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18th Annual Duke-UNC Middle East and Islamic Studies Graduate Student Conference

“What Does Race Have to Do with Religion?
Racialization and Worldwide Islam”

Please note: all times listed in Eastern Standard Time (GMT-5).


10:00 – 10:05 a.m. – Welcome

10:05 – 11:35 a.m. – Panel 1: Identity Formations and in Formation

Discussant: Cemil Aydin, UNC Chapel Hill

[toggles class=”yourcustomclass”] [toggle title=”Up From The Margins: Black Muslim Youth on Race and Racialization in a Cohort Based Community, Ustadh Mohamud Awil Mohamed”]

Mohamud Awil Mohamed is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, studying Heritage Studies and Public History with a focus on the Islamicate world. Previously he has trained in the classical ‘Ulum under Shaykh Waleed Ibn Idris Al-Maneese (Fiqh) and Shaykh Tariq Awadallah (Hadith) at the Islamic University of Minnesota. he will be presenting his master’s work on the genealogy of Imam Abd Al-Ghani Al-Maqdisi’s Al-Kamal Fi Asma Ar-Rijal as the culmination of his time in the College of Hadith later this year. Mohamud is passionate about social justice, making the archive more accessible, and loves reading old manuscripts.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”The Relationship Between Race and Religion, Julio César”]

Julio César Cárdenas Arenas is a PhD Candidate in Religious Sciences, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain. He is a Master’s Candidate in Islamic Culture, Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia. He has previously graduated from a Master’s in Catholic Theology (Colombia), Muslim Theology (Saudi Arabia), Philosophy (Colombia), and Arabic Philology (Egypt). His work focuses on comparative theology, medieval philosophy, and Semitic philology. He is the author of How to understand Islam and Muslims?; A Practical Dictionary of the Arabic-Spanish Quran; and Mary, Jesus, and his Disciples: Theology ‎between the Bible and the Qur’an.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Pure Beings of Paradise, Allison Kanner-Botan”]

Allison Kanner-Botan is a PhD candidate in the Divinity School and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Her research interests include medieval literature, orality, and storytelling; Islamic philosophy and mysticism; love theory; and gender and sexuality studies. She is continuously fascinated by the question of how new subjects (women, animals, religious others) entered into medieval literature, and what impact the introduction of their subjectivities had on overall literary taste. Her dissertation is tentatively titled “Narrating Madness: Mysticism and Fictionality in Niẓāmī’s Laylī o Majnūn.” 

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11:35 – 11:45 – Break

11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. – Artist presentations

[toggles class=”yourcustomclass”] [toggle title=”Poem: The Bright Country, Kimathi Muiruri”]

Kimathi Muiruri is a senior undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a double-major in history and environmental studies. He was born in Toronto, Canada. His parents, their parents, and as far as he knows all of the parents in his family before them, were born in the land now called Kenya. He draws artistic inspiration from his origins, the stories told about Africa in the Western education system, and from my experience in the diaspora. Coming from a city as multicultural as Toronto, where the Black people are East African, West African, Jamaican, Trinny, Métis, and everything in between, he was inspired to study Africa and the Black Atlantic in his undergraduate studies to deconstruct how and why a community so rich and vibrant could come to be on a continent with such a violent history of anti-blackness. From Chapel Hill to Dundas Square to Kisii Town, he aims write both academically and artistically about what it means to occupy this space and time as a member of the African diaspora, and what we see when we become voyeurs into the past.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Poem: From DC to AC, Ibrahim Bechrouri”]

Ibrahim Bechrouri is an artist, activist, and scholar of Moroccan origin living between France and the United States. His ethnographic fieldwork and experience as a Muslim and activist greatly influences his poetry. Ibrahim has worked with the collaborative artist organization, Um’Artist, in Paris and with Performing Arts Mosaic in New York City. He has performed his poetry in Europe and around the United States including on the French television program #FlashTalk, at the Muslim Writers Collective, and for Usbek & Rica’s Tribunal for Future Generations. He has served as a judge for a number of poetry, comedy and public speaking competitions. After completing his Ph.D. Ibrahim hopes to dedicate part of his time to writing fiction.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Mixed Media: Westoxification (2020)Sarah Hakani”]

Sarah Zarina Hakani is a South-Asian, Shi’a Ismaili Muslim from Atlanta, whose work focuses on the de- and re-construction of identity in the context of reclaiming the self as independent of but directly informed by the systems and structures that possess it. She has a background in Neuroscience, which she applies to better rooting and understanding her ever-evolving esotericism. Sarah works through her relationships with the divine and her own divinity through ethnographic, literary, and artistic research, coupled with multidisciplinary creation. Her works are the physical manifestations of her journeys through faith, womanhood, caregiving, and resilience. Through exploring internal juxtapositions and constructing oneness from duality, Sarah’s work highlights and makes sense of her lived realities and contrasts as a multihyphenate Muslim woman.

Currently, Sarah is exploring how creation can serve as a tool for learning and innovation, particularly for marginalized folks to rewrite their interactions with the world as a learning designer at General Assembly. She is also an artist-in-residence at The People’s Forum in New York, and co-founder and editor of Reconstructed Magazine, a space that uplifts queer, Black, and Shi’a Muslims, navigating their own ever-evolving faith practices through creation.

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12:45 – 1:00 p.m. – Break

1:00 – 2:30 p.m. Keynote: Dr. Zareena Grewal

[toggles class=”yourcustomclass”] [toggle title=”TITLE: Reading Muslims: Race, Islam, and US Empire”]

Today Islam is often imagined to be anti-modern, with more cruel punishments, and the most explicit moral sanction of violence, misogyny and homophobia compared to any other religion. Although the specter of Islam is typically framed in terms of recent moral panics, the figure of the Moor haunted modern race-thinking from the beginning, foundational to European expansion and expulsion, settler genocide, and chattel slavery. The Moor and the Indian were co-constituted as racial/sexual Others in the settler-colonial racial imaginary and a third of the West Africans enslaved and forcibly brought to the New World were Muslims. Yet scholars who examine the domination of those who fall under the elastic category of Muslim (or “Muslim-looking”) too often reproduce a shallow periodization of “the Muslim problem,” particularly when the complexity of racial ontologies and epistemologies of difference are not taken into consideration. Part of the problem is the insufficient scholarly attention to the racial undergirding of the category of religion. This talk will draw from Dr. Grewal’s forthcoming book Is the Quran a Good Book? which examines the Quran as an American racial object in order to deepen our understanding of the complexity and diversity of Americans’ political, cultural, and racial investments in Islam over time.

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11:00 – 11:05 a.m. – Welcome

11:05 a.m. – 12:35 p.m. – Panel 2: Social Conflict and Resistance

Discussant: Juliane Hammer, UNC Chapel Hill

[toggles class=”yourcustomclass”] [toggle title=”Convergences of Indigenous, Black and Muslim Struggles From A Decolonial Racial and Spiritual Social justice Perspective, Mohamed Abdou”]

Mohamed Abdou is a self-identifying Muslim anarchist activist-scholar and diasporic settler of color, originally from Egypt, living on unseeded Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee territory. He is author of the forthcoming book Islam & Anarchism: Relationships & Resonances (May 2021, Pluto Press). In addition to being an organizer during the anti-Iraq and anti-Afghanistan War protests and post-Seattle 1999 anti-globalization movements, he stood in solidarity with the Mohawks of Tyendinaga and community members from the sister territories of Kahnawake, Akwesasne, and Kanehsatake, during their standoff with the Canadian federal government over the Culbertson Tract. His twenty years of activist research experience centers on Palestinian, Black, and people of color liberation, and draws on his experiences with the indigenous Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, and participation in the Egyptian uprisings of 2011. He is a former Adjunct professor of Arab and Islamic social movements at Queen’s University who completed his transnational and interdisciplinary ethnographic and historical-archival Ph.D. on Islam & Queer-Muslims: Identity, Gender, Sexuality, and Politics in the Contemporary, that is set in both post-revolutionary Egypt and Turtle Island. He is currently teaching a course on Indigenous Land Education & Black Geographies at UFT-OISE-SJE.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Implications of Racialization: Identity-Conflict, Muslim-Americans Epistemologies, and Agency, Meena Naik”]

Meena Naik is a doctoral candidate in the University of North Texas’ Department of Educational Psychology. Meena’s research focuses on identity development across the lifespan with an emphasis on traditional college-aged populations, rational choice and social exchange theories, and the resulting epistemic conflicts that occur for Muslims in American who may ‘appear Muslim’ and may manage passing privilege.  

Outside of Meena’s academic research interests and her full-time role as an administrator at UNT, she regularly engages in community action and education. Meena has served as the Program Director for the College Program on Islam hosted by the Shia Ismaili Muslim community since 2019, regularly engages in community dialogue and facilitation on topics related to racial class, social action, and civic engagement, and develops training and education programs to support culturally and socially responsive educators in the community.  

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Why are Black Muslim Students Leaving the MSA (Muslim Students Association)?, Nisa Muhammad”]

Nisa Muhammad is an African Studies Ph.D. student at Howard University.  Her research looks at an analysis of the intersections of race, religion, gender, and family origin of Black Muslim students at several predominantly white institutions (PWIs).  She’s doing a comparative study of PWIs to analyze why some Black Muslims are leaving their MSA to start new organizations and why some Black Muslims stay in the MSA and thrive.  She’s investigating if these revolts by Black Muslims can be likened to early African historical revolts by Muslims to slavery led by Abdul Qader Khan?  Are these students modern-day Walking Qurans refusing to submit to oppression as Abdul Qader Khan called the people he freed from oppression?  She’s also looking at the intersections of race, religion, and revolution.

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12:35 – 12:45 p.m. – Break

12:45 – 2:15 p.m. – Panel 3: Histories of Racialization

Discussant: Youssef Carter, UNC Chapel Hill

[toggles class=”yourcustomclass”] [toggle title=”Narrating Muslim Histories in Nineteenth-Century North India, Mohsin Ali”]

Mohsin Ali is a doctoral candidate in the Islamic Studies program in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA. His primary research interests are in the history of Muslim historical writing, the relationship between colonialism and religious scholarly traditions in modern Muslim intellectual history, and scholarly networks between the Middle East and South Asia. He was born and grew up in southern California, and received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Chicago. 

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Becoming a Moor, Mahdi Blaine”]

Mahdi Blaine is a 2nd year Masters student at the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU. His research interests generally focus on a variety of topics related to the Maghreb, including race, leftist politics, and political economy. Currently he is working on his thesis which explores Moroccan imperial imagination and statecraft in Western Sahara. When he is not staring at a computer screen, he can be found baking part-time and cooking full time at home.

[/toggle] [toggle title=”Color Me Muslim: “Signification” and Religious Identity in the African American Muslim Community, Nathan Lean”]

Nathan Lean is a graduate student at Georgetown University where he is completing a PhD in Theology and Religious Studies. He is the author of The Islamophobia Industry (Pluto, 2012) and Islam and the West (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018).

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