Being a young British Iraqi Shii in London: exploring diasporic cultural and religious identities between Britain and Iraq


Relying on an ethnographic research conducted both in the UK and Iraq, this article explores issues of cultural and religious identities among London-based young British Iraqi Shiis. Using Stuart Hall’s notions of ‘articulation’ and ‘new ethnicities’, I analyse how different realities and experiences of space and class shape young British Iraqi Shiis self-identification in relation to socio-political, religious and ethnic belongings.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    In London between November 2015 and June 2016, I have formally interviewed young British Iraqi Shii between the age of 20 to 36 years old: five young men and seven young females.

  2. 2.

    A Shii Muslim student society.

  3. 3.

    Followers of Muhammed al-Shirazi who tends to focus on Muharram rituals and on the city of Karbala.

  4. 4.

    Shii main religious educational institution based in Najaf.

  5. 5.

    Marja’ or Marja’ al-taqlid is the highest religious authority in Shii Islam, many Shiis consider that they should choose and follow one marja’ that will provide them religious guidance.

  6. 6.

    This was also observed by Shanneik (2013) among the diaspora and Deeb (2006) in the Lebanese context.

  7. 7.

    Arabic term for religious preacher.


  1. Asad, T. (2003). Formations of the secular: Christianity, Islam, modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bowen, I. (2014). Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent. Inside British Islam (pp. 135–164). London: Hurst & Company.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Davie, G., & Hervieu-Léger, D. (1996). Identités religieuses en Europe. Paris: La Découverte.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Deeb, L. (2006). An enchanted modern. Gender and public piety in Shii Lebanon. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Faleh, J.A. (2003). The shiite movement in Iraq. London: Saqi.

  6. Farouk-Sluglett, M., & Sluglett, P. (1987). Iraq since 1958. From Revolution to Dictatorship. London: I.B. Tauris.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Haddad, F. (2011). Sectarianism in Iraq: Antagonistic Visions of Unity. London: C.Hurst and Co Publishers Ltd..

    Google Scholar 

  8. Haddad, F. (2014). A sectarian awakening: reinventing sunni identity in Iraq after 2003. Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, 17(Aug 2014), 70–101.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Hall, S. (1986). On postmodernism and articulation. An interview with Stuart Hall with Lawrence Grossberg. In Journal of Communication Inquiry, 10(2), 45–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Hall, S. (1990). Cultural Identity and Diaspora. In J. Rutherford (Ed.), Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (pp. 222–237). London: Lawrence and Wishart.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Hall, Stuart (1996a) Introduction: who needs identity? In S. Hall and P. du Gay (Eds.) Questions of Cultural Identity (pp1–17) London: Sage.

  12. Hall, Stuart (1996b) New ethnicities. In D. Morley and K. Hsing Chen (Eds.) Stuart Hall Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies (pp442–441) New York, London: Routledge.

  13. Hall, S. (1997). The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity. In A. D. King (Ed.), Culture, Globalization and the World-System: Contemporary Conditions for the Representation of Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Ismael, Tareq Y. & Ismael Jaqueline S. (2015) Iraq in the twenty-first century. Regime change and the making of a failed state. London & New York: Routledge.

  15. Louër, L. (2008). Transnational Shii Politics. Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf. London, Hurst & Company.

  16. Luizard. (1991). La formation de l’Irak contemporain, Le rôle politique des ulémas chiites à la fin de la domination ottomane et au moment de la création de l’Etat irakien. Paris: CNRS.

    Google Scholar 

  17. McLoughlin, S., & Cesari, J. (2005). European Muslims and the Secular State. Abington & New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Mervin, Sabrina (2007) Les mondes chiites et l’Iran. Karthala-IFPO.

  19. Nasr, Vali (2007) The Shii Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

  20. Shanneik, Yafa (2013) Gendering Religious Authority in the Diaspora: Shii Women in Ireland, in: Religion, Gender and the Public Sphere, ed. by Niamh Reilly and Stacey Scriver-Furlong. New York: Routledge.

  21. Shanneik, Y., Heinhold, C., & Ali, Z. (2017). Mapping Shia Muslim communities in Europe: local and transnational dimensions. Special Issue: Journal of Muslims in Europe, 6(2).

  22. Spellman-Poots (2008) Manifestations of Ashura Among Young British Shiis in Dupret & al. (eds.) Ethnographies of Islam. Ritual Performances and Everyday Practices (pp40–49). Edinburgh: Edinburg University Press.

  23. Tripp, C. (2000). A History of Iraq. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Zubaida. (1991). Community, Class and Minorities in Iraqi Politics. In R. A. Fernea & W. M. Roger Louis (Eds.), The Iraqi Revolution of 1958. The Old Social Classes Revisited (pp. 197–210). London: I. B. Tauris.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Zubaida. (2002). The fragments imagine the nation: the Case of Iraq. International Journal of Middle East Studies, Special Issue: Nationalism and the Colonial Legacy in the Middle East and Central Asia, 34(2), 205–215.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zahra Ali.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This article is based on the research project “Karbala in London”: transnational Shi’i networks between Britain and the Middle East, supervised by Oliver Scharbrodt at the Chester Centre for Islamic Studies, University of Chester. The article expands on my research presentations at the BRAIS conference (London, April 2016) and at the Shii Minorities in the Contemporary World conference (University of Chester, May 2016).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ali, Z. Being a young British Iraqi Shii in London: exploring diasporic cultural and religious identities between Britain and Iraq. Cont Islam 13, 349–367 (2019).

Download citation


  • Transnational Shii Islam
  • Iraqi Shiism
  • Sectarianism
  • British Shii Muslims