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Imperial Muslims

Islam, Community and Authority in the Indian Ocean, 1839-1937

Scott S. Reese

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A transregional history of Muslim community in the British Empire

The webs, nodes and networks created by Britain’s Indian Ocean Empire during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are here explored in the context of their personal and social impact. Using the British Settlement of Aden as its focus, the book examines the development of a local community within the spaces created by imperial rule. It explores how individuals from widely disparate backgrounds brought together by the networks of empire created a cohesive community utilizing the one commonality at their disposal: their faith. Specifically, it examines how religious institutions and spiritual ideas served as parameters for the creation of community and the kinds of symbolic and cultural capital an individual needed to attain communal membership and influence within the confines of imperial rule.

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1. Hanuman’s Tunnel: Collapsing the space between Hind and Arabia in the Arab imaginary

2. Aden, The Company and Indian Ocean Interests

3. Claims to Community: Mosques, Cemeteries and the Universe

4.‘The Qadi is not a Judge’: The Qadi’s Courts, Community and Authority

5.‘An innocent amusement’: Marginality, Spirit Possession and the Moral Community

6. Scripturalism, Sufism and the limits of defining public religiosity



About the Author

Scott S. Reese is Professor of Islamic History at Northern Arizona University and author of Renewers of the Age: Holy Men and Social Discourse in Colonial Benaadir (Brill, 2008) and The Transmission of Learning in Islamic Africa (Brill, 2004).


Imperial Muslims is an important contribution to the growing literature on the formation of Muslim identities under colonial rule. In absorbing detail, Reese vividly creates a portrait of the complex intersections of religion, ethnicity, and trade in British-ruled Aden, in a rich study that will be highly appreciated in the fields of history and religious studies.

- Carl W. Ernst, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

A community that was the offspring of empire, the Muslims of Aden gave voice to the competing religious currents at the confluence of Africa and Asia. By depicting a ‘multiverse’ shaped by rival cosmologies, legal pluralism, and the metaphysical unseen as well as the visible flows of finance, Scott Reese succeeds splendidly in revealing a microcosm of the Indian Ocean’s heterogeneous umma.

- Nile Green (UCLA), author of Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean
'In Imperial Muslims, the author’s ingenious use of British archival sources and Arabic contemporary publications make 19th and early 20th century Aden come alive in front of the readers’ eyes. His assertion that at the turn of the century Britain ruled over forty percent of the global Muslim population is enough to explain why Aden is an important case study in providing a window into the social and spiritual life of a Muslim community within the British Empire.'

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