Tag Archives: islam

Changing the Space of Islam: France’s First ‘Gay Mosque’

by Jen Turner

 

By Dcubillas (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the Jerusalem Post reported that a French-Algerian homosexual man is planning to open a ‘mosque for gays’ in France and hopes to eventually conduct same-sex Muslim marriages.  Parisian, Mohammed Ludovic Lütfi Zahed, says the mosque, situated in a Buddhist chapel in Paris, will also break another Islamic taboo by refusing to segregate women and men.  Joint gender prayers will also be permitted.  Zahed explained that “in normal mosques, women have to sit in the back seats and wear a headscarf and gay men are afraid of both verbal and physical aggression … After performing the Hajj, I realized that a mosque for gays was a must for gay Muslims who want to perform their prayers.”

It is clear that if this building is opened, it will be to much controversy.  Algerian law bans same-sex relations and France has been divided in recent years upon whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.  In finding interest in this recent piece of news I acknowledge this controversy, but do not wish to make this the focus of this post.  Instead, I turn my attention to the complex construction of space that the opening of such a mosque might result in. Whilst homosexuality may be fundamentally at cross-purposes for many Muslims, Zahed recognises a group of people wanting to practice their affiliation with their religion in an alternative kind of space.

In similar vein, an early view article by Claire Dwyer, David Gilbert and Bindi Shah in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers addresses such themes. This paper attends to how spectacular new religious buildings have appeared in London’s suburbs, but have been viewed as somewhat incongruous in these spaces.  They exemplify the large golden dome of the Sikh Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha in Southall, and the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God and Holy Royal Martyrs in Chiswick; its blue dome, covered in golden stars and topped with a large ornamental cross bright above the rooftops of suburbia.  Dwyer et al use three case studies, of different faith groups, from North and West London to explore three distinctive articulations of the relationship between religion and suburban space that that call ‘semi-detached faith’, ‘edge-city faith’ and ‘ethnoburb faith’.

 

Whilst drawing upon very different examples, it is clear to see that contemporary societal practices are shaping the way in which religious spaces are constructed and used in everyday life.  Here lies a rich discourse that will only become more interesting as faith develops in response to our changing times.

Claire Dwyer, David Gilbert and Bindi Shah, 2012, Faith and suburbia: secularisation, modernity and the changing geographies of religion in London’s suburbsTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00521.x

Benjamin Weinthal, France slated to open first gay mosque, Jerusalem Post, 25 November 2012

RGS-IBG New Content Alert: Early View Articles (16th June 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Visualising postcode data for urban analysis and planning: the Amsterdam City Monitor
Karin Pfeffer, Marinus C Deurloo and Els M Veldhuizen
Article first published online: 28 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01096.x

Changing countries, changing climates: achieving thermal comfort through adaptation in everyday activities
Sara Fuller and Harriet Bulkeley
Article first published online: 28 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01105.x

Rethinking community and public space from the margins: a study of community libraries in Bangalore’s slums
Ajit K Pyati and Ahmad M Kamal
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01100.x

Practising workplace geographies: embodied labour as method in human geography
Chris McMorran
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01101.x

Original Articles

Muslim geographies, violence and the antinomies of community in eastern Sri Lanka
Shahul Hasbullah and Benedikt Korf
Article first published online: 11 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00470.x

Characterising urban sprawl on a local scale with accessibility measures
Jungyul Sohn, Songhyun Choi, Rebecca Lewis and Gerrit Knaap
Article first published online: 29 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00468.x

The geodemographics of access and participation in Geography
Alex D Singleton
Article first published online: 29 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00467.x

Original Articles

Towards geographies of ‘alternative’ education: a case study of UK home schooling families
Peter Kraftl
Article first published online: 8 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00536.x

Boundary Crossings

Geographies of environmental restoration: a human geography critique of restored nature
Laura Smith
Article first published online: 8 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00537.x

A policymaker’s puzzle, or how to cross the boundary from agent-based model to land-use policymaking?
Nick Green
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00532.x

“Goldman Sachs rules the world”, Islam-style?

by David Bassens

Goldman Sachs New World Headquarters (photo by Z4dude via Wikimedia Commons)

Last October, Goldman Sachs registered Islamic bonds – sukuk as these are called – for a total value of US$2 billion on the Irish Stock Exchange. Remembering the sobering BBC-statement late September by independent trader Alessio Rastani that “Goldman Sachs rules the world”, this paradoxical feat inevitably triggers the question of how it can be that a global investment bank renowned for its speculative behavior tries to attract ‘Shari’a-compliant’ capital that shuns interest, uncertainty, and speculation to finance its day-to-day business.

Our recent study, published in Area, which focused on office networks of transnational Islamic Finance (IF) firms and which produced empirical insights with regard to the heavy entanglement of IF and conventional financial circuits, makes the above far less counterintuitive. IF firms have indeed emerged as an answer to faith-based demands for Shari’a-compliant finance, when during the oil-boom of the 1970s Gulf bankers laid the basis for a domestic sector. However, next to full-fledged Islamic banks, ‘conventional’ banks with a strong historical presence in the Muslim World have developed ‘Islamic windows’ to cater to the growing demand for Shari’a-compliant products. This globalization of IF has produced a geography that is marked by the emergence of a number of financial centers in the Gulf (e.g., Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Manama), where IF is gradually becoming a dominant finance form, but which are in turn heavily interconnected with ‘conventional’ financial centers that are striving to attract business in growing sukuk markets.

The recent engagement between IF and Wall Street investment bankers, then, allows us to conclude that these geographical entanglements imply that IF’s acclaimed ‘alterity’ is largely inflated. While the increased involvement of IF actors in ‘mainstream’ global financial circuits could potentially import a ‘new world’ of customs, values, demands, and ideologies into the realm of global finance, even in times of financial turmoil global finance is being persistently reproduced from Wall Street and The City through a formal, but not substantial adaptation of financial techniques to demands from ‘new’ places. Indeed, although much is done to present the bonds as Shari’a-compliant, a thorough investigation of the prospectus by Khnifer shows that Goldman Sachs has, put simply, issued conventional debt.

The motives for such formal adaptations are grounded in the current phase of capitalist crisis since it is mainly aimed at channeling surplus oil-liquidity through conventional financial centers, while still not actually adapting the ‘nature’ of global finance itself. This means that IF can also be understood as a manifestation of global finance as it reaches out and integrates ‘new and exciting’ emerging markets. In times when liquidity has become a scarce good, such engagements are likely to proliferate, but whether it will mean that Wall Street’s – or The City’s for that matter – investment banking community will start to limit its speculative behavior to conform to the Shari’a remains largely a rhetorical question.

The author: David Bassens is postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders at Ghent University’s Geography Department. He was the winner of the 2010 Area prize for new researchers.

Bassens D, Derudder B and Witlox F 2010 Searching for the Mecca of finance: Islamic financial services and the world city network Area 42 35-46

BBC 2011 ‘Anyone can make money from a crash,’ says market trader 26 September

Khnifer M 2011 Disclosure of three likely flaws in Goldman Sachs’ milestone sukuk 9 December

The Rise of Hate and the Battle for Understanding

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Those of us who follow the news will be no strangers to the controversy surrounding the proposed Park 51 Community Centre in Lower Manhattan.  Also known as the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ (despite being neither a Mosque nor located at ‘Ground Zero’), the project has led to numerous claims that its a signal of the ‘victorious Islamic take-over of America’.  Given it’s true nature, the project is  naturally supported by President Obama; or has a member of the Tea Party Nation likes to call him as a result the “Muslim crypto-commie usurper”.

Emotions are running high this week as Saturday marks the 9th anniversary of the 11th September, 2001 terrorist attacks, which so painfully defined the last decade.  To the mark the occasion a small Florida church known as the Dove World Outreach Centre (DWOC (an ironic title as we’ll see)) has propelled itself into the media spotlight by holding an ‘International Burn a Koran Day’; after all little invokes the image of doves and outreach quite like a good old book burning, just ask the Nazis!

Their intentions have rightly sparked a sense of horror and disapproval from many Americans, with General Petraeus stating that the action “could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort [of American foreign policy]“ (BBC).  Sadly, along with the Park 51 project and the rising levels of ‘ hate crimes’ like the Jacksonville Mosque pipe bomb perpetrated in the US, this action appears symptomatic of the wider issue of Islamophobia which fails to go away.  As a direct result of the DWOC’s plans the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have recently launched a new campaign to battle what it terms as the “growing anti-Muslim bigotry in American society”. This ‘bigotry’ is indeed widespread amongst a vocal minority and is increasingly backed up by elements of America’s right-wing media outlets, politicians and fringe religious organisations.

In the current issue of Transactions, Dr. Nick Megoran details how the ‘Reconciliation Walks’  project has acted to transform the “deeply entrenched geopolitical understanding[s]“ (2010:395) of those who participated in them. Furthermore, it demonstrates how just the simplest acts of genuine outreach and understanding work to easily destroy pre-existing feelings of fear and mistrust.

As many geographers with an interest in politics and religion would argue, both are often inseparable.  Indeed religious groups can act as a positive force as Dr. Megoran’s paper implies; but I feel its equally important to remain mindful that the opposite is often just as true as the DWOC so shamefully demonstrates.  Furthermore, I suggest that our work is largely wasted if we don’t in some way conduct some ‘outreach’ activities ourselves, in order to help end these circles of hate, lies and fear.

For more information on Park51: http://www.cordobainitiative.org/

For more information on the DWOC: http://www.doveworld.org/

For more information on CAIR: http://www.cair.com/ArticleDetails.aspx?ArticleID=26609&&name=n&&currPage=1

N, Megoran, 2010. “Towards a geography of peace: pacific geopolitics and evangelical Christian crusade apologies”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 35 (3). pp. 382-398.

Islamic Finance

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Public confidence in the banking sector has been significantly shaken over recent years.  Given the turmoil caused by the global financial crisis, the depression and the public bail-outs of banks like RBS and Northern Rock; the raising levels of doubt and mistrust are hardly surprising.  Furthermore, such doubts show little sign of abating this week, as seven EU banks fail newly imposed ‘stress tests‘ by the Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS).  As a result increasing numbers are looking for an alternative form of banking in which to invest and Islamic finance could just fit the bill.

Unlike the traditional banking sector, Islamic banking is based upon a strict set of principles; the central of which is that “money itself has no intrinsic value. [Also] as a matter of faith, a Muslim cannot lend money to, or receive money from someone and expect to benefit – interest (known as riba) is not allowed. To make money from money is forbidden – wealth can only be generated through legitimate trade and investment in assets. Money must be used in a productive way” (IBB).  As a result of this central principle Islamic finance is considered more stable (as the temptation to risk in search of profit is reduced) and more ethically appealing to many private savers and investors dismayed by increased profits and bankers bonuses.  Moreover, Pollard (2010) suggests that many organisations like the IBB, are attempting to market themselves as ‘ethical banks’ in areas such as the EU and USA which could otherwise be sceptical of the Islamic name.

In a recent issue of Area geographers Bassons, Derudder and Witlox detail the global spread of the Islamic finance model in recent years, charting how Islamic financial services have moved out of their historical base in the cities of the Middle East and become “anchored in the more conventional world cities” (2010, 44) of London and Paris, challenging our pre-existing geographical imaginations of the global financial sector.

These changes should be of great interest of all Human Geographers, as they offer a potentially fruitful intersection between social & cultural, political and economic geographical research; as we explore how the actions and values of the individual impact upon these globalised networks.

Bassons, D, Derudder, B and Witlox, F. 2010. ‘Searching for the Mecca of finance: Islamic financial services and the world city network’, Area, 42 (1). pp. 35-46.

Pollard, J. 2010. Faith in Economic Geography: some reflections on Islamic finance. In: Geographies of Religion: a new dialogue, Newcastle University, 9th March 2010.