Muslim Participation in Contemporary Governance

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Sociology


This research addresses the novel responses by government to the role of religion in public life by investigating the emerging significance of Muslim religious values, practices and engagement within contemporary governance. It explores: how current government strategies and policies relating to citizenship recognise and respond to Muslim religious difference; how participatory forms of governance engage with Muslim groups, religious values and identities; and the impact of Muslims' participation in governance on policy processes and outcomes and for the organisation of and relations between Muslim civil society organisations more broadly.
The research explores these issues through analysis of national and local government policies and statements relating to citizenship, equalities, integration and diversity, considering how these refer to and recognise Muslim religious difference. This is extended by qualitative research with state and Muslim actors involved in participatory governance exploring how their understandings of religious identities, values and practices shape their engagement and the impact of this on policy processes and outcomes.
The research analyses and compares these processes at national and local levels investigating how different contexts may produce different governance practices and understandings of the role of Muslims in public life, and variations in local responses to national level policies and statements. The research explores how and why some Muslim groups and actors enter into governance at these levels, and the impact this has on relations between Muslim civil society organisations. These questions are investigated through empirical work at national level and in three localities: Birmingham, Leicester and Tower Hamlets. These areas are selected as they have significant, different and diverse Muslim populations, varying ethnic and religious demographic profiles and where the politics of governing religion and diversity are quite different.
The research team brings together wide-ranging expertise in the fields of governance, participation, Islam, multicultural citizenship, public policy and local politics and includes: Dr O'Toole (PI, University of Bristol), who has considerable research experience in the fields of political participation, governance, local and community politics and qualitative research; Professor Modood (CI, University of Bristol) who is a leading authority on multiculturalism, British Muslims and citizenship and has a track record of public engagement on these issues; Dr Meer (research consultant, University of Southampton) who has carried out extensive research on Muslim, multicultural and race equality politics; and an External Advisory Group of local and national publicly engaged experts. The team will also employ one Research Officer for 30 months to assist in research design and implementation and one Research Associate for 12 months to assist with local case-study fieldwork.
The research will inform current debates on multiculturalism, cohesion, citizenship, the role of religion - and particularly Islam - in public life, and the interplay between secular and religious values in participatory governance. It will be of value to academic, policy-maker and civil society audiences. The research will engage over the life of the project with these audiences by: working with an External Advisory Group; publishing outputs for academic audiences; hosting a national conference and three workshops in the three localities to engage academic, policy-maker, practitioner and civil society actors. The team will also produce a research report and policy briefings to maximise the impact of the research findings.

Planned Impact

The research will engage with and benefit:
- policy-makers at national and local levels including representatives and officials from the DCLG and Home Office, Birmingham City Council, Leicester City Council and Tower Hamlets Borough Council. The team will feedback research findings to these audiences through workshops, policy briefing papers and invitation to the end of research conference.
- practitioners from think-tanks, including the IPPR, Demos, Young Foundation and Islamic Foundation. The team will build on existing contacts and links with External Advisory Group members to forge links with these organisations, to engage with them in discussing interim and final research findings and disseminate policy briefings to them. Representatives from these organisations will also be invited to the end of research conference.
- practitioners from equalities organisations, including the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and local level equalities units and diversity advisors. Contact with these actors will be established through the EAG and they will be invited to the end of research conference and included in policy briefings.
- local communities and Muslim third sector organisations in Birmingham, Leicester and Tower Hamlets. The team will invite those groups and actors that were contacted through, or who participated in, the research process to a local feedback workshop that will take place in each city. These workshops will focus on sharing and reflecting on experiences of participatory governance and policies relating to Muslim values and perspectives across localities. These local community and third sector organisations will also be invited to the end of research conference and to receive the final research report and policy briefings.
The team will share its findings with these audiences through distribution of hard copies and electronic versions of its final research report. These audiences will be invited to the end of research conference, which will feature a roundtable discussion, on which representatives from the above groups will be invited to participate.
The team will consult its External Advisory Group in relation to its dissemination strategy and seek opportunities to engage wider audiences through the activities of the EAG members and the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol.
Description Muslim participation in governance and the impact of Prevent: Local contexts matter

Since it was launched in 2007, the aims and rationale of the government's counter-extremism Prevent agenda have been widely criticised, and its implementation frequently hampered by negative and hostile perceptions. It is important to consider nonetheless the local contexts in which Prevent has been implemented, and how local actors responded to and conducted community engagement under the rubric of Prevent. These were frequently shaped by existing local models and practices of engagement with local communities.
These were some of the key findings of a study of Muslim Participation in Contemporary Governance, that was carried out in 2010-2012, based on documentary analysis, participant-observation and qualitative interviews with 112 Muslim civil society actors, community activists, faith representatives, councillors, politicians, civil servants and policy advisors, at national level and in three local case study areas of Leicester, Tower Hamlets and Birmingham.

Key findings

Leicester: a faith-based paradigm

In Leicester, faith is a distinctive feature of the city's celebratory discourses on diversity and multiculturalism, with faith actors and inter-faith structures occupying a prominent place in local governance networks and forums, such that - in the words of one local actor - in Leicester 'faith is everywhere'. Whilst there was local opposition to the implementation of Prevent in Leicester at the outset, it nonetheless developed in a collaborative manner, with Muslim representatives and interfaith bodies playing a significant role in (re)shaping Prevent to address local objectives.

When Prevent was introduced in 2007, Leicester City Council was initially reluctant to implement it, fearing it would damage its (carefully built) engagement with local Muslim populations and alienate its substantial Hindu and Sikh populations. As in Bristol, Prevent in Leicester was rebranded - as 'Mainstreaming Moderation', in an effort to avoid what was locally perceived as the negative connotations of 'Prevent'. From the outset, it was focused on addressing all forms of violent extremism - before this became central government policy. Consequently, one local Muslim activist in Leicester, and a member of the Mainstreaming Moderation forum, commented: 'Leicester tended to take a whole different approach to the whole thing. [] the money came in under the Prevent agenda - that was well known - but Leicester tended to unpack that [] so you didn't feel like [] you were under the whole national Prevent agenda'.

Following the revised 2011 strategy, since 2012, Prevent has been delivered by a local inter-faith centre in Leicester: St Philips Centre. The St Philips Centre has a particular focus on integration initiatives; indeed it also ran the DCLG's 'Near Neighbours' programme, with responsibility for distributing funding for cross-community initiatives aimed at promoting cohesion. Consequently, Leicester has tended to have a strong focus on an inter-faith, collaborative and integration/cohesion based approach to understanding and implementing Prevent.

Tower Hamlets: a cohesion approach

In Tower Hamlets, the local implementation of the 2007 Prevent strategy was, as in many other cities, closely aligned to the community cohesion agenda, with relatively less emphasis on hard-edge security. Thus, local agencies and community organisations drew down funding to enable youth work, women's projects and inclusion initiatives among Muslim communities. Consequently, prior to 2010, only four of the 28 Prevent projects funded in Tower Hamlets were related to 'hard edge' security concerns, with the rest largely focused on community cohesion and social inclusion objectives. As a local Prevent Manager in Tower Hamlets reflected, under Labour: 'Prevent was led very autonomously to a large degree' and that 'each local authority took it in some way which it felt was best'.

In 2012, the projects that were proposed by Tower Hamlets under the government's new approach were initially rejected by central government as 'too cohesion oriented'. Subsequently, Tower Hamlets Council set out to create locally-shaped projects that served its aims along with those of central government, such as the 'No Place for Hate' programme, which excluded extremist preachers while also emphasising local cohesion in the face of threats from the far right. Tower Hamlets, then, tended to draw on well-developed relationships with community organisations and actors to develop an approach to Prevent that was responsive to local concerns.

Birmingham: a securitized approach

By contrast, in Birmingham, the implementation of Prevent was much more contested. From the outset, Birmingham City Council raised few objections to implementing the 2007 Prevent strategy, and in the early days did secure cooperation from some Muslim organisations. But suspicion towards Prevent began to arise fairly soon after its inception. In particular, perceptions that community engagement under Prevent was police-led arose due to the secondment of a police officer from the regional Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) into the City Council's Equalities Division to take the lead on Prevent inside the Council. By 2010, suspicion towards Prevent intensified due to 'Project Champion'. Whilst not itself a Prevent initiative, Project Champion did much to undermine Prevent. Project Champion was a police surveillance operation involving installation of 216 closed-circuit television (CCTV) and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras (overt and covert) in two areas of Muslim settlement in Birmingham, creating a 'surveillance ring' around these areas. Importantly, the counter-terrorism purpose of the cameras was concealed from local residents, with the cameras badged as a 'crime safety initiative' and its consultation with local community subsequently criticized by a Thames Valley Police Report. The revelation of the counter-terrorism purpose of Project Champion had damaging implications for Prevent. By 2011, there were very high levels of suspicion of Prevent, with few projects underway, such that for many Prevent came to be regarded, in the words of one interviewee, as 'dead in this city'. Muslim community engagement in Birmingham, then, has tended to be hampered by both the dominance of the security paradigm, and limited and top-down approaches to community engagement by the city council.


These case studies suggest that local models and practices of engagement with Muslim communities vary in approach (as well as in quality). Importantly, where engagement was reconceived in broader terms than those set out by the Prevent agenda, and where models and practices responded to local contexts, and created scope for Muslim civil society actors to shape initiatives and agendas, engagement initiatives tended to achieve better collaboration and participation from Muslim communities.

The findings suggest that local mechanisms and structures for Muslim civic engagement are important, and can contribute to a range of agendas - including integration, cohesion, equalities, and security and counterterrorism. Importantly, such engagement is improved where actors do not confine engagement to the needs of a security or counter extremism agenda, and are responsive to local issues and concerns.
Exploitation Route Key recommendations

1. The promotion of Muslim civic engagement is beneficial for a range of agendas (including integration, cohesion, equalities and counter-terrorism), but it should not be subsumed within a counter-extremism agenda.

2. Multiple mechanisms for Muslim civic engagement need to be developed - from local to national level.

3. These need to be open to a range of perspectives and participants (including a range of different voices, women, young people, and new migrant groups).

4. Promoting Muslim civic engagement will require commitment and resources.

5. The promotion of mechanisms for Muslim civic engagement at local level should allow for locally-sensitive models and practices to emerge - a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

6. Civic engagement that is developed under the rubric of a counter-extremism agenda, or which is closely associated with Prevent, is unlikely to succeed.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Therese O'Toole gave oral evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement on 25th October 2017 on the impact of Prevent on Muslim civic engagement.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description AHRC Follow on Funding Scheme
Amount £92,370 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/K004042/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2013 
End 06/2014
Description Connected Communities
Amount £186,299 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2013 
End 01/2015
Description Faith and governance: why local context matters 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk brought together a range of speakers from academia and faith based organisations, including Paul Weller (University of Derby); Maqsood Ahmed (Muslim Hands); Rebecca Catto (Coventry University); Shabana Kauser (Salaam Shalom) and and Daniel Singleton (FaithAction), Therese O'Toole and Stephen Jones (University of Bristol). It facilitated discussion among the panellists and with the audience.

The talk stimulated discussion of the significance of local contexts in shaping faith and public policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Oral evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was invited to give oral evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement on Wednesday 25th October 2017 on the impact of Prevent on Muslim civic engagement. My evidence to the Select Committee was cited in the Select Committee's 2018 report to government 'The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century.'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
Description Taking Part: Muslim Participation in Governance 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event launched the final report of the Muslim Participation in Contemporary Governance research project. The report Taking Part: Muslim Participation in Contemporary Governance (2013) was presented at a public event at Bishopsgate Institute on 31st January 2013, in which three expert panellists, Dilwar Hussain (New Horizons in British Islam), Humera Khan (An-Nisa Society) and Professor Maleiha Malik (Kings College London) commented on the report. The event was attended by an audience of 60 academics, civil servants, Muslim civil society organisations and faith actors.

Participants received copies of the research report and subscribed to the mailing list of Public Spirit - a Knowledge Exchange forum that follows on from the Muslim Participation in Governance project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Talk to the Bristol Commonwealth Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 19th March 2015, talk to the Bristol Commonwealth Society on 'Integration through participation: Muslims and governance in Bristol'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description The Politics of Religious Diversity in Britain 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Event at Toynbee Hall in September 2011 that featured responses to the interim findings of our research on Muslims and governance by Sunder Katwala (Director British Future), Kris Hopkins MP and Fiyaz Mughal (Director Faith Matters). This event was attended by an audience of 70 policy-makers, civil servants, Muslim civil society organisations, academics.

The event stimulated interest in our research from audience members and panellists.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
Description Visit and talk to the Flemish Peace Institute 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact 27th September 2013, Flemish Peace Institute: invited expert speaker to discuss 'Engaging with Muslims: the significance of local contexts', at a session on Societal conflict management: the role of urban communities in violence prevention, held at the Flemish Parliament, Brussels, Belgium.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013