Special issue JOME: Salafism in Europe – Empirical Approaches

The Journal of Muslims in Europe has published a special issue on Salafism in Europe, edited by Sabine Damir-Geilsdorf and Mira Menzfeld, and I had the honour of being one of the writers. Here are all the articles listed, the first is Open Access, the others unfortunately not.

Methodological and Ethical Challenges in Empirical Approaches to SalafismIntroduction
Authors: Sabine Damir-Geilsdorf and Mira Menzfeld

The special issue “Empirical Approaches to Salafism: Methodological and Ethical Challenges” addresses urgent methodological and ethical issues in qualitative research on Salafism. The contributing authors discuss these in relation to their fieldwork on Salafi beliefs, practices, life courses and world views. The contributions problematize the limits of the usual academic definitions of Salafism by confronting the conventional categories of quietist, political and jihadist Salafism with first-hand field data. Thereby, the authors show how categorial lines begin to blur and to shift when exposed to the ambiguous and dynamic characteristics that are inherent to virtual and real-life fieldwork with Salafis.

Pierre Vogel’s and Bilal Philips’s Criticisms of Jihadism
Author: Clemens Holzgruber

In 2016, the Islamic State (IS) called upon its supporters to kill two of the most influential Western Salafi preachers, Pierre Vogel from Germany and Bilal Philips from Canada, for apostasy. This article investigates how Vogel and Philips have criticised Jihadism, changes in their criticism over time, and their responses to the allegations launched against them by IS. Furthermore, it illustrates why it is difficult to classify Vogel and Philips according to the influential categorisation of Salafism put forward by Quintan Wiktorowicz.

Challenges in Digital EthnographyResearch Ethics Relating to the Securitisation of Islam
Authors: Larissa-Diana Fuhrmann and Simone Pfeifer

The article explores ethical challenges in digital media ethnography in the field of militant political Islam, pointing to the dilemma that arises in doing research on Islam as part of the securitised research funding system. Expanding on discussions in anthropology about the principles of “do no harm” and “be open and honest about your work”, the authors reflectively contextualise the interrelated notions of “Jihadism” and “Salafism” and examine how these categories serve as “floating signifiers”. Examining one particular incident from the digital fieldwork leads to discussions of transparency, anonymity and shifting forms of “publicness” in the digital sphere.

From Rigid to Moderate SalafismPaths of (Re-)Conversion to Islam among Activists of a Muslim Organisation in Switzerland
Author: Amir Sheikhzadegan

Defining re-conversion as the re-embracement of one’s (neglected) faith, this article deals with the question of what relations can be identified between conversion/re-conversion to a Salafist reading of Islam, on the one hand, and life course circumstances, identity transformation, and social network features of the individuals concerned, on the other. Combining narrative, autobiographical interviews with qualitative social network analysis, four activists of a Muslim organisation in Switzerland known for its Salafist orientation are portrayed. The comparative analysis shows that, despite sharing the same approach to Islam, the four cases exhibit different modes of the impact of life course and social network on spiritual transformation and vice versa. The paper also discusses the term Salafism and its applicability to the interviewees.

“For them it is just a story, for me it is my life.” Ethnography and the Security GazeAcademic Research with “Salafi” Muslims in the Netherlands
Author: Martijn de Koning

In this article I reflect upon my own work on Salafism in the Netherlands, particularly with militant activists, in order to think through some of the ethical and methodological dilemmas that arose throughout the research when many of my interlocutors left for Syria to join Jahbat al-Nusra and/or IS(IS). This culminated in my becoming a witness and an Expert Witness at a trial, testifying against several of my known contacts. After introducing this research and outlining my experiences in court, I set out to show how academic knowledge about Salafism and militant activism is used in a process of racialised categorisation and closure. This article contributes to critical reflections on the positionalities of social scientists and of social science in public in a context of racial securitisation and politicisation.

Who is a ‘Salafi’? Salafism and the Politics of Labelling in the UK
Author: Iman Dawood

In this article, I trace the history of the label ‘Salafi’ in the UK to show that there has been a marked change in its desirability and use within some ‘Salafi’ circles. Drawing on interviews conducted with members of various streams of the Salafi movement as well as content analysis of the websites, social media pages and audio-visual content of ‘Salafi’ groups, I argue that while the oftentimes unqualified association between Salafism and terrorism in public discourse may have had a negative impact on the label’s desirability, intra-Salafi politics shed more light on why some ‘Salafis’ adopt the label while others do not.

Contemporary Puritan Salafism: A Swedish Case Study, written by Susanne Olsson
Reviewer: Sadek Hamid

The Making of a Salafi Muslim Woman: Paths to Conversion, written by Anabel Inge
Reviewer: Martijn de Koning

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