If you believe much commentary and political rhetoric about young Muslims, you’d think anyone aged 18 to 30 growing up in a Western country and identifying as Muslim shares a common genetic makeup.
Even much of the academic stuff on this topic, especially that emerging from the counterterrorism “industry” (recipient of plenty of research grants and media attention) says pretty much the same.
There are a few notable exceptions. One of them is UK scholar Dr Sadek Hamid’s 2016 work, Sufis, Salafis and Islamists: The Contested Ground of British Islamic Activism.
The title itself displays a nuance arising not only from academic research but actual on-the-ground experience.
The book started out as a PhD thesis which in turn was inspired by an irreverent article, published by a British Muslim journalist, which sought to explain in a humorous fashion all the various “players” that influenced the collective religious activism on UK campuses.
Hamid speaks not just of his own experiences but also about people from a host of factions, denominations, jamaah’s etc. These include “salafi da’wa” (in various forms), Hizb ut-Tahrir and “traditional” Islam.
(I’ve written something similar about Sydney Muslims of my own generation in Once Were Radicals, though my book only dealt with one generation of activism.)
Young British Muslims are at least a decade ahead of us Aussie Mossies when it comes to such devotional and ideological mass debates. But the faultlines of youth in London or Manchester aren’t the same as those in Lakemba or Broadmeadows.
For a start, British Islam (at least in its most public form) is largely a South Asian affair. South Asian Muslims are a complex mix of language, ethnicity and history. So are Aussie Muslims, though the language, history and politics are very different.
Pakistan is a Muslim-majority country. Bangladesh is also a Muslim-majority country that used to be part of Pakistan until a violent struggle saw a partition in 1971.
No doubt all this, not to mention Mughal and British colonial era stuff, have an impact on how British Muslims of South Asian heritage understand their faith as well as how their kids may rebel against it.
Australian Islam also has a strong South Asian element. But Australians of South Asian heritage, unlike their UK counterparts, have in recent times been a very middle-class phenomenon.
Meanwhile, UK Arabs are very middle-class while South Asians are more working class. Australia has a very substantial Turkish element which has been heavily influenced by the Turkish Diyanet (Ministry for Religious Affairs).
Religious divisions are largely based on divisions inside Turkey and among the European Turkish diaspora.
This doesn’t take into account Australia’s growing Shia communities of Iraqi, Lebanese, Afghan and South Asian backgrounds.
Last Muharram, I spent time among Sydney’s South Asian and Arab Shia communities. The difference between various groups were quite profound. If you thought Shia were blind lovers of all things Iranian, think again.
When it comes to Muslim youth variety, things can get very spicy indeed.