Honored by the Glory of Islam: The Ottoman State, Non-Muslims, and Conversion to Islam in Late Seventeenth-Century Istanbul

Baer, Marc David, Ph.D. The University of Chicago, 2001. 380 pages. Adviser: Fleischer, Cornell H. Publication Number: AAT 3006473

This dissertation analyzes relations between the Ottoman state and its non-Muslim subjects in late seventeenth-century Istanbul and Rumelia through the conversion experiences of Christians and Jews. In some instances in Rumelia and in palace circles, Sultan Mehmed IV and his mother Hatice Turhan compelled Christians and Jews to become Muslims, and celebrated the conversion of hundreds of Christians in ceremonies. Yet in Istanbul, mainly slave females, a group in whose conversion the state was not interested, formed the largest group of converts. This demonstrates that while the circumstances in which some Christians and Jews converted in the period were unprecedented, conversion to Islam continued to be a voluntary path by which common people integrated in society and improved their life circumstances.

The Look Of The Other

Kamal, Mustapha, Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, 2000. 194 pages. Adviser: Monroe, James T. Publication Number: AAT 9979675

Less than a century after the emergence of Islam in Arabia, the Muslims conquered Iberia and reached the south of France. The sudden appearance of the new conquerors north of the Straits of Gibraltar cause a great deal of anxiety among the Christians of Western Europe. Once the military threat stopped, Christians sought to understand the political and religious background of their enemy. In this struggle, their first reference was the Bible. Scholars interpreted several passages of the Scriptures (for example, The Book of Daniel) in order to find solace in the prophecies they contained. But as the struggle wore on, other forms of cultural opposition appeared. Thus in France, there developed a literary genre called chansons de geste, imbued with a crusading spirit. In many of these texts, the only good Sarrasins (i.e., Muslims) are the queens and princesses who convert to Christianity after the defeat of their co-religionists.

Community, State, and the Nation: Regional Patriotism and Religious Identities in The Kashmir Valley, C. 1880 - 1953 (India)

Zutshi, Chitralekha, Ph.D. Tufts University, 2000. 436 pages. Adviser: Bose, Sugata. Publication Number: AAT 9978830

This dissertation examines the political culture of the Kashmir Valley from the medieval to the modern periods, with particular emphasis on the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. It traces the development of the Kashmiri discourse on identities through an exploration into the dialectic between its regional and religious components through this period. This narrative on identities expands the concept of public space and public discourse, focusing on the informal arenas of politics and community spaces as significant contributors to the political culture of the Valley. While the dissertation is formulated against the concept of Kashmiri exceptionalism, it explores the regional specificities of Kashmir as a means to revisit concepts of nationalism, regional patriotism and religious identities in South Asia. The story begins in medieval and early modern Kashmir by tracing the articulation of the universal religious philosophy of Islam in the vernacular idiom by the mystic saints and poets of Kashmir. By the mid-eighteenth century, Kashmiri public discourse was characterized by a definition of regional patriotism against the rule of rapacious outsiders that transcended but did not erase religious affiliations. The discourse on identities transformed dramatically in the late nineteenth century to focus on their religious component, more concerned with the internal regeneration of Kashmiri Islam.

The study locates this change as the response of the Kashmiris, particularly Kashmiri Muslims, to the overtly Hindu structures of legitimacy employed by the Dogra rulers of the newly created state of Jammu and Kashmir, and as significantly, to the political and economic processes ushered in by the policies of the Dogra State and its British colonial masters. While continuing to use religion as a tool for political mobilization, the new Kashmiri leadership of the third decade of the twentieth century expressed an overtly nationalist vision for Kashmir and the Kashmiris that glorified the regional/national identity at the expense of religious affiliations. The study ends by revisiting the political discourse of the 1940s and early 50s in Jammu and Kashmir, which was characterized by myriad visions of Kashmiri regionalism and nationalism aimed at reconciling the religious and regional components of Kashmiri identities within various political frameworks. The unwillingness of the Indian state and the ostensibly representative political organization of the Kashmiris, the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, represent alternate nationalist visions that need to be taken into account as being, to a large extent, responsible for the present irredentist movement in the Kashmir Valley.

The Question Of Religion In Kashmir: Sovereignty, Legitimacy And Rights 1846 - 1947 (India)

Rai, Mridu, Ph.D. Columbia University, 2000. 415 pages. Adviser: Jalal, Ayesha. Publication Number: AAT 9956392

By focusing on the themes of sovereignty, legitimacy and rights, this dissertation aims to explain how and why religion and politics became inextricably enmeshed in defining and expressing the protest of Kashmiri Muslims against their Dogra princely rulers. It examines the relations between the Dogra Hindu ruling house and largely Muslim subjects from the very creation of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1846 by the British Indian colonial power to its dissolution in the aftermath of decolonization in 1947. A central contention of this study is that it was the irrelevance of Kashmir’s Muslim subjects, despite their numerical preponderance, to the Dogra ruling house’s search for legitimacy that left overwhelming numbers of them in the most abject state of helplessness and neglect. No small role was played by the colonial state in underwriting the sovereignty of the Dogra rulers while both encouraging and enabling them to derive their legitimacy from arenas that made no reference to their Muslim subjects in Kashmir. The Dogra’s mandate to rule was derived from association with the Rajputs and, after 1858, as traditional Hindu rulers.

On the Edge of Empire: Hadhramawt, Emigration, and the Indian Ocean 1880s-1930s

Linda Boxberger, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002. 292 pages.

In the preface of her On the Edge of Empire: Hadhramawt, Emigration, and the Indian Ocean 1880s-1930s, the author explains that a westerner could conduct research in the Hadhramawt region only after the unification of North and South Yemen in May 1990. Hence, we can conclude that Boxberger’s work is an effort to add to our knowledge of this under researched area. I have seldom read such a wonderfully detailed book, clearly written and polysonic in its application of diverse research methodologies, such as archive studies and oral stories collected from anthropological fieldwork. It gives several important insights into a complex history of one of Arabia’s most fascinating regions.

One often encounters the notion that Arabia has been isolated from foreign influence, and thus left alone with its own traditions and lifestyles. This understanding particularly applies to Yemen, as being a mythical land that has not changed since ancient times. However, this is far from the truth. Since Yemen could be viewed as what the rest of Arabia would have been without oil, one could conclude that petrodollars have actually conserved certain cultural values and social organizations. Yemen, on the other hand, has experienced communism, civil war, and recently democratization, unlike other parts of the Arabian peninsula.

Boxberger’s study covers Hadhramawt’s Qu’ayti and Kathiri sultanates during 1880-1930, a period that is crucial for understanding modern Yemen. Her study focuses on the British influence, as these sultanates became British protectorates; the emigration of natives to other parts of the Indian Ocean region; and the development of modern communication technologies. The traditional culture is discussed in relation to the change caused by all of these new influences.

Arabs have a long history of traveling throughout the Indian Ocean region, and these migrations shaped the Hadhrami identity “back home” to a great extent. Boxberger analyzes the phenomenon of emigration, which creates conservatism and nostalgia for the homeland, and with which, I believe, one can find apparent parallels with the global Muslim diaspora today. Referring to anthropologists’ observations of this phenomenon, she writes: “Hadhrami literary production also extolled the homeland for its moral purity, contrasting it with the temptations and corruptions of the outside world … the austere pure homeland was the abode of pious and worthy spiritual leaders, living and dead, who provided the anchor to the Hadhramis’ ancestral and religious roots. The outside world, on the other hand, was a corrupt place where the quest for material wealth led to the abandonment of ancestry and religion” (p. 45).

This view is applicable to many migrating Muslim groups. What is also of great interest is Boxberger’s thorough account of how the emigrants established religious and cultural organizations, as well as schools, in their new places of residence. Their incitement and motivation for doing so, along with their internal debates and power struggles, resonates with much of what we see today among Muslims in the West.

One of the major problems with Muslims today is that they lack an understanding of historical processes in the Muslim world. They might have a good knowledge of the Islamic scriptures, but they are often totally unaware of how these texts have been interpreted in various contexts throughout history. Therefore, Boxberger’s book is important not only for those with an interest in the region, but also for Muslims in general, in order to understand previous Islamic debates. The discussion on equality among all Muslims versus such traditional, privileged, and tribal groups as the sadah (sing. sayyid) was discussed within reform-oriented groups in the early twentieth century (p. 53). Various political aspects of Islam were also widely debated during the First World War, such as questioning the legality of signing treaties with non-believers and jihad (i.e., Muslim solidarity and unity against foreign imperialism) (pp. 198-207).

Having studied the contemporary situation of guest workers in oil states, I find another interesting analogy in Boxberger’s study: the emigrants’ display of their new riches and luxury upon their return to Hadhramawt. She says: “Competition in the ostentatious display of material wealth forced men to migrate in search of fortune and caused the homeland to suffer the lack of the emigrants’ contribution to society at the same time that their wives and children suffered the absence of their husbands and fathers” (p. 139). I think that this is still going on in many parts of the Muslim world. The difference may be that the sultans at that time were more progressive than Muslim leaders today, because in the early 1920s attempts were made to limit the display of material wealth in order to protect the poorer native population. For instance, silk and decorated clothing and certain pieces of jewelry could be worn in public only on special occasions. They even regulated the wedding parties and the number of celebration parties that the returning emigrants could hold! In summary, Boxberger has provided us with an exemplary piece of history from a dynamic part of the Muslim world. And, as we all know, without history the future will be much more complicated.

Islamic Historiography

Chase F. Robinson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 264 pages.

In this introduction to the large, unwieldy, and complex topic of Islamic historiography, the author has limited himself to historical works written in Arabic, primarily in the central Islamic lands, before 1500. This choice can be justified in that the field’s formative works written early on in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and Syria and all in Arabic, served as models for historians writing later on in peripheral regions and in other languages. Nevertheless, it is a bow to convenience and necessity, given the vast amount of material involved. As a result, the Arabic historiography of North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and other peripheral regions are largely ignored, as are the Turkish histories of the Ottoman Empire and the Persian histories of Iran, Central Asia, and India. Within these admitted and understandable limitations, the book provides an excellent thematic overview, while, at the same time, introducing the reader to some of the Islamic world’s most fascinating histories and historians. This book is divided into three parts, including ten chapters and a conclusion. A glossary, five plates of manuscript folios, three maps, two chronologies of prominent historians, and suggestions for further reading contribute to making this a useful and accessible text.

Israel and Palestine out of the Ashes: The Search for Jewish Identity in the Twenty-First Century

Marc H. Ellis, London and Sterling, Virginia: Pluto Press, 2002. 198 pages.

During the more than 37-year brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the numbers of North American Jews voicing their opposition in public have been dispiritingly small. Since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000, however, Jewish anti-occupation activists have become a visible political presence in Jewish politics in the United States and Canada. Such groups as Brit Zedek V’Shalom, the Tikkun Community, and Junity (Jewish Unity for a Just Peace) have spawned dozens of regional chapters across North America. Local groups such as Not In My Name (Chicago), Jewish Voices against the Occupation (Seattle), and Jews for Global Justice (Portland, Oregon) have sprung up spontaneously in almost every major North American city. Numerous ad hoc responses have emerged as well. For example, an “Open Letter from American Jews,” proclaiming opposition to Israeli government policies in the Occupied Territories and bearing 4,000 signatures, has appeared as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times as well as in a dozen more American and British newspapers.

Modernizing Islam: Religion in the Public Sphere in the Middle East and Europe

John L. Esposito and François Burgat, eds., Piscataway, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2003. 304 pages.

As the political climate between many western and Muslim nations continues to intensify, the rhetoric of a “clash of civilizations” has reemerged in our news media, governments, and academic institutions. Muslims and non-Muslims, with varying political agendas, insist that Islam is inherently incompatible with modernity, democracy, and the West. Yet the contributors to Modernizing Islam: Religion in the Public Sphere in the Middle East and Europe demonstrate otherwise as they examine the (re)Islamization of Europe and the Middle East and reveal the ways in which “Islamic political activism” (p. 3), or Islamism, promotes modernization.

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