Can Islam Be French?

Can Islam Be French?: Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State

John R. Bowen
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rhct
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  • Book Info
    Can Islam Be French?
    Book Description:

    Can Islam Be French?is an anthropological examination of how Muslims are responding to the conditions of life in France. Following up on his bookWhy the French Don't Like Headscarves, John Bowen turns his attention away from the perspectives of French non-Muslims to focus on those of the country's Muslims themselves. Bowen asks not the usual question--how well are Muslims integrating in France?--but, rather, how do French Muslims think about Islam? In particular, Bowen examines how French Muslims are fashioning new Islamic institutions and developing new ways of reasoning and teaching. He looks at some of the quite distinct ways in which mosques have connected with broader social and political forces, how Islamic educational entrepreneurs have fashioned niches for new forms of schooling, and how major Islamic public actors have set out a specifically French approach to religious norms. All of these efforts have provoked sharp responses in France and from overseas centers of Islamic scholarship, so Bowen also looks closely at debates over how--and how far--Muslims should adapt their religious traditions to these new social conditions. He argues that the particular ways in which Muslims have settled in France, and in which France governs religions, have created incentives for Muslims to develop new, pragmatic ways of thinking about religious issues in French society.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3111-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Part One: Trajectories
    • CHAPTER ONE Islam and the Republic
      (pp. 3-14)

      My title, of course, rests on an indefensible premise. Islam cannot be exclusively French any more than it can be American or Egyptian, because its claims are universal. Although inflected and shaped by national or regional values, Islam, like Catholicism and Judaism, rests on traditions that cross political boundaries.

      Let me try another way to understand the question: Can Islam become a generally accepted part of the French social landscape? Of course, it will not have the background status of Catholicism anytime soon—Parisians may not notice a cross or a church; they certainly notice a headscarf or a minaret....

    • CHAPTER TWO Fashioning the French Islamic Landscape
      (pp. 15-34)

      The entry of Islam into France’s public space touched two sharp nerves that had long run through the nation’s history of contentious politics: the tensions generated by waves of immigration, and the thin, sometimes frayed thread of religious toleration. In one sense Islam was nothing new, in another it was wholly different, and its entry brought back into public consciousness fights and fissures that previously and otherwise could be more easily forgotten: colonial repressions, modern anti-Semitism, and the struggles between Catholics and Republicans.¹

      France as a whole was shaped by immigration, and most of it was from elsewhere in Europe....

  5. Part Two: Spaces
    • CHAPTER THREE Mosques Facing Outward
      (pp. 37-62)

      Mosques become important in this landscape, and not only for religious reasons. Mosques and their smaller cousins, prayer houses, have become important spatial nodes around which Muslims work to shape the Islamic presence in France. They do so in ways that start from congregational prayer but extend to teaching, social services, and political representation. Three brief portraits of mosques will give us a better idea of the range of ways in which mosques “face outward” as starting points for social networks and political struggles and, in doing so, cross lines ethnic origins and normative traditions.

      In the first case, we...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Shaping Knowledge to France
      (pp. 63-84)

      As teachers have developed Islamic institutes and schools in France, they have had to negotiate with French officials and meet the expectations of Muslim students. In some respects the first challenge has been the clearer of the two. The working relationships between elected or appointed officials and Muslim leaders are always unstable, sometimes tense, but occasionally productive, and in any case are situated in the long-term logics of electoral politics and of the state’s sponsorship and control of religious institutions.

      The contours of the Islamic educational field have been less clear because they are still emerging. Teachers have to translate...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Differentiating Schools
      (pp. 85-109)

      When we listened to Najjar at the Lyon Mosque or Hichem at CERSI talk about their pedagogical projects, they explained what they were doing in contradistinction to teachings they labeled as Salafi and considered to be simplistic. I now want to continue this ethnography of distinction-making but to turn our perspective around. Rather than looking outward from within a particular institute, let us consider directors of all such institutes as pedagogical entrepreneurs, looking for niches to occupy. We can then understand the way in which each presents his approach as an effort to claim distinction (and a market niche) by...

    • CHAPTER SIX Can an Islamic School Be Republican?
      (pp. 110-132)

      Now we move even closer toward the French educational mainstream and ask, Is the phrase “Islamic Republican school” an oxymoron? But one also could ask, Areallconfessional schools not at odds with France’s Republican mission?

      French Republican thinking makes the public school the primary instrument for making everyone into citizens. From this perspective, all children should attend public schools. Successive governments have tried to create a truly universal public school system, from Jules Ferry’s project in the 1880s to create secular schools for all French children, to the efforts early in the twentieth century to remove clergy from teaching,...

  6. Part Three: Debates
    • CHAPTER SEVEN Should There Be an Islam for Europe?
      (pp. 135-156)

      Let us step back for a moment and consider where we have taken our inquiry. We began with the forces that have shaped the present landscape of Islam in France: Muslims’ trajectories of arrival and settlement, a growing identification with Islam, and the state responses that applied the long tradition of French state control-through-support of religious institutions. This perspective allowed us to understand the development of Islamic institutions—mosques, schools, and institutes—as responses to the possibilities afforded in France and to the demand growing among younger French Muslim men and women.

      Then we turned to a more detailed study...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Negotiating across Realms of Justification
      (pp. 157-178)

      Although some French Muslims might carry on deliberations within a transnational Islamic realm of justification, they live in the political space of France. Indeed, many Muslims in France consider their social lives to be mainly governed by French norms, while others, doubtless much smaller number, might see only Islamic rules as shaping their lives. For those in the middle, those who see both Islamic and French rules as relevant, either because they see them both as legitimate or because they see a practical reason to pay attention to both, life is a bit more complicated. How do they combine or...

    • CHAPTER NINE Islamic Spheres in Republican Space
      (pp. 179-198)

      We have moved from the broadly historical picture of the French Islamic landscape to a closer focus on the mosques, institutes, and schools that populate it, to a still closer-in look at the forms of reasoning and debate that take place among Muslims in these Islamic spaces. We were among Muslims, looking across and outward. In the previous chapter we began to move back from this close focus, and to consider possibilities for convergence across the boundaries of realms of justification. We saw how Muslims invoked socially pragmatic forms of Islamic reasoning address practical problems, and also how they could...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 199-216)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-226)
  9. Index
    (pp. 227-230)