Everyday Lived Islam in Europe

Everyday Lived Islam in Europe

There is a substantial body of literature on Muslims and Islam in Europe, which largely focuses on institutionalized forms of Islam such as social movements or issues pertaining to discrimination and integration. Everyday Lived Islam in Europe, however, is a significant edited volume that advances and promotes an “everyday” approach to study Muslims and Islam in Europe. The volume concentrates on the study of “everyday” aspects of religion as lived by ordinary people, people who do not rely on the support of any particular religious group. Contributors of the volume seek to explore the less-institutional and less visible dimensions of Islam in Europe through ethnography; that is, they aim to shed light on different forms of religiosity, the ways in which Islam shapes Muslims’ everyday life in societal domains (i.e. schools, shops), how new technologies impact the relationship between Islamic knowledge and authority and ‘how religion operates within these and plays out across them in the life trajectories of individuals’ (p. 2). Everyday Lived Islam in Europe is an important collection of essays that can make a significant contribution to the contemporary studies of Muslims and Islam in Europe.

The book is a product of the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Grants programme. It consists of two main parts, and includes ten chapters in addition to the introduction and conclusion. Part I concentrates on theoretical and methodological issues. In Chapter 1, Linda Woodhead offers a robust theoretical discussion. She focuses on Michel de Certeau, one of the pioneering scholars of “everyday life” studies, to illuminate how the everyday approach might be used in the study of religion. Woodhead convincingly argues that an “everyday” approach can bring new insights in the study of religion; and she helpfully shows what the everyday lived religion means in the volume by using the vocabulary of “tactical versus strategic.” Strategic religion refers to official or proper religion (i.e. church), whereas tactical religion refers to religion lived by ordinary people, who do not have power, but operate within the space that is created by the elite (strategic religion). In Chapter 2, similarly, Nadia Jeldtoft discusses the importance of studying Muslims with an everyday perspective by drawing on hypervisibility of Muslims. Jeldtoft points out that a grand narrative about Muslims and Islam in the post-9/11 era has shaped the ways in which Muslims and Islam are debated and studied, which, she implies, is often counterproductive. Her main argument is that some particular forms of Islamic practices and interpretations of Islam (i.e. fundamentalist, violent extremist) are exclusively referred to when, in fact, Muslims/Islam as a whole are the subject of the debates or studies, which eventually renders hypervisibility. An everyday approach, however, enables one to capture the complex nature of the Islamic practice and Muslim communities per se. Chapters 1 and 2 nicely set the theoretical foundation for the empirical chapters in the second part.

Part II provides seven intriguing case studies from different European countries. The empirical chapters offer significant insights regarding how, when and where Islam involves in and interferes with conventional boundaries, and is utilized in everyday life and various societal domains. Chapter 5 is particularly intriguing, where Daniel Nilsson DeHanass explores the tactics of young Muslims living in the East End of London in respect to identity construction. He is interested in the ways in which second generation Muslims in the East End navigate their way around local circumstances and conventional religious boundaries. His concept of “elastic orthodoxy” helps to grasp the dynamics and conditions that shape the identity construction of young Muslims. Elastic orthodoxy, as DeHanass argues, implies that young Muslims “accept the local social consensus on what it is to be a Muslim (orthodoxy), and then work tactically within this framework, stretching it to apply to new contexts and situations (elastic)” (p. 82). DeHanass’s essay not only proves the importance of studying tactical religion (everyday lived religion), but also indicates how strategic and tactical forms of religion are interrelated. For instance, he argues that about “half of second-generation East End Bangladeshi youth are self-consciously decultured.” (p. 79). That is, they follow a version of Islam that does not take culture (i.e. Bengali) as a part of the religion, but seek to “purify” it from cultural elements. In this, DeHanasss notes, the East London mosque and Darul Ummah mosque (as strategic religion) played a key role (p. 79).

Another interesting contribution (Chapter 7), by Sidsel Vive Jensen and Lene Kuhle, investigates how and why Muslim pupils in Danish public schools use tactical religion while interacting with their non-Muslim school environment. The authors crystallize the term “school Islam” to explain a particular form of everyday lived Islam that pupils use as a power tool to challenge the authorities in schools. For instance, it is argued that some Muslim pupils utilize Islam to reject singing Christian hymns and some other things by claiming that they are haram (forbidden in Islam), and for the authors this “is a remarkable display of Muslim pupils exercising a very tactical form of school Islam” (p. 108). Apart from institutional or collective religious practices and demands, everyday usage of religion by pupils in schools seems to have irrefutable social results and debates. The essay is also intriguing in the sense that it shows differences between Danish schools and even principles in terms of coping with Muslim pupils’ (religious) demands in the school.

Marja Tiilikainen, in chapter 10, also offers an insightful essay on Somali women in Finland and their attitude towards illness and health with a transnational gaze. She argues that Somali Muslim women tend to mix their Islamic belief and modern science, in the context of health and disease, which eventually “enforces the perceived power of Islam and is a way of making Islam meaningful for the Somali women in daily life” (p. 153). The transnational perspective enables the researcher as well as the reader to grasp the multiplicity of options for healing that Somali women have. That is, a homeland can provide an alternative explanation or healing method that is not present in the country of residence. In Tiilikainen’s words, “transnational connections and mobility enlarge women’s opportunity horizon: if the social support mechanisms, treatments and remedies that women trust are not available in Finland, they may rely on religious and other healers and relatives elsewhere” (pp. 159-160).

In addition to these insightful essays, one could argue, the concluding chapter is hardly satisfactory. There is no doubt that Jørgen Nielsen is one of the leading scholars on Islam and Muslims in Western Europe, his remarks in the concluding chapter, however, are not only a summary of his earlier works, but barely provide a broader analysis of the essays presented in the volume or the future trajectory of the everyday Islam studies.

To summarise, Everyday Lived Islam in Europe is a significant contribution to the studies of Muslims and Islam in Europe that does not simply disregard or neglect strategic (proper, elite) religion, but puts more emphasis on tactical (popular, ordinary, folk) forms of religion, as the latter has often been overlooked. The volume offers robust theoretical essays and insightful empirical works, all of which proves the increasing importance of the everyday perspective to study Muslims and Islamic practice in contemporary Europe. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Muslims in Europe.