Somali identity: religion and everyday politics

An international conference organised in Helsinki is focusing on Somalia’s rebuilding process and the construction of a Somali identity – both in the diaspora and in mostly Muslim environments.

The primary topics of the 12th Somali Studies International Association conference are the different representations of Somali identity in Somalia, the Horn of Africa as well as the newer Somali communities in Africa, North America, Europe and elsewhere. This identity is approached from different perspectives, including art and gender.

In addition, the conference will discuss the process of rebuilding Somalia and the political, economic and international factors shaping it.

Marriage norms and Muslim feminism

One of the keynote speakers is Academy Research Fellow Mulki Al-Sharmani from the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology.

Al-Sharmani is working on two topics in her research projects, which are funded by the Academy of Finland: marriage norms and practices among Somalis in Finland, and selected Muslim feminist engagements with sacred texts and the Islamic interpretive tradition.

Her analysis of the Somali identity focuses on Somali men and women living in Finland, including their marriage and family life.

Al-Sharmani’s key research interest is to study the processes through which contemporary Muslims construct an ethical identity in the diaspora and in a Muslim-dominant environment. As she elaborates:

 “How do contemporary Muslims make sense of religious knowledge or live an ethical life through particular norms and practices? I want to study how both local and international contexts inform these processes and experiences.” 

 “I hope to highlight the overlaps between the diaspora and Muslim majority contexts in regard to the issue of cultivating an ethical self in the modern world. How does this process relate to religion and the daily politics of both navigating different forms of marginalisation and seeking a meaningful life?”

Towards an inclusive society

According to Al-Sharmani, the discussion about Somalia’s rebuilding process need not focus only on the conventional indicators of nation-building, such as representative government or a constitution:

“We must also pay attention to the refashioning and rebuilding of ethical norms, as well as systems of meaning that would be the basis for a cohesive and inclusive society.”

The conference Revisiting Somali Identities – Addressing Gender, Generation and Belonging begins on Thursday, 20 August at 10.00 in the Small Hall of the University of Helsinki Main Building. The event will continue in the House of Science and Letters until Saturday 22 August. The conference is organised by the University of Helsinki, University of Eastern FinlandUniversity of Jyväskylä, Finnish Youth Research Society and Finnish Somalia Network in cooperation with the Somali Studies International Association.