Identity, integration and wellbeing of British Muslims: a discourse analysis
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British Muslims make up the second largest, and fastest growing, non- Christian religious community in Britain. Because of this, their integration into society has become a focus of interest for academic study and in broader social and political debates. Despite this, the question of how Muslims make sense of their own religious identity remains relatively unexplored in previous research. The same is true for the question of how they construct understandings of what integration means to them and of how this relates to what they say about their own wellbeing. This thesis aims to fill these gaps in extant research and to provide a platform for the voices of this minority group to be heard. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 20 first generation and 20 second generation Muslim immigrants and a further four focus groups were also conducted. Gender was balanced across all of these. Data were analysed using discourse analysis focusing on participants’ discursive constructions of religion, identity, integration, wellbeing, and the problems that impacted on wellbeing. Analysis showed that British Muslims adopt a variety of forms of categorization in constructing their religious and ethnic identity. Some first generation Muslims focus on presenting their identities as flexible phenomena that depend upon the culture they are living in; others display a rigid religious identity. Second generation Muslims use hyphenated identities for defining the multiplicity of their belongings to Britain and their ethnic home country. Integration in Britain is usually welcomed by both generations but is described as being restricted and guided by religious boundaries. British Muslims construct happiness and unhappiness in relation to life in Britain in a complex manner. The most prevalent reasons they give for happiness are the religious freedom and security found in Britain. But these are described by comparing Britain with their home countries, where such freedoms and security are often said to be lacking. In a sense, this allows participants to legitimize their status as immigrants into Britain. Unhappiness is also associated with life in Britain, with references made to moral decline and to discrimination and racism. Participants also construct a sense of their wellbeing, or lack of it, in relation to other problems. They present Muslims’ selfs-egregation, and a lack of proper leadership among Muslims in Britain, as further major problems associated with living in Britain. However, while talking about these problems, participants seek to distance themselves from them by making vague attributions of agency and by indicating that such problems were faced by others rather than by themselves. When participants talk of ways in which Muslims’ wellbeing could be enhanced, they focus on Muslims’ own need for personal improvement but also on the need for responsible media coverage of Muslims and Islam. The thesis concludes by discussing these findings in relation to previous literature and by reviewing their implications for future policy, practice and research.