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A journey in the house of Islam

Nazneen Khan-Östrem addresses the issue of Islam and modernity, as young Muslims face the problem in Europe today.


Along with a number of books on Islam, a book was published this fall by a journalist and college lecturer at HiO Nazneen Khan-Östrem, which deals with Muslims. It is not a trade book, and we hear little about Islamic principles and theological inferences. We follow Khan-Östrem in her travels to New York, London, Paris and Berlin to search for what is Islamic identity and how it plays out in the meeting with so-called Western urban values. She also asks if the contradiction is as strong as many believe and whether it is just a myth that Islam is incompatible with the West's way of life. The diverse backgrounds of the Muslim population in these metropolises, as well as the host country's own culture, create very different developments among Muslims in these cities.

Different development

If you read, for example, the chapter on Paris, you may realize a lot more of what has happened in Paris lately. The racism, the feeling of helplessness and despair that Khan-Östrem identifies in his book is the main cause of the revolt. Assuming this, one can fear that something will happen in Berlin as well, where raw racism is much more prevalent than what we find in some of the other places. London and New York, even after the September 11 attacks, are some of the most liberal and open cities the author visits. This is reflected in a totally different Muslim population. Of course, sparks are occurring here as well, and for extremists on all sides, precisely such places are important to attack. Turmoil and terror in such places is important because these places show that living together in peace is possible. So where does Oslo belong on this scale? At the beginning of the book we notice a frustration with the author, not only of Norwegian society, but also of Norwegian Muslims. Later she finds some of the most interesting voices in young Muslims in Oslo.

Throughout the book, however, there was something jarring but difficult to identify. Not until the penultimate page, here Khan-Østrem says that she “has another journey to make. An inner journey that can give her peace in the life I have chosen. ” That is what she does throughout the book, you could say. The book is a travelogue in a double sense. We join Khan-Østrem in her travels to the four western metropolises, as well as Oslo, but at the same time Khan-Østrem shares her doubts, beliefs and thoughts with us throughout the book. We are not only presented with a number of different Muslim voices, but we constantly see how these react to Khan-Østrem, and more importantly how she reacts to them. It takes courage to present oneself as openly as the author does in the book.

A travelogue

The book has been criticized by some for not being profound enough. The book identifies a number of problematic areas, but does not always settle these, critics believe. Others, again, criticize Khan-Östrem for not talking to the people they themselves wanted, such as controversial Canadian author Irshad Manji. A slightly different way of looking at it is that we follow a development and maturation process with the author. The inner journey the author is talking about has already begun. Here she uses the conversations with the various Muslims to understand her own religion, her own view and challenge herself wherever she wants. That she does not talk to all those you find interesting is probably one's own problem. If you are interested in conversations with others, it is probably best to talk to them yourself.

The most interesting moments we encounter in the author's conversations with her husband, which challenges her in a number of areas. The author uses these conversations to shed light on different attitudes and thoughts from different points of view. One such point, for example, is the author's deep awe of hijab. She sees this in a very traditional way, which contradicts her own view of herself. She thinks a hijab is out of place with lots of makeup and tight clothing. The question she is unable to answer is whether this is not the way these young girls are fighting their way of being a Muslim. In the Norwegian hijab debate, it has not been mentioned that many girls actually wear hijab against the will of the family.

Precisely the right to be able to define one's own religion, instead of having a say in what Islam and Muslims stand for in society, is the project behind the book. Khan-Østrem succeeds well. In the book, we meet many young Muslims who are themselves in a development process in the same way as the author is, and these are the ones that are most interesting to read about. The author has, to borrow her own words "begun a journey into the house of Islam", I hope we get to be part of the continuation of this journey as well.

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