The Noble Sanctuary: Interpreting Islamic Traditions of Asylum in the Contemporary World
This study aims at deepening understanding of religion in the social and cultural lives of forced migrants. It considers how Iraqi refugees in Damascus mobilise religious traditions, networks and institutions in order to negotiate their new surroundings and access much needed social and material resources. In doing so, refugees move beyond the management and care of UN agencies, international NGOs and the state. This thesis argues against conceptualizing religion solely as an identity concern or in institutional terms. Instead it emphasises religion as being a holistic and experiential matter.\ud This study provides a synchronic and diachronic examination of Islamic traditions in relation to sanctuary, refuge and the stranger. Over the course of a year, from March 2010 to March 2011, 23 Iraqi refugees and five refugee service providers participated in in-depth semi-structured interviews. Ethnographic data was also collected and recorded in the field during this time.\ud The thesis explores how Islamic traditions are interpreted in contemporary contexts in addition to demonstrating the relational dimensions of religious practice and experience. The constraints and opportunities Iraqi refugees encounter in em-placing themselves indicate that religion is a much contested notion. I make the case for a holistic understanding of religious practice and experience wherein home-making is a key concern. The challenges of facing a protracted exile and a protection impasse in Syria means Iraqi refugees are compelled to reflect upon their specific experiences of religion and to mobilize their understandings of religious traditions in innovative ways in order to construct inhabitable worlds.\ud It is argued that the complex intersection at which refugees are located in social space indicates that the struggle to make homes is contingent on relations of power. This study considers the positions refugees take relative to the state, international humanitarian agencies and faith-based actors in the humanitarian field. In doing so, attention is drawn to the agency of refugees as they struggle to negotiate circumstances of considerable constraint. This thesis also illustrates the challenges of conducting research in an authoritarian state.
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