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Leisurely Islam

Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Morality in Shi'ite South Beirut

Lara Deeb
Mona Harb
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Leisurely Islam
    Book Description:

    South Beirut has recently become a vibrant leisure destination with a plethora of cafés and restaurants that cater to the young, fashionable, and pious. What effects have these establishments had on the moral norms, spatial practices, and urban experiences of this Lebanese community? From the diverse voices of young Shi'i Muslims searching for places to hang out, to the Hezbollah officials who want this media-savvy generation to be more politically involved, to the religious leaders worried that Lebanese youth are losing their moral compasses, Leisurely Islam provides a sophisticated and original look at leisure in the Lebanese capital.

    What makes a café morally appropriate? How do people negotiate morality in relation to different places? And under what circumstances might a pious Muslim go to a café that serves alcohol? Lara Deeb and Mona Harb highlight tensions and complexities exacerbated by the presence of multiple religious authorities, a fraught sectarian political context, class mobility, and a generation that takes religion for granted but wants to have fun. The authors elucidate the political, economic, religious, and social changes that have taken place since 2000, and examine leisure's influence on Lebanese sociopolitical and urban situations.

    Asserting that morality and geography cannot be fully understood in isolation from one another, Leisurely Islam offers a colorful new understanding of the most powerful community in Lebanon today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4856-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Note on Language
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction: Exploring Leisure, Morality, and Geography in South Beirut
    (pp. 1-34)

    It was a typical Thursday around three in the afternoon in late summer about a year after Bab al-Hara opened.¹ We walked up a short flight of stone stairs and through a small outdoor seating area to the café entrance just above the level of the busy street. Two collection boxes for Shiʿi charitable organizations flanked the main door—one for Al-Mabarrat, the organization affiliated with prominent religious leader Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, and the other for Hizbullah’s Emdad Foundation. We stepped into a large room, its faux stone walls graced with antique objects and photographs from the popular Syrian...

  7. 1 New Leisure in South Beirut
    (pp. 35-65)

    In December 1999, seven months before the liberation of South Lebanon from Israeli occupation, an amusement park opened in Dahiya. It was located along its western edge, close to the Golf Club of Lebanon and several ritzy residential areas. Its Ferris wheel was shining new and could be spotted easily while driving on the highway that linked the airport to downtown Beirut. Mona was tempted to check it out with her 2.5-year-old son who had never been to an amusement park in Lebanon. Luna Park in the seaside Manara neighborhood of municipal Beirut was not clean enough for her taste,...

  8. 2 Producing Islamic Fun: Hizbullah, Fadlallah, and the Entrepreneurs
    (pp. 66-101)

    Moral leisure is a sound business venture in south Beirut. Fady, a returnee from the United States who opened a successful café in the area, understood this well. As he noted above, operating a café in Dahiya requires abiding by the basic tenets of not serving alcohol or playing songs—and failing to do that is simply a stupid business decision. Private entrepreneurs recognized this quickly and established themselves as the main producers of moral fun in south Beirut. Hizbullah’s role in the leisure sector is less powerful, despite party efforts to dominate cultural production as well as control behavior...

  9. 3 Mapping Leisure and Café Styles
    (pp. 102-134)

    Prior to 2000, Dahiya had a few pizza places scattered along some of its commercial streets that functioned like the local manʿoushe and fast-food stands. There were also a couple restaurants by its western edge that mainly catered food as well as a few male-only traditional coffee shops. Mona regularly took her adviser and other professors to one of the restaurants, Kanana, during her PhD fieldwork in the late 1990s, as it was the only restaurant in Dahiya where one could get a decent meal. During most of these visits, the place was empty or occupied by few customers, but...

  10. 4 Flexible Morality, Respectful Choices, Smaller Transgressions
    (pp. 135-175)

    Rabiʿ is not talking about shopping for clothing or a new stereo system. He is describing how he relates to the manifold options available to him when he goes out. The combination of new cafés in Dahiya and new desires for leisure that may take people beyond its borders have prompted greater public negotiation of moral norms for common café activities. Decisions have to be made about where one wants to hang out or be seen—decisions that often have to do with perceptions about a café’s reputation and respectability. Those perceptions, in turn, rest on a set of criteria...

  11. 5 Comforting Territory, New Urban Experiences, and the Moral City
    (pp. 176-207)

    Over the past few years, most of Mona’s students at the American University of Beirut were utterly unaware of Dahiya’s new leisure sites until she asked them to conduct fieldwork in a south Beirut café for her class. For these students—mainly upper-middle and upper-class Sunni, Druze, Maronite, and Shiʿi Lebanese living in upscale areas of Beirut—Dahiya is scary; it is an area they only bypass en route to or from the airport. Few (mainly Shiʿi) students had even heard of al-Saha, and those who had knew about it because they had been invited to a wedding there, or...

  12. 6 Good Taste, Leisure’s Moral Spaces, and Sociopolitical Change in Lebanon
    (pp. 208-222)

    Thus far, we have seen how ideas about morality, space, and place come together to create specific forms of leisure for more or less pious Shiʿi Muslim residents of south Beirut. Choices about leisure activities and places are informed by different moral rubrics, as people negotiate social norms, religious tenets, and political loyalties. Pastimes and their settings are assessed according to ideas about where they are located and how their patrons behave—ideas built on assumptions about the relationship between morality and geography in the city. Yet how and where a person hangs out is also an expression of personal...

  13. Appendix: Quoted Figures and Characters
    (pp. 223-226)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-260)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 261-262)
  16. References
    (pp. 263-276)
  17. Index
    (pp. 277-286)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-288)