What Muslim women think about integration and citizenship

Through: Nyhagen Line, Loughborough University

Source: The conversation

Much has been said about Muslims as British citizens, mostly by non-Muslims. Prime Minister David Cameron believes that if more Muslim women mastered English, for example, it would help defeat extremism and terrorism. Meanwhile, Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says British Muslims “see the world differently from the rest of us”.

Phillips also presented a controversial Channel 4 program called What British Muslims Really Think, which sends the message that Muslims are more conservative than the majority population and do not want to integrate into society at large.

The debate is often very intemperate – and both Muslim and non-Muslim voices have suggested that it helps further stigmatize an already marginalized and disadvantaged Muslim population. In this highly politicized climate, the relationship between Islam and citizenship has also come under scrutiny by British citizens, a charitable voluntary organization with churches, mosques and unions among its members.

In July 2015, Citizens UK launched its Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life led by Conservative MP Dominic Greave. Greave unfortunately defined the work of the Commission somewhat as aimed at “help fight extremism”.


The commission is holding a series of public hearings across the UK, asking Muslims to talk about barriers to their participation in society, but also how “the Muslim community” can improve its participation. While laudable for speaking out and soliciting opinions from Muslims across the country, the approach taken by Citizens UK is also problematic, in that it focuses only on the Muslim population. In a feverish political atmosphere, this risks legitimizing the isolation of the Islamic faith and the prejudiced idea that Muslim citizens in Britain are uniquely problematic and a “one-voice” community.

Middle ground

In a study published in April 2016, Beatrice Halsaa and me conducted research which compares women of Muslim and Christian faith and also contrasts the British context with that of Norway and Spain. Contrary to the idea that Muslims might view citizenship differently from Christians, our research shows that they have at least as much in common as they don’t.

Interviews with women attending churches and mosques in Leicester, Oslo and Madrid showed that Muslim and Christian women in these cities had similar views about what citizenship is and how a good citizen should act. This is a point that has deep political ramifications – especially for those who believe Muslims somehow have less sense of citizenship than other groups. It also illustrates the need to seek common ground between different faith communities, not just differences.

The main aspirations expressed by Muslim and Christian women are the same: to live in peace and to take care of their family, friends and neighbors. They all express a desire to contribute to society by playing an active role in local communities and to feel a sense of belonging by connecting with others. What emerged from our interviews was the shared belief that a good citizen not only respects the law of the land, but also has compassion for others and volunteers to improve society.

“So you are from Al Qaeda?” “

But a major difference also emerged: the discrimination and stigma felt by the Muslim women we interviewed in the three countries. On the other hand, our Christian interviewees did not speak much of any form of exclusion.

Moreover, very few Christian women have given any thought to the privileges attached to Christianity as the dominant religion in their own country. An exception was an Anglican woman in the UK who suggested that it is easier to follow the Christian religion in the UK than any other religion because “everything is set up for you, people don’t put it in place. question ”. In other words, citizenship is far from equal for people of different religions.

Christians celebrate Holy Week in Spain.
EPA / Javier Etxezarreta

Uniquely, Muslim participants from all three countries spoke of the obstacles to their “citizenship lived– their daily life experiences as citizens. Muslim women felt the need to demonstrate that they are “good Muslims” and “good citizens” in order to counter stereotypes and negative representations of the media.

A Shia woman in the UK said she was not as comfortable in public spaces as before. She also observed that it is more normal for Muslim women to wear the hijab, but that this increased visibility of the faith also poses problems of stigma and stereotypes. She and others have suggested that Muslim women face more pressure than Muslim men to demonstrate good citizenship, as women are more visibly Muslim because of their dress. Another told us:

I feel fair for Muslim women; right now it’s really important for us to be part of society. Because otherwise they’ll take the hype and isolate us.

Muslim women identified barriers to citizenship that were not taken up by Christian women. Negative media stereotypes and discrimination in the workplace, in educational settings, on city streets and on public transport, negatively affected the citizenship of Muslim women. Their religious identities have been questioned, their religious clothing has been ridiculed and their sense of belonging to society has been shaken.

One woman recounted being met in high school with reactions such as “Oh, so you are from Al Qaeda” and “Watch out, she is going to plant a bomb.” These results confirm other recent studies of the discrimination that Muslim women face because of their religious identity. They feel that being a Muslim puts you at a disadvantage and marginalization compared to a majority society which is predominantly Christian or secular – and which is plagued by stereotypes and growing Islamophobia as evidenced by this. Tell mom.

Risk Division

Although discrimination may well emerge as a main finding of the public hearings held by the Citizens UK Commission on Islam, the strong sense of shared values ​​and collective purpose and similar sensitivities to civic responsibilities that we found among Christians and Muslims in our study could be overlooked.

The ‘other Muslim’ looks a lot more like the larger UK community than you might think – and if that point is missed, then political debates as well as government strategies (such as the prevent agenda) may well lead to more stigma and alienation rather than inclusion and cohesion. The “integration challenge” may not be as huge as some people like to suggest – whether for political reasons or just for prejudice.

The conversation

Nyhagen Line, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on The conversation. Read it original article.

About Michael G. Walter

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