2014-2015 Activities

2014-2015 Activities

May 27, 2015—Briefing: "Marriage, Identity, Religion & Marital Stability: Intermarriage of Turkish Citizens in the US" with Mehmet Ali Balkanlioglu. Today’s societies have become more and more multi-cultural and multi-religious than ever. As reflecting the harmonization of cultural and religious differences, today the intermarriage rate has reached its highest level throughout history, especially in the United States. More specifically, according to a Pew Research Center report, about 15% of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity. Looking at all married couples in 2010, regardless of when they married, the share of intermarriages reached an all-time high of 8.4%. Many studies from different disciplines have focused on examining the different dimensions of intermarriage in the US since the twentieth century; however, the intermarriage of Turkish citizens in the US has been neglected as a research domain. Dr. Balkanlioglu’s research on the nature of intermarriage of Turkish citizens in the US is the first of its kind. According to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, 189,791 Turkish citizens live in the US. This talk broadly discussed the circumstances of intermarriage of Turkish citizens concerning family, identity, assimilation, culture, religion, conversion, marital stability and child raising throughout their marriages.    

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May 27, 2015—DC Event: "In Conversation with Javed Ahmad Ghamidi" (Urdu). Co-sponsored with Al-Mawrid United States. A public talk by Islamic scholar and intellectual, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi on topics relating to religion, Muslims and the current state of affairs. The conversation was facilitated by Shehzad Saleem, Ph.D. (University of Wales) and audience members had the opportunity to present their own questions as well. 

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*Available in Urdu only

April 30, 2015--The Bridge Initiative Launch program. On April 30, 2015 the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding launched its new multi-year research project on Islamophobia, The Bridge Initiative. Born out of recognition that the age of the Internet—with its democratization of communications—presents unique challenges and opportunities for those seeking to educate the public and inform popular culture, The Bridge Initiative brings faculty, subject-matter experts, and researchers together to examine attitudes and behaviors towards Muslims; to dissect public discourses on Islam; to uncover the operational mechanisms of engineered Islamophobia; and to develop and disseminate alternative narratives that raise public awareness and enrich public discourse on this dangerous form of prejudice. Speakers at the spring launch included Anne Norton, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of On the Muslim Question; Mehdi Hasan, an award-winning British journalist and Al-Jazeera host; and Roland Schatz, president of the internationally acclaimed media organization, Media Tenor. The evening event also featured a special message of congratulations from Congressman Mike Honda. For more information on The Bridge Initiative, visit: bridge.georgetown.edu 


March 19, 2015—Briefing: "The Impact of Russia's Annexation of the Crimea on the Central Eurasian Islamic World" with Charles Weller. Dr. Weller's talk focused on four main, interrelated dimensions of the impact of the Crimean and Ukrainian Crises on the Central Eurasian Islamic World: (1) The response of the Crimean Tatar community and impact on Russo-Tatar relations within the Crimea religiously, socially, and politically; (2) Responses among related Turkic Muslim groups of Central Eurasia, particularly the Turks of Turkey, the Volga Tatars within the Russian Federation, and the Kazakh Muslims of Kazakhstan, with related reflections upon the impact of the crises upon Russo-Turkish relations politically, Russo-Volga Tatar relations socially and politically within Tatarstan, and Russo-Kazakh relations socially and politically within Kazakhstan; (3) the (potential) impact upon Russo-Chinese relations politically in connection with the Uighur independence movement; and (4) Responses from across the broader Muslim world, particularly the Middle Eastern and Western worlds. The presentation argued that the Crimean and Ukrainian crises have provoked and, if maintained, will continue to provoke a predominantly negative reaction against not only Russia and Russian expatriates living in Central Eurasian states which are significantly populated by Muslims, but will serve to reinforce Muslim views of ‘The (Christian) West’ as imperialist and exploitative world powers, in spite of condemnation of the action by a large number of Western powers internationally, since Western condemnation is concerned primarily with safeguarding Ukraine as a pro-Westernizing force (and not the Crimean Tatar cause). This study drew primarily from scholarly works on historical and historiographical issues pertaining to Ukraine and the Crimea as well as published newspaper, magazine, and journal articles in Turkish, Tatar, Kazakh, and English which have appeared in response/relation to the issue.

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March 18, 2015—Briefing: “Female Religious Authority and the Women Ayatollahs of Iran" with Mirjam Künkler. The significant role of women in participating in, and shaping, the scholarly tradition through the centuries is still hardly reflected in either Western scholarly or public perceptions. Nearly all classic accounts of religious authority in Islam proceed from the assumption that this authority is male: the possibility that women might exercise various aspects of religious authority is usually not discussed. Yet, when we dissect religious authority into its various manifestations (leading prayer, preaching, providing religious counseling, issuing fatwas, transmitting hadiths, judging in court, shaping the Islamic scholarly tradition), nuances emerge that call the exclusively male character of religious authority in Islam into question. This talk provided an overview of the study of women as Islamic authorities, and discussed in more detail several examples from modern Iran.

February 26, 2015—Book Talk: “Answering the Call: Popular Islamic Activism in Sadat’s Egypt” with Abdullah Al-Arian. In this talk, Professor Al-Arian explored the causes for the re-emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood following its two-decade absence from Egyptian society. The decade of the 1970s was a vibrant era that saw the rise of a dynamic student movement in Egypt. Coupled with Sadat’s release of veteran Muslim Brotherhood figures from prison, the opportunity arose for a renewed Islamic movement to take root within an increasingly fraught political atmosphere. By the end of the Sadat era, the Muslim Brotherhood was reconstituted in large part due to the ability of the leadership to incorporate a broad segment of the student activist movement into its ranks. Professor Al-Arian concluded by discussing the role that this generation has played in Egyptian society and politics in the decades since, including during the 2011 uprising and its aftermath.

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February 25, 2015—Briefing: "Caste Consciousness Among Muslims in North India and Pakistan" with Sara Singha. The caste system is the Indian hierarchical classification of people into ranked groups called varnas. There are four varnas in the caste system, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras that are organized by occupation and maintained through endogamy. While discussions of caste are primarily rooted within a Hindu framework, ‘caste consciousness’ is also noticeable among Indian Muslims. There are three distinct Muslim castes in India: the Ashraf (the noble), the Ajlaf (the lowly), and the Arzal (Dalit). While the Ashraf claim Arab or Persian ancestry, the Ajlaf and Arzal are largely low-caste and Dalit converts to Islam. Relationships between the Ashraf and Dalit Muslims are strained through endogamy and punctuated by commensal segregation. These ‘caste’ divisions create multiple theological, social, and political fissures in the Indian Muslim community as the Ashraf consider Dalit Muslims inherently inferior and ‘polluted.’ 

While caste is often considered an Indian phenomenon, it has also seeped across the border to Pakistan where it manifests in multiple ways. Though not as pronounced as in India, ‘caste consciousness’ in Pakistan is observable through an awareness of purity and pollution (pak and na-pak) and through endogamy within a particular biradari (brotherhood). Such occurrences of ‘caste consciousness’ in Pakistan highlight intra-Muslim divisions that are exacerbated by ethnic, linguistic, and tribal distinctions.

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February 11, 2015—Briefing: “Citizen Suspect: The Criminalization of Muslim Youth in Post 9-11 America” with Arshad I. Ali. In this talk Dr. Arshad I. Ali explored how police surveillance programs impact the lives of young Muslims in the United States. Drawing upon five years of ethnographic research in Southern California and New York City, Dr. Ali examined how the context of state surveillance altered and re-figured the way young Muslims understand their participation in community, political and social life. He also discussed how young people use language to construct, re-imagine and re-figure lexicons of social practice and identity formation between racial, gender, and religious narratives of self.

Dr. Ali elucidates how the figure of the Muslim helps develop a more robust discussion of racial otherness through examining intersectional formulations of Muslimness as an emergent racial identity. Through this research he discusses local formations of Muslim identities and the ways macro political discourses and histories mediate the everyday practices of Muslim youth. As an example, he considers the way the youth he worked with constructed the notion of ummah as a de-colonial challenge to national identity and traditional notions of race within the US cultural economy. 

February 3, 2015 - Briefing: "Yemen - If this is a policy success, what does failure look like?" with Amb Barbara Bodine. Last September, in announcing military operations against ISIS/ISIL, President Obama referred to Yemen as a US policy success, to the bafflement of many within and outside the country at the time. The jury was still out on our drone-dependent security/CT operations, the economy was in disarray and the political transition - a relative bright spot - was dimming. Recent events call the September judgment into even more question. What is really happening, and what does it  mean for the US, the region, and the Yemenis?

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November 25, 2014 - Briefing: "Tunisia at a Crossroads: Between a Nascent Democracy and the Old Guard" with Radwan Masmoudi. Since the Tunisian revolution started in December 2010, Tunisia has been on the road to democracy, and has achieved remarkable success. From organizing two free and fair elections, to the writing and adoption of the most progressive and democratic constitution in the Arab world, to the formation of the TROIKA ruling coalition (between Nahdha and two moderate secular parties), Tunisia has been setting the stage for the first-ever real, lasting, and stable democracy. However, the Oct. 26 legislative elections and the upcoming Nov. 23 Presidential elections are expected to give power to Nidaa Tounes, which is made up of the remnants of the old regime in coalition with a few leftist leaders. If the president of Nidaa wins the Presidential elections on Nov. 23, then the party will basically be able to control all three presidencies (parliament, government, and the presidency of the republic) and hence control political life for the next 5 years. Will Nidaa Tunis continue on the path of implementing democratic reforms and respecting the newly established constitution, or will it go back to the old methods of the oppressive and corrupt old rulers? A lot is at stake, including the regional struggle for freedoms and democracy, and the hopes and aspirations of millions of Tunisians and other Arabs and Muslims for a better and more dignified life. 

November 17, 2014 - Briefing: "Liberalism and Authoritarianism: Islam and Politics in Southeast Asia" with Anwar Ibrahim. Southeast Asia is one of the most religiously diverse regions on the planet. While history abounds with examples of pluralism and diversity, competing nationalisms have led to tensions between majority and minority groups, frequently couched in the language of religion. As democratic transitions transform the social and political landscape of countries in the region, religion can play both constructive and destructive roles in building strong civil society and cohesion. Anwar Ibrahim, author of The Asian Renaissance, discussed some of these trends as they relate to Islam and his expertise as a decades long active participant in the political developments of the region. 

November 17, 2014—Book talk: “In the City of Gold and Silver” with Kenize MouradHer new book, In the City of Gold and Silver, is the story of Begum Hazrat Mahal, an orphan who became a renowned poet, married the ruler of the Indian state of Awadh, and went on to lead Muslims and Hindus in the Mutiny of 1857 against the British East India Company. The English translation of In the City of Gold and Silver will be published in November 2014. 

November 12, 2014—Conference: “Canaries in a Coal Mine: How Islamophobia Threatens Us All”. The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) co-hosted an event with the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU) to discuss Islamophobia in the context of an increasingly diverse America. The event highlighted ISPU's latest research on anti-Muslim prejudice and its connection to bigotry targeting other communities. The event also featured four panelists who are experts and advocates on issues affecting African-American, American Muslim, and Workers' Rights communities.

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November 12, 2014—Book talk: "Electronic Iran: the Cultural Politics of an Online Evolution" with Niki Akhavan. Niki Akhavan's book presentation of Electronic Iran traced key developments on the Iranian Internet, highlighting often overlooked aspects of its diverse landscapes. Paying particular attention to the role of state actors and supporters online, Akhavan revealed the state's conflicted relationship to the Internet. This book also discusses both the successes and troubling aspects of independent activists and content producers online.  

November 5, 2014— Book Talk: “Iran Divided: The Historical Roots of Iranian Debates on Identity, Culture, and Governance in the Twenty-First Century” with Dr. Shireen Hunter. Iranian politics has been marked by sharp ideological divisions and infighting. These divides, kept largely out of public view until the 1990s, came to greater light with the contested 2009 presidential elections. To explain the diverse and complex forces that led to this event and that animate Iran’s current fractured society and polity, author Shireen T. Hunter looks beyond the battle between the forces of reform and reaction, democracy and dictatorship, and considers the historic forces that created the conditions faced by Iran since the revolution. Iran Divided: The Historical Roots of Iranian Debates on Identity, Culture, and Governance in the 21st Century explains historical and political factors and their relevance to Iran today, shedding light on the forces behind Iranian politics and society.

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October 30, 2014 – Briefing: “Jesus in Islam" with Zeki Saritoprak. Cosponsored with the Rumi Forum. Professor Saritoprak examined the place of Jesus in the Qur'an and Hadith. He presented the topic of Jesus in Islam from an Islamic theological perspective including both classical and contemporary theologians' views of Jesus. Like Christians, Muslims, in general, also believe in the second coming of Jesus, known in Islam as the descent of Jesus. Dr. Saritoprak highlighted different Islamic theological approaches to Jesus's descent. Finally, Dr. Saritoprak discussed the important role Jesus can play in interfaith dialogue.

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October 30, 2014 - ACMCU 2014 Building Bridges Award Program and Dinner. The Annual ACMCU Building Bridges of Understanding Award recognizes individuals who have dedicated their life’s work to fostering greater understanding between faith groups. Past recipients include Hans Küng, Sulayman Nyang, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, and the late Fathi Osman. This year, the award honored two remarkable figures, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick and Ingrid Mattson whose efforts to promote interfaith relations, peace-building and social justice have been extraordinary. Through their tireless work and often in the face of adversity, these individuals have devoted their lives to furthering the most basic of human rights: justice and equality for all people.

Recipient bios

October 22, 2014 - Briefing: "Buddhist Extremism in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia: Muslim Minorities, Nationalism, and Globalization" with Todd Lewis. Across the Theravada world in the post-colonial period, extremist organizations in countries with Buddhist majority populations have instigated confrontations and deadly riots against minority Muslim populations. Although extreme in their views and small in their membership, these anti-Muslim groups in Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Sri Lanka have found sympathizers in among Buddhist monastics, householders, and political leaders. This talk will review the history of these movements in the three countries, and relate how Muslims became the target of majority Buddhist populations with reference to post-colonial Buddhist nationalism in the 21st Century. The talk also confronts the modern Western Orientalist constructions of Buddhism as essentially passive and pacifist; it will connect these recent outbreaks of anti-minority violence to the legacies of anti-colonial movements, and highlight how these recent developments in anti-Muslim agitation have been abetted by global communications and connections.

October 22, 2014 – Briefing: "Forgotten Histories: The Muslims of Medieval Latin Christendom" with Brian Catlos. The history of Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle Ages is usually conceived of as one of conflict, framed around "Reconquest," Crusade, polemic, and conversion. In traditional surveys of Medieval Europe Muslims appear as an exotic “other” — an abstract or distorted foil for Latin Christian identity. Few, apart from specialists, are aware that, in addition to a substantial slave population, Latin Christendom was home to numerous and robust Muslim communities, most notably in the Mediterranean regions between the eleventh and thirteenth century, but some of which survived through to the Early Modern Era. In his study, Muslims of Medieval Latin Christendom, ca. 1050-1614, Brian Catlos has undertaken the first exhaustive study of the Islamic minority of the Pre-Modern Christian West. What is revealed is that these populations were not mere isolated and dispossessed relics of Europe’s first great colonial phase, but vibrant, dynamic and diverse communities that not only survived but contributed to the development of what would become “Europe."

October 15, 2014 - Briefing: “Afghanistan's National Unity Government: The Road Ahead” with Richard Kraemer. Afghanistan just underwent a brutal political crisis that almost broke its executive office and significantly damaged Afghans' confidence in electoral processes. With the direct intervention of the US government, President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah formed a unity government that stands to be fraught with discord and power-wrangling. On the other hand, both leaders have committed to a range of much needed reforms; the recently inaugurated Ghani has already taken a number of steps to suggest that he is committed to their enactment. After the successful conduct of the first round of elections in April, what happened? And where will Afghanistan's executive take the country from here?   

October 14, 2014 - Briefing: “Boko Haram, ISIS and the Caliphate Today” with Shadi Hamid, Emad Shahin, and Alex Thurston. ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram in northern Nigeria continue to use an overlapping language of political Islam and references to the caliphate and the Shariah. This event brought together experts on the Middle East, Islamic political thought and Islam in West Africa to help explain these confusing phenomena.  

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September 24, 2014 – Briefing: "Christian Muslim relations: perspectives and insights from the World Council of Churches" with Dr. Clare Amos. Dr. Amos explored the interreligious work (particularly, though not exclusively in the field of Christian-Muslim relations) undertaken by the WCC during the last decade, and also addressed current issues of concern.

September 17, 2014 – Briefing: "AKP, Sectarianism and the Alevis’ Unavailing Struggle for Equal Rights in Turkey" with Dr. Karakaya-Stump. The historically disenfranchised Alevi minority make up somewhere between 10-15% of the population of Turkey. Notwithstanding AKP’s image abroad as a champion of religious freedoms, and an ephemeral “Alevi opening” in 2007-2008, the Alevis’ disenfranchisement has only intensified under 12 years of AKP rule with growing top-down Islamization of the broader Turkish society, accelerated efforts at Sunnificaton through education and other assimilationist policies, the purging of Alevis from the  military and bureaucracy, the targeting of Alevi-majority neighborhoods for gentrification projects under the rubric of urban renewal, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s anti-Alevi remarks.  The Alevis’ discontentment with AKP, well attested by the strong Alevi presence in the Gezi protests, has been further aggravated by the sectarian undertones of AKP’s foreign policy since the start of the Syria crisis, reports about the government’s support for the Salafi/jihadist groups, and the fearful anticipation that Salafi/jihadist violence may spread to Turkey. All these developments at the national and regional levels seem to have rendered more bleak than ever prospects for the success of the Alevis’ democratic struggle for recognition and equal rights. 

September 9, 2014 – Briefing: “Religion, Peace, Conflict and Governance in the 21st Century" with Grand Mufti Emeritus of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dr. Mustafa Cerić. As we cross over from the age of industrial wars of the 20th century into the age of asymmetric warfare of post modernist world, with ideologies reloaded, and with religions reclaiming yet again center stage in geopolitical global theater, Dr. Ceric reflected on structural deficiencies, incomplete commitments and incising acceptance of partial wins that have marked opening stage of the 21st century most notably in the Middle East and Western Balkans.