Journal Article

Making Muslim Minds: Question and Answer as a Genre of Moral Reasoning in an Urban French Mosque

Kirsten M. Yoder Wesselhoeft

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 78, issue 3, pages 790-823
Published in print September 2010 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online September 2010 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI:
Making Muslim Minds: Question and Answer as a Genre of Moral Reasoning in an Urban French Mosque

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On the basis of participant observation in a weekly “fiqh class,” this paper is a study of casuistry and pedagogy in one mosque in a major French urban center. It analyzes the construction of religious authority through the genre of “question and answer,” focusing on the relationship between the religious education of converts and that of lifelong Muslims. Through a detailed analysis of three exchanges from my field research, and drawing on Aristotelian categories of rhetoric, I argue that in this community, question and answer as a genre of pedagogy is used to: (1) propagate uniform ethical instruction across a diverse group of Muslims, (2) construct the authority of the imam as inherently dialogical and based in his relationship to the mosque community, (3) both highlight and normalize the experiences of convert Muslims, and (4) distinguish the ideal Islamic ethics of this community from alternative ethical practices or systems, both inside and outside of Islam. I also attend to the performative aspects of question and answer, examining how community members use this genre to discern their relationship to this hermeneutic community and to its center of authority, the imam, as well as to inform themselves, express themselves, and dissent from the mosque discourse.

Journal Article.  14145 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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