Cover of Spiritual Subjects by Lâle Can
Spiritual Subjects
Central Asian Pilgrims and the Ottoman Hajj at the End of Empire
Lâle Can

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January 2020
264 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9781503610170
Paper ISBN: 9781503611160

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At the turn of the twentieth century, thousands of Central Asians made the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Traveling long distances, many lived for extended periods in Ottoman cities dotting the routes. Though technically foreigners, these Muslim colonial subjects often blurred the lines between pilgrims and migrants. Not quite Ottoman, and not quite foreign, Central Asians became the sultan's spiritual subjects. Their status was continually negotiated by Ottoman statesmen as attempts to exclude foreign Muslim nationals from the body politic were compromised by a changing international legal order and the caliphate's ecumenical claims.

Spiritual Subjects examines the paradoxes of nationality reform and pan-Islamic politics in late Ottoman history. Lâle Can unravels how imperial belonging was wrapped up in deeply symbolic instantiations of religion, as well as prosaic acts and experiences that paved the way to integration into Ottoman communities. A complex system of belonging emerged—one where it was possible for a Muslim to be both, by law, a foreigner and a subject of the Ottoman sultan-caliph. This panoramic story informs broader transregional and global developments, with important implications for how we make sense of subjecthood in the last Muslim empire and the legacy of religion in the Turkish Republic.

About the author

Lâle Can is Assistant Professor of History at The City College of New York, CUNY.

"Spiritual Subjects is a beautifully and imaginatively crafted history of the hajj as a social, cultural, political, and spiritual phenomenon. Lâle Can humanizes the Central Asian pilgrims, telling their stories with the same grace and veneration that they showed in the course of their spiritual journey. A remarkable work that critically reexamines legal and cultural questions of Central Asian Muslim belonging to Ottoman imperial and Turkish national communities."

—Christine Philliou, University of California, Berkeley

"In this beautifully written book, Lâle Can offers us a striking new vision of the late Ottoman Empire and its relationship with pilgrims from Central Asia. Part study of Ottoman transformation, part social history of travel and the hajj, Spiritual Subjects will reshape our understanding of Islam in the late Ottoman order."

—Adeeb Khalid, Carleton College

"Spiritual Subjects offers a powerful message. Outlining the history of the Central Asian Ottoman-period Hajj, this book narrates a tale that has previously been known only in partial relief. The story Lâle Can tells here deftly opens up a fascinating new world to readers."

—Eric Tagliacozzo, Cornell University