Muslim faith not at odds with Western beliefs, Deakin study shows

21 June 2017

Public debate that paints a negative picture of Muslims and Islamic religiosity is at odds with the peace-driven lens through which much of the Muslim communities view their faith, Deakin University research has found.

Led by the University’s Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, the research provides an insight into the role Islamic beliefs, rituals and faith–based community practices have in shaping Muslims’ experiences of active citizenship, belonging, and political engagement in Australia, France and the United States of America. The report will be launched in Melbourne tomorrow (Thursday, 22 June.)

The findings challenge the dominant public commentary that portrays Islamic beliefs as a potential security problem at odds with Western norms of democracy, secularism, liberty and individual rights.

“This research shows that Muslims in the West are diverse, have a rich and nuanced engagement with their faith and do not see this as being at odds with the democratic values of the country in which they live,” said the Institute’s director, Alfred Deakin Professor Fethi Mansouri.

“Indeed they feel that their religious values enhance their ability to be good citizens and be just, open and caring people.

“This connection between Muslim religious beliefs and citizenship suggests that everyday actions aim to uphold a common good that is about charity, responsibility, obedience to the rule of law, community service/engagement (described as neighbourliness), equal rights and social justice.”

Professor Mansouri said he hopes the findings will be used to reshape public discourse and policy attitudes towards Muslim communities.

“The findings and the comments from Muslims, particularly young Muslims, reinforce the need to challenge and change the public discussion on Islamic religiosity to one which is informed and accurate,”

“I hope that the experiences of the study’s participants are seen for their potential to contribute meaningfully and productively to inclusive social agendas. Both religious leaders of various Muslim communities and policy makers alike must seize these findings to argue for closer social bonds not deeper social fissures, for respectful dialogue not mutual disengagement, and for solidarity and understanding not fear and loathing”.

ABOUT THE STUDY

The study, Islamic Religiosity in the West: Belonging and political engagement in multicultural cities, was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant.

Field work for the three-year project was conducted in Melbourne; Lyon, Grenoble and Paris in France and Detroit in the USA. These sites were selected because each had a Muslim population which was ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse.

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

Self Identity and Islamic Rituals

Participants across all three research sites shared the perception that Islam and Islamic practices nourish a grounded sense of social justice, responsibility and respect for the rights of others including non-Muslim neighbours, co-citizens and the environment. Islamic religiosity does not weaken a sense of belonging to and engagement with a political community, on the contrary it provides strong directives for active citizenship and local attachment.

In establishing what role Islam plays in shaping the subjective dimensions of religiosity across the research sample, the overarching theme that emerged is one that indicates that the relationship between God and the individual is developed and nurtured through daily rituals and practices. This relationship is a significant, if not a central, aspect of the participants’ self-identity, worldview, way of dealing with hardship, and ethical orientation toward others. In particular, the ritual practices of Islam, connect individuals to broader societal expectations and enhance the agentic capacities of individuals.

Religious Practices, Public Space and Social Connectedness

Religious practice and related rituals are important manifestations of faith and are often associated with positive attitudinal and behavioural outcomes.

Generally, religious practices in Islam are oriented towards nourishing a connection to God and the self. Consequently, these practices tend to generate among participants an inclination to reach out to others, including through actions that called for social justice. Participants attach more significance to private religious rituals such as prayers than an attachment to a place or the community.

Citizenship, Belonging and Political Engagement

In relation to citizenship values, the main research findings indicate that some of the core beliefs and practices of Islam correspond with both liberal and republican traditions of citizenship in Western liberal democracies. There is a strong focus on values of equality, diversity and rights corresponding to the liberal tradition. At the same time, many of the core practices of the faith encourage practices of active citizenship through interventions committed to social justice and a ‘common good’.

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Media release Faculty of Arts and Education Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI)

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