British Muslims seen but not heard

3rd November 2009, Comments 0 comments

New research suggests Britain's young Muslims are seen but there is a growing need for them to be heard.

London -- Seen and Not Heard is an assessment of young Muslims in the UK, by Sughra Ahmed of Britain's Policy Research Centre. The study, conducted over 18 months and released in September 2009, aims to give voice to young Muslims who are often analysed by researchers, but rarely heard from. And as someone who was born in the UK, spent her early years there, and recently lived in London’s East End - an area with a large urban Muslim population - I found Ahmed’s report to be highly topical.

Over 100 young Muslims were interviewed across the country in various focus groups, representing over 15 ethnicities. Ahmed’s work is an intriguing analysis on the state of young Muslims in the UK and clearly includes much input from the young Muslims that she spoke with. Seen and Not Heard informs us that young Muslims are dealing with a plethora of issues – including poverty, education, subcultures, the generational gap, media, police interactions and, of course, religion.

But first, there’s the terminology itself. Ahmed notes that a primary distinction must be made in addressing and discussing young Muslims in Britain. The term “youth” has the negative connotation here of being affiliated with gangs and violence, a perception reinforced all too often by the government, police and media. Youth are seen as a problem in society and Ahmed therefore proposes that Muslim youth be addressed as “young Muslims” or “young people,” something youth workers interviewed for the report also recommended as a step in preventing “otherisation.”

A highly refreshing aspect of Seen and Not Heard is Ahmed’s analysis of the interactions between young Muslims and their parents, and how education comes into play. Overall, the tensions between the two are often comparable to what young people in general experience vis-à-vis older generations – this intergenerational gap is present in many communities, Muslim and non-Muslim.

However in Muslim communities, factors such as language and culture are also present and frequently create distance between parents and their children. Such circumstances affect the education of young Muslims and their attitudes towards it, as many Muslim parents in the UK are not able to engage with their children’s education: “The research shows that attitude, language, poor education background and feeling insecure with systems of school governance can turn parents away from helping children with their homework, coursework and other assessments, remembering that many parents of the first generation didn’t attend school in the UK and in fact have a generally poor track record of education themselves.”

In other words, the result is that young Muslims are not taking their education seriously, for their parents do not check on their progress. This was certainly the case with me – my parents, like many others, were either too busy with work or were not able to understand my teachers and coursework, resulting in disengagement (though not indifference) with my education.

In contrast, after we moved to the United States, I noticed that the parents of young American Muslims around were often involved with their education, while I was left to my own means. Ahmed has shed much light on my UK experience and recommends that schools need to reach out to parents of young British Muslims with a better cultural understanding. This would result in a better education for young Muslims, and ultimately, better life and job opportunities.

A discussion of the media’s treatment of young Muslims is also necessary – according to the study. Ahmed quotes many young Muslims speaking about their perceptions of how media portray them negatively, and documents how this affects their identity. For example, young Muslims are often unfairly forced to answer for the actions of Muslims abroad because of an increasingly globalised media network.

Some interviewees felt helpless, saying, “You can’t really make a difference.” Ahmed recommends that young Muslims be encouraged to enter media fields as a means of empowerment. As a precursor to this, other interviewees have proactively countered the negative perceptions enforced by the media simply by getting to know their non-Muslim peers.

Ahmed concludes that the identities of young Muslims in the UK are constantly in flux because of shifting attitudes towards education, culture and religion, and that the media’s everyday barrage spurs perceptions to shift quickly. By dispelling stereotypes and misconceptions, Seen and Not Heard demonstrates that young Muslims in the UK have a lot of potential but their potential needs to be recognised and respected.

 Hena Ashraf/Global Arab Network /Expatica

Reprinted with permission from Global Arab Network
Copyright © 2009, Global Arab Network  - London  

Hena Ashraf  is a filmmaker and advocate for independent media. Download and read Seen and Not Heard online at . This article distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from altmuslim. 

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