Converting Spain: Muslim Converts and the Contemporary Renewal of the Moorish Mediterranean

On September 15, the new Modern Mediterranean Societies Seminar Series opened with Dr. Mikaela Rogozen-Soltar (Anthropology, University of Nevada) presenting at the first BUJS Forum of the fall semester. She led an engaging discussion on her paper “Converting Spain: Muslim Converts and the Contemporary Renewal of the Moorish Mediterranean” in which she examines approaches to conversion within Spain’s Murabitun community.

During her fieldwork, Rogozen-Soltar interviewed and socialized with Murabitun women who identified both as recent converts as well as long-established members of the community. Regardless of the length of time that they have identified as Muslim, her research participants referred to themselves as converts. In these interviews, she found that both their approaches to individual conversion and the larger movement to spread Islam throughout Spain adopted different temporal understandings. The Murabitun women often used the phrase “poco a poco,” which means “little by little,” to describe the process of individual conversion. Poco a poco indicates a “patient, measured approach” for anyone undertaking personal religious transformation. For example, one might introduce Muslim ritual into one’s life before “officializing” her conversion by reciting the Shahada. Despite being gradual, these personal religious transformations are total. As explained by one participant, “One cannot become a new person overnight, but conversion does entail ultimately becoming a new person.”


However, Rogozen-Soltar observed that for the Spanish Murabitun, the goal of conversion takes place in national and global identity as well as within individuals. The same participants who advocated gradual conversion for individuals spoke of a more urgent need to convert contemporary Spain, which was often signified by references to restoring al-Andalus, or medieval Muslim Spain. This impulse speaks to the millenarian goals of the Murabitun culture, calling for a level of political and social activism that manifests in many ways throughout the community. One of the methods of returning to al-Andalus includes eschewing modern capitalism by engaging in barter or minting and using Islamic dinars as an alternative to official national currencies whenever possible. Through these methods, Rogozen-Soltar suggests, an individual’s conversion becomes apart of a larger, more radical spiritual project.

Following Rogozen-Soltar’s lecture, moderator Professor Adam Seligman (Religion, Boston University) and respondent Janet McIntosh (Anthropology, Brandeis University) contributed to the engaging discussion by asking how a millenarian movement might try to recreate the past while reframing the future and how gender might have affected the understandings of the temporal aspects of conversion. The forum provided those in attendance with an opportunity to reflect on the role of religious conversion and the many ways it develops in the life of individuals as well as their community.

You can view more images from the event at our Facebook.