The ERC research project ‘Problematizing “Muslim Marriages”: Ambiguities and Contestations’ consists of the following sub-projects:


Palestinian women political prisoners: intersections of imprisonment and marriage (Samah Saleh and Annelies Moors)

Based on the narratives of former women political prisoners, this project investigates how incarceration and moving in and out of marriage intersect. Questions this project attempts to answer are: How do processes of categorizing women prisoners impact on living imprisonment? How does it impact on their entry into engagement, marriage and the dissolution of both? How do the women involved navigate the various kinds of constraints they are facing in the field of marriage? This project incorporates the ways in which the particularities of political affiliation, social background, as well as historical moment matter.

No escape: an auto-ethnography about surveillance and academic research (Annelies Moors a.o.)

In this project we analyze how our article ‘Chatting about marriage with migrants to Syria’, that focused on marriage and was explicitly written to turn away from the security and radicalization frame, was, nonetheless, not able to escape such framing. Starting with an analysis of the reception of our publication we soon discovered that we needed to take two aspects of our work far more seriously than we had expected, that is the public views on authorship and academic discipline. This brings us also to current debates about shifting notions of diversity (from reflecting on positionality to obligations to disclose political views), about the protection of interlocutors and about control and surveillance in academia.

Conflicting matters of concern in problematic Kyrgyz marriages (Julie McBrien)

In contemporary Kyrgyzstan, four forms of concluding a marriage are taken to be problematic – bride abduction, ‘nike’ marriages, polygamous marriages, and rather recently, marriages between Kyrgyz and non-Kyrgyz. These forms of marriages are matters of concern for the bride, groom, and direct families involved; they are likewise contested by local publics (e.g. wider kin, networks of sociability, village/town residents, etc.), those who would speak for ‘the nation,’ and international agencies and non-governmental organizations. Yet there is a significant difference in what is perceived of as problematic for the various actors involved in debating these marriages forms. This research aims to understand and identify the differing matters of concern. It aims to read them in light of one another but also, importantly, against the short/mid-term trajectories of marriages concluded in these ways. In this way it will investigate whether and how problematic issues identified in the form of marriage conclusion continue to play out in the mid-range run of the marriage.

Between Shari’a Compliance and State Regulation in Indonesia and Malaysia (Eva F. Nisa)

This project focuses on three topics relating to the phenomenon of Muslim marriage in Indonesia and Malaysia. The first topic focuses on online siri (secret) marriage in Jakarta (Indonesia). This type of Muslim marriage can be regarded as a recent and hotly debated topic in Indonesia, particularly considering the upsurge of agencies organising unregistered, online, secret marriages. This kind of marriage has become a contested issue between its supporters and the state. Therefore, I focus on the responses of diverse parties involved—including the state, religious leaders, women’s activists, and legal activists.

The second topic focuses on the phenomenon of contract marriages in Puncak, West Java, Indonesia. The phenomenon of contract marriage correlates to the presence of Middle Eastern tourists holidaying in Indonesia. Focusing on the issue of contract marriage, attention will be drawn to different interpretations upheld by Muslim scholars in regards to this category of marriage. It also analyses which parties have benefitted economically from the presence of Middle Eastern visitors and businesses relating to contract marriage.

The third topic focuses on halal speed dating in Malaysia. The reasoning behind halal speed dating is to help Muslims find a spouse and build a Muslim family. The organisers of halal speed dating deliberately use the term halal (or lawful) to differentiate between their Shari’a compliant speed dating and other speed dating platforms which aim to merely find a dating partner. The research questions focus on what the phenomenon of Halal Speed Dating tells us about Muslim marriages and the impact of halal speed dating on Muslim marriage arrangements.

Unconventional marriages amongst the Palestinian Naqab Bedouin (Shifra Kisch)

This project examines and compares two kinds of unconventional marriages emerging amongst the Naqab Bedouin, deaf-deaf marriages and transnational marriages.

Containing new socialities through marriage: deaf-deaf Marriages among the Naqab Bedouin: This project examines deaf-deaf (dd) marriages among the Naqab Bedouin as an institution evolving from emerging socialities. While deafness is relatively prevalent among the Naqab Bedouin, the occurrence of dd marriages during the last decade is a relatively new phenomenon. Socialities, including those based on a condition such as deafness, are typically marked by a generational factor, in contrast to the intergenerational efforts involved in arranging marriages. The project explores young deaf people new marriage preferences in a context in which they are largely dependent on the older generation for the conclusion of a marriage. Intergenerational tensions are often presented as ideationally motivated with the older generation tenaciously holding on to marriage traditions and resisting the new ideas and desires of the younger generation. While new socialities do often involve new subjectivities, this study suggests that an analysis of apprehensions with regards to non-conventional, new forms of marriage, should also take into account the networks and related social practices that arranging such a marriage depends on and that may enable, obstruct or accommodate practices such as dd marriages. Consequently, it explores the intergenerational tensions and collaborations involved in concluding marriages.

Bedouin grooms and Romanian brides: transnational and interreligious marriages among the Naqab Bedouin: Among the Naqab Bedouin marriages across religious boundaries are generally deemed undesirable. Christian brides among the Naqab Bedouin are primarily foreign nationals from Eastern Europe whom have joined their husbands returning home after studies abroad. Despite their small numbers these marriages figure prominently in the anxieties of the families of men leaving for studies. While attitudes towards foreign brides are ambiguous, they are mostly accepted as an exception. This project investigates how the collaboration of relatives is negotiated, and what kinds of subjectivities and socialities these marriage produce. These marriages disclose some of the established ambivalences involved in what are perceived to be “foreign brides”, but also reveal some of the tensions and paradoxes involved in contemporary modern subjectivity and sociality among young Bedouin men and women and their intersection with education, social mobility and marriage. As such they can reveal much about the shifting understandings and expectations of the role of marriage for individuals, families and society

Converts concluding an Islamic marriage in the Netherlands: Ethics, politics and the law (Vanessa Vroon-Najem and Annelies Moors)

This project centers on how converts to Islam conclude their marriages in the Netherlands and beyond. In the course of the last decade, politicians, policy makers and the media have turned ‘Islamic  marriages’ (the nikah) into a highly contentious and gendered issue. Islamic marriages have come to be associated with forced marriages and child marriages, while the women concerned are often assumed to convert under pressure of their Muslim husbands. Next to an analysis of how Islamic marriages have become problematized and how Muslim representatives, functionaries, and public figures are addressed and respond, we zone in on the positions that parties involved in the process of concluding an Islamic marriage take up. In doing so, we include the search for a suitable partner, how the nikah is performed, whether and how a state-recognized marriage is concluded, and what kinds of festivities are involved. We focus on converts as the fact that they are not raised in a Muslim tradition, do not have Muslim family and are unfamiliar with concepts such as ‘Islamic dating’, the wali, and the dower, poses particular challenges when they try to find a partner and conclude a marriage. Tracing their trajectories towards marriage sheds light on how they live the tensions between ethics and the law, in a setting in which particular manifestations of Islam have become problematized.

‘It is all about control and freedom’ – Debates, practices and the institutionalization of Islamic marriage in the Netherlands (Martijn de Koning)

If a decade ago politicians started to link Islamic marriages to radicalisation and segregation and turned these into a problem, debates amongst Muslims took a different turn. This research project engages with debates and practices amongst Muslim men with respect to marriage at two levels. First, it investigates how Muslim men, in particular those active in the so-called Salafi networks, perceive Islamic marriage and the kinds of issues these raise. Secondly, the project focuses on how men working in Islamic institutions (such as mosques) deal with the needs of their male and female constituencies and the problematization of Islamic marriages by politicians and opinion leaders.

Marriage Practices and Discourse among Aid Providers and Refugee Communities in Jordan (Dina Zbeidy)

This research is conducted by PhD candidate Dina Zbeidy. Dina will focus on language and public discourse that surround the topic of marriages in Jordan, and how this language interacts with practices on the ground. With a focus on refugee communities in Amman, this research asks what forms of marriages exist, and which are considered more or less desirable by residents. In addition, this research sets to investigate which local and international organizations have projects around the topic of marriage, and how these projects are designed and implemented among beneficiaries.

‘Marriage in Sight’: Publicity, discretion and secrecy in being a Moroccan couple (Annerienke Fioole)

This research project elucidates how Moroccan men and women establish their relationship’s status in interaction with the people around them. Specifically, Annerienke Fioole looks into how various configurations of publicity, discretion and secrecy have bearing on the way different people evaluate the legality and licitness of a certain relationship. By examining the multiple pathways Moroccan men and women generate to meet up and get married, her research complicates the supposed clear boundaries drawn between relationships in and outside of marriage. Thus, she explores how people deal with handling publicity, discretion and secrecy in their lives.

Concluding Interfaith-Muslim Marriages in Ceuta (Ibtisam Sadegh)

Ibtisam Sadegh is conducting ethnographic research with interfaith couples in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the Moroccan North-African coast across the straits of Gibraltar. In the context of a state discourse that extolls convivencia, which promotes and celebrates the diverse religious and cultural groups living peacefully together, this research investigates interfaith relationships and marriages. Through a bottom-up approach, the research explores how interfaith couples, whose relationships cross political, legal, religious, and social boundaries, negotiate the structures relating to marriage, family, and citizenship status that attempt to control and regulate their relationship. The research analyses how interfaith couples reflect on, internalize and inhabit the norms, and (re)interpret, negotiate and navigate through various structures and how in doing so, new notions and practices are developed, which strengthen, supplement and/or transgress the existing structures.

Interreligious Marriages:Negotiating Family, Community and the State in Postcolonial Egypt (Rahma Bavelaar)

This interdisciplinary research project on interreligious marriage in Egypt examines how family formation, cultural representations of interfaith relations and the politics of personal status intersect in the reproduction and interruption of religious difference

Navigating Access, Aspiring Privilege: A Study of Maghrebi-Muslim Mobilities in between the EU and Dubai (Jaafar Alloul)

Jaafar Alloul is involved in an ethnography-based research project that investigates novel forms of transnational mobility by focusing on European nationals with a Maghrebi-Muslim background in Belgium, The Netherlands and France, who are moving to the United Arab Emirates. Whereas Western Europe has traditionally been considered as a ‘destination’, this study addresses how non-European, ’global cities’ like Dubai in the Arab Gulf have today become new poles of attraction for second and third generation European Maghrebis, born and raised in the EU. While existing literature on ethnic minorities and Islam in Western Europe has hitherto focused strongly on ‘integration’ and/or the country of ‘origin’, this multi-sited study opens up such static geographic scales and nationalist methodological normativities by addressing subjectivities that articulate a set of translocal trajectories and eclectic imaginaries, which urge us to rethink or even ‘provincialize’ Europe. Simultaneously, Jaafar Alloul contributes to the ‘Muslim Marriages’ project by enquiring how such migratory trajectories intersect with social transformation in the realm of marriage/partnership. By means of critically addressing alternative mobility patterns within a significant European minority public, this study ultimately seeks to complicate both academic and public discourses on ‘migration’, ‘home’, and ‘marriage’ in the 21st century.

Marriage practices of female migrants from North-Western Europe to Syria (Aysha Navest, Martijn de Koning and Annelies Moors)

This exploratory research project investigates the intersection between marriage and doing hijra to IS-ruled areas of Syria. Publications often focus on female radicalization, either presenting them as victims of unscrupulous men or as militant activists, also because researchers depend on these women’s public online posts. Our focus on marriage practices and our method of private chatting produces a different kind of knowledge: these women opt to live under IS-rule, yet are not very activist. They concur with IS attempts to regulate the conclusion of marriages and through their everyday practices attempt to normalize life under IS rule.

Happily Unmarried in Tunisia: A Case Study of Extramarital Cohabitation in Tunis (Iris Kolman).

This research project focuses on the motives of a number of young Tunisian women to engage in unmarried cohabitation in Tunis. The aim is to deepen our understanding of how young Tunisian women of Muslim origin deal with the conflicting demands and expectations of the ever-changing society they live in. Since norms are produced through everyday practices, this study investigates through ethnographic methods how these women understand their own acts of decision-making and how they make sense of their world.

Negotiating ‘appropriate’ wedding ceremonies. The Islamization and commercialization of wedding ceremonies amongst Dutch-Moroccan women (Fatiha El-Hajjari).

In this subproject El-Hajjari examines the Islamization and commercialization of wedding ceremonies in the Netherlands. The focus of this ethnographic study lies on the relationship between the commercial industry of wedding ceremonies on the one hand, and the wedding ceremony as a ‘religious ritual’ on the other hand. In this study El-Hajjari analyzes the (shifting) meanings and uses of Islamic reasoning and argumentations in the planning and execution of wedding ceremonies amongst the women. The ethnographic data show that the blooming Dutch-Moroccan wedding industry gradually dominates the celebration of wedding ceremonies, posing challenges to both the traditional role of Islam and existing social relationships between and within families.

ART and temporary marriages in Iran: New technologies, new meanings of sigheh? (Tara Asgarilaleh)

Whereas in the majority Sunni Muslim world all forms of gamete donation are strictly prohibited, in Iran ARTs, including the use of donor gametes and embryos, have been legislated by religious authorities and regulated by the state. Focusing on the experiences of involuntarily childless couples, this contribution investigates the changing meanings of sigheh from a religiously acceptable way of cross-gender (sexual) relationships to a religious solution for treating infertility in the case of third party donation. Whereas prior to the emergence of ARTs in Iran, sigheh has also been considered as a way to conceive, this study explores the emergence of new forms of sigheh, such as ‘laboratory sigheh’ in which no sexual activity is involved. Using notions such as ‘reproductive navigation’  and ‘Islamic biopolitics’, this contribution, more generally, investigates whether and to whom temporary marriages are relevant in seeking medical help to treat infertility in contemporary Iran.




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