Moroccan-Belgian Shi‘a Muslims in Brussels: Rethinking Religious Practices outside Traditionally Shi‘a Centers

By Hafsa Oubou
Submitted to Session P4805 (De-centering the study of Shiism, 2017 Annual Meeting
In this paper I explore Moroccan-Belgian Shi‘a in Brussels and their religious practices as a Muslim minority in Belgium. Taking an ethnographic approach, I examine how Moroccan-Belgian Shi‘a navigate issues of belonging to both Belgium and Morocco and how discourses around their status shape the broader Shi‘a community and Moroccan diaspora in Belgium. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, a number of Moroccans in Belgium began to self-identify with Shi‘a Islam. Based on fieldwork in Belgium, I examine how the community navigates two powerful and contradictory state ideologies: the centrality of Sunni Islam to the Moroccan state of origin even among the diaspora, and the dominant discourse of secularism which is promoted in Europe. Unlike former colonial powers of France and Britain, Belgium began its relationship with Moroccan diaspora for economic reasons in the 1960s with bilateral accords with the Moroccan and Turkish governments. The community of Moroccan-Belgian Shi‘a therefore provides an important site for further understanding the contours of the broader Muslim population in Europe. Their current position is contested by their ethnic and religious affiliation that challenge the widespread presumption that Moroccans are Sunni by birth. Social science research on Muslims in Europe to date has focused on Sunni Muslims in France. Based on previous fieldwork in both Belgium and Morocco, this paper examines the Moroccan-Belgian Shi‘a in Brussels who offer a significant lens through which to study the ways in which the making of subject-citizens intersects with transnational migration, citizenship, and religion.