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Open access

Addressing Serious Harm, Reconsidering Policy and Building Towards Repair

Rine Vieth

This commentary draws on personal experiences, my time spent discussing acts of harm in the academy with activists, and a review of various incidences on issues of academic harm and responsibility. Over the last few years, I have observed numerous high-profile cases in anthropology – in various countries and various contexts – that have elicited a significant public response. Some frame this kind of harm as the proverbial ‘few bad apples’, an approach I reject as it ignores what enables harm. Alternatively, some attempt to use the idea of ‘academic freedom’ as a way to sidestep questions of interpersonal obligations. Recently, I have encountered this line of argument in defences made by some against allegations about John Comaroff, such as media pieces that I note have been later cross-posted to his own website (Comaroff 2022; Walsh 2022). Instead of settling into a debate about what is or is not ‘academic freedom’, I here highlight a different reorientation, a shift in framing: what I have called, in conversations with friends and collaborators, ‘academic responsibility’. This reminds us that whereas academic freedom is frequently framed as a freedom to or a freedom from, academic responsibility emphasises our responsibilities as scholars and the obligations which follow to others. This includes a refusal of what Zoe Todd (2019) calls a ‘failure of imagination’ – we can and must envision different ways of building scholarly spaces beyond what we ourselves have seen or experienced in the academy.

Open access

Between Intention and Implementation

Recent Legal Reforms on Child Marriage in Contemporary Malaysia

Nurul Huda Mohd. Razif


In 2018, news of a 41-year-old Malay man's marriage to a Thai girl of 11 as his third wife broke out in the Malaysian media, catalysing nationwide concerns on the state of affairs of child marriage in Malaysia. This article analyses the news reports on this child marriage scandal and draws on my own long-term ethnographic fieldwork studying marriage and intimacy in the state of Kelantan to examine the ensuing public and religious debates concerning the amendment of Malaysia's Islamic family law enactments. I demonstrate that state- and federal-level efforts at curbing child marriage have failed largely due to the lack of consensus amongst the religious and political elite, as well as members of the Muslim community, on what the purpose of marriage is, who – and whose interests – it is meant to protect, and what measures should be implemented to prevent its abuse. Furthermore, child marriage in Malaysia has been ideologically sustained by a rhetoric of ‘masculinist protectionism’ in which men justify their marriage to young girls as an act of care and benevolence to mask a reality of coercion and violence. However, legal reform on child marriage will not only be ineffectual but also inadequate if it is not enforced in tandem with other initiatives such as seeking poverty eradication in rural regions; looking at the feasibility of contracting eloped marriages in Southern Thailand; and carefully reconsidering Malay adat and Islamic norms promoting young and early marriage as alternatives to prolonged periods of courtship.

Open access

Case Study

The ‘Deep Believer’ 30 Years On, 1926–2008

Reinhold L. Loeffler

In my book Islam in Practice (1988), I showed the great variety of religious beliefs in Sisakht, a village of Luri-speaking tribal people in the province of Kohgiluye/Boir Ahmad in Iran. I gave one of the 21 men I presented, Mr. Husseinkhan Sayadi, the epithet ‘Deep Believer’ to reflect his firm belief in God and Shi'a traditions. We became close friends, and revisiting his life again 14 years after his death, I will continue to use his first name to reflect and honour our friendship.

Open access


Religious Rituals’ Reflection of Current Social Conditions in the Middle East

Ingvild Flaskerud


Peoples’ practising of religious ritual is never isolated from the social and political setting in which it takes place. It is therefore inevitable that ritual practice somehow contends with the current social context. Examining Muslim ritual practices across the Middle East, the authors of the articles in this special issue discuss religious ritual as a tool for accomplishing something in the real world. They provide examples of which social concerns are addressed in ritual practice, who is involved and how the ritual practice is affected. The studies show that current ritual practices are embedded in multi-actor social spaces, and they also reflect on the ritual as a multi-actor space where the power to define ritual form, meaning and importance shifts between different categories of actors.

Open access

Invisible and Visible Shi'a

Ashura, State and Society in Kuwait

Thomas Fibiger


The Twelver Shi'a in Kuwait constitute a minority amongst the country's population. Compared to the situation of Shi'a in the region, they enjoy a good position economically and politically. While this political aspect of their identity frequently has been highlighted in scholarly literature, little has been written about how Shi'a ritual life relates to the political and economic spheres of social life. In this article, I discuss the performance of the annual Shi'a Ashura ritual in relation to the political status of the Shi'as in Kuwait. I show that the Shi'as’ public enactment of the ritual is multifaceted and revolves around the issue of ritual visibility. Ritual performance demonstrates compliance with as well as contestations of state authorities’ identity policy regarding religion and nationality, contestations within the Shi'a community, and contentions in relation to other groups in Kuwait.

Open access

Left in the Cold

The Mirage of Marriage and Family Law Reform in Post-Colonial Mali

Bruce Whitehouse


Located in Africa's Sahel region, the Republic of Mali enjoyed various fruits of its transition to political pluralism and liberal economic restructuring from the 1990s to the early 2000s. When the Malian government sought to amend civil laws governing marriage and family life, and eliminate legal discrimination against women, however, it faced considerable political opposition. Islamic civil society groups capitalised on men's heightened anxieties to claim a more assertive role in the national public sphere. Subsequent legal reforms constituted a clear political victory for political Islamism in the country and a corresponding setback for Western-backed women's organisations. Tracing the evolution of Malian marriage and family law from the 1960s to the 2020s, this article argues that conflicting notions of what it means to protect women, coupled with the structural failings of Mali's post-colonial state, have stymied efforts to ensure women's rights within a secular, egalitarian legal framework.

Open access

Mourning at New Year's Day (Nowruz)

Cultural Practice against Ideology

Reinhold L. Loeffler and Erika Friedl


As Persian Muslims, Iranians observe Old Persian rituals in the solar calendar, such as the spring equinox, as well as Islamic rituals in the lunar calendar, such as mourning the martyr's death of Imam Huseyn. In 2006, the dates coincided, causing distress as people tried to combine the demands of a joyful, life-affirming tradition with that of a religious ideology that allowed no compromise. Living in a tribal village at that time, we recorded people's reactions and their solutions to the problem of doing right by both the demands of their tradition and those of a government-enforced ideology of martyrdom that moved the affair from the cultural and practical plane to the political and ideological plane.

Open access

Of Marriage, Divorce and Criminalisation

Reflections on the Triple Talaq Judgement in India

Anindita Chakrabarti, K. C. Mujeebu Rahman, and Suchandra Ghosh


In India, where religion-specific laws govern issues of marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption and inheritance, the family laws of Muslims – the largest religious minority – have been a thorny issue in the post-independence period. In recent years, the major intervention in Muslim personal law reform came in the form of the invalidation of instant divorce or triple talaq by the Supreme Court of India. Subsequently, a law was passed that criminalised it. By delving into a close examination of recent judicial activism and by drawing on our ethnographic work with Muslim women in India, we show that it is only by refocussing the debate from judicial discourse to legal practice that the trope of Muslim women's victimhood and the tired debates about religious freedom versus citizenship rights can be questioned and bypassed.

Open access

‘Pilgrimage of the Poor’

Religious, Social and Political Dimensions of a Moroccan Local Pilgrimage

Kholoud Al-Ajarma


Pilgrimage destinations other than the Ka'aba in Mecca are a contested subject amongst Muslims. For the Moroccan ‘poor’, who are unable to perform the Meccan pilgrimage, a local pilgrimage known as the Hajj al-Miskin or the ‘Pilgrimage of the Poor’ is performed as an alternative spiritual journey. In this article, I discuss this pilgrimage at two sites in Morocco. Approaching Islam as a lived religion, I discuss how Moroccans navigate between religious considerations and the realities of everyday life. I argue that the Pilgrimage of the Poor plays a key role in the lives of the pilgrims at both the individual and community level. The debate about the Pilgrimage of the Poor reveals how different groups of Muslims negotiate their positions with respect to different interpretations of the global discursive tradition of Islam, applying these interpretations within their local context.

Open access

The Politics of Islamic Death Rituals in the COVID-19 Era

The Case of Egypt

Nadeem Ahmed Moonakal and Matthew Ryan Sparks


Throughout the Islamic world, the era of COVID-19 has witnessed controversial changes to highly ritualised traditional Islamic funeral rites. To combat the pandemic in Egypt, the government and Al-Azhar implemented restrictions surrounding group prayer and burial which many Egyptians viewed as impinging on their religious duties as well as on their ability to mourn. Utilising participant observation, interviews, and deductive research, this article explores the social and anthropological ramifications involved in the modification of traditional Islamic burial rituals in the era of COVID-19 and the negotiations involved amongst different actors, looking specifically at cases in Egypt.