Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy
The US and UK’s contrasting approaches to incorporating Muslims
This article is reposted with the author’s permission from Democratic Audit.
Drawing on their recent research Nasar Meer and Tariq Modood consider whether the British or American social compact is conducive to the incorporation of Muslims, and find that while the US may be more of a secular state, the UK is a more secular society and with a more secularist political culture. They argue that both can offer meaningful routes to not only political participation, but also meaningful incorporation of Muslim minorities.
Wimbledon Park Mosque (Credit: stevekeiretsu CC BY-NC 2.0)
Regardless of whether Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, his rhetoric on Muslims has enthralled American political discourse. Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic, Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US triggered a petition, signed by over 570,000 people, seeking in turn to ban Trump from Britain. While Islamophobia is certainly not absent from British political discourse, the Trump phenomena and reactions to it across both sides of the Atlantic raises an interesting question as to the comparative status of Muslims and Islam in the public square in the US and Britain.
Around a quarter of British Indian Sikhs, and half of British Pakistani Muslims have a spouse who migrated to the UK as an adult, making these two of the largest British ethnic groups involved in this kind of transnational marriage.
In recent years, such marriages have increasingly been seen as an obstacle to integration – with suggested implications ranging from poverty to lack of attachment to the UK, and persistent gender inequality. In Britain, as in some other European countries, the demands of integration now also feature in justification for restrictions on spousal immigration, such as the income requirement for sponsors introduced in 2012.
It is surprising to many to learn that the empirical research on relationships between marriage migration and integration has actually been rather limited, and has produced varying results.
The prime minister, David Cameron, has launched a number of measures aimed at improving integration among Muslims – in particular, Muslim women – in the UK. Polls show that around 70% of people don’t think Muslims are well integrated into British society and concern that Muslim people living in Britain do not feel British has long been part of broader discussions around extremism.
So, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at how British Muslims actually feel about their place in society and to explore the link between segregation and extremism in greater depth. Along with Professor James Nazroo, I conducted research into these issues using nationally representative data, collected in 2008/09 from almost 5,000 people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds, as a part of the Home Office Citizenship Survey. We found that these ideas about British Muslims are not backed up by evidence.
The Telegraph this week carries an article titled ‘Mass Polygamy in the Muslim Community – Claim’, drawing on a report, ‘Equal and Free? 50 Muslim women’s experiences of marriage in Britain today’, by the West Midlands-based charity AURAT (woman). The article highlights the issue of polygamy – 31 of the 46 married women interviewed reported that their husband had more than one wife. Baroness Cox is quoted as saying: “You can’t extrapolate straight from this but you can make a reasonable assumption that if this is not unrepresentative, this is clearly very widespread, and we are therefore dealing with enormous numbers… The implications for the women are very serious and it violates the fundamental principles of our country that bigamy is illegal and yet polygamy is condoned and allowed to flourish.”
Several points need to be made about the coverage of this report.