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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.1 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

Introduction

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

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

‘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

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.

Open access

Reinventing a Traditional Ritual

Commemorating Karbala’s Youngest Martyr in Iran

Atefeh Seyed Mousavi

This article explores recent ritual developments in the Iranian religious culture honouring Ali-Asqar (d. 680 CE), the infant son of Imam Husayn. In 2003, a new ritual, the Husayni Infancy Conference, was introduced. The ritual is the only public Muharram assembly dedicated to women and their infants. Based on observation and interviews, I identify ritual transformations, terms of institutionalisation, and the staging of rituals and their structure, and I also examine the objectives behind the Conference from the perspectives of the organisers and participants. I argue that the organisers seek to promote new interpretations of the significance of the Battle of Karbala. This objective is shared by some participants whereas many continue to seek out traditional reasons to commemorate the Battle, such as receiving God’s blessings. Attending large ritual gatherings also offers opportunities for socialising and empowerment.

Open access

Reports

Publications

Rose Wellman and Max Klimburg

Marjo Buitelaar, Manja Stephan-Emmrich and Viola Thimm (eds), Muslim Women’s Pilgrimage to Mecca and Beyond: Reconfiguring Gender, Religion, and Mobility (London: Routledge, 2021), 213 pp.

Erika Friedl, Religion and Daily Life in the Mountains of Iran: Theology, Saints, People (London: I.B. Tauris, 2021), xix + 178 pp.

Open access

Anthropologist as Nomad

Introducing a New Co-Editor

Aleksandar Bošković

My anthropological journey has consisted in movement not only between different disciplines, but also between languages, countries and continents. This has involved stories of identity (imagined, constructed, or both), changes of place (teaching in six countries on three continents, and in four languages), searches for a safe haven, and belief in understanding the motives that govern human beings. In this wonderful journey, my coming to the Anthropological Journal of European Cultures seems almost an inevitable event. Or perhaps it is just a product of ‘chance and serendipity’.1 In retrospect, I look at my anthropological journey so far as a voyage of discovery – to different places, under different circumstances and in very different parts of the world.

Open access

Vincent Rollet

English Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic represents a new significant test for the role of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in regional health governance in Southeast Asia. Assessing ASEAN’s role during the pandemic through the concepts of “actorness” and “effectiveness,” the article argues that while ASEAN displayed all the attributes of actorness during the COVID-19 pandemic when it comes to its effectiveness, the capacity of the regional institution to reach the objectives it committed to has been rather limited. Explaining the reasons for such “effectiveness–expectation gap” and, considering the last policy development in the region related to regional health coordination, the article identifies several conditions for ASEAN to strengthen its capacity to act effectively on regional health cooperation, and to contribute to the strengthening of a regional health response to a possible future epidemic threat.

Spanish Abstract: El COVID-19 representa una nueva e importante prueba para el papel de la ASEAN en la gobernanza sanitaria regional. Al evaluar su papel durante la pandemia a través de los conceptos de “actuación” y “eficacia”, el artículo sostiene que, si bien la ASEAN mostró todos los atributos de actoría durante la pandemia, en lo que respecta a su eficacia, su capacidad para alcanzar los objetivos a los que se comprometió ha sido limitada. Explicando las razones de esa “brecha entre eficacia y expectativas” y considerando el último desarrollo de políticas de coordinación sanitaria regional, el artículo identificó varios prerrequisitos como ineludibles en su búsqueda por reforzar la eficacia para garantizar la cooperación sanitaria regional en el Sudeste Asiático y mejorar la respuesta regional ante una próxima amenaza sanitaria.

French Abstract: La pandémie de COVID-19 représente un test significatif pour apprécier le rôle de l’Association des nations de l’Asie du Sud-Est (ASEAN) au sein de la gouvernance sanitaire régionale en Asie du Sud-Est. En évaluant le rôle de l’ASEAN pendant cette pandémie à travers les concepts d’actorness (capacité à agir) et d’effectiveness (efficacité), cet article montre que si l’ASEAN a exprimé sa capacité à agir pendant cette crise sanitaire, son efficacité, i.e son aptitude à atteindre les objectifs qu’elle s’est fixés, a été plutôt limitée. Les raisons d’un tel écart entre efficacité et attentes (effectiveness-expectations gap) sont expliquées dans l’article qui identifie plusieurs conditions pour que l’ASEAN contribue efficacement au renforcement d’une réponse sanitaire régionale indispensable face à une éventuelle prochaine menace épidémique.