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Saturday, February 29, 2020
FedEx Global Education Center, room 1005, UNC Chapel Hill

Please click the paper titles below for abstracts and speaker bios.

10:00 – 10:05 a.m. – Welcome

10:05 – 11:35 a.m. – Panel One: Space and Power

Abstract: Located in a midwestern city with a population of around 200,000, the An-Noor mosque was built in 2009. As the first mosque constructed in the city (and still one of only three), the mosque embraces a diverse community with more than 33 ethnicities and nationalities represented. In addition to supporting a community that crosses racial and ethno-national lines, the An-Noor mosque situates itself as a ‘progressive’ mosque. The physical space projects this identity with elements such as identical brothers’ and sisters’ entrances and a muṣallah that is completely open. The muṣallah does not have a permanent physical barrier that separates the women’s and men’s sections of the room. There is a separate, smaller muṣallah located in the women’s section of the mosque with TVs, chairs, and windows used for breastfeeding mothers or women with small children. This room frequently sits unused. Instead, at the request of some of the women members of the community, a wheeled partition extends two-thirds of the way across the main muṣallah that separates the men and women during prayer. The partition is shortened or extended further based on the usage of the muṣallah. In a recent publication, Tutin Aryanti critiqued the tendency to study mosques as “static monuments with a homogenized group of users” and demonstrates that women’s space is largely neglected in architectural studies. She argues that the study of the interaction between the space and its occupants is a more fruitful line of inquiry. This paper addresses this gap by examining the ways in which women at the An-Noor mosque negotiate the use of spaces in the mosque. Key to a larger project that examines the ways in which the physical space of the mosque impacts community construction as both a Muslim space and an American space, this paper to argues that the literature focusing on the presence or absence of a partition in mosques reinforces a static understanding of space. I will use this paper to argue that the literature focusing on the presence or absence of a partition in mosques reinforces a static understanding of space. Instead, this paper argues that space is in constant flux and the women of the An-Noor mosque consistently negotiate the use of their mosque. For the women of An-Noor, the muṣallah is not static as clearly indicated by the changeable partition.

Bio- Alexandra Bayer is a second-year Islamic Studies PhD student working under the guidance Professor Kecia Ali at Boston University. Alexandra received an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Missouri in 2018 focusing on Islam in non-Muslim majority countries. Alexandra is broadly interested American Islam, gender, space, and religious identity formation.

Abstract: The year 2003 marks the writing of the Stasi report that leads to the banning of hijab in public schools in France a year later. It also marks, in parallel, the ‘controversy’ of the Lévy sisters in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris. Alma et Lila Lévy, two students in a public high school, refuse to remove their headscarf after complaints from the school administration. At the start of the 2003 academic year, they are not allowed to enter the school unless they agree to administration’s ‘compromise’: show their ears and a part of their hair. A group of students join the sisters outside of the school in a spontaneous solidarity protest, and the story soon becomes a news headline.

The sisters feel obliged to give interviews after members of the school administration are interviewed by the media. They felt that they have to give their opinion and accept to be interviewed. Hence follows a long set of interviews that emerge in the form of media articles, televised conversations, and a book. All these works contain within them a tension produced by a desire to make Muslims speak while at the same time holding onto the so-called ‘French values’ of secularism. The proclaimed goal is to hear the views of these girls who have been forced to become media stars; yet, at the same time, what emerges from these interviews is a ridicule of the choices and actions of these two girls along with Muslims overall.

The goal of this paper is to examine the interviews given by the Lévy sisters to understand how Muslims are allowed to speak in the French public space and how their voices are consumed. More specifically, I am interested in two aspects of the conversation: first, the questions asked by (usually non-Muslim French) interviewers such that the expected responses from Muslims would ridicule their religious beliefs and practices; and, second, the responses of the sisters as they attempt to reduce the potential for ridicule while not having control over what is spoken about.
I argue that the production of ridicule of Muslims and Islam has come to play an important role in producing the anti-Muslim hostility in France today. It creates an atmosphere where Muslims are forced to speak back to a set of questions about their faith and actions continuously in the French public sphere; yet, they are constrained by the questions themselves and end up at a point where their responses add to the ridicule of their faith.

Bio- Shreya Parikh is a third-year doctoral student in the UNC Department of Sociology. Her dissertation research explores the intersection of religion and racial stratification in Europe and in the Middle East. Shreya’s work has appeared in publications like Maydan, ThePrint, and The Wire. She is a current Religions and Public Life Fellow at Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics and a Maynard Adams Fellow at Carolina Public Humanities. Shreya holds a BA in social sciences and a master’s degree in economics from Sciences Po Paris.

Abstract: Muslim Women Intellectuals and Their Change in Turkey This paper aims to analyze the changes in Turkey’s Muslim female intellectuals’ thought, as reflected in their fictional literary works, will examine literature from 1890 to today. Most of these female intellectuals, who are regardless of their profession, have chosen to address issues they deem problematic through the medium of literature. Since Fatma Aliye Hanim (1862-1936), the Middle East’s first female novelist and intellectual successfully established international readership. Şule Yüksel Şenler (1938- 2019 journalist, writer), Halime Toros (1960-writer), Sibel Eraslan (1967-lawyer) are some of the Muslim women writers who have published multiple literary works in Turkey. Beyond fiction, they have published works in different genres. Namely, all of them are also columnists, and some are activists. They are assumed as an authority about Islam in Turkey. Muslim women writers’ understanding of women’s position in society, their right to education and work, marriage, male-female relations, and ideas about love, has changed over time. Didactic texts describing Islam as the only path to salvation have slowly been replaced by texts that question women’s low status in relationship to men and in the realm of Islamic thought, by texts that settle accounts with Muslim men and even complain about having been imprisoned by the headscarf controversy for many years, and by texts whose approach to love is clearly secularizing. According to one of the Hamidian period novelists, Fatma Aliye Hanım (1862-1936), passionate love is an illness and a weakness. As a conservative Muslim female writer, Fatma Aliye emphasizes the need to protect the family in her novels and gives information on how to build a healthy family. In the “salvation novels” that appeared in the 1980s, however, female protagonist to be saved first fall in love. In these novels, embracing a new Islam-centered lifestyle is nearly equated with passionate love. In Emine Şenlikoğlu’s novel Huzur Sokağı (1969), which is one of the cult novels of this genre, Feyza and Bilal fall in love at first sight. Such novels, which represent the populist voice of political Islam, practically demand a social change. Passionate love opens the door to salvation for women. One of contemporary Islamic woman writer Sibel Eraslan, on the other hand, describes the relationship between Khadija and the Prophet Muhammad as a love affair in her novel Çöl ve Deniz (2009-Desert and Sea). The relationship between the Prophet and his wife is based on a secular point of view held by Eraslan. The kind of love Fatma Aliye described as an illness, a weakness, has now made its way into prophetic tales. This paper study on the changing nature of Muslim women’s thought by comparing their portrayal of particular issues and themes in literary works produced from the time of Fatma Aliye Hanım to that of contemporary Turkish Muslim women writers. It contextualizes a close reading of exemplary novels within broader developments in Turkish society by utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to literature.

Bio- Firdevs Canbaz Yumusak is an independent scholar. She earned her master’s degree from the Department of Turkish Literature at Bilkent University in 2005 with a thesis on Fatma Aliye, an essential late Ottoman writer and intellectual. In 2009, she earned her Ph.D. degree from Ankara University with a dissertation on women and family issues in utopian Turkish novels. She was a visiting post-doc scholar at the UT Center for Middle Eastern Studies between September 2015 and February 2019. Her fields of interest include women and gender studies, biography, and utopian literature.

           Respondent: Cemil Aydin, UNC Chapel Hill

11:35 – 11:45 – Break

11:45 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. – Panel Two: Counter-Imaginations

Abstract: This paper examines how queer Muslim pieties are constructed through sartorial practices, specifically wearing hijab, and what these pious subjectivities suggest about gender, piety, authority and identity more broadly in the American Muslim community. In lay Muslim communities hijab is imbued with heteronormative assumptions, and is often thought about in terms of modesty relating to hetero-male sexual desire. Yet, people who fall outside heteronormative paradigms also choose to don hijab, suggesting there might be alternative meanings to lift up. While recently there has been increased visibility for queer Muslim pieties in art, culture, and organizing, there remains a dearth of scholarly attention to queer Muslim experiences and motivations in practicing Islam, including within the vast body of scholarship on hijab. To begin to address this, I conducted interviews with three queer Muslim women in Boston about how, when, where, and why they wore hijab. I found that queer Muslim women through donning hijab mark degrees of intimacy and privacy for themselves in relation to people of all genders, levels of privilege, and different cultures; protest and resist normativizing forces within mainstream Muslim and LGBTQ cultures, as well as male privilege; and secure for themselves a gendered and visible Muslim identity, while also at times subverting these identities. My paper will show the creative ways Muslim women have negotiated religious and secular authorities to imagine new pious possibilities for themselves and the U.S. Muslim community at large. What we find is that for queer Muslim women in the U.S., embodied experience and practice is its own kind of authority that challenges traditional Muslim authorities and constructions of gendered piety.

Bio- Magda Mohamed is a PhD Student in Islamic Studies at Boston University. Her research interests include the cultivation of piety and negotiations of religious authority in American Islam, especially among gender and sexual minorities, and the role of media and the academy in these processes of Muslim self-fashioning. Magda received her MDiv from Harvard Divinity School, and BA in Religious Studies from Loyola University Chicago.

Abstract: Most published literature examining the very question of “who speaks for Islam?” in contemporary “Western” Muslim communities have often taken an etic anthropological or ethnographical approach, i.e., that of an observer describing and interpreting that which is observed. Very few examples exist within the academic literature of self-explorative or self-reflective accounts of authority from within a community. This phenomenon is also apparent in mass media wherein various Muslim communities are otherized and either spoken about or spoken for. Rarely do gatekeepers from those communities have an opportunity to represent themselves. Recent scholarship by Johns and Rattani (2016) on digital communities and Muslim youth voice online have highlighted the level of introspective complexity involved in establishing an authoritative voice in the digital world when Muslims are given the chance to articulate the parameters of their faith. Building on this work, I take an emic ethnographic approach to investigating how one millennial Muslim community, Mipsterz, has come to challenge conventional bodies and spaces of authority simply by existing as an alternative to traditional examples of Islamic authority.

I will first qualitatively review examples of micro American Muslim communities and the landscape from which alternative, millennial Muslims (known as “Mipsterz”) began to assemble into one arguably authoritative body. I will chronicle the early history of how the internet and emailing became the primary means by which these Muslims posited truth-claims and positions that aimed to define “Islam.” Namely, I will provide examples of how these digital natives have come to answer the following questions which inadvertently defined the group: What qualifies as Islam or Islamic? Who is Muslim? Who gets to decide? Next, I will briefly explore the ontological evolution of the Mipsterz community as it simultaneously became scrutinized and championed in the popular media and the ways in which individual Muslims used virality and other platforms to publicly define what is Islam and who is Muslim. Included in this section will be a short discussion of whether online popularity and social media platforms facilitating public shaming or “call-out/cancel culture” provide new ways for authority to be created, redefined, or dismantled. Finally, I will discuss current ways in which millennial Muslims (known as Mipsterz) have begun to enter the academic and public space through art to call into question who is Muslim and who has the authority to speak for Islam.

Bio- Abbas Rattani MD, MBe is a bioethicist, filmmaker, global health researcher, producer, General Surgery resident physician, and co-founder of MIPSTERZ—an arts and culture collaborative that works to curate and amplify Muslim creative voices to broader audiences.

Abstract: Children’s books are indispensable cultural products to families thanks to their socialization and storytelling power. Gender representation in cultural products, particularly in religious children’s books, does matter because children need to see an example like themselves to be inspired. Scholars have studied the representation of gender in children’s books to find out the reflection of the dominant societal values. Many studies dealing with the gender representation in children’s books focus largely on secular storylines, with little or no consideration of religious themes. No study strictly deals with gender representation in religious children’s books even though books with a religious content are powerful tools for the religious socialization and transmission. Through a mixed-method approach, this paper augments previous studies by investigating the differences in the representation of gender in Muslim children’s books written for the English-speaking audience. Drawing from Tuchman’s symbolic annihilation approach (1978), the paper reveals that females are not represented as much as males in the title, on the cover, and as part of central characters, continuing the previous tradition in gender representation within the cultural products. Female authors, as expected, are more likely to put a female character in the title, on the cover, and as main characters, but non-Muslim authors, surprisingly, utilize fewer female characters compared to Muslim authors. In addition, certain qualitative themes emerged in the study. For example, female characters are portrayed indoor more than the male characters. Muslim female adults are not shown as part of the workforce. Finally, in several books, Muslim mothers emerge as the angry or the scolding character. I argue that such stereotypical representation of female characters solidifies the gender roles and creates obstacles for the empowerment of women within the English-speaking Muslim communities in the West.

Bio- Kemal Budak is a Sociology PhD student at Emory University. He previously completed his M.A. degrees in Sociology at University of Houston-Clear Lake and in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary. Budak’s research interests are religion, immigration, culture, and gender. He is currently working on his dissertation in which he compares the religious socialization trajectories of Muslim immigrant children, each attending the weekends schools of three different mosques to receive an Islamic education.

           Respondent: Juliane Hammer, UNC Chapel Hill

1:15 – 2:00 p.m. – Break for Lunch

2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Panel Three: Interrogating Institutions

Abstract: Abstract: Islamophobia is a catchall term for discrimination against Muslims in the United States but disregards the extent of diversity within this group, and more importantly, critically obscures the consistent racial undertones of such harassment. The legal whiteness of some immigrant Muslim groups, namely Middle Easterners, is offset by the negative effects of their newly acquired, post-9/11 social non-whiteness. Using a nationally representative sample of American Muslims conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2011, this study examines the association between national ancestry and perceived levels of discrimination. Additionally, immigrant generation-levels are used to determine how this perceived discrimination is experienced across generations among individuals of the same national ancestry. A series of multinomial logistic regression models reveals that individuals originating from the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Iran, report higher levels of discrimination. Furthermore, native-born Americans report higher levels of discrimination compared to first-generation Muslim-American immigrants. Surprisingly, the 1.5-generation reports the highest levels of discrimination, revealing the possibility that negotiating identities hinders assimilation by creating perceptions of otherness.

Bio– Noureldin’s research interests lie in migration processes and their impact on social, political, and economic policies as well as identity construction, including both self-selective and assigned labels. Specifically, she examines the racialization of American Muslim immigrants including racial identity formation within generational processes and subsequent perceptions of discrimination based on these racial categories. Her current study examines the association between national ancestry and perceived levels of discrimination. Additionally, immigrant generation-levels are used to determine how this perceived discrimination is experienced across generations among individuals of the same national ancestry. This is part of her larger, longitudinal project on American Muslims, which examines how religiosity and immigrant generation-levels are related to American Muslim integration and identity, using the nationally representative 2007, 2011, and 2017 Pew Muslim American Surveys.

Abstract: Scholars have argued that there is a shift in the ways Muslims interact with the Qur’an, in that the Qur’an becomes central in defining the meaning of Islam to an extent unimaginable prior to the late 19th century (Ahmed 2015; Pink 2019). The translation of the Qur’an into local languages partakes in the process of democratizing the interpretive interaction with the Qur’an. Together with the rise of digital media, these have challenged traditional religious authority. This paper studies how the shift also occurs in the context of Sufi communities, in which the Qur’an has been mainly used performatively, instead of interpretively, in rituals.

This paper examines the place of the Qur’an in Maiyah, a popular and very well attended Sufi gathering in Indonesia. In Maiyah, the centrality of the Qur’an is found in at least two aspects. First, Maiyah’s main teacher, Emha Ainun Nadjib, asserts that each Muslims have rights to approach the Qur’an directly without any intermediary. He highly criticizes that tafsīr becomes an enterprise of the elites, and popularizes the Qur’anic term, tadabbur, as an accessible approach to the Qur’an. Tadabbur is best summarized as learning from the Qur’an, not learning the Qur’an (tafsīr). Here following a strict rule of Qur’anic exegesis is less important than achieving the ultimate goal, namely to be closer to God and to be a good human being. As long as the end result of tadabbur is the latter, one’s tadabbur is valid. With such a concept, tadabbur is a platform for the democratization of tafsīr. Second, the Qur’an is embedded in Nadjib’s oral preaching, as the ultimate source of his teaching. He himself refers to his understanding of the Qur’an as tadabbur, instead of tafsīr, and this gives him freedom to develop his own interpretive method. To assert the authority of his Qur’anic understanding, Nadjib’s tadabbur never cites earlier mufassirs (commentators of the Qur’an). Finally, an examination of his method is provided through studying his tadabbur of Qur’anic verses dealing with God and humanity (Q. 24:35; 2:156; 28:77; 51:56), and life management (Q. 114; 94; 17:1; 59:22-23), and how he appropriates the passages to the current socio-political situation in Indonesia.

BioLien Iffah Naf’ atu Fina is a first year PhD student in Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She obtained her bachelor and first master’s degree from Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University Yogyakarta, majoring in Qur’anic Studies. In 2016, she completed her second master’s degree in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations from the Hartford Seminary, where she worked on al-Bāqillānī’s manuscript on miracles and magic for her thesis. Her research interests are modern-contemporary Qur’anic hermeneutics, receptions of the Qur’an in every day Muslim, the Qur’an and magic, and intertextual study among scriptures. Since 2015, she has been a lecturer at the Department of Qur’anic Studies, Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University Yogyakarta Indonesia.


Abstract:  Historically, Muslim Americans have had limited access to resources, opportunity, and power. Local communities, however, are collectively organizing into networks to preserve their spirituality and Muslim identity, and secure their safety and mobility in the face of continued racialization, discriminatory immigration policies, and institutionalized anti- Muslim bigotry. The Triangle area of North Carolina, anchored by the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and the town of Chapel Hill, is home to a community where there is an increasingly active network of local Muslim-led organizations and groups that are serving over 10,000 Muslims and linking them to information, resources, and support (Religious Congregations and Membership Studies, 2010). Using social network analysis and graph theory, this study examines how well developed the network of local Muslim-led groups and institutions is in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Interviews with 66 Muslim leaders reveals a network of 51 Muslim-led groups that has been developing for the past 60 years and creating spaces of refuge, worship, and community organizing. This paper explores how the characteristics and attributes of these groups influence the formation of relational ties among the network and how the ties shape the way in which the groups navigate policy preferences, information, and resources.

Bio- Lela Ali is a proud immigrant from Egypt, one of the co-founders of the non-profit Muslim Women For, a field organizer for Planned Parenthood, and a recent graduate of Duke University’s master’s program in International Development Policy and Middle East Studies.

Lela is a vivacious community leader who brings rich experiences in community organizing and social justice advocacy, with expertise in voting rights, immigrant rights and justice, reproductive justice, coalition building, and curriculum writing. Her passion for community building and transformative justice led her to start Muslim Women For. In all of her work, Lela aspires to use research and data in social justice advocacy and direct action in order to create policy spaces that recognize the most marginalized of our communities.

           Respondent: Mona Hassan, Duke University

3:30 – 3:40 p.m. – Coffee Break

3:40 – 4:30 p.m. – Keynote: “Gender and the Politics of Islamic Studies,” Kecia Ali, Professor of Religion, Boston University

Questions of authority and epistemology are central within the Muslim tradition and to the work of scholars of Islamic studies in the American academy. How do we produce and evaluate knowledge? What training qualifies which people to write on certain topics? What factors influence how scholarly work is circulated, promulgated, engaged with, integrated into curricula and canons? How are the politics of Islamic studies gendered, and what does this mean for our field?

Bio- Kecia Ali (Ph.D., Religion, Duke University) teaches a range of classes on Islam. Her research focuses on Islamic law; women and gender; ethics; and biography. Her books include Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence (2006, expanded ed. 2016), Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (2010), Imam Shafi‘i: Scholar and Saint (2011), and The Lives of Muhammad (2014), about modern Muslim and non-Muslim biographies of Islam’s prophet. She co-edited the revised edition of A Guide for Women in Religion, which provides guidance for careers in religious studies and theology (2014). Her research also includes gender, ethics, and popular culture.

Ali held research and teaching fellowships at Brandeis University and Harvard Divinity School before joining the BU faculty in 2006. She is active in the American Academy of Religion, where she currently holds a seat on the Board as Status Committee Director. She served from 2014-2016 as President of the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics.