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Transnational Approaches to Islam

Panel XII-20, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • Co-Authors: Isabel David
    Turkey’s recent expansion into the world has been discussed in various dimensions: as a political project geared towards actively creating and controlling new diasporas, as an imperialist project geared at securing the AKP‘s domestic regime, and as an Islamist effort to unite the ‚umma‘ under Turkish leadership. A central, yet hitherto understudied aspect of these policies is the spatial strategies, whereby the AKP government, as well as related Quangos and religious organizations, have concretized their diasporic/imperial programs into building projects. These interventions in the built environment differ in function and shape. In most cases, however, they consist of highly symbolical structures like large-scale mosques, ‘Turkish Houses’ and cultural centers, which significantly alter the physical and symbolic space of the cities in which they are built. While the blueprint for these structures is centrally determined, the execution thereof, but also the meanings and functions they assume differ according to the legal, political, and cultural contexts of the countries in question. In this paper, we seek to unpack the AKP regime’s spatial strategies in what its actors conceive of as Turkey's 'domestic abroad' (Varadarajan, 2010), an area which potentially extends all over the world, but solidifies in symbolic regions like the Balkans and Western Europe. We examine the variations of these programs with two case studies; the Namazgah Mosque in Tirana, Albania and the proposed construction of a new Mosque in the former Muslim quarter (Mouraria) in Lisbon, Portugal. We discuss the processes and actors that propose, finance, and implement these projects. Who are the mosque-builders (from architects and civil engineers to fundraisers, bureaucrats and politicians)?; how do they make sense of larger imperial claims and notions of Muslim unity?; and how do they respond to the requests of local Muslim communities? How are these projects received in the countries of implementation, and what kind of debates and counter-debates do they evoke? We wish to gain a better understanding of how the ‘new Turkey’ of Erdogan and the AKP era has sought to reify itself through spatial strategies that extend well beyond the borders of the nation-state, but also how opposition to these projects can lead to their modification, appropriation, or cancellation and thereby undermine imperial claims.
  • This presentation will analyze some of the changes in Turkish political life under the AKP (Justice and Development Party; in power since 2002) on the basis of religion. Modern secular Turkey, founded in 1923 on the ashes of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, was built by almost totally rejecting its imperial, Islamic and Middle Eastern pasts. However, there has been a renewed interest, even a new centrality, of Islam in society, in education and finally in Turkey's international deployment since the beginning of the 2000s. Our study addresses how this new Islamic bent is manifested by Turkey, both by the state and non-state actors on the international stage, in their quest to be both an emerging economic force and a leader of the Muslim world. By questioning the internal political mechanisms that allowed (Kemalist) Turkey to move from a religiously neutral secular state to a leading country of the Islamic cause on the international scene, we can understand the trajectory, factors, issues and the actors of this religious internationalization within a historical construction around individual actors and specific groups. The relationship between Islam and diplomacy, or specifically Turkey's foreign religious policy, has shifted since the 1970s from a desire to balance the defence of Islam and religious neutrality to a an increasingly marked erasure of secular Kemalist ideals. In drawing on participant observation in NGOs and religious madrasas, periodicals, newspapers, and the annual reports of the Diyanet (religious affairs directorate), this paper will seek to demonstrate the deployment of a unique "Turkish Islam" in the Muslim world and thereby broaden the theoretical debate on the place of Islam in foreign policy. It will also discuss the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of Turkish religious internationalization, showing both continuities in change in Turkey's religious diplomacy, in particular in countries of Muslim west Africa, in the last decades. In adopting an approach associated with comparative transnational studies, we will argue that this Islamic civilizational discourse is sustained and implemented by both state and private actors in support of Turkish interests on the world scene.
  • The Hajj itself brings together Muslims as representing the global nation beyond the differences that might exist within Muslim communities and national boundaries. The Islamic Pilgrimage is the only supranational organization and gathering in the world as it is repeated every year with the large number of participants. This transnational experience generally becomes part of the narratives that pilgrims tell family and friends upon returning home. Hajj narratives are thought to have a positive effect on the pilgrimage motivation of Muslim individuals, as well as their functions in determining or influencing the collective memory. In particular, individuals who have not fulfilled the pilgrimage and have been brought up in culturally Islamic references can feel as if they have experienced the pilgrimage through pilgrimage narratives. This paper aims to take the sociological and anthropological narratives of Turkish pilgrims as a point of departure in discussing the experience of Hajj. So, this work will argue these senses and emotions to be related to the spiritual experience of the pilgrimage to Mecca and to be motivated by the interactions of Muslim pilgrims belonging to diverse backgrounds and nationalities. However, this paper will also argue that the use of senses in descriptions of the pilgrimage at the personal level enables the individual Turkish pilgrims to gain an ongoing awareness and sense regarding the time and place of the pilgrimage upon their return to Turkey. In this sense, as a claim sharing the Hajj experience is a cultural act that also influences people’s expectations of certain physical and emotional responses during the pilgrimage. Eventually, in this work, in the context of testing all these claims, methodologically, the results of in-depth observations with a total of 17 people who went on pilgrimage, will be discussed. Keywords: Hajj, Transnational Community, Identity, Unity, Spirituality, Emotions, Turkish pilgrims
  • A growing network of transnational Islamic women organizations contesting international law has since the 1990s emerged in the Middle East, coinciding with the proliferation of global civil society during the 1990s and the Cairo Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) the same decade. These organizations are characterized by their opposition against international law, and those related to women and family issues. Their contestation is based on a critique of the UN as a Eurocentric order, which according to them seeks to regulate and impose upon the Muslim world its secular and feminist world system. This paper seeks to understand the contextual and localized conditions that underlie the institutionalization processes behind the phenomena of such transnational networks of women, and their counter-discourse against international law. Scholarly interest in religious opposition against the UN only appeared recently and was prompted by the unanticipated coalition of Muslim states and conservative Christian NGOs clashing over issues of sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) during the Cairo conference (Knox, 2002; Marshall, 2013). While there have been several studies on the emergence of Christian NGOs on the global scene and their opposition to SRHR policies, exploration of their Islamic counterparts has been surprisingly scarce. Described as an “unholy alliance” (Chappell, 2006), the “Baptist-burqa network” (Bob, 2012), or simply allies of the globalized Christian Right (Butler, 2006), Islamic-oriented advocacy actors have been clustered together with right-wing Christian groups as if they belong to the same historical and social trajectory. Looking closer into the particularities of their own context and history, this paper will explore the socio-political backdrop and motives undergirding this transnational network of Islamic women organizations. Preliminary findings suggest that their collective intervention is highly influenced by the colonial legacy in the Middle East. A dominant perception is that cultural, ideological, and ontological manifestations of western colonialism have replaced the primary role of what was before conventional military colonialism. Through feminist projects, they argue, colonial powers seek to erase the traditional family unit as the foundational pillar of their Muslim societies and indigenous ways of living. This, they believe, is now primarily carried out through international institutions such as the UN, in the name of universalism and development. Findings in this paper will be based on textual material, online data, and ethnographic fieldwork.