“Ajam” refers to a geographic space, a liminal zone between Persianate and Arabic cultural spheres that has existed for nearly a millenium and a half. Historically, it is a zone of contestation- the battles and representations of Karbala, the clashes over Shatt al Arab- and the demarcation of “`Eraq-e `Ajam” and “`Eraq-e `Arab.” Concurrently, “Ajam” offers glimpses of fluidity, of shared symbolic universes; it is a powerful reminder of both the human penchant for the other and of the universal desire for “tawhid,” or oneness.
“Ajam” has meant something distinctively “other” for as long as etymologists can remember. In Yathrib, it meant the peoples beyond the Peninsula; in al-Andalus, those north of Poitiers; and in Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo it denoted the lands we identify today as “Iran-zamin,” the Persian-speaking lands spreading East from Mesopotamia.
The same history that marginalized the Persian-speaking cultures of the region after the Islamic Conquests has tried to reduce “Ajam” into something negative, to ensure that the other is not only foreign but also strange (“غريب”). The 10th century poet Ferdowsi, often credited with resurrecting the Persian language, used the term “Ajam” in his seminal work, the Shahnameh.
By adopting the term “Ajam,” we acknowledge this history while at the same time advocating and advancing the possibilities that “Ajam” represents- the reclaiming of the cultural mosaic that is the heritage of all of our many peoples. The cultural subjugation of the other that “Ajam” has at times implied has been overthrown by the sheer weight and force of cultural production that the lands of “Ajam” have given birth to in the intervening centuries.
Ajam Media Collective documents and engages with the cultures of the lands of “Ajam,” in both contemporary and historical periods. We reclaim and reinvigorate the worlds of liminality that are being erased by notions of monolithic cultures and politics, in the process reframing the notion of what Ajam means by stripping it of its pejorative historical meaning by exploring the social complexity of the region and by highlighting the myriad cultural contributions the region has made over centuries and into the present.