Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2015

Amal Sachedina

Aga Khan Visiting Professor in Islamic Humanities, Brown University

Shifting Terrain: Destroying While Preserving the Dalla (Coffee Pot) and the Ethos of Neighbourliness in the Sultanate of Oman

Since its establishment as a modern nation state from 1970, Oman has pursued a policy of national integration and modernization through heritage institutions ranging from museums and restoration of historic sites to an expanding tourist market and a market for heritage crafts. These historical resources provide the context within which the very foundations of the territorial nation are given material form; but they also embody new ethical matrices, social relations around public knowledge and forms of Islamic religiosity. Centred on the dalla, or the Omani coffee pot, this paper takes the social practices and knowledges induced by its material form and function as a basis for examining the shift from the religio-ethical relationships of the last Ibadi Islamic Imamate (1913-1958) to those that define ‘heritage’ as part of modern state building today. As an object of experience, that has generated responses across different contexts the coffee pot which once enabled the sociality and every-day interaction of members of a sharī’a society has become an abstracted but potent icon of the Omani state. This paper argues that the dalla and its significance becomes a means for citizens to reconcile their own sense of local history and collective memories of the Ibadi Imamate of the 1950s with the modality of history deployed by the nation state. The result is that residues from a shari’a grounded past marginalized by a secular linear narration continue to inform the experiences of modernity among Omanis, producing differences that contend with the national normative understanding of Progress.

Amal Sachedina is the Aga Khan Visiting Professor in Islamic Humanities. She completed her doctoral work in socio-cultural anthropology and Middle East studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research, now a book project, explores the material practices of making and reflecting on the past through examining the changing functions and roles of material objects and landscapes over the course of the 20th century at a time when the last Ibadi Imamate (1913-1959) pervaded the interior of what is now the Sultanate of Oman. It is a study of how forms of history, the re-configuration of time and the institutionalization of material heritage recalibrate the Islamic tradition to requirements of modern political and moral order as part of nation building in the Sultanate of Oman. She has recently been a Mellon fellow at the American Museum of Natural History where she conducted research on the Asian collections as part of the process of constructing exhibit narratives on Islam and the Middle East as part of the pre-planning phase towards renovating the Asia Wing at the American Museum of Natural History, NY. She has been the recipient of a number of fellowships including The Fulbright (IIE), The Fulbright-Hays (DDRA), Andrew Mellon Foundation, Aga Khan Foundation and the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA). In fostering an inter-disciplinary approach to the study of material culture, Amal Sachedina earned a B.A. in archaeology from the University of Michigan and an M.Phil in Islamic Art and Archaeology from Oxford University and has been a research consultant for World Heritage advisory bodies such as ICOMOS (International Council for Monuments and Sites) and ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property).