EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010


At the margins of Islam in Europe

Location John Hume Lecture Theatre 5
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30


Martin Sökefeld (Munich University) email
Marzia Balzani (New York University, Abu Dhabi) email
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Long Abstract

In the wake of the "war against terror" and the rise of "homeland security" Muslim migrants and their offspring have come under increasing scrutiny in Europe. While there is a growing awareness that Islam is not a homogeneous religion, essentialising ideas and largely negative images of "Muslimness" prevail in mainstream discourse: the subordination of women, and fundamentalist conservatism. Many Muslims respond to this discourse with opposed but equally essentialising self-representations.

This workshop focuses on "marginal" Muslim groups in Europe like the Alevis from Turkey or Pakistani Ahmadis which do not conform to either orthodoxy.

Sandwiched between mainstream society and other Muslim communities, how do these groups cope with this double marginalisation? While they are often sweepingly identified with stereotypes about Islam by mainstream discourse, they are sometimes pressured to conform and convert by dominant Muslim migrant groups. What strategies of self-representation and identification do they develop? How do they respond to demands to declare themselves? What discourses on Islam are at stake? How do strategies vary according to different frameworks of incorporation of religious difference or differing policies of "integration" in different European countries?

Going beyond Islam, even migrants like Yezidis from Iraq or Syrian Christians from Turkey can be included because, coming from Muslim countries, they are often identified as Muslims in everyday interaction and discourse. They, too, are required to explain themselves and to relate to the mainstream discourse on Islam.

The workshop invites papers which seek to enable a comparative discussion of such "marginal Muslims" in Europe.

Discussant: David Shankland

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.


Ahmadi Muslims and asylum: strategic representations

Author: Marzia Balzani (New York University, Abu Dhabi)  email
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Long Abstract

Ahmadi asylum seekers form a minority as Muslims within the UK; as Ahmadis they also form a minority within the Muslim minority. Ahmadi's seeking asylum have to contend, in addition, with being represented as undesirable migrants in public debate.

I consider various representations and self-representations of Ahmadi asylum seekers as they progress through the bureaucratic processes of claiming asylum. The changing role of the Mosque as well as the tactics employed by solicitors are evaluated as strategic manipulations of a system which serves to negate the individuality of particular asylum seekers further marginalising them as they are denied control over their own stories and experiences.

Ahmadi individuals are considered with reference to international refugee and human rights legislation, national immigration policies and the provisions made for those seeking asylum. Data comes primarily from fieldwork and material gathered in the preparation of expert reports commissioned by solicitors for Ahmadi asylum seekers.

The self-representation and striving for recognition of Ahmadi-women in Switzerland: a qualitative-empirical approach

Author: Sarah Beyeler (University of Bern)  email
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Long Abstract

In Switzerland, the Ahmadiyya's position could be regarded as marginal in two respects. Its members perceive themselves as belonging to a Muslim collective that is, on the one hand, a minority in the Swiss social majority and, on the other, a minority within the Muslim minority. They struggle for recognition of their Muslim identity, particularly against the background of generalisations and (negative) attributes made by the Swiss social majority in the ongoing socio-political debate on Islam and Muslims.

By creating a distinction from the Muslim majority, they represent themselves as "true" and peaceful Muslims and try to correct the "false" ideas about Islam. Therefore they are self-confident protagonists who do not remain passively on the margins of society. As an example of their striving for recognition, I will examine the Ahmadiyya's public relation efforts, especially those pursued by the women. The focus lies on (religious) boundary making and on (religious) self-identification and external categorisations.

Being Senegalese, Sufi, Black, and French

Author: Gina Gertrud Smith (University of Copenhagen)  email
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Long Abstract

West African Muslims in France seem to be associated with a black rather than a Muslim 'ethnicity'. They are at the margins of Islam in France.

Almost all Senegalese are Muslims, adhering to a Sufi order. The earliest and most significant group of migrants in France belongs to the Tijaniyya order. A branch of the order has adapted their 'village Sufism' and the tradition of a yearly gathering in Senegal to the migrant situation. Since 1994 a five days equivalent of this Senegalese male 'retreat' has been established in Mantes-la-Jolie west of Paris. Here some 5000 migrants meet their Sufi Shaykh in a French urban context. It is an outstanding event among the visits to France of shaykhs belonging to Tijaniyya or Muridiyya, the other large order in Senegal.

This paper will analyse the gathering in Mantes-la-Jolie and debate the social and religious significance for the Tijane migrants in France.

Incomplete mystics: religious failure among Roma Muslims in urban Macedonia

Author: Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic (University of Edinburgh)  email
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Long Abstract

I will look at the failure of sedentary Roma Muslims in Skopje to become religious mystics, or self-designated Sufis. Under perceived environmental pressures (e.g. negative attitudes among Sunni Muslims), a family of the current shaykh aspired to 'pure' Sufism and attempted to reform their dervish tradition fortuitously inherited from a Turkish shaykh. The family banned practices of ritual piercing and healing in their dervish order. However, despite increasing familiarity with Islamic propositions, neither these religious leaders nor their followers managed to devotedly commit to theologically prescribed practices. More, they collectively assumed that the 'true method' for efficacious performances of rituals and attainment of mystical experiences had been lost and felt too intimidated by the book-mediated ideas about Islamic orthopraxy to creatively experiment with spiritual exercises. The focus will be on an unfolding ritual event (zikir) that foundered, didn't deliver anticipated ecstatic absorption and left everybody dissatisfied and frustrated.

Ethnicity in flux: Bulgarian Muslims between-and-betwixt Bulgaria and Spain

Author: Neda Deneva (Babes-Bolyai University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper discusses the ambivalent position of Bulgarian Muslim migrants in Spain and the subtle transformations of Muslimness and group self-identification which migration generates. While their self-identification has been defined as relational and situational, from the outside they are often most broadly categorized as Bulgarian speaking population which is Muslim by religion. As migrants in Spain they are offered better economic conditions, while at the same time are placed in yet another marginal and ambivalent position - of immigrants and Muslims at the same time. Yet not Muslims in Europe, but Muslims of Europe, who have to cope with the process of both migration and EU integration, of difference and (pseudo) equality. This ambivalence opens up various possible positionings vis-à-vis other social groups, but also vis-à-vis institutions in both Bulgaria and Spain. I look at the way migrants manipulate their Muslimness and emphasize their Europeanness in order to position themselves as "better citizens" in Spain and the further reverberations of this tendency back at home.

Alevis and the dilemma of the ban of minarets in Switzerland

Author: Virginia Suter Reich (ZHAW)  email
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Long Abstract

While in November 2009 the majority of Swiss people voted for a ban of minarets, Swiss Alevi organizations faced difficulties in taking a clear position towards this political issue. On the one side, they agree with the opponents of the ban and qualify it as a threat against religious freedom. On the other side, they support the voting result, as they interpret it as a clear statement against political Islam.

My paper attempts to explore the Swiss Alevi organizations' ambiguous attitude towards the "minaret-initiative". I will relate their position to their strategies of incorporation in Switzerland, to their political and societal situation in Turkey, as well as their transnational activities within a European network of Alevi associations. I argue that their attitude towards the ban of minarets reflects, both, the Alevis' specific position in the religious landscape in Switzerland, and, their strategies of transnational politics of recognition.

Alevism, religious tolerance and minority rights - with special reference to Switzerland

Author: Isabelle Schulte-Tenckhoff (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)  email
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Long Abstract

Surprisingly, the controversy generated by the vote concerning the minaret ban in Switzerland in late November 2009 has not led to a general debate over the significance of Muslim heterodoxy with regard to, both, the place of Islam in Western countries, and relations between these countries and the Muslim world. The purpose of the paper is to reflect on Alevism as a stake in minority religious rights whose substance and implementation may vary considerably according to the country considered. Switzerland and Turkey are eloquent examples in this regard. On this basis, an attempt will be made to illustrate possible consequences of increasing political conflict over Islam in Switzerland for the situation of Alevi communities and their ritual practice.

Marginalizing the mainstream or vice versa? Ataturk in Alevi-Bektashi cosmologies

Author: Rabia Harmansah (Ruhr Universitat Bochum)  email
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Long Abstract

Being subjected to marginalization on the basis of their religious identity, Alevis and Bektashis have developed various strategies to cope with the circumstances and policies discriminating against them in Turkey. These strategies do not simply target defense and protection of their identities, but also include various ways, in which they transform, question, re-shape their self-identities and belief systems to relate themselves to the "mainstream." This paper will analyze Alevis and Bektashis' accommodating strategies towards certain policies of the Turkish Republic through the incorporation of Ataturk as a messianic figure into their cosmologies. For some Alevis-Bektashis, Ataturk is considered not only the Twelfth Imam Mahdi, who is believed to appear in personality of different persons, but also embodiment of the Republic, which symbolizes an ideal model of state. The paper will depend on an ethnographic and historical study of the responses of Alevis-Bektashis to the abolition of religious orders in Turkey in 1925.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.