Although the peoples that we have studied throughout the semster subscribe to one umbrella religion–either Judaism or Islam–the diversity in popular religious practices within the same faith are a testament to the significance of deep cultural roots and regional identity. Studying saint veneration in particular gave insight into the strength of regional bonds and practices. The Rosen article, for example, pointed out that on a micro level, Jewish and Muslim saint worship in Morocco look remarkably similar to each other, likely due to their regional commonality.
Looking at Saint veneration and cults of spirit possesion has gleaned an understanding of the dichotomous, yet also complimentary relationship popular religion has with the larger orothodox institution. The plurality of popular practice and interpretation can be a framework to understand how people (in general) form individual identities. The Middle East and North Africa provide a particularly interesting case study due to the communal nature of most societies in that region. Even as there is a communal emphasis, the exploration of the Hilulla in the Saint of Beersheba, for example, showed the enduring signifcance of Moroccan and Tunisian regional identity–and, in a way, popular identity- even though they immigrated to Isreal to live among people the same religious, and ostensibly, cutlural identity.
As a religion major, I feel like I now understand the significance of studying religion on a regional basis, rather than just aiming to have a broad understanding of a particular faith. Localized and popular religious study exposes nuances of applied practice and belief that would otherwise go unseen.
This being my last blog post of my undergraduate career, I want to use it as a way to wrap up this class, and to reflect on how the themes of this class reflect the social atmosphere of the MENA region. Popular religious movements, especially the ones we have studied in North Africa reflect the social trend of these groups. In most cases we see movements that have elements that clash with what many in the region consider ‘true Islam’. The Zaar, the Janun, and the rituals that accompany these movements could be seen as polygamist, because they involve some aspect of a supernatural being’s power over the subject. In the area they are not though, because these rituals and traditions are seen as a continuation of the culture. This was evident in the movie that we watched as well. These communities hold on to these traditions very hard because they see them as an extension of the old country and their heritage.
The evolution of popular religion also shows a change in society. Entering into the modern era we see the differences of society through religion. We can see the need for women in the market place through the selling magic as well as advice in relationships. This also signifies the change in relationship dynamics. The woman now has the ability to control or find reason to voice dissatisfaction in relationship issues.
In this region it is very apparent that religion and culture go hand in glove. This class was not just a view into the rituals of popular religious movements, but the cultural development in the region.
Religion in the Market place has actually been a machine that has allowed for transformation in the commercial sector of life. This is an important aspect of religion and how it advances society to address relevant social issues. Two of our readings dealt with this issue of women in the workplace, and their actions creating a niche where they are needed assets to the community.
What I think is interesting about this, is not necessarily the popular religion, but in a social need based sense. This is interesting in two different aspects, one is the need for extra income, and the other is the need for economic independence. Throughout the MENA region, household income is going static, while the financial needs of the family is increasing. Traditionally, the male of the house would be able to go out and make enough to support the family. This is not enough anymore; increasing cost of living, large families, and food have made it necessary for many members of the family to add to the income. The men cannot fill this role alone, and females have to start working to help. In a patriarchal society, this is very hard to do. In the MENA region, women sometimes see very harsh working conditions and rude employee interactions if they do get a job, but that is a battle within itself. These women in the article have found religious reasoning to have a job, and therefore have found a way to secure the respect in the role they play.
Another thing is the need for female economic independence. The divorce rate in the MENA region is generally hovering around 25 percent. Although this is nowhere near the rate in the west, many less people are getting married. Education is on the rise as well, and in most higher education programs, females are the dominant sex. This means the government and society need to be making policies and developing strategies to allow for newly divorced women and highly educated female college graduates to enter the work force. Religion can play a big part in doing this, as it helps to craft society’s view of normal. With popular religious movements leading the way on this topic, we could very well be seeing a transformation into this type of society.
An interesting aspect of popular religion in the twentieth century is the nation-building aspect of the movement. Both Kosansky and Ben-Ami mentioned the popular aspect of these rituals and how they became necessary to build and create a national identity.
Kosansky speaks about the elite and colonial administrators using the pilgrimage as a political tool, used by the French to exercise authority over the protectorate. They did this by using the holy sites as mouthpieces of administration in some aspects because the largest crowds would be in attendance. After the 1930’s Ben-Ami explains, these pilgrimages became national events, which melted many different social groups together. The King, who came in after the French were deposed, also used these traditions as a nation builder, and to increase his legitimacy and give authority to his title ‘Commander of the Faithful’.
When I was in Morocco, and during the course of my research, I have come into countless examples of this practice still happening. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, part of the king’s reform package was liberalizing a parliament, on the condition that he was given control of the Ministry of Religion. This is an example of how important religion in the country is to his legitimacy. This is also accompanied with his highly publicized visits to religious shrines and mosques. He has managed to keep his piety in the view of his people, even after he transformed familial law from Sharia based, to a Swiss/French based system secular system.
I would like to continue a discussion started by Noah Segal regarding the status of the shrines of Jewish and Muslim saints and religious leaders. He mentions the turmoil surrounding the shrine of the Prophet Ezekiel in Iraq. I would like to extend this discussion to a site that I visited in the West Bank city of Hebron, the Machpelah (המכפלה), the tomb of the patriarchs, the site where the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Abrahamic religions are buried. This site, along with the neighbourhoods in which it is situated, is one of the most contested locations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The site, which is a large building maintained as a mosque by an Islamic waqf, is located on the edge of Hebron’s Jewish community, which is in itself a contested site. Both the neighbourhood and the tomb have sparked countless protests from both the Palestinian and the Jewish settlers, and the site was the location of the mass shooting by Baruch Goldstein in 1994 which killed 29 Muslims during prayer, and caused riots which killed 35 others. While the waqf maintains the building and what lies within its walls, the Israeli Defence Forces control the perimeter and maintains a checkpoint for those entering, and ten days of the year, Palestinians and Muslims are barred from entry to the site, allowing for Jews to access the entire building, while normally they are only allowed into a small portion.
Whenever one of the religious groups wants to modify the building in any way, it sparks protests, with both sides claiming that the other is attempting to devalue and take away from the religiosity of the site. After the Israelis seized the West Bank after the Six-Day War in 1967, Defence Minister Moshe Dayan sent a small girl into the burial caves under the structure to examine them, for the entrance was too small for anyone larger to enter. While this discovery was made due to the Jewish desire to visit the site of the fathers of their religion, this caused controversy amongst Palestinian residents of Hebron, as they thought the Israelis were attempting to de-sanctify the mosque.
I travelled to the site during one of the weekends that Jews are allowed access to the entire building, the Shabbat Chayei Sarah, or the Death of Sarah. While in Hebron, I was surrounded by both Orthodox Jews coming to pray at the site as well as Jewish residents of Hebron. In listening to their side of the story and the way they speak of their Palestinian neighbours, I understand why there is so much tension between the two sides. The Jewish settlers speak of Arab residents of Hebron, who are separated from the Jewish community by IDF soldiers and a no-man’s land consisting of entire streets on the Palestinian side of the fence, as if they were evil and had no right to live there. They felt that the Jewish settlers should force all Palestinians from Hebron, and the way they actively, and often times violently, protested against removal of Jewish settlers from the city showed me that they were unwilling to accept the dual history that the building and the site has to both Judaism and Islam. These protests make me wonder what the future holds for the safety and religiosity of the site.
Like many Israeli films I have seen, Sh’chur has the unique characteristic of depth on so many different levels. This movie left me dumbfounded when it first ended. I could not stop thinking about it and, as time passed, I was able to process Sh’chur’s many messages—from fitting into modern society to dealing with family members who aren’t quite normal. Like Waltz with Bashir, the last Israeli film I viewed, I was thoroughly impressed with Sh’chur.
I viewed this film through the lens of a Dickinson student who has had some exposure to the Middle East and Israel through my studies and travel. Thus, I was able to recognize some of the social commentary that the producers of the film were making on Israeli society. One of the themes that I think that the director conveyed beautifully was the desire of the younger generations of Israelis to be modern, not tied down to the past. We see multiple instances of Cheli’s frustration with her superstitious family and the rituals that they use throughout the movie. She so desperately wants to break away from her family’s traditionalism, and that theme continues even until the very end of the movie when she denies her mother’s attempts to perform a ritual to keep her safe before leaving for boarding school.
The film delves even deeper into the issues that immigrants had with integrating into Israeli society. On the one hand, they are expected to assimilate into Israeli culture. On the other hand, immigrants like Cheli’s mother are unwilling to depart from the archaic and superstitious traditions of the past that are a part of their culture. As a result, the family lies in a sort of no man’s land—clinging to the past, like Cheli’s mother, and desperately wanting to move forward into modern life, like Cheli. This tug of war between old culture and a homogeneous Israeli identity has been a contentious issue in Israeli society since Israel became a nation.
Another aspect of the film that I was impressed with was the director’s ability to portray the protagonist so that the audience can identify with her. It wasn’t until today that I noticed how much of a foul character she actually is throughout the movie, when one of my colleagues pointed it out. In comparison to the “blind, abusive father, a deadbeat son–in addition to the superstitious mother and disturbed older daughter,” Cheli seems relatively normal.
Throughout this course, we have studied and discussed popular religion in Morocco and practices and rituals that seem to be a thing of the past. However, these practices and rituals are still observed today by people such as Cheli’s mother. In a symbolic way, Sh’chur demonstrates how these practices and rituals are caught between the past and the future and leave open the question of whether modernity will make them extinct.
 Slattery, Christina. “‘Sh’chur’ Groundbreaking.” The Harvard Crimson. The Harvard Crimson, 9 Oct. 1995. Web. 03 May 2013.
I think that I have been for a while very fascinated with the structure of how all these hillula and ziyara ceremonies come about and not just the mere fact that they are culturally constructed and an extension of the local people, but how these events run smoothly and without causing political and destruction of these worship sites. In the Muslim context, there are brotherhoods that maintain the rites and rituals pertaining to their specific saint, but in the Jewish context it seems to be simply a family organization such as the Abu Hatseras or the Chouri clans. This got me to thinking about the Wazana clan and what features that really kept them from achieving the same level of popularity as the Baba Sali’s hillula and others. I surmised that it couldn’t be the location within Israel as the Wazana clan lives in Be’er Sheva, the same place that Rabbi Chouri’s hillula celebration. After some thought it really seemed to me that the family seemed to be the driver, especially in the Chouri case, that constructed these events and make them into the functioning forms of worship that is burgeoning in Israel currently.
With the Chouri family, it truly was an extension of the family as it began amongst just a few members of the family meeting and some local religious figures. Eventually with enough publicity though this hillula not only invited the Tunisian Jews from the Be’er Sheva area, but eventually expanded to attracting the Jews of Morocco and European Jews living in northern portions of Israel. This seems to be the methodology in which saints are worshipped in Israel. They are established not only by their family’s work in organizing the event, but also how the family maintains the saint’s pure and Jewish image.
This is where I think the irreverence shown to the Wazana family comes from. Just like the Abu Hatseras there was a family lineage, “zekhut avot”, with the Wazana family, but this is not the case with the Chouri family as he was not identified as a saint until after his death. So the family lineage is not the predictor of the saintly acclaim either. Therefore I think that it was the lack of closeness amongst the family and the troubling image of Ya’aqov Wazana that kept the family from attempting to establish their own hillula.
I think that this distance within the family is very much a paramount portion of Bilu’s account of Wazana as his sister, Hana, describes that “she lived in his house” and a kind of lacking in the sharing of their familial ties. Not only this, but there almost seemed to be shame of Wazana that he had denigrated the entire family. Especially since most of the negative accounts of Wazana came from his cousin, also named Ya’aqov. To me at least it seemed in a way that he was attempting to separate himself from the memory of Wazana and if anything dismiss him as a selfish, unruly, and distant relative of the family. I think what also may have constructed this shame was the condemnation and hostility of Rabbi Yosef Abu Hatsera as hotly contested Wazana’s presence in the realm of religious leadership. Although it didn’t not specifically mention it, I could foresee that there was probably a pretty large campaign against Wazana in order to belittle the honor of his family.
I think that all of this could have definitely contributed to the disparity in the social statuses in each family. As the Wazana clan, had no heirs from Rabbi Wazana himself and also that any sort of familial relationship was strained and shallow. Wazana within in his family, showed very little devotion, support, and any real degree of nepotism. In the end, he would garner very little to any family activity, the seemingly important factor, to try and attempt at venerating him or their shared ancestors, even when saint veneration seems to be on
Who really was Wazana? Yoram Bilu identifies him as a man unsettled and longing for redemption attached with an Oedipus complex, but I find given the material that his analysis seems unfounded. Some questions unanswered are why did Wazana choose that time to disobey the demons. In his accounts, it showed clearly that he was more than willing to accept the demise of some of his clients. So why at this moment? I don’t think the answer is within the text, but I think it can be accounted for. And even prior to Wazana’s demise why did he refrain from making time for his dying mother in her last hours? Wouldn’t that have been the most important event in his life given that he was so distraught from the death of his father? Bilu argues that his mother was the only women in his life and she dominated his sexual desires. He attributes this to the relationship to the jinn female, but were there not other bachelor’s who were of a normal psyche and also married to jinn? This is why I find it unfounded and why instead I would like to interpret his motivations in another lens.
If we are to discern the motivations of Wazana, I think we should view him in an existential light. I choose this path because in my representation of Wazana because he seemed to have no attachments what so ever in every facet of his life and allowed that to define his decision-making. That is not to say that he didn’t have passion or relationships with people, as he was not a sociopath, but Wazana allowed no preconception or social constructs to define his actions. This is evident enough in his hybridization of religious spheres, his blatant disregard for Jewish practices, and his relationship with his family. This defining attitude is also why his devotees described him as a man of fearlessness, steadfast courage, and attributed other qualities of a leader to him. If Wazana was to truly embody a leader without fetters then he would have to maintain no fear of loss and shy away from responsibilities.
This desire to not be constrained is why he never saved any of his money or had a human family or cared about maintaining the unadultered prestige of his family’s name. This value serves to explain why he didn’t accompany his parents during the time they had passed away. It wasn’t that he was incapable of deep affiliations, but that he didn’t want to. If he really had been crushed by missing his father’s death and made it a defining point of his life, then he would not have missed his mother’s death for any reason. Therefore, it would seem more plausible to assume that he did this purposefully. Instead he avoided the heartbreak of witnessing the loss of his loved ones, the only people who had some sort of influence to weigh him down. This shows that no man is an island, however, given the close familial relationships of Moroccan Jews and Muslims, Wazana got the closest.
In his relationship with devotees, he expected of them nothing less than what he expected of himself, which was to share in the moment and enjoy life guided by social impulses and not by utilitarian considerations. He made this abundantly clear by punishing his friends for their stinginess and desire not to share their possessions. In this way he clearly didn’t allow the future or the past to completely define his present. This correspondingly made him an amicable friend and person, but rebelled against the demands of a Jewish male’s sense of maturity or delaying gratification. This is also speaks to why he didn’t have a human family. As a human family would give him responsibilities beyond himself and this would contradict his live in the moment lifestyle.
When it came to his saintliness, he proved to be a great foil to the Abu Hatseras. The Abu Hatseras truly conformed to the historical definition of a saint by setting themselves apart from the common people and maintaining all of the practices of a traditional Jewish saint, including having children and saving their devotees gifts as an endowment. Wazana on the other hand is the complete denial of this. Instead he mixes with the people, he didn’t have children, and spent all of the money that he earned while maintaining very few possessions. If anything Wazana not only denied these concepts, but mocked the constraints both his devotees and the Abu Hatseras put on themselves by laughing at their fears and playing upon the squeamishness of his community to Muslim practices. This denial of definition to an almost irreligiousness is why his prestige was so immense in life and so diminished after his death when compared with the Abu Hatseras.
But this transcendence doesn’t seem to be the resultant of some sort of blatant hate for Jewish practices, but instead a pragmatic understanding of the limitations of his own culture in developing his own personal prestige and maintaining his lifestyle. This is his reason to immerse in another culture and ignore the definition of a saint or Jew for that matter. But this wasn’t some blind endeavor into unknown territory. Other rabbis had attempted to learn Islamic ritual magic practices and were not excommunicated or destroyed. Knowing this we can assume that the relations between Moroccans and Jews of the time were relatively open to each other’s practices and beliefs, and gave opportunities for social niches. In just the same way that saints choose their burial site in relationship to the devoutness and size of the population of a village, so did Wazana choose to expand his services to those believed more fervently, as Islam appeared more open to magical usage, and were greater in quantity in the Morccan countryside. I think he also understood that the belief in jinn in his Jewish community derived from the influences of the region and made part of doctrine by Islam, and therefore, a magical occupation would best be served in conforming to Islamic practices.
Wazana was not defined by Muslim preconceptions either as he maintained a relationship with a jinn on his own terms. He controlled the jinn and maintained a healthy relationship where even his mother shared in meeting them. This directly contradicted the presumption that a human spouse to a jinn would be tormented, controlled, and take on a submissive role. Instead his strength defined the relationship and used it to further his own motivations.
Even his death represents the contentious position that his self-definition created. With his forefathers, their strict adherence to a saintly image and uncontroversial maintenance of the ideals of the religion gave them the favor of time and memory to embellish and sanctify their deaths, producing legends that would forever maintain them as dying in a saintly manner. Ya’aqov on the other hand has his story diminished because of his death’s affiliation to saving a Muslim girl and the conflicts that he created amongst the Jews of the area, like the Abu Hatseras. For example, if he had died because he was saving a Jewish child he would have been considered a martyr in the Jewish community, but because of the religious distinctions. In regards to the timing, which helps add to his saintly memory, he also had no incentive to die in a saintly manner. If he had no possessions, no children or legacy to pass down to, and truly valued his time in the present, he would not construct a grand scheme to die and be buried before the Sabbath. His goal would be to try and maintain his life for as long possible and continue on the path that he had been maintaining. In this way, Wazana sacrificed the control of defining his death because ultimately it contradicted with how he defined his life.
Understanding his psychology and his motivation shows how much of a social pioneer he actually was. Like the muwallah and the zar devotees who were able to define themselves contrary to social constructs, Wazana also created new immediacy for himself within a Moroccan society that fostered relations between Muslims and Jews. In the end, I think that Wazana was successful in his endeavor to live a life defined by himself which consequently dictated how he would be remembered.
I actually find it interesting that throughout the movie Shkhur that the mother dominates the magical practices of the film and all the while the husband remains absent for most of the scenes. It may go on to accentuate the patriarchal society and how men do not contend with children, but it seems to me to also accentuate how magic creates new conditions of empowerment for women within these male dominated communities.
The sorceress has a number of tools at her disposal, but in the Chapter 9 of Kapchan’s book she emphasizes the heterosexual gender conflicts and the magic (shkhur) to make a man love her, make a man lover her only, control the movements of a man, and win the attentions of a man by inflicting hard on a fewmal rival. This magic ultimately subverts the social hierarchy by inverting gender roles by making the man follow the woman. She can also prove to try and humiliate the man as is the case with the women who blackmails the man in chapter nine in Kapchan’s book. She can create situations where the man is in a position that lacks self-determination by removing his free will and controlling his functions. Silencing a man such as the S-sakta l-meskuta is also another way of gaining power over a man as he cannot exercise his authority and gives the woman the only voice. She can also render a man impotent such as the magic of tqaf which threatens his manhood and masculinity. But ultimately this only seems to highlight that in a male dominated society a woman’s freedom is in the absence of the man’s freedom.
But these are not the only tools at her disposal as female practitioner can disseminate belief in the efficacy of their magic and the ritual of it. This allows them to harness the taboos and fear of woman and more importantly the fear of magic being used upon them. This would put a male on caution and in a way castrates some of the activity that he normally would enact without any disregard.
Also, being a practitioner for her family and the women of her community allows her to gain great insight into the lives of others and allows her to dominate with the power of her knowledge of secretive matters. In this way she can make her magic more efficacious and use her word to startle and control a conversation with males and females alike. She can also circumvent her lower status as a female and gain some level of authority more equal to that of a male as she is able to more confidently rebuke their impositions.
I actually really enjoyed the Kosansky article about the pilgrimage’s new immediacy within Morocco. I find it very it interesting how the pilgrimage alone was able to vie in a marketplace of ideas that changed its interpretation from a colonial era and interpretation to a post colonial one and also dictate policies. And I find it even more provocative as it has further consequences to national structures and ultimately has deep roots in a grand strategy for Morocco for intra and international relations.
Originally, in the colonial era, the pilgrimage maintained a very negative light from the secular state and religious authorities as it was defined as being a reflection of the survival of pagan practices and a source of civil strife. The orthodoxy of Judaism and Islam and the French state defined pilgrimage as being a hybrid Judeo-Berber created practice that maintained superstitious practices and opposition to a singular identity. Understanding it in this sense, dictated to French authorities to support maraboutism as a vessel to undermine counter hegemonic agents and provide the French authority within the Moroccan state an audience to disseminate ideas for modernizing reforms and exert soft power diplomacy to the Jewish minority. Ultimately, this allowed the French state to undermine the Islamic and Arab majority from realizing a powerful identity and also bolster the identity of the Moroccan Jews who would vie for inclusion into the Moroccan identity. Evidently, this would favor a more heterogeneous and divided populous with less powerful and focused opponents to French power.
With the introduction of the royal Moroccan state, it seemed that a redefining of the pilgrimage was requisite in order to favor the state that brought together the ethnic populations together to create social stability. In the post colonial era, the pilgrimage shifted gears and no longer was it viewed as a negative byproduct of intermingled religious doctrine, but instead shown as a common source of shared heritage. The royal state changed the historical view that the pilgrimage was of Berber origins and supplanted them with Arab origins in order to bolster an Arab majority and identity. It also furthered the Jews identification within the state promoting social stability within the state as well as promote Morocco as a shining example of religious tolerance and religious congruence. Ultimately, this gives Morocco characteristics of a liberal nation that is inclusive and just.
This liberal identity and peaceful population has many implications for foreign relations regionally and within the international community. By promoting itself as an Arab state it has the regional cooperation of other Arab states when looking to resolve regional conflicts. Also, I believe more importantly by sponsoring a liberal agenda and more equal society it may reap benefits through positive views with other countries and gain sponsorship from other countries within international communities like the UN and IMF for financing and other state support structure needs.