The Unthought in Islam: The Shi`a and Shi`ism in the Western Diaspora

 

The Edinburgh workshop addressed Shii perceptions about being Shii in Scotland, the UK and elsewhere in the Western diaspora.

The workshop was held in Edinburgh over 5-7 May, 2017 and included academic presentations and discussions by representatives of the faith community itself.

The academics who attended were:

Dr Matthijs Van den Bos (Birkbeck College London)
Dr Mohammad Mesbahi (Islamic College, London)
Professor Oliver Scharbrodt (University of Chester)
Dr Yafa Shanneik (University of Chester)
Professor Liyakat Takim (McMaster University, Canada)

Videos of the academic presentations can be accessed here.

Further information is available from Professor Andrew Newman, who organised the event.

The entire Unthought in Islam project is generously funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Research Networks in the Arts and Humanities scheme.

Abstracts:


Dr Matthijs Van den Bos (Birkbeck College London)
European Shiism in History and Theory

http://birkbeck.academia.edu/MatthijsvandenBos

This presentation assesses several subsidiary studies in the realm of Twelver Shiism and Shiite Muslims in Europe, with mostly a British-Iranian focus, in order to discern main institutional and demographic tendencies in Shiites’ European settlement history – in Britain, France, and Germany – and to explore such settlement in light of mega-theorizations of European Islam, juxtaposing integration and separation. The presentation argues for the centrality of two complicating variations on the pattern, Integration-Retention (as in the case of blood donation practice) and Separation-Appropriation (as in the case of reformist Islamism in the Ettehādiye), resulting in each case from heightened Self-Other reflection, triggered by the migration experience itself. Such reflection is scaled from hierarchy to reciprocity, corresponding roughly with feqhi treatments ‘there’ and organizational engagement ‘here’. Identity formation in European Shiism involves continual rebalancing of these elements.

Dr Mohammad Mesbahi, with Ayatollah Dr Fazel Milani (The Islamic College, London)
www.islamic-college.ac.uk

Whilst the 19th century brought a developing sense of an international society of states, the 20th and more profoundly the 21st century has moved towards a globalized society and since the 1960s, the percentage of immigrants to Europe who are Muslim has significantly increased. Europe is now home to over 38 million Muslims, or about five per cent of its population[1]. Indeed Britain has always advocated issues of diversity and inclusion. Britain like many other European counties is now a recognized multi-faith country, with Muslims accounting for the second largest religious group after Christianity. The 2011 census showed that there were 2.7 million Muslims living in England and Wales which equated to 4.8 per cent of the total population[2], a 72 per cent growth between 2001 and 2011. With 1.4 per cent, one of the lowest concentration of Muslims were recorded in Scotland but nevertheless the figure had almost doubled since 2001[3].

Amongst the rights enshrined by Islam is the freedom of travel and migration. Islam has laid great emphasis on people of differing cultures to coalesce, all of which are constrained by contemporary forms of citizenship. As the dispersion and migration Muslims from their original homeland to Europe has increased so has the desires to, not only succeed in the new environment but importantly also to hold onto religious and cultural roots within the context of the new environment. The Maraji’ Taqlid in the cities of Najaf and Qum are considered the most authoritative figures in the global Twelver Shi’ite community, and the Shi’a have looked to them for guidance. As the Maraji’ hold a relevant and prestigious position of legal authority for the Twelver Shi’a diaspora, this paper will explore the contemporary concerns of both parties interested in maintaining and supporting their relationship. It also reviews the position of the local scholars trained to interpret and apply the Maraji’’s rulings so that they are relevant to the lives of the Shi’ite diaspora community. Moreover, it will reflect on the modern Islamic approach to citizenship in light of such migration and review steps taken by the Maraji’ to further link the diaspora to their religious and cultural roots.

[1] PEW Forum, (2009), “Global restrictions on Religion”, PEW Research Cener, http://www.pewforum.org, (accessed 5/2/16)

[2] Census, (2011), “Religious Populations”, Office of National Statistics, https://www.ons.gov.uk/, (accessed 5/2/16)

[3] Census, (2011), “Census: Key Results on Population, Ethnicity, Identity, Language, Religion, Health, Housing and Accommodation in Scotland -“, National records of Scotland http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk, (accessed 5/2/16)

 

Professor Oliver Scharbrodt (University of Chester)
Mapping Transnational and Diasporic Shia Networks in London

Weblink: https://www.chester.ac.uk/departments/trs/staff/prof-oliver-scharbrodt

This paper draws a Shia map of London presenting different communities and their transnational connections. While Shia Muslims in Britain constitute a minority within a minority, their presence is also characterised by internal diversity, based on ethnic background, ideological orientation and class and social status. The paper argues that both public discourse and academic research so far has failed to encapsulate the complex dynamics within diasporic Shia communities in Britain. Intra-communal factionalism has been either overstated or ignored. Particular forms of public engagement have been recognised as progressive and constructive, while the social conservatism of some communities has been simplistically interpreted as segregation from British society. Transnational and diasporic Shia networks in London are rather situated in a “diaspora space” which is marked by complexity and heterogeneity. Following Webner’s notion of “complex diasporas”, the paper discusses how Shia diasporic spaces in London can be “both ethno-parochial and cosmopolitan”. Taking the examples of a number of Iraqi Shia networks present in London, the paper examines how these diasporic communities mediate between being conduits between diaspora and homeland and being representatives of Shia Islam in British society.

Dr Yafa Shanneik, Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Chester
The Aesthetics of Death and the Poetics of Shia Rituals

Writing elegies for the dead and performing them publicly is an Arab tradition dating back to the pre-Islamic period. Al-Khansa’, a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad, is one the best known poetesses who composed plaintive and melancholic poetry mourning the death of her two brothers. The style of her lamentation poetry has created and shaped the genre of Arabic lamentation poetry until the present. In the context of Twelver Shia Islam, writing elegies and performing them in mourning rituals has been a central element in lamenting the death of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in Karbala in 680 CE. The lachrymal expressions and descriptions that characterises this lamentation poetry have the religious and ritualistic function of metaphorically identifying and uniting the participants with Imam Husayn and his cause. Yet, very little is known about Shia lamentation poetry, particularly those performed during women-only Shia ritual mourning practices.

This paper examines women’s lamentation poetry recited in women-only religious gatherings (majalis) in London, Kuwait and Bahrain. It analyses the reception of this poetry and the emotional affect on women of various backgrounds residing in contexts that are different in geographical, political and migratory terms. Yet these gathering use similar symbolic imageries during Ashura rituals which date back to pre- and early Islamic poetry.

Professor Liyakat Takim (McMaster University, Canada)
From Invisible to Visible Muslims: Engaging the Muslim Other in America

https://socialsciences.mcmaster.ca/people/takim-liyakat

The twentieth century witnessed a dramatic increase in the migration of Muslims to the American shores. The increased presence and visibility of Muslims in America means that Islam is no longer to be characterized as a Middle Eastern or South Asian phenomenon. Given the fact that it is the fastest growing religion in America, Islam is now a very American phenomenon.

In this paper, I intend to adumbrate the salient features that characterize the Shi‘i community in America. It will also examine the challenges the community encounters living as a minority within the broader Muslim community. In discussing the matrix of forms through which the culture of the different Shi‘i groups is expressed, it will be seen that far from being a monolithic group, even the Shi‘i community comprises a mosaic of diverse ethnic and cultural groups that have settled in America. As a matter of fact, it is possible to speak of a ‘rainbow’ nature of Shi‘i Islam.

The face of American Islam has changed dramatically after the events of September 11, 2001. This article will also examine the impact that 9/11 had on the American Shi’i community and will focus on increasing political engagement by members of the community. It will compare and contrast the political experience of the Arab and Pakistani Shi’is and will discuss how Shi’is and Sunnis have come together to try to change the American political landscape.

Schedule
(Please be aware that times are subject to change.)

Saturday, 6 May 2017

9: 00 am – Welcome

9.15 – 10.00 Dr Matthijs Van den Bos (Birkbeck College London)
European Shiism in History and Theory

10.00 – 10.45 am Dr Mohammad Mesbahi (The Islamic College, London)

10.45 – 11.30 Professor Oliver Scharbrodt (University of Chester)
Mapping Transnational and Diasporic Shia Networks in London

11.30 – 11.45 am Coffee Break

11.45 – 12.30 Yafa Shanneik, Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Chester
The Aesthetics of Death and the Poetics of Shia Rituals

12.30– 1.15 Professor Liyakat Takim (McMaster University, Canada)
From Invisible to Visible Muslims: Engaging the Muslim Other in America

1.15– 2.30 pm Lunch

Informal Presentations by Community Representatives

3.30 – 3.45 pm Coffee Break

Informal Presentations by Community Representatives

Discussion

7.30 Dinner

Sunday, 7 May 2017

9.30 am

Informal Discussions

11.15 – 11.30 am Coffee Break

Informal Discussions

1.30– 2.15 pm Lunch

Informal Discussions

3.30 – 3.45 pm Coffee Break

Summary and Conclusion