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Tolerance, Tradition, Integration – and Their Limits

Schirin Amir-Moazami is a junior professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies at Freie Universität Berlin

May 25, 2010

Schirin Amir-Moazami ist Juniorprofessorin am Institut für Islamwissenschaft der Freien Universität
Schirin Amir-Moazami is a junior professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. Image Credit: Armin Ritter

The ban on construction of minarets in Switzerland, the “head scarf debate” in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, co-ed sports in schools – Schirin Amir-Moazami had barely had time to get settled in her new office at the Institute of Islamic Studies located on Altensteinstrasse on the Dahlem campus before she became a sought-after contact for the media. The focus of her research, Islam in Europe, is one of the major social themes of our era.

“Muslims came to Europe predominantly as guest workers, and they were viewed as temporary guests. Today, though, the second and third generations feel more that they are citizens of Germany, and they want to be treated accordingly,” says Professor Schirin Amir-Moazami. But how do Western countries respond to these demands, or even try to manage or channel them?

Amir-Moazami is primarily interested in power in the sense of leadership techniques, and, more generally, in political philosophy. From that standpoint, “integration” is a term she deconstructs with a critical eye: “I don’t know who is supposed to be ‘integrated’ and who is not – and above all, in what way?” Integration, she continues, is hard to measure, and placing it within a cultural context is problematic. According to Amir-Moazami, the first thing to do is not to map out integration strategies, but instead to examine the regulatory mechanisms associated with the discourse of integration critically.

Advice to Students: Read – A Lot!

Amir-Moazami is currently working on a book entitled Gouvernementalisierung von Geschlecht und Islam in Deutschland [Governmentalization of Gender and Islam in Germany]. It focuses on the German Conference on Islam as a “government-ordered dialogue,” discourses and legal actions against forced marriages, and citizenship tests. It is not entirely an accident that the latter have also been dubbed “Muslim tests” and have recently drawn criticism from various groups, including constitutional law specialists.

“I am interested in the criteria used to evaluate the ability of Muslims to adapt. How are the test participants selected? What kind of logic is the concept based on?” Amir-Moazami wants to teach her students the art of critical thinking and asking questions. She advises them especially to read the works of philosophers such as Hans-Georg Gadamer and Michel Foucault – and to read a lot in general.

Return to Freie Universität

The interest Amir-Moazami, a native of the state of Hesse, feels for issues of religion and immigration grew during her studies of sociology and political science at Freie Universität Berlin. Her focus was sharpened during a year abroad in Marseille, where she says the division between immigrants and natives takes physical form: “There is a street that functions as the precise dividing line showing where the ghetto starts. These aspects of immigration policy and the root causes behind them were fascinating to me even back then.”

In addition to sociology and political science, Amir-Moazami studied Arabic language and literature at Freie Universität. She completed her doctoral dissertation, on the “head scarf debate” in Germany and France, in 2004 at the European University Institute in Florence. Last September she returned to Freie Universität as a junior professor.

Further Information

Prof. Dr. Schirin Amir-Moazami
Institute of Islamic Studies
Tel.: +49 (0)30 838-558 65