Imam Ali Mosque Copenhagen

About the project

Research questions

Mosques are at the very core of societal debate about Muslims, parallel societies and integration in Denmark, yet surprisingly little is known about the Danish mosques, and even less about the dynamics of power inside and around the mosques. As a contemporary religious institution of the post-migratory Muslims in Denmark, mosques are not simply Muslim places of worship, but complex social structures resulting from relations with local authorities, decades of integration efforts and organisational ambitions. However, most of all, we see mosques as the social products of infighting, power struggles and pragmatic negotiations internally amongst users, subgroups and leadership and externally with local, national and international agents, stakeholders and structures.

While understandings and representations of mosques are highly contested, we propose to empirically explore the complex power forms and relations constituent to the mosque through initial contextualizing archival and case research followed by qualitative interviews with key informants and participant observation in the mosques in order to produce a multifaceted power diagnostics of the forces at play in and around Danish mosques. Thus, the purpose of this research project is to investigate the forms, rationales and relations of power associated with the perceptions, authority, relational positions, internal dynamics and counter-power of mosques in Denmark.

Unfolding the central aspects of the power, significance, use and influence of mosques, our primary research questions are:

  • Institutionally and organisationally, how do mosques come to be, who builds them and why, how are they established politically and how is it perceived, enabled and empowered?
  • Relationally, how is the authority of imams and mosque leadership established, maintained and distributed both inside and amongst mosques in Denmark?
  • Subjectively, how are Muslims shaped and formed as willing subjects by the diverse powers at play, by deliberate strategies of domination and by internalized technologies of the self?
  • Oppositionally, how do Muslim women groups struggle with power and authority internally in the mosque and what kind empowering counter-strategies do they produce?

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Method and approach

Overall, the methods of researching the power, significance, use and influence of mosques are shared, yet the project is designed to unfold progressively in phases that further the collective body of data.

Firstly, archival research will establish historical and specific contexts of the mosques highlights the changing representation and institutionalization of mosques in local and national politics (Jacobsen) and the socio-metric survey will show the relational and controlling power-bases in the wider mosque community (Vinding), which will confirm the final choice of specific mosques to investigate, validating our shortlists, and preparing for the collective fieldwork.

Secondly, as a team, we will conduct semi-structured qualitative interviews with key informants, focus groups and participant observation in the paramount mosques (e.g., the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilisation Centre in Copenhagen or the Islamic Faith Community in both Odense and Copenhagen). Thirdly, building further on the initial contextualizing findings (Jacobsen & Vinding), the investigators will as spread out to minor and peripheral mosques to produce supplementary, qualitative data with interviews and focus groups to build exemplary, well-constructed case-studies on related issues of institutionalisation (Jacobsen), of authority and leadership (Vinding), on issues of subjugation and subjectivity amongst Muslims in the mosques (Sinclair), and of gender and generational counter-power and resistance (Jensen).
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While the project is collective, each researcher is primarily responsible for subprojects that will involve and engage the rest of the team.

Brian Arly Jacobsen: "Constructing Conflict: The Politics of Mosque Building."
This subproject explores the changing politics of mosque building, the different kinds of conflict surrounding the building of a mosque in Denmark and the symbolic appropriation of territory by the mosque. It is clear that the conflict surrounding mosques is, above all, a genuine conflict of power (Allievi 2009). This will include analysis of the power strategies used by Danish local politicians, examining municipal planning and interviewing mosque representatives, analysing the architecture used by Muslims and analysing archive documents in the official local archives and the mosque association. This subproject focuses a spread of cases in Danish purpose-built mosques, the first Scandinavian mosque (Ahmadiyya, 1966-67), to the mosques of culture associations, the Turkish association, the Shi’is and prestigious ‘Grand Mosque’ in Copenhagen (Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilization Centre).

Niels Valdemar Vinding: "The Socio-metrics of Imams and Mosques in Denmark."
This subproject surveys and interviews imams and mosque leadership in order to map the power-relations amongst mosques in Denmark. This is done in two steps; firstly, partly inspired by the Elites in Denmark study (Grau Larsen, 2015) a survey will produce the socio-metrics of relations among an estimated 150 leading Danish imams in order to map structures, relations and networks between their groups or clusters. It will show the key centres of groups and structural tensions between these groups and it will show who bridges the imam landscapes in Denmark. Secondly, a qualitative interview study of these 'structurally strongest' imams will give substantial explanations as to how imams and mosque leadership exercise their authority in their network and in their individual mosques.

Kirstine Sinclair: "Minority Making: How Mosques Shape Muslims.
Here, the aim is to understand subjectivity formation as a question of governmentality. The construction of individualsas subjects was a central aspect of modernity in Michel Foucault’s later works, exploring different ubut connected forms of formation of modern subjects. This subproject looks at the mosque as a place for subjectivity formation; as a geographical location, an institution and a matter of practices shaping Muslim subjects. The study of mosques and mosque users, the combination of external and internal strategies for regulation of behaviour becomes very central. Investigating larger, central mosques in Copenhagen and Odense, as well as minor specialized mosques and prayer-houses, the aim is to understand how the external technologies of domination and discipline are internalized and expressed as behaviour and other choices connected to the subjects' private sphere and life.

Pernille Friis Jensen: "Women in Gendered Mosque Spaces"

Based on ethnographic fieldwork this project aims at understanding how different mosque spaces are gendered, with a specific focus on women’s experiences. Women's experiences and impact on mosques are almost entirely absent in the literature concerning mosques in Denmark. At the same time, we have witnessed an increase in women being actively engaged in mosques in the past ten years (Kühle & Malik 2017). Hence, there is a need to include the experiences of women in what we know about mosques and internal process within these, in order to realize a full understanding of organized Islam in Denmark. This subproject focuses on how women produce, practice, and counter their gender identity and position within Danish mosques. Asking questions of religious practice, authority positions, and identity shed light on the gendering of the mosque spaces as well as women's presence in, use of, and influence on mosques. I hereby wish to elucidate the impact of female members on the Islamic religious landscape in Denmark.

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