Political Muslims

Understanding Youth Resistance in a Global Context

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Tahir Abbas, Sadek Hamid
Contemporary Issues in the Middle East
  • Syracuse, NY: 
    Syracuse University Press
    , February
     336 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The volume edited by Tahir Abbas and Sadek Hamid, Political Muslims, provides a patchwork quilt of identities and distinct geographical struggles an individual faces as a Muslim and as a participant of a nation state. The book displays the fluctuating journey of Muslim youth, by tracing the contemporary battle of being among the generation which grew up alongside the identity crisis following the social inhibitions and political dilemmas caused by 9/11. From the covers of coercively imputed silences encroaching from the valley of Kashmir to the hidden music of “Generation Next” behind the music for democracy and rights in Pakistan, the book offers a kaleidoscope lens to look at the distinct yet converging pictures of fluid identities of those often merged into one frame as Muslims of the world.

Chapter 1 deals with the daily struggles of Black American Muslim youth and their experiential differences from immigrant Muslim peers because of their erasure and invisibility as Muslims. The study brings out the modality of challenges developed through religious connections and cultural heritage against white supremacy amongst Black Muslim youth (25). It reviews the importance of these experiences in providing the Black Muslim youth the social capital needed to normalize Islam and thus be at the forefront of the indigenization of Islam in America (34).

The second chapter describes the problem of the faith and activism in examining the nature and worldview of the Canadian Muslim Student Associations (MSA) as campus based social movements and the significances of counter-publics that promote specific religious ideologies and goals and connect Muslim youth with national and transnational struggles that politicize their identities as Canadian Muslims (53). The study brings a fresh light to the creation of new subcultures amongst Muslim youth through negotiating spaces for Islamic identities in a transnational sense. The layers of confrontation and deliberation executed through MSA activities are one subaltern counterpublic in Canadian university environment incorporating larger questions of social justice, advocacy, and equity-based activism in the Eurocentric public sphere.

Chapter 4 is a relevant story of postmodern identity battles among youth of the cosmopolitan yet limited self of the pervasive nation state of present-day Britain. It is fascinating to feel the battle of identity the third generation British-born Bangladeshis have to go through in their lives. The study is a difficult yet realistic depiction of identity choices, rejections, reconstructions, and sometimes even reinvention in the making of “story of non-belongingness and ping-pong generation” (99).

An important menace faced by Muslim youth is structural exclusion and stigmatization. Chapter 5 examines the collective strategies of Muslim youth in Switzerland in their ways of coping and resistance. It is fascinating how Muslim youth groups indulge in creating social counter-images towards building social recognition along with self-strengthening activities as a community of belongingness.

A color added to the rainbow of young Muslims is the brilliant study by Shehnaz Haqqani (chapter 7) on the Pushtun women bloggers and their engagement with the challenges of marginality, empowerment, and constant struggle for recognition. Internet becomes central in this new phase of self-awareness in the face of recurring religious extremism and patriarchy simultaneously. It is inspiring how blogging provides them the space in which they can share thoughts and ideas that they are often unable to share in physical spaces (191). The study provides an alternative point of view to the popular media portrayal of Pashtun women as victims of their own culture. They present an empowered individualistic struggle for a space in a world that they themselves monitor and dominate.

Next is the story of the changing of the tune of Pakistani music and its subtle political flavor that often goes unnoticed by the western lens of painting all Muslims with one brush. Chapter 8 brings out the multifaceted development of Pakistani music, media, and mass culture as a powerful and ever-expanding source of desire towards becoming better. The unnoted tuning of the musicians and the attention to civic matters, such as the religious identity battles and socio-political reform, is exemplary for South Asian postcolonial politics.

Chapter 9 focuses on the critical thinking forum in the de-radicalization of Pakistani youth. The study highlights the reasons behind disillusionment and radicalization amongst the Pakistani youth especially in the wake of Islamophobia post–9/11 and the crucial role that civil organizations play in the grassroots healing process towards peace. It explores the role of academic spaces, youth alliances, and welfare organizations in countering the malice of society at large.  

Throughout the excellent volume is a recurrent theme of “normalisation of Islam” and “indigenization of Islamic cultural interactions” through youth engagements in different parameters of global society. From acceptance of religious norms amongst the MSAs in Canada to the realization of the strength of pen against violence in Kashmir valley, this is a story of how Muslim youth is so much more than a uniform identity developed as a result of orientalist writings. This book is crucial for those meaning to research further the diversity that exists in Muslim societies across the globe. In many ways the edited volume is a Pandora’s box into layers of identity, social stigmas, cultural burdens, heritage, and lived realities interfering in the making of self in the 21st century—especially for the Muslims who are far from singularity of any type. Each chapter is an entry port into a new social system of people and socio-political challenges which the Muslim youth engages with the help of different tools of resistance, acceptance, negotiations in order to situate and re-situate themselves in different times and spaces.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Zeba Khan is a doctoral fellow at the Department of International Relations at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University in Ankara, Turkey.

Date of Review: 
August 11, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Tahir Abbas is Visiting Senior Fellow in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. He is the author of Contemporary Turkey in Conflict: Ethnicity, Islam, and Politics.

Sadek Hamid is Senior Research Assistant at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. He is the author of Young British Muslims: Between Rhetoric and Realities.


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