Episode 75: The Birmingham Qur’ān

Host: Samantha Rose Rubino, Doctoral Student, Department of History
Guest: Christopher Rose, Assistant Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Birmingham Qur'an ManuscriptIn the summer of 2015, an obscure Qur’ān manuscript hidden in the far reaches of the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham grabbed attention worldwide when carbon dating revealed that the book was one of the oldest Qur’āns known to exist. In fact, it might have been written during the lifetime of the Prophet Muḥammad … or might it even have been written before Muḥammad’s lifetime?

Guest Christopher Rose (yes, our regular co-host) has been following the headlines and puts the discovery of the Birmingham Qur’ān within the larger field of Islamic and Qur’ānic Studies, and explains how the text might raise as many questions as it answers.

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Episode 67: How Jews Translate the Bible and Why

Host: Christopher Rose, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UT-Austin
Guest: Leonard Greenspoon, Professor of Near Eastern Civilizations and Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, Creighton University

Saadia Gaon (882-942) is considered the father of Judeo-Arabic literature; his translation of the Bible into Arabic enabled the large portion of Judaism living in Arabic speaking lands to engage with the sacred texts.

Any student of a foreign language knows that the process of translating a text can be laden with unexpected choices about words, sentence structure, and phrases that don’t make sense in the target language. Now imagine the added pressures of translating a sacred text whose language is well known and imbued with religious significance and symbolism. Our guest Leonard Greenspoon from Creighton University has done just that with translators of the Jewish Bible over the centuries.

In this episode, Dr. Greespoon takes us on a fascinating journey into a Jewish perspective on how and why translating the Bible is necessary, and how and why it matters.

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Episode 62: Sunni and Shi’a in Medieval Syria

Host: Christopher Rose, Outreach Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Guest: Stephennie Mulder, Assistant Professor of Art History and Middle Eastern Studies, UT-Austin

After the decline of the Fatimids, the medieval Middle East entered a period called the Sunni Revival, in which Shi’ism was officially discouraged and Shi’i institutions were closed and replaced with Sunni institutions. Or, at least, that’s what the official chroniclers tell us. The buildings themselves tell us a different story–one that tries to bring decades of conflict to an end by accommodating different beliefs.

Art Historian Stephennie Mulder has spent the past decade working in Syria and shares a new look at history of Sunni and Shi’a in Syria during the medieval period; and how both histories are threatened by ISIS and the Syrian Civil War.

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Episode 61: The Fatimids

Host: Christopher Rose, Outreach Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Guest: Shainool Jiwa, Head of Constituency Studies, Institute for Ismaili Studies, London

Manuscript depicting Fatimid soldiers. 11th century.

Around the first millennium of the Christian era, a small group of Ismaili Shi’i Muslims established a dynasty that rapidly conquered North Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. At the height of their power they conquered Egypt, where they founded the city of Cairo, and their Imam-Caliphs had their names read out in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, rivaling the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. And yet, despite three centuries of rule by a powerful Shi’i empire, North Africa remained—and remains—Sunni with nary a trace of its Shi’ite past.

In this episode, guest Shainool Jiwa from the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London illuminates an often overlooked chapter in the history of Islamic sectarianism, one in which religious differences were used to unify diverse populations under the rule of a minority government, rather than to divide and alienate them.

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Episode 58: Islam’s First Civil War

Host: Christopher Rose, Outreach Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Guest: Shahrzad Ahmadi, Doctoral Student, Department of History

Miniature depicting Aisha (in the howdah) at the Battle of the Camel.

In 7th century Arabia, the Islamic community was nearly torn apart by a civil war over the assassination of the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (d. 656), and the accession to the caliphate of Muhammad’s adopted son Ali, supported by Uthman’s assassins. The events of the first fitna, as it is known, are often portrayed as a struggle over the right to rule the Islamic community, but it was much more—a power struggle between Muhammad’s wife Aisha and Ali, and a dispute over who had the right to avenge the murder of Uthman.

In picking up where Episode 57 left off, guest Shahrzad Ahmadi describes this tragic turn of events that sent shockwaves through the nascent Islamic community, and that continue to reverberate today.

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Episode 57: The Succession to Muhammad

Host: Christopher Rose, Outreach Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Guest: Shahrzad Ahmadi, Doctoral Student, Department of History

Persian miniature depicting courtiers pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr as leader of the community after Muhammad's death.

Nearly every world history textbook on the market explains the origins of sectarianism in the Islamic world as a dispute over the succession to Muhammad. Sunnis, they say, wanted an egalitarian society in which the leader was chosen from the people; the Shi’a, however, wanted the leadership of the nascent Islamic community to remain within Muhammad’s family. It seems simple—but is it really?

In the first of a series on the origins in Sectarianism in Islam, UT’s Shaherzad Ahmadi expands on this vastly oversimplified version of the story to introduce us to the key players involved—and to the intense rivalry between Aisha, Muhammad’s favorite wife, and his adopted son Ali.

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Episode 53: Cats and Dogs in History

Host: Joan Neuberger, Editor, Not Even Past and Professor, Department of History
Guest: Francesca Consagra, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and European Paintings, Blanton Museum of Art

Takahashi Hiroaki (Shotei), Published by Fusui Gabo Cat Prowling Around a Staked Tomato Plant, 1931 Woodblock print, 20 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Gift of Stephanie Hamilton in memory of Leslie A. Hamilton

Our first episode of season 3 features the curator of the exhibition In the Company of Cats and Dogs. We consider some of the inherent personalities and temperaments of these animals as well as those imposed or projected by humans onto them. Throughout history, these animals have been viewed and represented as family members, hunters of prey, strays, and as figures and symbols in mythological, religious, political, and moral images.

Guest Francesca Consagra helps us make connections across centuries and genres and underscores our complex relationships to these animals, revealing the many ways in which they say as much about us as we do about them.

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Episode 52: The Precolumbian Civilizations of Mesoamerica

Host: Joan Neuberger, Editor, Not Even Past and Professor, Department of History
Guest: Ann Twinam, Professor, Department of History

2858122252_ba611a4f16_zIt’s become more and more widely known that, before first contact with Europe, the Americas were populated by advanced civilizations with complex systems of writing, government, and technological innovation.  A number of these civilizations were clustered in the area known as Mesoamerica, which presented geographic difficulties for its inhabitants due to its harsh climate and environment, and yielding few natural resources. So, how did Mesoamerican civilizations thrive?

Guest Ann Twinam from UT’s Department of History discusses three of the major Mesoamerican civilizations: the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec (Mexica), and their once-forgotten contributions to human civilization.

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Episode 51: Islam’s Enigmatic Origins

Host: Christopher Rose, Outreach Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UT-Austin
Guest: Fred M. Donner, Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Chicago

cleansing meccaThe story of Islam’s beginnings have been told and retold countless times. The traditional narrative says that the Prophet Muhammad, an illiterate orphan from the town of Mecca,  became a prophet of God and founded a community that conquered much of the known world in little more than a century after his death. But what do we really know about Muhammad and the time in which he lived, based on historical evidence? How has this led some to reinterpret the origins of Islam?

Our guest, Fred M. Donner from the University of Chicago, has spent much of his career studying the earliest history of Islam. He offers his hypothesis on what the early Islamic community may have looked like, and describes an exciting new find that may shed new light on an old puzzle.

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Episode 47: Indian Ocean Trade from its Origins to the Eve of Imperialism

Host: Christopher Rose, Outreach Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Guest: Susan Douglass, doctoral candidate, George Mason University

Ibn Battuta was a pilgrim who left his native Morocco for Mecca in 1325 and traveled over 73,000 miles before finally returning home thirty years later.

Every American schoolchild knows that Columbus sailed west to reach Asia with the hope of finding precious metals, expensive fabrics, and exotic spices: all goods that were being traded in the Indian Ocean, and had been for millennia. Ancient Greek texts describe an active Indian Ocean economy. Some scholars have even linked the peopling of Australia to a slow, methodic collecting of resources along the coastal route from east Africa.

In the first of a two part episode guest Susan Douglass, author of the Indian Ocean in World History web site, describes the murky beginnings of trade and travel in the Indian Ocean basin, and the cultural exchanges and influences that the trade had in the days before the Europeans arrived.

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