Two days ago I was surfing rather aimlessly on paltalk, the chat program through which I follow a number of Muslim chat rooms. It was 5 pm and not much was going on except for two chat rooms carrying something like “dialogues of religions” in their titles. I sometimes visit these chat rooms which usually have 30 to 50 participants from whom about 10 to 15 are actively typing and talking on the microphone. However, discussions in the two of them are quite predictable: It is usually dominated by Muslims who answer questions on their religion and bring evidence that the Qur’an is the word of God. Others, who claim that their religion or conviction is the truth (mostly Christians) are asked to bring (scientific) proof. The word dialogue is quite misleading in these rooms, it is all about convincing the other that she or he is wrong. That can be fun but that day it was rather dull and, yes that also happens during fieldwork, I got bored. So I wandered off….
I have just returned from spending two weeks in Germany going to mosques, talking to young Muslims and Imams and sitting in trains. Most impressive, and also demanding for me, was a weekend I spent in a mosque in order to follow a three-day long seminar. Before I registered for the seminar, I introduced myself via an e-mail to the organizers as a researcher and asked whether it would be possible for me to sleep in the mosque. And, as I have experienced so many times before, I was welcomed in a friendly and open way. My aim was to see how it is to merge a whole weekend into lectures, discussions and prayer. Since I do not cover my head, I somehow “look German” and do not pray, I was quickly spotted by the women who came forward to ask me questions about what I was doing there and what my own belief was. While it was quite easy to answer the first question, I found it as usually quite difficult to state my own beliefs in a coherent and clear way. And, also as usually, one prevailing question was: What hinders you to accept Islam? Another question I find difficult to react to. Not so much because I am not able to state a reason but because I do not want to be misunderstood: The fact that I have not converted to Islam does not mean that I think everybody else who is a Muslim has got it totally wrong. Very often it is conceived as a zero-sum game: If you do not accept Islam as your religion, you think it is wrong, not only for yourself but in general. It is difficult to elude this notion of all or nothing.
However, this time I was struck by an incident which brought the question of mosques, outsiders and trust to the forefront.
I attended a conference titled “Islam and the Media” organized by the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I got great comments on my paper and met interesting and fascinating people from both academia and the media business like Charles Hirschkind and Zarqa Nawaz, just to mention my very favorite.
The latter, Zarqa Nawaz, is an energetic woman and a born comedian. She created the Canadian series “Little Mosque on the Prairie”This is the official webpage: http://www.cbc.ca/littlemosque/
And here one of my favorite episodes: Ban the Burka
and is involved in other film projects taking on the whole conundrum of Islam, “the West” and the rest.
Interestingly, however, the notion of the liberal, moderate, modern (feminist) Muslim, kept popping up during the conference, in presentations of both social scientist and Muslim media professionals/activists.
What do people do in chat rooms and internet forums? What a question: discussing, learning, chatting, reading, socializing, looking up information op just “hanging out”, surfing around and many other things, the negative side like flaming, hate mails etc. not included. These (inter)actions are all reason enough for researchers to look at phenomena in computer-mediated environments.However, what really strikes me more and more is how people act and perform identities or, put simply, how they “are” and “inhabit” the web.
Many people who I meet in my fieldwork have a migrant background. I am fascinated by their diverse life stories and that of their parents. Lately, I came across Cem Karaca and his music. In the 1980s he lived in Germany in political exile. He recorded one album in German: Die Kanaken. When listening to it on youtube I felt as if he had recorded it just yesterday instead of 25 years ago. As if we have not moved on…
Unfortunately, he died in 2004. Check wikipedia for some information on him. Another reason to learn Turkish!
“Es kamen Menschen an” (“human beings arrived”) from the record “Die Kanaken” (1984). Kanaken is a German swear word for Turks. Nowadays, many Germans with a Turkish background use this woord with pride (comparable to the use of the word nigger among some Afro-Americans) in order to identify themselves.