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The Question of Identity: Ethnicity, Language, Religion, and Gender

Islamic Period:  The Concept of Ethnicity

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Sayyida Zaynab Moulid, Cairo, 2003.

Sayyida Zaynab Moulid, Cairo, 2003.

Religion and ethnicity, radically different ways of imagining community, are in a state of constant tension in the Middle East. The religions of the book are, in theory, open to all: their message is universal. Ethnic identity is restricted. It involves exclusion as well as inclusion. In practice though, they often come together, in intricate arrangements. This picture shows a singer (a munshid) singing popular religious song (inshad dini) at a Saint’s day festival (mulid) in downtown Cairo. The singing, at deafening volume, welcomes all to come along and listen, or join the lines of swaying dancers. The banners, though, inform you that you are a guest of the Khalwatiyya brotherhood (tariqa), from Aswan, in Upper Egypt. Many such brotherhoods also function as kinds of regional associations in cities such as Cairo, providing a circle of trust for new migrants in which credit, labor, and information might circulate.

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