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.
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.
Byzantines, Sassanians, and Holy Emperors
In our final episode of the season, we wrap up our theme of Empires of Faith. We start out with some shout outs and then present a brief timeline of the Roman and Byzantine Empire. We discuss the Romanization of Christianity and the Christianization of the Roman Empire. We talk about Constantine with the imperial intervention into theology through the Council of Nicea. We examine how the intersection of empire and religion produces an orthodoxy enforced by force. We link this to the transformation of the "martyr" from one who faces violence to soldiers to carry out violence. We explore the relationship between orthodoxy, heresy, and violence in the creation of an imperial religious identity. When then discuss the emergence of the Sassanian Empire and the establishment of Zoroastrianism as the official religion of the empire. We mention Mani and Manichaeism briefly before focusing on the relationship between the monarchy and the Zoroastrian clergy in producing legitimacy. Finally we explore how the imperial orthodoxy at the heart of both the Byzantine Empire and Sassanian Empire is deployed in the territorial Byzantine-Sassanid War.
Comprehensive and in depth
This podcast is so amazing because of the in depth analysis of how our history contributed to what we are today. It fights simplistic and misguided western narratives of Islam. I also really loved the section about Islam and LGBTQ+ and sexuality because there is not many podcasts that cover this. Scratch that, there’s not much information that covers it like this.
Binge and Take Notes!
This is such a treasure! I found Olomi’s podcast because I was searching for extra resources to learn about Islam and empires for a research paper and I ended up listening three entire seasons. And took lots of notes! (Sorry to my Islam professor… he just doesn’t compare to the amount of knowledge that is shared on this podcast.)
The book recommendations at the end of the episodes are incredibly useful. I’ve bought five books that have been recommended so far and I know I will be buying more.
The thing about Olomi’s presentation of the material is that he’s really well balanced about what he talks about. He doesn’t shy away from oversights in previous research and he isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, even when some not-so-pleasant topics come up. It’s really refreshing.
I wish he could get a spot on History Channel. He has a great narrator voice. Quite buttery!
Love the show
Finally a history show that doesn’t rely on a cheap gimmick such as pseudo history or the occult. And finally one that isn’t so western centric