Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

At a Thursday event hosted by the Council on Middle East Studies, associate professor Zareena Grewal discussed her book “A Foreign Country: American Muslims and Global Crisis of Authority” and her upcoming book that will involve the coronavirus pandemic’s relationship with Generation Z Muslim youth.

This fall, CMES is holding a colloquium where Yale faculty members discuss books they have written. The event that featured Grewal was the second in the series. In her book on American Muslims, Grewal discussed the identity of American Muslim youth and the relationship between U.S. mosques to the rest of the Muslim world. 

At the talk, Grewal spoke about her first book — which will soon have a second edition — and her next book. Associate Professor of Religious Studies Travis Zadeh hosted the event, which was open to the public. Marwa Khaboor, CMES Program Coordinator and Organizer of the CMES Colloquium, said that 64 people registered for the event.

“On top of the ways the pandemic impacts us in such uneven ways reflective of structural racism and disenfranchisement, we have the escalation of state violence against Black and indigenous people, the climate crisis, the fascist suppression of protestors and voters, a rise in white supremacist movements, the collapsing of institutions, and the very threat of a coup,” Grewal wrote in an email to the News. “In these dark times, I rely on what I learned about the nature of crises in writing that book over ten years ago to help me slow down and metabolize all the things we are hit with every day.”

During the talk, Grewal emphasized that she wrote her first book in the context of how the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the Arab Spring Revolution affected Gen X Muslim youth, even though she had planned to write the book years before either event. She is now writing a second edition of the book about Gen Z Muslim youth in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. In an email to the News, Grewal added that she hopes the next edition of her book will be released within the next six months.

“I sort of end with Obama and the revolutions,” Grewal said during the event. “Now, we are in a very different moment with the Trump Presidency, the possibility of a second term of the Trump Presidency, the transformation of a series of policies in the Middle East, the brutal suppression of those revolutionary movements that I am describing at the end of the book, and how has that impacted American Muslim communities.”

During the talk, Grewal also discussed the motivations behind how the book took shape. Initially, she did not include her own experiences in the book, where she discusses the relationships between American Muslim youth and their Arab teachers. However, she received feedback that initial drafts did not focus enough on the teachers’ perspective.

However, she said that while she had conducted over 200 interviews with American Muslims and learned about their encounters with Arab teachers, she had not conducted many intensive interviews with Arab teachers. By including her own experiences in the book, Grewal was able to include the Arab perspective of her own teachers.

“I use my own experience to give that ethnographic richness and give us a window into those kinds of relationships that people have with teachers,” Grewal said during the event. 

Grewal added that she granted anonymity to the students and teachers that she interviewed, apart from well-known religious authorities. Even though she believed she was critiquing all the religious authorities in the same manner, she acknowledged that including her subjects’ names in the text could be uncomfortable for them.

Still, Grewal added that many of these teachers felt that her book’s criticism of them was fair. 

Zadeh, who hosted the event, also said that the discussion of Grewal’s book is important during the current pandemic because borders are closing to different groups of people to contain coronavirus spread.

“The fictive and yet factitive quality of national boundaries is also a theme that finds many parallels in Professor Zareena Grewal’s work,” Zadeh wrote in an email to the News. “Her writing on the containment and exclusion of Muslims takes on heightened meaning in the current context of ultranationalism. In this paramedic state of closed borders, the debate over who belongs where is all the more pressing.”

The next CMES Colloquium Event is on Oct. 8 and will showcase “Queer in Translation: Sexual Politics under Neoliberal Islam” by Evren Savci.

Sanchita Kedia | sanchita.kedia@yale.edu