Negotiating Private to Public Transitions: The Case of Italian/French Muslim Sufi Convert Community

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:05
Location: Hörsaal 48 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Lulie EL-ASHRY, Harvard, USA
As the presence of religion in the public sphere becomes more prominent, there has been a rise in tension within each religious community, between occupying itself with religious belief and practice and representing its faith in the public sphere. This tension can especially be seen in European Muslim communities, following the emergence of negative narratives of Islam. Religious communities that have sought to remain insular are being pulled into the public sphere as representatives of European Islam.

This paper looks at the scope and preliminary results of my research on this private to public transition in the Ahmadiyya Idrisiyyah Shadhiliyyah Italian/French Sufi Muslim convert community. Specifically, I raise the question of how this transition is negotiated and what its potential impact is on the Muslim and European communities at large. The community was established in the 1960s in Italy by its current leader, Shaykh Abd al-Wahid Pallavicini. In its first years the community remained strictly private  but its members have now moved from the privacy of their order to public engagement with the French and Italian states. Pallavicini has given Sufi Islam an unexpected visibility, marked by his participation in the 1986 ecumenical conference of Assisi with Pope John Paul II.  Since then, the state has solicited him and his son, Yahya, to make official statements in the media and so, the community established the Communita Religiosa Islamica Italiana (COREIS) and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Islamiques (IHEI). Recognized by the French and Italian states, these public organizations participate in debates on citizenship by interacting with the public administration, media, academia and civil society through conferences, courses and exhibitions. This paper will show the impact of this religious community, with its representatives in fields like banking, food, inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue, on the understanding of Islam within the European context.