Category Archives: Blog

Sufism in Central Asia…


Tale at Yale

I’ve been very busy all year giving talks here at Yale, and it was my honor and pleasure to give this recent talk on Sufism in Central Asia.

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All About Eve…

All About Eve

All About Eve with producer Isaac Hurwitz

I was grateful to be invited to the premiere and premiere party of All About Eve–starring Gillian Anderson and Lily Jame–in London. The premiere was also attended by cast members from the X Files, Sex Education, and Downton Abbey (and model Twiggy too)–I had so much fun partying the night away at the Waldorf Hilton with friends at the star-studded event. I chuckled at the Yale line in the play that’s also in the movie: “I have not come to New Haven to see the play, discuss your dreams, or pull the ivy from the walls of Yale. I have come here to tell you that you will not marry Lloyd.” More to come soon on the premiere, the party, and my time in London–stay tuned.


All About Eve premiere party at Waldorf Hilton

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Tate Britain…


Tate Britain

While in London for the premiere (and premiere party) of All About Eve, I got taken by my friend to see war photographer Don McCullin’s Tate Britain retrospective of his photographs from Lebanon, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Congo, and many other conflict zones–a phenomenal show.


Don McCullin from Beirut

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Javanese Gamelan Concert…


Tonight at Yale

Tonight at our Javanese gamelan rehearsal at Yale, we prepared for our upcoming spring gamelan concert and wayang (shadow puppet performance). Check back for more details soon on the dates, times, and location.

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Loving Jamaica…


Negril sea stroll

My recent adventure to Jamaica was a total blast! I didn’t do any research beforehand, but fortunately it all worked out perfectly. I will be blogging soon about all that I experienced while I was there–stay tuned for many photos and details about how to visit a number of special corners of Jamaica.

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Javanese Gamelan at Yale…


If I had a hammer…

This tiny mallet gives me life! Love playing Javanese gamelan every week at Yale–a joy to have performed this meditative music from Indonesia around the world…

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Javanese Gamelan at Yale…


Tonight at Yale

I was reunited with my favorite Javanese gamelan instrument tonight at our rehearsal at Yale–so grateful to have played it in concert for two decades. I can’t imagine my life without it…

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Waking Up in Jamaica…


Lashings in Treasure Beach

Best way to wake up in Jamaica? With coffee on the balcony of the penthouse at Lashings looking out at the sea. I will be blogging soon about my adventures in paradise in Jamaica–stay tuned!

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Peace from Jamaica…


Sunset in Negril

I recently returned from a fabulous trip to Jamaica, and will be blogging extensively about it soon–stay tuned!

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Javanese Gamelan at Yale…


Tonight at Yale

Last night, our Javanese gamelan group, Yale Gamelan Suprabanggo, performed at Yale in concert for the community. It was a delight to perform again with my gamelan teacher from Java (master player and teacher Darsono Hadiraharjo) with whom I studied while on a Fulbright in Indonesia and my gamelan buddies with whom I’ve been playing for nearly two decades in America (and Solo).


Setting up

Fortunately, we had some strong, able-bodied Yale students to help move the instruments (cue the football tight end) from our practice room to the stage. To adjust to the acoustics of the concert hall, we rehearsed all of our meditative melodies before the audience arrived.


Gong show

I was impressed with how much the Yale students had learned in just one semester of studying gamelan with Maho A. Ishiguro, and it brought back fond memories of first studying gamelan as an undergraduate at Brown University. Such a privilege and joy to share the beautiful music of Java with the Yale community in concert!


Readying for showtime

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North Korea Memories…


To North Korea

I was delighted when I got the news that a train had passed from South Korea into North Korea on Friday. I had the chance to explore the Joint Security Area and DMZ when I was receiving rabies treatment in Seoul (after being attacked by a yurt dog in Mongolia), and I enjoyed visiting the train station and railroad tracks linking the two countries on the most heavily militarized border in the world. Crossing into North Korea was one of the most unusual and exciting travel experiences that I’ve had…


Railroad into North Korea

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Giving Thanks…


Good times

There’s so much to give thanks for this fall, and I was grateful to spend Thanksgiving back in the United States for the first time in over half a decade (as I had been off living in the Middle East). I’m grateful for my Spanish friend’s recovery after he was attacked by a crazy Albanian while playing soccer–he needed 36 stitches on his beautiful face!


Best pal

I’m grateful for my friend Isaac, who astounds me every day with his talent, superior wit, and astounding wisdom. His mother (below) should be so proud (and is)!


Thanksgiving fun

I was also grateful this Thanksgiving for the opportunity to talk ballet and choreography with the Cavalier (cue the Sugar Plum Fairy!) from the New York City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.


The Nutcracker

Lastly, I was grateful to speak in Czech with my Czech friend who nurtures my Czech/Slovak self and shares my Slavic pride. I even got to say one of my favorite Czech words — zmrzlina — when the “ice cream” was added to the pecan pie! That’s five consonants in a row! An amazing feeling to be back home and reunited with friends — grateful for so much.


Czech mates

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Yale Law School…


Today at Yale Law

I enjoyed giving a talk today at Yale Law School on post-Soviet Islamic law in Central Asia — grateful for the stimulating discussion and comments it provoked which I hope to incorporate in some way into my research.

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Seeking Sanctuary…


Just say no

I noticed this t-shirt on a fellow gamelan player tonight at Yale, and inquired about it. He told me there is going to be an upcoming political action in Hartford for Nelson Pinos–an undocumented immigrant who has been holed up in a sanctuary church on the New Haven Green for a year.

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Yale Gamelan Concert…


Concert time

Yes that’s an image of a bulldog playing bonang! It’s been a joy to play Javanese gamelan this fall at Yale–come to our performance this week-end on campus to relax to the tune of meditative music from Java.

Yale gamelan rehearsal

Yale gamelan rehearsal

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Elimination of Violence Against Women

In remembrance...

In remembrance…

Like millions of other women around the world, my mother was murdered by a man she knew well. This International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I’m thinking of her and all female victims of gendered violence. The epidemic of murderous violence against women must end–enough is enough. According to a new report, more than half of the 87,000 women killed in 2017 died at the hands of those closest to them–approximately 30,000 women were killed by an intimate partner and another 20,000 by a relative. The most dangerous place for women, according to a UN study, is her home. In these sixteen days of activism, let us not be afraid to share the violence we have experienced, give voice to the horrors of being a woman in this violent world, and come together in solidarity to combat the worldwide epidemic of violence against women.


Marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

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Islamic Law…

wael or

wael or

It was such a pleasure to speak with Professor Wael Hallaq about Islamic law at our Marshall Hodgson and the Contested Idea of a Discernible Islamic Civilization conference in the Abdullah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization here at Yale Law School. I have fond memories of reading his book Sharia: Theory, Practice, Transformations while studying Islamic law at Columbia University as a graduate student.

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Syrian Refugee Dinner…


Syrian refugee feast

This week-end I dined at a Syrian refugee’s house in New Haven — a special occasion made possible by the homecooked app. I brought along two Iranian friends from my building, so the dinner was a gathering of people from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Peru — and me. The family was from Daraa, the same city where “my boys” are from.


Chicken kabsa

The centerpiece of the table was the kabsa — considered the national dish of Saudi Arabia, this spiced
chicken-and-rice dinner is served with fried almonds and peas and cashews.

meant q

Shish barak

For the meat eaters among us, shish barak was served. This traditional Lebanese dish made of tiny meat dumplings cooked in a plain yogurt stew was a hit.



A proud spinach addict, I kept reaching for the sambusa — a fried pastry with a savoury filling (cheese, lamb,
beef or spinach).



I have tried Middle Eastern restaurants in New Haven but failed to find an acceptable fattoush so it was such a special treat to have homemade fattoush – a Lebanese bread salad made from toasted pita combined with cucumbers, lettuce and parsley (had it almost daily while living for years in Beirut). It was such a delight to speak Arabic and hear about their experiences as refugees in New Haven. Some comedy: I asked a Syrian teenager what his favorite English phrase is, and he laughed so hard when saying: “No money, no honey.” An Iraqi refugee said the most difficult expression for him to grasp was: “Too good to be true,” since it means the opposite of what it says. When I mentioned how I can’t talk about the refugees I met in Beirut without tearing up, our Syrian host shared that while she was helping fellow refugees for IRC in Jordan, a small Syrian boy who had lost his arms and legs asked her how many years it would take for them to grow back. She can’t get that out of her mind. We carry those stories within us, and it felt like a relief to share our witnessings with others who understand.

kunafa a


We polished off our feast with Kunafa — a traditional Arab dessert made with thin noodle-like pastry, soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and typically layered with cheese. A sweet finish to our lovely evening together, sharing stories, struggles, and hugs.

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Dining with Afghanistan’s Romeo & Juliet…


Putting on the pakol

Last night, I put on my pink Afghan pakol to head over to an Afghan refugee’s house for dinner here in New Haven. It was a true honor to be a guest in the home of Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet.

51DIiEwyZwLZakia and her husband Ali had to flee as refugees being literally hunted as her family was trying to kill them in the wake of their forbidden love marriage (he is Hazara/Shia and she is Tajik/Sunni). Their epic journey to freedom–a daring escape from honor killing–and attempts to apply for asylum have been covered by the New York Times.

Rod Nordland wrote an entire book, The Lovers: Romeo and Juliet in Afghanistan to share in depth how they risked death for love. Despite all of the media attention, they managed to escape safely to America where they are raising their two small girls.

Zakia cooked us up an amazing & generous Afghan feast (vegetarian dishes included), and we ate in the traditional style on the floor (which brought back fond memories of my time in Afghanistan with my Sufi host family there when I was on a one-woman peace mission). We spoke in Dari/Persian as she does not understand much English yet. Zakia thought I was Iranian–she could not believe that I was American (and was then shocked to learn that I had lived in Tajikistan, where they initially fled).


Tea time

When we arrived, Zakia served us tea and cookies–along with some cashews–to awaken our appetites. With New Haven currently blanketed in snow, a hot cup of tea after coming in from the cold was the perfect start.


Kabuli pulao

I got very excited when Zakia brought out Kabuli pulao–Afghan rice with raisons, carrots, and sweet spices–which my host family served each night in the dark as Taliban fighters fought their battles after sunset while we ate by moonlight and candlelight.


Crazy for cauliflower

The cauliflower gulpea was beyond yummy. I’m not usually a huge fan of beans, but the bean curry was very rich in flavor and it rocked my world. We all had seconds–couldn’t get enough.

Iran friend

New Persian pal

I also made a new Iranian friend and we did the Dari translating for the evening (she did the heavy lifting). We learned that Zakia and Ali had no idea what America would be like when they fled here–they didn’t know anything about the United States. Zakia likes watching films from Bollywood when she can find the time, and avoids news stories about Afghanistan to focus on her well-being and healing. A brave woman, strong and bold beyond comprehension. It’s hard to fathom all she has survived.


Making new friends from the homecooked app

This communal experience was made possible thanks to a new app made by a Yale junior (my friend Kevin) and his colleagues that arranges home-cooked dinners for strangers to meet and feast.


An Afghan feast

Afghan hospitality is legendary (the best in the world, really), so it was fun to watch the other guests’ expressions as the delicious dishes kept on coming! The food was so good we told Zakia she should open up a restaurant (any angel investors out there?). I also got a kick out of playing with tiny and spirited Ruqia with whom they fled Afghanistan.



Playing with Ruqia and her sister made me flashback to all of the children I met and profiled in Afghanistan. What an absolute tragedy and injustice it is how many Afghan children have ended up as collateral damage in the never-ending war there.

tiny baby

Mom is coming!

I tried comforting the baby while her (talented!) mom was at work in the kitchen–her tiny ponytail was too adorable! A volcanic tuff of hair.


Little cuties

Imagine when these adorable little girls grow up and learn how their parents risked their lives in the name of love–a truly harrowing tale with a happy ending here in New Haven. I’m so glad they are all safe and sound, and grateful to have them as new neighbors. To hear Zakia and Ali tell their tale in their own words, watch the PBS segment below. May all those seeking safety and freedom find it.

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The Judge…

The Judge Premieres on Independent Lens

Monday, November 19, 2018 on PBS

Online Streaming Begins November 20

“In its engaging fashion, it strikes one inspirational note after another as its follows an ambitious, tough-minded and cheerful social revolutionary.” — The Hollywood Reporter

(San Francisco, CA) — Religious courts in the Middle East, including the Shari’a courts of Islam which adjudicate domestic and family matters, have traditionally banned women from serving as judges – until Kholoud Al-Faqih dared to challenge that history. In 2009, with the support of a progressive Sheikh, Kholoud became the first woman Shari’a judge in the Middle East with her appointment to a Palestinian Shari’a court in the West Bank. A portrait of a remarkable woman and an eye-opening look at an often-misunderstood culture, Erika Cohn’s The Judge premieres on Independent Lens, Monday, November 19, 2018, 10:30 PM-12:00 AM ET (check local listings) on PBS.

When she was a young lawyer, Kholoud Al-Faqih walked into the office of Palestine’s Chief Justice and announced that she wanted to join the bench. He laughed at her. But just a few years later, Kholoud defied the odds and made history. The Judge offers a unique portrait of Kholoud — her brave journey as a lawyer, her tireless fight for justice for women, and her drop-in visits with clients, friends, and family. With unparalleled access to the courts, The Judge presents an unfolding vérité legal drama, with rare insight into both Islamic law and gendered justice. In the process, the film illuminates some of the universal conflicts in the domestic life of Palestine — custody of children, divorce, abuse — while offering an unvarnished look at life for women under Shari’a law and an inspiring look at an unforgettable woman.

“Before we named the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the first female judge of Shari’a law revealed what it takes to fight dominant chauvinism in Palestine’s justice system,” said Lois Vossen, Independent Lens executive producer. “A trailblazer who resembles a ‘Notorious RBG’ of her country, Judge Kholoud never suggests that Islam is anti-feminist — only the people who are resistant to equality and change.”

Visit The Judge page on Independent Lens, which features more information about the film.

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First Snowfall…

It begins...

It begins…

I got so excited this evening when I was walking to a lecture on Ibn Sina & Al Ghazali at Yale and the snow began to rapidly fall–my first real snowfall in over half a decade since I’ve been living in the Middle East…

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Avicenna at Yale…

Ibn Sina in Iran

Visiting Ibn Sina in Iran

When I was a guest speaker for Harvard in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I was delighted to visit the mausoleum of Ibn Sina/Avicenna in Hamadan. So I am looking forward to a lecture today at Yale that brings together Ibn Sina with two other subjects I’m interested in (I taught Al-Ghazali’s work at the American University of Beirut).


Today at Yale

In fact, when Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison consulted me about medieval sources on mania and psychology from Islamic history, I directed her to the work of Ibn Sina–and was grateful that she thanked me for it in the acknowledgements of her new book. If you are on campus today, come hear about these polymath luminaries.

Kay Redfield Jamison

Kay Redfield Jamison

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Elaine Mokhtefi…

Elaine Mokhtefi

Elaine Mokhtefi

I was so humbled and delighted to recently meet one of my heroes, Elaine Mokhtefi, who as a young American woman was at the center of the Algerian Revolution and Black Panthers in Algeria. A joy to talk militancy, revolution, anti-imperialism, and anti-racism with her (you know, girl talk). I highly recommend her book Algiers, Third World Capital: Black Panthers, Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries to learn more about this important chapter of American and Algerian history.

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Let it Snow…

Snow time

Snow time in New Haven

The local newsman reporting on today’s coming snowstorm and I are very excited about the snow headed our way–after three years of living in the desert on the Arabian Peninsula, the New England chill and snowflake anticipation strike me as so very exotic.

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Chasing Corruption…

Sarah Chayes

Sarah Chayes

I had the opportunity to speak yesterday with Sarah Chayes here at Yale, and I was delighted to hear about her current book project on corruption/kleptocracy in America. It was very helpful to speak with her, as we have both spent significant time living overseas in dangerous terrain, and I’ve been wondering if I should return across the oceans or stay put here in Trumpistan.

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Feeding the Hungry…


Soup kitchen buddies

I had the joy of feeding the hungry tonight as a volunteer at my local soup kitchen in New Haven. Since it was “Spirit Day” at Yale Law School today, I still had on my Yale gear (as did some other volunteers). To my surprise, one of my fellow volunteers grew up in the Sultanate of Oman–so we compared notes on our years of living there (small world!). Feeding the poor tonight in Connecticut brought back fond memories of volunteering at Nourishing Kitchen near my apartment in Harlem and feeding Syrian and Palestinian refugees every night of Ramadan in Beirut. I’m looking forward to volunteering every week–it’s shameful how many Americans go to bed hungry every night, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do my part.
A pleasure to serve...

A pleasure to serve…

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Soup Kitchen Wheels…


Donated by Tariq Farid

When I volunteered tonight at my local soup kitchen to feed the poor, I learned that our van was donated by Tariq Farid, a Pakistani-American entrepreneur who founded Edible Arrangements International Inc. So we serve the food in a Congregationalist church parish, and deliver it in a van gifted by a generous Muslim businessman born in Pakistan–America at its finest. Now let’s end hunger.

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