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Jun 15, 2021

Equality in the Ancient World

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Juan Cole

University of Michigan

Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.

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Ubaydullah Evans

Ubaydullah Evans

Guest Speaker

Equality in the Ancient World

“God’s creativity is seen as an expression of the divine will and those blessed with insight can perceive it as such, and perhaps more importantly are not frustrated by difference.” —Ubaydullah Evans
“In the Qur’an, there’s an emphasis on God’s role as a differentiator. There’s this notion that you see even in the book of Genesis as well that in the beginning things were formless—and how did they get form? That’s God’s creative power.” —Juan Cole

What kind of equality could be universal? A scan of history shows that our modern ideal of equality is more fiction than fact. In this episode, Ubaydullah Evans interviews the historian Juan Cole on his forthcoming article for Renovatio that addresses the issue of equality by examining the text and context of the Qur’an. The two discuss how equality is one of the great unquestioned values of our time, one that has always existed as an area of great concern throughout history. They talk about the Qur’an’s explicit characterization of diversity as a manifestation of God’s creative power, an affront to the dangerous human tendency to view difference as an aberration from the norm. They exchange ideas about the Qur’anic focus on the virtue of an individual and, in doing so, highlight what made for a radical notion during the time of the Arab antiquity—that a person’s worth is not tied to her group identity but rather exists as a bestowal from God.


Ubaydullah Evans is the scholar-in-residence of the American Learning Institute for Muslims (ALIM) and an instructor with the Ta’leef Collective. He converted to Islam while in high school. Upon conversion, Ubaydullah began studying some of the foundational books of Islam under the private tutelage of local scholars while simultaneously pursuing a degree in journalism from Columbia. Since then, he has studied at Chicagoland’s Institute of Islamic Education (IIE), studied in Tarim, Yemen, and graduated from the Sharia program at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.

Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three and a half decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. He is also the author of The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East; Engaging the Muslim World; Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East; and many other books. 


Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires, Juan Cole (Bold Type Books, 2018)

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