Muslims in the Metropolis: and ethnographic study of Muslim-making in a 21st century British city.

  • Ajmal Hussain

Student thesis: Phd


Muslims in the Metropolis is about everyday social and cultural practices through which Muslim identity and 'community' are made. The study takes Birmingham, a city synonymous with Muslims and the area of Sparkbrook, which has decades long associations with racialised communities, as sites of Muslim-making. While there is considerable literature concerned with the Muslim presence in Western European public spheres, much of it treats the city as merely incidental in the lives of Muslims; as places where they have settled and, then, generated formal spaces, infrastructures and narratives relating to their presence. A key argument advanced in this thesis is that impressions of Muslims as a 'community' defined through the lens of settlement patterns resulting from immigration, folk-religious practices carried over from other homelands, socio-economic disadvantage and various other markers of their presence, lend them to being understood in essentialist ways. A number of scholars have noted this and how discourses about 'parallel lives', 'clash of civilisations' and 'religious extremism' have culminated in the Muslim question.In this study I do not so much seek to challenge such representations, but to consider what is left over - the excess - from these framings. A key consequence I argue is that Muslims, when viewed and worked with officially as a 'community' based on sensibilities of race relations management in the city, misses the vitality of Muslim life as it is made everyday in relation to discourses and materials linked with their presence in the city. Through the use of ethnography and specifically observations and interviews conducted with people involved in setting up and running an 'alternative Muslim arts centre', a local 'community' radio station and diffuse networks of social action across the city, I trace different contours of Muslim identity and 'community' in the making.Ethnographic methods, I argue, allow valuable insights into how Muslims relate to the city as a place historically marked and presently targeted through racialised narratives and categories of control. There are complex negotiations that go on, where Muslims occasionally resist as well as fold into authoritative discourses and structures around them. Attention is paid to how Muslims live in the interstices of these and how through their social practices generate alternative meanings toward being Muslim; as something not given in the existing nomenclature of multicultural identities in the city, but in process and becoming. These everyday urban rituals of Muslims, therefore, present a challenge to official and academic efforts that attempt to represent or confer recognition on Muslims.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorClaire Alexander (Supervisor) & Virinder Kalra (Supervisor)


  • ethnography
  • Birmingham
  • Muslims
  • identity
  • community

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