'Non-Muslim' and Muslim youth: religious identities, Islamophobia and everyday geopolitics

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Geog, Politics and Sociology


Although research has drawn attention to the phenomenon of Islamophobia, very little has been said about how Islamophobia influences the lives of 'non-Muslim' minority ethnic young people who might be mistaken for being Muslim and how this relates to their feelings about those who affiliate with the Islamic faith. The unique aspect of this study is the inclusion of this category of young people as a focus of research. This novel project has four interrelated aims:

1. To explore the issue of Islamophobia in relation to the experiences of 'non-Muslim' and Muslim youths (aged 12-25) in Scotland who are targeted because they look Muslim, and to explain how different religious, ethnic and minoritised youth experience and understand Islamophobia, the impact of this on community relations, social cohesion and integration.
2. To analyse these experiences within a framework that takes cognisance of the intersectionality of ethnicity with other relevant positionalities such as religion, gender, social class and locality
3. To detail how young people understand and negotiate 'everyday geopolitics'. We use the term 'everyday geopolitics' to refer to the ways in which international, national, state and local political issues shape, and are shaped by, people's everyday lives.
4. To problematise polarised discourses which see young people as either politically disengaged and apathetic or politically radicalised and extreme.

This project focuses on groups who may often be the targets of Islamophobia. To date there has been little if any research on this topic or the impact of geopolitical events on their religious and cultural identities of young people in the UK or in Scotland. The groups we will consult are:
- 'non-Muslim' Asian people;
- asylum-seekers and refugees;
- Eastern European migrants;
- international students;
- and Muslims.
A series of 15 group discussions (three with each of these groups) and 150 individual interviews will enable us to generate a substantial corpus of qualitative data in order to answer the research questions identified above. These participants will be drawn from three geographical contexts including urban areas, urban/semi-urban areas and rural areas in order for us to be able to assess the role locality has in their experiences of, and responses to, Islamophobia. The findings of the research will be disseminated to academic user-groups through 6 peer-reviewed international journal articles and six linked conference presentations. In order to maximise impact, we aim to build upon our extensive contacts in local/national government and voluntary and community organisations through a policy paper and two policy workshops, an academic workshop, a series of three regional community conferences, four common-language articles and a project website.

The main change here from our grade 5 (but unfunded) application is the addition of an academic workshop (see also academic beneficiaries section) and clarification of our use of the term 'geopolitics'.

Planned Impact

There are a number of user groups who will benefit from this research:

Feeding into public policy on the impact of Islamophobia and racism on both 'non-Muslims' and Muslims, the outcomes of our research will be particularly useful for those developing policy or working in the field of community work, community education, community cohesion or promoting good relations. The research will be very relevant for specific policy arenas (e.g. social inclusion, multiculturalism, citizenship policies) as well as in practice (e.g. work with children and families, youth work, social work, education), and will help to understand the complexity of issues concerning youth identity, racism and Islamophobia (including possible insights into radicalization from a unique Scottish perspective) and the interplay for identity, difference and nationalism. Upon completion of our policy report we will arrange two policy workshops for key people involved in shaping policy for young people and education in Scotland as well as across the UK (one in Edinburgh and one in London). In addition to this, we will also disseminate the outcomes of our research to relevant local government departments through our website, regional community conferences and through engagement with public sector professionals.

Public-sector professionals working directly with or for young people will be interested in the research. A special section of our website will target this specific set of user groups. In order to access a broad range of such users, we will produce four common-language articles for magazines of relevance to youth workers school teachers, community education workers and youth policy-makers (who will also be invited to our regional community conferences).

Young people interested in the research will be able to read a youth-focused brochure that will outline the outcomes of our research and will focus on issues that are most likely to be of relevance to them. We will also engage with them through our Project Advisory Group, Facebook group and regional community conferences.

Through a series of press releases towards the end of the project - and through utilising our developed set of contacts in the Press (e.g. Glasgow Herald, BBC Scotland, BBC news online) - we aim to disseminate the findings of the research to the wider public. These will be produced by the research team in liaison with appropriate university press offices and the AHRC Communications Manager. We will also seek to discuss issues from the research in events organised by others such as the Festival of Politics Fringe programme to coincide with the Edinburgh International Festival during August of each year.


10 25 50
publication icon
Hopkins P (2017) Encountering Misrecognition: Being Mistaken for Being Muslim in Annals of the American Association of Geographers

publication icon
Hopkins P (2018) Feminist geographies and intersectionality in Gender, Place & Culture

publication icon
Hopkins P (2015) Young people and the Scottish Independence Referendum in Political Geography

publication icon
Hopkins P (2017) Social geography I: Intersectionality in Progress in Human Geography

publication icon
Hopkins P (2018) Young people's everyday landscapes of security and insecurity in Social & Cultural Geography

publication icon
Hopkins P (2024) Practising anti-Islamophobic geographies in Space and Polity

Description Methodology: How we did the research • We adopted a qualitative approach and conducted 45 focus groups and 224 interviews to access the social worlds of the young participants; • 382 young people participated in the research, comprising 190 young women and 192 young men; and • 100 young Muslims, 81 non-Muslim South Asians, 37 asylum seekers and refugees, 30 international students, 39 Central and Eastern European migrants, and 96 White Scottish young people participated in this study. Politics and Participation • Young people engaged in politics through various media platforms, but were not always clear on how to access politics and influence change. Their political engagement was often influenced by both parents and friends; • Young people voiced mistrust of politicians and political parties, and recognised the policy differences between Scotland and Westminster; • Although young people had low levels of membership of political parties, many were interested in issue-based politics (e.g. human rights); and • Young people were politicised by the Independence Referendum and by the opening up of the vote to those aged 16 and 17. National Identity and Scottishness • The independence debate acted as a catalyst for young people to reflect on what it meant to them to be Scottish; many felt that Scotland was a 'fair society' that was 'diverse' and 'friendly'; • Young people affiliated themselves to Scotland and Scottishness, irrespective of their ethnic and religious heritage; however, experiences of racism in public spaces sometimes eroded this and made them feel excluded and alienated; • Young people often pointed out that national identity is only one aspect of their identity, with faith, ethnicity and cultural heritage also being important. Many young people also reflected on their transnational and hybrid identities; and • Young people talked about important locations that nurtured a sense of Scottishness, including urban areas and educational sites. Interactions and Encounters • Most young people were highly positive about diversity in Scotland and many engaged in inter-religious and multi-ethnic friendship groups at school and university; • There was some evidence that specific religious and minority ethnic groups were more segregated than other young people. In Glasgow, young people tended to identify Slovakian, Romanian and Czech young people as the most isolated minority groups, and some participants felt that Muslim students were the most segregated at university; and • There was evidence of sexism and homophobia amongst participants, as well as personal experiences of these forms of prejudice. Migration and Mobility • Young people's experiences of migration have led to multiple understandings of 'home'; • Language is a key barrier for migrant young people, including for their parent's generation; • Migration heritages are important to young people's sense of identity and experience; and • Many young people talked positively about immigration and supported pro-migration policies in Scotland, however they also recognise the negative impact of the media on immigration discourse, and have personal experience of 'securitisation'. Racism and Discrimination • Young people felt it is important to talk about racism and referred to racist incidences on the basis of accent, skin colour, faith, dress, nationality and ethnicity; • Young people explained that racist incidents tended to be triggered by media stereotypes and people who were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs; • Young people understand that racism can be both covert and overt. Encountering and responding to racism was context-dependent, based on the intersection of place, community size, peer and intergenerational relations, and personal identities; and • Many young people demonstrated resilience to everyday racism and felt able to manage and respond to it. Being Mistaken for a Muslim • Young people from non-Muslim South Asia, Africa, and some Central and Eastern European countries experienced being taken as Muslim; • Young people with South Asian heritage were most commonly misrecognised as Muslim (Sikh, Hindu, non-religious Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi). They claimed this was the result of their skin colour, hair style and facial features, leading people to assume that they followed the Islamic faith; • Young people explained that negative media representation, homogenisation of the 'Asian' community, the small size of some ethnic and religious minority communities and low levels of public awareness of religions were why they were sometimes mistaken for Muslims. Islamophobia • Young Muslims questioned the usefulness of the term 'Islamophobia'. The term is seen to be 'othering', reinforcing difference, which in turn further marginalises Muslims; • Young people preferred the term 'racism' to 'Islamophobia'. The media, including social media, are catalysts of anti-Muslim sentiment; and • If Islamophobia is defined narrowly as anti-Muslim sentiment, there are clear incidences of discrimination and prejudice against Muslims, which is often gendered and determined by where people live.
Exploitation Route We are working on taking these forward over the course of the project with a range of community, voluntary and statutory services. We have already completed some local dissemination events. Our key findings have also been presented to the Scottish Government internal seminar series and we are speaking to different cross-party working groups at both Westminster and Holyrood.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy



Democracy and Justice


Description Findings from the research have helped to set up a Cross Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia in the Scottish Parliament and research outcomes have contributed to the House of Lords Report on Citizenship and Civic Engagement as well as the APPG definition of Islamophobia. Additional impact of our work has been with teachers where we have disseminated our findings about misrecognition and Islamophobia through teacher training workshops and seminars. We are also working on developing other impacts now that the project has completed but these are in the initial stages of development.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

Policy & public services

Description Creation of a new Cross Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia in the Scottish Parliament
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a guidance/advisory committee
Impact Formation of new Cross Party Group which has one of the largest memberships in the Scottish Parliament and has been active in working with journalists, police officers and educationalists about tackling Islamophobia in Scotland.
URL https://www.parliament.scot/msps/tackling-islamophobia.aspx