World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010



· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE 20, 11.30 am-1.30pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: CSIC - Madrid (Spain)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Maribel Fierro

· NOT_DEFINED sponsor: European Research Council. Advanced Research Grant, KOHEPOCU F03049 / Instituto de Lenguas y Culturas del Mediterráneo y de Oriente Próximo (ILC) - CSIC / Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas / Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: It has recently been shown that Averroes had to change a previous version of his al-Kashf, an manahij al-adilla - in which he departed from Ibn Tumart’s doctrine - under the pressure of the Almohad purists who wanted to preserve their founder’s views on anthropomorphism. Censorship and pressure to conform in this case resulted in the alteration of a text and probably influenced Averroes’ “disgrace” and banishment. In other cases it led to more painful consequences. In this panel other instances of altered texts as result of censorship or auto-censhorship will be studied with the aim of exploring how religious and political control in the writing domain was carried out in a variety of contexts.

Chair: Sonja Brentjes (Universidad de Sevilla)

Paper presenter: Helena de Felipe (Universidad de Alcalá), “Dealing with Berber religious attitudes in the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco”.
Berber religious practices and beliefs have often been a contentious topic. The role it played during the French Protectorate in Morocco is well known. Less known is the treatment given in the Spanish Protectorate. In my paper I will explore the context underlying the construction of the image of Berber religion and religiosity in Spanish authors of that period and which needs it served.

Paper presenter: Omar Ali-de-Unzaga (The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London) “Public book burnings in 12th-century Baghdad: The struggle for orthodoxy and the ill fate of the Rasa,il Ikhwan al-Safa,”
This paper deals with the increasingly intolerant and inquisitorial intellectual atmosphere in 12th century Baghdad in the midst of the struggle for orthodoxy among different religious groups and their influence in society. It discusses how repression was materialised in the form of public book burnings. In particular, it focuses on a number of instances in which the Epistles of the Pure Brethren (Rasa,il Ikhwan al-Safa,) were ceremonially burnt in public in Baghdad in the 12th century, in the years 1000 (under Saljūq Sultan Barkyaruq and Caliph al-Mustazhir), 1060 (under al-Mustanjid and his Hanbalī vizier ,Awn al-Dīn Ibn Hubayra) and 1092 (under Caliph al-Nasir and his Hanbalī vizier Ibn Yunus, with the support of Ibn al-Jawzi). The paper offers a description of the solemn burning ceremonies that were staged on those occasions.
The Rasa,il are arguably the most important anonymous work in the history of Arabic thought The large number of manuscripts in which it has reached us testifies to the extent of its spread and popularity. Yet, the Rasa,il have always been associated with the various Isma,ili movements (the Qarmatis, the Fatimids, the Nizaris, also called Assassins, and the Tayyibis) and as a result have been victimised and condemned on a number of occasions as part of the struggle for religious orthodoxy and political dominance. This paper discusses the burnings of the Rasa,il in the wider political and religious scenario which witnessed the upraising of the Nizaris based in Alamut since 1090, the advance of the Crusaders since 1099, the weakening of the Saljuqs and the increased independence from them of the Abbasid caliphs since 1117, the growing ascendancy of the Hanbalis, and the fall of the Fatimids ultimately in 1171.
By discussing the burnings of the Rasa,il, this paper also attempts to produce a typology of book burnings. Book burning (or its alternative: book-“drowning” in rivers or wells), can have many functions: to establish the supremacy of a scriptural canon, or one version of scripture (as in ,Uthmān’s burning of the Qur,anic codeces), to obliterate complete collections (as in the destruction of the library of al-Hakam II in Córdoba by al-Mansur, the library of Ibn Ibad in Rayy by Mahmud of Ghazna, the Dar al-,Ilm in Baghdad by the Saljuqs, or the Nizari library in Alamut by the Mongols, among others), as a punishment for an author’s non-conformity with the establishment during his lifetime (as in the case of Ibn Hazm and Ibn Rushd in al-Andalus), as a deterrent to prevent the reading of a work (as in the case of al-Ghazali’s Ihya, being burnt in Cordoba around the 1140s), or to condemn an individual as heretical because he had owned heretical books (as in the case of the followers of Ibn Masarra). The burning of the Rasa,il falls under the two latter categories.

Paper presenter: Maribel Fierro (CCHS - CSIC), “The control of knowledge under the Almohads”
The Almohads came to power with a revolutionary political and religious programme that entailed, among other things, the imposition of a creed on the population under their rule. This meant that in principle divergent professions of faith (aqida-s) were not allowed and if followed those who approved of them were – also in principle – in danger of being accused of infidelity (takfir). This policy was greatly divergent with what normally is considered to be the standard procedure in Sunni societies. In my paper I will explore the extent to which the Almohads were able to impose this censorship of non-Almohad professions of faith and compare their policy with the few existing precedents, such as the imposition of Mu’tazilism under the Abbasids.

Paper presenter: Luz Gomez Garcia (Universidad Autónoma), “Rethinking self-censorship on Islamic webs: cross-references between Arabic English-French”
Creators of Islamic websites have become aware of their recently acquired power as subjects and knowledge builders for the Muslim community as well as the academic (and political) milieus. Thus, Islamic websites have become a central object of study for Islamic studies’ scholars. This paper argues that the subject-object multi-tiered relationship shapes the sites’ scope, themes and structures as well as their content language. It focuses on language to explore the existing divergences and discrepancies within the same website depending on the language of presentation (Arabic/English/French). The paper analyzes the websites of two political groups (the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood and that of Hizbullah) and two general websites about Islam ( and Islamtoday). It focuses on the translation of contents and the presence/absence of certain elements depending on the language being used. The paper aims at proving the existence of a certain level of information control, as well as at establishing to which degree this control may be considered a form of self-censorship in an attempt to craft different discourses and knowledge repositories based on the recipient/language.