Consuming Anxieties

Mobility of Commodities across Religious Boundaries in Nineteenth-Century Morocco

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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This article examines a fatwa written in the late nineteenth century by Jaʿfar b. Idrīs al-Kattānī, a distinguished Moroccan legal scholar. The issue that gave rise to the fatwa was the subject of heated debates among Moroccan Muslims at the time: the legality of using goods manufactured by non-Muslims. New historical conditions brought by Moroccan modernity eroded religious and communal boundaries between Muslims and non-Muslims and accentuated concerns about the integrity of Islam. Suspicion and anxiety of the population found expression in widespread rumors about impurities in products manufactured by non-Muslims. By analyzing al-Kattānī’s fatwa, this article aims to offer insights into the relationships between the ʿulamāʾ, Islamic tradition, and modernity.

Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

Journal d'Histoire Economique et Sociale de l'Orient



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D.J. Schroeter, The Sultan’s Jew: Morocco and the Sephardi World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002): 3-4, 153. It is critical to stress, however, that Jewish protégés effectively did not entirely leave the jurisdiction of Moroccan courts, even while acquiring foreign protection and access to consular courts. Jessica M. Marglin has recently examined the ways in which Jews navigated the legally pluralist environment of pre-Protectorate Morocco. She argues that Jews “moved fairly fluidly” among the legal institutions available to them and engaged in forum shopping, interacting with Muslim and non-Jewish legal institutions to optimize the outcome of a given case. On the impact of consular protection and jurisdiction on Jewish protégés, see J.M. Marglin, “In the Courts of the Nations: Jews, Muslims, and Legal Pluralism in Nineteenth-Century Morocco” (PhD diss. Princeton University, 2013): chaps. 7-9 (quotation is from p. 293).


Louise White, Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000): 83. For critical analysis of the details and intensity of circulating rumors in the context of the Moroccan pre-Protectorate period, see Katz, Murder in Marrakesh, and Amster, Medicine and the Saints: chap. 3.


I derive this understanding from Safran, “Rules of Purity and Confessional Boundaries”: 201. Islamic law does not define Christians and Jews as essentially unclean in their person; see Reinhart, “Impurity/No Danger”: 7; Halevi, “Christian Impurity versus Economic Necessity”: 929-30; Z. Maghen, “Close Encounters: Some Preliminary Observations on the Transmission of Impurity in Early Sunnī Jurisprudence.” Islamic Law and Society 6/3 (1999): 364. Elyse Semerdjian has developed this insight with a significantly different emphasis. She has demonstrated that, in eighteenth-century Aleppo, jurists rationalized the segregation of Muslim and non-Muslim women in public bathhouses by declaring the non-Muslim woman to be like a man who was therefore forbidden to gaze upon a naked Muslim woman; see E. Semerdjian, “Naked Anxiety: Bathhouses, Nudity, and the Dhimmī Woman in 18th-Century Aleppo.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 45 (2013): 651-76.


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