In most world history survey courses, Arabia is introduced for the first time only as backstory to the rise of Islam. We’re told that there was a tradition of oral poetry in Arabic, a language native to central Arabia, and that the Qur’an was the zenith of this oral tradition. New evidence, however, suggests that Arabia was linguistically diverse, that the language we’ve come to know as Arabic originated in modern day Jordan, and that the looping cursive writing system that’s become the language’s hallmark wasn’t the original system used to write it. What to make of all this?

Guest Ahmad al-Jallad co-directs archaeological/epigraphic projects in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, uncovering new inscriptions thousands of years old, and shares his research that’s shedding new light on the writings of a complex civilization that lived in the Arabian peninsula for centuries before Islam arose.

Click here to hear the broadcast.

The Library of Congress has a very nice website with online resources regarding its collection of Near Eastern materials.

These articles are freely available until 31 January 2015 on the Brill Website.

Islamic Law in the Modern World
Author: Aharon Layish
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 276-307)

An Epistemic Shift in Islamic Law
Author: Aria Nakissa
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 209-251)

Reconstructing Archival Practices in Abbasid Baghdad
Author: Maaike van Berkel
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 7-22)

The Early Ḥanafiyya and Kufa
Author: Christopher Melchert
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 23-45)


Throughout history in almost every culture there has been the sordid practice of beheading. John the Baptist lost his head to King Herod. Louis XVI lost his under a French guillotine. But few would argue that beheading is just today, no matter what the rationale. The recent choreographed beheadings of ISIS have brought the issue once again to a head. Unfortunately, such video propaganda only feeds Islamophobia, even though there is no legitimate justification for such a practice in Islamic law or the sunna of the Prophet. Not one of the companions of the prophet is recorded as having decapitated an enemy; certainly the Prophet himself never committed such an act. Indeed, the blood-soaked ISIS spectacles are pornographic.

I recently came across a lengthy fatwa on the Islamic Sham Organization in response to the question if beheading is sanctioned in Islam. I attached it below as it is well worth reading.

ما حكم ذبح أسرى الأعداء بالسكين؟ وهل هو فعلاً سنة نبوية يمكن اتباعها؟

الحمد لله، والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، وبعد:
فقد أرسل الله سبحانه وتعالى رسولَه بالهدى والعدل والرحمة، فكان مما شرعه الإحسان في استيفاء العقوبات والحدود والقصاص، بأن تكون بأيسر طريقة وأسرعها، ومنعَ من كل ما فيه تعذيب وتمثيل، كتقطيع الأعضاء والذبح بالسكين، فإنها من الطرق الشنيعة والمنكرة في القتل، وبيان ذلك فيما يلي:

The Egyptian intellectual Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 67, made a major contribution to the study of the Qur’an and other important aspects of Islam, for which he was branded an apostate in Egypt. For a summary of his life with links to videos and major works, check out the page on him in the series of “A Profile from the Archives” on al-Jadaliyya. For a film on his thinking, Youtube has the Lebanese film في إنتظار أبو زيد .

by Ayesha Chaudhry, The Globe and Mail, March 27, 2014

Muslims have a problem with domestic violence. Let me be clear – most think it’s a terrible thing. But the troubling fact remains that it’s difficult for Muslims to argue that all forms of domestic violence are religiously prohibited. That is because a verse in our sacred scripture can be interpreted as allowing husbands to hit their wives.

This verse, found in Chapter 4, Verse 34, has been historically understood as saying that husbands can admonish disobedient wives, abandon them in bed and even strike them physically. This verse creates a conundrum for modern Muslims who believe in gender equality and do not believe that husbands have the right to discipline their wives at all, never mind hit them. How can devout Muslims both speak out against domestic violence and be faithful to a religious text that permits wife-beating?

As it turns out, the way out of this problem lies not only in the Koran itself – but in the very verse. (more…)

from Ibn Balkhi’s manuscript on astronomy, 850 CE

It was He that gave the sun his brightness and the moon her light, ordaining her phases that you may learn to compute the seasons and the years. He created them only to manifest the truth. He makes plain His revelation to men of understanding. Yûnus 10:9 (Dawood 1968:64)

When the Quran was revealed in seventh century Arabia as the basis for Islam, references were made to the sun, moon and stars as evidence of the creative power and practical foresight of God. The idea that God, or a particular god or goddess, had created the visible heavens was not unique. Creating stories about astronomical phenomena is as old as the first civilizations that appeared in the ancient Near East. Some of these survived, in highly edited variants, in the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. As Muslim science evolved, a variety of religious and scientific knowledge from classical Greek texts, as well as Zoroastrian and Hindu sources, was encountered. While the influence of these classical and textual traditions on Islamic astronomy has been the focus of much previous study on the history of Islamic science, little attention has been paid to the oral folk traditions of peoples who embraced Islam. How ordinary Muslims viewed the same heavens visible to educated scientist or illiterate shepherd is the subject of this chapter. For practical reasons the focus here will be on the Middle East, especially the textual information on the pre-Islamic Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula and contemporary tribal groups in the region.

What is Islamic Folk Astronomy?

It is unfortunate that many times the idea of “folk astronomy” is understood mainly by what it is not. (more…)

Yemeni man voting; photo by Hani Mohammed/AP

By Samira Ali BinDaair, Sanaa, Republic of Yemen

This essay is an attempt at shedding some light on the relationship between democracy, Islam and the Western world and in the process dispelling some of the misconceptions about the chasm between Islam and democracy. It is nowhere easy for the entire society to have unanimity on any given issue let alone such a complex one as what constitutes good governance and the best political system to be adopted. The Arab world has tried it all but I would like to point out that any system when transplanted and adopted without the necessary conditions for its success is bound to fail, leading to the condemnation of the system rather than analysis of the causes of failure in implementation.
Democracy as a pure concept

I would like to start with the concept of democracy which some Muslims have rejected on the basis of its emanating from the West within secular governments and secular ideas. However, if one examines the concept in its pure form it simply means rule of the people by the people for the people. To demystify it further, what it simply boils down to is that people have a voice in national affairs and choice of their leader and by virtue of the same fact are able to remove the leader through general consensus and legal means if the leader proves to be incapable of living up to the responsibilities entrusted to him/her. (more…)

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