NEH Institute




Dr. Zain Abdullah, Temple University

Zain Abdullah is Associate Professor of Religion & Society and Islamic Studies at Temple University. He is the author of Black Mecca: The African Muslims of Harlem (Oxford University Press), and his articles have appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the Journal of History and Culture, African Arts and other periodicals. Professor Abdullah has been quoted in media outlets such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic magazine. He holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology and has earned awards from agencies like the Smithsonian Institution, where he serves on the International Advisory Board for a proposed exhibition on Islamic medicine. He has lectured widely, curated numerous events and contributed to programs at the Newark Museum, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, the Museum of the City of New York, the Asia Society and Museum, the Newark Black Film Festival, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the International Festival for Arts and Ideas (New Haven, CT), and programs sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the US State Department.

In his early career, Zain worked as a Muslim chaplain, providing pastoral care for prison inmates in New York and New Jersey, while serving on the Bishop’s Commis­sion on Ecume­nism and Interreli­gious Affairs in Tren­ton, the Chap­laincy Consulting Committee, which is the State Advisory Board of Ministry for New Jersey State institutions, the NJ Attorney General’s Stop Hate Crimes Committee, and as a consultant for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and NJ State Troopers, among others. In the 1990s, he organized major symposia and national conferences on community health and Black males and crime, two conventions attracting thousands, while making radio and television appearances on shows like 9 Broadcast Plaza (Ch. 9) and The Gary Byrd Show (WLIB) Live at The Apollo Theater. For this work, he received the New Jersey State Assembly Resolution in recognition of distinguished service, leadership, and commitment on behalf of the citizens of the State in 2005. In 2017, he was inducted into the City of East Orange Hall of Fame (NJ) for arts and education along with celebrities in other categories like John Amos, the late Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Naughty by Nature, and Queen Latifah.

Zain is currently completing a book on the Nation of Islam and the Black Freedom Struggles in mid-twentieth century America. He is also working with film crews for a three-part PBS series on Muslim Americans and another six-part series on Malcolm X to air on Fusion and Netflix. Dr. Abdullah is the 2018 recipient of the Ford Foundation Senior Fellowship Award to write a book on Islam in America.

Dr. Muhsin al-Musawi, Columbia UniversityMuhsin al-Musawi

Muhsin al-Musawi is professor of classical and modern Arabic and comparative studies at Columbia University. Described by the Chronicle for Higher Education as the leading Arab critic, his contributions cover many fields and direct literary study along new paths. He is the author of twenty-eight books (including four novels) and over sixty scholarly articles. He has been editor of the Journal of Arabic Literature since 2000. His books include: Scheherazade in England (1981); The Society of One Thousand and One Nights (2000); Anglo-Orient: Easterners in Textual Camps (2000); The Postcolonial Arabic Novel: Debating Ambivalence (2003); Arabic Poetry: Trajectories of Modernity and Tradition (2006); Reading Iraq: Culture and Power in Conflict (2006); The Islamic Context of the Thousand and One Nights (2009); and ‘Choice’ Outstanding Academic Title for 2010: Islam on the Street (2009). He is the editor and contributor to Arabic Literary Thesholds: Sites of Rhetorical Turn in Contemporary Scholarship (2009). He was the recipient of the Owais Award in Literary Criticism (2002). His new book is Politics of the Medieval Islamic Republic of Letters (2015). His next book is Arab Struggle with the Past.

Dr. Sylviane Diouf, New York Public LibraryFaculty_Sylviane Diouf

Sylviane Diouf is an award-winning historian specializing in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, slavery, and the history of West African Muslims. She is the author of the acclaimed Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. Her second book, Dreams of Africa in Alabama: the Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America, received awards from the American Historical Association, the Alabama Historical Association, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. She is a Curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library.

efb_maryam_ekhtiar_0073_01 Dr. Maryam Ekhtiar, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Maryam Ekhtiar is a scholar and specialist in the field of later Persian art and culture. One of her areas of expertise is calligraphy. She received a PhD from the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at New York University in 1994 and has worked and taught at various museums and universities in the United States, namely the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York University and Swarthmore College. She served as Senior Research Associate for the exhibition, Royal Persian Paintings: The Qajar Epoch 1785-1925, and was co-editor and contributor to the catalogue. In 2002 she was a Morgan Whitney Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is currently Research Associate in the Islamic Department.

Dr. Theodore Levin, Dartmouth College 

Theodore Levin is a longtime student of music, expressive culture, and traditional spirituality in Muslim Central Asia. As an advocate for music and musicians from other cultures, he has written books, produced recordings, curated concerts and festivals, and contributed to international arts initiatives. During an extended leave from Dartmouth, he served as the first executive director of the Silk Road Project, founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Currently he serves as Senior Project Consultant to the Aga Khan Music Initiative. At Dartmouth he teaches courses on ethnomusicology and world music, sacred music in East and West, and an interdisciplinary course on the Silk Road offered through the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Program. His co-edited book, The Music of Central Asia, will be published by Indiana University Press in summer 2016.

Faculty_Jawid MojaddediDr. Jawid Mojaddedi, Rutgers University

Jawid Mojaddedi is Professor of Religion and Director of Graduate Studies at Rutgers University. His area of research is early and medieval Sufism. Since the publication of his verse translation, The Masnavi: Book One, which was awarded the 2004 Lois Roth Prize, he has been working towards completing the six books of Jalal al-Din Rumi’s magnum opus. He has already published in the same Oxford World’s Classics Series a translation of the second and third books, in 2007 and 2013, respectively. He recently completed his manuscript of Book Four as a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellow. In addition to his translations of Rumi’s poetry, he has also published the monograph Beyond Dogma: Rumi’s Teachings on Friendship with God and Early Sufi Theories (Oxford University Press, 2012). Previous books include The Biographical Tradition in Sufism: the Tabaqat Genre from al-Sulami to Jami (RoutledgeCurzon, 2001), and, as co-editor and co-translator with Norman Calder and Andrew Rippin, Classical Islam: A Sourcebook of Religious Literature (Routledge, 2003; expanded second edition, 2012).

Dr. Frances Pritchett, Columbia University 

Since her retirement, Frances Pritchett has been writing about modern South Asian literature, especially Urdu poetry. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in South Asian Languages and Civilizations in 1981 and taught at Columbia from 1982 to 2013. Her books include Nets  of Awareness: Urdu Poetry and Its Critics (University of California Press, 1994) and The Romance Tradition in Urdu: Adventures from the Dastan of Amir Hamzah (Columbia University Press, 1991). She maintains a very large website that offers maps, texts, and images for the use of teachers and students of South Asia; the index page can be found by doing a Google search for her name. She considers the heart of her website to be two ongoing commentaries: “A Desertful of Roses,” on the Urdu ghazals of Ghalib, and “A Garden of Kashmir,” on those of Mir.

Dr. Zohra Saed, City University of New York

Zohra Saed is the co-editor of One Story, Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Contemporary Afghan American Literature (University of Arkansas Press) and editor of Langston Hughes: Poems, Photos and Notebook from Turkestan (Lost & Found, The CUNY Poetics Documents Initiative). Her poetry chapbook Mispelled Cities/Falsch Geschrieben (with Sahar Muradi) was published for dOCUMENTA 13 Notebook Series in English/German. Her essays on the Central Asian diaspora and their food history has appeared in Eating Asian America (NYU Press) and Interviews/Essays in “Projects by Afghan American Writers and Artists” co-edited with Leila Christine Nadir in “Mixed Race in a Box” The Asian American Literary Review.

Dr. Kemal Silay, Indiana University

Faculty_Kemal SilayKemal Silay was born in Ankara, Turkey. He received his Ph.D. in Turkic Studies from Indiana University, Bloomington. In the fall of 1993, he was appointed as Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Languages at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1997, he returned to Indiana University to become the holder of the Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies Endowed Chair. He is the author of numerous books and articles in Turkish and English on Turkish culture, literature, and politics including An Anthology of Turkish Literature.

Dr. Shawkat Toorawa, Yale University

Professor Shawkat M. Toorawa joined Yale as Professor of Arabic in 2016. He received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught Arabic at Duke University, medieval French literature and Indian Ocean studies at the University of Mauritius, and Arabic and other literatures at Cornell University. He has also worked in a family import/export company in Kuala Lumpur and Port-Louis. Toorawa’s scholarly interests include: classical and medieval Arabic literature, especially the literary and writerly culture of Abbasid Baghdad; the Qur’an, in particular hapaxes, rhyme-words, and translation; the Waqwaq Tree and islands; Indian Ocean studies, particularly Creole literatures of Mauritius and the Mascarenes; modern poetry; translation; and SF film and literature. His books include: Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition (2001), co-authored with the RRAALL group; a critical edition and translation of Adonis’s A Time Between Ashes and Roses: Poems (2004); the reference work, Arabic Literary Culture: 500–925, co-edited with Michael Cooperson; and a critical edition and collaborative translation with the editors of the Library of Arabic Literature of Ibn al-Sa‘i’s Consorts of the Caliphs: Women and the court of Baghdad (2015). Toorawa is a Director of the School of Abbasid Studies and an executive editor of the Library of Arabic Literature, an initiative to edit and translate the premodern Arabic literary heritage.



Hatim Belyamani, REMIX ←→ CULTURE

Hatim Belyamani is an Moroccan-American musician and multimedia artist behind REMIX ←→ CULTURE. In 2012, Hatimfounded REMIX ←→ CULTURE – an international collective committed to harmonious links between traditional music and remix art. Hatim attracted a growing number of collaborators to identify various musical traditions, then record, film, produce, mix, and remix them. The project began in Morocco and later expanded to other countries, most recently Brazil. From 2012 to 2015, Hatim took REMIX ←→ CULTURE to the stages of various festivals in California, Morocco, and the Lincoln Center in NY, where he performed live remixes of the videos shot by the collective. In the summer of 2016, Hatim premiered new video remixes at various festivals and venues in China and Europe, notably the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. This January, Hatim officially launched the new website for REMIX ←→ CULTURE.

Haifa Bint-Kadi, Visual Artist and Facilitator at Untermyer Park & Gardens

Haifa Bint-Kadi holds an M.F.A. from Istituto d’Arte per il mosaico in Ravenna, Italy, and has been designing and fabricating public art mosaics since 1993. She was commissioned by the Children’s Museum of Manhattan to create an installation for their current exhibit, From America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far. In 2012 Haifa completed The Eel’s Journey, a large-scale public art mosaic for Groundwork Hudson Valley and the City of Yonkers. In 2010, she received an award to complete a sculpture park for the State of New York at SUNY-Oneonta, symbolizing the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Also in 2012, Haifa successfully completed a social engagement way-finding project awarded by Create Change, which culminated in an mosaic pathway from South Yonkers to the Hudson River waterfront. In addition to her public art, Bint-Kadi works as a teaching artist and professional development instructor in New York and New Jersey school districts.

Mitra Dejkameh, Calligrapher

Mitra Dejkameh Reyhani, MFA, MA, ATR-BC, is an Iranian American abstract artist, children’s books illustrator and art therapist who has exhibited work at various public libraries inBrooklyn and Nassau County, as well as group shows in Long Island and NYC, and several international galleries before moving to the U.S in 1999. Her illustrations appear in several internationally published children’s books. Her artwork is influenced by Persian poetry and calligraphy, and by the influence of languages on the creation and interpretation of artworks. Mitra speaks Farsi (Persian), French, and Turkish. Mitra has a BA and MFA in Visual Arts from Mimar Sinan University of Istanbul, an M.A. in Creative Arts Therapy from Hofstra University, and is currently pursuing her doctoral studies in Art Therapy. She is a certified ABA Instructor and a NYS certified Visual Arts Teacher. She is currently the manager of the ArtAccess Programs and Autism Initiatives of the Queens Museum. She designs and facilitates art workshops for children with multiple severe disabilities, children with autism spectrum disorders and emotional behavioral disorders.

Kewulay Kamara, Poet-Historian and director of In Search of Finah Misa Kule 

Originally from Sierra Leone, Kewulay Kamara is from a long line of Mandeng Finah orators, historians and poets. Kewulay Kamara is the director of the epic poetry documentary, In Search of Finah Misa Kule. He has been featured in three The New York Times articles and has appeared on A&E Television, Public Television and other major media outlets. Kewulay has performed at The Cathedral of St John the Divine, The Kitchen, Symphony Space, Gerald Lynch Theater, City Center, The Museum of Natural History and Oxford University, and participated in The People’s Poetry Gatherings and the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry and Langston Hughes Festivals. Kewulay is founder and Executive Director of Badenya Inc., a non-profit cultural/educational organization that established Dankawalie Secondary School in Sierra Leone. He also serves on UNESCO’s Steering Committee on Foresight and Strategic Planning.

Katie Merriman, Muslim History Tour New York

Katie Merriman is a PhD Candidate in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with foci in contemporary Islam, race and religion, and the anthropology of religion. Her dissertation centers on charitable giving in American Muslim communities, at the intersection of race, class, and moral subjectivities. She has been involved in rights-based work in Arab and Muslim communities in the United States and Jordan and also lectures publicly on religious literacy and anti-racism practices. In addition, Merriman is the founder and guide for Muslim History Tour New York City, which explores 400 years of Islamic history captured in often overlooked sites, architecture, and events of the past.

Bushra Rehman, Teachers & Writers 

Bushra Rehman’s first novel Corona, a dark comedy about being South Asian American, was noted by Poets & Writers among 2013’s Best Debut Fiction a LAMBDA finalist and featured in the LA Review of Books as a work of radical South-Asian American Literature. She co-edited the anthology Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, one of Ms. Magazine’s “100 Best Non-Fiction Books of All Time.” Rehman’s first Young Adult novel will be released by Tor/Macmillan in 2017. She is a teaching artist with Teachers & Writers Collaborative and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. She was one of the founding faculty members of Bard High School Early College in Queens. (Photo by: Jaishri Abichandani)

Amir Vahab, Musician

Amir Alan Vahab is one of New York’s most celebrated and distinguished composer-vocalists of Sufi and folk music. He sings in many different languages with a unique mystical style. As an instrumentalist, he plays and teaches the tanbour, saz, oud, ney, daf, and zarb. Amir Vahab’s music is rooted in tradition, but has been influenced by contemporary sounds. He has played before audiences ranging from select private shows to crowds of 6,000 people and has composed eclectic music for theatre, film, and performed for several television and radio stations in the United States. He has recorded seven albums and is currently teaching and lecturing private and group classes in universities, libraries, museums, and cultural centers, and organizes music therapy and sound healing workshops.

Staff_Amanda Dargan (1)Dr. Amanda Dargan, Education Director/Project Co-director

Amanda Dargan has a Ph.D. in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. Since 1992, she has served as Education Director for City Lore, where she manages the national outreach and New York City education programs and the professional development programs in art and history education for teachers and artists. She co-edits CARTS Magazine. Her essays have appeared in the Journal of American Folklore, The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Encyclopedia of New York City, Educational Leadership, and the recent book Through the Schoolhouse Door.

Sahar Muradi, Poetry Programs Director/Project Co-director

Staff_Sahar MuradiSahar Muradi is the Director of Poetry Programs at City Lore and Associate Director of Education programs. She is the author of [ G A T E S ] and co-editor, with Zohra Saed, of One Story, Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Contemporary Afghan American Literature. She is the recipient of the 2016 Stacy Doris Memorial Poetry Prize and twice recipient of the Himan Brown Creative Writing Award in Poetry, as well as of fellowships from Kundiman and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Sahar has an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College, an MPA in international development from New York University, and a BA in creative writing from Hampshire College.

Steve Zeitlin

Dr. Steve Zeitlin, Founding Executive Director

Steve Zeitlin received his PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in literature from Bucknell University. Prior to arriving in New York, Steve Zeitlin served for eight years as a folklorist at the Smithsonian Institution and has taught at George Washington University, American University, and NYU. He is coauthor of a number of award-winning books on America’s folk culture.

Partnering Organizations

Poets House
Poets House is a literary center and poetry archive—a collection and meeting place that invites poets and the public to join the living tradition of poetry. Poets House will be hosting one of the institute events. 

Teachers & Writers Collaborative
A nonprofit organization founded by a group of writers and educators who believed that writers could make a contribution to the teaching of writing. Teacher & Writers staff will lead institute participants in poetry translation workshops. 


Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU
Created in 1966 to foster the interdisciplinary study of the modern and contemporary Middle East and to enhance public understanding of the region. The Kevorkian Center has generously donated space for the institute during the first week. 



Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.





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