World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010



· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Germany

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Dr. Kai Kresse

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: This symposium (in two panels) investigates unity and diversity of Muslim communities in and between a broad range of regions within Africa, South- and South-East Asia and the Near East. As the title (and its question mark) indicates, the goal is to explore the plurality of social worlds of Muslims, with regard to religious discourse and moral conduct in everyday life in different localities, with regard to the relevant political and historical contexts. This is investigated in relation to - and in conceptual tension with - the idea of Islam as a unifying force and ideology which shapes and holds together the global community of believers, the umma.
We seek to understand, through a variety of transregional case studies, the Muslim world and its internal dynamics, in social and political terms as well as in terms of the negotiation of religious ideology. We expect the tension between ideological (theologically and politically based) discourses aiming for ‘reform’ and actual (and anticipated) changes and social transformations on the ground to provide a leitmotif for comparative discussion.
More specifically, we invite contributions that work on the relationship between translocal biographies (of scholars, intellectuals, ideologues etc.) on the one hand and notions and dynamics of ‘reform’ (discursively expressed as well as socially enacted) on the other. Changes in interpretation and the understanding of doctrinal matters that occur over generations, for instance, provide a useful nexus for contextual discussion. We seek to engage with a balanced selection of empirically based case studies from various regions. Taken together in discussion, these should not only carve out and clarify the regional specifics of Muslim contexts but also lend themselves to analytical discussion and feed into the wider basic questions about unity and diversity mentioned above.

Chair: Dr. Kai Kresse, Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)

Discussant: Prof. Martin van Bruinessen, University of Utrecht

Paper presenter: Dietrich Reetz (ZMO): The global scholar: the Alim degree course in Deoband and its transfer around the world
This paper explores the expansion of formalised religious education in the tradition of the Islamic University (Dar-ul-Ulum) of Deoband in North India to countries and regions outside South Asia. The Deoband school developed a formal 8-year degree course of Islamic theology for which the title of Alim is awarded, somewhat in analogy with western university teaching. The paper looks at the transfer of this curriculum to Deobandi schools which have lately emerged in South Africa, South East Asia and Western Europe. It will inquire into the question to what extent the Deobandi teaching in these schools is similar and yet different as adapted to local conditions, and to what extent the formalised context of this religious teaching has had an impact on local conditions of Islamic learning. It will highlight in what ways globalising Muslim networks have become vessels of intercultural transfer where they seek to reconcile competing trends of increasing standardisation and growing differentiation of Islamic teaching.

Paper presenter: Dyala Hamzah (ZMO): Professionalization as nexus of reform and self-reform. A Pan-Islamist and a Pan-Arabist in light of their life trajectories
This paper explores the common foundations of the two major competing ideologies that shaped the modern Middle East, namely, the concept and practice of reform (islâh). It contends that this normative topos of Islamic literature assumed a decidedly open-ended meaning as it intertwined with increasing professionalization. Reforming society was from then on a function of an expertise acquired through education, training, qualification -- not just, or no longer, through scholarship or virtuous religious practice. Ultimately, it became a function of self-reform, with the latter term understood as the polishing and professionalization of the new citizen, as the manufacturing of a new political subjectivity. As case studies, this paper proposes to peruse side by side the life trajectories of two prominent representatives of Pan-Islam and Arab nationalism, namely, the Syrian-Egyptian publicist Muhammad Rashid Ridâ (1865-1935), founder of the seminal pan-Islamic Journal al-Manâr; and the Palestinian historian Darwish al-Mikdadi (1898-1961), author of the History of the Arab nation and of school text books.

Paper presenter: Patrick Desplat (ZMO): Reform and Resistance in Everyday Life: Perspectives from Ethiopia
Reform in Islam is often perceived as a reaction against global or local orders and hegemonies: be it the West, national governments, or the neighbouring village that does not abolish “false” religious practices concerning saints and shrines. Reform is about new boundaries. But how do people make sense of new moral and religious ideals in their everyday life? Many Muslims are under pressure to choose between different competing normative discourses and practices which are represented in the public as unique and exclusive. The question of Islamic reform cannot be reduced to the realm of religion but rather reflects various often competing spheres of history, politics, economy and/ or culture. -- Drawing on empirical data from fieldwork in Harar, an Ethiopian town near the border of Somaliland, I would like to show how reform is partly appropriated, partly dismissed and even opposed. I am particularly interested in everyday practices which show individual, mostly situative and short-lived practices of resistance and subversion against dominant trends of reform. In Harar, the main social situation of discourse production is the berca, the daily chat-chewing session in the afternoon. The berca is a place which is neither public nor private in a strict sense. It is a situation to relax, to meet friends, to exchange news, to gossip. In this context of socializing and drug consumption, debates concerning religiosity, morality and the role of different practices are discussed in a playful game and people may mock about reform and their protagonists. The paper will illustrate that reform is not a self-evident process but rather reflects aspects of compromise, ambivalence, appropriation and resistance.

Paper presenter: Yunus Dumbe (University of Legon): The Salafi praxis of constructing religious identity in Africa: a comparative perspective of movement growth in Accra (Ghana) and Cape Town (South Africa)
Since the 1970s, the Saudi petrodollar industry has made the Salafi movement a vibrant one in the world. However, the Salafi impetus could be linked to earlier theological discourse on the use of Hadith against rationalism. Its vibrancy was connected with Muslims’ quest for pure sources of Islam in place of borrowings from other cultures. This basic value of Salafism has served as a significant factor in modern identity construction. Most studies have focused on conditions that shaped Salafi discourse in Europe and the Middle East. However, Sub-Sahara experiences also provide a good opportunity for assessing interaction with other Islamic forces which have helped shaped Salafi discourse. This presentation on the Salafi movement in both the Greater Accra of Ghana and the Cape Town in South Africa provides similarities and differences. The prospect of Salafism rested on the actors’ ability to construct an exclusive religious identity. The Salafis in both contexts show similar patterns regarding their global connections, and strong aversion towards aspects of traditional Islamic practices. In spite of this similarity, their growth in each country was dependent on the opposition that they encountered. In Ghana, Salafis encountered a common religious force (Tijaniyya), while in Cape Town they were confronted by a multiplicity of Islamic groups. The Salafis seemed more successful in Ghana than in Cape Town. This difference suggests that Salafi identity might be driven by the search for purity, but their success was determine by the organization of Muslim establishment patterns in host societies.

Paper presenter: Kai Kresse, Deputy Director, Zentrum Moderner Orient, The global scholar: The Alim degree course from Deoband in India and its successful transfer across the world.
The paper will discuss the emergence of ''alternate Muslim globalities'' on the example of the Deobandi curriculum of Alim studies. It will trace the introduction of a formal degree course to become a religious scholar (Alim) in the tradition of the Deoband Seminary from North India outside South Asia. For this purpose it will look at Deobandi-influenced schools in Western Europe, South Africa and Southeast Asia. The paper will ask how the degree course has helped standardise Islamic education on a global scale and how the curriculum has been adapted to local conditions.