Journey into Europe

Writing any type of survey book on Islam in Europe is not a task for the faint of heart. Islam’s long-term presence in Europe, combined with its myriad expressions and trajectories across the continent in modern history, makes such a project a daunting one. Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Pakistani high commissioner to the United Kingdom and Ireland and the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, takes up this challenge and produces a masterpiece in Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (Brookings Institution Press, 2018). The book is a magisterial examination of Islam’s place in Europe’s historical, cultural, and political landscape.

The book is the last of a four-volume series from Ahmed devised and written after the September 11 attacks to address the relationship between Islam and the West. Of the four, this is the only one specifically devoted to Islam in Europe. Ahmed’s methodological approach can best be described as anthropological, though he readily acknowledges the book does not reflect “standard textbook anthropology” (34). Ahmed weaves participant observation, ethnographic descriptions, case studies, and personal interviews into a larger narrative amply informed by historical research.

Journey into Europe is both descriptive and prescriptive. What Ahmed describes is a continent at a crossroads as it struggles to determine how, or whether, Islam factors into its own identity formation. Ahmed illuminates this struggle by arguing Europe is best characterized by three competing identities. The first is its primordial identity, a type of tribalism in which Europeans come to value their own unique culture and traditions. The second is its predator identity, an aggressive, exclusivist, and even militaristic form of expression that defines what it means to be European in narrow religious, ethnic, or racial terms. The third is its pluralist identity. This identity moves away from tribe and blood by drawing on the shared history of diverse peoples in Europe. Ahmed uses the Spanish term la convivencia to capture this strand of European identity and lifts up Jewish, Muslim, and Christian co-existence and cooperation in historic Andalusia as an example of this pluralist model.

What Ahmed prescribes is an elevation of the pluralist identity as more central to what it means to be European. But he recognizes Europe faces enormous pressures to choose a more dangerous path. As large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers cross into Europe, as a virulent strand of Islamophobia fueled by the Far Right spreads, and as a small minority with a Muslim background turns to violence or terrorism, the temptation for many in Europe is to revert to a tribal or, even worse, an exclusionary European identity based on blood and lineage. Many have already given in to this temptation, and the result has been a rise in anti-Muslim hatred and violence along with the implementation of policies that jeopardize human rights, civil liberties, and democracy—the very foundations of European modernity. The hope for a peaceful, prosperous Europe lies in imagining and implementing a New Andalusia. Only a pluralist Europe that recognizes the gifts and contributions of its diverse populations can maintain its core values as it moves further into the twenty-first century.

One of the greatest strengths of Journey into Europe is that it does not censor perspectives on Muslims that might give the reader pause concerning the realization of a New Andalusia. In addition to presenting stories of Muslims collaborating and cooperating with the non-Muslim majority for the common good, Ahmed also tackles sensitive topics pertaining to Europe’s Muslims, including instances of anti-Semitism, cases of foreign fighters joining ISIS, and expressions of anger or resentment toward the majority population.

In one notable account, he describes how three researchers on his team, while parked outside a mosque in Bradford, England, as they were preparing to film a documentary, were verbally harassed by large numbers of British-Pakistani students coming out of a nearby school. At one point, some students pounded on the vehicle in an act of physical intimidation. The proximity of the researchers to the mosque was seen as an act of provocation, and the students responded accordingly. It was an ugly scene and a most unfortunate experience given the purpose of the research project.

Ahmed could have kept this story to himself since the incident was an exception to the overall hospitable welcome his team received from Muslims throughout Europe. He didn’t. He puts it out there as something readers must come to terms with in trying to make sense of the anger Europe’s Muslim youth sometimes feels toward the majority population, particularly in light of policies that contribute to their marginalization and alienation in countries like Britain.

Journey into Europe succeeds admirably in giving voice to a diverse array of Muslim perspectives and experiences in Europe’s past and present, and to telling the stories of how Muslims from many walks of life are contributing to their communities while navigating the obstacles that prevent them from full inclusion in Europe. It also presents a bold vision of what Europe has the potential to become not in spite of its religious diversity but because of it. Ahmed’s study is a tremendous and timely contribution to the academic literature on Islam in Europe and is essential reading in these tense, difficult times.

http://readingreligion.org/books/journey-europe

New report explores the identity of Latino Muslims in the United States

The Latino Muslims Survey (LMS), a social science oriented study of U.S. Latino Muslims, examined the religiosity of 560 Latino Muslims via an online, bilingual nationwide survey. The historic findings shed light on the intersection of religious beliefs and practices; spiritual, moral, social, and ethical views.  The study also examined the social, civic and political attitudes of the self-identified Latinos and Muslims.  The results of the study were published June 2017 in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion. 

According to, Dr. Gaston Espinosa, Arthur V. Stoughton Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College, one of the co-principals of the study, this research “is important because it is the largest survey ever conducted on the U.S. Latino Muslims and because it helps us to understand why Latinos are converting to Islam, what branches of Islam they are converting into, and their religious, social, gender, and political views.”

This comprehensive survey adds nuance to the understanding of Latino Muslims and reexamines the previously held notion that a majority of Latino Muslims coverts embraced Islam as a rejection of Catholicism.

Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys by John O’Brien

A compelling portrait of a group of boys as they navigate the complexities of being both American teenagers and good Muslims

This book provides a uniquely personal look at the social worlds of a group of young male friends as they navigate the complexities of growing up Muslim in America. Drawing on three and a half years of intensive fieldwork in and around a large urban mosque, John O’Brien offers a compelling portrait of typical Muslim American teenage boys concerned with typical teenage issues—girlfriends, school, parents, being cool—yet who are also expected to be good, practicing Muslims who don’t date before marriage, who avoid vulgar popular culture, and who never miss their prayers.

Many Americans unfamiliar with Islam or Muslims see young men like these as potential ISIS recruits. But neither militant Islamism nor Islamophobia is the main concern of these boys, who are focused instead on juggling the competing cultural demands that frame their everyday lives. O’Brien illuminates how they work together to manage their “culturally contested lives” through subtle and innovative strategies—such as listening to profane hip-hop music in acceptably “Islamic” ways, professing individualism to cast their participation in communal religious obligations as more acceptably American, dating young Muslim women in ambiguous ways that intentionally complicate adjudications of Islamic permissibility, and presenting a “low-key Islam” in public in order to project a Muslim identity without drawing unwanted attention.

Closely following these boys as they move through their teen years together, Keeping It Halal sheds light on their strategic efforts to manage their day-to-day cultural dilemmas as they devise novel and dynamic modes of Muslim American identity in a new and changing America.

Reviews:

“Swift and insightful. . . . O’Brien effectively shows teenage Muslim Americans to be an unjustly persecuted minority, delving into the psychology of how they behave in reaction to their outsider status in order to paint a portrait of social anxiety and strained assimilation that is universal in its power.”Publishers Weekly

Endorsements:

“A textured and insightful look into the lives of young American Muslim men.”–Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation

Keeping It Halal is a sensitive, lucid, compelling portrait of the social complexity of male Muslim teen life. It should be read by anyone concerned with the way young people navigate complicated cultural terrains.”–Omar M. McRoberts, author of Streets of Glory: Church and Community in a Black Urban Neighborhood

“Engaging and insightful. O’Brien provides rich descriptions of the cultural work these teenagers do in their efforts to be both good Muslims and fully American.”–Mark Chaves, author of American Religion

“The best ethnography of immigrant American youth to be published in many years. O’Brien writes with empathy, sensitivity, and analytical sophistication about people trying to manage the cultural tensions of being young and Muslim in American society.”–Mitchell Duneier, author of Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea

American Muslim Poll 2017: Muslims at The Crossroads

American Muslim Poll 2017: Full Report

 

 

 

ISPU conducts objective, solution-seeking research that empowers American Muslims to develop their community and fully contribute to democracy and pluralism in the United States. Learn more about ISPU here.

 

Discrimination against Muslims is increasing in U.S., Pew study finds

A wide-ranging survey by Pew, reveals that anti-Muslim discrimination is common and on the rise — and so, too, are expressions of support for Muslims, according to a new study on one of the United States’ fastest-growing religious minorities.

“Overall, Muslims in the United States perceive a lot of discrimination against their religious group, are leery of President Donald Trump and think their fellow Americans do not see Islam as part of mainstream U.S. society,” the study’s authors wrote.

The survey found that 48 percent of the 1,001 participants say that they were subjected to at least one discriminatory incident based on their religion over the past year.  This is an increase from a decade ago, when 40% felt discrimination based on their faith.

The poll also finds that Donald Trump is not the only source of mistrust. Six in 10 respondents said they think U.S. media coverage of Islam and Muslims is unfair.

 

American Muslims growing more liberal, survey shows

A major Pew survey reveals that American Muslims are growing more religiously and socially liberal, with the number who say society should accept homosexuality nearly doubling during the past decade.

The Pew Research Center, survey of 1,001 American Muslims exhibits that American Muslims are more likely to identify as political liberals and believe there are multiple ways to interpret the teaching of Islam.

The wide-ranging survey solicited opinions issues ranging from religious practices and political terrorism to social values.  The survey also found that the American Muslim population has been steadily rising for a decade, adding about 100,000 people per year.  An estimated 3.35 million Muslims now live in the United States, just 1% of the overall population.

The survey also reveals that despite persistent anxiety about Islamic extremism and religious discrimination, the Muslim community in America remains hopeful about their future in the United States.

After a Muslim-American shot and killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando last year, American Muslims were forced to come to terms with gays and lesbians in their mosques and families, prompting conversations about homosexuality and Islamic teachings, said Zareena Grewal, who studies the American Muslim experience at Yale University.
“After the Pulse shooting, Muslims were coming out of the closet across the United States, and the Muslim community, in public and private, was grappling with the issue in a much more honest way,” Grewal said.

Nationwide Anti-Mosque Activity by ACLU

In the wake of the 2015 attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, anti-Muslim sentiment has spiked. Although these sentiments manifest themselves in many ways, attacks on mosques directly take aim at religious freedom. Existing and proposed mosque sites across the country have been targeted for vandalism and other criminal acts, and there have been efforts to block or deny necessary zoning permits for the construction and expansion of other facilities.

While mosque opponents frequently claim their objections are based on practical considerations such as traffic, parking, and noise levels, those asserted concerns are often pretexts masking anti-Muslim sentiment. Government officials in some areas of the country have yielded to this religious bigotry, treating mosques and Islamic centers differently than other proposed houses of worship and/or denying zoning permits without the compelling interest that is required by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (a federal civil rights law that affords heightened legal protection to the use of property for religious purposes). Even where local governments strongly support religious freedom, private citizens nevertheless often seek to intimidate Muslims into forgoing the exercise of this freedom.

Race, Religion, and Immigration in 2016

How the Debate over American Identity Shaped the Election and What It Means for a Trump Presidency

Key Findings

  • Even before the 2016 election, there was increasing alignment between race and partisanship, with white voters without a college education shifting sharply toward the Republican Party.
  • Attitudes related to immigration, religion, and race were more salient to voter decision-making in 2016 than in 2012. Other attitudes do not show this pattern.
  • There are serious partisan cleavages in how Americans feel about immigrants and Muslims.
  • Large majorities agree on certain criteria for “being American,” but Democrats and Republicans disagree about whether being Christian is an important criterion.
  • Americans see both positive and negative consequences to the demographic changes that are projected to make the U.S. a majority-minority nation.

 

American Muslims in the 2016 Election and Beyond: Principles and Strategies for Greater Political Engagement

Muslims have yet to realize their full political potential through voting, organizing, and coalition building. More and more, however, a new generation of activists and community leaders is engaging the political process as full participants, motivated both by the desire to make a difference and a sense of civic duty. Ironically, Islamophobic rhetoric so common in the 2016 election cycle aimed at marginalizing Muslims may have given a fragmented community a rare common concern around which to mobilize, and a united party platform for which to cast their ballot. The mosque, a focal point of attacks, emerges as a gathering place for grassroots civic engagement, education, and community service. To realize their full potential, Muslims must build for the short term through education, local participation, and effective getout-the-vote campaigns. Muslims must plan for the long term by building a sustainable infrastructure for political mobilization, investing in more research on American Muslim voters, and cultivating an American Muslim civic culture.

Institute for Social Policy and Network: http://www.ispu.org/ame2016

Link to report PDF: http://www.ispu.org/pdfs/repository/ame2016.pdf

Fundamentalism and out-group hostility: Muslim immigrants and Christian natives in Western Europe

December 2013

 

In the heated controversies over immigration and Islam in the early 21st century, Muslims have widely become associated in media debates and the popular imagery with religious fundamentalism. Against this, others have argued that religiously fundamentalist ideas are found among only a small minority of Muslims living in the West, and that religious fundamentalism can equally be found among adherents of other religions, including Christianity. However, claims on both sides of this debate lack a sound empirical base because very little is known about the extent of religious fundamentalism among Muslim immigrants, and virtually no evidence is available that allows a comparison with native Christians.

 

View full report here: Fundamentalism and out-group hostility – Muslim immigrants and Christian natives in Western Europe

Author: Ruud Koopmans

Published in: WZB Mitteilungen