, University of Frankfurt/Oder
My project is concerned with the Union of Islamic Organizations
in France (UOIF). The UOIF is considered one of the most important
and influential Islamic federations in France and generally regarded
as close to the Muslim Brotherhood. The UOIF has participated
in the French Council for Muslim Worship (Conseil Français
du Culte Musulman) since 2003 and is thus a Muslim co-representative
recognised by the state.
This development has importantly intersected with debates in
France about the position of the ‘Islamist’ UOIF in
the public sphere and more generally, the legitimate position
of Muslim oganisations in secular France. The decade-long process
of negotiations between Muslim organisations and the state that
led to the creation of the CFCM has also increased debates within
the UOIF and among the broader Islamic public. These concentrate
on the modalities of cooperation with public authorities and,
more generally, the situatedness of French Muslims – and
their practices and belief – in relation to the normative
spaces delineated by the Repubic and the umma.
The study of the UOIF is conceived as a case study on the transformation
of an ‘Islamist’ organisation in Europe. Can we usefully
speak of Islamism in the European context in the same way this
term is used in studies on the Middle East and South Asia? How
can we explain the appeal of these ‘Islamist’ movements,
particularly among European-born Muslims, within this framework?
And, finally, how does our growing knowledge of transformations
within ‘Islamist’ groups in Europe affect the way
we define them? These are some of the more general questions raised
in the project, which seeks to contribute to public debates on
While the case of the UOIF is undoubtedly specific to the French
context in several respects, it is intended here to serve as a
starting point for more general reflections on the relationship
between the state and Islam in Europe, on Islam and transnationalism,
and on the definition of ‘Islamism’ in Europe.
The UOIF example has attracted the attention of a number of
researchers, particularly in France. However, most of these studies
are confined to examining the UOIF in the context of French state
policies with regard to the ‘representation’ of Islam.
In-depth studies on the UOIF that examine discourses and developments
below the level of national leadership are rare or merely of a
polemical nature (e.g., Fourest 2004). In fact, one notes that
the dominant analytical grid underlying studies on French Muslims,
which is that of policy debates on Islam focusing on the problematic
of ‘Islam/laïcité/integration’, has led
to a disregard for intra-Muslim dynamics, be they national or
transnational, and has not in itself been sufficiently problematized
‘Intra-muslim’ dynamics, Islamic discourses beyond
national Islam policies, and reflexivity designate three key approaches
in this project. My starting point is an analysis of discourses
within the UOIF, taking Bourdieu’s field concept as the
framework. This broadens our perspective, allowing for a study
of these discourses that not only refers to French state policy
and the narrowly-defined ‘secular’ context, but is
also attentive to their embeddedness in various interrelated and
often conflicting visions of Islam and its reform in modern times.
Some of the key questions guiding this inquiry are how to identify
the location from which Muslim actors in France speak and what
kind of conceptual vocabulary can adequately capture the complexity
of the spatial structure of Muslim practices and beliefs in France.
This last question will be addressed by paying close attention
to the various actors working within the UOIF.
Bourdieu’s field concept will also serve to reflect on
the basic categories used in studies on French Muslims (Muslim,
Franco-Maghrebi, young Muslims, etc.) and to examine changes in
scientific vocabulary in the last two decades as part of a broader
process of ‘integration’ of immigrant generations
The results of this project will be published in a series of
articles and a monograph.