York conference in Amsterdam looks at issues facing Muslim diaspora

What are the issues hindering the integration of Muslims into their adopted western countries? That is the question York Professors Haideh Moghissi and Saeed Rahnema hope to answer with their  Ford Foundation project, a collaborative study of relations between Muslim diasporas and their western hosts.

As part of the project, York co-sponsored a conference at VU University Amsterdam in The Netherlands last month, which explored the religious and national identity, gender and cultural resistance of Muslim diasporas. The conference involved scholars from Sweden, Germany, France, the UK, the Netherlands, the US and Canada. It was the second conference organized through the project, the first was held in June 2007 and looked at the social, cultural and economic factors affecting Muslims in western societies.

Right: Co-organizer of the conference Professor Haleh Ghoreishi of Vrije University (left), Haideh Moghissi, Canadian Ambassador Jim Wall, Saeed Rahnema, Professor Farhad Nomani of the American University in Paris and Mark Goodman

Moghissi, a professor in York’s Atkinson School of Social Sciences, York political science Professor Rahnema and Mark Goodman, undergraduate program director in the Atkinson School of Social Sciences, presented the main findings of their major collaborative research initiatives project at the conference in Amsterdam dealing with tensions in diaspora and how Muslims in Canada are redefining multiculturalism. Their findings will be published in a forthcoming book, Diaspora by Design: Muslims in Canada and Beyond (University of Toronto Press, 2008).

The three-day conference included discussion on “Islam and inclusion” by Professor Tariq Modood, University of Bristol, England, who spoke about multicultural citizenship and Muslim identity politics. Modood is the director of the University Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship and the Bristol director of the Leverhulme Programme on Migration and Citizenship. Indiana University of Pennsylvania Professor Fauzia Ahmed, director of Women’s Studies, broached the subject of gender and Islam with a paper on Muslim feminist leadership in the diaspora.

Some of the other topics of interest touched on transnational relations and Islamic publics which delved into the complexity of communities and styles of religious leadership among Muslims in Europe.

Left: Some of the scholars who attended the conference in Amsterdam with Canadian Ambassador Jim Wall (front centre) at his residence near the Hague

The challenges faced by Muslim Youth was also addressed with Professor Jasmin Zine, Wilfrid Laurier University, speaking about the racial politics of the home-grown war on terror, while Professor Jonas Otterbeck of Sweden’s Malmo University discussed how young adult Muslims are negotiating Islamic traditions with family, friends and foes.

One of the highlights of the conference was an invitation by Canadian Ambassador Jim Wall to his historic residence near the Hague.

The conferences are designed to explore, compare and analyze socio-cultural and economic factors at the local and global levels which may negatively affect the dignified integration of Muslim populations in their new societies in Canada, France, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands. The goal is to identify and analyze various factors involved in the tension between the need of Muslim diaspora to adapt to their new country and their wish to maintain cultural continuity.

The conference was co-sponsored by VU University Amsterdam and the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World. Moghissi and Rahnema are planning a third conference next year around the theme of Islamism, secularism and state policies in Muslim-majority countries and in the west.