Material Religion – Popularizing Islam: Muslims and Materiality

A short commentary of mine was published in the last issue of Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief, Volume 8, Number 3, September 2012.
 Styles of Salafi Activism: Escaping the Divide

Dutch Salafi Muslims adopt different styles of activism that blur the binary opposition between the secular and the religious. In this short commentary I present two examples and reflect upon how Salafi activists attempt to escape the divide between the religious and the secular while at the same time triggering debates and policies that impose the dichotomy upon them.



Source: Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief, Volume 8, Number 3, September 2012 , pp. 400-401(2)

Publisher: Berg Publishers

This short article is part of the ‘In Conversation’ section of Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief in which (invited by prof. Annelies Moors) the authors reflect upon the division between the secular and the religious. The pieces in this section are:
In conversation

The current issue of Material Religion (to which aforementioned articles belong) is a special issue: popularizing islam: muslims and materiality edited by prof. Annelies Moors. It includes the following articles:
Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief

Popularizing Islam: Muslims and Materiality-Introduction
pp. 272-279(8)
Author: Moors, Annelies

This special issue centers on how Islam becomes present in the public through material, tangible forms, including mosques, headscarves, and movies in a wide variety of locations, such as Morocco, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and the Netherlands. It zones in on how both nation-states and Islamic movements have developed new kinds of cultural politics, taking into account the twin forces of the state governance of Islam and consumer capitalism.

Constructing Authentic Houses of God: Religious Politics and Creative Iconographies in Dutch Mosque Design
pp. 280-307(28)
Author: Roose, Eric R.

Modern mosques in the West are all too often considered to be anachronistic pastiches of authentic historical examples that are literally out of place in the Muslim diaspora. Whereas this perspective has usually led to projections of nostalgia onto generalized communities, in this article I will take two prominent and enigmatic examples from the Netherlands and trace empirically how their designs have developed. Building on an expanding body of iconological studies of religious architecture, I will present an analysis of the different positions the Muslim patrons who initiated these buildings have taken up in Islamic politics. An empirical reconstruction of their prototypical selections, and how these were used to steer the architects towards the creation of desired drawings, makes their outcomes more intelligible. Whereas both mosques have been modeled on the same historical example, an underlying contestation of religious authorization has led to divergent forms of architectural authentication.

Formats, Fabrics, and Fashions: Muslim Headscarves Revisited
pp. 308-329(22)
Authors: Ünal, R. Arzu; Moors, Annelies

Changes in the sartorial practices of Dutch-Turkish women who wear Muslim headscarves may be summarized as a shift from sober, religiously inspired forms of dress towards colorful, more fashionable styles. A focus on the materiality of headscarves indicates, however, that the relation between Islam, dress, and fashion is more complex. The main motivation for the women to adopt headscarves, including the fashionable ones, is religious. They do so because they consider it a practice prescribed in the foundational Islamic texts and because presenting a pleasant, up-to-date look can be considered as a form of visual da’wa. At the same time, however, wearing particular styles of fashionable headscarves also performs other, non-religious, identities and forms of belonging, such as those pertaining to status, ethnicity, and professionalism. This is evident in how fabrics (such as silk) and shapes of headscarves (square or rectangular) matter. An investigation of headscarves as particular items of dress is, in turn, helpful to understand the limits of a focus on aesthetic styles and fashion. The headscarf format makes these items of dress easy to acquire and hard to discard, because they are often received as gifts. A woman’s attachment to particular headscarves-materializing social relations and functioning as souvenirs-goes beyond aesthetic styles and mitigates the force of fashion.

In the Name of Culture: Berber Activism and the Material Politics of “Popular Islam“ in Southeastern Morocco
pp. 330-353(24)
Author: Silverstein, Paul A.

After Moroccan independence in 1956, salafi critiques of the heterodox and heteroprax tendencies associated with “popular Islam“ (l’islam populaire, as elaborated in particular by French colonial ethnologists and legal scholars) became enshrined within state ideology and administration. In response, over the past twenty years, a burgeoning Berber (or Amazigh) cultural movement has espoused local religious beliefs and practices as more attuned to the authentic culture of North Africa, and sought the protection of such regional idioms in the name of human rights. This article explores how a set of Amazigh activists from southeastern Morocco, while in many cases avowing a politics of secularism (laïcité), nonetheless ambivalently embrace certain practices of “popular Islam“ as paramount elements of Berber culture, including pilgrimage to the tombs of “saints,“ the role of marabouts and Sufi brotherhoods, the pre-Islamic (Jewish or Christian) roots of ritual life, and the general inscription of the natural landscape with baraka. Their ideology ironically dovetails with recent attempts by state actors to (re-)construct a particular, non-fundamentalist Moroccan Islam as part of its participation in the global “war on terror.“ Such a material embrace of “popular Islam“ challenges scholastic categories.

Islamically Marked Bodies and Urban Space in Two Egyptian Films
pp. 354-373(20)
Author: Armbrust, Walter

Since the 1970s Egyptian cinema has grappled with two closely related issues. First, filmmakers sought to neutralize the occurrence of Islamically marked bodies through visual conventions that either carefully excised them from the urban fabric, or alternatively, cast them as a political challenge to the state’s modernist project. Secondly, filmmakers struggled to digest the material decline of urban space that had, in earlier eras, functioned as the aspirational site of modern life. Starting in the mid 1990s, as the ideology of economic liberalism gained traction in Egypt, new visual conventions for representing both piety and urban space began to emerge. In this article I examine these emerging conventions, instantiated in two films from the late Mubarak era: The Yacoubian Building (2006) and I Am Not With Them (2007). I argue that the apparent novelty of these emergent visual conventions-the depiction of Islamically marked bodies, and the displacement of location from the old urban center to the new suburbs-should be understood as cultural naturalizations of neoliberalism.

Watching Clone: Brazilian Soap Operas and Muslimness in Kyrgyzstan
pp. 374-396(23)
Author: McBrien, Julie

In 2004 Clone, a Brazilian soap opera that featured Moroccans and Brazilians as main characters, broadcast throughout post-Soviet Central Asia. The program rose to tremendous popularity in the Kyrgyzstani town of BazaarKorgon partly due to the romanticism of its imagery. The town’s residents said they were so taken by the soap opera because it was the first fictionalized program that featured Muslims as main characters that had aired in the post-Soviet period. While the rather orientalized images featured in the serial can be read as highly stereotypical, Bazaar-Korgonians nonetheless utilized the soap to widen conceptualizations of what “true“ Muslimness could be. Some even used it to support their efforts at religious piety. The soap opera was certainly not a religious object. Nevertheless, residents utilized it in explicitly religious projects. This forces us to consider the role that such ambiguously classifiable objects-those that fall outside of the undeniably religious/non-religious dialectic-play in “doing religion.


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