2012-2013 Annual Lecture Series

Beyond Saving: Islam, Rights and Women's Lives

Dr. Lila Abu-Lughod

October 4, 2012, 7:00pm
SFU Vancouver Campus, Joseph and Rosalie Segal Rooms 1400-1410
515 West Hastings Street, Vancouver


She will be speaking from her forthcoming book, Saving Muslim Women, to be published next year by Harvard University Press. How should we think (differently) about the popular North American perception that Muslim women are oppressed and in need of rescue? Professor Abu-Lughod lays out the challenge: to navigate between honest concern about global women’s suffering and our responsibility to take seriously the realities of global politics and the everyday lives of women in Muslim communities.

Click here to download the event poster.

Lila Abu-Lughod, Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science, teaches anthropology and gender studies at Columbia University where she also directs the Center for the Study of Social Difference and the Middle East Institute. Her award-winning books include Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin SocietyWriting Women’s Worlds: Bedouin Stories; Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle EastDramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt, and Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory.

Dimensions of the Hajj before the Modern Age

Dr. Marcus Milwright

Co-hosted by Vancouver Muslim Community Centre on the occasion of Islamic History Month

October 11, 2012, 7:00pm
Segal School of Business, 1300-1500
500 Granville Street, Vancouver


Prior to the advent of mass air travel Muslims performing the pilgrimage (hajj) to the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina were faced with long, expensive, and often physically arduous journeys by land and sea. In most cases these routes predated the birth of Islam and had long been employed by merchant caravans, armies, and travellers. The annual movement of large numbers of Muslims along both roads and sea routes naturally brought with it significant economic considerations. This talk will focus upon three hajj routes: the roads that led south from the Syrian capital of Damascus; the passage across the Red Sea; and the Darb Zubayda that runs from southern Iraq through the Arabian desert. The first part of the talk reviews the archaeological and textual evidence for state investment in the hajj, with particular emphasis upon the construction the transport infrastructure (forts, cisterns, waystations, roads, and so on) and the provisioning of the pilgrim caravans. The second part is concerned with the ways in which the hajj stimulated private trade and other forms of economic exchange. Archaeological data are assessed in relation to a variety of textual sources, ranging from travellers’ accounts to chronicles and probate inventories. I also explore the evidence for the evolution of specific crafts in Damascus that were designed to supply the needs of the thousands of pilgrims embarking from the Syrian capital during the Ottoman period.

Click here to download the event poster.


Dr. Marcus Milwright is Professor in the Department of History in Art, University of Victoria. An internationally renowned expert on the art and archaeology of the Islamic Middle East, he has published two books, The Fortress of the Raven: Karak in the Middle Islamic Period (1100-1650) (Brill, 2008) and An Introduction to Islamic Archaeology (Edinburgh University Press, 2010)

Dr. Milwright, Professor in Medieval Islamic Art and Archaeology and Director of the Medieval Studies Program, UVi


What are Social Non-Movements: A View from the Middle East

Dr. Asef Bayat

February 28, 2013, 7:00pm
Segal Building, 500 Granville Street
Vancouver Campus


This talk is about collective agency in times of constraints. It explores what the subaltern groups (in the Middle East) do to get around and resist the sever constraints the authoritarian polity, neo-liberal economics, and moral authorities on their civil and economic rights. I discuss the diverse ways in which the ordinary people-- men, women, and the young-- strive to alter their lives and their societies, by refusing to exit from the social and political stage controlled by authoritarian regimes, and by discovering or generating spaces within which they can assert their rights. I conceptualize these everyday practices in terms of social ‘non-movements’. The lecture will also attempt to address a number of analytical questions raised with respect to the concept of ‘social non-movement, and its possible link to large scale revolutionary uprisings.

Click here to download the event poster.

Click here to download a summary of Dr. Asef Bayat's lecture.


Dr. Asef Bayat is the Catherine and Bruce Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Asef Bayat has taught at the American University in Cairo (for 16 years) and held visiting positions at the University of California, Berkeley; Columbia University, New York, the University of Oxford, and Brown University. Between 2003-2010, he served as the director of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM), and before joining Illinois, held the Chair of Society and Culture of the Modern Middle East, Leiden University. His latest books include Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn (Stanford University Press, 2007); (with Linda Herrera) Being Young and Muslim (Oxford University Press, 2010); and Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Stanford University Press, 2010).

Visit Dr. Bayat's page from University of Illinois here.

See Dr. Bayat's lecture at Columbia University here.

See Dr. Bayat's interview with The Week In Green here.

Read Dr. Bayat's article, "Tehran: Paradox City" here.


Translating a Flawed Masterpiece of Arabic Literature: The Epistle of Forgiveness (Risalat al-Ghufran) by al-Ma'arri (d. 1057)

Dr. Geert Jan van Gelder

March 14, 2013, 7:00pm
SFU Surrey Campus
250-13450 102nd Ave, Surrey


The Epistle of Forgiveness by the Syrian poet and prose writer Abu l-‘Ala’ al-Ma‘arri (d. 1057) is one of the most unusual books in classical Arabic literature. It is the lengthy reply to a letter written by an obscure grammarian, Ibn al-Qarih. With biting irony, The Epistle of Forgiveness mocks Ibn al-Qarih’s hypocrisy and sycophancy by imagining he has died and arrived with some difficulty in Heaven, where he meets famous poets and philologists from the past. He also glimpses Hell, and converses with the Devil and various heretics. Al-Ma'arri—a maverick, a vegan, and often branded a heretic himself—seems to mock popular ideas about the Hereafter. The first complete translation will appear in 2013; it will include the many digressions, difficult passages, and convoluted grammatical discussions of the original that are typically omitted in other translations, for obvious reasons. It will also include the second part, which is also usually omitted: a point-by-point reply to Ibn al-Qarih’s somewhat rambling letter. Translating the book poses many problems. The interpretation is, moreover, hampered by al-Ma‘arri’s pervasive use of irony.

Click here to download the event poster.

Click here to read Dr. Van Gelder's translation of Risalat al-Ghufran (The Epistle of Forgiveness).


Dr. Geert Jan van Gelder is Laudian Professor of Arabic Emeritus in the University of Oxford and Fellow of St John’s College. His research interests include: classical Arabic literature, especially belles-lettres, poetry, poetics, rhetoric, and stylistics, literary criticism, and the history of literary genres.

His publications include: Of Dishes and Discourse: Classic Arabic Literary Representations of Food(Routledge, 1999), Close Relationships: Incest and Inbreeding in Classical Arabic Literature ( I.B. Tauris, 2005). His latest book, Classical Arabic Literature: A Library of Arabic Literature Anthology; has appeared in December with New York University Press.

Visit Dr. Van Gelder's page from the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, here.