Published by Routledge on December 21st 2016
Genres: Academic Publishing
Young British Muslims continue to generate strong interest in public discourse. However, much of this interest is framed in negative terms that tends to associate them with criminality, religious extremism or terrorism. Focusing instead on other aspects of being young, Muslim and British, this volume takes a multidisciplinary approach that seeks to normalise the subjects and focus on their everyday lived realities. Structured into three sections, the collection begins by contextualising the study of young British Muslims, before addressing the sensitive social issues highlighted in the media and finally focusing on a variety of case studies which investigate the previously unexplored lived experiences of these young people. With contributions from scholars of religion, media and criminology, as well as current and former practitioners within youth and social work contexts, Young British Muslims: Between Rhetoric and Realities will appeal to scholars who have an interest in the fastest growing, most profiled minority demographic in the UK.
The persistent scaremongering about British Muslim identities is inescapable for everyone, but especially for young British Muslims whose everyday lives are caught up with rising racism and Islamophobia. Spaces of resistance, therefore, spaces where young British Muslims can champion their hybrid identities, and spaces of challenging hegemonic representations of youth of Muslim-ness, are welcome spaces. In my view, this book gives readers a fascinating glimpse into some of these creative spaces that young British Muslims have actively constructed – through music, through fashion, through religion, through culture, and via other ways of participating in (Muslim) youth sub-cultures. The book emphasises young Muslim voices are not emerging from some sort of homogenous cloud that media and political rhetoric have long tried to convince us exists when it comes to Muslims. Instead the contributors to this edited collection make us aware that Muslim voices are powerfully heterogeneous, diverse and plural, just like Muslim identities.
This new edited collection is useful reading for those interested in young British Muslim identities. As Philip Lewis – author of Young, British and Muslim which was published a decade ago – highlights in the Foreword to Hamid’s edited collection, the book is “a valuable volume for policy makers, educators and academics”. In the preface to the book, Sadek Hamid explains the origins of the idea for the book, and importantly emphasises the thread that, I believe, successfully brings all the chapters contained in the collection cohesively together: “a multidisciplinary approach that interrogates popular perceptions and seeks to ‘normalise’” the everyday lives of young British Muslims”. Later in his introductory chapter, Hamid further elaborates upon the book’s intention of “humanising” young British Muslim’s “everyday lived experiences” by providing alternative narratives to those pernicious ones that have become the norm when it comes to Muslim-ness.
In chapter one – ‘Researching young Muslim lives in contemporary Britain’ – Anshuman A Mondal draws upon notions of fluid multiple identities while at the same time interrogating Eric Kaufmann’s work on European religion and politics. Mondal problematises Kaufmann’s arguments about Muslim Europeans, but also Mondal’s chapter gives us methodological insight into researching young Muslims. Mondal critiques the extent to which ‘demography’ and ‘quantitative social analysis’ provide a comprehensive understanding of identities and belongings: “a proper understanding of our social relations also requires painstaking qualitative analysis of what people actually think, feel and believe – and the ways in which they express themselves”. Chapter two – ‘Child sexual exploitation and young British Muslim men: A modern moral panic?’ by Muzammil Quraishi provides important contextual information about the racism and Islamophobia rife in British institutions, contributing to moral panics about the new ‘folk devil’- the Muslim male. The author seeks to show that the picture is more complex than the media and political spokespersons admit when they perpetuate “criminological moral panic” narratives.
In chapter three, Fauzia Ahmad addresses that extremely important, yet (through no fault of hers) that simultaneously frustratingly repetitive, question: ‘Do young British Muslim women need rescuing?’ Her chapter steers away from “pre-determined tropes of what young Muslim women should or should not do, or how they should or should not act”, instead she seeks to provide alterative representations of Muslim-ness and gendered identities. Ahmad addresses these aims by focusing upon the agency of young Muslim women when it comes to the conscious (Islamic) choices they make regarding higher education and marriage, but notably Ahmad does not neglect to discuss the structural constraints faced by Muslim women who work to exert a sense of agency. Ahmad later brings to light another very important question when examining Muslim female identities: “how far are Western feminists who claim to be ‘saving’ Muslim women prepared to accept Muslim women’s choices and difference, even when this is not in accordance with their own views?”
Abdal Haqq Baker, in chapter four, studies Muslim converts and African British Muslims in south London who he argues have hitherto been often neglected in studies conducted about Muslims by academic researchers. His chapter entitled ‘Urban young Muslims: Cross cultural influence in the face of religious marginalisation and stigmatisation’ contains reference to a youth project known as Strategy to Reach, Empower and Educate (STREET). While Baker’s chapter provides interesting empirical data about young Muslims in the form of fascinating case studies, there needs to be a more robust discussion of the methodology and findings of the research. Critics of the Preventing Violent Extremism and Terrorism (Prevent) strategy will take issue, for example, with there being no mention of the Prevent funding that the STREET project received, or they might argue the methodology in dealing with ‘radical extremism’ needs to be made transparent. While young people might have been deterred from ‘gang-culture’, that is a very different phenomenon to ‘violent extremism’. Given that Prevent funded project leaders receive heavy criticism for aligning themselves to inconsistent, contradictory and racist political narratives about Muslims, it would have been pertinent for Baker to interrogate the way in which some of the participants had been convicted of petty offences, but somehow the tag of extremism was applied to them. Prevent is popularly discredited for its vague definitions of extremism, and yet Baker has not sufficiently addressed this in his chapter. This is perhaps an indication of a phenomenon that was associated with government pots of Prevent funding at that time, that in order to get the funding, there needed to be evidenced a tackling of ‘extremism’ – producing false positives about its extent. Across the UK, organisations were working with young people were conveniently finding ‘extremism’.
In chapter five – ‘Finding a voice: Young Muslims, music and religious change in Britain’ – Carl Morris begins with a descriptive account of a nasheed concert at British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester, before going onto name some of the predominant nasheed artists and groups that have become popular in recent years with Muslim youth who combine their religiosity, spirituality and musicality through their love for nasheeds. Morris argues that Muslim makers of music are “at the centre of a social, cultural and religious milieu that is characterised by religious and generational change”; furthermore, through music, Morris explains, young British Muslims are reflecting about their socio-political experiences and belongings. Morris provides an engaging historical overview of previous generations of Muslims and their musicality, for example the early Pakistani arrivals’ love of qawwalis and na’ats, as well as the later more political fusions of rock, rap and qawwali, and then a hip hop consciousness, that came with later generations of music lovers. Finally, the author goes on to show the ways in which contemporary Muslim musicians are changing cultural ways of belonging for British Muslims.
Chapter six – ‘Religious values and political motivation among young Muslims’ by Asma Mustafa – analyses the merging of political and religious discourses by drawing upon an empirical study conducted with young British Muslims of diverse backgrounds. Islam is seen as one of the significant factors for young British Muslims who are politically inclined and politically active, particularly young Muslims’ who are feel attached to the ummah. Religion is not the sole motivator necessarily, Mustafa points out, as there may also be other reasons at play. Mustafa describes how the politicisation of Muslims is often connected to how they make sense of:
- “Faith and belief (Spiritual ties)
- The concept of the Ummah (Ties that bind), and
- Religious group consciousness (Ties that bond)”.
In chapter seven – ‘Virtual youth: Facebook Groups as identity platforms’ – Brooke Storer-Church explores the way that young Muslims are engaging in online spaces with a strong sense of political and religious Muslim-ness. The potential for using social media platforms – in this case, Facebook – to promote counter-narratives about British Muslim identities and in mobilising young people to act collectively and politically is highlighted. Storer-Church shows how online spaces hold new possibilities to “encourage a sense of belonging where there was no pre-existing sense of connectedness”, but also social media can be used as “a middle ground of sorts between public discourses about Muslims and the face-to-face, personal interactions that comprise the lived experiences of young British Muslims”. Continuing the theme of Muslim youth identities in virtual spaces, chapter eight entitled ‘Digital Orientalism: Muslim youth, Islamophobia and online racism’ also considers how young Muslims are challenging dominant racist and Islamophobic narratives about Muslim-ness. Using the example of the British Muslim boxer, Amir Khan, the author – Amir Saeed – describes how racism and Islamophobia rife offline transfers to online spaces. Saeed also provides examples of online racism and Islamophobia is frequently challenged through humour. Saeed concludes that young Muslims frequently use online spaces for a combination of political, religious and social reasons, rather than for one of those reasons alone.
Chapter nine – ‘Re-fashioning the Islamic: Young visible Muslims’ by Emma Tarlo – investigates young Muslims expressing their creative and religious identities through a growing industry whereby we witness the fusing of local and global fashions. Tarlo asks from the outset: “Is it possible to look both fashionable and Islamic?” As the chapter goes on, the answer surely becomes clear, that yes it is possible, and it is fundamental to young Muslims ways of practising religion and fashion simultaneously. Tarlos provides interesting examples of fashion designers and companies who utilise a range of ideas from “transnational Muslim networks and a wide variety of visual, material and ideological resources from around the world in their understanding of what might be considered ‘Islamic’ and fashionable”.
In summary, the complexities of being young and Muslim are explored in an engaging and nuanced manner, so that the reader begins to understand Muslim identities are not as simplistic and stereotypical as we are frequently led to believe by those who intentionally and those who unintentionally demonise Muslim youth. Hamid’s book is an excellent contemporary companion to the much older Philip Lewis’ Young, British and Muslim (2007), as well as to the more recently published Inventing the Muslim Cool: Islamic Youth Culture in Western Europe by Maruta Herding (2014). The latter has been reviewed on The Bookslamist by Sadek Hamid. The book is especially helpful for those who wish to understand how young Muslim socio-political and religious identities are being formed in diverse cultural and online spaces, for the chapters that examine these particular themes are the strongest and most engaging in the book.1