The ultimate history podcast with Ali A. Olomi. Each season consists of ten episodes covering a wide range of subjects from the Middle East, Islam, the Mediterranean, Religious history of Christianity and Judaism, South Asia, Afghanistan, Africa, Rome, Ancient Persia and much more.
Gender Bending in Islamic History
Building upon our exploration of gender in Islamic history we dive into the topic of gender bending and how it can help us see gender as socially constructed, historically contingent, and contextual. We explore multiple figures through Islamic history from the ghulamiyya to the the bacha posh, from the khawal and the köçek to finally the mustarjil. Each of these figures troubles the imagined gender binary and instead presents us with an understanding of gender that is flexible and fluid. We also explore the possibility of transmen in Islamic history. The emerging image is that of an Islamic world which has much more nuanced understanding of gender than modern people give it credit for.
Transgender and Non Binary in Islamic History
Continuing our exploration of gender and sexuality in Islamic history we turn to the figure of the mukhannathun, a third gender category in early Islam. We trace ideas of gender as a fluid spectrum through the lives of these individuals examining their existence in the life of Muhammad and the nascent Muslim community, the Umayyads, and their eventual status in Abbasid society. We analyze the way in which they intersect with ideas of sexuality and theories of sex which fuse Islamic and Hellenistic models. Finally, we explore the legal discourse around intersex bodies and how these then make room for local expressions of gender in Indonesia and South Asia.
Homosexuality and Gay Love in Islamic History
In this episode we dive into the history of homosexuality, same-sex desire, and gay love in Islamic societies. We examine the realm of religion, scripture, literature, and medicine and what they tell us about same-sex desire. We recount the lives of famous gay and lesbian figures from the early Muslim community through the Abbasid Caliphate, Al Andalus, and the Indo-Persian world. We discuss the formulation of the concept of "liwat" while pushing back on the reductive attempt to project modern definitions on to it. We analyze the nuances in religious discourse arguing liwat is more accurately understood as sodomy and sexual violation. To the contrary we examine the way in which homoerotic poetry was praised in Islamic societies.
Sex and Pleasure in Islamic Society
How did early Muslims define sex? In this episode we examine the role of pleasure and specifically mutual pleasure as a key definition of sex in Islamic society. We trace the role of pleasure from the Qur'anic ethos to the subsequent development of Islamic law, literature, and medicine. We argue Muslims did not define sex as predominantly procreative, but treated pleasure as good in its own right. We examine erotic manuals on mutual orgasm, advice literature on sexual satisfaction of partners, and religious guidance on sex partners. From this we can see a society which viewed sex in mostly positive terms and what this means for broader understandings of relationships, sexuality, and gender.
Gender and Sexuality in Islam
The theme for season 5 is gender and sexuality in Islam. In our first episode we provide the framework for understanding gender, sex, and sexuality in the Islamic world. We discuss three influences on the framework: cultural beliefs, the Qur'an, and the philosophical tradition of the high Abbasid period. We discuss how Muhammad strove to reform Arabian tribal society and the ways in which the Qu'ran reflects this mission as well as codifies certain social differences and structures. We talk about the vast cultural variations and how the process of Islamizing a region included adopting some cultural norms. We then discuss the Hellenic concept of the humors and their adoption into Islam and relation to understanding gender and sexuality. Finally we bring it all together to help us understand the way in which Islam views gender, sex, and sexuality on a fluid spectrum that allows for variation. This episode sets up the framework for our future conversations.
In this special we cover the history of Islamophobia and the way it intersects with other forms of bigotry like antisemitism and its connection with Orientalism. We try to put the tragedy of the Christchuch, New Zealand shooting into a broader context by examining the discourse on Muslims. We start by examining Orientalism and its imagining of the Middle East and the racialization of Europeans and Semites. We explore how this forms the backdrop of the imagined community of the nation state as well as the civilizing mission of colonialism. We then discuss how some of this was deployed in the rise of contemporary Islamophobia which we link to the Cold War. We talk about the framework of "good Muslims, bad Muslims" and the massive industry that produces and profits from Islamophobia.
Thank you for the comeback!
I started listening to this podcast earlier this year to try to understand my roots being born into a Muslim culture. I wanted an outside perspective and scholarly analysis of Islamic History that was not biased instead of the indoctrinating ‘khutba’ sermons Muslim scholars tend to give.
I was wishing and hoping to be able to listen to the Gender and Sexuality season. I assumed Head on History had made their podcast platform exclusive to patron subscribers. So excited to hear that there’s new content coming with Ali’s euphonious narration!
Ali is not only extremely knowledgeable, but very personable and beautifully well-spoken. It is rare to find content as accessible as this on matters of history, religion, politics, and culture that are so complex and never discussed often enough. Always great listening. Keep up the great work!
Looking for something that historicizes Islam while staying entertained? This is for you!
Simply put, this podcast is amazing. One does not need to be an academic or a scholar to understand the themes and topics introduced in this podcast. The host does a phenomenal job in breaking down key words and events while at the same time contextualizing them in a historical manner that is both simple and critical. The narrative tone of the host adds great enthusiasm and entertainment as well! Really excited for season two!