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Muslim and secular: Performing ‘Muslim exemplarity’ and public debates on Islam in France

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The place of Islam and Muslims in contemporary France has occupied the public sphere for well over two decades now, taking the form of a series of well-documented confrontations over the visibility of ‘Islamic’ symbols in schools and the public sphere. What generally attracts less scrutiny is the concurrent emergence of a number of organizations that define themselves as being simultaneously Muslim and secular. This article explores the phenomenon of secular Muslim organizations in France by posing a series of questions that highlight the paradoxical position that these groupings can find themselves in. One key aspect of the dilemma is illustrated by the curious nature of the musulman la├»que (secular) label, which hints at an anxiety amongst these French Muslims to prove themselves as ‘exemplary citizens’. This article argues that an unintended consequence of such a public stance is that religion becomes the main identifier for this population, and instead of transcending religious belonging through secularism secular Muslim organizations illustrate the ways in which tensions between secularism and Islam magnify Muslim affiliation in France.
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Keywords: France; Islam; Secularism; alterity; exemplarity; performance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Aberdeen

Publication date: December 1, 2013

More about this publication?
  • merging from an international network project funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economics and Social Research Council, and research collaboration between academics and practitioners, Performing Islam is the first peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal about Islam and performance and their related aesthetics. It focuses on socio-cultural as well as the historical and political contexts of artistic practices in the Muslim world. The journal covers dance, ritual, theatre, performing arts, visual arts and cultures, and popular entertainment in Islam-influenced societies and their diasporas. It promotes insightful research of performative expressions of Islam by performers and publics, and encompasses theoretical debates, empirical studies, postgraduate research, interviews with performers, research notes and queries, and reviews of books, conferences, festivals, events and performances.
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