Ajam Media Collective Podcast

A podcast series exploring the "Ajam" world, from Anatolia to South Asia and beyond. From the editors and contributors at Ajam Media Collective.

Latest Episodes

37

April 26, 2021 00:34:37
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Ajam Podcast #37: Sufi Miracle Workers of Malaya

In this episode, Lindsey, Rustin, and Ali interview Dr. Teren Sevea, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Harvard Divinity School about his recent book, Miracles and Material Life: Rice, Ore, Traps and Guns in Islamic Malaya (Cambridge University Press, 2020). Dr. Sevea reveals the significance of Islamic miracle workers, called pawangs or bomohs, in the Malay world from the 19th century to the present. He maps out the spiritual economy of the Indian Ocean world and its many human and non-human actors. These figures, steeped in the practice and cosmology of Sufism, were instrumental to the material life of the societies they lived in. They frequently directed the extraction of natural resources, the adaptation and use of new technologies, and the navigation of land and sea. Combining an analysis of overlooked sources, including manuscripts and personal interaction with modern pawangs, Dr. Sevea shows how these miracle workers interacted with the Unseen world to aid and direct labor in the societies they lived in. For example, they were seen as masters of prospecting and mining tin, taming elephants and tigers, or even shooting guns. Even British colonial officials who dismissed them as “primitive” sought out their aid and guidance when it came to navigating the material world, admitting their skill despite their “superstitions.” To further complicate matters, some pawangs even considered these very same colonial officials as their own “companions” even while some of their peers encouraged war against their imperial masters. Despite their centrality to the past, pawangs and bomohs today are marginalized in official discourse and media within Malaysia and Singapore today. Yet they are still very present, whether in guiding their followers, healing the sick, or even ...

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36

April 12, 2021 00:43:13
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Ajam Podcast #36: Being Persian before Modern Iran

In this episode, Ali interviews Dr. Mana Kia, an Associate Professor in Columbia University’s department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies about her book, [Persianate Selves: Memories of Place and Origin Before Nationalism](http://https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=29033) (Stanford University Press, 2020). If contemporary notions of being Persian are rooted in recent history, what did it mean to be Persian before nationalism? In the interconnected spaces of premodern Asia, Persian served as a language of learning and shared communication that facilitated the exchange of texts, practices, goods, and ideas, creating a Persianate cultural sphere. Persian not only provided a shared language but also gave access to a whole series of broader ideas and practices. In this older sense of being Persian, Dr. Kia has uncovered a conception of selfhood based on a very different understanding of place and origin. In it, people always understood themselves in relation to multiple collectives, not singular nations, origins, or ethnicities. Her study argues that the wide range of possible Persianate selves allowed for a type of pluralism that the nation state has been unable to provide, a pluralism that has more promise than the eurocentric notion of tolerance. The types of kinship that are produced through these shared lineages all center around the vast notion of adab. Adab is “aesthetic in ethical form,” a notion of the proper form of things that guides seeing, experiencing, thinking, and even desiring. It was adab, she argues, that kept Persianate worlds together even as their societies collapsed-- providing a shared pluralistic moral order and language that allowed them to reconstitute after each collapse. Key to this were literary genres like poetry or tazkira writing, serving as acts of commemoration in ...

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35

March 08, 2021 00:42:12
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Ajam Podcast #35: Creating India, Forgetting Hindustan

In this episode, Ali interviews Dr. Manan Ahmed Asif, an Associate Professor in Columbia University’s History department, about his book, [The Loss of Hindustan, the Invention of India](https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674987906) (Harvard University Press, 2020). Before nationalism—before even the European colonization of South Asia—the term Hindustan signified a regional identity that spanned the length of modern Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. It referred both to a geography with shifting and porous boundaries as well as to a shared physical and mental space inhabited by peoples with overlapping literatures, music, food, and even dress. To approach Hindustan, Dr. Ahmed Asif focuses on the writings of the 17th century historian Firishta, who lived in the Deccan region of what is now South India. Firishta’s history is unique because, unlike many premodern histories, it focuses on Hindustan itself as a subject, not a particular family or lineage. To do this, he drew not only from Arabic and Persian sources, but also from texts like the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, melding approaches in a way that reveals a comfort with contradiction and multiplicity. It was this multiplicity, not only of place, but religion, ethnicity, genre, and language, that defined Hindustan. The afterlife of Firishta’s work is equally telling. It was rendered into English multiple times in the 18th and 19th centuries for the British East India Company, providing them not only a means of approach to the histories, kingdoms, and religions of Hindustan, but also a bibliography of its major sources. In turn, once rendered into English, it inspired the theorizations of history that came to define European modernity, such as those of Kant, Hegel, and even Gibbon. Yet that same colonial enterprise mined Firishta’s work for its own ends ...

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34

February 22, 2021 00:33:30
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Ajam Podcast #34: Finding Home through Armenian Music with Joseph Bohigian

In this episode, Kamyar and Rustin interview Armenian-American composer and performer Joseph Bohigian about his latest musical composition, “The Water Has Found Its Crack” (2020), which explores concepts of displacement, dispersion, and cultural preservation in Armenian music. The composition’s title refers to an anecdote shared by Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink about a French-Armenian woman who died while visiting the village of her youth in Turkey. When the question of where she should be buried arose, a man from the village responded “Let her be buried here...the water has found its crack.” It is a story of Armenians longing to be reunited with their indigenous land, not to take it but, in Dink’s words, “to come and be buried under it.” The discussion begins with Bohighian’s reflections about his family’s displacement during the 1915 Armenian Genocide, his upbringing in the diaspora, and his nine-month stay in Yerevan during which he wrote “The Water Has Found Its Crack.” The conversation then turns to the Armenian music theories and folk songs that influenced the piece, specifically the works of the Komitas (1869-1935), a Kütahya-born priest and musicologist widely known for documenting rural songs of the Armenian countryside. Finally, Bohigian takes us through the composition, highlighting various sections and reciting lyrics sung throughout. Visit Joseph's [Soundcloud to listen to "the Water Has Found Its Crack."](https://soundcloud.com/joey-bohigian/the-water-has-found-its-crack) ...

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33

February 08, 2021 00:40:49
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Ajam Podcast #33: Muslim Narratives of the Formation of Premodern Gujarat

In this episode, Lindsey and Ali interview Dr. Jyoti Gulati Balachandran, Assistant Professor of History at Penn State, about her book [Narrative Pasts: The Making of a Muslim Community in Gujarat, c. 1400-1650](https://global.oup.com/academic/product/narrative-pasts-9780190123994?cc=us&lang=en&#) (Oxford University Press, July 2020) The Gujarat region of western India has a long role as a maritime and commercial center in the Indian Ocean, but the rich history of its Muslim community - and the important role of Sufis in developing Gujarat’s identity as a distinct region - has been overlooked. Dr. Balachandran argues that Arabic and Persian literary production among learned Muslim men was crucial to the development of Gujarat as a coherent region between the 15th and 17th centuries, plugging it in to developments across South Asia and beyond. Sufis were particularly important in this endeavor, and she urges us to seriously consider why and how different genres such as taẓkira or manāqib were chosen by these writers instead of dismissing them all under the imposed category of hagiography. Balachandran shows how textual histories and the tomb complexes of Sufi scholars contribute another source for history beyond that of the court, serving as two poles that reinforced one another’s place in time as well as a specific region. Sufis allowed Sultans to ensure that the Muslim community expanded and prospered, and just as the Sultans militarily defined their kingdoms, Sufis sketched out realms of spiritual rule through these institutions and narratives about the past. One important example that Dr. Balachandran touches on is the figure of Shaykh Ahmad Khattu, a 15th century Sufi who became the Shaykh of Ahmad Shah I of the Muzaffarids of Gujarat. While there is little contemporary writing about ...

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32

January 25, 2021 00:34:13
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Ajam Podcast #32: Chinese Muslims and Imperial Japan

In this episode, Rustin and Ali interview Dr. Kelly Anne Hammond, Assistant Professor of East Asian History in the Department of History at the University of Arkansas, about her book, China’s Muslims and Japan’s Empire: Centering Islam in World War II (University of North Carolina Press, November 2020). During World War II, Sino-Muslims (Hui Muslims) were an important focal point for Imperial Japanese propaganda. Japanese imperial officials saw Sino-Muslims as crucial intermediaries that could help not only defeat nationalist and communist opposition in China, but also help bolster an image of the empire as anti-Western protectors of Islam. Building on an older academic tradition of Islamic Studies in Japan, knowledge of Islam was put into imperial service. Combined with the patronage of Muslim schools, mosques, and hajj pilgrimage, the empire aimed to create transnational Muslim networks that were centered in Japan and used Japanese as their new lingua franca. Dr. Hammond shows that these efforts were met with limited success due to the community’s religious and political diversity, as well as the military defeat of Imperial Japan. Even those who were receptive to Japanese efforts ultimately had to ally themselves with other powers following the end of the war, yet the legacy of their role as intermediaries remained even in the Cold War era. ...

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