International Workshop on Everyday Life Practices of Muslims in Europe: Consumption and Aesthetics Takes Place in KU Leuven
The KU Leuven Gülen Chair for Intercultural Studies (GCIS) organized an international two day workshop, “Everyday Life Practices of Muslims in Europe: Consumption and Aesthetics”. The workshop took place on November 28-29 in the University of Leuven.
The aim of the workshop was to understand the daily practices of Muslims in Europe, a phenomenon yet understudied in academia. These practices encompass both religious and non-religious activities, ranging from the most mundane daily activities like cooking and cleaning to the most ritualistic practices such as praying and fasting. The workshop acknowledges that practices are not merely neutral but are culturally, religiously directed and are also shaped according to the civic values of the social context. Taking these conceptions into consideration the workshop focused on two themes, “Muslim consumerism and leisure time”, and “Artistic Performances”.
The workshop launched on the 28th was initiated with the speech of the keynote speaker, Dr. Emma Tarlo, coming from Goldsmiths University in London. Her speech was titled “Islamic fashion, dress styles and everyday practices among Muslims in Europe”.
The first panel focused on consumption and food practices, which was presented by three speakers. Elsa Mescoli, who is a researcher in the University of Milan-Bicocca focused on Islamic food practices among Moroccan women in Milan in her presentation. Her presentation asks the question of how female subjectivation is formed through food. Her ethnography among Moroccan women in Milan sets out to understand how women shape their self and reaffirm their religious belongings in both the private and public spheres. She also takes into consideration that these women’s food practices can carry on in a new context outside of Morocco because of the transnational ingredient supply. Their old dietary habits are preformed and more or less transformed in the new context. In the private sphere she focuses on how these women stick to their religious sensitivities and its effects on what they decide to eat or not. In the public sphere she studies how food habits and preparation forms a social life for these women, and how it opens a path for them to contribute to social life. Quintessentially her presentation tried to illuminate the dynamics underlying the material and spiritual subjectivication processes of these women in the private and public entities of life.
The second presentation of the panel belonged to Rachel Young. Young is a researcher at the Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. Her fieldwork in Paris focused on how food can serve as a negotiation of identity for North African Muslim immigrants. She introduces two theses which are that by holding on to their particular food practices, Muslim immigrants hold on to a strong communitarian identity. The other thesis on the other hand, asserts that as the context changes these immigrant also adopt different food practices, which are inspired by the French context, which creates a more “hyperassimilated identity”. Her research acknowledges that a consumption pattern which entails two or more cultures among North African immigrants is on the rise.
The third presentation was carried out by Valentina Fedele, who is a researcher at the Catholic University of Lille. Her ethnography based in France and Italy focuses on how eating and drinking habits highlight particular meanings behind religious prescription and how these lose their normativity and become a Muslim ethic when they cross borders.
The second panel focused specifically on the use of media in daily life. The first presenter, Laurens de Rooij is a researcher in the University of Durham. His presentation focused on how “media consumption is linked to the construction and expression of diasporic Islamic identities”. His research links this question to how cosmopolitan and global identities affect self-identity construction and the perception of other religious identities.
The third panel focused on everyday ritual practices and identity. The first presenter of this panel was Leen Sterckx. Her presentation focused on self arranged marriage and modern forms of courtship among Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on young Muslims, who are more individualistic and aspire to emancipate from their parents traditional values. She studies how young Muslims develop new and modern ways of courtship, whilst still keeping in touch with their familial and cultural values.
The second day of the workshop started with the opening panel “Muslim Spaces, Limits and Everyday Practices”. The first presenter was Sertaç Sehlikoğlu, who is a researcher at Cambridge University. Her fieldwork takes place in only-women gyms in Istanbul. Taking this field site into consideration she develops her question around women’s agency and privacy. Her presentation focused on intimacy and its relation to gender and space within the context of gender segregated gyms. She conveyed accounts on how women form their clothes, bodily movements, and self-presentations according to their conceptualization of the public and the private.
The second speaker Sümeyye Ulu Sametoğlu, is a researcher at Ecole des Haute Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Her presentation was on how Muslim women of Turkish background in France and Germany, experienced their leisure time and practice aesthetics. Her research unearths that the Muslim youth in Europe develop parallel alternatives to leisure and aesthetics practices that are carried out by their non-Muslim peers. They do this in order to experience leisure activities like the wider society does without crossing the boundaries of their religious sensibilities. She coins these practices, which are both modern (in the sense that they resemble the practices of the larger society) and are also religious, as “halal circles”.
The third presenter Jasmijn Rana, is a researcher at the Free University of Berlin. Her ethnography was carried out in kick-boxing salons in the Netherlands. Her research question was to understand the motives behind Muslim women participating in kick-boxing and how they define their position within the society according to the sport they practice. In her research she focuses on how kickboxing, Islam, gender and ethnicity create tensions and reconciliations. She expressed that her aim was to bring out the inner and societal tensions of the Muslim woman from the context of the headscarf debate. Kickboxing thus became her interest because it is an exceptionally different domain than that of the headscarf, in terms that as the headscarf denominated subordination kickboxing implies self-assertion.
The next panel concentrated on the themes of architecture and urban space. The first presenter Oussama Hegazy is a researcher at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. His presentation was on the notion of mosques in Germany. By looking into the history of the meaning of the mosque in Germany Hegazy introduces a type of mosque that is acceptable for the whole society, regardless of the appearance of the mosque and the religious group it addresses. This new type of mosque will enable wider social integration and contribution of Muslims within the German society.
Corinne Torrekens, whose presentation was also on the building of mosques at the University of Brussels. Her presentation aimed to shed on the relationship between mosques and local political authorities. She asserts that building a mosque in Brussels has a lot to do with transparency and equality in relation to other religions. By looking into the issue through an extensive ethnography her contention is that the dynamics underlying local politics and mosques can be brought to a better understanding.
The next panel was titled “Artistic expressions-controversies”. The first panellist Theirry Limpens is a researcher at the University of Gent. His presentation focused on the artistic expressions of Muslims who are inspired by the Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan’s ideas revolve around integration to Europe as a part of being a European Muslim. Limpens looks into how Muslim agency is a part of leisure time and consumerism patterns. In three parts the presentation focuses on a fashion designer and her process of creating fashionable clothes for Muslim women. It then focuses on theatre and how Ramadan inspires women to come together and express their self in the domain of drama. The third part looks into an Islamic centre and its connection to leisure and consumption regardless of its priorities in education and worship.
The second presenter Guidi Diletta is a researcher at EHESS Paris. Her presentation focuses on how art can be used as a form of activism. Her example of activist art for the presentation was the “NiqaBitch” street performance in which two women wearing full face veil and shorts at the same time tour the streets of Paris. Her research focuses on the dynamics that influence such activist and artistic expressions, on a national and transnational level.
The last panel titled “Well Being Practices and Subjectivities” finalized the workshop. The speaker of this panel Kirsten Wesselhoeft is a research at Harvard University. The focus of her presentation was on wellness activities organized for Muslim women, and sometimes their children. These activities can consist of massages, exercises, and beauty services. The presentation asks how young Muslim French women negotiate their idea of Islamic femininity within these concepts. The research asserts that these activities are not only part of leisure activity, but they are also carried out according to certain prescriptions that are Islamically defined. According to this phenomenon the wellness activities of the women interlocutors are formed and transformed according to religious virtue.
During the two days’ workshop, mundane activities of Muslim men and women, who in most cases also have a migrant background, were taken into perspective in order to see how their self, their position in and relation with the society, and their habits are shaped by the many different elements that compose their identity. The workshop proved to be fruitful as the speakers, with the participation of listeners were able to extensively discuss their questions during the two days.