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Daʿwa, Dynasty, and Destiny in the Arab Gulf

  • Nadav Samin (a1)

This article considers the question of collective identity formation in the Arab Gulf by looking at the distinctive ways in which the genealogies of the dominant kinship collective of the United Arab Emirates, the Banī Yās confederation, have been represented by that country's cultural and heritage-making institutions. I look comparatively at two high profile, state-sponsored, Emirati genealogical projects, one a site, and the other a text, and investigate their significance from a historical and ethnographic perspective. I find that the relatively weak religious gravity of the United Arab Emirates allows for unorthodox representations of kinship at the national level, that women do not necessarily buy into these representations yet contribute in their own ways to a kinship nationalist discourse, and that genealogy is nonetheless a particularly fraught idiom for binding together an ethnically heterogeneous society like the Emirates. Approaching the public representation of genealogies through an integrative framework, this article sheds light on important themes in modern Emirati and broader Gulf social and political life, including the complicated place of religious norms in a newly fashioned Muslim nation, the influence of gender on conceptions of kinship and nationhood, and the challenge ethnic heterogeneity poses to an Arab ethno-national project.

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1 The Arab Gulf states include Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.

2 Ho, Engseng, The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

3 Shryock, Andrew, Nationalism and the Genealogical Imagination: Oral History and Textual Authority in Tribal Jordan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

4 Samin, Nadav, Of Sand or Soil: Genealogy and Tribal Belonging in Saudi Arabia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).

5 Sowayan, Saad A., al-Ṣaḥrāʾ al-ʿArabiyya: Thaqāfatuhā wa-Shiʿruhā ʿabr al-ʿUṣūr (Beirut: Arab Network for Research and Publishing, 2010).

6 Belge, Ceren, “State Building and the Limits of Legibility: Kinship Networks and Kurdish Resistance in Turkey,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 43, 1 (2011): 95114 ; Schatz, Edward, Modern Clan Politics: The Power of “Blood” in Kazakhstan and Beyond (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004).

7 Scott, James C., Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); Dirks, Nicholas B., Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

8 The best known of these works begin to appear around the ninth century CE.

9 By daʿwa I do not mean, as the term is commonly understood to mean, Muslim proselytizing or missionary work, whether among fellow Muslims or non-Muslims. Daʿwa in this article refers to the articulation of a particular Muslim creedal or communal orientation as a sphere of political and social influence, as in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia or Ibāḍī Oman. The implication is that the differing daʿwas of the Arabian Peninsula remain salient as political categories, and cannot be neatly circumscribed by territorial boundary lines and the Westphalian assumptions that underpin them.

10 While it might be fruitful to explore the implications of my argument for the remaining Gulf states (e.g., Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain), I do not do so in this article. It should be noted in passing that these states all lack an autochthonous daʿwa, and seem also to have embraced development strategies that are comparable to those of the UAE, to greater or lesser degrees.

11 For more on women and genealogy in the Arabian Peninsula, see vom Bruck, Gabriele, “Names as Bodily Signs,” in vom Bruck, Gabriele and Bodenhorn, Barbara, eds., The Anthropology of Names and Naming (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 225–50.

12 On the idea of political spectacle, see Wedeen, Lisa, Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Schiller, Naomi, “‘Now That the Petroleum Is Ours’: Community Media, State Spectacle and Oil Nationalism in Venezuela,” in Behrends, Andrea, Reyna, Stephen, and Schlee, Günther, eds., Crude Domination: An Anthropology of Oil (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007), 190219 ; Brachet, Julien and Scheele, Judith, “Fleeting Glory in a Wasteland: Wealth, Politics, and Autonomy in Northern Chad,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 57, 3 (2015): 723–52.

13 Important exceptions include: Lienhardt, Peter, Shaikhdoms of Eastern Arabia (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2001); and Rugh, Andrea B., The Political Culture of Leadership in the United Arab Emirates (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007).

14 Ali, Syed, Dubai: Gilded Cage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); and Vora, Neha, Impossible Citizens: Dubai's Indian Diaspora (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013).

15 Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006).

16 Geary, Patrick, The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).

17 Takriti, Abdel Razzaq argues this point in a recent study: Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans, and Empires in Oman, 1965–1976 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

18 Sixteenth-century Portuguese maps refer to the presence of Banī Yās in the region. Al-Salman, Mohamed Hameed, “Arabian Gulf in the Era of Portuguese Dominance: A Study in Historical Sources,” Līwā 4, 7 (2012): 1336, 16.

19 ʿAbdallāh b. Khalfān b. Qayṣar, Sīrat al-Imām Nāṣir b. Murshid (Muscat: Oman Ministry of National Heritage, 1983), 76.

20 McAnany, Patricia A., Living with the Ancestors: Kinship and Kingship in Ancient Maya Society (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), 15 .

21 By heartland, I am referring to the hinterland regions of the Emirates, where nomadic pastoralism was more prevalent. The Bānī Yās were documented by most British travelers as being predominantly sedentary farmers and pearl divers, not pastoralist nomads. Yet in the genealogical discourse of the modern Gulf, attaching one's history to a desert existence of the type prevailing in hinterland regions like the Ẓafra or even al-ʿAin is preferable to a coastal origins narrative, with its allusions to ethnic heterogeneity and arrival by sea from afar. Samin, Of Sand or Soil, 173–80.

22 Author interview with museum administrator, al-ʿAin, Dec. 2014.

23 Author interview with museum guide, al-ʿAin, Dec. 2014.

24 A map of the museum, available free to all visitors, is marked with arrows that confirm this route as the recommended one.

25 Zāyid, his brother Shakhbūṭ, and their father Sulṭān have their own portraits as well.

26 Khalīfa is Zāyid's eldest son. He was born in al-ʿAin in 1948. From 1966, when Zāyid became ruler of Abu Dhabi, until his father's death in 2004, Khalīfa was governor of al-ʿAin. In 2004, he became ruler of Abu Dhabi. Like the late King ʿAbdallāh of Saudi Arabia, he has no full brothers.

27 Before its consolidation into a city, al-ʿAin was one of a grouping of small settlements that included Rubayna.

28 McAnany, Living with the Ancestors, 13.

29 Pedley, John, Sanctuaries and the Sacred in the Ancient Greek World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 8 ; Emerson, Mary, Greek Sanctuaries: An Introduction (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 2007), 53 ; Levine, Lee I., Jerusalem: Portrait of the City in the Second Temple Period (538 BCE–70 CE) (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002), 220, 232; Metcalf, Barbara, “The Pilgrimage Remembered: South Asian Accounts of the Hajj,” in Eickelman, Dale F. and Piscatori, James P., eds., Muslim Travelers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 97 . Metcalf notes how certain lithograph drawings of the great mosque of Mecca by South Asian Muslim pilgrims are “almost mandala-like in their focus on the centre.” A further reflection of this centering in an Islamic context can be found in a study on the Kaʿba by the twentieth-century Hijazi scholar ʿAbd al-Quddūs al-Anṣārī, which uses satellite imagery to argue that the sacred cube is situated at the true geographical center of Mecca. al-Anṣārī, ʿAbd al-Quddūs, al-Tārīkh al-Mufaṣṣal li-l-Kaʿba al-Musharrafa Qabla al-Islām (Mecca: Nādī Makka al-Thaqāfī al-Adabī, 1998), 55 .

30 McAnany, Living with the Ancestors, 11.

31 Khalaf, Sulayman, “Poetics and Politics of Newly Invented Traditions in the Gulf: Camel Racing in the United Arab Emirates,” Ethnology 39, 3 (2000): 243–61.

32 Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane, “The Genesis of the Family Tree,” I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance 4 (1991): 105–29.

33 Rugh addresses this point as well; Political Culture of Leadership, 23.

34 During her fieldwork in northern Yemen, Shelagh Weir noted the absence of names for households headed by divorced or widowed women, a reflection of both the cognitive and actual dominance of patriarchal units. A Tribal Order: Politics and Law in the Mountains of Yemen (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), 29 .

35 The Nabaṭī Poetry of the United Arab Emirates, Holes, Clive and Athera, Said Salman Abu, eds. (Reading: Ithaca Press, 2011), 58 .

36 The tree represents the Zāyid patriline inaccurately, as subdividing into three branches of seven, six, and eight male progeny, respectively.

37 Rugh states that Zāyid married at least nine times, with his first two wives going often unacknowledged because they did not bear him children. Rugh, Political Culture of Leadership, 82. For an extended discussion of Zāyid's marriages, see ibid., 82–95.

38 Yuval-Davis, Nira, “Gender and Nation,” in Wilford, Rick and Miller, Robert L., eds., Women, Ethnicity, and Nationalism (London: Routledge, 1998), 25 .

39 al-Khāṭirī, Ḥammād, Awthaq al-Maʿāyīr fī Nasab Banī Yās wa-l-Manāṣīr (Abu Dhabi: National Center for Documentation and Research, 2007).

40 Emirati nationals comprise approximately 12 percent of the resident population. “Population Estimates: 2006–2010,” United Arab Emirates, National Bureau of Statistics.

41 Interviews with Emirati genealogists, Dubai, Jan. 2014, and Sharjah, Dec. 2014.

42 al-Khāṭirī, Awthaq al-Maʿāyīr, 13.

43 Ibid., 37.

44 Samin, Of Sand or Soil.

45 Author interview with Emirati genealogist, Dubai, Jan. 2014.

46 Morton, Michael Quentin, Buraimi: The Struggle for Power, Influence and Oil in Arabia (London: I. B. Tauris, 2013), 164 .

47 Robin Dunn, “Notes on Saʿudi Arabia Memorial,” cited in al-Khāṭirī, Awthaq al-Maʿāyīr, 226. The document bears the encoding of the British Foreign Office.

48 Khāṭirī’s corroborating evidence for the Quḍāʿa lineage is a line of Emirati oral poetry recited by a purported early nineteenth-century Banī Yās leader, which links the Yās b. Aḥmad mentioned in the Dunn document to the ancient ancestor Quḍāʿa through what Khāṭirī’s Emirati critics consider to be a convoluted and far-fetched chain of ancestors. al-Khāṭirī, Awthaq al-Maʿāyīr, 86.

49 Author interview, Abu Dhabi, Sept. 2010.

50 Echoing Shryock's experience in Jordan, one Emirati historian implored me to erase the handwritten notes I was taking when discussing the key points of the Awthaq controversy. Shryock, Nationalism and the Genealogical Imagination, 148.

51 Author interview, ʿAjmān, Jan. 2014.

52 al-Maṭrūshī, ʿAlī, “Wajhat Naẓr Ḥawl Kitāb ‘Awthaq al-Maʿāyīr fī Nasab Banī Yās wa-l-Manāṣīr’,” in ʿAnāqīd Thaqāfiyya (ʿAjmān: al-Nādī al-Waṭanī li-l-Thaqāfa wa-l-Funūn, 2008), 65 .

53 Author interview, Sharjah, Dec. 2014.

54 Author interview, al-ʿAin, Sept. 2010.

55 al-Khāṭirī, Awthaq al-Maʿāyīr, 191–216.

56 Ibid., 167–75.

57 Author interview, Sharjah, Dec. 2014.

58 Author interview, Dubai, Jan. 2014.

59 al-Maṭrūshī, ʿAlī, “Maḥādhīr al-Kitāba fī Ansāb al-Qabāʾil al-Maḥalliyya,” Majallat al-Ẓafra 50 (2011). A second volume by al-Khāṭirī, titled Aṭyab al-Thamarāt fī al-Taʿrīf bi-Qabāʾil al-Imārat (The choicest fruits of the introduction to the tribes of the Emirates), met the same fate as Awthaq.

60 Author interview, Dubai, Jan. 2014.

61 Eriksen, Thomas Hylland, Ethnicity and Nationalism: Anthropological Perspectives (London: Pluto Press, 2010).

62 Cooke, Miriam, Tribal Modern: Branding New Nations in the Arab Gulf (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014).

63 Al-Jazīra (al-ʿArabiyya) is also the term for the Arabian Peninsula. The double meaning is thus apparent.

64 al-Khāṭirī, Awthaq al-Maʿāyīr, 23.

65 Badger, George Percy, History of the Imâms and Seyyids of ʿOmân, by Salîl-ibn-Razîk, from A.D. 661–1856 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1871), Editor's Preface.

66 Ho, Engseng, “Foreigners and Mediators in the Constitution of Malay Sovereignty,” Indonesia and the Malay World 41, 120 (2013): 146–67, 152.

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