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Essays

How a Childhood Memory Opened a Window on Islam in China

The Effendi, China and Me

References to Islam were just about unheard of during my upbringing in China — except for the stop-motion cartoon of Ah Fan Ti. Decades later, lightning would strike to trigger a reinterpretation of those days — reverberating beyond my childhood and into today’s world of migration, faith and ethnic rivalry.

A Historical Novel Charts the Inner Life of the Philosopher al-Ghazali

A Sage Brought to Life

Ahmed Vall Dine’s novel “Danishmand” (“The Wise Master”) is not simply a work of historical fiction. By imaginatively documenting the life story of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, one of the most prominent figures in the Islamic intellectual tradition, it allows us to join him on his spiritual quest.

As Eurovision 2024 Nears, Israel Is in the Hot Seat

As Eurovision 2024 Nears, Israel Is in the Hot Seat

When the European Broadcasting Union rejected two songs Israel submitted for the 2024 Eurovision, saying its references to Oct. 7 were too political, President Isaac Herzog intervened and told the composers to change the lyrics. For 51 years, the song contest has been a critical component of Israel’s public image.

How America’s Philosopher of Democracy Influenced India’s Leading Caste Reformer

How America’s Philosopher of Democracy Influenced India’s Leading Caste Reformer

Bhimrao Ambedkar helped write the Indian Constitution, campaigned against caste oppression, and remains a household name for many in the country. His democratic vision combined the pragmatist ideas of the American philosopher John Dewey with his novel Navayana or “new vehicle” form of Buddhism.

How the Turbulent Politics of Medieval Central Asia Shaped a Polymath’s Achievements

How the Turbulent Politics of Medieval Central Asia Shaped a Polymath’s Achievements

The career of the 11th-century Muslim polymath Abu Rayhan al-Biruni was shaped by the turbulent politics of medieval Central Asia. Yet his life at the mercy of his court patrons and their conflicts gave him the chance to pursue a remarkable career of empirical, open-minded scholarship.

How the Cultures of Trinidad Transformed an Islamic Festival

How the Cultures of Trinidad Transformed an Islamic Festival

The Shiite Islamic ritual of Muharram came to Trinidad with Indian indentured workers in the 19th century, attracting the participation of the island’s African population and becoming truly creolized, transforming into Hosay. Its story of suppression and survival is a vital record of Trinidadian culture.

How Defining ‘Refugees’ Shapes the Lives of Millions

How Defining ‘Refugees’ Shapes the Lives of Millions

The approach of the U.S. to those who seek asylum within its borders has changed over time, its definitions and rules reshaped by ideologies from racial hierarchy to Cold War anticommunism — with major legal consequences for those affected as well as significant influence on how Americans perceive and welcome them.