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The Articulation of Religious Identities and their Boundaries in Ethiopia: Labelling Difference and Processes of Contextualization in Islam

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Processes of contextualization in Islam are constantly raising questions about self-perception and the 'other', thus challenging the concept of an 'authentic' identity and its boundaries. Innovations and their appropriation or rejection currently play a significant role in Harar, an urban community in Eastern Ethiopia where local saints constitute a key element of everyday religious life. Islamic reform movements have been able to enter Ethiopia since the downfall of the socialist regime in 1991 and have been provoking disputes concerning the 'true' Islam, focusing on saints and related 'un-Islamic' practices. The majority of the Harar community has rejected this essentializing tendency, partly because of the influence of a Harari scholar who presides over the Lebanese organization Hasbashiyya. However, the contemporary role of religious networks and the quest for authenticity must be embedded in both the historical and contemporary socio-political context.


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