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Accepted Paper:

Death in a Foreign Land: Exile and Islamic Sacred Time  
Kim Shively (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania)

Paper short abstract:

Turkish migrants who cannot return home for burial reorient their understanding of their place in sacred time. They see themselves as re-enacting an Islamic sacred past in which the first Muslims readily died in foreign lands, and they draw on the Sufi idea that future death offers reunion with God.

Paper long abstract:

Muslims who have migrated to a foreign land often express a desire to be returned to their homeland for death and burial. But what happens when repatriation is not possible? This paper examines this quandary as experienced by Muslim Turkish immigrants in the U.S., who cannot return to the homeland for fear of abuse from the Turkish government as a consequence of the 2016 attempted coup. Based on ethnographic research, the paper discusses how the experience of the spatial dislocation of exile - life and death in "gurbet" (homesickness from living in foreign place) - has led some immigrants to reimagine their positions and trajectory in a sacred timescape. Some see themselves as having a renewed relationship with major figures of the Muslim past since they, like the Prophet Mohammad, will be buried not in their homeland but in the land of hijrah (migration). Many immigrants also look to Sufi concepts for valorization of the suffering of gurbet, embracing the idea that human existence in the physical world is itself a form of gurbet, since separation from and longing for the divine is an endemic aspect of life. The gurbet of living and dying in a foreign country is a pale reflection of the gurbet experienced due to separation from God. Such a view allows immigrants to reorient their thinking about death and burial: rather than longing for return to the homeland, the pain of gurbet can be soothed through meditating on the eschatological promise of reunion with God in death.

Panel P060b
Muslim imaginaries beyond mediation: Islam, the divine, and radical hope/transformation II
  Session 1 Tuesday 26 July, 2022, -