Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Anthropology, University of California / Davis

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2018
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Davis
Mourning Hussain in Britain: Tatbir and 'British Islam' after Brexit

In 2013, a council of Shi'i Muslim scholars based in London sued a local Muslim for practicing tatbir - a contested ritual of mourning within the Shi'i tradition, in which believers strike themselves with swords, chains, or other implements to commemorate the Islamic month of Muharram. The council disciplined these practitioners by a simultaneous reliance on state resources (i.e. police and civil courts) and techniques of persuasive Islamic legal reasoning (nasiha). Similarly, debates over tatbir in Birmingham relied upon both the rhetoric of state counter-terrorism, and reference to Islamic textual proofs (dalaail). I hypothesize that Islamic scholars' reliance on state apparatuses to discipline tatbir practitioners and other believers deemed 'wayward' is a strategic means by which Shi'i moral criticism enters Britain's secular public sphere. This reliance and its attendant discourses and modes of translation (from Islamic ethical vocabularies to categories recognizable by the state), however, transforms the very subjects who deploy them (Anjum 2016). Thus the alignment of Islamic critical reasoning with the imperatives of the secular British state - and its attendant concepts of bodily sovereignty, health, and liberty (Asad 2007) does not only signify British Muslims' subscription to a strategic politics of recognition (Taylor 1994). It also shapes the very project of making a "British Islam" (Bowen 2016) that still remains deeply embedded within a global Muslim network. Thus, the proposed project is simultaneously an ethnographic investigation of the post-Brexit national climate, as well as a conceptual study focused on transnational connections of Islamic moral reasoning. In this sense, this research will account for the ways in which moral vocabularies, ethical worlds, and everyday material practices intersect in the lived experiences of Shi'i Muslims in London and Birmingham.