August 2010



Leila, left; Dr. Najwa Adra, right

Dance Workshop & Discussion: Leila of Cairo and Anthropologist Najwa Adra
Wednesday, September 1, 2010 6:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

Workshop: 6:00-8:30 pm
Discussion: 8:30-10:00 pm

This evening of dance and discussion provides an opportunity much needed in the bellydance scene: to both embody the feeling of Egyptian raqs sharqi through movement and music, and also to speak to the controversial issues surrounding the dance through dialogue with experts. Alwan welcomes acclaimed dancer Leila of Cairo, and esteemed scholar Najwa Adra, to kick off its 2010-2011 season of culturally contextualized, quality dance and performance.

Dance Workshop with Leila of Cairo

Understanding Classical Egyptian Music for Dance

6:00-8:30 pm

The historic songs of Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez and Warda can be intimidating for dancers of all levels. Join Leila as she navigates through the musical structure of these complex compositions. Explore Egyptian versus Western interpretation of these songs, and utilize Egyptian technique to express the music and ultimately, yourself, within the dance.

Take advantage this rare opportunity to learn with Cairo-based, American-born Leila, who has won over Egyptian audiences with her dance, film and stage appearances.

Discussion with Najwa Adra PhD and Leila

Raqs, What’s the Point? Diverging Bellydance Traditions in Egypt and the U.S.

8:30-10:00 pm

This discussion focuses on differences of perception, meaning, context and technique of the dance known simply as raqs or raqs sharqi in the Arab world, and as bellydance in the US. Leila draws upon her experiences as a US-born dancer who has an exceptionally successful career as a performing artist in Eygpt, while Najwa highlights related issues from her fieldwork research, writings and lifetime of participating in social dance traditions of the Arab world. The talk-back will touch upon notions of authenticity, cultural appropriation and orientalization in the dance. Come with questions and comments! (more…)


by Hussein Rashid, Religion Dispatches, August 26, 2010

Cathy Lynn Grossman, at USA Today’s Faith and Reason blog, writes about how most Americans know very little about Islam. Intentionally or not, she actually models this ignorance of Muslim traditions. Like William Dalrymple in the New York Times, she pulls out this word “sufism,” as though it is the silver bullet that will bring peace to the world. To say that Feisal Abdul-Rauf is a sufi is technically true and about as useful as saying he is male.

Sufism is theological orientation amongst Muslims that covers a wide variety of beliefs and practices. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of sufi orders. They range from politically quiet to very politically engaged. In many contexts they have served as the conscience of the community, speaking truth to power, whether that power was political or religious. Feisal Abdul-Rauf is not apolitical. He speaks from what we would consider to be a politically liberal perspective, and in service to the government of the United States.

Both Grossman and Dalrymple want to create a simple notion of Islam, where there are good Muslims and there are bad Muslims. In their construction, sufis are by definition “good.” This view denies the complexity of the Muslim experience and the reality of our past constructions of the “good” Muslim that have backfired. Ronald Reagan once hailed the Afghan mujahidin, the precursors to the Taliban, as the greatest freedom fighters since the American Revolution. Donald Rumsfeld has his infamous photo with Saddam Hussein.

Now New York Gov. Paterson is using the same simple constructions, comparing sufis and Shi’ah Muslims, as thought they are mutually exclusive categories. One can be sufi and Shi’ah or sufi and Sunni. For example, Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution, had sufi leanings. Paterson’s ignorance conflates current concerns about Iran with the Park51 issue, and shows no understanding of the Sunni nature of Al-Qaida.

The simple categories of Muslims, without any real understanding of what they mean, does a disservice to the tradition and does not actually improve the conversation. Paterson’s comments will confuse the the conversation in New York, even if people recognize that he is simply floundering for legitimacy in the discussion. Grossman and Dalrymple’s gross generalizations tell us nothing about the drivers behind Park51 or the supporters of the center. It’s a shame that instead of focusing on battling the ignorance of Muslims, they are contributing to it.


Yesterday there was a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, a political act paraded as a national revival meeting. And guess who showed up? None other than Elmer Gantry. If you are too young to remember who Elmer Gantry is, Youtube comes to your rescue. Based on a novel published by Sinclair Lewis in 1927, the fictional character Gantry is a consummate hypocrite preaching against vice from the pulpit and practicing vice whenever he has a chance. Lewis wrote it as a satire on the bigoted Protestant fundamentalism of his day, and earned the mantra of “Satan’s cohort” from famed evangelist Billy Sunday. Perhaps it is time to bring the novel back to the required reading list or at least re-release the film version starring Burt Lancaster.

Glenn Gantry, I mean Elmer Beck, well you know who I mean, left the set of his Fox News extravaganza and cozy radio perch to lead a rally of Tea Party and other discontents, but claimed that God had dropped a sandbag on his head (I suspect it was rather heavy sand to cause such a reaction) and made him realize the rally should be a religious revival, getting America back to her Christian roots. The fact that it was planned on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s memorable speech in the same place (only three years after the release of the Elmer Gantry film) is said to be accidental or divine. I suspect for showman Beck, there is little difference between the two. (more…)

Perhaps there is a geographical inclination gene in my ancestry, since I have always loved Bible atlases. Many years ago my father was given a copy of Jesse Lyman Hurlbut’s A Bible Atlas, first published in 1910; his volume was a 1947 revision. But for the most part I assume the photographs were taken around the turn of the 20th century, give or take a decade. The author lived from 1843–1930 and as early as 1882 had published a Manual of Biblical Geography, the perecursor to this atlas. The 1910 version is archived online. There is also a website devoted to maps from his 1904 Story of the Bible.

So here I begin a thread of photographs of the Holy Land from at least a century ago. Let’s begin in Tiberias … (more…)


Photograph by Morteza Nikoubazl for Reuters

Anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. policy is tilting public opinion in favor of Tehran and against Washington.

by Shibley Telhami, The Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2010

President Obama may have scored a diplomatic win by securing international support for biting sanctions against Iran, but Arab public opinion is moving in a different direction. Polling conducted last month by Zogby and the University of Maryland in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates suggests that views in the region are shifting toward a positive perception of Iran’s nuclear program.

These views present problems for Washington, which has counted on Arabs seeing Iran as a threat — maybe even a bigger one than Israel. So why is Arab public opinion toward Iran shifting? (more…)


William Henry Bartlett, Mount Carmel Looking towards the Sea, engraving,
collection of Dr. Y. Rimon, Haifa

The Haifa City Museum in Israel is sponsoring a special exhibition entitled “Ottoman Haifa: Aspects of the City, 1516-1918” from August 29, 2009 – October 2, 2010. The curator is Ron Hillel. Details are provided at the exhibition website, with the description copied below.

During the Ottoman period, many marked changes occurred in Haifa and its environs. The foundations of today’s city were laid, economic, social, and religious. Even though Ottoman rule ended less than 100 years ago, the general sense is that all this happened in the remote past. This exhibition is intended to revive that heroic era, to make it tangible.

The exhibition follows Haifa’s development during the Ottoman period. The city’s growth is linked by indissoluble bonds to its technological and economic progress. Its development is documented in geographic illustrations and maps and with the invention (more…)


By Nadeem F. Paracha. Smoker’s Corner, Dawn.com, July 4, 2010

It is rather startling to note how the powerful ‘Women’s Lib’ movement in the 1970s was manhandled by certain sections of society in the West. They scrapped the intellectual aspects of the concept and used the fruits of the movement by simply exhibiting it as a way to justify nudity.

The above was what most frontline women activists of the movement bemoaned, alluding that their movement’s many positive social outcomes had been misused. In fact, such is also the view of a majority of conservative Muslim thinkers — especially those who have been at the forefront of encouraging the usage of veil among Muslim women.

Interestingly, a lot of young Muslim women who adorn the hijab/burqa suggest that veiling demonstrates their liberation from becoming an object of the pitfalls of the Women’s Lib movement. But just as one is correct to point out that these pitfalls involve emancipated women who shroud their obvious objectification by describing it as liberation, one isn’t too far off the mark to also question the other side of the divide. (more…)


by Abbas Barzegar, Huffington Post, August 19, 2010

There were a few things I did and didn’t expect when I first heard about the now controversial Cordoba Initiative’s Muslim community center project in Manhattan. Of course, right wing fringe hysteria and contrived national debate — that was easy to predict. But in truth, I never thought it would get as far as it has. And never did my jaded skepticism expect to see Mayor Bloomberg and other NYC authorities support Muslim rights to religious freedom so unequivocally. But the real shockers for me are 1) the national polls which reveal a deep seeded anti-Muslim bias in American society and 2) the way in which Democrats are balking on one of our country’s greatest values because of a midterm election. That the construction of a “Muslim YMCA” has devolved into a lame discussion of “why there?” is not only insulting to our constitutional principles, it shows how little we have come as a society since 9/11, despite incessant overtures by American Muslims to be fully accepted in our society.

Let there be no mistake. For decades American Muslims have struggled to reconcile a falsely conceived identity crisis which pits their American and Muslim loyalties at odds. (more…)

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