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.
Ritual performance and belonging
In this book, I have explored Iraqiwomen’s constructions of belonging in Denmark.
I started by pointing out the contradiction that, while from a Danish majority perspective Iraqi (Muslim) women are viewed as not belonging in Denmark, from
their own perspectives they are thoroughly grounded in Denmark through their
local lives in Copenhagen. I then suggested that in order to understand this contradiction it is useful to explore the social relations and processes of place-making
that are part of these women’s daily
migrants’ ways of living. However, when they return to their former place
of residence, they may well realise that not only the organisation of their daily
lives, but also many practices and ways of interaction have changed, thus affecting their sense of belonging to different places (Grünenberg 2006; Pedersen 2003;
Stefansson 2003). Likewise, the place of origin is no longer the same as the place
they left (Warner 1994).
In this chapter, I will investigate how the increase in transnational practices
among Iraqiwomen and their families in Iraq affected women’s sense of
Ritual performance and place-making in everyday life
Marianne Holm Pedersen
2002b). Such cultural expressions are generally performed by a small elite and they
therefore tell us little about how ordinary people construct notions of belonging
while living in exile. In contrast, the rituals I have studied were organised, performed and interpreted by Iraqiwomen during their daily lives in Copenhagen.
The book thereby takes its starting point in women’s own cultural expressions (cf.
Bruner 1986a: 7).
A large number of studies in anthropology and sociology have debated the
definitions or interpretations of ritual, moving across the broad
only know one Dane, and she didn’t even invite
me to her wedding!’ Ignoring Umm Zainap’s comment about the fact that I had
not invited her to my recent wedding celebration, I asked her, slightly stunned:
‘Am I really the only Dane you know?’ ‘Yes’, she replied, ‘how should I get to know
Danes? They are closed people’.
Umm Zainap’s limited contact with ethnic Danes turned out not to be unusual
among the Iraqiwomen with whom I worked. Despite the fact that my main interlocutors had been living for between eight and seventeen years in Denmark, their
major holidays, it also affected women’s everyday lives. I therefore use
the discussion of ‘Id al-fitr as the starting point for a more general discussion of
notions of relatedness associated with kinship among the Iraqiwomen. By looking
at the expectations and obligations inherent in particular social relationships, I
will investigate the ways in which women’s relations with their extended family
and neighbours linked them with their place of origin and served as a framework
for the construction of belonging.
The new social context in Denmark meant that the
relatedness discussed earlier: connection through descent and the sharing of
everyday practices and obligations.
However, the Iraqiwomen perceived the ‘intergenerational contract’ as being
threatened by the social structure of Danish society. Some parents did not raise
their children properly, they said, and they expected that as a consequence children would start caring less for their parents. For instance, this was said about
families in which the adult children did not visit their parents frequently. In this
way, many women perceived raising children as particularly
exotic. The women dressed
in their black abayas,2 as well as the weeping, recitation and rites of lamentation,
gave the impression of migrants performing rituals from their homeland, keeping
alive traditional norms and practices and emphasising their sense of attachment
to their places of origin. It also fitted well into Danish public discourses that see
Muslim women as culturally oppressed ‘others’ who are isolated but also refuse to
become part of Danish society. In sum, the event seemed to epitomise all the ways
in which Iraqiwomen did not belong in Denmark
Qureshi and Michael A. Sells (eds), The New Crusades.
Constructing the Muslim Enemy (New York: Columbia University Press,
4 Faludi, The Terror Dream, 41.
5 Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam, 151–5.
6 Faludi, The Terror Dream, 41–2.
7 Nadj Al-Ali, ‘Reconstructing Gender: Iraqiwomen between dictatorship,
war, sanctions and occupation’, Third World Quarterly, 26: 4–5 (2005),
739–58; and IraqiWomen. Untold Stories from 1948 to the Present
(London: Zed Books, 2007), 131–46, 171–214.
8 Neil MacMaster, ‘Torture: From Algiers to Abu Ghraib’, Race and Class,
Muharram is affected by the various frames of reference in
relation to which it takes place, the efforts of individual organisers and the context
of Danish society.
The commemoration of Muharram
The purpose of this chapter is to examine how, through their participation in
the religious activities, women construct and negotiate both abstract notions of
community and concrete social relations with other Iraqiwomen in Copenhagen.
In Chapter 2 I suggested that women engage in the Iraqi Shi‘a milieu partly
because, within this social arena, they can construct a