Bios and Abstracts

Panel Chair: James Reardon-Anderson 

Bio: James Reardon-Anderson is dean of Georgetown University in Qatar and Sun Yat‑sen Professor of Chinese Studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Reardon-Anderson was the founding dean of the University’s campus in Qatar, overseeing its establishment from 2005 to 2009 and subsequently returning for a second term in 2016. He holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University and has been a member of the Georgetown University faculty since 1985. 

Prior to taking up his current post in Qatar, Reardon-Anderson held roles including interim dean of the School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C., senior associate dean, and director of the Georgetown University Master of Science in Foreign Service program. He is a specialist in modern Chinese history and is currently editing a book on China and the Middle East and working on a history of the Indian Ocean. He is the author of five books on China, including Reluctant Pioneers: The Chinese Conquest of Manchuria, 1644-1937 (Stanford University Press, 2005).

Before joining Georgetown, Reardon-Anderson taught at the University of Michigan and the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He has also served as director of the Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies in Taipei, director of the C.V. Starr East Asian Library of Columbia University, and director of the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China.


Sugata Bose 

Title: Old Tides and New Waves in Indian Ocean History

Bio: Sugata Bose is the Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard University. He has served as director of graduate studies in history at Harvard and as the founding director of Harvard’s South Asia Institute. Prior to taking up the Gardiner Chair in 2001, Bose was a fellow of St. Catharine’s College (University of Cambridge), and professor of history and diplomacy at Tufts University.

Bose was educated at Presidency College, Calcutta, and the University of Cambridge where he obtained his Ph.D. His scholarship has contributed to a deeper understanding of colonial and post-colonial political economy, the relation between rural and urban domains, inter-regional arenas of travel, trade, and imagination across the Indian Ocean, and Indian ethical discourses, political philosophy, and economic thought. His books include Agrarian Bengal: Economy, Social Structure and Politics (1986), Peasant Labour and Colonial Capital (1993), Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy (1998, 2004, 2011, 2017 with Ayesha Jalal), A Hundred Horizons: the Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire (2006) and His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire (2011). His essays on nationalism will be published by Penguin in August 2017 under the title Nation as Mother. He is currently writing a book on Asia after Europe. He was a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and gave the G.M. Trevelyan Lecture at the University of Cambridge. In 2015 he was awarded the Rabindra Puraskar, the highest literary award of Bengal.


Panel Chair: Sandra Richards

Bio: Sandra Richards specializes in American, African American, African, and African Diaspora theater and drama, having authored Ancient Songs Set Ablaze: The Theatre of Femi Osofisan (1996) and numerous articles on a range of black dramatists. In addition to her work at NU-Q, Richards is a professor of African American studies, theater, and performance studies at the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Illinois.

From 2001-2004, she held the Leon Forrest Professorship of African American Studies that supported ongoing research on issues of cultural tourism to slave sites throughout the Black Atlantic. Working as co-editor with Sandra Shannon of Howard University, Richards is preparing The MLA Handbook of Approaches to Teaching the Plays of August Wilson. Richards holds a Ph.D. in drama from Stanford University, and a B.A. in English and French literature from Brown University.


Daniel Varisco

Title: Sailing to and From the Yemeni Port of Aden in the Rasulid Era (13th-15th Centuries CE)

Abstract: Marco Polo noted that one of the richest men in the world at the end of the 13th century was Al-Malik Al-Muzaffar Yusuf, the second Rasulid sultan of Yemen. The riches of the Rasulid state stemmed in large part from the pivotal role of the port of Aden, a natural stopping point for trade from Egypt via the Red Sea, the East African coast, and the Indian Ocean trade stretching from the Persian Gulf to India, Sri Lanka, and beyond. This talk will focus on the major sailing seasons through the port of Aden during the Rasulid era, the nature of customs and duties at the port, international trade cartel relations with the Karimi merchants, and coastal protection offered by the Rasulids. 

Bio: Daniel Martin Varisco is research professor of social science and coordinator of social science in the Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at Qatar University. He also serves as president of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies. His historical research on Yemen focuses on the Rasulid era, especially the rich manuscript tradition in agriculture, almanacs, and astronomy. He is currently writing a Handbook of Ayyubid and Rasulid Yemen for Brill.


Henry J. Schwarz

Title: Transoceanic Emotion

Abstract: Mauritian poet Khal Torabully has coined the term “coolitude” to describe the experience of Indian indentured laborers in their far-flung migrations to new locations of home and labor throughout the British Empire in the wake of the abolition of African slavery. Substituting this neologism for an older negritude, Torabully evokes a non-essentialized experience of migration and dispossession that does not subscribe to Leopold Senghor’s older version of a cosmopolitan negro commonality throughout the African diaspora. By coining coolitude as a conscious echo of negritude, Torabully captures the simultaneous embrace and rejection of identity premised on national origin in an era when nations were not yet formed, and when race as a visual marker was both much more pronounced and much less nuanced.

Torabully characterizes coolitude in language similar to what Raymond Williams termed a “structure of feeling,” although his terms of reference are decidedly Francophone and far less empirical than those of British cultural studies. Coolitude is what I would call a transoceanic structure of feeling: a planetary, imperial consciousness of cross-ocean interconnectedness long before we began to use the term “global.” This structure of feeling may as well be characterized as one that is predominantly emotional; before it is structured into consciousness as rationality it is coded as intuitive, sympathetic feelings contradictorily embodying the experiences of continents and oceans: slavery, imperialism, cosmopolitanism, ethnic genocide, displacement, immigration, nostalgia, solidarity, and liberation, among many others. It is structured in the sense that it is a systematic replacement for the system of Atlantic slavery that was officially ended in 1807, but which continued informally throughout the American Civil War (1860-1865), and on into the constitution of Brazil in 1890 that officially recognized the practice as viable.

In literary terms, just as North American slavery found its subaltern expression in the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, and Harriett Jacobs, Indian Ocean indenture found its poets in the early memoirs and travel narratives of the first travelers across the kala pani. Their early lyrics are found in the ledgers of the labor recruiters and magistrates who vetted their contracts. The ship’s records of embarkation from Calcutta and Madras serve as their birth certificates. By the formal end of indenture as a system in 1920, the epic voice of migration has spanned six continents and over 50 countries. The diaspora is now just beginning, 100 years later, to find its institutional voice in theorists such as Khal Torabully, literary critics such as Marina Carter and Veronique Bragard, historians like Crispin Bates and Anand Yang, memoirists like Gaiuthra Bahadur, novelist Amitava Ghosh, and polymathic prophets like Sugata Bose.

Bio: Henry Schwarz is professor of English at Georgetown University, where he was director of the Program on Justice and Peace from 1999-2007. His books include Writing Cultural History in Colonial and Postcolonial India (1997), and Constructing the Criminal Tribe in Colonial India: Acting Like a Thief (2010), and co-edited volumes Reading the Shape of the World: Toward an International Cultural Studies (1996) and A Companion to Postcolonial Studies (2000). He has produced four documentary films on underclass culture in India, including Mahasweta Devi: Witness, Advocate, Writer (2001) and Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! (2011) with Shashwati Talukdar and P. Kerim Freidman. He is co-general editor of the Wiley Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies (2016). His areas of specialization include literary theory, cultural studies, South Asia regional studies, and comparative literature. Current research and writing bring him increasingly closer to human rights, indigenous people, and creative practices of social change.


Scott Reese

Title: Hanuman’s Tunnel: Unseen Agency and the Creation of Community in Colonial Aden

Abstract: If you climb to the top of Sira Island in Aden’s harbor, you’ll find a well. Only, it’s not really a well but the entrance to a tunnel connecting Arabia and India, with its egress in Ujjaini, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Malwa. The passage, according to the story, was excavated by the ‘demon’ Hanuman and the tale is a variant of the Rama–Sita story better known as the Ramayana. Sita, according to this particular narrative, was abducted by the demon ‘Hadathar’ who hoped to transform her into a jinn. Hanuman, ‘a demon in the shape of a monkey,’ overheard their argument and proceeded to dig the passage that would rescue the unfortunate woman. Tunneling through the night, he arrived to find the maiden asleep beneath a thorn tree and, throwing her on his back, returned her safely to Rama. Related to us by the 13th century Muslim writer Ibn Mujjawir, and repeated in local 20th-century histories of Aden, the story of Hanuman in Southern Arabia is generally dismissed as a flight of fancy, of little historical value. However, such stories of the miraculous and the ‘unseen’ can, if carefully parsed, constitute important tools for understanding the intellectual formulation of trans-regional social and cultural communities.

Focusing on the Southern Arabian port of Aden during the era of colonial rule, this presentation explores the agency of the unseen (Arabic ghayb) and the ontological tradition—concepts surrounding the nature of existence—that inform perceptions of the universe and serves to connect Muslims in the Indian Ocean across space and time. Utilizing tales of the fantastic along with traditions surrounding saint veneration and spirit possession, this paper seeks insight into how understandings of the ‘unseen’ and the Islamic multiverse connect individuals across social, economic, linguistic, and even theological differences in their efforts to create a community.

Bio: Scott Reese is a professor of history at Northern Arizona University. He has a Ph.D. in African and Islamic history (University of Pennsylvania, 1996) and a M.A. in African studies from Ohio University (1990). A historian of Islam in Africa and the Western Indian Ocean, Reese focuses specifically on comparative history aimed at breaking down many of the regional and geographic categories currently in use across the academy. His main research interests are comparative Sufism, modern Muslim discourses of reform, and the construction of world systems both in fact and imagination since 1500. He currently explores the role of Muslim religious discourse in mediating the social consequences of empire. Focusing on the British settlement of Aden, located in present-day Yemen, this new project explores how Muslims from across Britain’s empire use the commonality of their faith to fashion a new community within the spaces created by imperial rule. Reese has published numerous scholarly articles as well as two book length collections. The latter include the monograph Renewers of the Age: Holy Men and Social Discourse in Colonial Benaadir--Somalia (Brill, 2008) and an edited collection, The Transmission of Learning in Islamic Africa (Brill, 2004.) He is currently completing a second monograph, titled Imperial Muslims: Islam, Community and Authority in the British Imperial Indian Ocean 1839-1937 scheduled for publication by Edinburgh University Press in 2017.


Stefan Tetzlaff

Title: Forging ‘Crude’ Connections Across the Indian Ocean: The Global Energy Order and Changes in OPEC-India Relations, 1960 to the Present

Abstract: The paper examines OPEC-India relations in the period between the foundation of the OPEC in 1960 and the present. In doing so, the paper analyses how the OPEC member states and the Indian state changed their respective oil policies and their approaches towards each other in different phases of the global oil scenario. The central idea of the analysis is to follow up on internal developments in these countries to show whether and how this influenced the relationship between the two. More broadly, the paper also studies whether and how these changes can be understood in the context of Indian Ocean studies, a field that has often overlooked new historical formations in the period after 1950.

Bio: Stefan Tetzlaff is an economic and social historian of modern South Asia and its connection with the world. He has worked so far on exchanges between South Asia and the Gulf since the late 19th century and on the politics of road transport in early 20th century India. Stefan studied history, political science, and comparative literature in Berlin and New Delhi and completed a Ph.D. in mediaeval and modern history at the University of Göttingen. Postdoctoral fellowships from the Centre for South Asian Studies in Paris and the German Historical Institute in London have enabled him to commence work on the transnational history of automotive manufacture between India and Europe during the early Cold War period.


Panel Chair: Tukufu Zuberi

Bio: Dr. Tukufu Zuberi is the Lasry Family Professor of Race Relations, and professor of sociology and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Zuberi’s research has focuses on sociology, history, race, African and African diaspora populations. He has been a visiting professor at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil, the Universidade de Brasilia in Brasilia, Brazil, and the Universidade Federal da Bahia. He was the founding director of the Center for Africana Studies (2002-2008). He served as the chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania (2007-2013).

Zuberi is the author of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: The Mortality Cost of Colonizing Liberia in the Nineteenth-Century, published by the University of Chicago Press in 1995; Thicker than Blood: How Racial Statistics Lie, published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2001; Más espeso que la sangre: la mentira del análisis estadístico según teorías biológicas de la raza, published by Universidad Nacional de Colombia, in Bogotá in 2013; and Africa Independence: How Africa Shapes the World, published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers in 2015. He has written more than 60 scholarly articles, and edited or co-edited eight volumes. These edited volumes include White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology (with Eduardo Bonilla-Silva) that was awarded the Oliver Cromwell Cox Book Award by the American Sociological Association.

From 2003 to 2014, Zuberi was a host of the hit Public Broadcasting System (PBS) series History Detectives. Zuberi is the writer and producer of African Independence, a feature-length documentary film that highlights the birth, realization, and problems confronted by the movement to win independence in Africa (2013). He is currently editing a feature-length documentary on the history of ancient Ghana, Mali, and Songhay (2018).

Zuberi is also the curator of several exhibitions. He curated Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware at the Independence Seaport Museum (premiered in May 2013). His exhibition, Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster premiered at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in June 2013. The Black Bodies in Propaganda exhibit was also presented at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, Washington (2016), and at the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma (2017).  Zuberi is curating the redesign of the Penn Museum Africa Gallery (opening in 2018).


Harith Ghassany

Title: Africa and the Gulf: The Continent's Contribution to Cultures and Societies of the Indian Ocean

Abstract: Africa is not a country. It is China, India, the United States, and Europe, put together. In one of his speeches, the late President Nyerere explained that the economy of Belgium was equivalent to all the economies of African countries south of the Sahara excluding South Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo equals in size the whole of Western Europe.

The thoughts of the late Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, provides us with three comparative thought models with different variations as to their geographical or cultural proximity to the Indian Ocean. This paper will look into the intellectual genealogies of such models and their impact value. It will also complement them with updated developments of their contents from the time they were conceptualized by their respective thought leaders.

The implementation of the models will be traced in the legacy of the African liberation movements via the African Liberation Committee of the Organization of African Unity, and later the African Union. Special focus will be on the creation of Tanzania as a modern state and its perceptions of the Indian Ocean as its immediate neighbor.

The domination of pragmatism over ideology, of blaming imperialists over self-examination, will move Tanzania and its East and Central African allies away from the outmoded frontline mentality which came to an end with the dismantling of apartheid South Africa. A new dispensation by a new generation of politicians, policymakers, entrepreneurs, and general public can reintroduce the appreciation of Indian Ocean as an ancient and rising trading block.

Likewise, the delay of Gulf countries like Oman, etc., in moving from the great achievement of its physical infrastructure to tapping into developing its human capacity building and its inclusion in the economic and political process, may face tremendous challenges and threats and miss the opportunities in engaging a new Africa facing the Indian Ocean.

We have seen how Portugal is being looked after by its former colonies. The Gulf, including Oman, though privileged, has never been a colonial master in Africa. Increasing positive engagement between Tanzania and Oman, and between other East and Central African countries with the Gulf region, can result in a conscious effort to build common educational institutions and modes of cooperation and collaborations. The role of the newspaper and other forms of media is crucial in promoting these new forms of cooperation.

There is also a major role to be played by the new readings of Islam and Christianity within African and Gulf contexts to redefine the assumptions of a Nasser, Nkrumah, and Nyerere, of slavery and the Zanzibar revolution, and replace them with ethical and pragmatic constructions in first reclaiming and then remapping the Indian Ocean with its millennia of charities of tolerance and the abundance of mutual prosperity for its surrounding hinterlands.

Bio: Harith Ghassany has a Ph.D. in anthropology and Middle East studies from Harvard University. He served as a faculty member in the Department of Behavioral Medicine at Sultan Qaboos University and as medical ethics coordinator until his retirement in 2015.  In 2014, he was chosen as a member of Sultan Qaboos Academic Fellowship scholarship program for Zanzibar. He did archival and field research to unveil Tanganyika’s key role in the 1964 invasion of Zanzibar and its subsequent merger with Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, and later the United Republic of Tanzania. His work resulted in a new reading of the 1964 revolution and the only surviving union on the African continent. About 70 publications, documentaries, and general entries have come into question. His main research interests are in the impact of systems of thought on the human sciences and the production of history on the present. Specific themes include contemporary readings of the Quran, Western, and African thought. He is currently working as an independent consultant in the renewal of Afro-Arab and Gulf-Arab relations.


Zachary Wright

Title: Traces of Islamic Intellectual Exchange: The Reception of Indian Ocean Scholarship in Western Africa

Abstract: A Tanzanian Muslim traveler once visited the Senegalese Shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse and was surprised to find in his house a picture of the Zanzibari Qadi Umar ibn Sumayt. Ibn Sumayt, born on Comoros Island, was a distinguished jurist and mystic of the Ba-Alawi Sufi lineage originating in Yemen. But this was not the first time Indian Ocean scholarship found its way into North and West Africa. This paper uses the lens of Sufism, poetry, and esotericism in North and West Africa to trace intellectual exchanges with Indian Ocean Muslim scholarship from the 18th century to the present. Such exchanges highlight the Indian Ocean as a focal point of scholarly production, and serve to undermine the enduring academic demarcation between East and West Africa. 

Bio: Zachary Wright is an associate professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar, with joint appointments in history and religious studies. Wright received his Ph.D. (history) from Northwestern University, with a dissertation focusing on the history of Islamic knowledge transmission in West Africa. He also has an M.A. in Arabic studies, Middle East history, from the American University in Cairo, and a B.A. in history from Stanford University. He teaches classes on Islam in Africa, modern Middle East history, African history, Islamic intellectual history, and Islam in America. His book publications include Living Knowledge in West African Islam: The Sufi Community of Ibrahim Niasse (Brill, 2015), and On the Path of the Prophet: Shaykh Ahmad Tijani and the Tariqa Muhammadiyya (AAII & Faydah Books, 2005, 2015). He has also translated a number of West African Arabic texts into English, with publications such as The Removal of Confusion Concerning the Saintly Seal (Fons Vitae, 2010, and reprint forthcoming), Pearls from the Flood (Faydah Books, 2015), and Islam the Religion of Peace (Light of Eminence, 2013). He has a current book contract with the American University in Cairo Press for a co-authored anthology entitled Jihad of the Pen, Journey of the Soul: An Anthology of West African Sufi Writing. His current research concerns 18th century Islamic intellectual history in North Africa.


Ahmad Sikainga

Title: Spirit Possession and Healing Rituals in the Gulf: The Red Sea Link

Abstract: African presence in Arabia and the Persian Gulf goes back to the pre-Islamic era. It was a product of myriad historical processes involving migration, commerce, displacement, and enslavement. Over the centuries, Africans and their descendants formed important communities in various parts of the Arabian peninsula such as the Hijaz, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Dubai, and Sharjah, just to name a few. People of African descent in these regions have retained a great deal of cultural practices from their ancestral homes in East and Northeast Africa. African cultural influences in the Gulf can be seen in music, dance, dress, and other forms of artistic expressions.

However, one of the most important African cultural practices in the Gulf that has attracted considerable scholarly attention is spirit possession and healing rituals such as zar-bori, tanbura, and lewa. These practices reflected the diverse regional, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds of Africans who arrived in the Gulf. For instance, while the rituals of lewa and pepe originated in East Africa, the zar-bori, tanbura, and habashi were transmitted from the Red Sea region and the Horn of Africa. Focusing on rituals from the Red Sea, this paper will shed light on the cultural connections between the region and the Persian Gulf. The paper is particularly concerned with the way in which these rituals were transmitted, transformed, adapted, and their impact on the social and cultural life of Gulf societies. Of significance is the link between these rituals and the experience of enslavement and the way these practices became important venues for unveiling the hidden social and cultural world of enslaved Africans. The paper argues that, as elsewhere, enslaved Africans in the Gulf carved out social spaces and constructed a culture of opposition through which they articulated their feelings, resistance, and aspirations.

Bio: Ahmad Sikainga is a professor of history at the Ohio State University. His research deals with the social and economic history of Africa and the Middle East, with a focus on slavery, labor, urban history, and popular culture. His publications include: Slaves into Workers: Emancipation and Labor in Colonial Sudan (1996), City of Steel and Fire: A Social History of Atbara, Sudan's Railway Town, 1906-1984 (2002), and Western Bahr al-Ghazal Under British Rule, 1898-1956 (1991). He also co-edited Africa and World II (2015), Post Conflict Reconstruction in Africa (2006) and Civil War in the Sudan, 1983-1989 (1993).  Sikainga’s current research examines slavery, oil, and wage labor in Qatar in the 20th century.


Panel Chair: Yehia A. Mohamed

Bio: Yehia A. Mohamed is an assistant professor of Arabic at Georgetown University in Qatar. He earned his B.A. and M.A. in Semitic linguistics from Cairo University, and received his Ph.D. in Arabic and Semitic phonology and phonetics from Cairo University in 2008. He previously served as a lecturer in Arabic programs at Georgetown University’s Washington, D.C. campus, the Middle East Institute, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, and George Washington University. Mohamed co-founded Georgetown University in Qatar’s Arabic program in 2007. He developed courses and taught numerous instructional Arabic, skill-based, and content-based classes; in addition to conducting proficiency and assessment exams. He also trained Arabic teachers in Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. His research interests cover three areas: applied linguistics (language acquisition and error analysis), phonology, and language changes and sociolinguistics. He recently published two books on the Arabic and Semitic languages’ phonology. In addition, he has organized many workshops, roundtables, and professional development events at Georgetown University in Qatar over the past ten years.


Al-Faris Ali

Title: The Journey to India in Arabian Heritage: From Al-Sirafi to Al-Baruni

Abstract: The names attributed to the Indian Ocean by Arab voyagers and travelers have changed through the centuries. Two of the oldest Arab travel memoirs that exist to date narrate the experiences of the merchant Sulaiman Sirafi, who made a trip to India by sea in the third century AH (ninth century CE), and of Salam-ul-Tarjuman, who led an expedition commissioned by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Wathiq to the fortresses of the Caucasus mountains in third century AH (ninth century CE) in search of the dam of Gog and Magog. News of these journeys and others, including those of Al-Masoudi (10th century CE) and Al-Biruni (11th century CE), were documented by the Arab historian and geographer, Murooj Al-Zahab, in his 11th century book on world history: The Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems (Muruj adh-dhahab wa ma'adin al-jawhar). Murooj Al-Zahab’s book is an important historical text, because it demonstrates a significant departure from how historians and geographers had previously written about far off and distant places. Al-Zahab placed great emphasis on introducing Arabic readers to the cultures, customs, creeds, and languages—with particular emphasis on Sanskrit—of ancient India. His engagement with Indian society not only changed perceptions of India in the Arab imaginary, but it also led to a new comparative approach in the study of the Arabic language, with Al-Zahab taking great pains to consider the differences and similarities between Arabic and Sanskrit. Al-Zahabi’s ability to read and understand Sanskrit, his broad and inclusive approach to the study of culture, his tendency to base his arguments on facts, as well as his nearly 40-year long stay in India, made him a highly adept scholar of Indian society and culture. Therefore, with Al-Zahabi’s work as a new model for travel writing, historiography, and proto-ethnography, this paper we will review the most important Arab writings on the Indian Ocean and the surrounding territories from the medieval period.

Bio: Al-Faris Ali is an assistant professor of comparative linguistics at Zayed University. Prior to joining Zayed University, Ali worked as an assistant professor at Cairo University and as a visitor professor at Islamic University of Madinah (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) where he taught comparative linguistics, Semitic studies, and Arabic language as a foreign language. He holds a B.A. in Arabic Islamic studies from Cairo University, an M.A. in comparative linguistics from Cairo University, and a Ph.D. in Semitic studies from Free University of Berlin.


Abdalla el-Bashir

Title: Readings of Arab Perceptions of the Indian Ocean: The Case of Waq Al-Waq

Abstract: This paper is inspired by the Arab imaginings that were created and shaped by Arab experiences in the Indian Ocean. These perceptions of the Indian Ocean world continue to nourish and inspire Arabic culture and the Arab collective imaginary until this day. The Indian Ocean islands of Waq Al-Waq, the topic of this paper, have long had tales and legends narrated about them over time. During the middle ages, Arab and Muslim travelers and geographers described the islands as a place of ‘mystery and wonder’ and magic. Stories of the islands were often imaginative and creative in their descriptions. Yet, the location of the islands was never pinned down.

Through the narratives, five possible locations emerged, some of which are in the Indian Ocean world. Therefore, this paper, through the reading of the writings of geographers and travelers, seeks to identify the location of these islands, summarize descriptions of them, and understand perceptions about them in the Arab imaginary. This paper uses a comparative and archival approach in its efforts to unearth historical accounts of the location of Waq Al-Waq and to compare descriptions of the islands in these texts. Through analysis, the paper traces how stories of Waq Al-Waq seeped into the Arabic imaginary and to this day continue to influence literary, political, and theatrical works, and both popular and intellectual culture in general. Ultimately, this paper will offer suggestions as to why the location of these mythic islands is not one of the five sites pinpointed by travelers and geographers, and offer alternative suggestions for where the islands might be.

Bio: Abdullah Al-Faki Al-Bashir is a Sudanese writer and researcher. He obtained his B.A. (1999) and master’s (2005) in history from the Department of Humanities at the University of Khartoum, where he is currently pursuing his Ph.D. (which he expects to complete in the coming months). The working title for his thesis is: Representations of the Horn of Africa in the Arab Imaginary: Readings From the Books of Arab and Muslim Travelers and Geographers and their Extended Effects (272 AH-779 AH / 885 AD-1377 AD). Since 1999, he has been working at the foreign ministry in Qatar. His publications include: Pioneers in New Islamic Thought, Mahmoud Mohammad Taha and the Inteligencia: Readings in the Forging of History and its Contexts (2013); Failures in Managing Diversity: The Case of Sudan (2014); Our Civilizational Heritage: Readings on the Factors that Influence Rootlessness, Adaptation and the Feeding of the Collective Imagination (2014). He has also presented over 20 academic papers at numerous conferences and universities around the world, and has written extensively for Sudanese newspapers on a number of topics over the years. His current research project takes on a critical approach to the study of the politics, culture, and intellectual history of the Sudan, Africa, Arabia, the West, and the Muslim world. The aim of this project is to look at historical sources and contemporary writings in an effort to better understand future aims. The hope is to offer a critical lens through which to examine culture and politics and to contextualize historical and contemporary perceptions while challenging pervasive assumptions. The project draws heavily on the notion of “What Happens After the Predicted Date” and closely examines the idea of predictability in an effort to come up with titles, new conceptions, and political and intellectual ideas for the future.


Kamal GahAllah al-Khidr

Title: Omani Influence in East Africa: The Case of Kenya, Tanzania, and Somalia

Abstract: Omanis have long been closely linked to East Africa, benefiting from their geographical proximity to the region. The relationship between Oman and East Africa is one that dates back to the pre-Islamic period and was primarily defined by trade relations and the exchange of commodities. With the Omani conversion to Islam, the nature of the relationship was transformed, as Omani merchants and sailors began to expand their explorations into new parts of East Africa with the hope of spreading the message of their newfound religion. Islam came to be associated with the deepening of social ties and the formulation of strong family bonds between the East Africans and Omanis that began to already settle in the region during the seventh and eighth centuries AD. By the turn of the 19th century, Omani presence in East Africa was strengthened and solidified by the accession of Sultan Sa'id Bin Sultan to the throne of Muscat and his establishment of a new capital in Zanzibar. With this history in mind, the aim of this paper is to shed light on the scope and scale of Omani cultural, economic, political, social, and linguistic influence in East Africa. Through close readings of Swahili literature, the paper will give particular attention to the spread of Islam and Islamic architecture, the emergence of a new type of religious life, and the introduction of Arabic language into East Africa.

Bio: Kamal GahAllah al-Khidr is a professor of linguistics at the Department of Linguistics at the International University of Africa, Khartoum, Sudan. He gained his master’s (1997) and Ph.D. (2001) in linguistics at the University of Khartoum, where he focused on the study of the Sudanese dialect of Arabic and African languages. Currently, he teaches linguistics at the Khartoum International Centre for Arabic Language, the University of Khartoum’s center for studies and research. The center is affiliated with the Arab Organization for Education, Science and Culture, in cooperation with the Sudanese Language Circle at the Arabic Language Complex in the Sudan, and with the Council for the Improvement and Promotion of the National Language. He has participated and presented in a number of international conferences all of over the world, including: Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, Libya, Uganda, Turkey, Qatar, Burundi, and Morocco.


Mohamed Ashour Mahdi

Title: The Impact of Historical and Cultural Ties on Gulf-Africa Relations

Abstract: Relations between the Arabian Gulf and East Africa date back 30 centuries. Archeological evidence has traced contact between the two regions to as far back as the eighth century BC. Moreover, the influence of Arabs, in particularly that of those from the Southern Arabian Peninsula in which Qahtani culture prevailed, can be observed in many aspects of East African culture. It was only with the radical changes brought about by the emergence and spread of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula and the expansion of northern peninsular (Aden) culture that Gulf Arabs began to believe that African culture was disparate and disconnected from their own. Yet, in general, it is possible to say that Gulf-African relations, especially on the eastern side of the African continent, witnessed stages of prosperity, cooperation, and close interaction between the two sides. Ultimately, this led to the development of culturally radiant cities and kingdoms that grew out of centers in the Arabian Peninsula. As long as the Arabs were able to maintain their dominance in navigation, seafaring, and trade in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, East Africa continued to benefit and prosper. However, with the arrival of the Portuguese in the late 15th century, the Arab presence in the Ocean began to weaken and the newly established emirates and African kingdoms began to collapse. It was only in the mid-17th century, when the Ya'aruba, the rulers of present-day Oman, were able to expel the Portuguese from their territories in the Arabian peninsula that Arab dominance in the Ocean and relations between the two regions was restored. In fact, the success of the Ya'aruba prompted some of the kingdoms on the Swahili coast to seek out the help of the Ya'aruba to put an end to 200 years of Portuguese colonial rule in their territories. With this history in mind, this paper seeks to examine the foundations and basis for Gulf-African relations, at the heart of which has been a long history of sustained cultural influence and exchange. One of the questions that this paper hopes to answer is: to what extent have these foundations and pillars contributed to the strengthening of, or perhaps the undermining of, the relations between the two regions and what factors have been essential in activating and sustaining this relationship?

Bio: Mohamed Ashour Mahdi has been an associate professor at the Institute for Islamic World Studies, Zayed University (United Arab Emirates) since 2007. He is also a professor of political science and international law at Cairo University. Between 2008 and 2012, he worked as the coordinator of Zayed University’s Master of Arts in Judicial Studies program. He has participated in a number of local, regional, and international conferences and symposiums. He has supervised and overseen a number training programs in public administration and diplomacy. He has been a participant in a number of research projects, including ones sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the European Union. A recipient of a number of awards, Ashour has been awarded the Incentive Award for Research in Law and the Social Sciences in 2008 (Egypt) and the Abdul-Hameed Shoman Prize for Young Arab Researchers in 2002 (Jordan). Ashour’s primary research interests pertain to questions concerning Arab-African relations, conflict management strategies, methodology, and professional ethics. He has translated and written a number of books, chapters, and articles related to these areas. His publications include: Empirical Methods in Social Science (1999), Ethnic Conflict Management Strategies (2005), The ICC and The Sudan (2010), The Gulf and Africa (2010), The African Union’s Future (2013).