World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th – 24th 2010


Microcosms and the Practices of the Local (116) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE 20, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Zentrum Moderner Orient Berlin: ZMO-BMBF (Germany)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Nora Lafi

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The theoretical explorations of the Chicago school of Sociology created some of the most important concepts for present research in urban studies. Microcosm is one of these. This concept also comes from the anthropological tradition of the 1960?s, with Philip Slater and Mary Douglas. The aim of this panel is to revisit such a conceptual legacy under the light of new research in the field. The panel is conceived as an invitation to explore the relationship between the individual, space and society in a dynamic way, in order to try and go beyond the static dimension provided by the sometimes dominant combination of static cultural studies and static spatial studies. The aim of the use of the concept of microcosm is to work on the constantly redefined articulation between the individual and the various scales of organization of the world he is living in. Issues such as family, identities, tribes, kinship, labour relations, the social value of space, the governance of diversity and local forms in the practice of Islam are to be explored.

Chair: Ulrike Freitag, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin
Paper presenter: Dr. Nora Lafi (Zentrum Moderner Orient-BMBF, Berlin), Living together in the Ottoman City: Urban Microcosms in Cairo, Aleppo and Tunis
Discussing the fundamental elements of social order in an Ottoman urban context and, on this basis, addressing the global panorama of urbanity is among the main stakes of contemporary historiography. The Ottoman city will be considered in this paper as a basis for reflections on the nature of urbanity in a changing world where tensions between local and global, but also between the present and the past or between various dimensions of identity and various conceptions of space do constantly modify fragile equilibriums, themselves object of complex identity investments and reinterpretations according to the context. The general framework is the study of explicit or implicit rules for living together, interpreted as elements of urban microcosms. Among these rules, the focus will not necessarily be put on legal and administrative ones, such as the organisation of a legal system which regulates the relationship between individuals or groups (status and identity of the individual in his relation to power, community, guild…) but rather on the organisation of a governance scheme (municipal order, State order and policing, institutional framework of public order, institutional regulation of the use of the urban space) and most of all on more implicit dimensions and their impact at the scale of the individual. The aim indeed, in order to avoid the ambiguities that a top-down perspective might carry, is to consider these implicit rules, behavioural for example, which can be detected with an approach pertaining to historical anthropology, as crucial elements of the urban microcosms in dynamic interaction with urban space. The aim will also be to understand the rules that apply to a single individual in his relationship to his local microcosm, to the space of the city, to the general urban society and to the global dimension of the Empire. The focus will be put not only on what constitutes a more or less mythical golden age of the Ottoman governance of diversity in old regime times, but also on the challenges to this social order brought in by the impact with modernity, with external influences, with migration, with reforms, with the redefinition of a new dimension of globality at the turn of the XXth c.

Paper presenter:Britta Frede, Practices of the Local and Tribal Microcosms: The Tijani Revival Movement of Ibrahim Niasse and the Idaw Ali tribe in Mauritania
This paper deals with the concept of microcosm and practices of the local by using these two paradigms as a framework for presenting the establishment of a Tijani revival movement, which started in Mauritania in the 1930s and reached its peak during the 1960s. The movement is known in Mauritania as the Tijaniyya-Ibrahimiyya. The name refers to the head of the movement: the Senegalese sheikh Ibrahim Niasse (1900-1975). It contrasts the revival movement from the earlier established Tijani movement of Muhammad al-Hafiz (d. 1830/31 / 1247h), which is called the Tijaniyya-Hafiziyya.
The movement of Ibrahim Niasse started in the Senegalese village of Kosi (Sine-Saloum) at the end of the 1920s. Already in the early 1930s the sheikh had its first Mauritanian disciples coming from the Tijani centre of Southern Mauritania, the region of Li´gul. Until the 1960s this renewal movement managed to spread a number of different regions of West Africa, for example in the Idaw Ali communities in Southern and Eastern Mauritania.
It was due to the activities of young ambitious sons of Idaw Ali Tijani notables in Southern Mauritania that the establishment of the movement was quite successful. One of the most famous and illustrious of the activists was Ahmad Mahmud ibn Muhammad al-Tulba (1907-1986), who is known, all over Mauritania as Shaikhani. He was the grandson of the two principal Idaw Ali Tijaniyya-Hafiziyya shaykhs of Southern Mauritania. His family claimed to be the one who had spread the Tijaniyya from Morocco to Sub-Saharan Africa. The participation of Shaikhani in the revival movement caused a scandal in his home community. How could the son of the two most prestigious Tijani families of the region leave his family for getting trained by a Wolof sheikh? And how could he come back and spread a movement which appears as a group of crazy loud singing and dancing dervishes but not as a serious Sufi brotherhood? The paper is going to analyze how the specific family background and the historical background of his local community in combination with the accommodation process to the newly established French colonial order gave his movement its own shape and drive.

Paper presenter: Marc David Baer, University of California, Irvine/Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Dönme architecture in Ottoman Salonika: Microcosm of urban transformation in the Ottoman Empire and expression of local Islam
In the late nineteenth century, Ottoman port cities were transformed physically and culturally almost beyond recognition. Financial capitalization by local, imperial, and international interests, connections to world trade centered in northwestern Europe, and the accompanying new modes of communication and transportation propelled their change. In this context, Ottoman Salonika was converted from a sleepy borderland Macedonian town into a major cosmopolitan port. The face of the city was dramatically altered: ancient walls were knocked down, suburbs emerged beyond the city’s Byzantine core, and straight, wide, tree-lined paved avenues were built. The harbor and port were expanded to handle steamships, and the city’s port was linked to a railway grid connecting western Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Salonika became the fourth leading port city in the Ottoman Mediterranean, a terminus for steamships and railways, a significant manufacturing and commercial center, and the most industrialized city in the empire.
Late Ottoman Salonika was situated at the interstices of cultural, economic, and religious connections between western Europe (particularly France) and southeastern Europe (the Ottoman Empire). This contributed to new internal linkages and intersections for the city’s people, who as in other European cities found themselves in situations with unprecedented possibilities for talking, card playing, drinking, clubbing, or just mixing with relative strangers. The construction of the modern port stimulated the proliferation of new places of social exchange in offices, cafés, bars, hotels, and, later, cinemas along the waterfront promenade. Men and women congregated day and night in spacious cafés or luxury hotel restaurants, where they sat on Viennese chairs at round marble tables, read Paris or Istanbul or local newspapers, smoked cigarettes, and consumed hors-d’oeuvres, cakes, cheese, and alcohol, while an orchestra played in the background and other patrons played pool. In the European quarter, Salonikans shopped at branches of Paris, London, and Vienna department stores and boutiques, or at the American or Chinese bazaar. They were not merely engaging in mimicry. Salonika was not the Paris of the Ottoman Empire; it was a distinct city, where fountains gushed forth sour cherry juice, an Ottoman favorite, at opening ceremonies; passengers on the Belgian-made tramcars were segregated by sex; and clocks had two faces, one with Arabic and one with Latin numerals, simultaneously telling Christian and Islamic time.
The cityscape and public institutions of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Salonika reflected its cosmopolitan inhabitants. One found there a purposeful mixing of baroque, neoclassical, and Islamic architectural styles. The city boasted modern, hygienic public markets, with Islamic architectural features, a densely crowded city core, and broad-boulevarded suburbs with seaside villas that had diverse features taken from western European and Ottoman tastes. The city’s schools incorporated the latest in French pedagogy and Ottoman religious education, an Islam suitable for the age.
The Dönme, a distinct ethno-religious group of descendants of Jewish converts to Islam, led efforts in transforming the city. The Dönme helped convert Ottoman Salonika into a cosmopolitan city by promoting the newest innovations in trade and finance, urban reform and local politics, and modern education and literature. The most visible aspect of the Dönme reshaping of the city is their unique architecture. An analysis of the location, design, inscriptions, and meaning of their villas, schools, and mosque illustrate the radical transformation of Salonika as well as representing the Ottoman empire in microcosm and the practice of a distinct local Islam.
The best example of their architecture is the New Mosque, the last mosque built in the city (1904), a Muslim house of worship like no other. The architecture is strikingly innovative. The design was the peak of daring architectural eclecticism in the city, bringing together baroque and Ottoman mosque styles, Moorish flourishes and the modern decorative arts, even Habsburg Orientalism. Its Corinthian columns, paying homage to the Greco-Byzantine history of the place and to neoclassicism, hold up Alhambra-style Andalusian arches, referencing Islam as well as the origin of many of the Spanish Jewish Dönme ancestors, above which prominent bands of six-pointed stars in marble wrapping are inscribed on the building’s interior and exterior, conjuring up comparisons with Italian synagogues. Above the entrance, a large six-pointed star is embedded within an ornate arabesque. Among the arabesques on the ceiling is a star and crescent. Finally, clocks positioned near the top of two turrets on the front of the building remind one of the era’s accelerated pace, whereas a sundial on the south side represents older local ways of telling time.
The Dönme mosque is not only architecturally diverse, but illustrates how Dönme buildings were adorned with meanings, temporal as well as ritualistic, only they could create, making what was Jewish or Islamic into their own. The first is the Ottoman inscription on the sundial, “Turn your clocks back ten minutes.” This is a reference to the Dönme custom of publicly fulfilling all of the requirements of Sunni Islam, but with slight alterations. The second is the Arabic inscription within the mosque’s prayer niche (qiblah), which states, “Turn your face in the direction of the Noble Sanctuary.” This Qur’anic verse (2:142-44) is a logical one for a qiblah of a mosque, for it tells the believers to cease praying toward Jerusalem like Jews and to turn toward Mecca, since they are a distinct community of God that has replaced the Jews as God’s covenanted people. In choosing this particular verse, the Dönme expressed their turning away from the practices of their Jewish ancestors, distinguishing themselves from Jews, just like the first believers in seventh-century Arabia, who had also turned away from Jewish practices. Yet another reading of the same verse allows the Dönme to express their distinction from Muslims, for the Dönme did not act as other Muslims. The verse tells the Dönme to face the right direction when they pray; Dönme observance of public prayers was meant for public viewing, in order to disguise their true beliefs and rituals. Thus, publicly praying like Muslims, or even building a mosque, did not mean that all Dönme were like other Muslims.

Paper presenter: Dr. Katharina Lange. "A Place in Time - Genealogy and the Production of Locality in Rural Northern Syria",
In post-colonial Syria, history has for a long time been represented in unifying narratives, emphasizing Arabic nationalism and Syrian unity.
Potentially divisive aspects such as ethnic or confessional particularities and tribal or local affiliations – although significant in internal political calculations – have been largely written out of these ‘official’ narratives.
Behind this unifying historical discourse, however, more particularist historical narratives can be discerned. Among the Arab population of the Syrian Euphrates valley, accounts of the past are unfolded from the perspective of the tribal group (ashira). In recent years, these oral narratives have been supplemented by written versions of more ‘local’ or tribal histories. Oral narratives, publications by Syrian authors, and earlier writings of European travellers and Orientalists are now used as references for these histories, while larger narratives of Arab/Syrian nationalism and the anti-imperialist struggle have been appropriated as the structure in which these new narratives are told.
As a continuation of an earlier project within the framework of the collaborative research centre (SFB) 586 ‘Integration and Difference’ at the universities of Leipzig / Halle (2001-2004, dir. Dr. A. Nippa), this project analyses the polyphonic production of historical knowledge (in which the ethnographer’s presence constitutes yet another voice) by tracing written and oral narratives on the history of the ‘Welde’, one of the tribal groups of the Syrian Euphrates valley.