The Alfred University Libraries recently acquired a set of books and films on the topic of Islamic society and culture. These books were selected by scholars and reflect six broad themes as a way of exploring the diversity of Muslim thought and experience.
The Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys is a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities, conducted in cooperation with the American Library Association. Support was provided by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Additional support for the arts and media components was provided by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
Thanks to the Muslim Journeys committee for their help in securing the Bookshelf and setting up programming:
Ellen Bahr, Associate Librarian, Herrick Library
Christopher Churchill, Assistant Professor, History and Global Studies
Kate Dimitrova, Assistant Professor, Art History
Laura Greyson, Professor, Political Science
Wakoh Shannon Hickey, Assistant Professor, Religious Studies
John Hosford, Visual Resources Curator, Scholes Library
Jeff Sluyter-Beltrao, Associate Professor, Political Science
Brian Sullivan, Assistant Librarian, Herrick Library
All events are free and open to the public. For further information, contact Ellen Bahr at 607-871-2976 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, April 1, 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Discussion of the book, A Quiet Revolution: The Veil's Resurgence from the Middle East to America
Join us for a discussion of Leila Ahmed’s important book about feminism, Islam and contemporary politics. Dr. Christopher Churchill, Assistant Professor, History and Global Studies, and other Alfred University faculty will introduce the book's themes and lead a discussion about the politicization of the veil, contemporary Islamic politics, feminist approaches to studying religions, and the challenges of inter-religious and cross-cultural understanding.
While not required, it is recommended that participants read some or all of the book prior to the event. The book is on reserve at Herrick Library.
Location: BookEnd Lounge, Herrick Memorial Library
Monday, April 8, 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Presentation and discussion of the film, Persepolis
Join us for a presentation of the film, followed by a discussion led by Dr. Kate Dimitrova, Assistant Professor of Art History, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University.
Co-sponsored by the ARTH Club
Location: Nevins Theater, Powell Campus Center
Thursday, September 19, 12:10 - 1:00 pm, Nevins Theater in the Powelll Campus Center
Presentation on "Everlasting Ornament: Visual Culture and the Medieval Islamic World" by Dr. Kate Dimitrova, Assistant Professor of Art History, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University
Nevins Theater, Powell Student Center
Part of the Bergren Forum Series, sponsored by Human Studies Division, College of Arts and Sciences
Date and time to be announced
Screening of the film, Islamic Art: MIrror of the Invisible World, followed by a discussion led by Dr. Kate Dimitrova, Assistant Professor of Art History, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University
Co-sponsored by the ARTH Club
Date and time to be announced
Screening of the film, Koran by Heart, followed by a discussion led by Dr. Jeff SIuyter-Beltrao, Associate Professor, Political Science, Alfred University
"While the large presence of Muslims in the United States dates to the 1960s, Muslims have been a part of the history of America since colonial times. American Muslims’ stories draw attention to ways in which people of varying religious, cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds interact to shape both their communities’ identities and our collective past.
Although Muslims did not attain a sizable presence in the United States until the 1960s, they have been part of American history since colonial times. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, tens of thousands of Muslims were captured in Africa and brought to America to be sold as slaves. Through their religion, these Muslims fought both to survive slavery and to make sense of their new circumstances.
By the 1910s, an estimated 60,000 Muslims from South Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East had immigrated to the United States, finding employment as factory workers, farmers, and merchants, and it was not long before they began rooting themselves in the United States by founding mosques and community centers. This was also a time when many black Americans converted to Islam; some would even form distinct movements in its name (e.g., the Nation of Islam).
History books often divide the world into a “modern West” and a “traditional Orient,” ignoring the history of Muslims in America. American Muslims’ stories fly in the face of that strict opposition of East and West. By virtue of being both American and Muslim, the stories listed here draw attention to the ways people of varying religious, cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds interact with one another to shape and reshape their individual lives and American society. As such, they open new vistas on the formation of Muslim and American identities in the modern world."
(This section of the bookshelf was selected by Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Reed College.)
"Centuries before the dawn of the modern age, the world was already a surprisingly interconnected place. Readings for this theme introduce a way of understanding the past in which Islam and the West are seen as products of a shared, cosmopolitan, and inextricably intertwined past. These books help envision the world of our ancestors, which was as complex and dynamically interconnected as the world we live in today.
Centuries before the dawn of the modern age—even before the voyages of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan—the world was already a surprisingly interconnected place. Braving the high seas and the desert sands, merchants peddled their wares from the Mediterranean to China. Scientists and scholars, drawn to the far corners of the world by a thirst for knowledge, traveled just as far, searching out their peers and sharing the latest ideas about the mysteries of nature. And missionaries and holy men, as they spread the good word of their respective faiths, plied the same roads—inevitably meeting one another, debating the merits of their divergent creeds, and taking inspiration from each other as they pondered the meaning of life and the nature of the divine.
All of the books in this list explore this theme of “connected histories,” a new way of understanding the past in which Islam and the West, far from being locked in an endless “clash of civilizations,” are seen instead as products of this cosmopolitan and inextricably intertwined history. By highlighting the intellectual inheritance shared by Islam and the West, their mutual bonds of monotheism, and the surprising intensity of their cultural and commercial interaction, as well as the individual experiences of the many merchants, missionaries, and other adventurers who journeyed “to the other shore,” these books all chart a path to a new vision of the world of our ancestors, a world that was as remarkably complex and dynamically interconnected as the one we live in today."
Developed by Giancarlo Casale, University of Minnesota.
"Islam has long provided a source of inspiration through which Muslims experience, understand, and guide their everyday lives. The readings for this theme can be seen as literary reflections on Muslim piety and communal concepts such as ethics, governance, knowledge, and identity. Each one reveals transformations in faith and identity, as Muslims living at different times and in different places have interpreted Islamic traditions to meet their distinctive cultural realities and spiritual needs.
From formal poetry and the oral tradition of public storytelling to the more contemporary forms of memoir and the novel, many Muslim authors have posed questions about Muslim piety and identity. What does it mean to be a good Muslim? What does Islam require of women and men? How should a good Muslim behave within society? Does Islam promote specific political norms or practices?
The readings for this theme can be seen as literary reflections on questions such as these. Islam has long provided a source of inspiration through which Muslims experience, understand, and guide their everyday lives. In the works featured here, answers to these questions differ from one reading to the other, as each reflects the society in which it is written. Together they reveal how Muslims living at different times and in different places have interpreted Islamic traditions to meet their distinctive cultural realities and spiritual needs.
Still there are common threads that tie the readings together. The Arabian Nights, for example, is a cultural touchstone, serving in many subsequent literary works of the Muslim world as a source of inspiration for navigating between tradition and modernity, as the sanctuary of an idealized past in troubled times, or as a foil for exploring tensions between a secular establishment and the cultural revival of the Islamic faith in a globalized world. And, as each of these books considers various, contrasting, pathways toward transcendent faith and worldly identity, the mystical overtones of Muslim Sufi philosophy serve to complement formal religious requirements and local conditions."
Developed by Leila Golestaneh Austin, Johns Hopkins University.
"Following the correct pathway to spiritual fulfillment and success is a key Islamic principle. Readings for this theme explore the basic requirements for learning and obeying the precepts of the Qur’an, following Muhammad’s teachings, and engaging in specific formal practices. Also introduced are the pathways leading from Judaism and Christianity to Islam, the youngest of the three Abrahamic religions; the divergent paths followed by the Sunni and Shia communities; and the mystical routes to spiritual fulfillment known as Sufism.
The theme “Pathways of Faith” resonates with Islam’s most important principle: following the correct pathway to spiritual fulfillment and success. One significant pathway for Muslims is Islam’s place as the youngest religion in the extended Abrahamic family of Jews and Christians. Islam’s fellow monotheistic believers may be traced back to the earliest roots of Jewish tradition in the Patriarchal Age of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as reported in the biblical book of Genesis and finding fulfillment down through generations in the work of Moses, the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, “Pathways of Faith” pays attention to all the children of Abraham, “the People of the Book”: Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Although the Islamic tradition respects its two older siblings, its own pathway of faith has specific teachings and required practices based in its revealed scripture, the Qur’an (“recitation”). Muslims believe that the Qur’an was recited by the angel Gabriel as a series of revelations from Allah to the Arabian prophet Muhammad, whose own life, teachings, and personal example also came to be deeply respected by the growing Muslim community through imitation, and by being handed down in the form of oral reports addressing a range of spiritual, ethical, and legal issues. Thus, learning and obeying the precepts of the Qur’an and following Muhammad’s teachings are central aspects of Islamic belief and practice.
All Muslims share central doctrines (e.g., Allah is one, Muhammad is his prophet) and practices (daily prayers, fasting, almsgiving, the pilgrimage to Mecca known as the hajj), but there are historical political differences that divide the global Muslim community (Umma) into two major subcommunities: the Sunni majority and the smaller, but no less important, Shiite community. There are also optional mystical pathways known collectively as Sufism that provide richly varied opportunities for spiritual fulfillment."
Developed by Frederick M. Denny, University of Colorado.
"The drama of conflict, chaos, and war come to Western readers in daily newspaper stories, but the news gives us scant details about how people live their lives in Islamabad, Fez, Cairo, or Tehran. Through the titles in “Points of View,” readers will encounter individual experiences in Muslim-majority societies through memoirs and novels representing a diverse geography and some of the best contemporary storytelling.
The most recognized narratives of the Islamic world often come to Westerners in the daily news. The drama of conflict, chaos, and war abruptly arrives in the morning newscast or paper along with the toast and coffee. But the “news” gives us scant details about how people live their lives in Islamabad, Fez, Cairo, or Tehran. The human experience—loves, losses, births, deaths—is the currency of the novel, the memoir, the personal history. These stories can provide the riveting and recognizable details of falling in love, coming of age, navigating irreconcilable loss, or making difficult choices.
Understanding and examining Islamic culture through memoirs and fictional works can bring a new awareness of our shared values and difficulties, as well as our shared successes. Islam as a religion often fits into these stories’ plots in the way that a local church community might play a role in an American work of fiction.
The novel is a relatively recent addition to the literary tradition of the Arab and Islamic worlds. Poetry, an ancient art, is much more revered—as are other modes of storytelling, some of which we explore in “Literary Reflections.” Still, the novel produced the first Muslim winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1988 honoree Nagib Mafouz of Egypt, and in more recent decades a legion of writers producing imaginative works that are accessible and illuminating, and that have become familiar to readers worldwide.
“Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Baghdad reads” is an old Arabic saying that reflects an earlier literary culture before it was threatened by fundamentalism and all but extinguished by repressive governments. Recently, courageous writers have been exercising atrophied literary muscles again by taking on taboo topics of oppression, corruption, inequality, and women’s rights in a creative variety of narrative formats.
The five narratives in “Points of View” are a diverse sampling across geography, time, and culture. The voices they feature are not only those of Muslims, but also non-Muslims reflecting on the experience of living in Muslim-majority societies in all their diversity. Although in no way an exhaustive collection, these books—like Muslim-majority societies—do not offer one story, but tell many stories and represent some of the best in contemporary storytelling."
Developed by Deborah Amos, international correspondent, National Public Radio.
80 Minutes / Closed Captioon / ©2011 Home Box Office
In this 80-minute documentary, three 10-year old children leave their native countries to participate in one of the Islamic world's most famous competitions, a test of memory and recitation known as The International Holy Koran Competition. As the competition reaches its climax, Koran By Heart offers a compelling and nuanced glimpse into some of the pressures faced by the next generation of Muslims.
90 min. / Widescreen / Closed Captioned / ©2011
A ninety-minute documentary of stunning breadth and beauty, Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World transports viewers of nine countries and across 1,400 years of cultural history to reveal the astonishing riches of Muslim arts, crafts, and architecture. Exporing distant locations and many rare pieces of art, the film illuminates the history of a global culture, reflecting the islamic world as it developed over centuries and as it is today.
60 min. / Widescreen / Closed Captioned / ©2008
In 1788, the slave ship Africa set sail from the Gambia River, its hold laden with a profitable but highly perishable cargo--hundreds of men, women and children bound in chains--headed for American shores. Eight months later, a handful of survivors found themselves for sale in Natchez, Mississippi. One of them, a 26-year-old named Abdul Rahman, made an astonishing claim: that he was a prince of an African kingdom larger and more developed than the newly formed United States. Prince Among Slaves is the remarkable true story of an African prince, who endured the humiliation of slavery without ever losing his dignity or hope for freedom.