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Religion and Public Life Series: Halal Tourism and the Spoils of War in the Middle East – Attiya Ahmad

March 30 @ 4:10 pm - 6:00 pm

The Religion and Public Life lecture series presents public conversations that expand on current theories and spur debate about religion and secularism, considering the range of secularisms and institutionalizations of religion in Europe, the US, and other parts of the world. Lectures in the series examine specific approaches to how something called “religion” is manifest in public life, and cover timely topics including law, museums and cultural institutions, education and health provisions, politics/diplomacy, prisons, and protest and social movements.


Halal Tourism and the Spoils of War in the Middle East

This talk examines the recent development of global halal tourism networks and the often-­‐frustrated attempts of actors involved in this emergent sector of Islamic enterprise to map leisure and tourist spaces in relation to Muslim sensibilities, practices, historical imaginaries and belongings. Recognizing the global importance of tourism, which today accounts for 10% of GDP and 9% of jobs worldwide, over the past ten years, a disparate group of transnational actors—including internet travel companies, hotel investors, tour guides, religious certification boards, national tourism boards, and consumers—have coalesced to develop ‘halal tourism’ as an alternative to hegemonic forms of tourist practice and infrastructure in the Middle East, ones that have developed through processes of consumer-­‐capitalism, colonialism, Judeo-­‐Christian imaginaries, secularization projects, and nationalist heritage-­‐making projects. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in

Turkey, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and the UK, this paper analyzes how the ‘spoils of war’—past histories of imperial conquest (fatih and reconquista), and present histories of civil conflict resulting in shifts in tourist destination sites and large populations of refugees and asylum seekers—complicate halal tourism purveyors’ narratives of Muslim histories and belongings in Istanbul (Turkey) and Andalucía (Spain). This paper draws from and contributes to recent scholarship in cultural anthropology, religious studies and transnationalism that examines the material processes—including consumer capitalist relations, affective and immaterial forms of laboring, the commodification and rendering of Islamic precepts and practices as goods and services to be transacted, and tourists’ engagement with historical artifacts and monumental/heritage sites—through which contemporary Islamic movements develop.


Attiya Ahmad is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the George Washington University. Her research focuses on the interrelation between gender, labor migration, diasporic formations, cosmopolitanism, and Islamic movements crosscutting the Arab Gulf States and South Asia.  Ahmad is also developing a project focusing on halal tourism networks spanning the Arab Gulf States, the United Kingdom, and Turkey.  Her work has appeared in the Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, and edited volumes focusing on labor migration, diaspora, and religion in South Asia and the Gulf Arab States.  She is the author of Everyday Conversions: Islam, Domestic Work, and South Asian Migrant Women in Kuwait.  She obtained her PhD in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University.


March 30
4:10 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category:


80 Claremont Ave, 1st Floor Conference Room
80 Claremont Ave
New York, 10027
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