The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Sughra Ahmed is a Research Fellow at the Policy Research Centre, which is based at the Islamic Foundation in Leicestershire and specialises in research, policy advice and training on issues related to British Muslims.
By Sughra Ahmed
It may seem well and good to think children should be seen and not heard – there’s nothing wrong with a touch of Victorian, especially true during a good movie! But what if the censored are not young children at all? What if they are flashpoints in our conversations on not so trivial subjects, you know, things like national security, integration and democracy. And what if, instead of listening, we systematically speak on their behalf, saying what they are thinking and how they fit into the whole social and political spectrum. (Photo: Woman at “Muslims Against Terrorism” rally in London, 11 Sept 2007/Toby Melville)
Enter young British Muslims, but please sit down over there in one group, and mind you don’t speak – we have interpreters for that: a choice of representative institutions, community spokespersons, experts on what young people think, and media sound bytes. Yes, much is said and written about young Muslims, not only in black ink but leapfrogging from blog to blog and showing no signs of tiring. Rarely though, is it the young voices themselves. Commentators of many persuasions seem keen to tell us how and what a silent majority from British Muslims think. If it’s not the majority then certainly a large proportion .
Let’s take a look at the basics: nearly half of British Muslims are under 25 and overwhelmingly British born, about a third are 16 or under. Half are women (I feel a need to state the obvious) and most are not in northern former mill towns (less than 5% of British Muslims actually live in ‘popular imagination’ Bradford).
We are used to hearing about young Muslims in the context of radicalisation of Muslim opinion, but their lives are far more complex. There is an untold story of intergenerational challenges, the role of community leadership and its short comings as well as alienation from institutions of wider society. But the picture is not all bad – young people feel a strong sense of national pride and really want to do things to make their lives better.