2018 Shortlisted Titles
eVERYDAY CONVERSIONS: ISLAM, DOMESTIC WORK, AND SOUTH ASIAN MIGRANT WOMEN IN KUWAIT BY ATTIYA AHMAD
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS
Why are domestic workers converting to Islam in the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf region? In Everyday Conversions Attiya Ahmad presents us with an original analysis of this phenomenon. Using extensive fieldwork conducted among South Asian migrant women in Kuwait, Ahmad argues domestic workers’ Muslim belonging emerges from their work in Kuwaiti households as they develop Islamic piety in relation—but not opposition—to their existing religious practices, family ties, and ethnic and national belonging. Their conversion is less a clean break from their preexisting lives than it is a refashioning in response to their everyday experiences. In examining the connections between migration, labor, gender, and Islam, Ahmad complicates conventional understandings of the dynamics of religious conversion and the feminization of transnational labor migration while proposing the concept of everyday conversion as a way to think more broadly about emergent forms of subjectivity, affinity, and belonging.
Afghanistan Rising: Islamic Law and Statecraft between the Ottoman and British Empires by Faiz Ahmed
Harvard University Press
Debunking conventional narratives of Afghanistan as a perennial war zone and the rule of law as a secular-liberal monopoly, Faiz Ahmed presents a vibrant account of the first Muslim-majority country to gain independence, codify its own laws, and ratify a constitution after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Afghanistan Rising illustrates how turn-of-the-twentieth-century Kabul—far from being a landlocked wilderness or remote frontier—became a magnet for itinerant scholars and statesmen shuttling between Ottoman and British imperial domains. Tracing the country’s longstanding but often ignored scholarly and educational ties to Baghdad, Damascus, and Istanbul as well as greater Delhi and Lahore, Ahmed explains how the court of Kabul attracted thinkers eager to craft a modern state within the interpretive traditions of Islamic law and ethics, or shariʿa, and international norms of legality. From Turkish lawyers and Arab officers to Pashtun clerics and Indian bureaucrats, this rich narrative focuses on encounters between divergent streams of modern Muslim thought and politics, beginning with the Sublime Porte’s first mission to Afghanistan in 1877 and concluding with the collapse of Ottoman rule after World War I.
By unearthing a lost history behind Afghanistan’s founding national charter, Ahmed shows how debates today on Islam, governance, and the rule of law have deep roots in a beleaguered land. Based on archival research in six countries and as many languages, Afghanistan Rising rediscovers a time when Kabul stood proudly as a center of constitutional politics, Muslim cosmopolitanism, and contested visions of reform in the greater Islamicate world.
Gaza under Hamas: From Islamic Democracy to Islamist Governance by Bjorn Brenner
Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the EU, the USA and the UN. It has made itself notorious for its violent radicalism and uncompromising rejection of the Jewish state. So after its victory in the 2006 elections the world was watching. How would Hamas govern? Could an Islamist group without any experience of power - and with an unwavering ideology - manage to deal with day-to-day realities on the ground? Bjorn Brenner investigates what happened after the elections and puts the spotlight on the people over whom Hamas rules, rather than on its ideas. Lodging with Palestinian families and experiencing their daily encounters with Hamas, he offers an intimate perspective of the group as seen through local eyes. The book is based on hard-to-secure interviews with a wide range of key political and security figures in the Hamas administration, as well as with military commanders and members of the feared Qassam Brigades. Brenner has also sought out those that Hamas identifies as local trouble makers: the extreme Salafi-Jihadis and members of the now more quiescent mainstream Fatah party led by Mahmoud Abbas.
The book provides a new interpretation of one of the most powerful forces in the Israel-Palestine arena, arguing that the Gazan Islamists carry a potential to be much more flexible and pragmatic than anticipated - if they would think they stand to gain from it. Gaza under Hamas investigates the key challenges to Hamas's authority and reveals why and in what ways ideology comes second to power consolidation.
Aleppo: A History by ross burns
Aleppo is one of the longest-surviving cities of the ancient and Islamic Middle East. Until recently it enjoyed a thriving urban life—in particular an active traditional suq, with a continuous tradition going back centuries. Its tangle of streets still follow the Hellenistic grid and above it looms the great Citadel, which contains recently-uncovered remains of a Bronze/Iron Age temple complex, suggesting an even earlier role as a ‘high place’ in the Canaanite tradition.
In the Arab Middle Ages, Aleppo was a strongpoint of the Islamic resistance to the Crusader presence. Its medieval Citadel is one of the most dramatic examples of a fortified enclosure in the Islamic tradition. In Mamluk and Ottoman times, the city took on a thriving commercial role and provided a base for the first European commercial factories and consulates in the Levant. Its commercial life funded a remarkable building tradition with some hundreds of the 600 or so officially-declared monuments dating from these eras. Its diverse ethnic mixture, with significant Kurdish, Turkish, Christian and Armenian communities, provide a richer layering of influences on the city’s life.
In this volume, Ross Burns explores Aleppo's rich history from its earliest history through to the modern era, providing a thorough treatment of this fascinating city history, accessible both to scholarly readers and to the general public interested in a factual and comprehensive survey of the city’s past.
A History of Algeria by James McDougall
Cambridge University Press
Covering a period of five hundred years, from the arrival of the Ottomans to the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, James McDougall presents an expansive new account of the modern history of Africa’s largest country. Drawing on substantial new scholarship and over a decade of research, McDougall places Algerian society at the centre of the story, tracing the continuities and the resilience of Algeria’s people and their cultures through the dramatic changes and crises that have marked the country.
Letters of Light: Arabic Script in Calligraphy, Print, and Digital Design by J.R. Osborn
Harvard University Press
Arabic script remains one of the most widely employed writing systems in the world, for Arabic and non-Arabic languages alike. Focusing on naskh—the style most commonly used across the Middle East—Letters of Light traces the evolution of Arabic script from its earliest inscriptions to digital fonts, from calligraphy to print and beyond. J. R. Osborn narrates this storied past for historians of the Islamic and Arab worlds, for students of communication and technology, and for contemporary practitioners.
The partnership of reed pen and paper during the tenth century inaugurated a golden age of Arabic writing. The shape and proportions of classical calligraphy known as al-khatt al-mansub were formalized, and variations emerged to suit different types of content. The rise of movable type quickly led to European experiments in printing Arabic texts. Ottoman Turkish printers, more sensitive than their European counterparts to the script’s nuances, adopted movable type more cautiously. Debates about “reforming” Arabic script for print technology persisted into the twentieth century.
Arabic script continues to evolve in the digital age. Programmers have adapted it to the international Unicode standard, greatly facilitating Arabic presence online and in word processing. Technology companies are investing considerable resources to facilitate support of Arabic in their products. Professional designers around the world are bringing about a renaissance in the Arabic script community as they reinterpret classical aesthetics and push new boundaries in digital form.
The Political Economy of the Kurds of Turkey: From the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic by Veli Yadirgi
Cambridge University Press
In recent years, the persecution of the Kurds in the Middle East under ISIS in Iraq and Syria has drawn increasing attention from the international media. In this book, Veli Yadirgi analyses the socioeconomic and political structures and transformations of the Kurdish people from the Ottoman era through to the modern Turkish Republic, arguing that there is a symbiotic relationship between the Kurdish question and the de-development of the predominantly Kurdish domains, and making an ideal read for historians of the region and those studying the socio-political and economic evolution of the Kurds.