“Heard about the Good-Deed-Sayers?” Islam and everyday conversations on religious difference in Harar, Ethiopia

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AUTHOR: Patrick Desplat

Year        : January 2019


In this article, I take the absence of public religious debates, sermons and of displays of piety as a starting point to explore the ambiguous ways in which people in the Ethiopian city of Harar express religious difference through everyday talk. Drawing on two specific social situations, daily morning strolls and afternoon cat1 chewing sessions, I illustrate that Harari men claim, maintain and strengthen religious affiliation and difference through acts of exclusion and self-identification in the form of chit-chat, gossip and artful narratives. Given that Harar is considered an important centre of Islam at the Horn of Africa, I frame the religious issues at stake in relation to changes in the religious and political landscape of Ethiopia since the nineteen-nineties that have influenced religious discord and triggered strong identity politics among ethnic groups in the city. Against this background, I investigate social consequences and strategies of avoidance among Harari men who are anxious to be the target of gossip and backbiting.