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City & Society

The Cosmopolitan Sahara: Building a Global Islamic Village in Mauritania

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Abstract

Maatamoulana, a predominantly Bedouin village on the edge of the Mauritanian Sahara, was founded as a center of Islamic education and Sufi practice in 1958 and now attracts an increasingly global stream of visitors and new residents. Maatamoulana's emergence as a global Islamic village hinges on the creative mobilization of the village's position on the periphery of multiple, largely distinct cosmopolitan networks. I describe Maatamoulana as a community of hybrid cosmopolitan subjects who participate, among other things, in a global Sufi movement, the larger Islamic umma, and neoliberal development networks. I present two men who play key roles in the village's globalization. The village's shaykh, Al-Hajj ould Michry, mediates between groups of people who participate in the village in many different capacities. Moulaye ould Khouna directs a non-religious NGO, Terre Vivante, which effectively channels economic resources, disciples, and social contacts into the village. Internationally funded development projects enhance the village's role as an Islamic center while the village's particularities attract development partners. This cosmopolitan Islamic center thus refracts multiple cosmopolitan networks through its own projects.

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