Young people, Islam and the significance of religious identities in British society

Authored by: Louise Ryan

Routledge Handbook of Youth and Young Adulthood

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138804357
eBook ISBN: 9781315753058
Adobe ISBN: 9781317619895


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In early 2015 British news media were awash with images of three teenage girls going through security checks at Gatwick airport and later entering a Turkish bus station. The girls, aged 15 and 16, were from East London and en route to Syria. They were among dozens of British citizens who had left the relative comfort and safety of their families and friends to enter into to a war zone and join the self-proclaimed ‘Calafat’ of the so-called Islamic State (IS). Across the UK, from the prime minister to the police, teachers, journalists and families, the same question was being asked: why? What motivated young people born and reared in Britain to risk their lives in Syria? The finger of blame was most easily pointed to the internet and online radicalisation through a range of social media sources including Twitter and Facebook. There is a growing body of research on the extent to which Muslims encounter increasing alienation and vilification in many Western countries, especially in the wake of 9/11 and 7/7 (Abbas, 2007; Modood, 2009; Ahmad and Sardar, 2012). Processes of vilification have led to a more self-conscious sense of collective identity as Muslims (Werbner, 2007; Dwyer et al., 2008). This has influenced the emergence of ‘revivalist Islam’: ‘a return to basic principles and an emphasis on the significance of Islamic thought for all aspects of life’ (Kibria, 2008:244). For young people in particular, this may provide an attractive source of ‘community, support and self-esteem’ (Kibria, 2008:246). A central tenet of ‘revivalist Islam’ is the concept of a global umma – ‘a transnational supra-geographical community of fellow Muslims’ (Kibria, 2008:244).

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