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Thursday, February 27, 2014

‘Public Islam’ and the Nordic Welfare State: Changing Realities?

A volume containing the proceedings of a seminar held at Youngstown State University on the theme of 'Public Islam' and the Nordic Welfare State has just come out as a special issue of Studies in Contemporary Islam and the Tidsskrift for Islamforskning

The contributions in the volume are diverse yet interconnected. The articles that open the volume discuss how the two different welfare and civil society models represented by the Nordic countries and the USA may affect the institutionalization of Islam and Muslims’ public presence and values in these societies. Ulrika Mårtensson does that by providing a historical survey of the Nordic welfare state and its developments, including debates about the impact of neoliberal models and (de)secularization. Rhys Williams reflects on US civil society and its implications for American Muslims, while Tuomas Martikainen, provides a critical commentary on US research that juxtaposes European ‘religion-hostile’ management of religion and Islam with US ‘religion-friendly’ approaches. The essays that follow focus on ‘public’ dimensions of Nordic Islam and on relations between public and Islamic institutions and values. Mustafa Hussain reports on research from Nørrebro, an admittedly overresearched quarter and ethnographers' usual port of call in Copenhagen, . on the issue of Muslim integration in the locality and the local community. His argument that local Muslims feel rooted in the locality resonates similar research elsewhere although I am not convinced with the corollary suggestion that they are well socially and culturally integrated in the local community. Drawing material from Oslo, Oddbjørn Leirvik explores public discourses on Islam and values with reference to national and Muslim identity and interreligious dialogue. Eli-Anne Vongraven Eriksen and Ulrika Mårtensson chart the evolution of a pan-Islamic organization Muslim Society Trondheim (MST) from a prayer room for university students to the city’s main mosque and Muslim public representative.Ulrika Mårtensson casts a closer look on a Norwegian Salafi organization and the cultural obstacles to civic engagement its members confront. Colleagues from Lund, Johan Cato and Jonas Otterbeck explore aspects of Muslims political participation through associations and political parties and argue that bringing their Muslim identity to the public arena usually discredits them and renders them suspect of alterior motives. Anne Sofie Roald discusses multiculturalism’s implications for Muslim women in Sweden, while Jenny Berglund focuses on the value-contents of Islamic religious education. Finally, Göran Larsson describes the Swedish government commissioned investigation back in 2009 that explored the need for a national training program for imams and its conclusions.

This is a fascinating collection of articles that provide an excellent primer to aspects of the interaction between the Nordic welfare state and the Muslim communities of the Nordic countries that will hopefully stimulate further research and debate, not only on Islam and Muslims, but also the present and future state of Nordic multiculturalism.

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