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Playing Cosmopolitan: Muslim Self-fashioning, Migration, and (Be-)Longing in the Tajik Dubai Business Sector

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Linking Central Asian and Gulf studies, this article explores how young, well-educated, and multilingual Tajiks involved in Dubai’s various business fields create, shape, and draw on a sense of cosmopolitanism to convert their uncertain status as “Tajik migrants” into that of economically autonomous “Muslim businessmen.” Specifically, Tajik migrants mobilize religion to claim belonging to Dubai as a “Muslim place,” while they simultaneously make sense of their experiences as Central Asian labor migrants in Russia and pious Muslim travelers in secular Tajikistan. “Playing cosmopolitan” is a transnational social project that merges the political project of branding the Arabian Gulf with the lived realities of a culturally diverse mercantile Persian Gulf. Thus, Tajik Muslims engage in alternative forms of belonging abroad. Pointing to the mutual conditionality of longing and belonging in migrant cosmopolitanism, the article offers a nuanced picture of everyday life in Dubai that goes beyond the “spectacularity” of the city, challenging the prevailing representation of Tajik Muslims’ engagement in transnational Islam as a security matter only.

Affiliations: 1: Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin,


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