An American Islam: Leading Voices in Conversation
Khaled Abou El Fadl, UCLA; Salam al-Marayati, Muslim Public Affairs Council; Edward Curtis IV, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis; Maryam Eskandari, MIIM Designs; Sherman Jackson, University of Southern California; Asma Sayeed, UCLA
March 3, 2018

This symposium, held on a Saturday afternoon, attracted an audience of over two hundred students, faculty, and visitors to hear leading scholars of Islamic studies discuss and debate Islam’s place in American culture and history. In the first panel, “American Mosques,” Edward Curtis IV of IUPUI offered an extensive overview of the history of mosques in America, emphasizing in particular that active Muslim communities in America significantly predate the early-to-mid-20th century. He argued that the “marketplace of religious traditions” in the United States has allowed a number of religions to thrive and is an important factor in preserving and maintaining diversity of American Muslim communities. Maryam Eskanderi led the audience through an interactive consideration of factors that define a mosque, challenging listeners to reconsider what is and is not essential in Muslim prayer spaces. In the second panel, “An American Madhhab?” Dr. Sherman Jackson spoke on intersections between the American legal system and Islamic legal tradition, arguing that while outstanding points of disagreement do exist, there are meaningful compatibilities between the two systems. He also discussed what the practice of Islamic law and legal interpretation might signify in a contemporary secular democracy. Professor Abou El Fadl discussed the racialization of Islam in America and the “industry of Islamophobia.” He urged Muslim Americans to resist negative portrayals of the sharī‘a in public dialogues and encouraged the audience to explore the intellectual legacy and heritage of classical Muslim scholars. The panels were moderated by Salam al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Asma Sayeed, director of UCLA’s Islamic Studies program.

The second panel of this symposium was videorecorded and may be watched at this link.

This event was sponsored by the UCLA-Islamic Studies—MRI fund.

Rare Manuscripts of the Moroccan Royal Library
Khalid Zahri, Assistant Director, Royal Hassania Library, Rabat, Morocco
February 5-7, 2018

Dr. Khalid Zahri is a leading Moroccan authority on Islamic manuscripts (codicology and paleography), who specializes in Islamic law, theology, and Sufism. His three-day visit to UCLA lasted encompassed a variety of events which provided many opportunities for students and faculty to interact with an international scholar of his caliber. On February 5, Dr. Zahri delivered an English public lecture on North African paleography, codicology, art imagery and the significance of color in dealing with Arabic manuscripts to a diverse audience of faculty, graduate students, and visitors from other universities. The following day, Dr. Zahri offered a more in-depth overview of the codicology Islamic manuscripts. The lecture was delivered in Arabic to over twenty faculty and graduate students from UCLA and neighboring institutions. For the rest of his visit, Dr. Zahri worked one-on-one and with small groups of students on selected Arabic manuscripts housed in UCLA’s Special Collections. These focused sessions were excellent opportunities for students to learn how to use UCLA’s Arabic manuscripts, among the largest collections of Islamic/Arabic manuscripts in North America.

Dr. Zahri’s visit was co-sponsored by the Center for Near Eastern Studies, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, the Program in Islamic Studies, and the Office of the Dean of Humanities.

Muslim Cities of the Middle Ages
K-12 Teachers’ Workshop
June 19-22, 2017

In response to the new California History-Social Science Framework for 7th grade, this four-day program consisted of a series of lectures and group discussions focusing on Baghdad and Cairo as “sites of encounters.” Speakers included Megan Reid from California State University, Long beach, Jessica Goldberg from UCLA’s history department, Emma Hipolito from UCLA’s History Geography Project,  and Asma Sayeed from the Near Eastern Languages and Studies Department. The workshop included historical lectures on the rise of Islam, the expansion of the Muslim empire, and the development of selected urban areas.  There were also daily sessions on teaching Islamic history, developing unit outlines, and the integration of newer multi-media resources. Additionally, Faisal Abdullah and Evan Metzger, two graduate students of the Islamic studies program, led a hands-on session on Islamic manuscripts in cooperation with UCLA Library Special Collections, They provided an overview of the history of bookmaking in Islamic history and highlighted some of the unique early and classical Arabic manuscripts in UCLA’s extraordinary Minasian collection. Graduate students (Faisal Abdullah, Mohsin Ali, Evan Metzger, and Holly Robins) also led book groups centered on Asma Afsaruddin’s work First Muslims. Participants discussed selected chapters from this work and exchanged ideas for integrating Islamic history into classroom discussions.

This event was co-sponsored by Islamic Studies, the UCLA History Geography project, and the Center for Near Eastern Studies. The program was also made possible with the generous support of the UCLA Islamic Studies-MRI fund.

Islam and Muslims in an Age of ISIS and Islamophobia
Omid Safi, Duke University
October 29, 2016

In an afternoon lecture to approximately 250 students, faculty, and community members, Omid Safi spoke about increasingly negative perceptions of Muslim-Americans and placed their struggle in the context of the broader civil rights discourses in US history. Drawing on the examples of activists such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rabbi Abraham Heschel, as well as on contemporary movements such as “Black Lives Matter,” Safi explained how their struggles resonate with those of American Muslims. In drawing such parallels, Safi forcefully argued that Islamophobia must be confronted as a challenge arising from the same roots as other manifestations of racism and xenophobia endemic to American society. According to Safi, the fear of ISIS and terrorism serves as a pretext for the systematic oppression and disenfranchisement of Muslim citizens and must be understood as such to effectively address the alienation of American Muslims within their own communities. Quoting the words of the 20th century Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Safi advised the audience that “indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible,” and urged all in attendance to be mindful of the suffering around them and what role they can play in addressing it.

Omid Safi is the director of the Islamic Studies Center at Duke University in addition to being a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. He deals with questions of Sufism, intellectual history, pluralism, and social justice. Among his many publications are The Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam (University of North Carolina Press, 2006) and Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters (HarperOne, 2009).

This event was sponsored by the UCLA-Islamic Studies-MRI fund with co-sponsorship from the Center for Near Eastern Studies and the Center for the Study of Religion.

The Substantive Pull of Procedure in Early Islamic Courts: The Curious Case of Bughaybigha
Intisar Rabb, Harvard University
October 10, 2016

During this lunchtime lecture, Professor Rabb presented her research on Bughaybigha, a spring allegedly gifted to the Prophet Muhammad’s nephew ‘Ali, who claimed its ownership would pass to his descendants in perpetuity. Over the following several centuries, various Umayyad and ‘Abbasid caliphs intervened, attempting to seize control of the land in a variety of legal cases. Professor Rabb used these incidents as a case study into the role of procedure in resolving legal disputes in early Islamic history. The disputes over Bughaybigha, according to Rabb, reveal that traditional conceptions of early Islamic judges as apolitical and placing little emphasis on legal procedure are entirely false. She argued that instead, legal procedure appears to have afforded early judges significant power in affirming or subverting the authority and legitimacy of the caliphs.

Instisar Rabb is the director of the Islamic Legal Studies program, in addition to being professor of law, at Harvard Law School. She is also the Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and is professor of history as well. She is an expert in the fields of Islamic legal studies, comparative constitutional law, and the early history of the Qur’an. She is the author of a number of publications, including, most recently, her monograph entitled Doubt in Islamic Law: A History of Legal Maxims, Interpretation, and Islamic Criminal Law (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

This lecture was co-sponsored by the Center for Near Eastern Studies, the International and Comparative Law Program, and the Program in Islamic Studies.

The Study Quran and Muslim Intellectual Life
Caner Dagli, College of the Holy Cross
May 22, 2016

This three-hour event featured Professor Dagli presenting The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (Harper Collins, 2015). This project, developed in collaboration with Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Maria Massi Dakake, and Joseph Lumbard, features a 900,000 word verse-by-verse commentary discussing a wide range of tafsir traditions, as well as over a dozen essays and an extensive appendix. In this lecture, Prof. Dagli discussed how the Study Quran project developed, and described the dynamic of collaborating with the other editors. The lecture then broadened to discuss Islamic intellectual traditions overall, and how the new edition fits in with the tradition of Qur’anic interpretation across over a thousand years.

Caner Dagli is assistant professor in religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross. He is especially interested in the fields of Islamic philosophy and Sufism, and is the translator of Ringstones of Wisdom (Kazi Publications, 2004), an adaptation of the Fusūs al-Hikam of Ibn ‘Arabī (d. 1240).

This event was co-sponsored by the Islamic Studies Program and the UCLA-Islamic Studies-MRI Fund.

Kitāb al-Ḥayda and Early Ḥanbalī Creeds
Racha El Omari, University of California, Santa Barbara
April 25, 2016

Professor El Omari presented her research on the use of kalām (dialectical theology) by traditionalist Sunni groups (most notably the Ḥanbalīs) in the medieval period. She demonstrated that despite many traditionalists’ strong condemnation of the entire field of kalām, a number of prominent Ḥanbalī thinkers (among them Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn ‘Aqīl) appear to have embraced theological disputation in their writings. Professor El Omari then discussed her own research on the 9th-century Kitāb al-Ḥayda (“The Book of Evasion”) which has been incorrectly attributed to Ibn Baṭṭa al-ʿUkbarī, carefully analyzing the text to draw her conclusions on the notable role of kalām in medieval traditionalist writings and the overall importance of pseudepigraphic texts in the formation of Ḥanbalī beliefs. The lecture included a discussion of an Arabic text which the students in the audience had prepared in advance.

Racha El Omari is associate professor of religious studies at UC-Santa Barbara, where she teaches courses on Islamic theology and Arabic. She is the author of The Theology of Abū l-Qāsim al-Balkhī/ al-Kaʿbī (d. 319/931) (Brill, 2016).

This event was co-sponsored by the Islamic Studies Program and the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department.

From a Judge’s Perspective: Challenges and Opportunities for American-Muslims Post 9/11
Judge Halim Dhanidina, Los Angeles County Superior Court
March 7, 2016

The Honorable Halim Dhanidina delivered this noontime lecture to the general public as well as students enrolled in UCLA’s “Islam in the West” course. In his lecture, he discussed his childhood, growing up in a suburb near Chicago, and how events such as the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the First Gulf War affected the way other Americans came to view Muslim Americans. He then discussed the impact of the 9/11 attacks on Muslim Americans.While these attacks led to an increase in Islamophobia, they also galvanized many American Muslims to seek broader community engagements. Islamophobia, he asserted, has continued to worsen each year, and that “whenever you think you’ve hit bottom, then there’s a new bottom.” In the Q&A session, Judge Dhanidina answered a number of questions about his background as well as prospects for American Muslim and their civil liberties. In response to a question about the relationship between an individual judge’s religious beliefs and his professional duty as a judge, he stressed that a judge’s values and belief system should be consistent with the of principle equality and equal protections for all as enshrined in our secular democracy.

The Honorable Halim Dhanidina is the first Muslim to be appointed judge in California, and also serves as adjunct professor of law at Whittier Law School. He received his Juris Doctorate from the UCLA School of Law.

This lecture was sponsored by the Islamic Studies program and the Center for Near Eastern Studies.

Arabic Studies, Antebellum Slavery: West African Literacy, and the Ivy League in Early America
Jeffrey Einboden, University of Northern Illinois
February 29, 2016

In this lunchtime lecture, Professor Einboden discussed the emerging study of Arabic writings in the United States between the American Revolution and the Civil War. He placed special emphasis on the interactions between literate Arabic-speaking slaves and early American educators, and discussed the biography of ‘Umar Ibn Sayyid, a 19th century Fulani scholar from modern-day Senegal who became famous for, after his capture and enslavement, decorating the interior of a North Carolina jail cell in Arabic writing. Einboden’s overall argument lay in the necessity of recognizing that the history of Islam in America dates back to well before the American Revolutionary War. The talk offered a fascinating bridge between the typically distinct fields of Islamic studies and early American studies.

Jeffrey Einboden is professor of English at Northern Illinois University, where he studies American Romanticism, Middle Eastern translation, Transatlantic literatures, and Sufi poetry. He is the author of Islam and Romanticism: Muslim Currents from Goethe to Emerson (Oneworld, 2014) and Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature in Middle Eastern Languages (Edinburgh University Press, 2013).

This lecture was co-sponsored by the Islamic Studies and Arabic programs, the UCLA Islamic Studies MRI fund, the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Department,  and the Center for Near Eastern Studies.

Recovering Lost Legacies: Muslims and their Cultures of Learning
Khaled Abou El Fadl, Michael Cooperson, and Asma Sayeed, UCLA
May 23, 2015

This two-hour panel, moderated by Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), discussed the manner in which the current national and international political climate has obfuscated critical historical developments in the transmission of knowledge from Muslim cultures. To an audience of approximately sixty people, Prof. Abou El Fadl offered an overview of the field of Islamic studies and its future prospects, Prof. Cooperson described the challenges and rewards of translating medieval Arabic texts, and Prof. Sayeed presented some of her extensive research on the legacies of female scholars in the first several centuries of Islam. In a lively Q&A session the professors emphasized the need for inclusive discourse on Islamic history that includes Muslims and non-Muslims that simultaneously remains accessible to those without extensive experience with Muslim cultures.

This event was co-sponsored by the Islamic Studies Program and the Muslim Reform Institute (MRI).

Digital Humanities and the Premodern Islamic World: Of Graphs, Maps, and 30,000 Muslims (lecture) and Digital Humanities in Islamic Studies (workshop)
Maxim Romanov, Tufts University
February 24-25, 2015

Across two days, Dr. Romanov led a three-hour workshop for graduate students and faculty and and also gave a public lecture. Dr. Romanov introduced UCLA faculty and students to the frontiers of digital humanities research in Islamic history. In his workshop, he summarized the current status of digital resources currently available, and he highlighted three collections: al-Jāmi‘ al-Kabīr, al-Maktaba al-Shāmila, and al-Maktaba al-Shī‘iyya, which altogether constitute over 10,000 unique modern and pre-modern Arabic texts, for a total of 1.5 billion words, all searchable. Dr. Romanov guided the audience through how to construct productive search expressions through these databases, using accurate morphological patterns and spellings, before proposing to the audience broad questions which these sources enable us to answer, including how did Islamic society change in time and space across medieval history, and how did the major cultural centers evolve?

Romanov’s public lecture provided a general introduction to digital Islamic humanities and a concrete example from his own computational analysis of The History of Islam by the Damascene scholar al-Dhahabī (d. 1348 CE). Al-Dhahabī’s compilation, the largest pre-modern biographical collection, spans 700 years of Islamic history and contains over 30,000 biographical records.  Romanov’s methodology and analysis of “big data” from this work shed light on a number of major issues in early and classical Islam including the composition of the urban elite, the changing social and cultural significance of genealogy, and transformations in major cultural centers across the Muslim empire.

Maxim Romanov is a research fellow for digital humanities at the University of Leipzig and specializes in computational analysis of premodern Arabic literature. He is currently working on two book projects, one on The History of Islam of al-Dhahabī, and another on the Hadiyyat al-‘Ārifīn of Ismā‘īl Bāshā al-Baghdādī (d. 1920).

This workshop was made possible with support from the Office of the UCLA Dean of Humanities and was co-sponsored by the Islamic Studies program, the Center for Near Eastern Studies, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, and the Center for the Study of Religion.