Minority identifications between affiliation and assignment

Contemporary uses of the term Muslim in France illustrate the plurality of minority identifications. Between semantics and ethnography, M.-C. Willems highlights the diversity of forms of belonging available to individuals confronted with exclusion.

In Muslim. A summons?Marie-Claire Willems addresses the question of minority identifications: what capacity for action do individuals have to speak and tell their stories in a context of racism and stigmatization? Or, to put it another way, what reflective faculties do we deploy in the face of otherness?? Based on interviews with people identifying as Muslim and a socio-semantic survey, the author reports on the uses and meanings of the word Muslime in contemporary France. This attention to the paths of subjectivation, that is to say to the work of individuals to constitute themselves as subjects, here Muslims allows it to shed light on what processes of exclusion do to ways of belonging and forming a group. UltimatelyMarie-Claire Willems proposes to observe the possible articulations between assignment (conceived as the dismissal suffered by a social group) and affiliation (defined as the voluntary association with a social group) by delving into the reflexivity of the actors.

Semantic approach and ethnographic investigation

The starting point of the work is semantics: what does the word mean? Muslimwhat is its history, what are its uses? To carry out this historical socio-semantics, the author goes back to the Middle Ages, where the term used to designate Muslimses is that of buckwheat, which means pagan Or non-Christianobliterating the Koranic text which speaks of muslim (one who submits to God). At XVIIIe century, it is another exonym which imposes itself in the French language: that of mahomtan. Here again, the frame of reference remains Euro-centric since it involves conceiving the Muslim religion on the model of Christianity, by comparing the figure of Christ to that of Mohammed as a foreshadowing of Talal Asad's analyzes of the Christian-centric foundations of the concept of religion. The colonial period brought about a clear shift around the category of Muslim origin. It is in fact in colonial Algeria that the law comes to differentiate the unworthy of Muslim origin of the French of European origin, each class of individuals being exclusive of one another and referring to distinct legal bodies. through colonial law, belonging to the category Muslime is racialized: individuals are assigned birth status while religious conversion does not modify legal status. This is what the expression of Christian Muslimsmobilized in the colonial framework to designate individuals of Muslim origin who converted to Christianity, but remained subject to colonial law rather than civil law.

The genealogy of the term Muslim thus illuminates the long history of distortion, stigmatization and otherization making Muslim belonging a dominated identity. The semantic approach is coupled with an ethnographic investigation, synchronic this time, which seeks to restore the uses of the category Muslime by the people concerned. This multifaceted survey combines interviews, observations and questionnaires. Around thirty biographical interviews are used during the work, whether with personalities embodying different poles of representation (from the rector of the Bordeaux mosque, Tareq Oubrou, the spokesperson for the Indignees of the Republic, Houria Bouteldja, through the founder of the Union of Muslim Democrats of France, Nagib Azergui) or anonymous people understanding their affiliation with Islam in a contrasting way (a student describing himself as atheist of Muslim culturepeople converted to Islam more or less practicing, a teacher introducing himself of Muslim origin or worshipers in a mosque). This series of portraits joins observations made during training on Islamic ethics in a Parisian suburb and during Parisian meetings bringing together women converted to Islam. Finally, it is supplemented by two questionnaires administered within an Islam training center in Saint-Denis and a mosque in Bordeaux. This methodological device, which is discovered as you read, suggests the difficulties of investigating a stigmatized population, whether in terms of refusal of an interview or tensions linked to anonymization for people seeking to protect themselves in a context of strong stigmatization of their religion. It also reveals the reflexive positioning of the researcher, the work opening and closing with personal anecdotes as a former specialist educator who was able to observe the assigning power of certain institutions with regard to populations perceived as Muslim and as a witness to the attacks of November 13, 2015.

The three uses of the word Muslim

The heart of the subject is concerned with the ways of tell yourself (p. 5) of people identifying as Muslim. going against fixed conceptions of religious affiliation and in line with a comprehensive approach, the author examines how the word Muslim serves as a support for various paths of subjectivation between experiences of othering, acts of reflexivity and biographical bifurcations. This work leads her to propose a three-step typology of the uses of the term Muslim: Muslim affiliation as an ethnic-cultural category, as a social condition and as a religious identification.

People who view their Muslim belonging from an ethno-cultural perspective place this belonging in a collective history: that of the postcolonial immigration of North African parents and the family socialization of Islam that followed. Here, the self-relationship is rooted in a group memory and forms of minority solidarity, crossing migratory trajectories, religious practices and institutional assignments. This is for example the case of Ramzi, a man of Algerian descent who describes himself as both Muslim and atheist, who gave a second Muslim first name his children and justifies his non-consumption of pork by his primary socialization (It’s something very, very anchored. I can not tell you. it is structured as soon as you are a child, there is an almost carnal relationship, p. 58). Here we can read the durability of certain ways of doing, thinking and feeling in connection with the Islamic tradition, in short the pervasiveness of certain religious dispositions. that an approach in terms of socialization could make it possible to deepen by specifying the sociological anchoring (in terms of age, gender, class, etc.) of these affiliation practices.

Considering this collective memory from the angle of minority (by which people belonging to minority groups are subjected to forms of essentialization and inferiorization), others conceive Muslim belonging as a social condition. Here, it is the experience of stigma that establishes identification as Muslime: individuals say they are Muslime from the moment when the majority view designates them as suchTHE. However, this majority view fluctuates according to times and contexts, the racial border around Islam having gained political salience in recent decades. This is what Tareq evokes, who belatedly seized on the label Muslim: Never in my life would I have thought that at a given moment, I would claim to be part of this imaginary world.! () I can say: I am a student, I am a sociologist, I am an activist, a trade unionist, an Algerian, an Arab, but I never said a Muslim. But aa changed. Today, it has become constitutive, politically (p. 96). Such a border is based on various devices of otherization (Arabic-sounding names, diet, circumcision, etc.) which place the Muslim condition in an asymmetrical race relationship, and leads certain individuals autoracialize to reverse the stigma.

against this conception autoracializing, others view their Muslim affiliation as a strictly religious identification. It is precisely for these people that d-ethnicize Islam by considering how the category of muslim can concern a priori all humanity, without limitation of culture or nationality. This decoupling leads certainThey anchor their religious practices in a cultural framework coded as European, whether it is fasting with a halal quiche Lorraine or praying on a Scottish patterned rug. Ultimately, this religious conception of Muslim affiliation makes possible, for the author, the culturation of Islam in the French context in the form of an ethic of life. Here, the analysis perhaps touches on the epistemological limits of a certain sociology of Islam attached to proving the conformity of Islamic practices and ideas to dominant models of citizenship, at the cost of neglecting the constitutive weight of the Islamic tradition or of only studying its sides. liberals.

Possible connections between race and religion

This typology of uses of the word Muslim makes it possible to unfold the delicate articulations between affiliation and assignment, between self- and hetero-categorization, between individual and systemic levels. Through the study of these processes of subjectivation under constraint, the author also shifts attention to the possible intersections between race and religion. These intersections are understood from their margins, by comparing the Muslim condition to the Jewish condition and by examining what conversion trajectories do to minority identifications.

The Jewish condition is evoked several times throughout the work to reflect on the intermingling of collective memories, cultural practices, religious affiliations and experiences of the stigma which establishes identification as Jewish. These forms of self-categorization are closely intertwined with forms of hetero-categorization, the Jewish and Muslim conditions being marked by processes of biologization and ethnicization which make it difficult to escape from these categories in the majority view. through these mirrorings, it is the threads of racial and religious subjectivation that the author strives to weave, attentive to the room for maneuver available to minority individuals to self-identify. With a central question as a filigree: to what extent can I claim to be a subject of myself? (p. 176).

This choice to belong, under constraint, also manifests itself in trajectories of religious conversion. Captivating interviews with converts to Islam and ex-Muslimsare convertedes to Christianity question the experiences of alienation and agency underlying the racial and religious recompositions following a conversion. This is what Sarah expresses, a Christian convert having been socialized with Islam who regrets the assignments to Islam to which she is subjected (we are surprised, for example, that she eats during the month of Ramadan) and wishes to create a Christian center with a hammam and a Moorish café to celebrate her Arabic origin.

In essence, these rich reflections on socio-discursive practices around the category of Muslime remind us of the strength of the interrelations between contexts and subjectivities and shed light on the asymmetrically located part of doubts and groping that accompanies the ways of saying and thinking.