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vendredi 30 janvier 2015

A Eureka Moment?

Today, I ran across an interesting piece by Jamal Elias, who is a professor of Religious Studies at Penn. The whole thing is a worth a read, and he makes a lot of good points. But aside from the current controversy, two of the points raised it made me consider something in a completely new light.

The first is this:
Almost invariably, the rich were the sole possessors of these rare, expensive books and, as is often the case, the rules of the palace differed from those of the street. For this reason, the art and book collections of the elite probably had little influence on the religious practices of the majority, and most surviving Islamic talismans and relics in mass circulation don’t depict Muhammad or other religious figures.
And this is the second:
Such groups are always publicly opposed to any and all forms of visual representation of Muhammad – just as they are to many other aspects of Muslim life, such as visiting shrines, religious music and dance and female participation in public life.
The point about elites being different is pretty much self explanatory, and there is often disapproval of the antics of the rich. It was only when juxtaposed with visiting shrines, which, in my understanding is a popular, folkloric practice, that I had the breakthrough; is Salafism a middle-class phenomenon?

Much has been written about the growth of the middle class and Victorian morality. And part of what drove the growth of the middle class was the Industrial Revolution, which caused migration to urban areas, and therefore dislocation for the newly arrived, formerly rural populations.

For instance, in The Making of Victorian Values: Decency and Dissent in Britain: 1789-1837, Ben Wilson argues that the new focus on morality was in part fueled by fear of losing economic status through the consequences of improper behavior. Unsurprisingly, he also mentions the influence of charismatic preachers.

Since the Second World War, and with the accompanying wave of independence, rural to urban migration has been widespread in much of the Muslim world. And despite widespread unemployment, there has been a rise in the standard of living, and in the expectations of the population. Additionally, post-independence governments have increased educational opportunities in ways that echo similar developments in 19th Century Europe.

These kind of comparisons should always be taken with a grain of salt, especially since they might neglect other, equally important factors. Nevertheless, I think this is an interesting prism through which to view social developments in the contemporary greater Middle East.