, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 207-227

Islamic identity and its role in the lives of young Swedish Muslims

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Abstract

This paper concerns the level of wellbeing experienced by Swedish Muslim youths and young adults as well as the ways in which this is influenced both positively and negatively by their sense of Islamic religious identity. Taking Akerlof and Crantons’ Treatise on “identity economics” as its point of departure, the paper explores, discusses and analyses the following two questions: (1) what are the contexts in which identification with Islam tends to facilitate the wellbeing of Swedish Muslim youths and young adults; and (2) what are the contexts in which identification with Islam tends to destabilize (or increase the sociocultural discomfort of) this same group. Here, the notion of Islam as a “resource” is important, since this underlines its potential to resolve the types of existential dilemmas that are often found to confront the young and undermine their sense of wellbeing. The paper bases its assessments on the results of a questionnaire concerning life, values, relations, leisure time activities and religion that was distributed to a total of 4,000 young Swedes, a certain number of whom identified themselves as “Muslims”. Apart from studying the survey’s Muslim-specific results, I have conducted a number of additional interviews with young Muslim respondents, aiming to extend our understanding beyond the strictly quantitative findings of the material. The survey indicates that, much like their Christian counterparts, a majority of the Muslim respondents considered their belief in Islam to be a private, personal matter; one-third described themselves as “seekers”—an identification that previous research has found to be associated primarily with secular majority youth. The results further indicate that a majority of Muslim youths have a low level of confidence in religious leaders and that very few are actively involved in mosque activities and the like; on the contrary, they prefer to spend their leisure hours earning money, being with friends and/or “working out” at the gym. While the survey found that the vast majority of Muslim respondents looked upon the social and spiritual dimensions of Islam as a positive resource, the interviews indicate that the ability of young Muslims to appropriately shift between different forms of cultural belonging is highly advantageous as well.