June 2014


Check out the nicely illustrated online article by Kuwaiti ethnomusicologist Ghazi Al-Mulaifi on the music of pearling in the Arabian Gulf.

‘All the men died at sea,’ Ghazi Al-Mulaifi’s grandfather would respond, every time his inquisitive grandson questioned him about his days as the master of a Kuwaiti pearling ship during the 1930s and 1940s. Naturally, his grandfather’s ambiguity only served to exacerbate the young Al-Mulaifi’s interest. ‘Who was this grandpa-captain of mine, who didn’t want to talk to me about the sea?’
he wondered.

As Al-Mulaifi – now a 37 year old PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at New York University – became more and more interested in music as he grew older, he found himself increasingly drawn to one particular aspect of the Kuwaiti pearl diving tradition – its soundscape. For the whole article and illustrations, click here.

International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2014: “Frankenstein in Baghdad”

Beyond good and evil

Ahmed Saadawi’s novel “Frankenstein in Baghdad” has won the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Khaled Hroub presents the book, from Qantara.de

Turning the final page of Ahmed Saadawi’s novel “Frankenstein in Bagdad”, the reader’s head is full of questions: who is really the monster of Bagdad? Who created it? What does it consist of and why is it so tenacious, costing so many innocent lives? Easy, generalising answers might be: the invasion of Iraq, confessionalism, politicians and their interests …

But such banal responses simplify the situation too much, for they would mean seeing only criminals and innocents in the brutality of Iraq’s daily events.

In real life, the situation in Iraq is bitterer than any black-and-white portrayal could render. Saadawi does away with such good/evil dichotomies and counters them with a dismal reality in which simplified notions soon melt away. Neither is innocence entirely innocent, nor is crime absolute.

A monster made of severed body parts

Shesma, the monster of Baghdad, is made up of body parts of innocent victims. This new play on Frankenstein’s monster goes on a mission that initially appears clear and righteous – despite its brutality – but soon comes to seem ambivalent and sacrilegious. (more…)

Here is an interesting Youtube video of Tariq Ramadan speaking about the issue of apostasy in Islam. For an Arabic translation of what he said, click here.

If you take the time to check the “Spam” folder in your email accounts, you will undoubtedly find quite a few solicitations for getting money out of a foreign account. Usually it is the widow of a former dictator in Nigeria, a lawyer for a deposed general or even winning the lottery in Barcelona. Recently I noticed a purported message from a U.S. army officer in Afghanistan who wants to get money out of there. But for the first time I received a message from a “Yemeni”, fictitious as it obviously is and certainly not from an email account (chukwudouglasekp2@yahoo.com.hk) in Yemen. Here is the message:

Hello Dear

My name is Mr.Al-Hawshabi Karim , A Yemen national I have been diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer .It has defiled al forms of medical treatment, and right now I have only about a few months to live, according to medical experts. I have not particularly lived my life so well, as I never really cared for anyone(not even myself) but my business.

Though I am very rich, I was never generous, I was always hostile to people and only focused on my business as that was the only thing I cared for. But now I regret all this as I now know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the money in he world. (more…)

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…)

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