I first left my native Kenya in 1973, when I came to the United States to attend Harvard College. In Kenya, as a young man of South Asian ancestry, I was considered “Asian.” But since my ancestors had lived in Africa for nearly two centuries, I considered myself African as well. At Harvard, however, many of my peers were quick to question my identity. Since my family had origins in South Asia, rather than in East Asia, they argued that I could not be “Asian.” And, not being black, they proclaimed that I could not be African either!
Professor Ali Asani discusses the stereotypes and misinformation that permeate Western and Islamic cultures, and he argues that it is the educational systems in both societies that fail to provide a corrective. Continue reading
Excerpt: When HarvardX launches in less than two weeks, it will explore the advantages of online education with students around the world. However, the College is already experimenting with online education for undergraduates on-campus. Professor Ali S. Asani ’77, chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, is teaching a General Education course this semester called Culture and Belief 19: “Understanding Islam and Contemporary Muslim Societies”; Asani has taught this course in four previous iterations, but this time, he has added online-only sections that change the dynamic of discussions.
“If you look at the profile of online students, they’re not the typical Harvard student: There are business people in there, there’s a fighter pilot from Afghanistan who works for the US Air Force there, there’s a housewife from Abu Dhabi, two people from South America, somebody from Calgary, somebody from Vancouver. It is a really diverse kind of a group,” says Asani.
This is the first time that a General Education course offered at the College has offered online sections, according to Asani, who feels that this course, because of its focus on international societies, is particularly benefited by online sections. Although Asani felt strongly that these sections would enrich the course, members of the administration were initially hesitant.
“I had to struggle to get approval for this. People were wondering about its impact; there was a great deal of caution about whether the College would appreciate this,” Asani says. Thus far, Asani has been optimistic about online sections and has received positive feedback from teaching fellows who led the first sections of the course in September. Using video conferencing technology, the sections function largely like on-campus sections.
In fact, Asani argues that online sections have certain technical advantages over their in-person counterparts. He gives the example of breaking sections into smaller discussion groups during class: With the click of a button, he can sort students into groups and allow them to discuss in private virtual classrooms, without the shuffling chairs or distracting white noise generated by neighboring groups’ discussion.
“There is a realm beyond our material realm,” said Asani, who taught him in a 12-person freshman seminar in which students read literature by prominent Muslim authors from around the world.
“We are so obsessed with the material world. But there’s a world of the soul,” Asani said. “Music was the vehicle by which he could access that world.“
For one of his first assignments, Laramie wrote a “beautiful, beautiful” song called “Desert Wind” about the Prophet Muhammed. Laramie had listened to examples of the Koran being recited in Asani’s class and heard a chord.
Laramie took the chord and wrote a new song. In it, he sings of the prophet walking in the desert. The wind represented the divine, Asani said.
“This is somebody’s second week at Harvard, responding to something that was in a totally foreign language he didn’t even understand,” Asani said. “But he got the music.”
In a commentary for Asani’s class, Laramie wrote that he felt music spoke to an “internal rhythm” and an “unconscious memory.” Regardless of how it’s done, he wrote, music can have profound meaning.
“Humans learn the world through sound,” he wrote, “a mother’s heartbeat, before they know anything of sight,” he wrote.
Music led Laramie to poetry, Pepin said.
The pages of the Quran were written in the desertlike climate of seventh-century Arabia. Therefore, water is a gift from God, says Ali Asani, Harvard professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic religion and cultures. This is just one of many ways water in the Quran is emblematic of a deep relationship between God and humans. In this lecture, given midway through a week of examining water as a “Life Source/Life Force,” Asani touches on the various symbolic and substantive tendencies of water in the Quran.
Earlier related: Azim Nanji: Sacred Spaces, Shared Visions
Ali Asani, professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic religion and cultures at Harvard University, returns to the Hindi Urdu Flagship on Thursday, April 19 to give a seminar on Khoja Identity in South Asia at 3.30pm in WCH 4.118. Asani’s talk is entitled From Satpanthi to Ismaili Muslim: Rearticulations of Khoja identity in South Asia. The talk is co-sponsored by UT Austin’s Islamic Studies Program.
Ali Asani (AKH 73-84) was the recipient of one of His Highness the Aga Khan’s personal scholarships while studying at Harvard. Since finishing his doctorate in 1984, he has pursued an academic career at his alma mater where he is currently Professor of the Practice of Indo-Muslim Languages & Cultures. Ali chose to speak about Islam and Social Responsibility at the Boston alumni dinner in November 1999.
It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets and gives away wealth out of love for Him (God) to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and sets slaves free… 2:1777
The above verse from the Holy Qur’an makes a fundamental observation on the nature of religiosity. In trying to explain to mankind what it means to be religious, to truly follow the sirat al-mustaqim, Allah makes it clear that piety basically comprises two dimensions. The first, which we may call ‘ibadat, consists of worship and prayer, obligations to God, and the acknowledgement of the status of a human being as an ‘abd (servant) of the Almighty. The other usually termed as Mu’amalat, is social or communal in nature for it stresses the obligation of the believer to the surrounding society, in particular its disadvantaged segment. Religiosity in Islam, then, does not distinguish between or separate the sacred and the secular. A person cannot be truly religious without fulfilling the responsibilities enjoined on him/her in both dimensions ‑ towards the Almighty and towards society. To call oneself religious and just pray and worship God, oblivious of the needs of the less fortunate, is to have only partially fulfilled one’s responsibility. Indeed, mere prayer without concern for fellow human beings is hypocrisy.
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Muslim-Christian dialogue will take center stage at the statewide gathering next weekend of the Catholic social justice organization, Pax Christi.
The “Compassion Conference” will be held at the University of the Incarnate Word and will feature academic experts on Islam as well as an array of local Muslim leaders and groups.
Other religious leaders also are taking part, but Muslims were asked to play a key role in planning this conference, organizers said.
Join us for interfaith discussions, panel discussions, and prominent speakers at a Conference on Compassion. Listen to voices from diverse faiths and create relationships for the common good. These events are shared in the context of the Charter for Compassion charterforcompassion.org/site/ which all are invited to endorse and to participate in building Cities of Compassion.
Dr. Ali Asani, who was born and raised in Kenya, came to Harvard as an undergraduate in 1973 and has been there ever since. A concentrator in comparative religion, he later pursued his doctorate work on Near Eastern languages, developing his dissertation on the ginans, the religious texts of the Ismaili branch of Islam. Capitalizing on his multilingual fluency in Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Gujarati, Sindhi, and Swahili, he began teaching at Harvard’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Today a tenured professor, his research focuses on Shia and Sufi devotional traditions of Islam, as well as popular or folk forms of Muslim devotional life. He is a Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, the Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and the Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University http://www.faculty.harvard.edu/node/788 Dr Asani is a member of the Council of Conscience, a multi-faith, multi-national group of religious thinkers and leaders, which crafted the Charter for Compassion based on contributions submitted by people from all over the world.
Ali Asani, professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic religion and cultures and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, has been named the director of Harvard’s the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program.
Established in 2005, the program aims to foster understanding between the Islamic world and the West through scholarship, teaching, and educational programming. As director, Asani will be responsible for coordinating the activities of the program, proposing outreach efforts to promote informed education about Islam and providing overall direction with the help of the program’s steering committee.
A world-renowned scholar on Islam and Muslim cultures, Asani has worked with students and educators from Texas to Pakistan and served on the American Academy of Religion’s task force on religion in schools. He lectures extensively on various aspects of the Islamic tradition.
Over the two decades that I have been teaching at Harvard I have been asked many questions about Islam, but I was ill prepared when, a couple of years ago, a student asked me over dinner at a restaurant in Harvard Square: “How can anyone who is rational and intelligent believe in and practice a religion that promotes violence, terror, [and] suicide bombings and is blatantly against fundamental human rights and freedom?”
Exacerbating the lack of knowledge about Islam and Muslim cultures in the United States is a widespread illiteracy about the nature of religion in general.
The largest concentration of Muslims in the world today is in the South Asian nations of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. For over twelve centuries the region has been home to a magnificent Islamic civilisation that has profoundly affected all aspects of South Asian culture and life. The achievements of this civilisation are legendary. The Taj Mahal, the monumental mosques, palaces, forts, and pleasure gardens that dot the Subcontinent’s landscape, as well as exquisite miniature paintings and intricate marble lattice-work, are just a few of its more notable products. The civilisation has also nurtured several of the world’s greatest rulers, artists, mystics and poets, many of whose writings have endured as literary masterpieces still recited today.
Islamopedia Online presents another installment of Islam & the Media, a series of conversations between scholars and journalists aimed at improving coverage of Islam. In this installment, Professor Ali Asani and Boston Globe City Editor Michael Paulson discuss the various challenges and lessons of covering Islam in the United States.
A lecture by Dr. Ali Asani, Harvard University
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
6:00pm @ Houston Arts Alliance Gallery, 3201 Allen Parkway
When: 7 Jun 2011 – 17:30
Where: THE TEMPLE CHURCH, OFF FLEET STREET, LONDON EC4Y 7 BB
There will be ample time for Q & A; the discussion will be followed by refreshments in the Round Church
Following a series of public discussions on “Islam in English Law”, 2008-9, we are very pleased to welcome Professor Ali Asani (Harvard) to the Temple Church in June.
Ali Asani, professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic religion and cultures at Harvard University, gave a fascinating talk entitled, From Qawwali to Sufi Rock: Exploring Contemporary Expressions of Muslim Devotional Literature on Friday, February 11 in the Meyerson Conference Room at the University of Texas at Austin. Hindi Urdu Flagship students joined UT faculty and graduate students to hear Asani describe the modern Sufi rock phenomenon epitomized by Salman Ahmad and his band Junoon. Asani outlined Ahmad’s personal musical, religious, and political journey and attempted to place Sufi rock in the broader tradition of Muslim devotional literature.
An International Conference organized by the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology-University of Alberta in partnership with the Association for the Study of Ginans.
Muslims across the world have given sonic shape to spiritual words. From spoken declamation to melodic chant, devotional repertoires expressing Muslim piety are abundant in their continuity and vitality.
Ali Asani, professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic religion and cultures at Harvard University, gives a talk titled “From Qawwali to Sufi Rock: Exploring Contemporary Expressions of Muslim Devotional Literature.” A native of Kenya, Asani is director of Harvard’s Ph.D. program in Indo-Muslim Culture and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, as well as associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program. His research focuses on Shia and Sufi devotional traditions in South Asia.
Asani is also interested in popular or folk forms of Muslim devotional life, and Muslim communities in the West. His books include “The Bujh Niranjan: An Ismaili Mystical Poem,” “Al-Ummah: A Handbook for an Identity Development Program for North American Muslim Youth,” “Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literatures of South Asia” and “Let’s Study Urdu: An Introductory Course.”
NEWBURYPORT — The First Religious Society of Newburyport announces events at its 26 Pleasant St. church and lower meeting hall in the coming weeks.
Sunday, Jan. 30, 10:30 a.m: Sunday Service, “Seeking the Face of God,” given by Ali Asani.
“When Moses came at the time appointed by us and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show Yourself to me: let me see You.’ God said ‘You will never see Me, but look at that mountain; if it remains standing firm, you will see Me.’ When his Lord revealed Himself to the mountain, He made it crumble: Moses fell down in a swoon.” — Quran 7:143
Dr. Asani will be discussing this quotation and others related to seeking a view of the deity. He was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and is professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures at Harvard.