Across the Indian Ocean Workshop

Trans-Regional Studies and the Un/Making of Boundaries


Day one: October 19th, 2018

Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue – Room: WCC 420

9:00-9:05       Welcome Remarks: Amal Ghazal (SFU) and Jennifer Spear (SFU)

9:05-9:15       Introductory Remarks: Thomas Kuehn (SFU)

9:15-09:55     Reception

10:00-10:45   Session 1 – Chair: Sebastian Prange (UBC)                    

                           Fahad Ahmad Bishara, University of Virginia

                            “History at Sea: Route and World on an Indian Ocean Dhow”

                            Mandana Limbert, Queens College-CUNY

                            “Travel Prayer, Passports, and Indian Ocean Polities”

                            Johan Mathew, Rutgers University

                            “On Principals and Agency: Reassembling Trust in Indian Ocean Commerce”

10:45-11:05   Discussant: Wilson Jacob (Concordia)

11:05-11:30   General Discussion

11:30-1:00     Lunch

1:00 - 1:30     Session 2 – Chair: Aaron Windel (SFU)                

                           Zozan Pehlivan, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

                           “An Accountable Empire? Tanzimat Policies and Environmental Crises”

                           Janice Jeong, Duke University

                           “Routes and Re-Routes: Making New Homes in Hijaz”

1:30-1:45       Discussant: Thomas Kuehn (SFU)

1:45-2:15      General Discussion

2:15-2:45      Break

2:45-3:00      Session 3 – Chair: Sarah Walshaw (SFU)           

                         Kelsey Utne, Cornell University

                         “Corpse Politics & the Traveling Bones of Jamaluddin al-Afghani”

3:00-3:10      Discussant: Mandana Limbert (CUNY)

3:10-3:30      General Discussion

3:30-3:45      Break

3:45-4:30      Roundtable Discussion

6:30                Dinner

Day two: October 20th, 2018

Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue – Room: WCC 420

9:00-9:45        Session 1 – Chair: Paul Sedra (SFU)

                            Sponsored by School for International Studies - SFU

                            Michael Christopher Low, Iowa State University

                            “Passports and Tickets: The Failure of Inter-Imperial Pilgrimage Regulation”

                            Roy Bar Sadeh, Columbia University

                            “Transcending Minoritization through Daily Practices: The Aligarh Movement, Travel and the Question of Zabiha, 1857-1905”

                            Esmat Elhalaby, Rice University

                            “Politics, Poetry, and Philology”

9:45-10:05        Discussant: John Willis (University of Colorado Boulder)

10:05-11:15      General Discussion

11:15-1:00        Lunch

1:00 - 1:30        Session 2 – Chair: Luke Clossey (SFU)

                             Sponsored by the David Lam Centre for International Communication - SFU

                             Michael O’Sullivan, UCLA

                             “Paper Currency, Commodity Money, and Intra-Madhhab Legal Debates in late Ottoman and early Saudi Arabia”

                             Mostafa Minawi, Cornell University

                             “Ottoman-European-Ethiopian relations & Imperial Sovereignty in the Horn of Africa”

                             John Chen, Columbia University

                             “A Meeting of Minds: The Chinese Muslims in Cairo”

1:30-1:45           Discussant: Amal Ghazal (SFU)

1:45-2:15           General Discussion

2:15-2:45           Break

2:45-3:15           Concluding Remarks by Neilesh Bose (UVic)

3:15-3:30           Final Remarks by Derryl MacLean (SFU)

3:30-4:30           Roundtable Discussion

6:30                     Dinner

Abstracts and biographies

Fahad Ahmad Bishara

“History at Sea: Route and World on an Indian Ocean Dhow”

Abstract: TBA

Fahad Bishara specializes in the economic and legal history of the Indian Ocean and Islamic world. His current book, A Sea of Debt: Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, 1780-1950 (Cambridge University Press, 2017) is a legal history of economic life in the Western Indian Ocean, told through the story of the Arab and Indian settlement and commercialization of East Africa during the nineteenth century. His next project is a microhistory of the dhow trade between the Gulf and the Indian Ocean during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and will take on issues of international law, empire, mobility, writing, and scale -- all in a shifting seascape.


John Chen

“A Meeting of Minds: The Chinese Muslims in Cairo”

From 1931 to 1947, thirty-five Chinese Muslim students traveled to Egypt to study at al-Azhar in Cairo. All of these individuals had been trained in Islamic modernist institutions in Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan with the support of powerful Chinese Muslim elites and the Guomindang government. They proved extremely prolific as translators, historians, commentators, and scholars of Islam, but in most cases these activities went hand in hand with direct service to (or at least semi-passive compliance with) the Chinese state.

This paper, based on the fifth chapter of my dissertation, argues that the Chinese Azharites’ journeys to Egypt not only epitomized modern Chinese Muslim efforts to (re)forge sustained contact with the Islamic world after centuries of isolation, but also represented the most sophisticated phase in an integrationist project aimed at transforming all of China’s Muslims into loyal citizens of the new Chinese nation. It surveys the Chinese Azharites’ careers; traces their evolving contacts with Cairo’s leading thinkers, activists, and Islamic scholars; examines the specific ideologies that they absorbed from al-Azhar and their Egyptian milieu; and discusses one thinker, the Imam Pang Shiqian, who envisioned ijtihad as the basis for a more democratized, authentic, and secure future for Islam and Muslims in China. It concludes that at every turn, the Chinese Azharites’ otherwise striking mobility, intellectual production, and “cosmopolitanism” were in fact highly regulated and inescapably conditioned by the political realities of the modern Chinese nation-state, dominated by a non-Muslim majority and dedicated to the Sinicization of China’s many peoples.

John Chen earned his PhD in history from Columbia University in 2018. He is currently the Wm. Theodore de Bary Postdoctoral Fellow in Columbia’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. His research focuses on the history of Islam and Muslims in China in the context of broader Asian and global histories, incorporating wide-ranging sources in Chinese and Arabic. Since graduating from Harvard University in 2008, he has received Fulbright grants to both Egypt and China for language study and dissertation research.


Esmat Elhalaby

“Politics, Poetry, and Philology”

The geographical and institutional locations of modern European scholarly practice are well known. Largely unknown and scarcely acknowledged are those practices of non-Europeans, especially when they are not easily caricatured as indigenous exegesis or colonized mimicry. This chapter from my dissertation follows the poet, lawyer and translator Wadi’ al-Bustani (1888-1954), as he moved from Mount Lebanon to Yemen, Cairo, Bombay, Transvaal, and finally Haifa. Along with essays on Indian culture and translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry and plays, Bustani spent decades translating and annotating Arabic renditions of the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and Kalidasa’s Shakuntala. His translations of and commentaries on these Indic texts and the philological project he saw himself a part of, speak to the new forms of knowledge that circulated in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By tracing the life and reading the work of Bustani, I highlight his place in the politics and literature of the Eastern Mediterranean as well as his relationship to an intellectual history that stretched across the Indian Ocean and, finally, the globe.

Esmat Elhalaby is a PhD Candidate in the History Department at Rice University. His dissertation is entitled The Arab Rediscovery of India. He is currently a lecturer in the History Department at the University of California, Davis.


Janice Jeong

“Routes and Re-Routes: Making New Homes in Hijaz”

Between the 1930s and 50s, several hundred Chinese Muslims who had occupied religious and political leadership positions in mainland China settled in different cities of Hijaz after arriving to Mecca through the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage and the concept of Mecca as a historic homeland provided them a means to flee from lost wars and political upheavals back home. This paper, a draft of my thesis chapter, traces their routes of travel and reformulations of sociocultural networks from the new base in Hijaz. The diverse pathways and modes of transport that led them to Mecca, explored in the paper’s first section, show arrivals in Mecca as a part of prior overland, maritime, and air travel routes through which different regions between Arabia and China had been interconnected. The subsequent sections unfold their many stories of switching occupations; finding places in Saudi or Taiwanese religious and educational bureaucracy; imagining multiple homelands; building institutions of collective gathering; and re-arranging external ties of religion, kinship and political affiliations. The narratives told in the chapter embody not only the homogenizing impulses of the newly founded Saudi nation-state, but the cosmopolitan potentials inherent in its pasts defined by overlapping diasporas in the Hijaz, and in its mid-level international diplomacy through migrants, the pilgrimage, and educational and religious institutions. More broadly, the paper explores methods and potentials of engaging with a diaspora community in Hijaz as a unique lens to observe durability and flexibility of trans-regional networks in Indian Ocean arena in the twentieth century, which could periodically turn into unofficial channels of diplomacy.

Hyeju (Janice) Jeong is a Ph.D Candidate in Duke University History Department. Her dissertation project explores the role of Mecca as the mediator and a critical hub for Chinese Muslim (Hui) networks of kinship, religion and politics in the twentieth century. Through Mecca as a conceptual and geographic entry point, the dissertation shows the durability and flexibility of Chinese Muslim diaspora connections that could periodically be used as channels of diplomacy in an age known as that of nationalism and secularism. Hyeju has conducted archival and ethnographic research in Riyadh and Jeddah, and various sites in mainland China and Taipei. Her broad interests include historical anthropology, religious and diaspora networks between East and West Asia, and socio-cultural studies of the Arabian Peninsula through transnational approaches.


Mandana Limbert

“Travel Prayer, Passports, and Indian Ocean Polities”

This paper examines notions of and discussions about travel and home across the Indian Ocean in the first half of the twentieth century. Contrasting two regimes of imagining and managing travel between Oman and Zanzibar, by focusing first on discussions about prayer practices among Omani scholars and the concerns they reflect about belonging and home among Omani settlers in Zanzibar. Second, it explores British colonial attempts to regularize citizenship and subjecthood as well as to limit the mobility of Omani settlers. Rather than seeing these modes or regimes of travel as distinct alternatives, I emphasize their co-presence in shaping debates about national boundaries and history. Each regime has shifted the markers and constitution of loyalty, sovereignty, and social affinity in the Indian Ocean.

Mandana Limbert is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology and Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan in 2002 and joined CUNY the same year. Her publications include her monograph In the Time of Oil (Stanford University Press, 2010), a co-edited volume Timely Assets (School of American Research, 2008), as well as articles and chapters on oil development, temporality, and religiosity in Oman. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Social Text, Ethnos, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and the International Journal of Middle East Studies. With the support of grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the City University of New York, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Professor Limbert is writing her next book on changing notions of Arabness in Oman and Zanzibar over the course of the twentieth century.


Michael Christopher Low

“Passports and Tickets: The Failure of Inter-Imperial Pilgrimage Regulation”

My contribution to this workshop is a draft chapter from my forthcoming book, Imperial Mecca: The Ottoman Hijaz and the Indian Ocean Hajj, under contract with Columbia University Press.

This paper explores the conflicting international and imperial regulations and practices governing passports, quarantines, shipping firms, pilgrimage guides, camel drivers, and even the legal interpretation of Islamic ritual itself. In both the high diplomatic negotiations and on-the-ground contestations over these questions, Pan-Islamic rhetoric became the inter-imperial lingua franca of solicitude for the welfare of pilgrims. Rather than inspiring dramatic humanitarian reforms, however, Pan-Islam generally undermined and contradicted Ottoman efforts to impose modern forms of governmentality, underscore the empire’s territorial sovereignty, and fully apply biopolitical documentary practices and border controls. For the Indian Ocean pilgrims caught in middle, it was precisely this vicious cycle of legitimacy claims that ensured British caution and lax safety standards even in the face of ghoulish rates of morbidity and mortality. Neither side was willing to risk being accused of interfering with pilgrims’ sacred obligations to perform the hajj.

The collective failure to regulate the hajj opened space for the institutionalization of suffering, corruption, and monopolistic business practices on local and global scales. The weak chains of inter-imperial regulation were easily evaded and conditioned through the collaboration of the Sharif of Mecca, Ottoman provincial administrators, European steamship companies, elements within the European consular community in Jidda, and the trans-oceanic networks of Indian and Hadrami commercial interests controlling the pilgrimage transport and brokerage industries linking Mecca and Jidda with India, Singapore, and Java. At the center of these networks stood the autonomous Sharifate. This autonomous space at the heart of the steamship-era pilgrimage combined with the presence of large numbers of non-Ottoman Muslims controlling the commercial and financial services of the region simultaneously underscored the gaping holes in Ottoman sovereignty and attracted increasing levels of British attention to the maladministration of the Hijaz and hajj.

Michael Christopher Low is Assistant Professor of History at Iowa State University. He specializes in Late Ottoman, Modern Middle Eastern, and Environmental History. Low received his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 2015 and is currently working on a book manuscript, The Mechanics of Mecca: The Ottoman Hijaz and the Indian Ocean Hajj. Drawing on Ottoman and British archival sources as well as published materials in Arabic and modern Turkish, Professor Low’s project analyzes how the Hijaz and the steamship-era pilgrimage to Mecca simultaneously became objects of Ottoman modernization, global public health, international law, and inter-imperial competition during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Johan Mathew

“On Principals and Agency: Reassembling Trust in Indian Ocean Commerce”

The role of trust in long-distance trade has long been a topic of scholarly inquiry and debate amongst economists, sociologists and historians. Much of this literature hinges on the social, legal and economic structures that undergird – if not obviate – the concept of trust. This article draws on assemblage theory to suggest that trust in Indian Ocean trade would be better understood as a key component of a commercial assemblage. Law or social mores are not external but rather enrolled within an assemblage constituted by people, commodities, profits, and “feelings,” as well as judicial systems. This conceptualization of trust is demonstrated through a close analysis of a trading relationship between a Somali merchant and an Indian merchant based in Aden and trading in the Idrisi Emirate of Asir. They established a partnership to exploit the elevated prices in Asir during the First World War. After several months of trading, accusations of fraud and embezzling unraveled the partnership and entangled both men in years of legal battles. By tracing the changing socio-material assemblage of this partnership, the article demonstrates how trust should be understood as a dynamic and contingent factor in the operation of commercial agency.

Johan Mathew is an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His scholarship explores histories of capitalism, particularly focusing on illicit commodities and their impact on the formal economy. Johan is the author of Margins of the Market: Trafficking and Capitalism across the Arabian Sea (University of California Press, 2016), as well as articles in Comparative Studies in Society and History, History Workshop Journal and Slavery and Abolition. His work has been recognized by the Social Science Research Council, the Middle East Studies Association, the Economic History Society and the Business History Conference. Johan’s new project is tentatively entitled “Opiates of the Masses: A History of Humanity in the Time of Capital.” This research examines the history of narcotics consumption, with a specific focus on how narcotics allow human bodies to endure the physiological and psychological demands of capitalist labor regimes.


Mostafa Minawi

“Ottoman-European-Ethiopian relations & Imperial Sovereignty in the Horn of Africa”

This work-in-progress explores Ottoman attempts at asserting their sovereign “right” to the Horn of Africa at the turn of the 20th century. Relying on recently opened Ottoman archives (made available in the rush of the current Turkish government to assert historical ties between the region and Turkish recent history), Sudanese and British archives, and on-the-ground research conducted in Somaliland and Djibouti this past summer, this paper aims to demonstrate the evolving European vs. Ottoman argumentation for legitimacy of colonial imperial rule along the Somali coast over a period of 15 year.  I argue that this period in time, roughly 1880 to 1895 was a period of experimentation with emerging notions of International Law and its connections to transregional imperial interests stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.  It highlights the struggle to balance trans-regional geopolitical interests with imperial historical interests, as the major imperial powers—namely, the Great Powers, the Ottoman Empire and the Ethiopian Empire—adjust to quickly-changing notion of trans-imperial laws impacting imperial sovereignty in Africa.

Mostafa Minawi is an associate professor in the Department of History and the director of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative (OTSI) at Cornell University. He has a Bachelor of Engineering and Management from McMaster University, an MA in History from the University of Toronto, and a PhD in a joint program of History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies from NYU. His research focuses on Ottoman imperialism in western Arabia and North East Africa. His book, The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz came out with Stanford University Press in 2016. The Turkish translation of the book titled Osmanlılar ve Afrika Talanı came out with Koç University Press in 2018. He splits his time between Ithaca, NY and Istanbul.


Michael O’Sullivan

“Paper Currency, Commodity Money, and Intra-Madhhab Legal Debates in late Ottoman and early Saudi Arabia”

This chapter examines the Saudi refusal to introduce paper currency until 1956 against the backdrop of a number of treatises written by international Muslim scholars in the late Ottoman and early Saudi Hijaz and Najd. If the regime repeatedly claimed that paper currency violated Islamic orthodoxy, these scholars argued forcefully for the medium’s legitimacy by mobilizing the legal sources of their particular school of law (madhhab). This contrast reflects how the religious politics of the kingdom departed from both Ottoman precedents and contemporary Islamic contexts in which paper currency was widely assimilated via the assent of Muslim legal scholars. It also highlights how technocratic institutions like the IMF and ARAMCO eventually became the main vehicles for paper currency introduction in the kingdom, largely against the wishes of the Saudi government and its religious establishment. The chapter has implications for appreciating the many diverse traditions of Islamic capitalism, the ways in which colonial finance has structured Muslim finance life, and the continued relevance of Islamic law in navigating both of these developments.

Michael O’Sullivan is a PhD candidate at UCLA where he is finishing his dissertation titled “Before Islamic Finance: The Political and Religious Economies of Indian Muslim Capital, 1820-1950.” He holds an MPHIL with Distinction from the University of Cambridge.


Zozan Pehlivan

“An Accountable Empire? Tanzimat Policies and Environmental Crises”

During the nineteenth century, climatic anomalies and environmental calamities posed a growing problem for the Ottoman Empire. Archival records point in particular to episodes of drought, crop failure, and locusts in the mid-nineteenth century, when, from Kurdistan to Iraq, Syria and Anatolia, people and their animals starved. This paper, drawing from Ottoman and British archival sources, examines the nature of the Ottoman government’s interventions to bring relief to areas of Ottoman Kurdistan from 1840s to 1890s.

Zozan Pehlivan is an Assistant Professor of History at University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She received her Ph.D. from Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario. Before joining the University of Minnesota, she held a two-year fellowship at the Indian Ocean World Centre (IOWC) of McGill University, Montréal, Quebec. As a historian of the modern Middle East, her research and teaching mostly focus on the history of environments, comparative empires, and pastoral nomads and animals.


Roy Bar Sadeh

“Transcending Minoritization through Daily Practices: The Aligarh Movement, Travel and the Question of Zabiha, 1857-1905”

During the nineteenth century, travel across the Indian Ocean was for Islamic modernists a key part of the project of constructing a trans-regional Islamic identity. In this context steamships traveling across the British empire became fraught sites of social change. I suggest in this chapter of my dissertation that Islamic modernists promoted travel as a way to forge communal identity and mark Islam as a de-territorialized religion. To explore these modernists’ engagement with the notion of travel as a mode of transcending ‘minoritization,’ I explore Urdu debates on the lawfulness of food on steamships. What made Halal slaughtering on steamships a controversial issue among Islamic modernists? And how did Islamic modernists reimagine social difference as ritualized in daily practices through these debates? As a case study, this chapter explores the writings of major figures in the intellectual milieu of the North Indian-based Anglo-Muhammadan College (est. 1875). Established after the British suppression of the 1857 rebellion, this Islamic modernist milieu worked to create scholarly networks across multiple nodes of the British empire. This paper examines Urdu travelogues of three of this milieu’s most important scholars: Sayyid Ahmad Khan on his 1869 journey to England, Samiʿullah Khan on his 188- journey to Europe, and Shibli Nuʻmani on his 1892 journey to Istanbul and Egypt. By recovering the multiple social and intellectual contexts of such cases, as well as their materiality and particular legal contexts, these intellectuals’ differing views on animal slaughtering shows the role of steamships not only in advancing Islamic modernists’ transnational projects, but also in facilitating the production of new forms of Islamic thought and emancipatory practices.

Roy Bar Sadeh is a PhD candidate in the International and Global History track and the Institute for Comparative Literature & Society at Columbia University. His research focuses on notions of Muslim minority and their intellectual and socio-political histories that link Islamic modernists throughout Eurasia and the Indian Ocean. He examines how Islamic modernists across the British, Tsarist and Soviet Empires confronted, and redefined their categorization as “minority” by modern empires and emerging nation-states. Drawing on Arabic, Urdu, Russian, Persian, Hebrew, and English sources, Roy explores how these Muslim intellectuals connected with and contributed to ongoing global debates about minority and emancipation. His broader research interests include Islamic thought and law, relations between Islamic reform and daily practices in the Mashriq, Indian subcontinent, and Russian Empire/Soviet Union, comparative nationalisms and empires, as well as inter-disciplinary approaches to intellectual history. Roy earned both his B.A. (2013) and M.A. (2015) summa cum laude from Tel Aviv University, where he majored in Middle Eastern and African Studies. He was the co-organizer of Columbia’s “International History Workshop” (2016-2018) and the “South-South Workshop: Intellectual History across Middle East and South Asia, 1857- 1948.”


Kelsey Utne

“Corpse Politics & the Traveling Bones of Jamaluddin al-Afghani”

During the chaos of World War II, Afghan state enlisted the governments of British India, Turkey, and Iraq in a scheme to bring 19th century Pan-Islamist, Jamaluddin al-Afghani’s bones out of exile in Istanbul. The exhumation, transnational corpse transfer, and re-interment in Kabul provoked the ire of the Iranian state, which contested Afghanistan’s claim as Jamaluddin’s natal state. This article argues that physical custody and location of Jamaluddin’s body bestowed authoritative legitimacy otherwise unattainable through nationalist narratives and public monuments alone. In doing so, this research engages scholarly literatures on the history of death and the remaking of nationalist spaces. Three iterative stages of Jamaluddin’s afterlife and spatial significance are discussed: (a) the original burial site’s transition from near-anonymity to mausoleum to exhumed grave, (b) the international controversy and fanfare commemorating Jamaluddin at major cities along the transit route, and (c) the spectacle of re-internment in Kabul.

Kelsey Utne is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at Cornell, where she studies public history and commemoration of the dead in nineteenth and twentieth century South Asia. Her dissertation research focuses on the politics of corpse (re)location in late colonial and early post-colonial north India and Pakistan. She holds an M.A. in South Asian Studies from the University of Washington and a B.A./B.S. from Salem State University in History and Political Science. She is a 2012 recipient of a Fulbright-Nehru student research grant, and has studied in India, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. In 2018 and 2019 Ms. Utne is conducting archival research in India and United Kingdom with fellowship support from the American Institute of Indian Studies and the Social Science Research Council.