Creating a diasporic public sphere in Britain: Twelver Shia networks in London

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Abstract

Since the 1980s, the Borough of Brent, in the northwest of London, has been a major global hub of transnational Twelver Shiism. With the influx of Iraqi refugees, many clerical leaders of Twelver Shia Islam established their European headquarters in Brent, and, in addition to Damascus and Tehran, London turned into a major centre of Iraqi diaspora politics during Saddam Hussein’s regime. The transnational networks and organisations based on Brent engage in an Islamic ‘transnational public space’ which Bowen (2004) defines as a globally operating discursive ‘field of Islamic reference and debate’ which argues about the place of Islam in European societies while retaining reference points to the wider Muslim world and traditional centres of normative authority within Islam, located outside of Europe. Based on ethnographic research in London, the article provides novel insights into Twelver Shia Muslim organisational field in Britain and its engagement in ‘an alternative diasporic public sphere’ (Werbner 2004) that articulates issues and contestations specific to Shia Muslims living in Britain: what does displacement and migration mean for Shia Muslims who have often escaped oppression, war and civil conflict; how do Shia Muslims in Britain define their relationship to Sunnis in the context of rising sectarianism in the post-Arab Spring Middle East; how do Shia Muslims position themselves towards Iran and its aspiration to be the political leader of global Shiism?

Details

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalIslam and Christian-Muslim Relations
Volume30
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2019

Keywords

  • Twelver Shiism, Diaspora, Transnationalism, British Islam, sectarianism