Why in the last ten years an increasing number of ethnic Germans have converted to Islam in Salafi mosques or, after converting elsewhere, have chosen to attend these famously conservative houses of worship? Most scholars explain the spread of Salafism in Europe primarily as a social protest engaged in by second- and third-generation immigrant Muslims who feel marginalized from mainstream society. This article argues instead that Salafism can best be understood as a fundamentalist religious movement which satisfies individuals’ spiritual, psychological, and sociological needs. It is not so different from other fundamentalisms, particularly in the attraction it holds for converts. Among the most attractive aspects for newcomers is Salafism’s anti-culturalist and anti-traditionalist bent, which allows ethnic Germans to move past their racialized assumptions about Muslims and embrace Islam without necessarily embracing immigrant Muslims. Unlike the great majority of mosques in Germany, which function as ethnic and national community centers, Salafi mosques create unique settings where piety— rather than ethnicity— defines belonging.
Esra Özyürek, is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California – San Diego. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on how politics, religion, and social memory shape and transform each other in contemporary Turkey and Germany. Her earlier work, Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey (Duke Univ. Press, 2006), focused on the transformation of state secularism as Turkey moved from from the top-down modernization project of the 1930s to market based modernization in the 1990s. Currently she is undertaking a comparative ethnographic study of conversion to religious minorities, namely converts to Islam in Germany and to Christianity in Turkey.
Co-sponsored by The Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.
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