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Conference Reports Sectarianism in Islam and Muslim Communities The 44TH Annual Conference of the North American Association of Islamic and Muslim Studies (NAAIMS) cosponsored and hosted by Middle East Studies at Brown University on September 19, 2015 highlighted “Sectarianism in Islam and Muslim Communities.” The Conference Program Chair, Beshara B. Doumani, the Director of the Middle East Studies (MES) at Brown University, and Sarah A. Tobin, MES Associate Director, welcomed the participants and expressed the Department’s excitement for hosting a conference on sectarianism in the Muslim world with the goal of “bringing informed perspectives on one of the most pressing issues of our time.” In her introductory remarks, NAAIMS Board of Director member, Maria M. Dakake (George Mason University , Fairfax, VA), welcomed the guests on behalf of NAAIMS President, Jon Mandaville (Portland State University, OR) who was not able to attend. In his prepared remarks to the attendees, Mandaville referenced the importance of this conference for analyzing the “enormous diverse aspects of Islam,” and noted how the use of language and “word-choices” creates “different worlds” that generate labels and pejorative implications of the word “sect.” Established and emerging scholars examined critical aspects of sectarianism in four panel sessions. The following are among the questions addressed by the presentations and analyzed by the discussants: Are different Islamic sects [e.g., Ismaili, Shi’i, Sunni, Zaidi, Kharijite, etc] perceived as differentreligionsorbeliefsystems?Didpoliticsplayaroleinthedevelopment ofsectarianismsincetheadventofIslam?Howdidsectarianconceptsdevelop Sein / Sectarianism in Islam and Muslim Communities 107 in the early Muslim community? Are extremist groups products of modernity, and not of Islamic principles? The first panel, “Rhetorics of Sectarianism,” was moderated by the chair, Faiz Ahmed (Brown University, Providence, RI), with Nancy Khalek (Brown University, Providence, RI) serving as the panel discussant. The panel opened with a most fascinating presentation titled “A Narrative Identity Approach to Islamic Sectarianism,” by Adam Gaiser (Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL). It examined how narratives are used by people to form identities through which they interpret their experiences, and therefore, the “narrative identity approach might be fruitfully applied to the study of Islamic sectarianism by treating sect/school affiliations as one particular cluster of narratives.” Gaiser explained how this approach “avoids essentializing sect and school affiliations by recognizing them as products of human beings – products that accumulate, change and develop (even break down) – over time . . . [and] it recognizes sect/school identity as part of the multiple, intersecting and competing identities that constitute a person or social entity.” According to the discussant, Nancy Khalek, Gaiser’s paper was the “most poignant with respect to the proper terminology for assessing communal identification among doctrinal groupings,” and that his examination of “strategies of narrative is an important intervention in how we study medieval Islamic sources, which are themselves often didactic, highly constructed, and put to political ends.” For example, in his response to a question about how he would formulate each chapter along a narrative identity line, Gaiser stated that “each sect/group would have to have its own answer to the question of difference.” Gaiser argued that “the Kharijites viewed themselves as a righteous remnant amidst a sea of kufr, and they responded by separating physically from the rest of the Islamic kufr, and they responded by separating physically from the rest of the Islamic kufr community, or by hiding the Ibadi response in their midst.” He explained that the Shi’ites, on the other hand, “clung to their Imams - who were assumed to be God’s chosen representatives after the Prophets, although they were not prophets themselves.” Piety seems to be the dynamic force behind difference and identity. Michael Pregill’s (Boston University, Boston, MA) presentation “Sects That Feign Forgetting Anti-Sunnism and Anti-Judaism in Early Shi’i Propaganda” examined how various approaches toward understanding Islamic scripture are based on how the Qur’an is read, interpreted and understood. He argued that the “Qur’anhierarchalizesdifferentkindsofbeliefs,dividingpeopleintoidolaters,Ahl al-Kitab,andBelievers/Muslims,sotheearlyMuslimcommunitykindofinherits thatandusesitinitsworldview-establishinghierarchiesanddrawingdistinctions between different ranks of believers, and assimilating ‘heretics’/sectarians totheQur’anichierarchy-sothatsectariansareseenasnotquiteinfidels,butnot 108 Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies, Vol. 1.1 quite believers either - the way that Jews and Christians are kind of in-between disbelievers and believers in the Qur’an.” Finally, the...


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