Nadine Awadalla                                Adam Talib                                         

JRMC2202 Audio Assignment


Interview Transcript


Interviewer: Nadine Awadalla

Narrator: Adam Talib

Date: 09/03/2014

Place: Narrator’s office

2160 Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Hall

The American University in Cairo, New Cairo Campus

Cairo, Egypt

Prof.: Professor Kim Fox

Date completed: 15/03/2013





Persons present: Nadine Awadalla - I

Adam Talib - S

Awadalla: Good evening, this is Nadine Awadalla recording an oral history interview with professor Adam Talib for my JRMC202 Multimedia Writing class. Good evening professor.

Talib: Good evening Nadine.

Awadalla: Please introduce yourself.

Talib: I’m Adam Talib. I am assistant professor of classical Arabic literature in the department of Arab and Islamic civilizations at the American University in Cairo

Awadalla: So around a week ago you tweeted um, a satirist on Twitter rejecting his point of view of 7th century Arabia. Could you tell me more about, you know, what happened?

Talib: Uh ok, yeah sure. About a week ago someone made a joke on Twitter that because of the Syrian civil war and the activity of you know, sort of, let’s say extremis Salafist Jihadi groups in Syria, and the way they’ve been behaving and the things they’ve been doing, for example forcing Christians and you know, they’re not Jews in Syria, but I mean forcing Christians to pay ‘jizya,’ cutting off hands of people who are accused of being thieves etcetera. Someone was saying that they’re sort of an inspiration to the people of the 7th century. And I responded, sort of tongue-in-cheek, saying that actually, the 7th century was a more liberal and enlightened environment than the Salafis in Syria would or like to believe.

Awadalla: Could you elaborate on that? What kinds of things, you know, what was Arabia like in the 7th century?

Talib: Well, I mean eh, I can’t give you a very good idea of what Arabia was like but we know certain things about it that contradict what modern Salafi discourse tells us. So, for example, a lot of Salafis in Egypt and in Syria who believe that music is ḥarām, for example, but we know there are plenty of sources that tell us that music was not obviously ḥarām and that ‘Ā’ishah [daughter of prophet Mohammed] for example had musicians come to her house, and the Prophet was there and enjoyed it, and um Madinah was known for producing musicians all throughout the Islamic period. Some of the most famous musicians, who were often slaves, were trained in Madinah, that’s one example. You know there are sort of, there are ideas about how men and women should dress. Right so men, should, you know, have obviously short hair, beards, uh they should wear these short pants, you know like not short pants but what do you call them? Pants that don’t cover their ankle etcetera and all these kinds of things, which are probably not historically accurate descriptions of what the Prophet may have worn. Ehm we certainly know the Prophet wore koḥl for example, but you don’t find that many Salafis who encourage men to wear koḥl.

Awadalla: Well then why do you think he was inspired to write that? Why do you think he thought it was a joke?

Talib: Well I mean, you know, Karl Sharro, the guy who writes this blog KarlRemarks, is very funny and I enjoy him a lot. Um I think there’s an attitude about, you know often you get people saying like, you know, Saudi Arabia is a medieval place, for example right, or [ok] it’s a 12th century place, and they just pick a random century in history. Why do they say this? Well because there’s a European stereotype about the dark ages [yeah] quote on quote, and so they’ve essentially transposed this idea about the dark ages onto, the medieval Islamic world, and um, yeah.

Awadalla: So you do think it’s a crossover of the medieval dark ages not actually..

Talib: I think it’s two things. I think the primary thing is a medieval dark ages, the European idea that ‘oh that’s such a backwards kind of behavior, a dark age kind of behavior’ and the other thing is these horrible historical films.

Awadalla: Mhm?

Talib: Right these historical Arabic films, and they make it look like the most boring place where there’s nothing and nothing interesting and everybody was really stern and they talk in this horrible fusḥa, and like they make it seem or look like it’s this completely joyless place.

Awadalla: Well, critique these films further. Tell me what else you don’t like about them.

Talib: Oh they’re extremely inaccurate! I mean, all the films, I mean the one’s I’ve seen and I can’t say, I’m not a connoisseur of Arab films but almost all of them are really silly, they’re filmed in silly locations, they have like, you know, glitter all over the place like whatever. Um or they talk in this language that no one has ever spoken; this horrible stilted, old fashioned fusḥa and they say things like ‘tabban laka,’ [damn you] which nobody, no a

Arab has ever said that phrase ever in history, um yeah, so they’re not historically accurate and they make it seem like a completely joyless place.

Awadalla: Well if somebody was um, to take a time machine and go back in time to the Umayyad period, say mid 7th century, um you know towards the end of the 7th century. What do you think they’d be most shocked to find?

Talib: The amount of Muslims who drank alcohol.

Awadalla: … well ok? Elaborate

Talib: Probably … that and the amount of homosexual sex that was happening. But probably the amount of alcohol that was being drunk, I mean that’s probably the most shocking thing for my students when they, when we read the texts together is how much drinking there was. Yeah there was a lot of drinking.

Awadalla: And what about if someone from that period were to come here? What do you think would be the most enjoyable kind of, like task for them? What do you think they’d enjoy the most?

Talib: Well you don’t have to have a time machine, I mean there are archeologists who work on this kind of stuff [smiles] ..

Awadalla: [laughs]

Talib: And there are very famous books like “Abu Nawwās fī Baghdad” and stuff like this

Awadalla: aha

Talib: Is it “Abu Nawwās fī Baghdad?” No it’s “Ma‘bad yingaḥ fī Baghdad” and there’s another one about Abu Nawwās, but they are these kind of time travel novels. Um, what do I think they’d be most shocked at?

Awadalla: Mhm. Or they would enjoy the most. Do you think they’d like the protests for example?

Talib: No! Definitely not. They think that protests are “illit adab.”  I mean, they would probably like McDonald’s or something

Awadalla: [laughs]

Talib: They would probably like McDonald’s or something. I mean, that would probably astonish them.

Awadalla: McDonald’s?  

Talib: Yeah that’s probably … Yeah they’re probably not going to be very sophisticated people coming from this time right? I mean I don’t know. Yeah I wonder how they would react. I’d be curious for example like, how they would react, would they think it’s weird for example that we have all these women around, like would that be weird to them? Maybe, maybe not. They probably wouldn’t understand, obviously mechanization would be a completely weird thing.

Awadalla: Um, well to wrap up I have two final questions for you that are kind of interrelated. Name one of your favorite 7th century poets.

Talib: I like the ‘Uthrī poets; Majnūn, Jamīl, Qays … those kinds of people.

Awadalla: Well if they were on Twitter, what do you think they’d be tweeting?

Talib: Poetry! They’d be tweeting poetry.

Awadalla: Just poetry?

Talib: I wonder … I mean, I wonder. These people, the ‘Uthrī poets left us nothing but poetry right? So we don’t really know. But I mean, why wouldn’t you? I mean yeah. Poetry is a good way of getting a message across.

Awadalla: Ok so they’d be tweeting poetry.

Talib: Yeah

Awadalla: Awesome, thank you very much!

Talib: Pleasure.