Contesting the Boundaries between Civil and Religious Marriage

State and Mosque Discourse in Pluralistic Norway

In: Sociology of Islam

This article discusses the relation between civil and religious marriage, at the interface between the state’s legal discourse and the discourses and practices of Norwegian mosques. A central question is what kinds of effects the governance of Islam in Norway has had in the field of marriage. Against the background of political debates on the system of marriage authorization of faith communities, the analysis draws on interviews with public officials and administrative leaders of mosques, the majority of whom are authorized to perform legal marriage. While the Norwegian state concept of marriage authorization is based on a separation of the civil act and the religious act, mosque administrators rather highlight the similarity and continuity between the two. Contrary to state concerns, though, the analysis suggests that the civil marriages have affected the religious, rather than vice versa. What is interesting is that this reasoning actually results in Norwegian marriage certificates replacing or suppressing the Islamic marriage contract, although agreements on mahr (dower) are still made more informally. Thus, our findings suggest that there has been a secularizing effect.

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