Scott S. Reese

May 15, 2019

Imperial Muslims

Islam, Community and Authority in the Indian Ocean, 1839-1937

Edinburgh University Press 2017

purchase at Religion and empire are often intertwined. Regarding Muslims there are well known dynasties like the Umayyad, the Abbasid, the Fatimid, the Ottoman, and many others. But the empire governing the largest Muslim population was, of course, the British. In Imperial Muslims: Islam, Community and Authority in the Indian Ocean, 1839-1937 (Edinburgh University Press, 2017), Scott S. Reese, Professor at Northern Arizona University, explores the social effects of the British empire, and its attending conditions, on Muslims in the port city of Aden. In the the late 19th/ and early 20th centuries Aden was undergoing tremendous change, which was fostered by its valuable position within the empire. Muslims from both ends of the empire were making Aden their home. The diversity of the community and technological innovations shaped the everyday lives of Muslims. Reese explores Aden’s sacred landscape by investigating how space was produced and organized. He demonstrates how unseen entities affected the activities that these spaces elicited. Questions of authority emerge through an exploration of local Islamic legal discourse, where authority was regularly asserted and contested across differing Muslim groups. The boundaries of religious practice were also being pushed through the practice of spirit possession. He also tackles the tensions between the local and the global when the Muslims of Aden reflect on transnational scripturalist or sufi movements. In our conversation we discuss how local religious actors were shaped by broader Islamic trends, emerging print technologies, maritime flows, law and adjudication, the role of mosques and cemeteries, Salafism, and popular religious practices,
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at

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