In the introduction to this special issue, we make the case for ‘de-centring’ the study of Shiʿi Islam, conceptually, spatially and sociologically. After first noting the essentialization of Shiʿi identity within the contemporary public sphere, we question its spatialization within the modern world of nation-states and area studies, and contrast the physical and human geography of Shiʿi Islam.
In an upmarket suburb of Senegal’s seaside capital, a branch of Iran’s Al-Mustafa University teaches Senegalese students Shi’ite Muslim theology, among other subjects. The branch director is Iranian and a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hangs on his office wall.
Mara A. Leichtman offers an in-depth study of Shi‘i Islam in two very different communities in Senegal: the well-established Lebanese diaspora and Senegalese “converts” from Sunni to Shi‘i Islam of recent decades. Sharing a minority religious status in a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, each group is cosmopolitan in its own way. Leichtman provides new insights into the everyday lives of Shi‘i Muslims in Africa and the dynamics of local and global Islam. She explores the influence of Hizbullah and Islamic reformist movements, and offers a corrective to prevailing views of Sunni-Shi‘i hostility, demonstrating that religious coexistence is possible in a context such as Senegal.
The book should be available at the discounted conference rate for those attending MESA.