The Challenges for Muslim Minority Communities in Modern-Day Europe – 2

Murray Hill*

Part Two: Challenges and identity issues for subsequent generations of European Muslims. Part 1 can be viewed at here.

Idstein, April 28, 2014 (Alochonaa): Muslim activists need to become much more media-savvy, however, in order to combat the stream of negative images of Islam which regularly dominate the headlines, as noted by Robinson (1999, 1-4) and a good attempt to redress the balance was made by Masood in his 2006 British Muslims. Media Guide, which was published with the support of the British Council. As 3rd and 4th generation Muslims increasingly begin to enter the professions, there may be a better representation of journalists and media personnel to better reflect issues (although it may be some time before the BBC might front its TV news bulletins with a newscaster wearing hijab).

There have been many attempts to represent Muslims in a national UK context, resulting in a confusing variety of national organisations with considerable sectarian diversity, and with varying degrees of legitimacy. Kalim Siddiqui, for example attempted – unsuccessfully — to establish a Muslim Parliament in the UK, claiming inspiration from the Prophet who “showed us how to generate the political power of Islam in a minority situation and how to nurse … it until the creation of an Islamic state and the victory of Islam over all its opponents” (Lewis 2002, 53). Legitimate efforts to politicise can become blurred, however, with Muslim extremists’ attempts to act as spokespersons which can prove to be “a great disservice”. Tibi cites here Omar Bakri’s claim made in a BBC television interview that Muslims in Europe “are all Osama bin Laden” (Tibi 2002, 43).

In 1990, however, the Islamic Society of Britain was established, while in 1998 the MCB (Muslim Council of Britain) became the largest umbrella body with 380 affiliates and was initially patronised by the New Labour government. It is, according to Vertovec, “arguably the most successful effort at Muslim unification in Britain” (Vertovec 2002, 22). The aims of MCB include:


promoting consensus and co-operation in the community, giving voice to issues of common concern, removing disadvantages and discrimination faced by Muslims, fostering a better appreciation of Islam. With a view to representing all British Muslims, MCB lobbies government departments (especially the Home Office), organizes public events attended by key figures (including the prime minister), holds consultations with public bodies such as the Metropolitan police and with newspaper editors and journalists, issues press statements on a variety of contemporary issues, publishes a regular newsletter, and maintains a multilevel website. Its primary aims are to change negative public images and attitudes towards Muslims and to campaign for an end to the myriad forms of religious discrimination that characterise the notion of Islamophobia. (Vertovec 2002, 22)

The MCB’s affiliate organisation, the MAB (Muslim Association of Britain) went on to co-organise with the Stop the War Coalition, the largest public demonstration in British history in protest at the Iraq War.


Life for Muslims living in the UK is complex, and matters are made worse by ongoing “Islamaphobia,” an attitude which ostracizes the Muslim populace as second class citizens. Hostility towards Muslims was highlighted by the Runnymede Trust’s 1997 report: Islamaphobia: a Challenge for Us All, and also confirmed by the 2006 report from the EUMC (European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia) on Muslims in the European Union. Discrimination and Islamophobia. These document increasing incidences of attacks on Muslims, but also, worryingly, the “deepening receptivity of society to such attacks” (Runnymede 2006, 54). Recently published Danish cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad were also deemed by many to be irresponsible.

The vilification and victimisation of Muslims in the UK has been possible because of the exploitation of a loophole in Race Relations legislation, exemplified by right wing groups like the British National Party (BNP) in their vitriolic campaign literature entitled “The Truth about I.S.L.A.M.”. The acronym is spelled out by the BNP as “Intolerance, Slaughter, Looting, Arson and Molestation of Women”. Modood notes, “the courts do not accept that Muslims are an ethnic group (even though, oddly, Jews and Sikhs are recognised as such) (Modood 2002, 114). Racial discrimination is outlawed, but religious discrimination in the UK is not (although blasphemy laws do protect Christianity from abuse). South Asians cannot be attacked overtly on account of their ethnicity, but Muslims are not protected against attacks on their “Muslimness”. There is simply a transfer of race to religion as a ‘marker’ for hatred and hostility. In short, “it is still lawful to discriminate against Muslims as Muslims” (Modood 2002, 114). It is understandable, then, that there have been periods of rising tension and there were serious disturbances, in particular, in clashes between Muslim and non-Muslim youth in towns such as Oldham and Bradford in 2001.

Young Muslims/Education

Modood rightly notes that “equality means not having to hide or apologize for one’s origins, family or community. There is both the right i) to assimilate to the majority/dominant culture in the public sphere, and toleration of “difference” in the private sphere and ii) to have one’s “difference” recognized and supported in the public and the private spheres” (Modood 2002, 115). It is clear that young Muslims in particular, as they become more visible than the 1st migrant settler generation, need to establish themselves in the public space and to channel resistance to overt hostility in effective ways. Khurram Murad’s essay in 1986 ‘Muslim Youth in the West: Towards a new educational strategy’ sums up the frustration of many young Muslims:

Should … we accept to live as a grudgingly accepted minority sub-culture, always under siege, always struggling to retain the little niche it has been allowed to carve out for itself? That perhaps is the destiny to which most of us seem resigned. (Lewis 2002, 110)

Raza has argued that there is a clear need for Muslims to organize politically, and that “political education should be imparted to the younger generation of Muslims, but there are no institutions opened by Muslims where such political education can be imparted” (Raza 1993, 34). This has allowed a potential vacuum to be filled by student extremist organisations, according to Husein in his autobiographical book The Islamist. Furthermore, there have not been enough positive role models of Muslims active politically in the public domain – “the main reason is that they have limited political skills, perhaps because Muslims lack command of the English language and oratory powers (…) as well as lack grass-root influence, networks and organisation (Raza 1993, 34). While language may indeed have been an issue for many 1st generation migrants, this no longer holds true for subsequent generations of more articulate Muslim native speakers of English. 

Education remains a key battleground, with low levels of qualifications among Pakistani and Bangladeshi school leavers, but there is a slow increase in participation in Higher Education. The issue is so crucial that it triggered, in 1981, the creation of the Bradford Council of Mosques. Mainstream schools had been essentially monocultural and monolingual, and although Muslims had become “culturally self-sufficient” in most other areas, appropriate education provision was regarded by Muslims as a “main leak” in their self-contained system.

Lewis describes the impact of residential clustering on school catchment areas in Bradford. In 1991, there were  largely four Muslim-intake secondary schools adjacent to core Muslim residential areas, representing 50% of Muslim pupils; the other 50% were spread across 17 other upper schools. We can see this in terms of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ socialisation.  Primary socialisation derives from interaction with immediate family, the mosque and Muslim peers; secondary socialisation derives from schooling and other interaction with non-Muslims. A pragmatic balance may sometimes be struck. Thus the BCM, for example, helped the education authority to fend off the Muslim Parents Association attempt to seek control of a number of schools through voluntary-aided status, but gained leverage to retain 2 single-sex girls’ schools instead of merging them into dual sex comprehensives.

It is only very recently that a long-standing campaign secured state-funding for 5 out of the over 80 independent Muslim faith schools in the UK. This compares to state funding of 7,000 Church of England and Catholic schools, also extended to Jewish schools. Interestingly, the campaign has been supported by both practising and secular Muslims although, according to Modood’s ‘Fourth Survey’, only half of Muslims who support funding of Muslim schools would prefer to send their own children there (Modood 2002, 122).

Mosques also play a key role in education. They aim to provide training, through the guidance of religious teachers – the ‘ulama. There are serious challenges, however, in terms of the availability of appropriate ‘ulama, many of whom struggle with English and the UK cultural environment. This is because the majority continue to be recruited from South Asia, although two training seminaries have been successfully established near Bradford. The Dewsbury seminary, founded in 1980, delivers its Islamic Studies and British state curriculum in both Urdu and English and is now beginning to provide ‘home-grown’ ‘ulama, who spend six or seven years of Islamic study, including hifz class to acquire the title of hafiz, i.e. those who know the Qur’an by heart. A similar development could be observed more recently in Germany with the establishment of Germany’s first imam training centre in 2012 by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Islamic reform congregation in the federal state of Hessen. At higher education level in the UK, the way Islam is taught has been the subject of much criticism and this has led to major academic studies being conducted (El-Awaisi & Nye, 2006; HEFCE LLAS Report, 2008). Efforts to redress the balance include the noteworthy Masters programme in Islamic Studies offered by the Scottish based Al-Maktoum College. This UAE-funded initiative was established initially to generate the next generation of young scholars — Muslim and non-Muslim – and to facilitate a platform to enhance the debate of Islamic issues in the 21st century.

Language also impacts in terms of the literature used in the mosques. There is a rich tradition of Urdu works which continue to be used, but increasingly there is a need for English-language literature as 3rd generation Muslims’ command of Urdu becomes less assured. There is however resistance by some elders to jumma prayers on Friday being conducted in English. One example of how this need has been met is the Islamic Foundation, which was established in 1973 as the publishing & research wing of Jama’at-i Islami in Britain and is now a huge multilingual publishing business.

The inter-generational divide is highlighted by Raza –- “the older generation lives in a world of its own” (1993, 40) –- when he argues that mosques have failed to deliver beyond “providing a place for prayer and other rituals” (1993, 41). Specifically, “the community has failed to create an attractive Islamic environment or make mosques into community centres where the younger generation can meet other Muslims socially” (Raza 1993, 58). In consequence, “they are forced to evolve their own Islamic identities as best they can from existing resources which may be limited or non-existent” (Raza 1993, 58). Modood thus argues that “local authorities should provide appropriately sensitive policies and staff (…) for example, fund(ing) Muslim community centers or Muslim youth workers in addition to the existing Asian and Caribbean community centers and existing Asian and black youth workers” (Modood 2002, 124).

In particular, young girls suffer from the fact that many mosques exclude women, some on the pretext that they are unable to provide wudu ablution facilities, but others simply because they adhere to the view that women should best pray at home (which many would consider simply a culturally paternalistic distortion of Islam). Thus, Ahmad observes:


The mosques no longer serve the community…They are almost wholly male institutions. No wonder so many British born Muslim women/girls grow up detesting Islam. (Raza 1993, 39).

Interestingly, Raza also notes the problems for indigenous white converts (or ‘reverts’) to Islam, who also may lack confidence in finding their place in the mosque, as the experience of one Muslim revert suggests:

You walk into a mosque and every head turns slowly and blatantly stare at you, suspicion oozing towards you (…) you realise that they are not looking at a fellow Muslim, they are looking at a white man who has intruded on the Asian ghetto. (Raza 1993, 72)

The organisational development of young Muslims has seen a number of initiatives. Faith issues, for example, were promoted by Islamic Youth Movement (IYM), whose activities included national camps hosted at the Lake District. “Scottish Muslim Futures”, organised by Scottish Islamic Foundation and co-sponsored by the Scottish government in 2008, is also a recent example of the kind of community outreach events which were unheard of for 1st generation Muslims. The programme flier outlines myriad range of issues affecting the Muslim (and non-Muslim) community: global economic crisis, media, health, sport, enterprise, policing, families in crisis, youth, scouting, education, environment, women, the peace movement, the role of mosques.

Social issues which seem more familiar to Western teen magazines have also been covered by the IYM successor Young Muslims UK youth movement in their glossy magazine TRENDS. “Agony aunt” columns focused, for example, on “masturbation, Islamic position on watching TV, girl friends, Western clothes, religious freedom, women’s rights, divorce, polygamy and contraception”. (Lewis 2002, 109) Solutions offered are likely to differ markedly by those offered by Western magazines, however.   Lewis cites one questioner in TRENDS, who had considered leaving Islam and had heard about the apparent consequences of ‘apostasy’. The editorial response noted that “the punishment of death is applicable in an Islamic society, but suggested that this did not apply in the UK, where Islam “is not established” (Lewis 2002, 192).

Faith in Europe

European Muslim minorities continue to struggle to assert their socioeconomic, religious and political identities, but the question of permanence is no longer an issue. Ramadan notes five main points of agreement, namely: the right to practise Islam, the right to knowledge, the right to found organizations, the right to autonomous representation and the right to appeal to the law (1999: 135-6).At a more profound philosophical level, however, Ramadan considers the more fundamental question as to how Muslims should consider the question of how to live in the European space. The thrust of his argument is that, while legal safeguards assure the long-term presence of Muslims in Europe, the confident Muslim personality has yet to fully blossom (1999:138). Impediments remain regarding the nourishment of spiritual life in what is a secular public space.

How education within a secular environment can properly foster Muslim identity remains an issue yet to be resolved within English society. These and other issues were examined recently by the author in a study of young UK Muslim professionals, their contemporary attitudes and identities (Hill 2009). The study suggested that a clear majority of young UK Muslim professionals were generally confident individuals, secure in the belief that they feel valued by mainstream UK society, but who feel misrepresented by the UK media and who also sense a degree of discrimination in the workplace. They grapple as individual Muslims with issues of ‘modernity’ in their personal lives through independent reasoning (ijtihād), but do not consciously identify themselves with, or see themselves as leaders of, the search to define what it means to be a European Muslim in the 21st century. There are encouraging signs, however, with groups such as the London City Circle, an intellectual forum which regularly organizes high profile public debates on a wide range of issues relevant particularly to young UK Muslim professionals.

Until now, Ramadan notes that there has been no clear consensus among the ‘ulama upon what precisely constitutes “the identification, definition and name of the Western abode” (1999: 141). He rejects the historical bi-polar perception (1999: 148-9) of dar al-Islam (abode of Islam) and dar al-harb (abode of war), given that the significant European Muslim minorities exist within the heart of Europe. He argues instead that globalization has rendered the “line of demarcation” unthinkable, and redefines the notion of dar (abode). While still relevant in terms of geography and environment, the notion is expanded to represent a space allowing an “opening to the world”. This is consonant with the Qur’ānic representation of the whole world as a mosque. Instead, of being located on the periphery, European Muslims in fact have a central role in terms of bearing witness to their Faith before mankind. Thus, we can talk of a “space of testimony”, argues Ramadan.

While conceding that, for 1st generation immigrants, the focus was on survival in terms of determining and protecting their minimal rights as a minority, Ramadan argues that this “reactive posture” (1999: 144) should be discarded, and instead “it is high time to define the responsibilities of Muslims in Europe and to name the space in which we live as the European or Western abode (1999: 145). It is in fact incumbent upon Muslims now to bear witness, in the way it was for Muslims at the time of Mohammad to engage in da’wa:

In the current new world order which seems to forget the Creator up to the point of denying His existence and which is based on an exclusive economic logic, Muslims are facing the same responsibilities, especially in the heart of industrialised societies (Ramadan, 1999: 145). In the same way, then, that the Prophet and the Companions in Makka were a minority group which presented and explained their religion to the peoples and tribes around the Arabian Peninsula, Muslims living in Europe “uphold a great responsibility, for they provide their societies with a testimony based on Faith, spirituality, values, a sense of limits and a permanent human and social commitment” (1999: 144). In this regard, outreach work such as Islamic Awareness Week events organized by university Muslim groups, or community based initiatives such as mosque ‘Open Door’ days, represent a step in the right direction.


There are many social, economic, religious and political issues which remain unresolved for Muslims in Europe, but the momentum for progress will continue to build. The impact of greater equality of access to education and employment opportunities remains crucial. In particular, the degree to which the new generations of European Muslims are able to apply ijtihād creatively will define Islamic modernity. The receptivity of the indigenous host culture is also vital. As Tibi notes, the question is how both actors, Muslim and non-Muslim, engage in a process of adjustment within the context of globalisation, where “each individual belongs to many cultures, and people have multiple cultural identities” (Tibi 2002, 32).

*Murray Hill, PhD, is a Professor of Intercultural Communication at Hochschule Fresenius University of Applied Sciences, Germany. You can download bibliography of the entire series from here Bibliography

** is not responsible for any factual mistakes (if any) of this analysis. This analysis further is not necessarily representative of’s view. We’re happy to facilitate further evidence-based submissions on this topic. Please send us your submission at


1 The author of this article had a similarly contrasting experience of two mosques on a visit to Germany in 2008. The Ahmadiyya mosque in Berlin is the city’s oldest mosque, purpose-built in the 1920s. It is a building of some grandeur, but it had been temporarily closed, however, due to apparent lack of funding. Fortunately, the mosque has reopened and the author was privileged to enjoy several conversations with the acting imam. By contrast, the author was able to attend prayers in a cellar mosque in Munich. The Munich mosque was almost invisible, with access via a security key-coded door leading to a tenement stair. The author is grateful to the owner of a nearby kebab take-away café, who happily provided the code on request!

2 The author also enjoyed a visit to a halal burger bar in Blackburn, England where local Muslims socialise in the busy upstairs ‘illicit’ – because of the recent UK smoking ban relating to public places – shisha bar. The bar serves the function of a typical ‘British’ bar, but without serving alcohol and clearly offers popular social interaction opportunities. It is worth noting that there were no white patrons present during this particular visit.







Categories: Europe, Identity, Islam

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