Transnational Finnish Somali Families in Finland: Discourses and Lived Realities of Marriage (2013-2017)

Senior Researcher: Mulki Al-Sharmani

Post-doctoral Researcher: Abdirashid Ismail

This sub-study, led and designed by Al-Sharmani, investigates how the marriages and divorces of Somali Finnish women and men are shaped by: 1) informants’ transnational family-based networks and lives, 2) Islamic family law and prevalent Muslim discourses on gender roles and rights, and 3) the context of Finland where state family codes are secular and reflect particular norms on gender rights, and where Somali Finnish communities confront socioeconomic challenges and racial marginalization.  The sub-study researches how gender roles and rights are navigated and experienced in existing and dissolved Finnish Somali marriages. It also examines the expectations that single women and men have of marriage and how they make choices about marriage partners, and negotiate spousal roles and rights. The overarching issue to which this sub-study (and others in the larger project) is speaking is the wellbeing of Finnish Somali families, namely:  the different dimensions of families’ wellbeing; the factors and actors that hinder or enhance it; and the strategies of families in the pursuit of their wellbeing.

Field data is collected, by both researchers, from 37 individual interviews and 5 focus-group discussions with women and men, participant observation of wedding ceremonies, as well as interviews with 5 mosque-based mediators and arbiters and one clan elder working on family disputes. Under this sub-study, Ismail is also undertaking further research on the wellbeing of Finnish Somali children and how it is impacted by both (the transnational) family practices of their parents and state institutions.  Ismail is collecting data from focus group discussions with children. Al-Sharmani is also conducting ethnographic research on the role of mosques in promoting the multidimensional empowerment of Somali Finnish families and working towards what these mosque actors call ‘positive integration’. Al-Sharmani is collecting data through a case study of one mosque program for the wellbeing of families in Helsinki, where she is conducting participant observation, interviews, and documentation of life stories.

Policy responses and legal approaches towards practices of Islamic family law in Northern and Western Europe (2016-2017)

Post-doctoral Researcher: Linda Hart

Doctoral Candidate: Sanna Mustasaari

This sub-study examines how contemporary challenges brought about by transnational disputes arising in the sphere of family life (separation, divorce, child custody) in the context of practices of Islamic family law are met in Northern and Western European States. In the international and European arena research on legal pluralism in the context of applying Islamic family law is available, but in Finnish academic literature there is relatively little information and research available on family dispute resolution in the context of Islamic family law. In order to fill this gap, articles in English (forthcoming in Wellbeing of Transnational Muslim Families. Marriage, Law and Gender edited by Tiilikainen, Al-Sharmani, Ismail and Mustasaari) and Finnish (a journal article) will be compiled on policy responses and legal approaches of Western and Northern European States to the challenges introduced by immigrant populations applying Islamic family law to family disputes. Furthermore, a pilot data set of case law on child custody and access cases will be collected from District Courts in the Greater Helsinki area (Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa) in order to obtain data set which may be enlarged and finalised at a later stage to cover all District Courts in Finland. Compared to the whole country, the pilot data set from the Greater Helsinki has the potential to offer a sample of child custody cases where one or more parents are foreign nationals or have a foreign language as their mother tongue. The proposed research acts as a starting phase for post-doctoral research projects.

Governing plurality: Marriage practices and the law

Sanna Mustasaari, LL.M. post-doctoral research project

Sanna Mustasaari’s sub-project will be conducted as a post-doctoral project and will build on her previous work on Islamic family law in the Finnish legal context, as well as intersections between human rights, family law, private international law and migration law, and draw on her on-going PhD project in law (Reframing Recognition: Transnational Families, Belonging and Law). Her sub-project will focus on the role of the law in human security, addressing questions that relate both to the rights of the individual, such as how the law protects individual freedom in the context of minority cultures; what kind of strategies the law enables in both the private and the public spheres of intimate relationships, and the interrelationship of the state and the individual, such as how the law governs the plurality of normative systems and cultural practices; i.e. how the contemporary development of legislation and case law regarding marriage practices re-shapes legal discourse and answers the challenges posed by the increasing plurality of values, practices and normative systems.

As a focal part of the sub-project focuses on marriage and divorce, Mustasaari is currently conducting a survey on unregistered Muslim marriages in Finland, which will be complemented by a study based on interviews with mosques and Muslim men and women. This part of the sub-study will draw on collaborative research work with Mulki Al-Sharmani and her research project Islamic Feminism: Tradition, Authority, and Hermeneutics. In addition to the interview data from Al-Sharmani’s previous and on-going research, further interviews wil be conducted with selected (10) mosques and (10) individual Muslim female and male informants.

The purpose of the interview data is to deepen the analysis by examining how the studied mosques frame the relationship between civil and religious marriage; the normative language and hermeneutical arguments used, and the contextual factors shaping mosque discourses. Mustasaari and Al-Sharmani explore, further, how selected number of Muslim women and men make use of civil and religious marriage and how they frame their choices.