Accepted paper:

Whose Right To The City? The Religious Citizenry of Harar, Ethiopia


Lindsay Randall (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how religious citizenship is understood by the Harari of Harar, Ethiopia. It questions how Islam consolidates what it means to be Harari and underpins the Harari's claim upon the city during a time rife with ethnic upheaval and inter-Islamic tensions.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines how the Harari deploy their Muslim identities and Islamic heritage to assert a religiously-driven citizenship of the city of Harar, Ethiopia and how these narratives weave between and enlighten broader local discourses on ethnicity and rights to the city and national discourses on ethnicity and Islam within Ethiopia. For the Harari, to be truly ethnically Harari one must also be Muslim. Further, both of these elements of identity are predicated by a heritage stemming from the physical city of Harar. While the Oromo are now the ethnic majority within the city, Harar was previously almost exclusively Harari, and despite their minority status in the region, was designated as the Harari's regional state under Ethiopia's 1990s system of ethnic federalism. Within the city, most Hararis practice a form of Sufist Islam. However, during my fieldwork in 2017-2018, religious schisms between the 'Wahhabi' seeped into ongoing ethnic tensions between a group of Oromo, the Qeerroo, and the Harari population of the city. This paper thus draws upon that ethnographic material to explore how and why these tensions interlock and how the Harari use their Sufist-based Islamic practice to further ground their rights to the city of Harar while the Qeerroo, simultaneously claiming the city and surrounding region for the Oromo, use burgeoning Wahhabi movements and discourses to discredit the religious praxis of the Harari and thereby claim moral authority over them, further underpinning their own claims to Harar.

panel Rel07
Religion, citizenship and everyday practices in Africa