Friday, July 1, 2011

Austria's young Muslim men need greater support to move out of their parallel world

A new study by Women without Borders shows that young Muslim men in Austria do not enjoy the same chances as non-Muslims, endangering the integration process. 

Watch an ORF report about this study, entitled "Explosive Study about young Muslims" (Brisante Studie ├╝ber junge Muslime") in German.

Debates about multiculturalism in Europe have been raging over the past years. The increase in Muslim populations in many European countries has led to tensions between different cultural and religious values. Public demonstrations of religious belief, such as wearing a headscarf or hanging up a cross, have become increasingly controversial as diverse peoples try to find ways of living peacefully alongside one another.

Europe often views Austria’s dialogue with Islam as a leading example. Since 1910, the law has guaranteed the free public practice of religion. In recent years, a series of provisions for Muslims in Austria have been established, for example the possibility to follow an Islamic education from Kindergarten to high school. The international literature talks about a “Muslim Space” that Muslims have created for themselves, which includes education, grocery stores, prayer rooms and cultural centers.

Today, 400,000 Muslims live in Austria, a nation with a total population of just over 8 million. Almost half of Austria’s Muslim population is under 25, and nearly a third is aged between 25 and 39. The number of Muslims in Austria has doubled since 1991, and they are now the second biggest population group in the country.

Often, Muslim women find themselves the focus of attention; they are given support, provided with drop-in centers and discussion forums, to ensure that they integrate despite their lower participation in the employment market.

Young men, on the other hand, are often viewed with skepticism and left to themselves due to the perception that they are potential hardliners. A new study by Women without Borders entitled “This is who we are! Young Muslim Men in Austria” exposes the real lives of male Muslim youth. The study finds that they often live in a parallel world with fewer opportunities than their non-Muslim counterparts. Their educational paths diverge at a very young age, leaving many more young Muslims to go to less academically-challenging schools and to focus on traineeships rather than university education. In fact, only 2% of young Muslim men in Austria study at University.

However, career success is right at the top of their personal wish lists, closely followed by the desire to be an open, progressive person, who is at the same time a traditional man living according to his religion. These young men’s lives are strongly regulated by religion. Nearly 80% reported that they live according to Islam’s commandments, whereas religious guidelines are only relevant for about one quarter of non-Muslim respondents. Almost a half of the surveyed Muslim young men argue for a European Islam, providing clear evidence of the need for a successful symbiosis of religion and everyday life. However, there is a further discrepancy here between vision and reality; a third of the young Muslims report that “only in the Mosque do I find people who accept me as I am.”

Identification with Austria is part of the identity of young Muslims. Three quarters of respondents agreed with the statement: “I am proud to be Austrian and Muslim.” Patriotism and pride of their ethnic origins is another important element. 82% find criticism of their land of origin to be hurtful. Additionally, almost a fourth of the surveyed Muslims and non-Muslims report that they feel rejected by “the other”. The desire to get to know one another and engage in intercultural exchange and friendship is expressed above all by the Muslims: 42% would like to have more “Austrian” friends.

Positive interventions must be implemented that address the gap between these young men’s career goals and the opportunities they are provided with, as well as the social divide between Muslim and non-Muslim youth. It is clear that the motivation for engagement exists among the Muslim community, but the possibility to do so is lacking.

The study recommends that increased advice be aimed at young Muslims at critical ages, such as at the age of 15 when teenagers are choosing their career paths. Additionally, they should be encouraged to consider non-traditional careers, such as teaching or nursing, where their cultural and linguistic skills could serve as a great advantage. Mentoring programs that offer targeted individual support and programs that promote diversity in the workplace should be developed. What is more, male Muslim role models from the social and economic arenas should be highlighted to encourage younger men to follow in their footsteps.

Austria finds itself in a critical position. Austria is in the centre of Europe, and has historically formed the bridge between Western Christian Europe and the Muslim East. From Naschmarkt to Kipferl, the influence of Muslim culture in Austria is clear. The country must acknowledge the young Muslim men in its midst and provide leading ideas for integration to ensure that the coming generation in Austria embraces its own diversity and is able to live together in harmony.

To read the full report in German, please follow this link:

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