Islam in the Middle Eastern Studies: Muslims and Minorities

Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture International Symposium
International Area Study Conference


January 20-22, 1998

at the National Museum of Ethnology

The Japan Center for Area Studies (JCAS)

with the joint auspices of

The Japan Association for Middle East Studies (JAMES)
Islamic Area Studies Project

posted on February 9, 1998

Objectives of the Symposium

KATO Hiroshi (Executive Committee Chairman)

One of the purposes of Area Studies is to elucidate, in an interdisciplinary manner, the modern problems a particular area faces, given its unique situation and characteristics. In specific terms, it involves comprehensively understanding old and new problems of an area through two combined approaches, for example, the approach traditionally applied by history in understanding an area in its uniqueness, and that traditionally applied by political economics in analyzing an area by generalizing its traits.

The current Symposium has been planned to promote free and stimulating discussions between overseas and Japanese researchers, and between historians and social scientists, from the above-mentioned original standpoint of Area Studies. The target area of the current Symposium is the Middle East. The very fact that such a research project is taking place in Japan is significant, for Japan is far away from the Middle East, has a completely different historical and cultural background, and does not quite belong to the West or the East.

As ethnic and religious conflicts further intensify in the increasingly confused world following the end of the US-Soviet Cold War, the Middle East has been drawing international attention as a focal point of disputes. The Middle East continues to be besieged with numerous political and social problems such as ethnic and religious conflicts such as the Jerusalem issue, which hinders the Middle East from attaining social stability and order, the minimum prerequisites for economic development and political democratization.

Historically speaking, however, the Middle East has not always been a center of conflict. It has been pointed out that in the past the Middle East saw the peaceful coexistence of various religions, religious sects and ethnic groups under the predominance of Islam. The current Symposium will therefore attempt to consider the issue of coexistence of different religions, religious sects and ethnic groups in the Middle East in the past and at present, with special focus on majority-minority relations.

We are fully aware that we must use the term "minority" very carefully here because, however it may be defined, this term is destined to take on some political meaning, given today's political situation. In the current Symposium, therefore, the term "minority" shall be used in such a way as to put the term "majority" in a relative position. Specifically, discussions will be pursued with greater emphasis on the coexistence of, rather than confrontation between, majority and minority groups, giving closer examination to socioeconomic conditions surrounding conflicts, rather than simply attempting to look for the causes of conflicts, since too much importance seems to have been attached thus far to majority-minority confrontation and phenomenal descriptions of disputes.

The Symposium will have two sessions which will be set up based on the statements above . Each session will cover a theme as described below.

Session 1, entitled "Muslims and Minority in History," aims at demonstratively elucidating various relations between majority and minority groups in the Middle East, mainly in the pre-modern era, from a historical point of view. This era has been selected because, as stated above, coexistence of the Muslim majority and other minority groups in the pre-modern era is a historical fact, and it is believed that understanding various aspects of this coexistence can provide a useful means for contemplating majority-minority relations in the present era.

Session 2, entitled "Ethnic Groups in Situations," aims at clarifying tensions between majority and minority groups in the present-day Middle East, in the sociological analysis of political, economic and socio-psychological situations of both groups. In this session, the majority group will not be defined only as Muslims, and minority issues will be considered as issues between ethnic groups. This is because modern and contemporary minority issues in the Middle East differ from those of the pre-modern era in that majority and minority groups cannot necessarily be defined by religion or religious sect, and majority-minority confrontation is not only religious or sectional in nature, but ethnic as well.

As mentioned above, discussions will focus on socioeconomic and political economic situations, rather than aspects of confrontation between ethnic groups. In addition, discussions will be directed beyond the incidental or phenomenal dimension of confrontation, to reach the dimension of collective, social psychology. The Symposium will not aim at merely exaggerating ethnic confrontation, but at seeking a way to promote the peaceful coexistence of ethnic groups in the Middle East.


January 20, 1998

Opening Remarks:
ISHIGE Naomichi (Director-General, NME)

Keynote Speech:
SATO Tsugitaka (President, The Japan Association for Middle East Studies, The University of Tokyo)

Islam in the Middle Eastern Studies: Muslims and Minorities


Session 1:

Muslims and Minorities in History

  • Mark Cohen (Princeton University)
    The Jewish Minority in Medieval Islam
  • OTOSHI Tetsuya (Kyushu University)
    Muslims and Copts as Reflected in the Ziyara Books and Qarafas
  • Muhammad Afifi (Cairo University)
    Copts in Ottoman Period: Controversy of Today and the Facts of Yesterday
  • Keiko OTA (Hokkaido University) The Syrian Christian Community and Socio-political Changes in the Early Islamic Period
  • M'hammad Benabud (Abdulmalik al-Sadi University)
    The Problems of Ethnic Groups in Al-Andalus
  • Abdul Karim Rafeq (Damascus University)
    Coexistence and Integration in Ottoman Syria: in the Work Place, the Social Space and the Residential Quarters


January 21, 1998

Session 2:

Ethnic Groups in Situations

  • Catherine MILLER (CEDEJ)
    Linguistic Policies and Language Issue in the Middle East
  • NISHIO Tetsuo (NME)
    Is Bedouin Arabic Prestigious?
  • Sammy Smooha (Haifa University)
    The Persistent Significance of Jewish Ethnicity in Israel
  • USUKI Akira (JCAS)
    End of the Tradition: Jewish Emigrations from Arab Countries to Israel


January 22, 1998

  • Azmi OZCAN (Center for Islamic Studies, Turkey)
    The Millet System in the Ottoman Empire
  • NAGABA Hiroshi (Institute for Developing Economies)
    The Kurdish Issue in Turkey
  • Massoud Daher (Lebanon University)
    Sectarian Communities and Secular State in the Modern Lebanon
  • Yoshiko KURITA (Chiba University)
    The Legacy of Slavery and its Effect on Nation-Building Process in the Sudan: with Special Reference to the Role of Ex-Slaves in the History of the Modern Sudan