Over the course of the twentieth century, Shia Ismaili Muslim communities were repeatedly displaced. How, in the aftermath of these displacements, did they remake their communities? Shenila Khoja-Moolji highlights women’s critical role in this rebuilding process and breaks new ground by writing women into modern Ismaili history.
Rebuilding Community tells the story of Shia Ismaili Muslim women who recreated religious community (jamat) in the wake of disruption. Drawing on oral histories, fieldwork, and memory texts, Khoja-Moolji illuminates the placemaking activities through which Ismaili women reproduce bonds of spiritual kinship: from cooking for congregants on khushali days and looking after sick coreligionists to engaging in memory work through miracle stories and cookbooks. The author situates these activities within the framework of ethical norms that more broadly define and sustain the Ismaili sociality. Jamat – and religious community more generally – is not a given, but an ethical relation that is maintained daily and inter-generationally through everyday acts of care. By emphasizing women’s care work in producing relationality and repairing trauma, Khoja-Moolji disrupts the conventional articulation of displaced people as dependent subjects.
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“A Landmark study. Exploring the lives of Shia Ismaili Muslim women in the North American diaspora, Rebuilding Community illuminates many themes of our day – displacement, flight, migration (sometimes repeatedly from one country to another) followed by the work of recreating home and community in new spaces. Documenting the minutiae of their experience with brilliance and exquisite sensitivity, Khoja-Moolji also compellingly develops a theory of the ethics of care pertinent to any community of faith.” — Leila Ahmed, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Divinity, Harvard University
“In this brilliantly conceptualized work, Khoja-Moolji argues for how the deeply ingrained ethic of care among migrant Ismaili women illustrates the critical role played by women in creating a vibrant symbolic, imagined, and living community, turning displacement into emplacement. Her careful research destabilizes understandings of migratory and refugee populations as solely victimized and traumatized, pointing instead to how the placemaking practices of such women draw upon shared spiritualities, ritual practices, traumatizing dislocations, and cultural traditions to forge connections across generations and geographical locations. We are drawn into a richly textured world in which mundane activities take on much greater significance when seen as threads in an intergenerational tapestry that tell the stories of loss, relocation, resilience, and regeneration.” — Zayn Kassam, John Knox McLean Professor of Religious Studies, Pomona College
“A pioneering study that sensitively explores the experiences of migrant Ismaili women in North America and the crucial role they have played in community formation through the ethic of care that is so central to their religious and spiritual lives. This compelling book will be of great interest to scholars in many intersecting fields, including religious studies, Islamic studies, gender studies, sociology, anthropology, migration and refugee studies.” — Ali S. Asani, Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, Harvard University
“A book of rare power. Theoretically sophisticated and historically imaginative. The life stories and voices of Muslim women we encounter in this book offer new ways of thinking about and making visible the vital role of feminist ethics of care inside religious communities, and about the enduring power that practices of placemaking by women have in shaping and preserving religious identities. The book is written with an exemplary ethics of care and will itself become a cherished ‘place’ for honouring and celebrating the remarkable journeys of contemporary Ismaili Muslim communities.” — Farouk Mitha, Institute of Ismaili Studies and University of Victoria
About the Author
Dr. Shenila Khoja-Moolji is the Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani Associate Professor of Muslim Societies at Georgetown University. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with research interests in the fields of Muslim studies, feminist theory, South Asia, and migration.
Khoja-Mulji’s Other Publications:
Sovereign Attachments: Masculinity, Muslimness, and Affective Politics in Pakistan (University of California Press, 2021)
Forging the Ideal Educated Girl: The Production of Desirable Subjects in Muslim South Asia (University of California Press, 2018)
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