Studies of the Arabian Gulf have often analyzed the region’s individuals and groups through the lens of citizenship. In these accounts, a common ethnonational background constitutes the basis for the formation of communities, be they among Gulf citizens or migrants. This disproportionate focus on citizenship has meant that other grounds for relationality and belonging tend to be overlooked. In this paper, I consider how shared religious concepts and practices bring together migrant Muslim women of disparate ethnonational backgrounds, all residing in Dubai and attending Al-Noor Islamic center regularly. More specifically, I argue, it is a common understanding of and relationship to God which mediates these women’s interactions and creates affective bonds between them. Recognizing the centrality of God in connecting people is one way of decentering the human in our social scientific analysis, an initiative scholars like Amira Mittermaier (2021) and Samuli Schielke (2019) have recently called for.
In response, this paper works to theorize the “relational power” characterizing God-human relations at Al-Noor. As Samuli Schielke (2019) describes it, relational power is not “a binary this-worldly relationship… but a triadic relationship where God… connects humans in this world and the afterworld alike” (9). In this schema, God does not manage nebulous populations, but relates intimately to humans, both as individualized subjects and also as communities “bound by moral ties in a triadic relation with one another and God” (9-10). To understand this triadic distribution of power between God, the individual, and other humans, therefore, one must study how believers address God, anticipate God’s response, and enact what they understand as his will in social interaction. I reflect on how, for women at Al-Noor, one’s sense of self, ethical action, and ritual practice is infused with the presence of Allah, while considering how Allah’s presence, as women describe it, is almost always mediated through human others. Examining this interchange of God, the self, and the other, I provide an account of modern forms of belonging which undermine the naturalness of the modern state and its categories of organization, considering the implications of such an endeavor for our study of the Arabian Gulf.