The moral maze: Dutch Salafis and the construction of a moral community of the faithful

A new edition of the journal Contemporary Islam has been published: Moral Ambiguities and Muslim Lives. As the editors of this special issue, Susanne Dahlgren and Samuli Schielke state in their introduction:

As commonly pointed out by social scientists today, the way religions interact with processes of modernisation has not made them secondary in the lives of ‘modernising subjectivities’. As Peter L. Berger has put it, the world is as religious as it ever was and in some places even more religious than ever. What modernity brings about, is pluralisation of individual lifeworlds that consequently undermines all taken-for-granted certainties (Berger 2001: 445, 449). At the same time, religion has become an individual choice marking a difference between generations. Like with other religions, self-fashioning and active engagement in ‘making’ religion (Avishai 2008) are typical to Islam today. In this thematic volume, titled “Moral Ambiguities and Muslim Lives” we focus on the resurgence of Islam as a project of self-improvement and the search for a good life, surrounded by the various uncertainties, ambiguities and complexities of today’s world. As we see it, throughout the world today, discourses on being a Muslim crystallise around morality and good life – issues that are often deeply political but demand an understanding of politics as embedded in questions about worship, the meaningful structure for life and social relations, and contested visions of right and wrong, subjectivity and community. Recognising this centrality of everyday moral practice, an increasing number of ethnographic studies have taken up the task of looking at the ways the adherence to Muhammad’s message constitutes a part of people’s subjectivity and everyday experience. And yet it has proven difficult to take religion seriously without losing sight of the overall complexity of the human condition. Ethnographies focusing only on people’s practice of Islam with a narrow focus restricted to people active in groups of dedicated believers, can provide a partial image at best, and risk reproducing the limited bias of the activists’ groups they study. To provide directions for a more balanced image, the volume at hand presents an interdisciplinary spectrum (including anthropology, sociology, political science, and textual analysis) of approaches to the ambiguities that Islam embraces as a moral discourse and as an everyday practice in a time when the label ‘Muslim’ has become loaded with enormous normative promises and pressures.

I’m very happy to have been able to contribute to this interesting special issue with an article based upon my own research in the Netherlands.
The moral maze: Dutch Salafis and the construction of a moral community of the faithful

The Salafi movement presents itself as a moral guardian of Muslims in a world that, according to many, is filled with moral crisis, temptations and anti-Islam tendencies. Salafis claim that it is essential to return to the community of the pious forefathers seen as the most outstanding community of all times with the highest absolute moral standard. In this article I will show how individual participants engage with this idea of a moral community of believers yet remain vulnerable to the ambiguities and ruptures inherent in everyday life and within the Salafi movement. By exploring how Salafis passionately try to search for the ‘correct’ knowledge and strive to maintain a unity between knowledge, conviction and behavior, and the role of friendships therein, I argue that Salafism does not remain separate from the troubles of everyday but that these issues enter into and exist in Salafi thought and practice, not by being resolved but by being transformed into personal struggles. These ambiguities and ruptures may cause problems but also provide an incentive for Salafis to continuously work at the self-improvement of one’s piety, authenticity, and sisterhood and brotherhood.

You can find it HERE.

Other articles in this special issue are:

Many thanks to the editors for making such a wonderful special issue.

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