Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Elusive Jannah

The Somali Diaspora and a Borderless Muslim Identity

2015
Author:

Cawo M. Abdi

Elusive Jannah

The contrasting lives of Somali refugees and migrants on three continents

Elusive Jannah is a remarkable portrait of the very different experiences of Somali migrants in the UAE, South Africa, and the United States. Cawo M. Abdi clearly reveals the importance of immigration policies in the migrant experience.

This is a powerful and beautiful ethnography of members of the Somali Diaspora dealing with the opportunities and disadvantages of life in three points of settlement. Cawo M. Abdi gets very close to the subjects and depicts their outlooks, strategies, and trials in a convincing and rich manner.

Steven J. Gold, Michigan State University

As a Somali working since high school in the United Arab Emirates, Osman considers himself “blessed” to be in a Muslim country, though citizenship, with the security it offers, remains elusive. For Ardo, smuggled out of Somalia to join her husband in South Africa, insecurities are of a more immediate, physical kind, and her economic prospects and legal status are more uncertain. Adam, in the United States—a destination often imagined as an earthly Eden, or jannah, by so many of his compatriots—now sees heaven in a return to Somalia.

The stories of these three people are among the many that emerge from mass migration triggered by the political turmoil and civil war plaguing Somalia since 1988. And they are among the diverse collection presented in eloquent detail in Elusive Jannah, a remarkable portrait of the very different experiences of Somali migrants in the UAE, South Africa, and the United States. Somalis in the UAE, a relatively closed Muslim nation, are a minority within a large South Asian population of labor migrants. In South Africa, they are part of a highly racialized and segregated postapartheid society. In the United States they find themselves in a welfare state with its own racial, socioeconomic, and political tensions. A comparison of Somali settlements in these three locations clearly reveals the importance of immigration policies in the migrant experience.

Cawo M. Abdi’s nuanced analysis demonstrates that a full understanding of successful migration and integration must go beyond legal, economic, and physical security to encompass a sense of religious, cultural, and social belonging. Her timely book underscores the sociopolitical forces shaping the Somali diaspora, as well as the roles of the nation-state, the war on terror, and globalization in both constraining and enabling their search for citizenship and security.

Elusive Jannah

Cawo M. Abdi is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and a research associate in sociology at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Elusive Jannah

This is a powerful and beautiful ethnography of members of the Somali Diaspora dealing with the opportunities and disadvantages of life in three points of settlement. Cawo M. Abdi gets very close to the subjects and depicts their outlooks, strategies, and trials in a convincing and rich manner.

Steven J. Gold, Michigan State University

Elusive Jannah provides a fascinating window into the identities, strategies, and struggles of Somalis in three very different national contexts. Based on ethnographic research in the United States, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates, this is an engaging, well-written, and welcome addition to the comparative study of international migration.

Nancy Foner, coauthor of Strangers No More: Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe

The book remains a valuable contribution to studies of international migration and it is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Somalia and its diaspora.

African Affairs

The multiplicity of experiences and diverse contexts highlighted by Cawo drive home the complexities of diasporic lives,making this book an important resource for both area and diaspora studies.

International Migration Review

Elusive Jannah offers depth and breadth to the literature on Somali diaspora groups and more generally to studies of international migration and migrant incorporation and belonging. It deserves to be widely read for its beautiful ethnography and insightful analysis of belonging and mobility in an age of stratified globalization and migration.

American Journal of Sociology

Elusive Jannah

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Muslim African Refugees and Border Politics
1. The Genesis of Contemporary Somali Migrations
2. United Arab Emirates: Partial Belonging and Temporary Visas
3. South Africa: Insecurity in Racialized Spaces
4. United States: Slippery Jannah?
Conclusion: Muslim African Refugees in Perpetual Passage
Notes
Index

Elusive Jannah

UMP blog - Defying Borders: Migration in the age of security

The risks and the audacity required for individuals like Asad to settle in a foreign place where the ethnic composition, language(s), religion, and culture are different from that of the home country is profound.