Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
Throughout my time studying in London last fall, I was able to explore the experience of a particular group of young people living in the United Kingdom. This research, entitled, Multiculturalism and Islam: Exploring the Cultural Assimilation of Muslim Youth, was made possible by an Enrichment Grant I received from generous contributors. The purpose of this research was to investigate what it truly means to be young and Muslim in a day and age whereIslamophobic sentiments are becoming increasingly widespread among individuals and within a political context. Furthermore, I was interested in discovering how culture and multiculturalism influence the way in which young people practice their faith and to what degree does it benefit or hinder their worship.
I was fortunate enough to meet and interview eleven people ranging from ages eighteen to twenty-four who identified as Muslim, first or second generation British, and either in university or participating in the workforce. The majority of students I met and interviewed were students at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) or the nearby, University College London. Two of the eleven interviews were conducted in Edinburgh and I met those participants at the Edinburgh Mosque.
The responses I received during these interviews suggested a number of different things. For those who lived in the U.K. their entire lives, despite their parents having emigrated from other nations, they assumed a British identity. One participant said the following: "I think I see myself as British first and foremost. I guess I am totally assimilated...I was born here, I was raised here. This is all I know. I see myself as British." This sentiment was similar among the participants who had spent the majority of their lives in the U.K. but for those who had arrived later in their childhood or even during their adolescence, the experience was notably different. Those participants hesitated to identify as fully assimilated into British culture despite expressing much familiarity with the culture; several noted experiences in school that were alienating and made them feel separate from their British peers.
Of the participants who live in London, one common theme that emerged was that living in a city as large as London encouraged them to practice their faith as they see fit rather than within the confines of the religious/cultural tradition of their parents. Many participants cited that this helped them practice their faith better because it was now something more personal rather than cultural. One participant said: "Being in a liberating country, being open to question everything, I find that I get to practice Islam the way I feel most comfortable instead of the way I was taught and the way that was like traditional and right because I felt that there was no right way to practice it."