Lived Islam in Itis shopping center

During the course “Islam and the city space” held by Riina Sinisalo, our group had to observe the city space from the perspective of how religion, Islam particularly, is noticeable in the surrounding environment. Our observation was held in the shopping center of Itäkeskus “Itis” (Helsinki, 00930). The task was carried out by free observing: what do we see, smell, hear, touch and so forth. Observing as a research method has many benefits despite its reputation; it allows us to blend in with the milieu. Researcher Linda Woodhead argues that the study of lived religion requires entering the public spaces, domestic lives of people and religion.

Our group managed to make a few important observations during the given task. First, outwards Itis shopping center does not differ that much from other big shopping centers in Helsinki; internationality is noticeable in the general street view of Helsinki.

And secondly, we noticed that in Itis the religion, particularly Islam, can be seen through clothing: we could see women wearing hijabs, jilbabs and niqabs. We could also see Muslim men wearing dišdaša, a long traditional piece of clothing which is typically white.

As a city space, the Itis shopping center worked as a meeting place and a space for socializing. The people there tended to move in pairs or groups. We could see groups of veiled Muslim women shopping and having lunch together, and many of them also had strollers and young children with them.

As said above, Itis does not specifically differ that much from other shopping centers in Helsinki, but one essential observation was that once we turned and continued our walk to Hansasilta the atmosphere changed a lot compared to the “main part” of the shopping center. Arabic language was very present: we could see it on the walls, restaurants and advertisements of Hansasilta and we could also hear the Arabic language. The difference was also noticeable with the smell: restaurants selling more oriental food with different kinds of strong spices caught our attention. The biggest restaurant in this area was Stadin Chili Kebab, which was located in the middle of Hansasilta. The restaurant sells many kinds of food, but there was no pork or alcohol on the menu.

Itis, shopping center

Dessing, Nathal 2013. How to Study Everyday Islam. Edited by Dessing, Nathal & Nadia Jeldtoft and Linda Woodhead. Everyday lived Islam in Europe, 2016. London; New York: Routledge. Pp. 39-52.

Picture: Itiksen kauppakeskus, tallinanaukio 3 ja 10, itäkeskus by Nurmi Juho, Helsingin kaupunginmuseon valokuva-arkisto

By: Satu Korpela, Johanna Salmola, Katja Outbanbine, Olivia Luokkanen, Johanna Piira, Mirka Piirainen