Sacred Sites in Contested Regions


Paper to be presented in RGS 2014 - London


Religious voices, Gray Spacing and, Urban Informality: The Lababidi  Mosque in Acre and its Reconstruction, Nimrod Luz and Nurit Stadler to be presented in “Rethinking Urban Geopolitics in "Ordinary" and "Contested" Cities”, in RGS-IBG 2014 Political Geography Research Group (PolGRG) sponsored session, 26th-29th August 2014, Imperial College and the Royal Geographic Society

This lecture discusses transformation of current urban spaces through the lance of the reconstruction of the Lababidi mosque in modern Acre. Scholars are becoming aware to changes in cities as rational, modernistic, centralistic and superimposed urban planning is becoming more vulnerable to informality and gray spaces (AlSayyad and Roy, 2003;Roy, 2005, 2009 ; Yiftachel, 2009). Due to rapid urban growth, growing diversity among city dwellers and demographic changes as well as increased mobility, new urban arenas are being formed and gradually change cities worldwide. In these socio-spatial arenas different groups that were previously muted or lacking their own ‘voice’ in urban geopolitics are beginning to emerge and to construct alternative voices and spatialities (Simmel, 1903; Castell, 1983, Orsi 1999). Part and parcel of these changes, we argue, is the (re)emergence of religion as a central strategy in those new uncharted, unmapped and rather difficult to quantify gray spaces. Our argument is that religion is becoming an important phenomenon in the growing informality of the city, and is also responsible for the formation of new urban spatialities, socio-political changes and thus to the emergence of religious gray spacing of the urban through religious claims and religious institutional growth. To unpack this argument we follow Orsi’s (1999, 45) ‘Urban religion’, defined as ‘a site of converging and conflicting visions and voices, of minorities and marginal groups’s practices, orientations and beieves which arise out of the complex desires, needs and fears of many different people’. In order to understand how religious voices and institution buildng are becoming a key factor in the process of gray spacing and urban informality. Basd on long ethnography, historical analysis and geography of the place, we focus on the reconstruction project of the Lababidi mosque in the ethnically mixed city of Acre, in the north of Israel. We demonstrate how religious claims of various Muslim minorities in the city permeate the urban sphere and transform it in the context of urban informality and gray spaces. We show how and what are the effects of these transformations and its relevancy in contextualization and theoretical discussion of the ethnically contested city.