Political Anthropology 2008

Dr. J.Shoup
Political Anthropology

Prepared by Ismail khejjou


Political Anthropology Dr. J. Shoup

In his, documentary film, Dervishes of Kurdistan, Brian Moser explores the life of a group of Kurds. The film focuses on the social organization of this community and its attachment to religion which plays a significant part in everyday life. More specifically, the film looks at the Islamic practices and the extent to which they are seen as a clear manifestation of the Dervish people. Similar to this, Touba in Senegal is another example of social organization which is based on the structure of brotherhood. Both, the film by Brain and the book by Matt Shaffer and Christin Cooper explore the existence of local institutions within the state and the role they play in the development of civil societies. This paper will examine and discuss the extent to which the structure of these institutions contributes to building a local development.

In the film, Dervishes of Kurdistan is a highly organized Sufi brotherhood. The structural organization of this community is characterized by, first of all, a strong attachment to Islam which is reflected in every part of people's daily life. In essence, the adherence to Islamic culture plays a major role in strengthening the bounds between dervishes people and, most importantly, support their legitimacy. Interestingly, the structural order of Dervishes community helps maintain the social order and reinforce how people are organized in terms of hierarchy. In addition to this, the idea of leadership which is carried out by shaykh has a strong influence on people in the sense that they perceive it as a prestigious religious position. In this context, the Shaykh is considered a holy man because of his devotion to Islam and religious brotherhood in general. Furthermore, the power that is given to the shaykh allows


Political Anthropology
him to control the way of life of his people and, to a large extent, the functioning of the community. An example of this is that shaykh's presence in religious ceremonies is central because it shows the religious authority that he has. This is part of Dervishes' traditions and the role these practices plays is nothing more than the development of their society. To put it differently, the importance given to Islam in this particular group takes people to a level where they maintain their identity, and achieve a sense of participatory development within their community.

To delve more into this point, the organizational structure of brotherhood in Dervishes community is characterized by unity that is recognized through the reverence showed to shaykh. People serve their leader simply because he does what God requires him. In the film, Shaykh obies God through praying, fasting, giving charity…and this is the source of his spiritual power for which he is regarded as a holy man. It is very prominent to say that the internal structure of Dervishes' society is powerful enough to move towards achieving an autonomous state where it can manage and administer its own matters. Religiously speaking, the devotional way of Dervishes community reflects their organizational structure and most importantly help explain the development of some orders especially those that are related to religious law.

On a more serious note, the idea of Tarika is a central element in Sufi order that a Shaykh reinforces through his close connection to people and the religious instructions that he


Political Anthropology
acquired through his early years. Other similar institutions such as Qadiri, Tijani and Shadhili share the same attributes particularly the social order and traditional structure. Although they are different from the state, these institutions can play a significant role in developing civil society because they share the same interests and values which relate them to their Shaykh. Among these values are cooperation and a sense of belonging which is strongly based on the religious faith.

Looking at the political organization of Dervishes, Leadership is a significant a trait of this community in the sense that it plays a key rule in the unity of people. Of particular interest, this political structure of Dervishes society springs from the religious authority which is perceived as a social code of Dervishes society. It very clear that in the film people show respect to their leader and the feature of the individual loyalty is a telling sign of the internal political organization of Dervishes people. It is through this characteristic of responsibility that this traditional structure can play a constructive role in the formation and development of a civil society within a particular state. Although Dervishes live under external influence the preservation of their religious and political identity strengthens their social order and especially associates them with a developed society.

Seeing Dervishes society from an economic perspective, there are some characteristics that are essentially attributed to such institutions. Related to the film, the economic system in Dervishes community is particularly one that is based more on brotherhood that relates people to their Leader; Shaykh. People work for their leader because he is their mediator to God.


Political Anthropology
This is justified though the fact that workers do not get paid which interestingly shows the presence and intermingles of Islam with the very aspect of daily life of people.

Similar to this, Touba is another important city in central Senegal. It is a holy city of Mouridism which was found by Aamadu Bàmba Mbàcke in 1887. Islamic structure is one of the central characteristics of Touba today. The emergence of Islam in West Africa is considered a significant factor of change which led to the creation of a number of Islamic institutions in Senegal particularly in Touba. In his article, Autonomous Muslim Towns In Senegal, Dr Ross makes it crystal-clear when he says that: As Senegal's Sufi brotherhood have developed and grown during the colonial period and since independence, acquiring ever larger interests in a variety of sectors( economic, social and cultural) and as their memberships have become internationalized through emigration, these Sufi "administrations" have developed proportionately. This in turn has greatly stimulated the growth of cities which serve as Sufi "capitals" (251)

Of great interest, Sufi brotherhoods, which appeared in the late ninth century, have largely contributed to the shaping of the social order of Senegal especially in the largest city; Touba. Such Institutional organizations are widely recognized as autonomous towns in the sense that they have some features that associate them with modern independent entities. To explain more, Sufi brotherhood such as Madina-Gounass, Tijani, Mourid are organized into independent groups in that the internal structure resembles that of a state in terms of functioning. In addition to this, the importance given to Islam plays a major role in formation and development of a civil society. Religious ceremonies are obvious examples which provide a strong base for this brotherhood structure and leadership in particular. Equally important, the


Political Anthropology
notion of brotherhood is extremely powerful because it promotes the idea of independence within the state, and consequently it reinforces the principles of a civil society. In a sense, these organizations of brotherhood can and do play a constructive role in local civil society simply because the nature of their social and political system support forms of autonomous communities. An illustration of this is what Dr Ross says:

"Sufi brotherhood brotherhoods throughout the Muslim world share a similar organizational structure. At the summit of the spiritual hierarchy is khalifah, or Caliph, who is the spiritual head of the order and who represent its founder. In Senegal these Caliphs are always direct male descendents of the Brotherhood's founder. Below the Caliph are the shaykhs or muqaddams, "elder," who have various responsibilities and are often far more involves in the day-today running affairs than the Caliph-who is usually a very old man absorbed in piety"(251)

In relation to this Pakao in Senegal is another society where Islam touches every aspect of life. In this community, the traditional structure of the social organization is, to a great extent, based on the Islamic values which play a central role in the preservation of the social order. Based on the book, Mandinko, religious practices in the villages represent a strong part of the respect that people have for their religion.

The influence of Islam is very much seen at certain aspects in Pakao society. An example of this is the absence of any kinship system among people which represent the widespread of the Islamic culture. Moreover, the structural order of Pakao community is exclusively characterized by the existence of the chief and imam who seem to take control over different things in society. Although they have distinct responsibilities, the religious


Political Anthropology
authority in the position of these people contributes, to some extent, to the organization of the community. More seriously still, power is also one of the defining characteristics in Pakao society. In addition to the chief and imam, power is equivalent to leadership which is attributed to elders in the community. In this context, old people in Pakao society are regarded as the great pillars of society who should be treated with respect. The source of this authority is deeply based on the Islamic teachings that these people were introduced to in their early age. Beside this, Marabout is one of the important Islamic figures in Pakao who is known of his spiritual power and responsibility to guide his followers. Related to this aspect, Matt Schaffer and Christine Cooper says that: The Marabout is often possessed of supernatural qualities. He is a wizard and thus able to foretell the future, to interpret natural signs, and to identify cannibial-witches masquerading in human or animal form. Often he is an expert in plant medicine. The marabout can provide formal counsel by recounting a morality tale known oral tradition or by reading from a hand-written, usually inherited "book of advice." The marabout is always a teacher, introducing his own sons or larger group of his pupils in the literal interpretive meanings of Koran"(34)

It is clear that the authority given to marabout plays an interesting role in the social order of Pakao community. People believe that marabouts are powerful enough to bring any change to their society. This example can be seen though the uttering of dua in religious practice which shows the influence of Islam as a widespread religion.


Political Anthropology

In conclusion, this paper has tried to show the role of the significant institutions in the formation and development of civil society taking into consideration the social organization of each community. The film by Brian, the book by Schaffer and Cooper and most importantly the handout by Dr. Ross look closely at the structure of these institutions which is considered a key element in moving towards a form of autonomous entities and independent authority.


Political Anthropology

Works cited

Moser, Brain, dir. “Dervishes of Kurdistan” Disappearing World. With anthropologists André Singer and Ali Bulookbashi, Discovery Channel, 1987 Shaffer, Matt & Cooper, Christine. Mandinko. The Ethnography of a West AfricanHoly Land: Waveland Press. Illinois. 1980. (34) Ross, Eric. From marabout republics to autonomous rural communities: Autonomous Muslim Towns in Senegambia. in African Urban Spaces in Historical Perspective, Ed by Steven J. Salm & Toyin Falola. Rochester: University of Rochester Press. 2005 ( 251)


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