Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Esra Özyürek's "Being German, Becoming Muslim"

Esra Özyürek is an associate professor at the European Institute of the London School of Economics. She is the author of Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion in the New Europe, and reported the following:
Being German, Becoming Muslim is about Germans who embrace Islam. Every year more and more Europeans, and Germans, convert to Islam. It is estimated that there are now up to one hundred thousand German converts – a number similar to that in France and the United Kingdom. What stands out about recent conversions is that they take place at a time when Islam is increasingly seen as contrary to European values. The book explores how Germans come to Islam within this antagonistic climate, how they manage to balance their love for Islam with their society’s fear of it, how they relate to immigrant Muslims, and how they shape debates about race, religion, and belonging in today’s Europe.

Page 99 of the book discusses “halal entertainment” as a way in which German Muslims bring together Islamic values and German youth culture. Here I specifically discuss a group called Muslim Youth Germany (MJD) which is a home to many converts but also to born Muslims who are committed to embracing their German identity.
The MJD, which was in tune with emergent Muslim youths, was the first group in Germany consciously to build bridges between German youth culture and an Islamic lifestyle. ‘Fun and Islam?’ is a question that MJD provocatively asks on its Web site. It supplies the answer right away: ‘Yes please! It is possible to have fun in the Islamic way, without setting boundaries between the two.’ Islamically proper fun, or fun Islam, involves going to concerts with Muslim rappers, joining workshops on how to rap, celebrating New Years’s eve, organizing paint wars, and taking field trips within and outside Germany. In one MJD gathering I watched video-recorded funny skits of annoying little things some people do in mosques – such as taking too long during group prayer, not showering before coming to the mosque, moving around too much during lectures, and so on. The skit that made the audience of MJD members laugh their heads off started with the slogan ‘Because it is halal to laugh!’ Such an approach that aims to bring fun and Islam together is genuinely unique to MJD, or was until ten years ago. Before that, Muslim communities in Germany were not especially welcoming to youths, and Islam was not associated with having fun.

The past few decades of the Islamic scene across the globe have simultaneously witnessed increasing strictness and avoidance of ‘fun’ alongside an increasingly widespread global culture of Islamic consumerism and fun. In his article “Islamism and the Politics of Fun,” Asaf Bayat asks why puritanical Islamic movements such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, Wahabis in Saudi Arabia, and mullahs in Iran have been so vehemently against Muslims, especially the youths, having fun. He argues that what he calls “anti-fun-damentalism” has to do with preserving power: “At stake is not necessarily the disruption of the moral order, as often claimed, but rather undermining of the hegemony, the regime of power on which certain strands of moral and political authority can rest” (Bayat 2007, 435). Perhaps it is no coincidence that especially within the West, global Muslim youth culture, which both stands in opposition to mainstream Islamic society and wants to be an integral part of it, has embraced fun, which Bayat (ibid., 434) defines as “a metaphor for the expression of individuality, spontaneity, and lightness, in which joy is the central element.” Unlike the cases that Bayat discusses, Muslim youth culture in Germany is not hegemonic in its orientation. Fun-approving Muslim youth cultures such as the MJD aim to challenge the moral and political authority of both German mainstream society and the traditional authority structures of their Muslim communities.
Learn more about Being German, Becoming Muslim at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue