07 SES 11 B, Taking Diversity into Account
This paper presents an argument for the use of a traditional Islamic oral pedagogy called halaqah to help develop the personal autonomy of young Muslims in twenty-first century Europe. It begins by outlining the double-consciousness and coercion experienced by Muslim children in mainstream European schools (Jaffe-Walter, 2016), and by exploring the sociopolitical climate that creates these experiences. Two competing narratives are presented. First, is a narrative of European governments dealing with Muslim minority young people by influencing their socialization processes (Sedgwick, 2014). Specifically, the UK government’s attempts to meet the challenge of extremism and radicalisation by attempting to define and create an acceptable ‘British Islam’ through PREVENT and other regulatory interventions. The competing narrative is one of Muslim and non-Muslim educators attempting to meet the needs of European Muslim children as they navigate multiple cultures and subcultures to develop an understanding of self and self-identity. In this narrative, educators aim to provide a faith-based education that supports children and young people to reflect on their beliefs and lived experiences; on how they make choices about their religious beliefs, their multiple identities and integration into European societies. Such an aim requires the use of a culturally relevant dialogic pedagogical approach. Two British Islamic faith-schools are using halaqah as such an approach. In order to investigate whether halaqah can meet these aims, Islamic conceptualisations of selfhood and personal autonomy (shakhsiyah) and of dialogic pedagogy need to be defined. These concepts are thus explored in relation to Islamic (al-Attas, 1980) and ‘western’ (Hermans & Hermans-Konopka, 2010) theories of self and dialogue. A potential critical pedagogy conceptualisation of halaqah is also introduced (Ahmed, 2012). These conceptualisations serve to inform the empirical research questions for a PhD study on the effectiveness of halaqah in these two British Islamic faith-schools. Halaqah is daily practice in these schools, providing a dialogic safe space for young Muslims to cumulatively explore challenging issues. It is claimed that this cumulative dialogue facilitates the development of shakhsiyah Islamiyah, that is, unified autonomous selfhood incorporating hybrid identities.
This small-scale empirical study examines children (aged 10-11 years) and young peoples’ (aged 15-19 years) views on personal autonomy and being Muslim, and whether halaqah has helped them navigate their identity as Muslims living in a secular society. Rich qualitative data are generated through three hour-long dialogic halaqah sessions held with each group, involving a series of key questions. Data from these sessions is subjected to both thematic and dialogue analyses, by using an established thematic analysis method (Braun & Clarke, 2006) and the scheme for educational dialogue analysis (Hennessy et al., 2016). The aim is to evaluate children’s and young people’s views on autonomy and choice, being Muslim as submitting to Allah, being independent and critical thinking, navigating authority (both religious and secular), peer pressure, and choosing to be Muslim. Themes related to halaqah as dialogic pedagogy, whether and how it supports the development of agency, resilience and independent thinking, and teacher and learner roles in halaqah, are also examined. A second aim is to evaluate their capacity to act autonomously as they engage in dialogue with each other, as well as with an imagined secular other. The use of halaqah as a data collection method emerges out of my personal experience as a Muslim practitioner-researcher, working in British Islamic faith-schools that are seeking to provide culturally coherent contemporary education. I work at the interface between theory, practice and community activism. My research methodology therefore has to reflect these values of cultural authenticity. Nevertheless, it may seem peculiar to use the subject of the study, i.e. halaqah, as the data collection method. However, I have argued elsewhere (Ahmed, 2014) that this data collection method aligns with a culturally relevant approach to research. Researchers from the global South have identified research as an arm of the colonial endeavour (Connell, 2007; Smith, 1999) and are seeking to reclaim intellectual space that centres their indigenous worldviews. Indigenous researchers tend to have a commitment to critical pedagogy (Denzin, Lincoln, & Smith, 2008), and believe in the transformative nature of education as a means of challenging power. Denzin, Lincoln and Smith (2008), Reagan (2005), and Connell (2007) all place Islamic educational theory within this discourse. I draw on these qualitative research approaches to adopt halaqah as a culturally relevant and authentic data collection method that generates richer, more authentic data.
Findings from thematic analysis are presented, that is participants perspectives on: autonomy and choice, being Muslim and submitting to Allah, being independent and critical thinking, navigating authority (both religious and secular), peer pressure, and choosing to be Muslim. Participants value personal autonomy and claim that a Muslim should be an independent critical thinker, able to question and draw his own conclusions. They argue that rules, laws and relationships with others are important; however, ultimately everyone has to make personal decisions. The young people highlight the difference between societal norms and Muslim practices. They argue that this tension makes them more autonomous, because they have to navigate the norms of Islam and British society, whilst meeting their own aims in life. They state that that they choose to be Muslim and that this choice is very different to that of secular-liberalism. Findings related to halaqah as dialogic pedagogy are also presented. Participants state that oral dialogue in halaqah generates learning through self-other interaction, which provides the opportunity to weigh up differing points of view. In this way dialogic halaqah helps build their shakhsiyah, by supporting their development as independent thinking, reflective, autonomous Muslims. They compare it to other forms of Islamic education for example Dar al Ulums, and point out that in contrast to more text based approaches, halaqah is much more dynamic, contextual and flexible. They see these as features that are important for pedagogy that can meet the challenges of minority religious education in a secular society. A brief explication of the dialogic analysis findings is also provided in relation to the quality of participants’ dialogic interactions, which are considered as potential evidence illustrating their personal autonomy. To conclude, these findings are discussed in relation to the existing literature on young Muslims’ identity formation in European contexts.
Ahmed, F. (2014a). Exploring halaqah as research method: a tentative approach to developing Islamic research principles within a critical ‘indigenous’ framework. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 27(5), 561–583. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2013.805852 Ahmed, F. (2012). Tarbiyah for shakhsiyah (educating for identity): seeking out culturally coherent pedagogy for Muslim children in Britain. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 42(5), 725–749. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057925.2012.706452 al-Attas, S. M. N. (1980). The Concept of Education in Islam: A Framework for an Islamic Philosophy of Education. Presented at the First World Conference on Islamic Education, Makkah, Saudi Arabia: Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful Qualitative Research: A Practical Guide for Beginners. SAGE. Connell, R. (2007). Southern theory: the global dynamics of knowledge in social science. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Denzin, N. K., Lincoln, Y. S., & Smith, L. T. (2008). Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies. Sage. Hennessy, S., Rojas-Drummond, S., Higham, R., Márquez, A. M., Maine, F., Ríos, R. M., … Barrera, M. J. (2016). Developing a coding scheme for analysing classroom dialogue across educational contexts. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 9, 16–44. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lcsi.2015.12.001 Hermans, H., & Hermans-Konopka, A. (2010). Dialogical Self Theory: Positioning and Counter-Positioning in a Globalizing Society (1 edition). Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press. Jaffe-Walter, R. (2016). Coercive Concern: Nationalism, Liberalism, and the Schooling of Muslim Youth. Stanford University Press. Reagan, T. G. (2005). Non-Western educational traditions: indigenous approaches to educational thought and practice. Mahwah, New Jersey: Routledge. Sedgwick, M. (2014). Making European Muslims: Religious Socialization Among Young Muslims in Scandinavia and Western Europe. Routledge. Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books.
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