ANN ARBOR — The Center for Middle Eastern & North African Studies (CMENAS) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor will host a two-day conference on “The Shi’a, Modernity, and the Legacy of Musa al-Sadr,” Friday and Saturday, March 14-15.
From the activities of Hizbullah in southern Lebanon to the Sadr militias in Baghdad and the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the role of Shi’i Muslims in the greater Middle East makes headlines daily. For centuries, however, the Shi’a were a quiet minority without a voice. What changed and how did the Shi’a take center stage from Lebanon to Iran?
Scholars from across the country, Europe, and Canada will gather in Ann Arbor for two days of discussion on the roots of Shi’i activism in the Middle East and the legacy of the Iranian-born Lebanese cleric Imam Musa al-Sadr. Imam al-Sadr, whose dramatic 1978 disappearance cut short a national movement for Shi’i rights in Lebanon, holds a special place in the heart of many Arabs and Muslims in the Metro Detroit area. Detroit Arabs, particularly those of Lebanese descent, fondly remember al-Sadr for his work in bridging the sectarian divide between the Muslims and Christians in Lebanon before the civil war that led many citizens to seek refuge in the Metro Detroit area.
“The Michigan conference has generated significant interest in my community,” said Dearborn-based Imam Sayyid Hassan al-Qazwini, of the Islamic Center of America. “Participants will get to hear different perspectives on Imam Sadr’s legacy than they’ve previously been exposed to.”
“We are very excited about this event,” said CMENAS’ Gottfried Hagen. “It is the first academic conference specifically dedicated to Musa al-Sadr, and will create a new basis for the understanding of Shiism in Lebanon and sectarian relations on the eve of the civil war and beyond. Moreover, this conference brings together academics and members of the Dearborn Shi’a community.”
Participants include world-renowned Hizbullah expert Augustus Richard Norton, Iraqi Shi’i cleric Imam Sayyid Mustafa al-Qazwini, University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole, McGill University Islamic Studies professor Rula Abisaab, Harvard University history professor Roy Mottahedeh, University of Denver scholar Liyakat Takim, Washington University history post-doctoral fellow Roschanack Shaery-Eisenlohr and Princeton University post-doctoral fellow Max Weiss.
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