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


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.

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  1. 1.

    The congregational estimate is derived from the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities (SST).

  2. 2.

    The English translation of Religion som resurs? is: Is Religion a Resource? This article is a revised and English version of Berglund 2011, a chapter of a book in which the results of the full survey are published (Lövheim and Bromander 2011)

  3. 3.

    In formulating their questions, the researchers (Mia Lövheim and Jonas Bromander) looked at previous studies that focused primarily on young people’s health, lifestyle, values and activities (Ungdomsstyrelsen 2003, 2007). They also looked at the extensive American National Study of Youth and Religion (Smith and Lundquist Denton 2005).

  4. 4.

    Regarding these dimensions, see, for example, Glock and Stark 1965.

  5. 5.

    The question posed in the questionnaire was: How much do you feel belonging to: a) Christianity, b) Islam, c) Judaism, d) Buddhism or Hinduism e) other. Alternative grading for these were: 1) Not at all, 2) Rather little, 3) Neither, 4) Rather much, 5) Totally.

  6. 6.

    31 % were born in Sweden, 30 % elsewhere in Europe and 39 % outside Europe. The corresponding percentages for the other young people are 94 % born in Sweden, 2.5 % in Europe and 3.5 % outside Europe.

  7. 7.

    Corresponds to the following statement about family background in the questionnaire: “I have grown up in a religiously active home”. Five answers were possible: 1) Not at all, 2) Rather little, 3) Neither or, 4) Rather much, 5) Totally. Those who answer four and five are together considered “Religiously Active”.

  8. 8.

    See, for example: Runnymede Trust 1997; Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims in the EU: Developments Since September 11 2005. The Fight Against Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Bringing Communities Together 2003.

  9. 9.

    Islamophobia—A Challenge to Us All, Runnymede Trust 1997, p. 4.

  10. 10.

    i.e., an act of discrimination, abuse or insult against Islam, a Muslim or an object or artifact associated with Islam. See: The Situation of Muslim Communities in the EU - Manifestations of Islamophobia (2006), EUMC, Vienna. See also: Otterbeck and Bevelander 2006, p. 9–11. The Swedish National Encyclopedia defines the word as “fear of Islam, the exaggerated perception that Islam leads to negative conduct and that Muslim presence constitutes a danger to the community”. See also Gardell 2010.

  11. 11.

    This is an English translation; the original titles read as follows: “Forum för levande historia” ; “Brottsförebyggande rådet”; and, Intolerans—Antisemitiska, homofobiska, islamofobiska och invandrarfientliga tendenser bland unga (Ring and Morgentau 2004).

  12. 12.

    Intolerance - Anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamophobic and xenophobic tendencies among young 2004, p.78.

  13. 13.

    The name of this 2006 study is Islamofobi—en studie av begreppet, ungdomars attityder och unga muslimers utsatthet (Islamophobia: A Term Study of the Attitudes of Young People Towards Muslim and Young Muslims’ Feelings of Vulnerability). It was initiated by the “Forum for Living History” and the “National Council for Crime Prevention”.

  14. 14.

    Otterbeck and Bevelanders’ study is based on a classroom survey of schoolchildren in grades eight and nine in compulsory school and grades one, two and three in high school. They write, among other things, that “vulnerability is greater in primary schools than in high school, which is in line with our previous analysis in which young people, particularly in the third year of high school, have a more positive attitude towards Muslims” (Otterbeck and Bevelander 2006:12).

  15. 15.

    See, for example Årsredovisning [Annual report]2010, Diskriminieringsombudsmannen 2010 [Discrimination Ombudsman].

  16. 16.

    Interview with Nadia 17 May 2010.

  17. 17.

    Tugrul’s friend’s name is not actually Hassan and he changed his name to something other than Sten Silvergrind, but the principle for the choice of name is the same.

  18. 18.

    Interview with Tugrul 10 June 2010.

  19. 19.

    Larsson shows that a large proportion of the Imams have full time jobs in addition to being an Imam, a fact that may well affect the occurrence of, for example, youth activities.

  20. 20.

    See, for example, and

  21. 21.

    Interview with Tugrul 10 June 2010. Tugrul also argued, somewhat tongue in cheek, that “faith can postpones the Day of Judgment by motivating political activism on issues of justice, allocation and sustainable development.” A comment like this shows that, one way or another, the researcher always affects the interview situation.

  22. 22.

    E-mail correspondence 16 October 2010.

  23. 23.

    Interview with Aysha 12 April 2010.

  24. 24.

    A study of young Muslims who are neither focused on institutions, organizations or revivalist movements is Jonas Otterbeck’s (2010) Study of Contemporary Islam (Samtidsislam).

  25. 25.

    Interview 3 May 2010.

  26. 26.

    22 % of the young Muslims say they turn to “priest, imam or other religious representative” when concerned. Note that the study does not show, however, if Muslims turns to Imams or priest and other representatives.

  27. 27.

    They answered that they felt ”rather much” or ”totally” belonging to Christianity, cf. footnote 5.

  28. 28.

    Interview with Jafar 11 May 2010.


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Correspondence to Jenny Berglund.

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Berglund, J. Islamic identity and its role in the lives of young Swedish Muslims. Cont Islam 7, 207–227 (2013).

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  • Swedish Muslims’ wellbeing
  • Identity
  • Identity economics
  • Minority
  • Youth