How do places make people? Examining the relationship between urban imaginary and Muslim life in European cities 
Beate Binder (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Alexa Färber (University of Vienna)
Riem Spielhaus (University of Copenhagen)
Block 1, Piso 1, Room 74
Start time:
18 April, 2011 at 14:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

In this panel we want to address the question of shaping lives with respect to expressions and representations of Islam in European cities: In which ways are urban Muslim lives shaped by local urban imaginaries on the one hand and translocal Muslim networks on the other?

Long Abstract

With this double perspective we want to bring together two contradictory research agendas:

1. The anthropology of the city, with its programme to work on the specific character of cities, argues that the city forms an entity that is accumulated in its imaginary representation(s).

2. Focusing on the translocal relatedness of those living in cities, the perspective on networks (material or virtual) makes it impossible to define the city as an entity, whereas 'urbanity' is expressed in practices.

While the panel aims to discuss these approaches to urban phenomena together and with respect to the specific realm of the lives of Muslims in European cities and their material expressions, it may address several related questions:

In which way do Muslims and their representations within cities shape/influence the imaginary of cities? Do translocal Muslim networks connect locally to the specific character of a city and if so, in which way?

Is it possible to identify different urban styles of Islam in European cities? How do they relate to the imaginary of the cities as their memories? In which way are these memories and representations structured by social, gender, sex and other categorizations of those citizens who identify as Muslims? And how do these configurations shape the realm of participation and exclusion in cities?

We invite researchers to this panel who work in the field of urban studies and are interested in discussing the interrelatedness of place, translocality and the lives of a religious minority in Europe and their material expressions.

Accepted papers:


Janina Findeisen
Jeanne Berrenberg (Freie Universität)

Paper short abstract:

Taking three biographies of German Muslims as example, the paper will explore the local urban life-worlds and the confluence of local and translocal discourses informing ‘conversion’ to Salafi and then Jihadi convictions leading to “hijra” to Waziristan.

Paper long abstract:

Videos on Youtube, advertising Jihad: German Muslims, "reborn" or converts, all young; they speak German, the "text" is Islam, the subtext "adventure", the body language is part preacher part rapper part movie hero, the visuals are religious-martial TV commercials. The location is Waziristan on the Afghan border. As one is killed, his widow - a convert - rejoices: he is a shahid now, a martyr, his ultimate goal.

The trajectories of three biographies begin in a provincial German city. The backgrounds are diverse: sons of labour migrants and cosmopolitan political refugees, both Muslims, one German middle class woman, a convert. They met in the schoolyard. They have their A-levels.

The paper explores the processes of shaping and being shaped in and by their urban life-worlds on their way from schoolyard to Jihad. They highlight urbanity as a manoeuvre area for social identity politics between anonymity or camouflage, adjustment or conspicuous visibility, politics of inclusion or exclusion, and the multiple symbolic codings of status boundaries, belonging and the opportunity to re-invent one's Self. Cultural memories, deterritorialized and majority practices and local and translocal discourses are informing the investigation of the role of Jihadi: a hybrid at the confluence of Pop, the conflict of generations, discourses of Islam uprooted from culture/s, definitions of values and collective identities, the opportunities and exactions of social mobility and urban anonymity with the opportunities to design an identity between highly exclusive community at the local mosque and worldwide e-Jihad.


Kira Kaurinkoski (Aix-Marseille Université)

Paper short abstract:

The aim of this paper is to reflect on the life of Greek Muslims of Turkish origin, the relations between the majority and the minority populations and the Greek state in an island community in contemporary Greece.

Paper long abstract:

Rhodes is the main island of the Dodecanese and home to a Muslim minority present on its territory as a legacy from the Ottoman period. The incorporation of the Dodecanese into Greek territory in 1947, and the invasion of North Cyprus by Turkey in 1974 provoked the migration of a large number of Muslims of Turkish origin to Turkey. Usually, those who left Greece were deprived of their Greek citizenship. Among those who stayed, many "forgot" the Turkish language and also their religion. Mixed marriages with Christians became common place. A number of mosques was transferred to the metropolitan of Rhodes and became churches. Some others became storages or are slowly turning into ruins. Other Turkish waqf property was sold or rented out and used as shops, cafes or playgrounds. Official guides were instructed not to mention the Ottoman past. With the political changes in Europe since the 1990s, the arrival of migrants from the Balkans, Asia and the Middle East, pressure from EU institutions and the recent rapprochement with Turkey, the situation is changing. Some restoration efforts of material property have been undertaken. There is new vitality in the local Muslim community. The aim of this paper is to reflect on the relations between the majority and the minority populations, the newly arrived migrants and the Greek State in an island community in contemporary Greece.


Corinne Torrekens (Université libre de Bruxelles)

Paper short abstract:

This contribution will explain (based on pictures, interviews and observations) what kind of mechanisms has made possible the appropriation of the local space by the Muslim community, its inherent identification and the conflicts raised by this new religious presence.

Paper long abstract:

The Muslim immigration to Belgium began in the 1970. It is true to say that during a decade, the religious dimension of this population is very little present. But the process of family reunification raised the issue of religious transmission. Progressively, the Brussels Muslim community has appropriated the local territory. The multiplication of notices, billboards and signs indicating mosques, Islamic associations and ethno-Islamic shops along with sounds and clothes has made Islam increasingly visible in the urban public space and has progressively shown a new religious presence. Moreover, in Brussels, the presence of the Muslim population is a very concentrated, this situation making easier to materialize the Muslim presence in the city. Consequently, in Brussels symbols of Islamic presence are numerous in certain areas. In other words, religion plays a part in the segmentation of the public space in some Brussels areas (Bastenier, 1997). But this Muslim visibility creates Muslim centralities that have meanings and functions for the rest of the population too. Indeed, they contribute to the representation of the city, to its social and mental cartography. Visible signs of Islamity (a minaret on the mosque's frontage, for example) have been invested by a significant part of the local Muslim population as signs of recognition of their Muslim identity. This is not without creating debates, tensions and conflicts about the sharing of the urban space to be dealt by the local political authorities.