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Heiko Henkel: Halal as a Double Wedge Issue

"At the Edges of Civility: Halal as a Double Wedge Issue" Halal practices are an important element in the endeavors of many Muslims to live proper Muslim lives. Halal practices have also long prompted suspicion and agitation in established European publics. In Denmark, in particular, pundits and politicians often address Muslim demands that hospitals and other public institutions offer halal food, as a scandal by. More broadly speaking, markers of Muslim identity, like the headscarf, the presence of mosques, or gender separated socializing, are widely seen as contrasting with Danish forms of civility. The paper looks at the controversy around Muslim halal practices as a wedge issue with two edges. On the one hand, the Muslim discourse of haram/halal, and more broadly of fiqh (legal reasoning), is discussed as a systematic 'wedge' discourse, separating allowed from forbidden practices, and thus also separating (observant) Muslims from everybody else. On the other hand, the paper attempts a genealogy of Danish aversions against Muslim halal practices. Although in the current contestations between established majority and emerging minority, any distinction in social practice may give rise to pejorative distancing on the side of the majority, the issue of religious law has a particularly pertinent history in protestant Denmark. One of the most central themes in Danish Protestantism (most famously articulated in Luther's sola fide: justification by faith alone) is the critique of religious law, which experienced a renaissance in the Protestant revival movements of the 19th century. This critique, although emerging contemporaneously, must not be confused with liberal critiques of religious orthodoxy, however. The paper suggests that current conflicts around Muslim halal practices cannot satisfyingly be analyzed as either the antagonism between religious traditions or as one between Islam and liberal secularism. Rather, the Lutheran tradition has become a constituent part of Danish national civility (or citizenship, in an encompassing sense) as it emerged in the 19th and 20th century. Muslim halal practices are therefore both challenges to established forms of Danish civility and possible elements of emergent, if yet unstable and contested, forms of Danish civility.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015. 12:15 PM


Encina Hall West, Room 208 (616 Serra Street)


Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies