Wednesday, March 27, 2013

US of K

Nick Danforth, Georgetown University

In honor of Passover, here is a map from Nicholas Danforth showing the different Kosher Symbols used by local Kosher certification agencies across North America. What does this have to Ottoman history? Hear me out: On August 1, 2011, I went to the Meryem Ana Kilisesi [Mother Mary Church] in Unkapani. Maryam Ana is more famous as the First of the Month Church, because on the first day of every month thousands of Istanbullites, the majority of whom are Muslim women, come to the church to pray and get blessed by the local priests. When I went on the first day of August, though, the church was almost empty. Because of course, as someone patiently explained, it was the first day of Ramadan. Which is to say that there is apparently at least a few thousand people of the consensus that it is perfectly acceptable for good Muslims to go to church eleven months of the year, just not during Ramadan.

The much praised, often exaggerated, but still impressive tradition of Ottoman religious syncretism relied on people's capacity to bring such a rational, pragmatic approach to the irrational and the sublime. In this season, Jews who keep kosher, but only for Passover, join Muslims who give up drinking, but only for Ramadan and Catholics who give up premarital sex for Lent in an all-too-human celebration of pragmatic piety. This map also highlight another example of modern syncretism, the reliance of countless American Muslims on Kosher symbols as a shorthand guide for whether or not food is sufficiently halal.