February 2010

While looking over the postcards my grandmother saved from the start of the last century, I came across a beautiful street scene in Algiers, reproduced above. The card was sent from Italy in July, 1914 so it was obviously printed before then. It was addressed to my grandmother’s aunt, whose papers my grandmother inherited. The message itself is interesting in large part because it is so ordinary. The message reads:

Rome, 7/19/14
Dear Ida,
We have had a safe and happy journey so far, enjoying the beautiful stars en route. Went thro’ an Arab St. like this. I have bought some statuary which is being sent home to your address, and of necessity the duty, 75 cents about, must be paid at that end of the line. Am sorry to ask you to do it, but see no other way. We have seen some of the wonders of the “Eternal City.” Move on to Pisa and Florence tomorrow. A. K. Joy

Mohammed at the Kaaba. Miniature from the Ottoman Empire, c. 1595. Source: The Topkapi Museum, Istanbul

Folk Astronomy and Islamic Ritual

Astronomy was relevant to Muslims in large part because of several of the ritual duties proscribed in the Quran and Islamic tradition. The three most important of these are determining the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadân, reckoning the times for the five daily prayers, and determining the proper direction of the qibla or sacred direction toward Mecca. While Muslim astronomers later worked out mathematical solutions to some of these problems, correct timing and orientation could be achieved by those untrained in astronomy and with virtually no computation skills beyond simple arithmetic (King 1985:194). (more…)

Women carry empty gas cylinders in Sana’a. The country is suffering from a gas shortage
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Several photographers have recently arrived in Yemen, given its newsworthiness. The Guardian has a gallery of 14 images. To see any earlier post on the photographs of Karim Ben Khelifa, click here.

Mona Eltahawy

by Mona Eltahawy, The Huffington Post, February 9, 2010

Imagine if 3 million boys had their penises cut off every year.

Imagine that despite accounts of the unfathomable pain boys endure to ensure chastity and passage into manhood, religious leaders for decades taught their communities that God had decreed such mutilation.

A world tongue-tied by cultural relativism says nothing.

Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?

It’s a painful reality for at least 3 million girls who each year have parts or all of their clitorises cut off in a procedure known as female genital mutilation (FGM). The clitoris has double the nerve endings of a penis so my analogy to chopping off little boys’ organs isn’t too far off.

This past weekend marked International Day of Zero Tolerance of FGM, so allow me to shake you out of oblivion by reminding you that 6,000 girls a day are subjected to one of four types of FGM. (more…)

Arbuckles’ Ariosa (air-ee-o-sa) Coffee packages bore a yellow label with the name ARBUCKLES’ in large red letters across the front, beneath which flew a Flying Angel trademark over the words ARIOSA COFFEE in black letters. Shipped all over the country in sturdy wooden crates, one hundred packages to a crate, ARBUCKLES’ ARIOSA COFFEE became so dominant, particularly in the west, that many Cowboys were not aware there was any other kind. Keen marketing minds, the Arbuckle Brothers printed signature coupons on the bags of coffee redeemable for all manner of notions including handkerchiefs, razors, scissors, and wedding rings. To sweeten the deal, each package of ARBUCKLES’ contained a stick of peppermint candy. Due to the demands on chuck wagon cooks to keep a ready supply of hot ARBUCKLES’ on hand around the campfire, the peppermint stick became a means by which the steady coffee supply was ground. Upon hearing the cook’s call, “Who wants the candy?” some of the toughest Cowboys on the trail were known to vie for the opportunity of manning the coffee grinder in exchange for satisfying a sweet tooth.

While sorting through a bevy of late 19th century advertising cards and magazine illustrations collected by my great, great aunt in several yellowing albums, I came across several for the Middle East that were published for Arbuckle’s coffee. (more…)

Understanding Islamic Feminism: Interview with Ziba Mir-Hosseini

Yoginder Sikand, Madrasa Reforms in India, February 7, 2010

Born in Iran and now based in London, Ziba Mir Hosseini, an anthropologist by training, is one of the most well-known scholars of Islamic Feminism. She is the author of numerous books on the subject, including Marriage on Trial: A Study of Family Law in Iran and Morrocco (l.B.Tauris, 1993) and Islam and Gender, the Religious Debate in Contemporary Islam (Princeton, 1999). She is presently associated with the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

In this interview with Yoginder Sikand she talks about the origins and prospects of Islamic feminism as an emancipatory project for Muslim women and as a new, contextually-relevant way of understanding Islam.

Q: In recent years, a number of Muslim women’s groups have emerged across the world, struggling for gender equality and justice using Islamic arguments. Most of them are led by women who come from elitist or, at least middle class, backgrounds. Many of them seem to lack a strong popular base. How do you account for this?

A: I think the majority of the women who are writing and publishing about what is popularly called ‘Islamic feminism’ are definitely from the elite or the middle class. But then, globally speaking, feminism has always had to do with the middle class, at least in terms of its key articulators and leaders. I believe that Islamic feminism is, in a sense, the unwanted child of ‘political Islam’. It was ‘political Islam’ that actually politicized the whole issue of gender and Muslim women’s rights. The slogan ‘back to the shariah’ so forcefully pressed by advocates of ‘political Islam’ in practice meant seeking to return to the classical texts on fiqh or Muslim jurisprudence and doing away with various laws advantageous to women that had no sanction in the Islamists’ literalist understanding of Islam. Translated into practice, law and public policy, this meant going back to pre-modern interpretations of shariah, with all their restrictive laws about and for women. It was this that led, as a reaction, to the emergence of Islamic feminism, critiquing the Islamists for conflating Islam and the shariah with undistilled patriarchy and for claiming that patriarchal rule was divinely mandated. These Muslim women were confronted with horrific laws that Islamists sought to impose in the name of Islam, and so began asking where in all of this was the justice and equality that their own understanding of the Quran led them to believe was central to Islam. These gender activists, using Islamic arguments to critique and challenge the Islamists, brought classical fiqh and tafsir texts to public scrutiny and made them a subject of public debate and discussion, articulating alternative, gender-friendly understandings, indeed visions, of Islam. That marked the broadening, in terms of class, of the fledgling Islamic feminist movement. (more…)

On Tuesday, Feb. 9 and Wednesday, Feb. 10, internationally known sociologist Bryan Turner will be delivering two guest lectures at Hofstra, and also will be available for smaller meetings with interested students and faculty. Dr. Turner, currently a visiting professor at Wellesley College, was a sociology professor at National University in Singapore and the University of Cambridge. He will become a ‘presidential professor’ at CUNY in September. He has edited or written more than 60 books on a wide range of topics, and his research interests include globalization and religion, concentrating on issues such as religious conflict and the modern state, religious authority and electronic information, religious consumerism and youth cultures, human rights and religion, and religious cosmologies. Turner’s visit is sponsored by the Departments of Anthropology, Religion, and Sociology, Honors College, and the Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Program.

Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2:20-3:45 (Breslin 100)
Bodies as Culture/Bodies as Practice. In the last decade and across a wide range of disciplines, the human body has become a key issue in research. However, the dominant approach denies the materiality of the body, treating it as culture or text. The body is always a sign of something else. The result is that we lose any understanding of practice and embodiment. In my own work and in this talk, I look at a number of examples – dance, old age and disease – where practical embodiment cannot be avoided. This denial of materiality and practice has wider ramifications for sociology and anthropology in terms of the equally problematic status of ‘Culture’.

Wednesday, Feb. 10, 11:15-12:45 (Breslin 100)

Globalization and Cosmopolitanism : the religious and the secular’? Religion was systematically ignored by the major social science thinkers of the 20th century who embraced the idea of inevitable secularization (Althusser, Elias, Dahrendorf, Harvey, Boltanski, Giddens). At the beginning of this century, the academic scene has changed radically with major figures (Berger, Habermas, Vattimo, Rorty) either discovering or rediscovering religion. One curious absence, however, in the current fashion for work on globalization in the social sciences is yet another absence of religion. This is curious since one could argue that the evangelical religions were global all along – only Roland Robertson has perused this idea with some determination. The absence is even more curious when we come to the current study of global cosmopolitanism in which once more the major figures (Appiah, Beck, Giddens, Sassen) do not see the connection. In this paper I examine Alain Badiou’s contention that Saint Paul is our contemporary (Gal.3:28). Following my own work on Vulnerability and Human Rights (2006) I consider, with an intersection of theology and sociology, the idea of cosmopolitan virtue and hospitality. I finish with the provocative question: can Muslims be cosmopolitans?

In addition, Dr. Turner will be available from 4:15 p.m. -5:15 p.m. on Feb. 9 in the Anthropology Department office, Davison, Room 200; and from 9 a.m.-10 a.m. on Feb. 10 in Davison, Room 206.

For more information, contact Dr. Daniel Varisco at daniel.m.varisco@hofstra.edu

Yemen proposal to reform Arab League
SABA, Yemen News Agency, February 6, 2010

CAIRO. Feb. 06 (Saba) – Yemen has put forward a proposal for the establishment of an Arab Union as a replacement for the Arab League that would be discussed by Arab Foreign Ministers in an early March meeting as a prelude to sending it to the Arab Leaders’ Summit in late March.

The proposal was drafted in an initiative form to reform the Arab League.

In the initiative, Yemen suggested a draft constitution for the union that should contain 37 articles based on principles such as respecting sovereignty and regional borders of countries, respecting the unity of a member state’s national soil, the right of a country to choose its ruling system, dis-recognizing taking office through
force, and establishing an Arab security system to protect the member states and contribute to boosting international peace and security, the Egyptian Al-Shorouk newspaper quoted an official at the Arab League as saying. (more…)

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