Publication Date

January 6, 2013



One of the interesting aspects of the panel entitled “The Mosque in Modern Europe” is that it intended to look at place as a locus of debates about national or cultural character, and in particular to recognize the built landscape as a site of anxiety about European identity. The panelists each focused on a different county in which the construction of a mosque or even its imagined presence provoked a highly specific set of local responses that revealed much about the mutability of national identity.

Mosques have historically been constructed in urban areas, so it was fitting that each of the papers focused on the urban image of a mosque or its trace. Although the presenters were hampered by the lack of AV equipment to show the images essential to their arguments, they gamely handed out printed versions of their unseen PowerPoints, so that the audience could follow along.

Ian Coller’s presentation, “The Basement and the Mosque: The History and Politics of Islam in Marseille,” revealed the historical roots of the complex contemporary issue of mosque-building (or its lack) in Marseille. By identifying the ways in which the idea of the mosque had become as influential in its absence as in its presence, Coller suggested that the image of the city was every bit as powerful as its actual architectural expression.

Mosques in were considered as part of the overall development of a contested religious landscape in England in John Eade’s paper on “Religious Place-Making and Migration across a Globalizing City: Responding to Mobility in London.” Tensions between the secularization pressures of the state and the expansion of both Muslim and Pentecostal communities suggested that race played as important a role as religious orientation in the local response to these building projects Eade discussed.

The Tyrolean town of Telfs, Austria, was the site of Maureen Healy’s research, entitled “The Steeple and the Mosque in the Austrian Skyline,” which grappled most fully with the way in which architecture challenged and sometimes defied the category of racial or national characteristics. In Healy’s talk, as in all the panelists’ presentations, the uncertainty of memory was often the culprit, if not the instrument through which many of these conflicts were worked out.

The state as an active producer of public space was the framework through which Thijl Sunier viewed several mosque projects in the Netherlands in “Mosques and the Domestication of Islam in the Netherlands.” “Domestication,” suggested Sunier, was a process in which the state, not an idle player, molded the subject along the lines of its “imaginary.” Sunier’s presentation discussed several mosques and concluded that this program ultimately failed.

The panel demonstrated that, ultimately, the state was not a monolithic actor, and that a specificity of place and time are critical to understanding the way that communities responded to mosques in their midst.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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