was a young Catholic theologian teaching scripture and theology, and there would always be theology and religion departments.

When I was looking for a job in 1972, only one job advertised was narrowly in Islamic Studies, and the other was in World Religions at the College of the Holy Cross. When interviewed by the incoming chair at Holy Cross, I noted that Hinduism and Buddhism were my minors (in addition to an MA in theology) and that my major was Islam. He pointedly answered, “We are not looking for somebody in Islam,” and even worse, he said, “I prefer somebody in Japanese and Chinese.”

Training in Islam was totally absent for the military and foreign service officers. And not only that, our foreign service officers in the field were not encouraged to look at religion. When the Iranian Revolution came along, a friend who had been in the embassy said that there was no contact with the ulama, no going into the universities and dealing with faculty or the students in Islamic studies. Indeed, when you talked to analysts in the field reporting back to Washington or consultants on risk assessment in countries, they never looked at the religion factor. And so when Iran came along, people saw it as an epi-phenomenon. (more…)


Russell Khan, Sulman Afridi, and Khalid Latif (left to right) at New York City’s Honest Chops, the country’s first halal whole animal butchery.

by NEW YORK (CNNMoney), May 30

Thick T-bone steaks and richly marbled oxtails decorate the display case at Honest Chops, a new whole animal halal butchery in downtown Manhattan.

Not only is the shop committed to selling humanely raised meat, it’s all slaughtered in the Islamic tradition, which involves a prayer and quick death using a sharp knife.

Khalid Latif, who founded the butchery in March, spoke to Muslim students and working professionals in his community who wanted a higher quality of meat than their neighborhood markets offered.

Initially, he and his partners Anas Hassan and Bassam Tariq were just interested in opening a halal butchery. But after learning about the unnatural feed that commercial cattle and chickens are raised on, they opted to source their meat from small producers in upstate New York, Maryland and Massachusetts.

“When there’s not a certain kind of purity to the food that we’re consuming, that becomes problematic from the spiritual standpoint,” said Latif, who has rigorous standards for the meat he sources. (more…)


The first part of an interview with Wael Hallaq by Hasan Azad has just been published on al-Jadaliyya. Below is the introduction and the first part of a much longer exchange which can be followed here.

Throughout the last three decades, Wael Hallaq has emerged as one of the leading scholars of Islamic law in Western academia. He has made major contributions not only to the study of the theory and practice of Islamic law, but to the development of a methodology through which Islamic scholars have been able to confront challenges facing the Islamic legal tradition. Hallaq is thus uniquely placed to address broader questions concerning the moral and intellectual foundations of competing modern projects. With his most recent work, The Impossible State, Hallaq lays bare the power dynamics and political processes at the root of phenomena that are otherwise often examined purely through the lens of the legal. In this interview, the first of a two-part series with him, Hallaq expands upon some of the implications of those arguments and the challenges they pose for the future of intellectual engagements across various traditions. In particular, he addresses the failure of Western intellectuals to engage with scholars in Islamic societies as well as the intellectual and structural challenges facing Muslim scholars. Hallaq also critiques the underlying hegemonic project of Western liberalism and the uncritical adoption of it by some Muslim thinkers.

Hasan Azad (HA): One of the debates raging nowadays has been about the inattention that Muslim intellectuals receive in the West. One can say that, with relatively minor exceptions, the modern Muslim presence in, or contribution to, the intellectual world of the West is near nil. In the closing pages of your Impossible State, you have pointed out that a robust intellectual engagement between Muslim thinkers and their Western counterparts is essential, not only for the sake of better Western understanding of Islam, but also for the sake of enlarging the scope of intellectual possibilities in the midst of Euro-American thought. Your argument, I believe, meant to convey the idea that there is much that the Islamic worldview and heritage can contribute toward enriching our reflections on the modern project, in the West no less than in the East. What is that contribution, and why is it not happening? What are the obstacles standing in the way?

Wael Hallaq (WA): To speak of the potential contributions of Islam to a critique and restructuring of the modern project is a tall order, one that should come subsequent to a diagnosis of the present modern condition and its causes. The obstacles you alluded to are numerous and multilayered, and originate in both sides of the divide. If there are any failings—and there are many indeed—they cannot be located on one side only. The first, and most obvious of course, is the linguistic obstacle, the only means to communicating ideas. The West (by which I here mean Europe, its Enlightenment, distinctively modern institutions and culture and the spread of all these mainly to North America), has seen it sufficient to consider its two or three major languages so universal as not to care to learn other languages well, if at all. Even Orientalism, as an academic discipline, has not been successful in producing sustained command of Islamic languages, despite the fact that it did produce individuals whose linguistic competence even in more than one Islamic language was no less than masterful. It remains the case however that those who can navigate an Islamic language or text are a miniscule—in fact insignificant—minority in Western societies.

But there is a larger sense to Orientalism involved here. In many ways, the field of Orientalism is surrounded by an outer, immensely extensive layer; that is, countless numbers of influential voices who really never bothered to do any of the hard intellectual and philological work on Islam; yet, they feel quite justified and confident to pronounce on the “Orient,” both within the classrooms of academia or as so-called “experts” in mass media. This “peripheral” Orientalism usually escapes our common definitions of that discipline, but it forms the bulk of common and popular Western knowledge about the rest of the world, especially Islam. In any case, this is roughly the linguistic obstacle.

by Edward E. Curtis IV, Religion Bulletin, May 2, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of the Reflections on Islamic Studies series.

By any measure, Islamic studies is a vibrant field. In the last several decades, the number of tenure-track positions dedicated to the study of Islam as a religion and to Muslim politics and societies has expanded. New journals have appeared; book sales are good; and interest in Islamic studies has led to important public humanities projects such as the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Muslim Journeys Bookshelf.

What makes Islamic studies so dynamic? For one, its ever-expanding body of participants, who come from a number of disciplinary perspectives. The field is populated by intellectual networks rather than one identifiable set of intellectual authorities. Islamic studies finds institutional homes not only in religious studies and Near Eastern languages departments, but also in history, anthropology, sociology, political science, ethnomusicology, and art and architecture, among other academic units.

Islamic studies attracts some of the very best scholars in the world. There are now so many scholars producing so much scholarship that it is impossible for one person to know all of the literature in this vast field. Questions about where to do a graduate degree must be followed by the question of what the applicant wishes to study.

The multi-disciplinary study of Islam nurtures ever-expanding circles of conversation about the significance of Islam to both specialized disciplinary concerns and interdisciplinary inquiry. The origins of Islamic studies may be found in orientalism, that is, the scholarly, philological study of Islamic religion and Muslim cultures. But today, Islamic studies is a field defined by shared and intersecting questions, themes, and data, not any one methodology or set of texts. Its practitioners are not tied together by any one canon—one needn’t be an expert on the Qur’an to be in Islamic studies. (more…)

by Setareh Sabety, Huffington Post, April 11, 2014

When my son, a senior at Brandeis University, forwarded me the news of the controversy surrounding the decision to grant an honorary degree to the controversial feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I took her side. I knew about her. She is a Somalian feminist, a champion of banning genital mutilation of girls, and later a member of the Dutch parliament. She reached fame when Theo Van Gogh, the director of Submission, a film that Hirsi had written criticizing women’s treatment in Islam, was killed by a fanatic.

She went too far when she picked on Islam as a particularly violent religion, but as a Muslim-born feminist, I understood her anger. I too have been accused of being Islamophobic when I criticized Islamic views of women. It is easy to become angry after a video clip of a stoning or yet another story of an honor killing. It is easy to hate Islam when your husband threatens to keep you from traveling, or when the waiter tells you to cover your hair better in a restaurant. In Iran, where Sharia, or Islamic, law is imposed by force, women like me “hate” Islam on a daily basis. For Hirsi Ali, coming from the especially violent Somalia, undergoing genital mutilation herself, and witnessing the death of a colleague even in the relative safety of Europe, it must have been horrendous. I can see how her experiences could make her take sides and lose patience.That is why, initially, I supported her receiving an honorary doctorate from Brandeis. When the Muslim Student Association gathered enough signatures from both students and faculty to force a cancellation, I was impressed by the passion of the students, and by their convincing arguments about condoning hate speech. But, still, I had mixed feelings about canceling someone I considered a sister-in-arms against radical Islam. Hirsi Ali is not an Islamophobe. She is not afraid of Islam. She is fed up with it. I am too. As a woman who fled Iran because she did not want to be forced into the hijab or banned from travel by her husband, I understand Hirsi Ali on a deep and visceral level. (more…)

by Charles Kurzman, ISLAMiCommentary, February 13, 2014:

Islamic terrorism has proved to be a relatively small threat to public safety in America since 9/11. Isolated individuals have engaged in sporadic violence such as the Boston Marathon bombings, but radicalization has remained far more limited than security officials feared. A report issued this month by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security shows that the number of Muslim-American terrorism suspects and perpetrators remained low in 2013.

Yet American attitudes toward Muslim-Americans have grown more negative in recent years. Eight surveys since 9/11, most of them conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, have asked random samples of adult Americans whether they have a “favorable” or “unfavorable” view of Muslim-Americans. As shown in the top graph, the proportion answering “unfavorable” has increased over time: before 2006, all five surveys found “unfavorable” rates of 26 percent or lower; in the four surveys between 2006 and 2012, only one found “unfavorable” rates that low.

These numbers are still considerably less than positive responses, but they suggest that a growing segment of the American population is willing to express negative views about Muslim-Americans in recent years. (more…)

For anyone interested in the Washington DC area, I will be speaking at Georgetown University on Feb. 26 about Islamophobia. Details are here.

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