Shi‘a Minorities in the Contemporary World: Migration, Transnationalism and Multilocality: International Conference at the Chester Centre for Islamic Studies, 20-21 May 2016

Posted on 19th May 2016

The Chester Centre for Islamic Studies (CCIS) at the University of Chester held its first international conference examining the global presence of Shi‘a minorities outside of the so-called Muslim world.

Global migrations flows in the 20th century have seen the emergence of Muslim diaspora and minority communities in Europe, North America and Australia. In addition to these new Muslim presences in the global “West”, there have been, since the late 19th century, migration flows from the Middle East (Lebanon and Syria in particular) to South America and West Africa. Likewise, South Asian Muslims settled in East and South Africa in the 19th century. While there is a growing body of research on these Muslim minorities in various regional contexts, the particular experiences of Shi‘a Muslim minorities across the globe has only received scant attention.

As “a minority within a minority”, Shi‘a Muslims face the double-challenge of maintaining an Islamic as well as a particular Shi‘a identity in terms of communal activities, practices, public perception and recognition. Often coming from minority contexts of marginalisation and discrimination, their experience of migration and settlement in other parts of the world, whether enforced or voluntary, is often different from those of other Muslim immigrants. The rich tradition of Shi‘a ritual practices and the authority structures specific to different forms of Shi‘a Islam likewise shape the post-migratory minority experience of Shia.

The conference brought together around 20 researchers working on Shi‘a minorities outside of the so-called “Muslim heartland” (North Africa, Middle East, Central and South Asia). The conference focused on Shi‘a minorities in Eastern and Western Europe, North and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia that emerged out of migration from the Middle East and South Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries, in particular. The papers presented at the conference offered unique comparative insights into Shi‘a minorities in a variety of contexts across the globe. Papers looked at the transformation of Shi‘a ritual practices in places like Greece, the UK, Indonesia and Russia, investigated the impact of events in the Middle East on Shi‘a diasporic communities in Detroit and Buenos Aires and the influence of transnational Shi‘a clerical on Shi‘a Muslim communities in South India, Sri Lanka and Belgium. Keynotes were given by Sabrina Mervin (EHESS, Paris), Liyakat Takim (McMaster University, Canada) and Mohammad Mesbahi and Seyed Fadhil Milani (Islamic College London. Mara Leichtman (Michigan State University, USA) launched her recently published book on Shi‘a communities in Senegal, called Shi’i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese Migration and Religious Conversion in Senegal (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015).