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The Arctic Muslim: Religious Practice and Mosque Controversies in Northern Norway
This paper examines how Muslim communities in Arctic Norway negotiate religious practices under circumstances very different to Muslim majority countries. The research questions guiding the study are: 1) How do Muslims negotiate doctrinally diverse but socially adjacent interpretations of Islamic traditions in small but heterogeneous Arctic communities? 2) How are transnational Islamic communications, movements, and institutions (Owen 2004) and “practices of local place making” (Tse 2014) reflected in these negotiations? The first known Muslims arrived in Tromsø in 1981. The small group travelled by car searching for a good place to live as Muslims. Having heard of an open-minded hippie collective up north, they found it on Karlsøya – a small island two hours north of Tromsø. Here, they established a Muslim congregation. Years later, they founded the Islamisk Senter for nord Norge (The Islamic Centre in Northern Norway, ISNN) in Tromsø (Bratsvedal, 2013). The search for a tolerant community in the far north is the point of departure of this paper. I study Muslim practices and understandings of religious authenticity in challenging geographical locations and within small, heterogeneous Arctic communities. The approach is theoretically informed by the paradigm of everyday religion as well as geography of religion as it aims to grasp the significance of the local Arctic environment for the ways in which these Muslims practice Islam (Knott 2005; Kong 2010; Sopher 1967). It is part of a larger project on modern Muslim subjectivity formation and community building in the Arctic. Empirically, the paper is informed by historical documentation of the mentioned Muslim communities as well as fieldwork in the two mosque communities in Tromsø in 2022-23. After the establishment of the ISNN in 1992, the Alnor Mosque was founded in 2009. Today, the ISNN is dominated by individuals of Somali origin whereas the Alnor is led by Norwegian converts. The Alnor mosque was at the centre of a controversy in 2010 when the idea of erecting a purpose-built mosque to mirror the large Ishavskatedralen (the Ice Sea Cathedral) produced not only scepticism but outright Islamophobia in the local press. Preliminary findings indicate that the controversy was connected to disagreements over adaption of prayer times to the extreme seasonal changes of daylight as well as resources (knowledge, language, time, money) and is thus useful as a prism to understand how Muslims negotiate religious practices in contemporary Arctic Norway.
Religious Studies/Theology
Geographic Area
Islamic World
Sub Area