The Idea of the Muslim World

Episode 313

hosted by Chris Gratien and Abdul Latif

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In political discourses today, the “Muslim world” is evoked in a variety of contexts, ranging from pan-Islamic visions of political unity to a set of racist generalizations that present roughly a fifth of the world’s population as a monolithic whole. But as our guest in this episode, Cemil Aydın explains in his new book The Idea of the Muslim World, the very notion of a Muslim world is recent and requires historicization. In this episode, we explore the imagining of the Muslim World as a concept, tracing its early origins in the history of colonialism and the late Ottoman Empire and considering its transformation over the past century. We also discuss alternate geopolitical imaginaries and reflect on the implications of the racialization of Muslims.

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For a bonus segment on the history of the Ertuğrul, a late Ottoman goodwill mission to Japan:

Contributor Bios

Cemil Aydın is teaching Ottoman history and global history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Cemil Aydin’s recent publications include his book on the Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia (Columbia University Press, 2007) and “Regionen und Reiche in der Politischen Geschichte des Langen 19 Jahrhunderts, 1750-1924 (Region and Empire in the Political History of the Long 19th Century” in Geschichte Der Welt, 1750-1870: Wege Zur Modernen Welt (A History of the World, 1750-1870)“ (Beck Publishers, July 2016) pp: 35-253.
Chris Gratien holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University's Department of History and is currently an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. His research focuses on the social and environmental history of the Ottoman Empire and the modern Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region from the 1850s until the 1950s.
Abdul Latif is an MTS student at Harvard Divinity School focusing on Islamic Studies.

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Episode No. 313
Release Date: 16 May 2017
Recording Location: Harvard University
Audio editing by Chris Gratien
Music: Muzaffer Akgun - Ha Bu Diyar; Lili Labassi - Mazal Haye Mazal; Harmandali - Recep Efendi, Cemal Efendi; Katibim (Uskudar'a Gider iken) - Safiye Ayla
Additional segments: "A Short History of the Ertuğrul" by Michael Talbot
Images and bibliography courtesy of Cemil Aydın


The Muslim World Map (English) Revised in 2005 is colour coded to show the population of Muslims around the world. 100cm x 70cm. Full colour. Sold by Kube Publishing for 1.88 British Pound a piece. See There are many Contemporary Muslims hanging a framed version of this map on their homes and offices. Courtesy of Cemil Aydin, with permission from the director of Kube Publishing, Mr. Haris Ahmed, on July 11, 2016. 
1908 Christian Missionary Map of the Muslim World by Samuel Zwemer: This map is taken from American Protestant missionary Samuel Zwemer’s book The Moslem World, Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, Publishing House of the M.E. Church, South, 1908. It shows the conceptualization of the Muslim World as a geopolitical unity, despite the awareness of the fact that Muslim societies were ruled by various empires, mostly European empires. 
Queen Victoria and Abdülaziz aboard the HMY Victoria and Albert during the Sultan's official visit to the United Kingdom in 1867. By George Housman Thomas (Royal Collection Trust; wikipedia). The painting depicts the ceremony on board the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert in honor of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz during his 1867 visit to London. In the painting, the Queen is investing the Sultan with the insignia of the Order of Garter. Signed: George H. Thomas. Prince Abdulhamid, who later became Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909), accompanied his uncle in this trip and was present in the ceremony. Conferral of the Order of Garter to Ottoman Sultan was one of the symbolic aspects of the de-facto Ottoman-British alliance at that time. Sultan Abdulaziz did not object the Christian religious symbolism of the Order of Garter medal.
Picture of Abdullah Quilliam from This official picture from about 1908 in Istanbul shows Quilliam with the medals he received from the Ottoman Caliph. Quilliam was the most articulate spokesperson for Caliph Abdulhamid in England and a formulator of the Idea of the Muslim world as a vision of Ottoman-British alliance.
Afghan King Amanullah Khan and Queen Soraya Tarzi with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk of Turkey during their 1928 visit to Ankara. Radical self-modernizing and westernization reforms, especially reform of women’s status, in Turkey continued to inspire the leaders of Afghanistan and Iran during the interwar period. Source: 
1931 Jerusalem Muslim World Congress Executive Committee from This congress illustrate a Muslim world identity based internationalism of Muslim publics under British and French colonial rule. Governments of Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan refused to respond to the invitation to this congress.

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The Idea of the Muslim World
by Cemil Aydın
Harvard University Press
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