MMHRC Annual Conference 2019

“Islam, Muslims in Britain: Radicalisation, De-radicalisation, Islamophobia and Human Rights”.

The main theme of the conference is Islam, Muslims in Britain: radicalisation, deradicalisation, islamophobia and human rights.

The sub themes included but not limited to the following:

  • Muslim migration to Britain, historical, sociological, political, educational, and the influence of the homeland!
  • Muslims in Britain, the question of identity between the Islamic and British values.
  • Muslim minorities, the question of integration, assimilation, ghettoes, and the issues of social cohesion.
  • Islamophobia; manufactured or a reflection of reality.
  • Islamophobia and its relation with the new wave of radical nationalism, identity crisis, and the economic distress in Britain.
  • Islamic radicalisation, is it inherent or a deviation? How we can differentiate, and who is responsible?


The Mosaic of Muslim Identity in Britain | Dr Mohammad Mesbahi

The Mosaic of Muslim Identity in Britain

Dr Mohammad Mesbahi

The Islamic College, London, United Kingdom

Islam and Muslims have been the subject of intense suspicion, and their integration in Britain has come under scrutiny at both political and social levels. Britain is now a recognized multi-faith country, but the Muslim identity is at the forefront of recent policy concern in Britain with a focus on the Muslims embracing of British values. This highlights the issue of ethno-religious groups leading parallel lives and failing to integrate with the wider society, resulting new priority of community cohesion. Yet many Muslims and non-Muslims alike have looked forward with confidence and determination to a better multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural Britain, entering into a new relationship with itself providing for such valued religious diversity. This article will focus on the identity and integration and draws on research aimed at exploring how Muslims understand their identifications and how this links to understandings of national identity in the current socio-cultural context of Britain. In doing so, it explores perspectives on both spirituality and community aspects, the role of multi-culturalism and community cohesion, and assesses recent community moves from a purely religious representation, towards a more encompassing social and political representation.

Muslim integration in Britain: Renewing British Muslim identities through media production and consumption | Ainurliza Mat Rahim

Muslim integration in Britain: Renewing British Muslim identities through media production and consumption

Ainurliza Mat Rahim

Within the politics of British integration, debates on media representation of Islam have famously centred on Muslim homogenous identity and its uneven alignment to British values. This paper focuses on how British Muslim magazines visually represent Muslim women. My goal has been to assess the distinctiveness of visual forms as well as the variation of women’s roles that inform us of the variegated identities of Muslim women. I embarked on a PhD journey, shaped by the theories of Islamic art and gender visualisation, which culminated in the discovery of several new findings relating to visual representations of women in Muslim media, and more broadly, Muslim identities in the media. By adopting a mainly interpretive paradigm, the research used the techniques of visual analysis of two British Muslim magazines and seven focus group interviews of Muslim and non-Muslim respondents.

The analysis of Muslim visual conventions demonstrates the diversity of Muslim identities that subvert the dominant meanings found in mainstream media. The most obvious finding to emerge from the study is that through photographs and graphic artistic representations, British Muslim magazines delineated nuanced conventions of Muslim visual representations using a visibly different approach. Emel, through profile photographs, represented Muslim women from a political outlook and embedded the images with intersected Muslim and British values. While Sisters, through graphic art and impersonalized photographs, represented Muslim women from a more communal outlook, whilst also giving autonomy to the women over their bodies and actions. The images contained both Muslim and neo-liberal values through discourses of multiculturalism as well as commercialism. Regarding the viewers’ reception, three themes were identified through the focus group discussions of the Muslim female imagery. They are diverse ethnicity, hijab as symbol, and blended identity. The blended identity of Muslims is negotiated through the combination of Islamic and western values.

The research provides evidence that the Islamic visual representations reflect the diverse identities of Muslim communities, and the magazines under study apply a subversive approach to visualising gender. The distinctive visual representation by the image producers and the counter-depictions of Muslim women in various roles provides a redefinition of Muslim female identities in the British public sphere. It thereby invites us to consider the heterogenous identities of the women and the community at large which is compatible with the notion of diversity within a multicultural society. I conclude with a discussion of Muslim media as a possible force to establish a renewed media discourse on British Muslim integration. Although printed magazines might have been replaced by online media nowadays in instilling ideas and selling products, the subversive images offer a renewed construction and performance of Muslim women in contemporary Britain. It appears plausible to argue that there are shared values within the diversity of the UK to be reconciled; and that there are differences to be recognised, in which values, norms and cultures are to be understood independently from western hegemony, rather than a politicisation of Muslim culture developed by a reaction to an increasing presence of Muslims.

Young, Brummie Muslims: belonging, home and a problematised city | Dr Chris Allen

Young, Brummie Muslims: belonging, home and a problematised city

Dr Chris Allen

Associate Professor, University of Leicester UK

This paper draws on the findings from a qualitative study funded by the ESRC’s Impact Accelerator Fund. The study sought to engage young Muslims living in different locations across the city of Birmingham about their sense of belonging and attachment to the city through exploring their lived experiences and everyday lives. Engaging just over 120 respondents using focus groups as the primary means of data collection, this is the first time the findings will have been presented. The study was conducted in 2017.

Primarily, this paper will explore how respondents spoke about Birmingham in three distinct and different ways. First, it will consider how they spoke about Birmingham as something of a greater entity; a city that was diverse and Muslim-friendly and thereby one which they were able to connect to and identify with as being ‘theirs’.

Second, it will consider how they spoke about local ‘Muslim’ areas of the city. Being largely places where they had grown up and continued to live, respondents spoke about these areas with warmth and also with a sense of romanticism through openly conveying their lived experiences.

Third – and maybe the most surprising – this paper will consider how respondents spoke about the city centre. While a highly diverse and shared space, respondents spoke about this as being where they felt least ‘safe’ in the city. Similarly, they spoke about it being the most securitised also. It is likely this was because the city centre was where they most likely engaged with those they saw to be most threatening.

Exploring the experience of young Muslims in Birmingham, this paper offers an opportunity to consider some potentially new and unique insights into critical sociopolitical issues facing Muslims and their wider socio-political ‘problematisation’.

Birmingham as an urban space provides a lens therefore through which to consider wider notions of: belonging and identity (Birmingham as conceptual city); home and community (‘Muslim’ areas); and safety and scrutiny (city centre).

Islamophobia in Europe: Narratives and Counter Narratives | Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh

Islamophobia in Europe: Narratives and Counter Narratives

Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh, Associate Professor

The Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education, Scotland, UK

Islamophobia is central to 21st discourses of radicalization, difference, religion and nationalism. It is about the power to set the political language and legal foundation of recognition and redress. It erases the diversity within Muslim communities creating a homogenising identity for Muslims. It has come to denote acts of intolerance, discrimination, unfounded fear and racism against Islam and Muslims (Esposito, 2011:4).  It seems to suggest that Muslims are a monolithic community that ignores historical, cultural, sociological and political diversity. This research will argue that Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon. Rather, it is asserted that it has been there for a long time taking different shapes and forms. It has evolved from orientalism and colonialism to what is now called political populism which is a metaphor for anti-migration on one hand, and a form of demonising Muslims on the other.  While orientalism was curious to know this unknown religion and its people, colonialism was bent to subjugate and dominate imposing the values of the colonizer. Thus, I will analyse the historical narratives and discourses on Islamophobia in terms of its genesis and evolution. I will therefore assess critically its current contemporary contexts and implications in its socio-political perspectives. The relationships between orientalism and colonialism in this imagery of Islamophobia created will be deconstructed. Some of the factors that precipitated islamophobia from the waves of migration to the United Kingdom to the Iranian Revolution in 1979 will also be closely examined.  The contemporary situation in terms of the upsurge of populist political movements in Europe will be highlighted. Finally, a way forward regarding integration and recognition of plurality and diversity will be explored. Particularly, I will argue that we are witnessing a new era of multiculturalism but not the death of it. My methodology in this research is primarily focused on critical, conceptual and historical discourse analysis.  I will also examine how Muslims themselves respond to the challenge of islamophobia as citizens of the United Kingdom and not some aliens outside the system of the United Kingdom.

Does Islam confirm the universality of human rights? | Professor Eric Heinze

Does Islam confirm the universality of human rights?

Professor Eric Heinze

School of Law Queen Mary, University of London

Debate continues about the universality of human rights law, including questions about its compatibility with Islam and other longstanding traditions of non-European origin. The phrase ‘comparative naturalism’ is proposed to describe an approach adopted by scholars who cite norms and practices within Islam and other belief systems to confirm the universality of human rights. That approach holds real appeal for anyone drawn to an ideal of shared global norms not dominated by a Western canon. Ultimately, however, comparative naturalism fails to bolster any universality thesis. Its key strategy is to place older belief systems on a par with human rights. On that view, universality emerges once we avoid any value hierarchy that would expressly subordinate other belief systems to human rights. But serious problems arise. First, despite much rhetoric to the contrary, human rights, if they have any meaning, always necessarily place themselves above all other norms. Second, even if we accept that hierarchy, there is still no sense in which a universality thesis follows: countless normative systems entail value hierarchies but do not eo ipso become ontologically universal. Third, attempts to soften that hierarchy by citing ‘flexibility’ within human rights are meaningless. ‘Flexibility’ in practice means only either (a) its opposite, namely the inflexible application of human rights norms, seemingly ‘flexible’ only in the trivial sense that they are applied in a variety of settings; or (b) human rights bodies’ sheer willingness, under some circumstances, to tolerate their patent violation.

An Exploration of the Challenges of Bearded Muslim Men in the UK in the Age of Islamophobia | Durali Karacan

An Exploration of the Challenges of Bearded Muslim Men in the UK in the Age of Islamophobia

Durali Karacan

King’s College, London

Allen and Nielsen (2002, p.35) argue that in Islamophobic attacks visual identifiers of Muslims mostly determine the possibility of being targeted or being attacked. In most Islamophobic attacks, overwhelmingly Muslim women who wear headscarf or veil, which is accepted as major visual identifier of Muslim females as well as one of the most prominent symbols of Muslims are the victims (Sheridan, 2006, p.319). In comparison with Muslim males, Muslim females especially who wear headscarf or veil are more vulnerable to Islamophobic attacks and are more likely to face Islamophobia (Sheridan, 2006, p.319). However, it does not mean that Muslim men are totally invulnerable or never face Islamophobic attacks or their victimization is not worthy of consideration. In particular, Muslim men with beard seem as vulnerable as veiled Muslim women and are likely to be targeted. Beard might be accepted as principal visual identifier of Muslim males and one of the most prominent symbols of Muslims like headscarf or veil. On the other hand, beard evokes different meanings in Western perception. Although beard historically has been one of the most distinct symbols of eastern men in Orientalist discourses and generally refers to fear, violence, filthiness or backwardness, in the contemporary world just after 9/11 attack beard has also become the symbol of danger, terror and terrorists in media representations (Culcasi & Gokmen, 2011,p.86). People in Western countries started to approach with suspicion bearded men even they are not Muslims (Allen & Nielsen, 2002, p.37). Consequently, bearded Muslim males became more vulnerable to Islamophobic attacks, some of them chose to shave their beard in order not to be targeted. Too repeated representations of Osama bin Laden with beard in the media post 9/11 led to arise a perceived link between terror and beard, and as becoming a common perception, this exacerbated discrimination and Islamophobia (Culcasi & Gokmen, 2011, p.83). In this climate beard has been symbolised as danger, extremism and terror especially in media representations, moreover, this served that bearded Muslims were labelled as dangerous, extremist and terrorist in Western perception.

Muslim males who have visual identifiers and explicit symbols of Muslims, more particularly beard, may have multidimensional troubles and challenges when they encounter Islamophobic attacks. Due to these reasons, a specific study on bearded Muslim males will gain a broader perspective and deeper understanding on Islamophobia and will be very beneficial to explore psycho-social impacts of Islamophobia on male Muslims which is generally overlooked.

Islamophobia in British Schools and Its Connection to The Identity Crisis Of Young British Muslims | Zahra Kamal

Islamophobia in British Schools and Its Connection to The Identity Crisis Of Young British Muslims

Zahra Kamal

Progressive Academy for Islamic Studies

In recent years, we have witnessed a chilling rise in Islamophobia in the UK particularly amongst the most vulnerable of all, the young British Muslim children. As the definition of Islamophobia is yet to be confirmed, incidents of verbal, physical and psychological abuse currently falls under the auspice of bullying or racism, thus incidents rarely receive the warranted attention from schools, media, the department of education and the government. This simply means that the very systems designed to protect the most vulnerable are directly or indirectly complicit in creating an environment that forces young Muslim to feel disconnected from the rest of society, as their Islamic ideals are portrayed as non-conformatory to the promoted Fundamental British Values which are imposed implicitly or explicitly through the various programmes being systematically implement by the central government through their various agencies. As such the so-called counterterrorism and preventative methods currently being implement by the UK government that are aimed at tackling the threat of radicalisation and extremism only seems to serve in marginalising young Muslims. These controversial methods are currently being implemented in schools and are presented under certain terminologies including safeguarding, prevent, and the mandatory teaching of the ‘Fundamental British Values’. Although they are labelled as preventative, their true essence is nothing less than Islamophobic, hence the difficulty seen in providing a definitive definition by the UK government. Schools have inadvertently been taking advantage of many Islamic misconceptions to construct well-designed myths about Islam thus leaving the poor Muslim kids to question, debate, answer and defend their religion or the actions of certain individuals they don’t even know in the face of the ever-growing tension in places where they should be feeling free of such worries. Unfortunately, this is how the educational institutions have created the perfect Islamophobic hubs that are nurturing the younger generation of Muslims and landscaping their identity while the majority of the Muslims community themselves are oblivious to the challenges faced by the current generation and its impact on the future generations of Muslims living in the UK. This study highlights that Islamophobia in schools has become an issue of great concern and underlines that advocating against Islamophobia in education has truly become a necessity to try and tackle the identity crisis of the young British Muslims before they are fully stripped of their religious identity much sooner that we could have ever imagined. It is a critical moment in time where we need to trace the daily experience and psychological challenges of these young British Muslims through their journey in the education system. This will enable us to critically evaluate and understand how and why the identity of these innocent minors is gradually shaped, and what can be done to challenge this issue at grass root levels. Some of the proposed recommendations and subjective reflections for this matter includes raising awareness especially among the students as well as their parents with regards to the disturbing impact of Islamophobia on their children, and empowering the young generation of Muslims and their families though formal education and appropriate training to counter Islamophobia in schools, online and on social media.

Abdullah Quilliam and the Muslim community in Liverpool (1890-1908): Learning from History to construct an “Islam” for Twenty-First Century Britain | Prof. Ron Geaves

Abdullah Quilliam and the Muslim community in Liverpool (1890-1908): Learning from History to construct an “Islam” for Twenty-First Century Britain

Professor Ron Geaves

Cardiff University

In 1890, a Liverpool lawyer and journalist, William Quilliam converted to Islam whilst visiting Morocco taking the name Abdullah. Not content with merely converting, Abdullah Quilliam determined to establish his chosen religion in Britain, opening the first registered mosque in Liverpool at premises in Brougham Terrace. Between 1893 and 1908, Quilliam established a community of multi-national Muslims consisting of converts, Muslim seamen, overseas visitors and students. Appointed Britain’s only sheikh-al-Islam by the Ottoman caliph, Quilliam was intensely aware that Islam needed to be indigenous to Britain. The paper explores the adaptations made by Quilliam and the challenges this presented and compares these to the contemporary challenges faced by British Muslims.

Prevent Duty: Its affects upon Muslim Youths within mainstream British society | Ahmad Bawab

Prevent duty: Its affects upon Muslim Youths within mainstream British society

Ahmad Bawab

According to the ‘revised Prevent duty guidance: For England and Wales published on 16th July 2015, the Prevent strategy published by the government in 2011, ‘is part of the overall counter-terrorism strategy’…’the aim of the prevent strategy is to reduce the threat to the U.K from terrorism by stopping people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism’ (HM Government, 2015). Part of the Prevent strategy is to work with sectors and institutions ‘where there are risks of radicalisation’. This includes working with Universities, colleges, schools, faith groups and so forth.

There have been many criticisms of the ‘Prevent duty’ introduced by the government. Concerns from Teachers, academics, school/college managers, the national union of teachers, Human rights organisations and the Muslim council of Britain have been openly portrayed (Busher et al, 2017, p.9). Concerns raised are related to freedom of speech, the lack of skills or experience of educators to discuss terrorism related subjects in the classroom, the suspicion and stigmatisation of British Muslims and the exclusion of British Muslims from mainstream British education in which may lead them to resort to terrorism (Ibid). It may be suggested that the introduction of the Counterterrorism and Security Act 2015 and the associated Prevent duty may be an attempt by the British government to tackle the root cause of terrorism and ‘prevent’ individuals from being drawn into such groups and organisation prior to it becoming ‘too late’. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the Prevent strategies have paved the way to improved relationships and partnerships between the government and Muslims groups and organisations (Barrett, 2018, p. 6). However, it has also been suggested that the Prevent duty has institutionally showed biasness towards British Muslims. Dudenhoefer, (2018, p. 1) argues that this statutory duty by Prevent holds the danger of further alienating British Muslims within society. Furthermore, Barrett, (2018, p. 7) argues that professionals working with Prevent lacked understanding of factors that led one to become a terrorism, nor were they aware of methods to tackle this issue. It thus appears that the Prevent duty is unable to provide a clear-cut strategy for schools/colleges and universities to implement. It appears that the government, by introducing the Prevent duty, has caused many problems within society. Firstly, they have directly or indirectly targeted the British Muslim youth. Secondly, have provided Islamophobics with the opportunity to report British Muslims that may have not been involved in any terrorist related issues, thirdly, the prevent duty has participated in the alienation and lack of cohesion of British Muslims, especially the youth within mainstream British society and finally, contributed in the lack of freedom of speech that once existed within the classroom of colleges and universities.

Muslims in Britain: Marriage and divorce, traversing between Islamic and British values | Dr Islam Uddin

Muslims in Britain: Marriage and divorce, traversing between Islamic and British values

Dr Islam Uddin

Ph.D. Middlesex University

This paper explores the practices of marriages and divorce among British Muslims. The law of England and Wales is a monolithic legal system, that it recognises no parallel systems of personal law. Matters pertaining to marriage, divorce, and children are exclusively dealt with by the civil law which applies to all. Legislation such as the Marriage Act 1949 and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 stipulate the conditions for a valid marriage and divorce. Existing studies show that some British Muslims follow customary/normative laws from their cultures of origin, resulting in marriages performed according to religious rites. Where this is not coupled with a civil ceremony of marriage, these couples are treated as cohabitees by the law, and their nikah is seen as a ‘non-marriage’ or ‘non-existent marriage’, limiting their access to state dispute resolution mechanisms. This paves the way for religious dispute resolution forums such as Shariah Councils. Recent debates have focused on the use of Shariah Councils i.e. quasi-legal, unofficial bodies that function to mediate, arbitrate and issue Islamic divorce certificates. Critics argue that Shariah Councils follow Islamic norms, discriminate against Muslim women, operate as a parallel legal system, contradict human rights law and therefore should be banned. Others view Shariah Councils as flexible and providing a solution to the needs of Muslim women while operating within the law.

This study employed a qualitative methodology to understand the causes and motivations surrounding practices of marriage and divorce among British Muslims. The research involved in-depth interviews with British Muslim women. The ‘narrative’ nature of the interviews established a timeline of events for participants, which covered marriage, marital disputes, and divorce.

Furthermore, the study involved interviews with professionals identified as providing services to Muslims during the marriage, marital disputes and divorce ranging from Imams, Shariah council judges, to solicitors and counsellors; and observation of Shariah council hearings and analysis of its procedural documents. The data collected were analysed using thematic analysis, and the emergent themes from the rich data provided a deep insight of the research problem, allowing a socio-legal examination of the research problem firmly embedded in the ‘lived’ experience.

The findings provide an insight into the intricacy of marriage and divorce practices among British Muslims and reveal the strong influence of religion and culture in establishing social norms, dictating the importance for nikah (Islamic marriage) and Islamic divorce, and highlight the role of Shariah councils as a dispute resolution forum within the British Muslim community. For some British Muslims the adherence to Islamic values supersede the need to follow British values, thus the practice of nikah-only or unregistered marriages, similarly many seek a religious divorce even having gained a civil divorce, and will use a Shariah council if required. Nonetheless, this study also found some British Muslims easily navigate between official and unofficial law, traversing between Islamic and British values to suit their personal needs, whilst maintaining strong a connection with their identity.

Islamophobia; manufactured or a reflection of reality? | Ali Azam

Islamophobia; manufactured or a reflection of reality?

Ali Azam

Islamic College, London

The prevalent consensus amongst Muslim communities strongly suggest that Islamophobia is a top down calculated strategy constructed by the state through policy frameworks and master-narratives which suggests that Islam can only exist in tension with Britishness and Englishness and that It as a growing threat whose mobilisation in the public spaces should be met with suspicion and concern and therefore must be policed and monitored. It holds, that it’s underline objectives are to restrict opportunities to negotiate Muslim interests in mainstream democratic politics and therefore to displace Muslim interest in the public sphere.

However, in this paper I intend to critically explore some of the psychological factors behind Islamophobia such as tribal solidarity and perpetuation of self-interest. I will then attempt to establish how significant a role education can play as a methodology in combating the indeterminate consequences that represents and reflects reality.

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