A Secular Age? Re-Enchantment in the Mosque
Are we witnessing the clash of civilizations, as predicted by Samuel Huntington? The rise of the secular and fall of religion in Europe and the United States? Or are we instead witnessing the growth of in-between spaces that take for granted a reality of multiple or fused identities—the secular as Charles Taylor (2007) envisioned it, as a space in which one may or may not believe? Don’t we all—whether traditionally faithful, agnostics or atheists—still seek enchantment in our daily lives?
Mosque communities across Europe and the United States have demonstrated fused spaces: whether of the mosque building itself (e.g. an eco-mosque in Cambridge, the UK); the material (e.g. a cultural building hosting art installations erected next to Berlin’s largest mosque); or notions challenging particular views, while upholding the foundations of Islam (e.g. a women-only mosque in Los Angeles, with another planned for London). Over two years of ethnographic research as a Sociology PhD candidate in European mosques, I meet someone who sees herself as a female imam; women wearing hijabs, nikabs or nothing to cover their hair. I witness religious ceremonies celebrating the wedding of young Muslim couples, matchmakers working within the mosques and unwed teenagers holding hands.
The media paints Muslims as singular, too often essentialized as dangerous or threatening. Diversity and innovation become lost in these accounts, in which the sensational (hook-handed imams, suicide bombers and Jihadi brides) displaces everyday activities within the mosques and Muslim communities more broadly. Many major academic accounts depend on these same sources (the media) for their own claims-making, further silencing the Muslims addressed, as objects, rather than engaged, as actors, in the project of modernity.
Led by a sort of elite activist youth, themselves grappling with fused identities, mosques across Europe and the United States are undergoing site enormous transformations. Many have become not only dignified spaces for religious practice, but also centers for debate and dialogue. These spaces allow Muslims to become agents of their own fates, forging paths to engagement and integration into mainstream society. They do not skirt difficult issues, rather face them head-on, grappling with how to address homosexuality, the always-looming Israel-Palestine conflict and expectations from the security sphere that they work against radicalization.
If we—academics, journalists, “outsiders”—enter into Muslim spaces, such as the mosque, we cannot deny the diversity of Islam. We cannot claim that Islam as a singular space, place or practice in this world exists. By entering into the mosques, attending tours, debates, dialogue, prayer, weddings, funerals or feasts, we will live diversity too. And we can show ourselves as, more than claims-makers or news-breakers, individuals engaged with the in-between spaces of modernity. We can show ourselves as truth-seeking, evading disenchantment, answering the longing that we too share: to find meaning here in this world, whether oriented towards another or not.
Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
About this blog contributor | Elisabeth Becker, MPhil
Elisabeth Becker is currently a PhD student in Sociology at Yale University, studying mosque communities in Europe. She received her MPhil in Sociology from Yale, as well as MSc in Forced Migration, Development Studies and Latin American Studies from Oxford University. She completed her BA in Sociology/College Scholar at Cornell University. She is a 2005 Truman Scholar and 2006 Marshall Scholar.