Ulrik Høj, Aarhus University
Migration is a process of movement. Movement of people, of ideas and of objects. In the 1940s Danish scientists taking part in the Third Danish Expedition to Central Asia caused a migration of objects , which were collected in the Eastern Afghan province of Nuristan – the former Kafiristan – and shipped to Denmark. Since then
they have been in museum exhibition halls and storage rooms. Many of these objects have references to the Kafir faith, which in the mountainous Afghan province was replaced almostovernight in 1896 by Islam, as the Afghan Kafirs were forcefully converted by the Afghan Emir Abdur Rahman Khan. Kafirs resisting the invading army were either killed or migrated(fled) to their ‘cousins’ on the other side of border to Pakistan, the Kalasha. The converted Nuristanis remaining in Nuristan adapted the new religion step by step. One could say that itwas a process of
religious migration, which lasted decades before most of the tangible heritage – such
as temples, Kafir symbols carved in house posts and household utensils -‐ of the Kafirs was not visible anymore. In the late 1940s the Danish expedition members collected some oflast remaining objects carrying reference to the Kafir faith. The religious aesthetics of Islam became dominant, which meant the heathen symbols were not carved anew and thetradition of erecting gandao and gundurik figures on the grave yards was abandoned. Such objects found their way to Denmark as a result of the expedition.
Moesgaard Museum holds a rather important collection of objects that bear
reference to the Kafir faith, and can therefore be argued to be sacred. Such cultural heritage is not to be found in Nuristan anymore. To what extent and how does this cultural heritage – these once sacred objects – connect Nuristanis to their history, themselves and the environment that they inhibit today? This is what the PhD-‐ project “Reassessing theValue of a Museum Collection from the Hindu Kush” will investigate.
Images of the Transregional Sufi Shaykh
Mark Sedgwick, Aarhus University
The paper follows the multiple migrations of the image of the whirling dervish, and of books on Sufism that may have the whirling dervish on their cover. Both image and books,adopted by the West from the Muslim world, have now made return migrations to Egypt, where they are found at Sufi, a café bookstore, and at N?n, a holistic health center. The paperuses the examples of Sufi and N?n to ask what varieties of post-‐Islamist subjectivities are now emerging in Cairo’s cosmopolitan community. It agrees with other scholars that thesereflect globalization and consumerism, but it questions the widespread view that they reflect individualization, and argues that there are reasons other than neo-‐liberalism for thecommercialization of spirituality under authoritarianism.The
Flags from Karbala. Mediation of the Sacred in Migrancy
Ingvild Flaskerud, Oslo University
From the pole on top of the shrine of the third Twelver Shia Imam, Husayn, in Karbala waves a flag. The flag is changed on a regular basis. The colour of the flags alters betweenred, green and black, following the liturgical year. When flags are dismounted, they are distributed among Twelver Shia communities around the world. In recent years, such flags have begun to appear in Norway. They are kept in private homes,decorate ritual assembly halls, are paraded in the public, and are carried to mountaintops. In my talk, I discuss to issues related to such practices. One issue addresses theethnographic context and old and new ways of mediating the sacred in migrant communities. The other issue concerns how we theoretically understand “the sacred”: What is a sacredobject? How do things become sacred? How is the sacred mediated? How do we theorize the sacred in the profane?
An amulet in Nørrebro, that you should (not) use for protection
Karen Waltorp, Aarhus University
The call for abstract looks for contested sacred objects in migratory settings, their importance, impact, and circulation. The starting point of my talk is a so-‐called
‘Taveez’ -‐ a protective amulet -‐ around the neck of one of my informants, Sana 29 of Pakistani origin. I had known Sana for over 6 months, before she started disclosing all thesecrets entwined in her wearing the taveez. She had noticed the taveez that I
wore in a necklace (West-‐african amulet -‐ ‘gris-‐gris’), and prompted by her curiosity about my wearing it, and our friendship developing over time, she at a point felt safe enoughto start discussing a world that spans Pakistan, Denmark and other places, but belong to a realm that I am not normally let into. My fieldwork suddenly came to entail stories of blackmagic, family feuds, holy men, curses, jinns and diverse
objects that are endowed with strong forces, and has to be met with strong opposing forces that are not likely to be found in Denmark. What is particularly interesting to the focus of mydoctoral fieldwork is that a Sheykh strong enough to oppose such powers can help one over the mobile phone, Skype or Viber – giving instructions as to what rituals to do in-‐between call sessions. Granted, this is not nearly as effective as being physically next to each other, as informants underscore, but it is possible. Thus, sacred physical objects, invisible forcesand virtual healing interact across migratory contexts and countries of origin in the Middle East and South Asia. And all of these practices and objects are heavily contested. During a walk with another informant, Nour of Palestinian (Jordanian) origin, I took up the subject and was reprimanded immediately. I could be excused for wearing the amulet, as it
concerned a personal story and had no religious impact; other Muslims using protective amulets or other objects acted in the wrong. If anything, Nour herself would choose to placethe whole Qu’ran under her daughters pillow for protection, but taking verses out of context and wearing them around your neck in an amulet was not allowed, according to her.
Banners during Tehran’s Muharram Rituals of Nasseri era (1831-‐1896)
Pedram Khosronejad, University of Nantes
The sub-‐discipline known as 'material culture studies' constitutes a diffuse and relatively young interdisciplinary field of study in which a concept of materiality provides both thestarting point and the justification. Having arisen out of a wide variety of research traditions, material culture studies are inevitably diverse. In addition, the very concept ofmateriality is itself heterogeneous and ambiguous. Attempts at rigorous definition are entangled with deep metaphorical roots and
philosophical connotations. According to various dictionary definitions, materiality can mean 'substance', something comprising elements or constituents of variously composedmatter; the tangible, the existing or concrete, the substantial, the worldly and real, as opposed to the imaginary, ideal and value-‐laden aspects of human existence. The concept ofmateriality is thus typically used to refer to the ﬂeshy, corporal and physical, as opposed to the spiritual, ideal and value-‐laden aspects of human existence.
Unlike historians who generally use visual or artefactual materials only to
illustrate themes or topics drawn from written sources, material culture specialists derive meaning from objects themselves, by paying attention to the form, distribution, and changingcharacter of the objects and their environments. They want to know how people use artefacts and experience spaces. What separates students of material culture fromantiquarians is the insistence that objects are not merely interesting forms to be described and collected. The material world of landscape, tools, buildings, household goods, clothing,and art is not neutral and passive -‐ people interact with the material world, thus permitting it to communicate specific messages, and the material world in turn shapes their habitusand self-‐ understanding.
Iranian Shiite believers, like any other religious society, learn the discourses
and habits of their religious community through the artefacts and material culture of their religion. Iranian Shiite material culture does not simply reﬂect an existing reality.Experiencing the physical dimension of Shiism helps bring about religious values, norms, behaviours and attitudes. Practicing Shiism sets into motion ways of thinking. It is thecontinual interaction with objects, images and symbols that makes one religious in a particular manner.
When we look carefully at the interaction between Iranians (1845-‐1925)
and Shiite artefacts, religious architecture, and ritualistic environment, we see that the practice of Shiism is a subtle mixture of traditional beliefs and personal improvisations. Therelation of art to the Iranian Shiism is a complex issue. Universally, art objects have seemed to serve religion functionally and, conversely, to have drawn upon it for themes. In thisview, religious art and material culture reinforce conceptual patterning of a mystical order through other media.
During Nasseri era (1831-‐1896) Shi'i believers have used devotional and pious things and objects in a variety of ways. In this presentation, by using original archival photosregarding Muharram rituals during Nasseri period, I try to show how different communities in Tehran have used different types of Banners (‘Alam).
This presentation will follow three objectives:
-‐The usage of Banners as religious and sacred objects,
-‐The relationship of Banners (artefacts) to Shiite religious beliefs; ceremonies and
emo-‐ tions; value systems; and, more broadly, social identities.
-‐The relationship of Banners (artefacts) to Iranian/Shiite history and tradition;
individual and collective memory.
Every place is Karbala. The turba prayer stone as traveling soil
Thomas Fibiger, Aarhus University
One of the most distinct characteristics of the Shia sect is that at prayer, the Shia Muslim should touch his/her forehead on a turba prayer stone. Ideally, this stone is made of clay fromKarbala, the site where Imam Husayn, the grandchild of the Prophet Muhammad and early leader of the Shia, was killed together with his small army at the decisive battle of Karbala in680. Thus, every time a Shia Muslim prays, anywhere in the world, he/she connects physically to the soil of Karbala and the martyrdom of Imam Husayn. As a popular saying goes,‘every day is Ashura (the tenth of Muharram, when the battle took place), every place is Karbala’. Every place is physically so when the Shia kneels to pray and put his/her head on theturba stone. This paper will illuminate and discuss the importance of the turba prayer stone, its use in prayer and other ritual activities, among women and men in the Arab states of theGulf. I intend to show how the important sacred site of Karbala travels as prayer stones, and how Shia history and experience is embedded in every piece of this clay.
On the matter of ignorance: Bedouin pasts and the problem of presence
Mikkel Bille, Roskilde University
In recent decades the theological notion of jahiliyyah, as the Age of Ignorance, has reappeared with the Islamic revival to describe contemporary practices that allegedly run againstIslamic traditions. Through claims of ignorance (jahil) people may on the one hand expose other people and their practices as less Islamic, or in some cases may be a way ofstrategically positioning oneself as ignorant by claiming that God only knows. Through this stratagem “ignorance”, either as part of theology or as part of social lives, has emerged asmore than simply a cognitive lack, but likewise an evaluative perspective to social lives. While much recent research has focused on the way people are ignorant about something, thispresentation will deal with the way Bedouin in Jordan may find themselves in negotiations over ignorance through their use of particular saint shrines and prophylactic objects. Storiesof the efficacy of these places or objects has been passed down for generations, but after taking up settled life away from their traditional tribal areas the material practices are eitherforgotten, or become increasingly contested or clandestine as more scriptural understandings of Islam are gaining influence. The fundamental problem that arise is one of the role ofmateriality: How to deal with the potency of past practices, in what way is an object really present, and how does knowing and not-‐ knowing through things become part of social lives?
The Prophet in Our Midst: Sacred objects among Muslims in Denmark
Mikkel Rytter, Aarhus University
The so called ‘cartoon crisis’ in 2005-‐2006 has resulted in a ‘freedom of speech
fundamentalism’ in secular Danish society, where Muslim minorities are instructed to endure mocking, ridicule and insults. However, parallel to this a more enchanted
‘subaltern counter-‐public’ seems to take form among Danish Muslims. It is an
enchanted public sphere where people strive to cultivate an intimate relationship with the Prophet Muhammad and let his virtues and perfect example guide all aspects of theireveryday life.
In this paper I discuss two particular kinds of ‘sacred objects’ that have been significant in the establishment and expansion of a Sufi tariqa (path, order) called NaqshbandiMujaddidi Saifi, that currently attracts many followers among Danish Pakistani youth. The first sacred object is the impressive beards grown on the chins of the devoted Sufis; thesecond is the appearance of a specific relic, a single hair supposedly stemming from the Prophet Muhammad. Applying James Frazer’s classical distinction between ‘imitative magic’,which works by what he calls law of similarity and ‘contagious magic’ that work by the law of contact, I discuss how sacred objects presents an alternative to the Islamophobia andracism many Muslim immigrants are confronted with in Danish society, and how they enables the cultivation of an intimate and affective relationship between the single Saifi and the beloved Prophet.
Early Islamic amulet cases in the David Collection
Joachim Meyer, The David’s Collection
In an Islamic context amulets are known since the early periods and their use was
probably influenced by pre-‐Islamic cultures. This seems also to be the case with Islamic amulet containers. The earliest containers date to 10.-‐11th century Iran and are made ofsilver, often partially gilded and inlaid with niello – a tradition that continues up to the 13th century. Many containers belonging to this early group have found their way into publiccollections, but only in few cases have their provenances from excavations been published.
These containers are either shaped as cylindrical tubes or as small boxes and fitted with loops for attaching a cord for suspension. The cylindrical tubes seem to belong to a tradition going back to the pre-‐Islamic Mediterranean region with antecedents including ancient Egyptian and Carthagianian cylindrical containers as well as Roman and Byzantineamulet cases.
These early Islamic amulet containers are small in size and though they
today normally miss their original contents, they are supposed to have been holding
minor scrolls of prayers or Quranic verses, sometimes also with talismanic inscriptions. Normally these texts would have been hand written, but there are also early examples of textsmade from wood block prints or from metal seals.
In The David Collection is found a small group of early amulet containers as well as a sample of a printed text that would have been stored into an amulet container. This paper will focus on these early silver containers and discuss the art historical context, they belong to.
Conference program is available here