Akbar’s Chamber offers a non-political, non-sectarian and non-partisan space for exploring the past and present of Islam. It has no political or theological bias other than a commitment to the Socratic method (which is to say that questions lead us to understanding) and the empirical record (which is to say the evidence of the world around us). By these methods, Akbar’s Chamber is devoted to enriching public awareness of Islam and Muslims both past and present.
The podcast aims to improve understanding of Islam in all its variety, in all regions of the world, by inviting experts to share their specialist knowledge in terms that we can all understand.
The Ottoman Legacy in Southeast Europe: The Deep Roots of Balkan Islam
Discussions of Islam in Europe often focus on the northern and western regions of the continent, where Muslim communities only evolved in the late twentieth century. But the history of Islam in southeastern Europe is far older, reaching back to the mid-1300s. Over the course of almost seven centuries, the Balkan region – encompassing today’s Greece, Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as the former Yugoslavian republics – fostered a variety of Muslim communities, and correspondingly varied forms of Islam. Through centuries of coexistence as well as conflict, these European Muslims shared countless cultural traditions with their Christian and Jewish neighbors. This episode delves into this long, enduring and intertwined history by following these developments down to the present day. Nile Green talks to Nathalie Clayer, the author (with Xavier Bougarel) of Europe's Balkan Muslims: A New History (Hurst, 2017).
Technology and Religious Change: How Printing Transformed the Islamic Tradition
Historians have long recognized how the spread of printing in early modern Europe was a major contributor to the Reformation and Renaissance. So, when printing spread across the Islamic world in the nineteenth century, what were the consequences for the religious and cultural life of Muslims? In this episode, we’ll explore this question by looking at the Middle East, with a particular focus on Cairo, which became the epicenter for not only Arabic printing but also for the ‘Arab renaissance,’ or nahda, and the religious reform movement that was later dubbed ‘Salafism.’ By bringing to light a technological revolution so successful that it’s now all but invisible, we’ll see how many of the things we take for granted about Islam were shaped by decisions made by the first few generations of Arab editors and printers. Nile Green talks to Ahmed El Shamsy, the author of Rediscovering the Islamic Classics: How Editors and Print Culture Transformed an Intellectual Tradition (Princeton University Press, 2020).
Islam in East Africa: Arabic Traditions of the Swahili Coast
Since early Islamic times, the shores and islands of East Africa have been closely linked to the Arabian Peninsula by monsoon winds that carried traders, scholars and mystics to sultanates that flourished along the Swahili Coast for almost a millennium. As well as contributing to the rich Swahili culture that developed through these Afro-Arabian interactions, these contacts fostered traditions of Arabic learning which have continued in the region into modern times. Today, the Swahili Coast encompasses parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, which we’ll be exploring along with the islands of Zanzibar, Lamu and the Comoros, where collections of Arabic manuscripts help us investigate the history of East African Islam. Nile Green talks to Anne K. Bang, the author of Islamic Sufi Networks in the Western Indian Ocean (c.1880-1940): Ripples of Reform (Brill, 2014).
At the Court of the Malay Sultans: The Making of Southeast Asian Islam
Today Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population of any nation on the planet. But when, and how, was this region converted? And how were Islamic ideas and texts translated into the Malay language that became a regional lingua franca for Muslims across Southeast Asia at large? In this episode, we’ll survey over a thousand years of Southeast Asia’s religious history, from the arrival of early Arab merchants to the emergence of sultanates ruled by local Muslim rulers and the subsequent dynamics – and disputes – between mystical and legalist visions of the faith. We’ll also look at the overarching process of translation, both of cultural practices and particular texts, by taking a look at the emergence of the ‘Jawi’ literary tradition and the first complete commentary on the Quran in Malay. Bringing the story up to the present, we’ll finally ask how the relationship between local and global forms of Islam plays out across the region today. Nile Green talks to Peter G. Riddell, the author of Islam and the Malay-Indonesian World: Transmission and Responses (University of Hawaii Press, 2001).
The Many Forms of Muslim Charity: A Brief History of Islamic Almsgiving
From the verses of the Quran and the deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, charity has taken on many different forms over the fourteen centuries of Muslim history. The terms for obligatory and voluntary charity – zakat and sadaqa – are mentioned nearly sixty times in the Quran, while Sunni Muslims consider zakat to be one of the Five Pillars of the faith. Yet since the early centuries of Islam, such ethical ideals have prompted practical and legal considerations of how individual donations can be most effectively organized, and institutionalized, without surrendering the moral value of voluntary acts of conscience. In this episode of Akbar’s Chamber, we’ll follow this interplay between ethical ideals and practical realities from legal debates to booming medieval cities like Damascus and Cairo, where the rising problem of urban poverty led to large-scale complexes that comprise some of the most abundant remains of classical Islamic architecture. We’ll also examine how such traditional forms of charity changed, and survived, in the modern era. Nile Green talks to Adam Sabra, the author of Poverty and Charity in Medieval Islam: Mamluk Egypt, 1250-1517 (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
The Islam of the Afghan-Pakistan Borderlands
In this episode, we explore the interplay between religion and geography through a case study of the mountain regions that formed the borderlands between Afghanistan and British India then, from 1947, Pakistan. In recent years, the region entered the headlines through its association with the so-called Pakistani Taliban. But this was only the latest in a series of movements to emerge from a region whose innate social structures and enforced political autonomy fostered a distinct trajectory of religious development. Beginning with the formation of this ‘tribal borderland’ through the cartographic boundary-marking of the colonial Great Game, we’ll trace the interplay of religion and geography from the mid-nineteenth century to the present-day as British rule was replaced by Pakistan. Along the way, we’ll follow the transformation of this borderland Islam as traditional Sufi leaders lost influence to reformists associated with the Deoband movement of the lowlands, which was in turn forced to adapt to what had become local religious as well as political modes of self-rule. Nile Green talks to Sana Haroon, the author of Frontier of Faith: Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland (Columbia University Press, 2007).
this is fantastic ! wow