• Iben Munk Bertelsen
  • Camilla Tryk Augustasen
4. term, Sociology, Master (Master Programme)
The focus of this thesis is on ethnic Danes, who have converted to Islam, and on which significance the addition of a Muslim identity component will have on the converts’ identity. Danish society is characterised by freedom of worship for the individual, who thus has the right to practise any religion. However, in Denmark, because of secularisation, (religious) worship is often looked upon as something that belongs in the individual’s private sphere and is therefore rarely expressed in the public domain.
The point of departure for this thesis is that the majority religion in Denmark through centuries has been and remains Christianity, whereby the act of converting to a minority religion, in this case Islam, must be expected to cause wonder and ignorance among Danes. What is interesting in this connection is that Muslims in a Danish context are most often problematised and looked upon as something alien and dangerous posing a threat to the Danish communal and cultural value system, which is widely understood as homogenous. On the basis of this, the thesis focuses on exploring which social responses and conceptions an ethnic Danish convert to Islam is met by in his/her own experience, and how these influence the convert’s self-understanding. Furthermore, the strategies used by the converts in order to gain social recognition for their identity is explored, in cases where this does not immediately happen.

A central term in the thesis is identity, and the theoretical approach to the understanding hereof is taken from the sociologists Richard Jenkins’ and Erving Goffman’s theories on identity and how individuals through specific self-representations try to affect others’ opinion of them. Thereby the study is based on an understanding of identity as being socially constructed, i.e. identity is shaped, changed and negotiated between the individual and his/her surroundings. In addition, this also means that the individual’s understanding of its own identity is constructed in interaction with how the same individual experiences how others understand, categorize and judge his/her identity.
Inspired by the phenomenological approach, the problem formulation is answered on the basis of the converts’ accounts about their own understanding and experience of their current life situation. Therefore qualitative interviews with ethnic Danish converts to Islam are used as the methodical approach.

The results of the study show that converts to Islam are met with many negative conceptions and reactions on the basis of their Danish Muslim identity – and this from Muslim and non-Muslim Danes alike. In relation to “born” Muslims’ reactions to the converts’ identity combination, some find that the converts should receive recognition for choosing Islam, while others believe that it is impossible for Danes to convert to Islam because of their ethnic origin. Concerning non-Muslim ethnic Danes, it is typically ideas of the oppression of Muslim women as well as the incompatibility of a Danish ethnicity and a Muslim religiosity, which are directed towards the converts, thereby causing the converts to be seen as traitors incapable of performing a valid Danish ethnicity. These ideas are often expressed in the public domain and directed towards the women wearing headscarves as the headscarf functions as a visible marker of their Muslim identity component. Here these women are met by negative reactions of both a verbal and a physical nature, such as being kicked, yelled and spat at and/or having their headscarves torn off; all of which indicating that they are not considered worthy of recognition. Another indication of how other strangers in the public domain do not recognize the converts’ identity combination is the constant stares that are directed at the converts (male and female) showing visible markers indicating their Muslim identity – either through their garments and/or by following their Muslim spouse. Furthermore, the converts often experience that even their closest relations problematize their identity combination, which for some converts means that family members distance themselves from them and at worst stop all contact with them.
However, the attitudes and reactions of others towards the converts do not affect their own experience of worthiness of recognition; for one thing because they recognize their Muslim way of life as the right way, and because the recognition from Allah is of the greatest importance for them. Exactly because the converts’ own belief is that they possess an identity worthy of recognition, it is important to them to negotiate a role worthy of recognition in social interactions, and it is found that particularly the family’s recognition is of great importance for the converts. In this way the converts deploy various strategies in negotiating a representation of their identities worthy of recognition. These strategies are typically directed towards the converts’ close relations, but it is also found that the converts occasionally direct these strategies towards achieving a wider social recognition.
Publication date21 Dec 2010
Number of pages134
ID: 42740506