Francesco Cavatorta examines MERIP’s 50 years of covering the complex phenomenon of political Islam and finds that much of it is based on field research, participant observation, interviews and ethnography. The result has been a rich diversity of approaches that comprehend the plural nature of Islamism, directly engage the words and deeds of Islamists and provide insights that prepare readers to understand real-world events. Forthcoming in the Fall 2021 issue “MERIP at 50.”
The North African nation of Mauritania may be peripheral in global affairs, but its robust network of Islamic scholars is central to transnational Islamic movements and ideas. Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem traces the influential political economy of Mauritanian Islamic scholarship that has both bolstered and opposed fundamentalist networks. As Mauritania remains deeply stratified along racial, caste-like and gender lines, its internal hierarchies shape how it impacts global Islamic thought.
The North African nation of Mauritania may be peripheral in global affairs, but its robust network of Islamic scholars is central to transnational Islamic movements and ideas. Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem traces the influential political economy of Mauritanian Islamic scholarship that has both bolstered and opposed fundamentalist networks. As Mauritania remains deeply stratified along racial, caste-like and gender lines, its internal hierarchies shape how it impacts global Islamic thought. Forthcoming in MER issue 298 “Maghreb From the Margins.”
Most readers will know by now that a 14-year-old kid named Ahmed Mohamed was recently arrested in Irving, Texas for, well, for making a clock while Muslim. Ahmed, an aspiring engineer and a robotics enthusiast, had built a simple digital clock and brought it to his ninth-grade high school classes, hoping to impress his teachers. Instead, one of them called the cops on him, and with the consent of the school principal, five police officers arrested him and took him to a detention center in handcuffs. Ahmed has reported that one officer he’d never seen before looked at him and said, “Yup.
On September 1 The Independent published a piece by Andrew Johnson detailing plans by the Saudi state to move the final resting place of the Prophet Muhammad from the Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina to an unmarked grave in the nearby Baqi‘ cemetery as part of an ongoing scheme to expand the mosques of the two holy cities.
In the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China began to host a small community of Arab scholars and journalists, recruited mostly through “revolutionary” channels like the FLN, the PLO, and the Iraqi and Sudanese Communist Parties. These experts were brought to China with the explicit purpose of editing and translating texts, as well as providing Arabic-language instruction at Chinese media, propaganda and educational institutions. This select group included a number of writers and intellectuals, such as Kadhim al-Samawi, Hanna Mina, Sheikh Jalal al-Hanafi and Hadi al-‘Alawi, the last of whom left the deepest mark on twentieth-century Arab intellectual life.
As one of the political, commercial and intellectual centers of Asia, Japan at the turn of the twentieth century was an important arena for the intersection of ideas about modernism, nationalism and anti-colonial politics. Though Cairo, Istanbul and Mecca had long been the capitals of scholarship and cross-cultural interaction in the Islamic world, Meiji-era Japan was a site of key encounters between Muslims from China, South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Drawn together by a common interest in Islamic revival and nation building that transcended linguistic and cultural differences, these activists established various Muslim organizations in Japan and saw Islam as a way to unify Asian peoples.
We at MERIP are excited about the issue of Middle East Report on China and the Middle East coming out next week, featuring the work of two of my mentors, Engseng Ho and MER editor Cemil Aydın. The issue will address linkages between China and the region, from trade in oil and manufactured consumer items to ideological exchanges under the signs of Marx, Mao and Islam.
With war on its eastern borders, and renewed turmoil inside them, Turkey is transfixed by something else entirely: the desire of university-age women to wear the Muslim headscarf on campus, a seemingly innocent sartorial choice that has been forbidden by the courts, off and on, since 1980. At public meetings and street demonstrations, in art exhibits, TV ads, and dance and music performances, headscarf opponents argue vociferously that removing the ban will be the first step backward to the musty old days of the Ottoman Empire. A quieter majority of 70 percent, according to a recent poll, thinks that pious students should be allowed to cover their heads, perhaps because approximately 64 percent of Turkish women do so in daily life.
When Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” in October 2005, the world appeared to be light years away from the end of history. It seemed that ideologues had once more taken the reins of power and rejoined a battle in which there could be no parley or negotiated truce—only the victory of one idea over the other.
It is no exaggeration to say that Bernard Lewis is the most influential writer on Middle Eastern history and politics in the United States today. Not only has he authored more than two dozen books on the Middle East, he trained large numbers of two subsequent generations of historians of the region. Lewis is a public figure of the first order, publishing widely read articles on Middle Eastern politics. He is perhaps the only scholar of the Middle East to be well-known outside the field — most academics would be hard pressed to name another historian of the Middle East or the Islamic world, excepting colleagues at their own university. This is ironic, since, as we will see, his interpretation of Islamic history is essentialist and ahistorical. Furthermore, Lewis is greatly respected in US policymaking circles. His opinions on policy matters have been sought by governments run by both major American political parties, and by all reports have been especially heeded by the administration of George W. Bush. An August 29 op-ed by Lewis in the Wall Street Journal concisely states positions which are articles of faith for the Bush administration’s neo-conservatives — notably that the problems of post-war Iraq are caused by anti-American fascist or Islamist forces seeking to defeat Western Christendom, and that the Westernized former banker Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress are the best candidates to govern a stable Iraq in the future.
There’s a Moroccan expression similar to the English expression “the apple never falls far from the tree.” In Morocco, it’s phrased as a rhetorical question: “Where does wood come from? From the tree.” A year and a half after King Mohammed VI’s ascension to the throne, many Moroccans are wondering just how much the wood will be like the tree.
Launched in 1992, Goft-o-Gu (Dialogue) aimed to open channels of constructive dialogue between Iran’s disparate political and intellectual currents. Given the highly polarized and repressive atmosphere at the time, Goft-o-Gu’s publication was a strikingly bold move. The journal discussed issues that have since become the mainstay of the reform movement in Iran: civil society, reformism, regional and ethnic aspirations, the role of the media, Occidentalism, women, youth, modernity, democracy and the city, among others.
The re-Islamization of law by the leadership of the Islamic Republic following the 1979 revolution immediately clashed with the realities of contemporary Iranian society.  This clash engendered divisions between the parliament and the Guardian Council (a body of faqihs ] tasked with safeguarding laws’ conformity to Islam and the constitution).  Numerous government projects and decisions adopted by the parliament were rejected by the Guardian Council on the grounds that they did not conform to shari‘a (Islamic law). The Council’s hard-line policy generated continuous conflicts, necessitating the intervention of Ayatollah Khomeini, Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic.