Iraqi women in Denmark is an ethnographic study of ritual performance and place-making among Shi‘a Muslim Iraqi women in Copenhagen. The book explores how Iraqi women construct a sense of belonging to Danish society through ritual performances, and it investigates how this process is interrelated with their experiences of inclusion and exclusion in Denmark. The findings of the book refute the all too simplistic assumptions of general debates on Islam and immigration in Europe that tend to frame religious practice as an obstacle to integration in the host society. In sharp contrast to the fact that Iraqi women’s religious activities in many ways contribute to categorizing them as outsiders to Danish society, their participation in religious events also localizes them in Copenhagen. Drawing on anthropological theories of ritual, relatedness and place-making, the analysis underscores the necessity of investigating migrants’ notions of belonging not just as a phenomenon of identity, but also with regard to the social relations and practices through which belonging is constructed and negotiated in everyday life.The Iraqi women’s religious engagement is related to their social positions in Danish society, and the study particularly highlights how social class relations intersect with issues of gender and ethnicity in the Danish welfare state, linking women’s religious practices to questions of social mobility. The book contextualizes this analysis by describing women’s previous lives in Iraq and their current experiences with return visits to a post-war society.
This chapter introduces the reader to main problem of the book and the ethnographic, analytical and political contexts of the study. The author argues that overlapping trends in fields such as anthropology, sociology, and political science towards investigating topics such as diasporic identity, public and politicised religion, or the maintenance of transnational relations have created a lacuna where studies of migration tend to neglect local practices and social relations in migrants’ everyday lives. The chapter then provides an overview of Iraqi migration and it explains why the case of Iraqi refugees is particularly apt to study the issue of belonging. Finally, it introduces the reader to the political situation in Denmark where issues of immigration, integration and Islam are highly debated and subject to numerous tightened policies. Denmark thus provides a paradigmatic case of developments that are taking place across Europe.
Ritual performance and place-making in everyday life
Marianne Holm Pedersen
This chapter develops the book’s analytical framework and situates the monograph within the field of studies on migration and religion. It argues that ritual performance can be used as a ‘cultural prism’ to shed new light on important themes in anthropological research on migration: social networks, processes of place-making, and the reproduction of practice. The author claims that migrants’ relations to place can be understood by examining their notions of relatedness to others. She further discusses the change and continuity of social practice in a migration context. The final part of the chapter introduces the 15 months of fieldwork among Iraqi women and their families and it discusses the methodological and analytical implications of the author’s approach.
Focusing on the settlement of Iraqi families in Copenhagen, this chapter situates women’s participation in the ethno-religious milieu in the context of broader processes of inclusion and exclusion taking place in Denmark. The chapter explores Iraqi women’s construction of a social network in Copenhagen and demonstrates the great impact that the Danish welfare state has had on the trajectories of social incorporation of Iraqi refugees in Denmark. Through the analysis of an extended case, it gives special attention to the downward social mobility experienced by many Iraqi women in the course of their settlement, and the discrimination they can face as immigrants and Muslims. The chapter argues that while the women’s social networks may appear to make up a form of continuity rooted in their ethno-religious background, they are to a large extent a reflection of the women’s new social positions in society. Moreover, the cross-section of factors such as social class, gender, ethnicity and local context not only affect the social position that the women acquire in society, but also – not least – how they experience and come to see the society in which they live.
This chapter analyses Iraqi women’s celebration of ‘Id al-fitr in order to explore the possibilities and difficulties of reconstructing religious ritual in a new social setting. For Iraqi families, ‘Id al-fitr comes to symbolize the ways in which they do not belong in Denmark, partly because the holiday is not officially recognised, and partly because they miss the extended family and neighbours with whom they used to celebrate in Iraq. Yet, despite the fact that the ritual cannot be ‘properly’ reproduced in Denmark, its continued performance implicitly entails that families over time gain a sense of attachment to Copenhagen. The chapter ultimately takes issue with the widespread notion that the performance of traditions and religious rituals among migrants should be interpreted as a site of resistance to incorporation in local society.
This chapter analyses the commemoration of Muharram, a Shi‘ite rite of mourning, as an arena for creating a moral, religious and social community of Shi‘a Muslim Iraqis in Copenhagen. Drawing from performance theories, the chapter shows how women’s bodily performances during Muharram give birth to a contingent community of suffering and remembering. However, meanings attributed to the ritual may differ, and many women were not familiar with this specific form of commemoration before they came to Denmark. Both in terms of their performance and the social composition of the participants, the rituals are strongly influenced by their performance in Danish society. The religious milieu thus gains its importance because there women can negotiate their sense of belonging in relation to both their socio-cultural background and their everyday lives as part of an ethnic minority in Denmark. The chapter argues that it is necessary to thoroughly examine the sometimes contingent forms of community and belonging constructed among ethnic minorities rather than taking for granted that such communities exist on the basis of people’s shared point of origin.
Taking its starting point in the taklif ritual that is celebrated when a nine-year old girl begins to observe Islam, this chapter investigates how Iraqi women seek to transmit to the next generation particular norms, values, and traditions associated with the place of origin. From a parental perspective, the celebration of taklif represents both efforts to create relatedness between parents and children and attempts to include children in different kinds of community. All in all, the event forms part of a greater effort to make children into moral human beings. However, in the view of the majority society, women’s veiling is generally considered as one of the most visible signs of a chosen ‘otherness’ . Young women’s taklif may therefore also potentially expose them to various forms of exclusion in Danish society. The chapter highlights the sometimes contradictory processes of inclusion and exclusion associated with transmitting religious practice across generations.
This chapter situates Iraqi women’s articulations of belonging in relation to the political contexts of Danish society and the Iraqi place of origin. Due to the political transformations in Iraq since 2003, Iraqi families can engage in different levels of transnational relations. Participation in the first Iraqi elections provides a sense of influence, but also serves to create new opportunities in Danish society. Visits to Iraq re-activate relations to women’s places of origin, but also calls into question the strength of family relations. The analysis shows that while the frequently cited distinction between ‘ways of being’ and ‘ways of belonging’ may be very helpful in understanding migrants’ relations to abstract collectivities, in their personal relations notions of identity cannot be separated from social practice. Finally, the Iraqi women may experience that they have gone through a process of localisation in Copenhagen, but they are not acknowledged as belonging there by the majority society. Public debates and political discussions leave little space for the Iraqi women to develop a sense of belonging to Danish society. The chapter points to the discrepancies between the politics of belonging in Denmark and women’s personal experiences.
This conclusion draws out the main findings of the book and discusses them in relation to both the analytical perspectives that provided the framework of the book and the political contexts that frame the everyday lives of Iraqi women in Denmark. It starts by outlining the processes of localisation that Iraqi women have gone through and it points to the limitations in their construction of belonging to Danish society, particularly with regard to the politics of belonging in Denmark. The author calls for grounding analyses of migration and belonging in ethnographic studies of everyday lives, social relations and practice. The findings of the book raise several questions regarding rituals and belonging in the context of migration, and the author therefore reflects on the potential of ritual events. The conclusion ends with a discussion of the structural barriers of inclusion in Denmark and the effects of the so-called ‘cartoon crisis’ that unravelled in Denmark just after the author had concluded her fieldwork.