Muslim life in Western society the focus of a York University conference

Many of the world’s leading scholars of Islam will speak at a York University conference on Muslim diasporas this weekend, focussing on the social, cultural and economic factors that encourage Muslims to form a collective religious identity when faced with inhospitable Western host societies.

The international conference, "Muslim Diasporas: religious and national identity, gender, cultural resistance", takes place June 1 to 3 at the Delta-Chelsea Hotel in downtown Toronto. It is part of a new Ford Foundation project that is an international, comparative and collaborative study of relations between Muslim diasporas and host societies in selected Western countries. The project is co-directed by York Professors Haideh Moghissi and Saeed Rahnema of the School of Social Sciences, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.

Rahnema, director of Atkinson’s School of Public Policy & Administration, will present a paper which argues that by ignoring the vast diversity of the Muslim population and making concessions to the conservative religious leaders, the government is changing the nature of Canadian multiculturalism. Professor Ratiba Hadj-Moussa and research assistant Karine Côté-Boucher, both from York’s Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, will speak about the Quebec National Assembly’s motion against sharia. Canadian scholars from the University of Calgary, Queen’s University and the University of Toronto will also be speaking.

One of the highlights of the conference will be a presentation by Tariq Ramadan, professor of Islamic Studies doing research at Oxford University in the UK, Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, Lakahi Foundation in London and Erasmus University in The Netherlands. Ramadan’s presentation will consider the provocative question in his presentation, "Do We Have a Muslim Diaspora: Multiculturalism, Integration and Media".

The conference features 26 speakers, from France, the Netherlands, the UK, Sweden, Belgium, Italy, the US and Canada, all leading experts in the field, including:

Haleh Afshar (left), professor of politics and women’s studies at the University of York, UK, Chair of United Nation Association’s International Services and its honorary president, will report on a year-long government-funded discussion between Muslim women in the UK about their rights entitlement and their demands.

Frank Buijs (right), from the Institute of Migration & Ethnic Studies, University of Amsterdam and scientific director of the inter-university Centre for Radicalism & Extremism Studies (CRES); adviser of the Ministry of Justice on extremism and terrorism; and adviser of Forum, institute for multicultural development, will speak on Muslim politics in Western Europe.

Maliheh Razazan, from Voices of the Middle East and North Africa on KPFA Radio in Berkeley, and a daily public affairs program on National Public Radio, whose presentation "Big Media, 9/11 and the war on journalism" will examine how major media outlets and neoconservatives failed to raise serious questions about US foreign policy in the wake of the 9/11 events.

Tareq Ismael (right), professor of political science at the University of Calgary, secretary general of the International Association of Middle Eastern Studies, and editor of the International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies, will discuss "Between Iraq and a Hard Place: Iraqis in Diaspora."

Sepideh Farkhondeh, from Sciences-Po, Paris, will look at how young French women of Muslim descent, and the Islamic headscarf, became the focus of a political debate about secularism at school.

Farhan Ahmad Nizami (left), founding director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and editor of the Journal of Islamic Studies, will speak on the topic "Being British, Feeling Muslim."

For a complete list of speakers and the workshop schedule, click