Muslim Youth and Political Participation in Scotland - Involving young people in social research

Date: 22nd March 2017
Category: Non-discrimination

A group of young people from Glasgow's Shawlands Academy have recently been involved in a research project on young Muslim's engagement with politics. The report itself has generated a publication guide on best practice when involving young people in social research.

Students at the Academy have identified some key points when involving young people in research. Whilst they recognise the value in contributing to research and being given a voice, it is important for them to know what the research will be about and what is going to change as a result of it. Once research is finished, young people want feedback from the researchers to tell them what they found and if the research was successful and where it will be disseminated. Together's annual State of Children's Rights repeatedly find these same issues across all areas of participation of children and young people, who continually state their wish for the feedback loop to be closed and to receive full and timely information as well as reassurance that the information they provide will be confidential unless otherwise stated.


Muslim Youth and Political Participation in Scotland

The research itself explores the political participation and political concerns of young Muslims, aged 15 to 27, who live in Scotland. Through a qualitative interview approach, the researchers investigated the ways that young Muslims in Scotland participate in politics, what political concerns they have, and what barriers and challenges they encounter when engaging with political issues.

The political concerns and interests of young Muslims was found to encompass:

  • A diversity of global issues. Participants demonstrated a strong awareness of international political affairs, and global issues that incorporated rhetoric against Muslims were especially concerning for many participants.
  • A knowledge and interest in a variety of national and local Scottish matters. Distinctive aspects of Scottish politics, such as the Independence referendum, were of particular interest to many participants.
  • Media and political representations of Muslims, which often project a negative, sensationalist and biased image. Greater participation by Muslims in politics and the media was frequently seen as a way of countering such representations.

Regarding political participation of young Muslims:

  • The majority of young Muslims actively engaged in politics to some degree, ranging from conventional electoral politics to less conventional forms, such as social activism and charity work.
  • An active engagement with Scottish electoral politics was identified as a core form of political participation. Distinctive features of Scotland's political landscape, such as the independence referendum, Scottish nationalism and the SNP, were integral to participation in mainstream politics.
  • Social movements and activism were a salient feature of many participants' political engagement and incorporated a range of organisations, including international, grassroots and university groups.
  • Charity, community and volunteering work was carried out by most participants, highlighting a widespread interest in this form of public participation.

Barriers and challenges to political participation:

  • Everyday experiences of Islamophobia and racism are potentially very discouraging factors in the participation in politics by young Muslims.
  • Negative media and political representations of Muslims and their interpretations of government policies, such as 'Prevent', are significant barriers to political participation, damaging the confidence of young Muslims.
  • The reinforcement of gender stereotypes about Muslim women - both within Muslim groups and within society at large - present challenges to their engagement in politics.
  • A lack of understanding about mainstream politics and the policies of political parties can put young people off engaging with politics and political issues.
  • Download the research findings 'Muslim Youth and Political Participation in Scotland' here.

The Prevent Strategy

In November 2016, Together published its annual State of Children's Rights report. It found:

A 2016 report by Rights Watch (UK) outlines 'a catalogue of serious violations of the human rights protections the UK government, and public institutions such as schools, owe to individuals, particularly children' resulting from the Prevent Strategy. These include violations of rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, the right to education, the right to privacy, the freedom from discrimination, and the principle that decisions made with respect to children must afford their best interests primary importance. The effect of Prevent on inquiry and discussion is identified as risking the counterproductive marginalisation and radicalisation that the Prevent Strategy was developed to stop.

A number of Together's members have raised concerns about the appropriateness of using a network of education professionals in the frontline of counter-terrorism efforts. Roshni notes that according to its own research and experience hosting live events and national conferences, there is significant concern that these strategies have the potential to alienate children from different cultural backgrounds. There is specific concern that rights to privacy, freedom of belief and freedom of movement are being infringed directly by counter-extremism policies.