World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010



· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 5.00-7.00 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:Prof. Ulrike Freitag, ZMO, Berlin

Discussant: Prof. Abdulkader Tayob, University of Cape Town

Paper presenter: Chanfi Ahmed, ZMO, Berlin, For the Saudi's Kingdom or for the Umma? Encounters between ulama from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Middle East in the Dar al-Hadith in Medina (early 20th century)
Since the end of the European conquest of West Africa and the victory of Burmi in 1903 where the British Forces defeated the Muslims under Sultan Attahiru of northern Nigeria, various Muslim groups of the region fled to the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Declaring they wanted to perform the hajj, they took the land route (Tariq al-Sudan). This led them to cross first the Sudan and then the Red Sea (by dhow) in order to reach the Hijaz. They later settled permanently there or in the Sudan. This migration has continued at least until the early 1960s. Among the West Africans who settled in Medina, there were Muslim scholars (ulama) who later made a career as teachers in the mosque of the Prophet and in the Dar al-Hadith college. They then supported the political and religious project of King Abdulaziz by spreading Wahhabism (da'wa wahhabiyya) both inside and outside Saudi Arabia, and they also in taught in the newly established institutions of modern education. -- The purpose of this paper is, firstly, to point out and evaluate this moment in history which was important for the history of colonialism as well as for the spread of the wahhabiya doctrine. Secondly, the paper illustrates the influence the Dar al-Hadith college (named after the Ahl al-Hadith movement in which ulama from Africa, South Asia and the Middle East worked together) had on the consolidation of the power of the Al Saud dynasty in Saudi Arabia. By illustrating this (and this is the main argument of my paper), the Dar al-Hadith teachers did not help Saudi Arabia as a political entity but rather, through the support they brought, supported the Islamic Umma (world-wide community of believers). And the Islamic Umma was, for the Dar al-Hadith, not a political but rather a spiritual entity.

Paper presenter: Scott Reese, Northern Arizona University, “Who could not but Love the Saints?” The evolution of an Adeni Salafism 1930-1935
Like most ideologies the concept of Salafism is in practice a slippery one. Typically defined as a strict scripturalist school of Islamic reform, an increasing number of case studies reveal an ideology that while dogmatic in principle frequently took unexpectedly pragmatic turns when applied within local communities. One such case was the British colony of Aden. Salafi ideology arrived in the British controlled port in the early 1930s in the hands of a firebrand preacher, Ahmad al-Abbadi, promoting the typical hallmarks of reform. Decrying saint veneration and local Sufi practices as dangerous innovations, al-Abbadi gave innumerable sermons and published a number of works arguing that such practices had to be cleansed from the true faith. Within a few years, however, two locally born Salafi activists and disciples of al-Abbadi, Muhammad Ali Luqman and Ahmad al-Asnag, were arguing that these same rituals and beliefs were important moral elements of the Salafi reformist agenda. Through an examination of the intellectual lives of these individuals this paper examines the ways in which promoters of Salafism sought to accommodate and even incorporate local institutions and notions of piety into their own ideology in order to become meaningful social actors. Exploring the dynamics of religious mobilization and global reformist discourses in the Indian Ocean this piece demonstrates the way in which ideologies such as Salafism, while transregional in nature were, in practice, shaped by local contexts.

Paper presenter: Ahmed Abu-Shoek, International Islamic University of Malaysia, Ahmad Surkitti (1876-1943): His life, thought and Islamic reform in Indonesia
Shaykh Ahmad Muhammad al-Surkitti (1876-1943) was an important figure in the Islamic reform movement in early twentieth-century Indonesia. He was born in the Sudan in 1876, studied in Makkah and Madina for fourteen years (1897-1911), and established his career as a school teacher and a celebrated reformist leader in Indonesia (1911-1943). The purpose of this research project is to examine the early life and career of al-Surkitti in the Sudan and Saudi Arabia, and assess critically his contribution to the islah and tajdid movements in the Malay-Indonesia world. His intellectual and religio-political discord and conflict with the Alawi traditionalists will be investigated in the context of Hahdrami identity and discourse between 'orthodox Islam' propagated by Surkitti and his followers and 'popular Islam' that gave the Alawi sayyids special recognition in their home society in Hadramaut and Diaspora in Indonesia.

Paper presenter: Hassan Mwakimako, University of Nairobi, Muslim and Reform in the Lamu archipelago (Kenya): the Madrasa Haniffiya and the legacy of Ustadh Harith Swaleh
The madrasa is one of the many institutions which have seen recurrent attempts at reform in Muslim societies during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Since the eleventh century, when it first emerged as the principal institution of Islamic higher learning, the madrasa has undergone many changes adapting in varying degrees to local cultures and changing times. Given the centrality of the institution in the preservation and the production of knowledge as well as in the formation of religious elite, the madrasa is crucial for the construction of religious reform. Reforming the madrasa has emerged as a major concern for many who are seeking to enforce changes in the madrasa system in the belief that ‘unreformed’ madrasa are rapidly emerging as a threat to society. Because the roles madrasa play as defenders of Islamic ‘orthodoxy’ and Muslim community identity, and as alleged advocates of pan-Islamism, madrasa are regarded as particularly menacing. Profound changes in Muslim societies in modern times have not necessarily marginalized this impetus for reforms in the madrasa, but such reforms have frequently raised questions about the position and function of madrasa in society and the ulama reared in it, about whether this institution ought to be reformed and if so, to what end, how and by whom. Through a chronological development of a late twentieth century madrasa Haniffiya in the Lamu archipelago, this paper discusses and provides analysis to these questions paying particular attention to the contribution of Ustadh Harith Swaleh to reforms amongst the Muslim society of Lamu.