Panel 1G

Religion in the Middle East: Folk Traditions and Interfaith Dialogue

10.45 – 12.45
Chair: Eirini Kakoulidou, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

The Decline of Folk Islam in Western Thrace / Greece

Eirini Kakoulidou, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

In this paper, I am exploring the qualitative change of religious beliefs of the Muslim minority of Western Thrace in Greece and its transition from what Ernest Gellner calls ““low” or “folk” Islam to “high” Islam. High Islam concerns a sophisticated tradition, focusing on the concepts of the religious text of Islam, the Quran, giving considerable emphasis on reaching conclusions based on legal grounds.  Low Islam refers to a tradition of an ecstatic and occasionally revolutionary or controversial nature, which focuses on the holiness and the miraculous properties of certain personalities who represent national groups that usually adopt the system of the so-called “segmentary societies”.  Until a few decades ago, Western Thrace was a region where Sufi traditions and syncretism between the folk Muslim and Christian populations had been survived for centuries. Which were the factors that caused the change of the Muslim minority of Western Thrace from “low” to “high” Islam and what is its impact? What was the role of the Greek and Turkish nationalism in this transition? Are there any remnants of the old traditions still surviving in Western Thrace?

Islamic ‘Magical-Medicinal’ Bowls through Time and Space

Jenny Norton-Wright, Manchester Museum

Deriving from Judeao-Christian Aramaic traditions, Islamic ‘magical-medicinal’ bowls bearing Qur’anic (and other) inscriptions, zodiacal imagery, and Solomonic symbolism, had become strongly associated with a range of mystical, divinatory, and healing practices by the medieval period. From Mesopotamian origins, the material form was developed and adapted as it was disseminated throughout the thousands of miles separating the Levant from India. More recent examples predominantly originate from today’s Iran, Pakistan, and northern India, including one example in Manchester Museum’s collection (O.8935). Today, these still-enigmatic objects are found in museum collections worldwide, but have not received comprehensive art-historical or ethnographic investigation until recently. However, the traditional usage of such bowls transcends literal and historically-rooted concepts of transfer and movement. Alongside related spiritual and healing practices involving ink and washing, magical-medicinal bowls invoke the ability of humble water to act as a carrier of ineffable divine blessing and protection. This relates, furthermore, to wider (and better-understood) concepts of the Arabic script as a metaphorical and literal agent of heavenly power. Philosophers and housewives through the centuries have rationalised and had recourse to these beliefs. The significance of these objects to their users and keepers lives on. Manchester Museum recently displayed one such bowl – of modern manufacture – belonging to a Syrian refugee living in Manchester, while ongoing research among Muslim communities of South Asian origin has focussed on contemporary water-related devotional practices. Blurring the lines between orthodoxy, esotericism, and folk belief, these bowls have always exercised a mysterious attraction that transcends time, space, and physics.

 Competition of Religious Rapprochement Policy in the Modern Islamic World: Conflict of Umma and the Nation States

Ikehata Fukiko, Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University

In 21st century, because of an awareness of the problems of “sectarian conflicts” or Islamophobia, many movements toward dialogue, rapprochement and cooperation of different Islamic sects or religions arose from inside of the Islamic world. Some of them are led by government, king or the royal families, and such movements can be grasped as “religious rapprochement policy” competing each other. The object of these policies is of course to pursue increase of national prestige and enhancement of legitimacy of each government, but arose because of the demand of Moderate thought, Wasatiyya, which tries to clear away splitting of Umma. Focusing on the religious rapprochement policy competed by the Middle Eastern countries, the dynamics of conflicts between Umma and the Nation States can be clarified from the new aspect.  For example, Saudi Arabia, showing the leading power in the Modern Middle East, has taken  initiative in the inter-faith dialogue. But also Jordan, though it is relatively small country, is taking initiative by offering the “Amman Message” and “A Common Word between Us and You,” or founding of “World Interfaith Harmony Week.” Recently, Morocco and Qatar have also started such religious rapprochement policy, and all these policies show their originalities resulted from their different circumstances or different ways of authority and political stands. In order to supply the demand of Wassatiyya, they are all promoting the moderate thought, whereas they are competing each other. This presentation shows this contrast in the Modern Islamic World.