The Challenge of Growing Up Muslim

June 1, 2018

The accounts presented here are research data collected during a project studying Islamophobia and Muslim responses to Right-wing populism in Edinburgh, London, Copenhagen and Malmo. All the participants have been given pseudonyms. The aim of this blog post is to highlight some of the challenges young Muslims face to point out the support needed from institutions such as the family and state, but, also from locally situated entities such as mosques and madrasahs, who these young Muslims are likely to come into contact with. This post corresponds with our approach at the Olive Tree Madrasah: we shape our practice around research in tandem with richly engaging the Islamic scholarly tradition to give our students the best possible tools in growing up Muslim.

 

The Challenge of Growing Up Muslim

 

The accounts presented here are research data collected during a project studying Islamophobia and Muslim responses to Right-wing populism in Edinburgh, London, Copenhagen and Malmo. All the participants have been given pseudonyms. The aim of this blog post is to highlight some of the challenges young Muslims face to point out the support needed from institutions such as the family and state, but, also from locally situated entities such as mosques and madrasahs, who these young Muslims are likely to come into contact with. This post corresponds with our approach at the Olive Tree Madrasah: we shape our practice around research in tandem with richly engaging the Islamic scholarly tradition to give our students the best possible tools in growing up Muslim.

 

Muslims growing up in Europe and the west face tough challenges from a wide number of fronts.  To make matters even more challenging, we see that they may not always receive the best support in terms of guidance, mentoring and role models to help them resolve the crises they go through. Stigmatisation was one of the main challenges faced by the Muslims who participated in the study because it had a directly felt impact on their lives through discrimination and prejudice. They are stigmatised from a number of fronts even before the stigma of being Muslim. Young Muslims have to negotiate and navigate around issues of race, ethnicity, nationality and gender. And whilst these factors may not necessarily be related to ‘being Muslim’ there was certainly a connection when parents with a Muslim cultural background appeared to be inadequately resourced to equip their children with the tools to deal with these issues effectively. Certain contexts of ‘growing up’ such as ‘segregated’ areas also become problematic because they add a further layer of disadvantage to the already dense pile of ‘pull back’ factors - racism, discrimination, prejudice etc. We present some of the stories to see how the issues came about.

 

Growing Up Muslim Stories

 

For a number of Muslims, like Rabia, moving from one place to another during childhood brought about profound experiences and exposures. Born and bred in Yorkshire, her move to Edinburgh around the age of 11 made her - for the first time in her life - to become aware and conscious of her ‘race’. She heard ‘Paki’ jokes in school which made her crawl into her shell. This was the case for Aisha whose story began with her migration from Somalia to Denmark at the age of three. A change in neighbourhood during high school in the later years caused a sort of crisis because she realised she was no longer “Danish”; she was this black girl who had “many things going on” such as being overweight and insecure about her image. Somali families - according to Aisha - tended to have many children. And with the parents having their “own problems”, the only Islam they could offer was one which seldom went beyond a “this is haram because it’s haram” framework. She started to rebel against this Islam. The Hijab came off and she followed the “party lifestyle” of her Danish friends. Somewhere along this road came the realisation “I can never be like them” and Aisha started to feel that she was perhaps betraying herself. At this point in her life, she said she took on Islam “very fast.” Her Danish friends abandoned her, and in a relatively short space of time she got married and found herself divorced a few months after. In retrospect, Aisha admitted she perhaps wasn’t ready to marry at that stage. However as time went by, she was able to mature in her faith in Islam.

 

Dwayne also experienced conflict with his parents around Islam. He was however a convert who embraced Islam at the age of 17. Born and raised in Hackney, he had to move to the Caribbean when he was two to live with his grandparents whilst his mother finished her university degree. Moving back to the UK to live with his mother at the age of 12 brought its fair share of change, and later on, conflict, as he went into his teens. Islam had shown Dwayne the importance of kindness to one’s mother, but by the time he could make amends, their relationship had reached the point where he had to move out. The difficulty of evading past acquaintances and Dwayne’s impressionability made it challenging for his Islam to grow. Despite experiencing “spiritual highs”, Dwayne’s Islam regressed and bad habits started to resurface. He met a Swedish girl and they lived together for a while in London. When the two of them visited Sweden for the first time, Dwayne spotted a golden chance which he instantaneously grabbed. “It was a fresh start in a place where nobody knew who you were.” He fathered a child with his Swedish partner, but after some time, Dwayne started to “return back to Islam” and their relationship broke down. He went

on to marry a Muslim woman and adopted Salafi Islam.  

 

What Challenges, and is Growing Up Muslim Any Different?

 

Well, as far as current academic research is concerned, growing up ‘Muslim’ is quite different from growing up non-Muslim - in a western European context atleast (Hopkins 2004, 2007; Hopkins et. al. 2015; Jeldtoft 2009, 2012; Meer 2010, 2014; Modood 2005; Modood & Meer 2009; Otterbeck 2011; Schmidt 2002). When we looked at our data, we found that the growing up narratives (stories) of the participants raised in Muslim families were quite different from those born in non-Muslim, mostly white European households. We will look at the features of this latter group in a future blog post on conversion. As for the former group, some of whose stories we have briefly seen, their narratives were laced with experiences of racial/ethnic discrimination, stigmatisation and conflict with parents over ‘Islam.’ This resonated with research on young Muslims which highlighted their susceptibility to everyday lived experiences of discrimination and prejudice (Hopkins 2004; Bonino 2017), their “highly individualised and eclectic approaches to Islam” (Jeldtoft 2014: 53, 2011; Otterbeck 2010, 2011) and the multiple identities they have to juggle in ‘being’ themselves (Jeldtoft 2008, 2011; Ostberg 2003; Jacobsen 2006, 2011; Lewis 2007; Schmidt 2005). In sum, growing up Muslim, unfortunately, entailed growing up with conflict as part and parcel of life.

 

Growing up Muslim: Growing up Conflicted

 

The sources, provocateurs and reasons behind the conflicts ranged: from disagreements with parents and family to run-ins with authority figures at school; and from crises in self-identity to contesting definitions about what it meant to be Muslim. One of the major challenges encountered by the young muslims was the conflict some had with significant others - parents and family members particularly. For some, this conflict continues. The teenage years in particular tended to be a highly sensitive time for the young Muslims and their families. And whilst Islam may well have lofty teachings on how to live with family and conduct one’s life, as far as some young Muslims were concerned, at teenagehood, these teachings may as well be suspended. Hormones, mood swings and overriding emotions easily buffered any religious admonition. Another significant challenge would be the localities and neighbourhoods within which young Muslims find themselves growing up in.

 

 

Segregated Upbringings

 

 

Muslim communities in western European cities have a tendency to concentrate within specific neighbourhoods characterised by socio-economic deprivation and high crime levels. This tendency to cluster in such areas resulted in multi-layered segregation(s) - ethnic, urban and self-segregation - where Muslims find themselves excluded from social life, and as a result, find themselves marginalised and segregated to the geographic, economic and cultural fringes of their cities. Muslims who find themselves growing up in such contexts face a multitude of challenges which potentially determine so many outcomes in their lives; from educational achievements to career success and from their susceptibility to participation in juvenile crime to escaping the tribulations of addiction. A part of this also related to their sense of security in their citizenships and national identities. The narratives we collected showed a relation between growing up in such “segregated” contexts and the muslims’ sense of belonging, identity and citizenship. Role models became extremely important in such environments because they could influence how young Muslims saw themselves as either belonging to their societies or not.

 

Role Models

 

When we looked at the stories of the participants, with ‘Role Models’ in mind, we couldn’t help but see its huge importance. We saw this necessary to convey, even if the space doesn’t allow for in-depth analysis. Farid - an ex-gangster - narrated how Muslim youth who couldn’t find role models growing up in Copenhagen went away from “education”, resorting to relatively lesser constructive resources like hiphop and rap culture or, even, to more destructive resources such as gang-culture and street violence. He said:

 

“MTV ... the different channels, these gangster movies ... when they showed that to us, that was what we could relate to because we had always problem with the cops, and there was a racial problem.”

 

(Farid, mid-20s, Edinburgh, Iraqi-Iranian background)

 

In the absence of role models, we found that when young Muslims faced a crisis in reconciling aspects of Islam with their everyday life, there was a tendency to turn away from Islam and adopt a youth ‘party culture/lifestyle’ as a resource. This also served a means of rebellion against their parents and Muslim background.

 

Reconciling Islam with Everyday Life


Within the ‘growing up’ stories of the Muslims, at certain points, they encountered ‘moments’ where Islam - in their perception - either limited them or was limited in what it could offer in terms of resources. They were conflicted between Islam and their daily living realities. We saw that the participants who had the ability to reconcile between the elements of their Muslim identity with everyday life gave them a sense of stability in the midst of conflict. This translated into secure identification which led to “fitting in”; this in turn enabled him to relate with their societies and communities. When young Muslims are able to coherently “live” their ‘Islams’ in their everyday lives, they become more secure about themselves, their relationships and their citizenship; and this security manifests when their claims of belonging are questioned.

 

Conclusion

 

Muslims growing up in minority-Muslim contexts such as those we conducted our research in face significant challenges from a wide number of fronts. To make matters more challenging, we see that they may not always receive the best support in terms of guidance, mentoring and role models to help them resolve the crises they go through. What is worth outlining is: young Muslims left with inadequate support to resolve their crises in growing up in Muslim-minority contexts could significantly impact the extent to which they are able to realise their full potentials in being active contributors to the production of social life in their local and national contexts.

 

What Have we Learnt From This at Olive Tree

 

1. We recognise the complexity of problems (challenges) which our students may face in their growing up being Muslim in Edinburgh. We know that we can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand and put to the table quick fixes and ‘one size fits all’ solutions.

2. Beyond recognition of the complexity, we have learnt that what is highly important is support: to be there for our students, helping them along their way, not being judgemental, dismissive and overly admonishing! This includes creating a safe space where we make them genuinely feel that they can talk about their issues and concerns without being judged and rebuked.

3. The research has shown the high importance of having role models who young Muslims can look up in identifying themselves. As a school, we need to provide these role model examples of how being a Muslim is about belonging to society, making a positive contribution and living a fulfilled life in terms of following one’s goals and ambitions. Seeing is truly believing. We can’t teach these values if we ourselves don’t embody them.

 

References

 

Bonino, S. (2017). Muslims in Scotland: The making of community in a post-9/11 world. Edinburgh University Press.

 

Hopkins, P. E. (2004). Young Muslim men in Scotland: inclusions and exclusions. Children's geographies, 2(2), 257-272.

 

Hopkins, P. (2007). ‘Blue squares’,‘proper’ Muslims and transnational networks: Narratives of national and religious identities amongst young Muslim men living in Scotland. Ethnicities, 7(1), 61-81.

 

Hopkins, P., Botterill, K., Sanghera, G., & Arshad, R. (2015). Faith, Ethnicity, Place: Young people’s everyday geopolitics in Scotland’. Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK: Newcastle University.

 

Jacobsen, C. M. (2006). Staying on the straight path: religious identities and practices among young Muslims in Norway. Univ.

 

Jacobsen, C. (2010). Islamic traditions and Muslim youth in Norway. Brill.

 

Jeldtoft, N. (2009). ‘Defining Muslims’. In Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, Volume 1 (pp. 9-14). Brill.

 

Jeldtoft, N., & Nielsen, J. S. (Eds.). (2014). Methods and contexts in the study of Muslim minorities: visible and invisible Muslims. Routledge.

 

Philip, L. (2007). Young British and Muslim. Continuum.

 

Meer, N. (2010). Citizenship, identity and the politics of multiculturalism: The rise of Muslim consciousness. Springer.

 

Modood, T. (2005). Multicultural politics: Racism, ethnicity, and Muslims in Britain (Vol. 22). U of Minnesota Press.

 

Meer, N., & Modood, T. (2009). The multicultural state we're in: Muslims,‘Multiculture’ and the ‘civic re‐balancing’ of British multiculturalism’. Political studies, 57(3), 473-497.

 

Otterbeck, J. (2011). Ritualization among young adult Muslims in Malmö and Copenhagen. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34(7), 1168-1185.

 

Schmidt, G. (2002). Dialectics of authenticity: examples of ethnification of Islam among young Muslims in Sweden and the United States. The Muslim World, 92(1‐2), 1-17.

 

Schmidt, G. (2005). The transnational Umma—myth or reality? Examples from the Western diasporas. The Muslim World, 95(4), 575-586.

 

 

 

 

Please reload

Our Recent Posts

What Can We Offer? Our Talk With the Church of Scotland

October 29, 2018

What we Learned in our Opening Week

September 4, 2018

“Why I am Taking my Mosque to Court” - an Imam Speaks Out

July 10, 2018

1/1
Please reload

Tags

Please reload

  • White LinkedIn Icon
  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Instagram Icon

©2018 by The Olive Tree Madrassah.