Thursday, August 15, 2019

Middle Eastern & Islamic Folklore

Interested in religion or folklore?

Here's a great twitter thread by Ali Olomi about Middle Eastern and Islamic folklore. 

Olomi is a professor at the University of Pennslyvania and produces a terrific podcast about anything to do with Islam and the Middle East. It's called Head on History.

Olomi's thread below is about djinn/jinn kings. He notes that djinn are an invisible race of beings "who live in tribes and nations with their own rulers."

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Hollywood Schindler's List during WWII

Here's a fascinating story about heroism during the Holocaust in the 1940s students might read.

Most everyone knows Oskar Schindler, thanks to the book and the movie, Schindler's List. The German businessman saved over 1100 Jews from certain death in the Nazi concentration camps.

Fewer people know the Hollywood mogul, Carl Laemmle, who is credited with saving over 300 Jews during World War II. That is remarkable because Laemmle is probably the only Hollywood mogul to even get involved with the German Jews. Laemmle was the president of Universal Pictures.

According to this excellent story in the New York Times called "Laemmle’s List: A Mogul’s Heroism," Neal Gabler explains that most Hollywood Jews were just trying to fit in. He notes, "almost from the inception of the American film industry, the Hollywood Jews were dedicated to assimilation, not religious celebration. They had come to America to escape their roots, not embrace them."

Laemmle, like Schindler, was different from his peers. Gabler says that he "was terrified of what Hitler’s ascension would mean for his country, for the village of Laupheim (where he was born), for members of his family — many of whom had remained in Germany — and, perhaps above all, for his fellow Jew."

That concern prompted him to risk his fortune to save as many Jews from his hometown as he could. He furnished the American consul with hundred of affidavits, which "were pledges of support that were required of every immigrant to ensure that the individual would not become a public charge."

The story is fascinating, like Schindler's, with twists and turns.

Gabler notes two recent books about Hollywood during World War II say very little about Laemmle. “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact With Hitler” by Ben Urwand and “Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939” by Thomas Doherty both deal with the complicity of Hollywood with Nazi Germany.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Ramadan Resources

Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, begins on Sunday, May 5th and ends on June 4th. 

Practicing Muslims fast during the month, abstaining from food and drink during the day. The purpose is to teach self-discipline and restraint.

Here are resources that explain why Ramadan is observed and why it's so important to Muslims. 
  1. BBC iWonder has a terrific interactive website explaining Ramadan. Although it was made for Ramadan in 2016, it still works as a great overview.
  2. National Geographic has an excellent essay called Ramadan: Understanding its history and traditions
  3. Islamic Finder, reviews the date for 2019 along with the obligations.
  4. The Week: Ramadan 2019: When is it and why is it celebrated?
  5. The Telegraph, Ramadan 2019: Fasting, prayer and how Muslims celebrate the revelation of the Koran
  6. Gulf News, Ramadan 2019: All you need to know

Monday, April 15, 2019

Do Sports like Football & Professional Wrestling Contain Elements of Religion?

By InFlamester20 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Is football a religion?

If you watch the clip below, called Idol Worship,  you might think so.

Maybe all professional sports possess some elements of religion. 

For example, University of Alabama religion professor, Michael Altman,  recently wrote  "A Religious Guide to WrestleMania," for the University of Alabama's Religious Studies Department's blog.

Altman reminds us of Johnathan Z. Smith's idea that religious studies do not need to be "limited to things that seem “religious” in the common use of the term." He finds elements of religion in WrestleMania.

Altman compares the huge crowds and their deafening cheers to American revivals in the 19th century.  He reviews the fictitious stories behind some of WrestleMania biggest stars and compares it to the idea of "belief" and  "how belief functions in other places, especially those we often label “religious.”"

Finally, Altman examines the role of gender in WrestleMania and asks whether "there are male-dominated spaces within “religious” institutions, cultures, or communities that might be worth comparing to the so-called “women’s evolution” in WWE?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Understanding Arbaeen: The World's Largest Gathering

Arbaeen is the world's largest gathering, larger than the annual Hajj, and commemorates the martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Mohammad and the third Shia Imam, Husayn ibn Ali's in 680.

It occurs every year in Iraq at the Karbala Mosque following the 40-day mourning period after the religious holiday, Ashura.

Millions of Shia converge on Kerbala during the commemoration. According to the Independent, they walk in columns that often stretch over 50 miles and sleep and eat in tents erected along the route.

Alex Shams, an Iranian American and Ph.D. student of anthropology, recently returned from Arbaeen and tweeted an explanation of Arbaeen and many excellent images.

Shams describes a 50-mile long food festival with falafel, beans, eggs, fried fish, mutton stew, and many other foods.

He notes the wide variety of countries at Arbaeen. In addition to Iraqis and Iranians, he saw Pakistanis, Indians, Azerbaijanis, Afghans, Nigerians, Lebanese, Saudis, Turks, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis, Qataris, and many more.

Shams says that while Arbaeen is a pilgrimage for Imam Hossein, it is also a challenge to ISIS today.

And he saw many different Muslim rituals.  It's a fascinating tour!

Monday, November 5, 2018