Nation, Ethnicity and Religion; Second Generation Muslims’ Social Identity in Scotland

Document Type: Original Article


Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran


Existing evidence seems to indicate that Muslims in Scotland have constructed hyphenated or hybrid identities that draw on religion, ethnicity and nationality. However, minor attention has been given to the differences in importance, meanings, and strengths of these identities, or the significance of their identity markers. Ethnic minority people can be identified with both their ethnic groups and their country of residence; each identity can be either strong or weak, or identification with both can be high. The extent and degree of identification with specific identity markers (such as ethnicity, nationality or religion) can be varied and subjected to difference. This paper discusses the importance, meaning, and strength of these markers in Muslims’ identity negotiation in Scotland through an analysis of the importance of ethnicity, religion and nation. Drawing on a study based on twenty-seven semi-structured and qualitative interviews carried out in 2011 with second-generation[1] Muslims across Scotland’s major cities and small towns, this research suggests the importance of social imposition (labelling behaviour and mis-recognition), family education and cultural ties in varying the meanings and the strength of  second-generation Muslims’ national and ethnic identities in Scotland. In addition, this paper  highlights the significance of various levels of religiosity in differentiating the meanings and strength of participants’ religious identities.

[1] In this paper, ‘first generations’ are those Muslims who were born outside the UK and immigrated to UK and the term ‘second generation’ refers to those Muslims who were born in the UK to non-native parents.


Main Subjects


   Islam, after Christianity, is the most widespread religion in Scotland with nearly seventy-seven thousand Muslims constituting 1.4% of the population of Scotland (National Records of Scotland 2013a: 32). Muslims constitute the largest non-Christian religious community with more than half (56%) of the non-Christian religious population (National Records of Scotland 2013b: 3). The Pakistani community is the largest Black Minority Ethnic group in Scotland at 0.63%, representing just under one third of the visible minority ethnic population in Scotland and two-thirds (67%) of Muslims (Scottish Government 2005). These statistics reflect the visibility of Muslims in Scotland. The importance of Muslims’ visibility has been highlighted in previous research (Allen 2010: 104; Meer 2010: 102; Moosavi 2014: 7; Bonino 2015b; Kristiansen and Sheikh 2017: 31; Ashraf-Emami 2017: 156), suggesting a significant relationship between being visible as a Muslim and the experience of Islamophobia. In relation to birthplace, approximately 50% of Muslims in Scotland are born inside the UK (Scottish Government 2005: 13). For example, under half (47%) of Pakistanis are born in Scotland (Hussain and Miller 2006: 20). In relation to ethnic group, only 7% of Muslims are white and the rest are non-white (Scottish Government 2005). These statistics indicate that nearly half of the Muslim population in Scotland are born inside the UK, which may affect their sense of belonging to Britishness. Particularly, due to the significance of the birthplace marker to everyday understandings of Scottishness, being born in Scotland can strongly affect the sense of Scottishness among the Muslims who are born there (McVie and Wiltshire 2010). The other side of this coin is that the other half of Muslims in Scotland, who are born outside of the Great Britain, lack the most important marker, birthplace, to be seen as British[1]. These people and even those who are born elsewhere in the UK, such as England or Northern Ireland, may find identifying with Britishness and Scottishness challenging (McCrone and Bechhofer 2010).

   This paper examines identity construction and discusses the different meanings, importance, and strength of Muslims’ social identity markers and negotiation in Scotland. It explores the importance of religion, ethnicity, and nationality in Muslims’ social self-conceptualisation. Due to the highlighted significance of religion as an identity marker, especially amongst young Muslims, this study discusses different explanations for such importance. These objectives, thus, lead to the paper’s main question: “How do Muslims negotiate their social identities?”, and the following two sub questions: “What are the main elements of their social identities?”, and “What are the individual meanings and strength of these elements?” To answer these questions, twenty-seven semi-structured and qualitative interviews were conducted with second generation[2] Muslims. These interviews covered the experiences of Muslims across Scotland’s major cities and small towns. As the category ‘Muslim’ is ethnically, socially and denominationally a diverse category, an attempt was made to gain access to different participants from different ethnic, social and denominational backgrounds in order to reflect this diversity. The process of data analysis in this study was influenced by the grounded theory method because of its well-described, well-organised and systematic process of qualitative data analysis (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). It should be noted that the respondents’ names mentioned in this paper are pseudonyms.


Literature Review: Muslims’ Social and National Identities

   Different studies suggest that Muslims’ social self-identification in Scotland is hyphenated or hybrid, drawing on religion, ethnicity and nationality (Saeed et. al. 1999: 836; Hussain and Miller 2006: 150; Hopkins 2007; 2008: 121; Kidd and Jamieson 2011: 65). The above-cited studies particularly indicate that identification with Scottishness and Muslim identity seems to be more common than identification with other identity markers such as ethnicity. For example, in a study by Saeed et. al. (1999: 836), Scottish-Muslim was the most popular identity cited among sixty-three schoolchildren from Pakistani background. Likewise, in their study of 759 Pakistanis living in Scotland, Hussain and Miller (2006: 150) offered respondents four ‘hyphenated’ identities from which they had to choose. They found that 44% of respondents chose Scottish Muslim, 23% British Muslim, 15% British Pakistani, and 12% Scottish Pakistani. This indicates that more than a third chose British and more than a half chose Scottish. Hussain and Miller (2006: 147) also found that Muslims in Scotland tended to identify themselves with a Scottish sub-state national identity, which was despite Muslims’ tendency in England to identify with a British and not an English identity. Similarly, Hopkins (2008: 121), in his qualitative research of 11 focus groups and 22 interviews with young Muslim men in Glasgow and Edinburgh, found that the vast majority of respondents identified themselves as Scottish Muslims and drew upon a range of markers of Scottishness in making such claims.

   The importance of national identity, as another aspect of Muslims’ multiple identities, is mainly discussed under the perspectives of social cohesion and integration. Minority groups may wish to integrate into the larger society in order to be accepted as members of it (Kymlicka 1995: 10). To be associate with a national identity, people need to base their identities upon national identity markers: “any characteristics associated with an individual that they might choose to present to others, in order to support a national identity claim” (Kiely et. al.  2001: 35-6). Bond (2006: 611) argues that residence, birth and ancestry are the three most prominent markers of national identity. However, the salience of these identity markers in the formation of national citizenship varies in different countries. At the social and individual level, it is mainly the indigenous people who use birth and ancestry markers for their identity claims, while ethno-religious minorities and immigrants may use residential markers instead (Hussain and Miller 2006: 12). Birth identity marker, however, is not exclusively used by indigenous people; immigrants who are born in a host country, for example in the case of second-generation minorities, can also use birthplace to reinforce their identity claims. Minorities’ claims for national belonging may not be accepted by the majority unless they see such claims and markers as genuine. As Bond (2006: 610-11) argues, “the claims to national belonging of those characterised by difference (not least with respect to national and ethnic origin) may be problematized by the beliefs which the majority hold about the validity of such claims”. According to Jacobson (1997a), the exclusion of ethno-religious minorities may be due to the persistence of ethnic or racial boundaries, which socially constrain national belonging to categories such as Britishness, Englishness or Scottishness. In this paper, the importance of recognition or non-recognition (Taylor 1992; Honneth 1995; McCrone and Bechhofer 2008; Hopkins and Blackwood 2011; Hopkins 2011; Thompson 2012) of second-generation Muslims’ national identity claims and its likely consequences on their sense of belonging to Scotland will be discussed.

   In addition to national identity, another important aspect of Muslims’ multiple or hybrid identities, as mentioned by this study’s participants, is religion and Muslimness. This element of their social identity was one of the most attended factors in previous research (Bochner 1982; Hutnik 1985; Jacobson 1997b; Saeed et. al. 1999; Archer 2003; Ameli and Merali 2004; Hopkins 2007; Change Institute 2009; Kidd and Jamieson 2011: 42; Elshayyal 2018). For example, in a study by Saeed et. al. (1999: 830) for the majority of respondents, religion was the most important marker of identity, as 97% chose Muslim identity, which was ‘more than two times those choosing Pakistani identity’. It has also been argued that commitment to religion and religious identities can affect identification with other identities such as ethnic and national identity. Hopkins (2004: 265) illustrated that several young Scottish Muslims simultaneously ‘include themselves in the perimeters of Scottishness, whilst also excluding themselves from belonging completely within boundaries of Scottishness’. Distancing from complete belonging within the boundaries of Scottishness was mainly because of having different ancestry, different religion and not drinking alcohol in pubs (Hopkins 2004: 266). As a result, Hopkins (2004: 266) argues that ‘many young Muslim men possess fragile Scottish national identities’. Therefore, Muslims’ affiliation with religious and national identities varies in strength, nature and meaning, while minor attention has been given to unpack the varying importance, meanings and strength of these identities (Hopkins, 2007: 61). Consequently,  the major task of this paper is to fill in this gap and shed more light on the different meanings and varying strength of Muslims’ identity components.


Conceptual Discussion: Reactive or Religious Identities[3]

   Saeed et. al. (1999: 824-5) and Robinson (2009: 444) argue that in the past, the self-identification of ethnic minority groups has mainly been conceptualised in the literature in terms of ethnic identity or as  an  option between two identities, tending not to accommodate the possibility of bi-cultural identification. However, certain authors argue that people, including ethnic minority groups, can identify with two or more groups (Hutnik 1991, Saeed et. al. 1999; Phinney 2003; Hussain and Miller 2006: 150; Hopkins 2007; 2008: 121; Kidd and Jamieson 2011: 65; Shaikh and Bonino 2017), and thus, their identity strategies can be related to identification with both the majority and minority groups (Hutnik, 1991). For example, Phinney (2003) argues that minority ethnic people can identify with both their ethnic groups and their country of residence (2003: 63). Such identification can be either strong or weak or equally high in relation to both identities (Phinney 2003: 68). Accordingly, most minority groups in the context of a multi-cultural society may construct multiple and hyphenated identities. Ethnicity and nationality, however, are not the only identity markers to which migrants feel they can belong. Numerous studies (Bochner 1982; Hutnik 1985; Jacobson 1997b; Saeed et. al. 1999; Archer 2003; Ameli and Merali 2004; Hopkins 2007; Change Institute, 2009; Kidd and Jamieson 2011: 42) particularly highlighted the importance of religion as a significant identity marker amongst minority ethnic people, particularly young Muslims (Hutnik 1985: 307).

   In conceptualizing the rise of religion as a significant identity marker for ethnic minorities (Bochner 1982; Hutnik 1985: 307; Modood 1994), complex and diverse reasons have been proposed (Hussain and Choudhury 2007: 17). For example, Ballard (1996) argues that identification with religion is a reaction to the external rejection by the white majority. A growing identification with religion therefore emerges because Muslims feel that the religious aspect of their identity is under attack and sometimes denied by the white majority. Gardner and Shukur (1994: 164) believe that “Islam provides both a positive identity, in which solidarity can be found, together with an escape from the oppressive tedium of being constantly identified in negative terms”. This theory, which I call reactive hypothesis, has also been used or supported by other researchers. For example, Saeed et. al. (1999), by utilising social identity theory (provided by Tajfel and Turner 1986) and the reactive hypothesis, explain the significance of religion amongst young Scottish Pakistanis. In highlighting the importance of public devaluation of Muslims and Islam, Saeed et. al. (1999: 26) cite Turner’s (1985) hypothesis that “majority group public devaluation of a personally important social identity results in more intergroup solidarity on the part of the minority/devalued group, and that this is a mechanism which allows the minority group to increase intergroup differentiation and to maintain its self-esteem”. In this regard, the significance of religion is linked to the rise of a political Islam, especially after political events such as the Salman Rushdie fatwa in 1989, 7/7 bombings in London and international matters such as the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979, the 1991 Gulf War (Saeed et. al. 1999: 821-2; Modood 2005: 160; Modood 2007: 3), and the 9/11 bombings in New York (Bonino 2015a: 78). This led certain young British-born Muslims to reinvent the concept of the Ummah, the global community of Muslims, as global victims (Modood 2005: 160).

   Archer (2001: 87), in her study of young Muslim men’s identity negotiation in four schools in England, suggests that constructing Muslim identities “rather than just being a reaction to white racism” can be active “engaging with white society, rejecting whiteness and British identity through identification with a strong religion that unifies young Muslims from different Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds”. She also relates strong religious identification with resisting “popular stereotypes of weak and passive Asian” (Archer 2003: 50). Strong identification with religion could “provide a source of pride, solidarity and status among Muslims” (Archer 2003: 53). Archer also argues that Muslim identity superseded national identities such as Bangladeshi, Pakistani (2003: 49) and British identity (2001: 87). Even though it is the most applied, the reactive or resistant interpretation of Muslim identity was not the only explanation for the rise of religion as a significant identity marker. By dismissing the importance of religiosity or the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, Samad (2004: 17- cited in Hussain and Choudhury 2007: 17) argues that religious identity becomes “prominent as people, particularly second generations, become British”.  Samad (2004: 17- cited in Hussain and Choudhury 2007: 17) suggests that the loss of linguistic skills of South Asians makes identification with their parents’ country (such as Pakistan) less significant and thus Muslim identity becomes more important.

In addition, according to a number of researchers (Jacobson 1997b; Ysseldyk et. al. 2010; Park 2007),  there can be an internal, more positive role of religion in forming people’s social identities. As a meaning system or a system of guiding beliefs, religion can frame social identities “through the increasing importance of the relevant group membership to the self-concept” (Ysseldyk et. al. 2010: 61; Park 2007: 320). For example, Ysseldyk et. al. (2010: 60) write that “as a social identity anchored in a system of guiding beliefs, religious affiliation should serve a uniquely powerful function in shaping psychological and social processes”. Within the social identity theory framework, Ysseldyk et. al. (2010: 60) indicate that “the unique characteristics of a group membership inextricably linked to a religious belief system (even compared with other ideological belief systems) may be essential to explain why religiosity is often embraced with such tenacity”. Moreover, highlighting the importance of a comprehensive meaning system provided by a religion, Park (2007: 320) argues that religiosity can provide “a comprehensive framework for perceiving, understanding and evaluating their experience as well as organising and directing their behavior”. For Ysseldyk et. al. (2010: 61), the significance of religious social identities lies in the unique characteristics of religion, compelling affective experiences and a moral authority that cannot be empirically disputed, which can “lend this particular social identity a personal significance exceeding that of membership in other groups”. Jacobson (1997b: 238) also argues that “the special significance of religion lies in the fact that Islam, by and large, is central to their sense of who they are: they affirm their belief in its teachings and regard it as something in relation to which they should orient their behaviour in all spheres of life and which therefore demands of them a self-conscious and explicit commitment”. In this explanation, an emphasis is put on religiosity and the notion of practicing and observing religion. In this sense, the rise of religion as an identity marker can be associated with the rise of religiosity or becoming a more practicing Muslim. In this paper, the importance and relevance of each of these explanations will be addressed.

Findings and discussion: Second-Generation Muslims’ Identity Negotiation

   A majority of second-generation participants, 24 out of 27, reported multiple and hybrid identities. These multiple identities were categorised into three main forms; a third of interviewees, 8 out of 24, identified with their national-ethnic identities[4] (such as Scottish-Pakistani), another third felt more attached to their national-religious identities (such as Scottish-Muslim) and a quarter, 6 out of 24, claimed to have hybrid identities which were constituted of religious-national-ethnic identities. Only three participants identified with singular identities; namely religious or ethnic identities. These figures indicate the importance of country of residence (nationality), country of origin (ethnicity) and religion. In what follows, the different meanings and strengths of these markers will be discussed.

Importance of Nationality: “Being Proud to be Scottish and British”

   The first important issue in second-generation participants’ identity negotiation was identifying with the country where they reside. The data indicate that a majority of respondents, 24 out of 27, identified with Scottish or British identities as a part of their multiple or hybrid identities. The association with Scottish or British identities was based upon a range of identity markers such as birthplace, residence, English language, Scottish accent, adopting Scottish/British culture and Scottish education. For example, Sanaz, a 41 year-old Muslim woman, highlighted the importance of British culture and asserted that her sense of belonging to Britishness is based on residential, educational and cultural markers:

So, we are Muslims, Asian and from Pakistani origin. All these come into play and then we are British too sbecause we born and brought up here, we know the culture of this country; we have been brought up alongside the British people; we study here, we know how the British culture is for good and bad. We may not agree with all cultural norms but we already know what the British culture is about and we already took the best from British culture. [Edinburgh, 41 year-old]

   In this quote, Sanaz highlights that even though she had a selective approach to the British culture, her familiarity with it is important in associating herself with the British national identity. This can imply the importance of the British culture in certain second-generation Muslims’ identification with British national identity. In another example, the importance of Scottish accent alongside other factors was highlighted by Adil, a 24 year-old man from Falkirk.   Adil’s stress on Scottish accent echoes Bond’s (2006: 619) work on national identity markers for second-generation Muslims. The utilisation of birthplace, accent, culture, and education can imply that second-generation Muslims can have a stronger identification and a stronger sense of belonging to their country of residence rather than first generation Muslims who usually lack these markers. However, the data suggests that even the second-generation participants’ identification with Scottish or British national identities can be challenged.

Challenged and Questioned Identities: “You cannot be Scottish!”

   Over half of the participants, 15 out of 27, experienced incidents where their national identity claims were questioned or challenged by majority Scots. This national identity challenge or non-recognition involved questioning or challenging their Scottish/British identity claims and labelling them mainly by their ethnic/racial backgrounds. There was a perception amongst several participants that despite possession of certain Scottish identity markers (such as birth, accent, education and culture), they were still seen as foreigners or outsiders in the eyes of the majority. For example, Jafar and Fazel mentioned that in many incidents, they were considered or called foreigners by the majority. In another example, Fatima, a second-generation Muslim woman who grew up in Glasgow, explained how colleges were shocked to see a player with Asian background in Highland games. She said that in their view, a Pakistani person was not seen as Scottish and thus should not play in a Scottish team. These examples reveal the persistence of racial markers at grassroots level, which can challenge second-generation Muslims’ identification with Scottish sub-state national identity. This supports previous research by Jacobson (1997a), suggesting the presence of racial boundaries for Britishness, as other previous research (Bond 2006: 623; Bechhofer and McCrone 2009: 74; McCrone and Bechhofer 2008: 1255; Kyriakides et. al. 2009; Reicher et. al. 2010: 15) indicating the importance of racial and ethnic markers in the Scottish identity. While for certain respondents (such as Adil and Amir), others’ attitudes to their national or sub-state national identities was not important, other participants particularly raised the issue that the non-recognition of their national identity affected their sense of belonging to Scotland or Britain. For example, Kathryn, who earlier stated that she is proud to be British, pointed out that her experience of identity rejection and racial abuse made her thinks that it is impossible to be British:

I am proud to be British because I was born here and I have been here for whole my life. However, just because of these issues [racial abuses] there is always a kind of thoughts that you can never be a part of this society ever, you know there can be always something, even walking down the street somebody could just turn around and say anything to you, so it is never going to be like being accepted as British..., even if you say I was born here and I am British, it does not make any difference. It is just the colour of your skin which defines you and at the end of the day you would be called “Paki”. … I spoke to a lot of people … when ask them why do you call me “Paki”, they say that “you are not white” … when I say to them that “I was born here though”, they say your parents are not from here. Basically, they want you to be white. [Edinburgh, 27 year-old]

   Kathryn points to the persistence of ancestry and racial markers as challenging second-generation Muslims’ identification with British national identity at grassroots level. This example supports previous research by Bond (2006: 623) suggesting that ancestry and ethnicity are “widely regarded as relevant and important, and thus those who lack these markers may have their Scottishness called into question”. In this example, Kathryn also highlights that experiences of national identity non-recognition can weaken her affiliation with British national identity. This implication of national identity non-recognition was also highlighted by other participants. For example Sadiq (25 year-old man from Glasgow), who described himself as only Iraqi, explained the way in which categorising and labelling him by his appearance or ethnic background made him frustrated, ridiculed and thus reluctant to continue to identify himself as Scottish.

   The examples of Kathryn and Sadiq illustrate the way in which even participants who are born, brought up and educated in Scotland can find their national identity claims questioned and challenged because of racial and ethnic differences. This finding supports previous research by Hopkins (2007: 72) suggesting the “continuing the salience of race as a marker of social difference” in the exclusion of certain young Scottish Muslims. As evident in the examples of Kathryn and Sadiq, these participants’ national identity claims were challenged and they were labelled by their skin colour and ethnic backgrounds. This can imply the importance of national identity non-recognition and labelling behaviour in second-generation Muslims’ affiliation with their ethnic identities.

   The experiences of challenged national identity claims were not limited to the importance of racial and ethnic differences. Religious and cultural difference were also reported to play a part in these challenges. Several participants perceived that their religious identity (visualised mainly by lack of alcohol consumption, lack of gender mixing, wearing Hijab in women’s case and having beard in men’s case) was a challenge to the acceptance of their Scottish/British identity claims. For example, Ali said that to be considered Scottish, racial, religious and cultural markers are important. He especially singled out the issue of drinking alcohol, which was a social norm in Scottish/British culture, but was not permitted for Muslims. This example highlights the way in which barriers to Scottishness may be cultural and social as well as racial. This particularly supports previous research by Jacobson (1997a: 181) suggesting the presence of three “boundaries of Britishness” - the civic, the racial and the cultural boundaries. This also supports the findings of previous research (Hopkins 2004: 265-6), suggesting the way in which certain Muslims distance themselves from completely belonging within the boundaries of Scottishness by highlighting for example lack of alcohol consumption. In another example, the importance of hijab was highlighted as another religious and cultural challenge to national identity. Arezo (40 year-old woman from Edinburgh), who earlier described herself as a British-Muslim, explained how her hijab alongside having brown skin played a role in challenging her British identity claim. This example again points to cultural challenges to Scottishness. This supports previous research by Virdee et. al. (2006), which highlighted the persistence of cultural boundaries of Scottishness and illustrated the way in which certain cultural behaviours, such as wearing hijab and burqa, were perceived as oppression and fundamentalism and thus considered to be incompatible with Scottishness. Associating hijab with specific ethnicity or race was more highlighted in the example of Azadeh. She explained how her white Scottish Muslim friends’ Scottishness and whiteness were questioned by her fellow Scots simply because they wore the hijab:   

I have a lot of friends who are white Scottish and they are Muslims. Some of them wear the hijab. Once they do not wear the hijab, people would not give them a second look, they would not put them in any box or category but once you do wear the hijab, even though they are white, people say to them that you are from Pakistan or Tunisia. Because they wear the hijab, they must be form somewhere else rather than Britain. [Edinburgh, 42 year-old]

   In this quote, Azadeh underlines that even the white Scots’ national identity can be challenged because of wearing hijab. This supports research by Moosavi (2014) suggesting that once white British/Scottish people convert to Islam they “lose their whiteness” and become known as a “Paki” (Moosavi 2014: 3). This can also support previous research by Franks (2000: 922-3) suggesting that white Muslims with hijab can be associated with South Asian or Arab ethnicities and “perceived to be race-traitors by white supremacists”. The example of Arezo and Azadeh can also support the argument that through a process of racialisation of Muslims, all Muslims, even the white British converts, regardless of their real ethnic or racial background can be called Paki or Pakistani (Moosavi 2014: 4).

   Having Islamic names is another example of cultural and religious barriers to being recognised and accepted as Scottish/British. For example, Rahman said that his Islamic name, alongside his different skin colour and his abstention from alcohol consumption could make others think that he is not Scottish. The example of Nader Rahman implies the importance of cultural boundaries of Scottishness and supports previous research by Virdee et. al. (2006), which suggests that Muslim names can become a racialised code of cultural belonging and associated with terrorism and thus be a basis for discrimination. The examples presented highlight the multiple barriers to belonging based on markers of difference. They indicate the way in which second-generation Muslims may feel othered and be considered as outsiders because of racial and religious differences. This reflects Kidd and Jamieson’s (2011: 65) research, suggesting that “Scottish Muslims experience feelings of otherness and difference resulting from experiences of religious and racial discrimination” (see also Hopkins, 2007). The data indicates that in certain cases, national identity non-recognition could play an important part in strengthening participants’ affiliation to their parent’s countries of origin (ethnic identities). However, it is important to note that the strength and extent of the affiliation with ethnic identities can also be a matter of difference.

Importance of Ethnicity: Social Imposing or Cultural Identity

   The importance of ethnicity amongst second-generation participants was perceived in their identification with their parents’ country of origin. Sixteen participants [out of twenty-seven] identified with their parents’ country of origin as a part of their multiple and hybrid identities. However, this identification with ethnic background did not have the same strength and meanings for all participants. For certain participants, it was a matter of social imposition and, thus, not a prominent identity marker, and for others it was a matter of choice and family education and thus continued to be the most prominent identity marker. For a number of participants, being labelled or considered by their racial or ethnic backgrounds was the most important reason for affiliation with their ethnic identities. In this regard, association with ethnic background was a matter of social imposition rather than an optional choice. As acknowledged by several interviewees, one reason to describe themselves according to their ethnic background was their “look and skin colour” as well as others’ labelling behaviour. Further to the examples quoted above, Hakim, who earlier identified himself as a Scottish-Muslim-Pakistani, pointed to the importance of others’ attitudes. He was a fulltime undergraduate student and was born and brought up in Edinburgh. Hakim explained how others’ perception of his appearance and ethnic heritage made him identify himself with Pakistani identity despite his strong cultural ties with Scottish identity:

Generally, if somebody asks me where are you from, because I know that they are not really asking me to say I am from Scotland and they are really asking about my heritage, so in those cases I guess I am more Pakistani than anything else because my appearance is like that, but if somebody asked me what is my culture, I would definitely say Scottish because I testify the Scottish morals of education and etc. [Edinburgh, 20 year-old]

   This quote highlights that even second-generation participants who were completely integrated into the Scottish society with Scottish education and culture, and had stronger ties with their Scottish or British national identities make a significant amount of affiliation with their ethnic backgrounds because of others’ expectations. This can be illustrated in the example of Kasim, who has an undergraduate degree and is working in a bank. He grew up in Edinburgh and earlier identified himself as British-Pakistani:

Basically, I am British, that’s how I would describe myself but because of my Pakistani appearance, I am Pakistani too; so yes I would call myself British and then would say Pakistani too. That’s how I would describe myself. [Edinburgh, 41 year-old]


   The examples of Hakim and Kasim suggest that their affiliation with ethnic identities was not as strong as their affiliation with their national identities. The meaning of ethnic identities in these two examples was only skin colour, parents’ country of origin and others’ expectation. This can support previous research by Jacobson (1997b: 248), suggesting that “popular, racist assumptions that being British is a matter of being white can be described as contributing to an ethnic boundary which is imposed upon the members of the minority community, rather than loosely constructed by the members of the minority themselves”. However, their national identities meant birthplace, school and university, culture, work and friends, and were thus based on birth, education and culture. As highlighted in the example of Hakim, in addition to his Paki identity, Scottish identity was also part of his cultural identity, which can imply stronger and deeper attachment to Scottishness than ethnic identities such as Pakistani. Weaker affiliation and a sense of belonging to ethnic culture and identity are also evident in the following example: Ali was born and brought up in Edinburgh and was working in a public institution and had an undergraduate degree. He, described himself as Scottish-British-Pakistani-Muslim, but explained that his affiliation with his ethnic background was not his prominent identity because he felt different from people from Pakistan and he was more connected to the Scottish or British culture. This can imply that for a number of second-generation Muslims, who have strong cultural ties with Scotland or Britain, ethnic identities are weak and less meaningful.

   In contrast, in the latter form of affiliation with ethnic identities, there was a stronger and deeper association with ethnic culture and identity. Two participants reported maintaining cultural bonds with their families’ country of origin and family education as key factors in preserving and developing their ethnic identities. The first example is Sadiq who grew up in Glasgow and was a fulltime undergraduate student. He, who earlier identified himself as only Iraqi, stated that through family and community education he had developed a strong connection with his ethnic culture and identity:

My family’s whole ethos is very much attached to their country, and they have got no association with the British country. They brought me up as if I was an Iraqi child. So I was not familiar with these sorts of ideas of being Scottish and so on. Later on through community education and attending our Iraqi Mosques my ethnic culture and identity was developed and got stronger. [Glasgow, 25 year-old]

   In this quote, Sadiq highlights the importance of family education in maintaining his ethnic culture and strengthening his ethnic identity. Sadiq also notes that the importance of ethnic culture resulted in little affiliation and a slight sense of belonging to Scottish identity. Sadiq was one of the respondents who defined national identity non-recognition as not identifying himself as Scottish. However, this quote underlines the significance of family education and culture to this process. The importance of family education and maintaining ethnic culture is also highlighted in the next example. Khabir was brought up in the UK and was a postgraduate student. He described himself as Iraqi-Scottish and indicated that even though his mother was Scottish, he was brought up in an Arabic-Iraqi culture, which made him feel more Iraqi than British or Scottish:

I feel more Iraqi so I tell people that I am Iraqi … as my mum is Scottish I do have some sense of connection with Scotland as well but in terms of culture I do not feel a lot of connection to this country [Scotland] because I have been brought up in an Arabic-Iraqi culture. So, I feel more Iraqi. [Aberdeen, 23 year-old]

   The examples of Sadiq and Khabir imply the importance of early childhood socialisation in developing and maintaining second-generation Muslims’ ethnic identities. This finding supports previous research suggesting that family education and up bringing were significant in maintaining or developing Muslims’ ethnic identities (Murji 2011). The examples of Sadiq and Khabir also suggest that due to family education and maintaining ethnic culture, these respondents had weaker cultural bonds with Scotland and thus have weaker (in the case of Khabir) or no (in the case of Sadiq) affiliation with Scottish identity. This can imply that even certain second-generation Muslims, despite being brought up and educated in Scotland, have stronger cultural ties and identities with their ethnic backgrounds. 

Importance of Religion: Central to Muslim Identity and Practice

   Religious identity was the second most common identity marker cited by participants, 17 out of 27, as a part of their multiple or hybrid national identities. The data suggests that those who identified with their religion saw it as the most prominent and important component of their multiple or hybrid identities. For example, Azadeh was one of the participants who asserted that her most important identity was her Muslim identity. She was a practicing Muslim woman and earlier identified herself as Muslim and British:

I think the most important thing for me is that I am a Muslim; this is something that I feel strongly but I am not just a Muslim. I can be Scottish, I can be British, I can be a part of my wider ethnic community but I think Scottish applies to my identity after Muslim. [Edinburgh, 42 year-old]

  Similarly, in another example, Adil, who is another practicing Muslim man and is born and brought up in Falkirk, stated the priority of his Muslim identity over other aspects of his multiple identities. Adil separated the role of nationality and religion and pointed out that his religion is the most important factor in his life. These examples imply that identification with religion amongst certain second-generation Muslims can be stronger than identification with ethnic or national identities (cf. Bochner 1982; Hutnik 1985; Jacobson 1997b; Saeed et. al. 1999; Archer 2003; Ameli and Merali 2004; Change institute 2009). Such importance was evident in other examples as well: Azim is a practicing Muslim man and describes himself as a British-Muslim-Indian:

My religion is very important to my identity. It is also very important in terms of shaping my everyday life; for example, how I should behave and what I should do in my workplace and in everywhere. So, it is the most important thing for me. [Dundee, 24 year-old]

   This example highlights the central role of religious identity for many second-generation Muslims and suggests that religious identity can affect Muslims’ social and economic life. One possible explanation for the importance of Muslim identity can be associated with the especial role of the religion of Islam, which provides guidelines for every aspect of Muslims’ individual and communal lives and thus becomes central to Muslim identity and practice (Esposito, 2011: 158). This can support the argument that religion, as a meaning system or a system of guiding beliefs, can function as a social identity “through the increasing importance of the relevant group membership to the self-concept” (Ysseldyk et. al. 2010: 61; Park 2007: 320).

   The importance of religion can be stronger than that of  ethnic culture or ethnic identity. Several  participants reported that their religious identities are more important than their ethnic identities. For example, Zahir (39 year-old man), who is born and brought up in Dundee and describes himself as Scottish-Muslim, stated that maintaining his religious identity, rather than his ethnic one, is the most important element in defining his identify. Zahir highlighted that his cultural identity was more connected to the Scottish culture than the Pakistani culture, but when there was a contradiction between his religious identity and the Scottish culture (such as drinking alcohol), his religious identity determined what to do and what not to do. The examples of Adil and Zahir reinforce the finding that as a source of identity, certain second-generation Muslims perceive religion as more important than ethnicity or nationality.

   One possible explanation for the priority and preference of religious identity among a number of second-generation Muslims is having no connection to their parents’ country of origin on the one hand, and yet being denied full belonging to Scottishness by the exclusive attitudes and actions of various majority Scots on the other hand. Therefore, religion becomes a strong and positive source of identity that these second-generation Muslims can use to identify themselves. This observation supports the theoretical argument that public devaluation of Muslims’ social identity by the majority can result in more intergroup solidarity on the part of the minority group (Saeed et. al. 1999: 26; Modood 2005: 160; Modood 2007: 3).  The example of Azadeh and Zahir also highlights that even though their primary identity is religious, they still consider themselves as Scottish. These examples highlight that there is no contradiction between being Muslim and Scottish or British, and support Meer’s (2012: 192) argument that Islam is not in contradiction with “liberal democratic norms and convictions” (Meer 2012: 192). However, being Muslim or practicing Islam in secular societies may face challenges[5].

   All participants who reported stronger identification with their religious identity were practicing Muslims. This suggests the importance of having a strong Muslim identity for practicing and observant Muslims. The examples of less-practicing participants (Kathryn, Zainab and Akram) who did not self-identify as Muslim lend credence to this view. Additionally, the examples of Amir and Arezo, who used to be non-practicing Muslims, can also support the importance of being practicing and observant Muslims for strong identification with Muslim identity. By embracing Islam, a number of participants felt more belonging to Muslim identity and developed stronger identification with Islam. Amir, who earlier described himself as British-Scottish-Pakistani-Muslim, is a prime example of this observation:

As I was becoming a more practicing Muslim, I regarded myself more Muslim than other identities. Now, I see myself more Muslim; so I think my religion is very important to my identity. [Dundee, 21 year-old]

   In another example, Arezo, who earlier described herself as a British-Muslim, stated that after becoming a practicing Muslim, her religious identity became more prominent than her civic identity:

When I was younger, I always said that I am British and that was really who I was. That time, my parents were not very practicing Muslims so in my household it was not a lot of Islam, so I was just a British person and that was it. But as I grown up and look more into Islam, then I became a practicing Muslim myself; I just started to wear the Hijab about 10 years ago, so when I started to do that, I have gone more towards Muslim identity rather than my British identity, so that is what I think of myself more. Muslim identity is more important to me than the British identity. [Edinburgh, 50 year-old]

   These two quotes illustrate that second-generation Muslims who practice and observe the religion of Islam can have a strong affiliation to their religious identities. This statement supports previous research by Kidd and Jamieson (2011: 42), suggesting that for certain Muslims, the importance of religious identity was increasing as they practiced their religion more strongly. The importance of practicing Islamic law in Muslims’ religious identity (Esposito 2011: 158) and the examples of less-practicing and non-practicing participants can also imply that Muslims who do not practice the religion of Islam may not even self-identify as Muslims and construct strong bonds with their ethnicity or nationality. However, due to the small sample size, especially on less-practicing and non-practicing participants, confirming this association requires further research. 


   Returning to this study’s main objective and research question, this paper, supporting previous research, suggests that Muslims used different elements and identity markers, namely religion, ethnicity and nationality in a hybrid form for identifying themselves. Regarding the study’s minor questions, this paper suggests that differing meanings were attributed to the type and strength of identification with national, ethnic and religious identities. More specifically, the second-generation participants’ identification with Scottish or British national identities was based on a range of markers such as birthplace, education, English language, Scottish accent and culture, whereas, the importance of ethnicity and ethnic identity was mainly related to social imposition (labelling behaviour) or family education. The strength and meanings of participants’ identification with national and ethnic identities varied based on family education and ethnic culture. Respondents who maintained strong cultural ties with their country of origin had stronger affiliation with their ethnic identities than their national identities. In contrast, respondents who had closer bonds to their Scottish culture made stronger affiliation with their national identities than their ethnic identities. This finding suggests the importance of cultural identity and could imply that Muslims whose cultural identity is connected with Scottish culture can have a stronger affiliation with the Scottish identity.

   Religion and religious identity also played an important part—and perhaps the most important part—in  certain participants’ identity negotiation. For practicing participants, religion was a complete way of life, with which everything else should be in line. For these participants, identification with religion and religious identity was stronger than identifying with ethnicity and nationality. Regarding this study’s conceptual discussion, the findings of this paper can support the argument that the special role of religions, particularly Islam, as a meaning system or a system of guiding beliefs, can function as social identities and interestingly as the most important identity markers. The salience of religion, as a source of identity for many second-generation Muslims, can also be explained by the fact that these Muslims had no or little connection with their parents’ country of origin while at the same time, their Scottish identity claims were denied by a number of majority Scots. Religion therefore became one strong and positive source of identity that they could claim with no repercussions. This observation supports the argument highlighting the importance of devaluation of Islam and Islamophobia in the significance of religious identity amongst Muslims. Consequently, both conceptual explanations (reactive and Islam capacity as a source of identity) can be used to explain Muslims’ identity negation. This implies that Muslims’ identity is a complex issue and one theory cannot be applied to all Muslims. The less-practicing Muslims’ identity negation also adds to this complexity. In our study, there were a number of less-practicing participants who did not mention religion as a part of their multiple or hybrid identities. This can imply the importance of practicing and observing the religion of Islam in making such strong identification with the Muslim identity amongst second-generation Muslims.

   This study adds to the general argument that Muslims’ sense of being part of Scottish/British society or of being outside that society does not only depend on Muslims; it is also related to Muslims’ perceptions and experiences of how others see them. This is where Muslims experience and understand whether their claims to inclusion are accepted or refused. Interestingly, despite having a widespread experience of identity non-recognition, at grassroots level, second-generation Muslims still had some sense of belonging to Scottish/British identity. This can be associated with political Scottish nationalism (Meer, 2017: 214; Botterill et. al. 2017: 151), in other words, successive Scottish governments, which promote and propagate a civic sense of Scottish identity (Hussain and Miller 2006: 49), which are at least perceived by many Muslims as inclusive (Finlay et. al. 2017: 95).

[1] The first generation Muslims social identity is discussed in another paper by author (Bagheri 2016).

[2] In this paper, ‘first generations’ are Muslims who are born outside the UK and immigrated to UK and the term ‘second generation’ refers to those Muslims who are born in the UK to non-native parents.

[3] This paper is not applying or following any specific theoretical framework and this conceptual discussion is used to inform the analysis of my findings.

[4] In this paper, participants’ identification with their country of origin (such as Pakistan, Bangladesh …) is considered as ethnic identities, and associating with their country of residence (such as Britain or Scotland) is considered as national identities. This distinction was applied because firstly, such distinction was made by participants themselves and second, it can highlight different senses of attachments to these identities.

[5] The importance of Muslims’ religious identity in their integrational strategies is discussed in another paper by author (Bagheri 2017).



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Appendix: Summary of 33 Interviewees

  1. Kasim: Edinburgh; Male, Second Generation, Brought up in Scotland, 41 Year-old, Shia, Employed, Interviewed on 02/11/2010
  2. Bohlol: Edinburgh; Male, Second Generation, Scottish Born, Pakistani Origin, 20 Year-old, Sunni, Standard Grade, Interviewed on 04/07/2011
  3. Kathryn: Edinburgh; Female, Second Generation, Birmingham Born, Pakistani Origin, 27 Year-old, Sunni, Standard Grade, Interviewed on 25/07/2011
  4. Shakila: Glasgow; Female, Second Generation, Scottish Mother and Iranian Father, Scottish Born, 30 year-old, Sunni, Standard Grade, Employed, Interviewed on 26/07/2011
  5. Hakim: Edinburgh; Male, Second Generation, Scottish Born, Pakistani Origin, 20 Year-old, Sunni, Bachelor, Interviewed on 27/07/2011
  6. Wahed: Edinburgh; Male, Second generation, Scottish born, Pakistani origin, 20 year-old, Sunni, Bachelor, [doing voluntary activities], Interviewed on 27/07/2011
  7. Arezo: Edinburgh; Female, Second Generation, Kenyan Born (Living in Scotland for 30y), 50 Year-old, Sunni, Self-employed, College, Interviewed on 03/08/2011
  8. Zainab: Edinburgh, Female, Second Generation, Scottish Born, Pakistani Origin, 44 Year-old, Housewife, Doing Voluntary Activities, Sunni, Interviewed on 08/08/2011
  9. Sanaz: Edinburgh; Female, Second Generation, Scottish Born, Pakistani Origin, 41 Year-old, Sunni, Housewife,  Doing Voluntary Activities, Interviewed on 10/08/2011
  10. Ali: Edinburgh; Male, Second Generation, Scottish Born (Edinburgh), Pakistani Origin, 38 Year-old, Shia, Employed, Interviewed on 27/08/2011
  11. Rafiqah: Edinburgh; Female, Second Generation, British Born, Pakistani Origin, 36 Year-old, Sunni, Housewife, Doing Voluntary Activities, British General Certificate of Secondary Education, Interviewed on 17/09/2011
  12. Azadeh: Edinburgh; Female, Second Generation, British Born, Pakistani Origin, 42 Year-old, Sunni, Housewife, Doing Voluntary Activities, British General Certificate of Secondary Education, Interviewed on 20/09/2011
  13. Zahra: Edinburgh; Female, Second Generation, British Born, Pakistani Origin, 45 Year-old, Sunni, Housewife, Doing Voluntary Activities, College, Interviewed on 22/09/2011
  14. Zahir: Glasgow; Male, Second Generation, Scottish born, Pakistani parents, Brought up in Dundee (lived there for18yrs), 39 Year-old, Sunni, Employed, Undergraduate, Interviewed on 08/10/2011
  15. Rahman: Glasgow; Male, Second Generation, Scottish born, Pakistani origin, Sunni, 38 Year-old, PhD, Employed, Interviewed on 21/09/2011
  16. Fatima: Glasgow; Female, Second Generation, Brought up in Glasgow, Iraqi Origin, 32 Year-old, Shia, Employed, Master Degree, Interviewed on 09/10/2011
  17. Batool: Glasgow; Female, Second Generation, Brought up in Glasgow, Iraqi Origin, 28 Year-old, Shia, Employed, Undergraduate, Interviewed on 09/10/2011
  18. Sadiq: Glasgow; Male, Second Generation, Brought up in Edinburgh, Iraqi Origin, 25 year-old, Shia, Undergraduate Student, Interviewed on 11/09/2011
  19. Jafar: Glasgow; Male, Second Generation, Scottish born, Iraqi Origin, 20 Year-old, Shia, Undergraduate Student, Interviewed on 11/09/2011
  20. Fazel: Glasgow; Male, Second Generation, Lebanon Origin, 23 year-old, Shia, Self-employed, Undergraduate, Interviewed on 11/09/2011
  21. Amir: Dundee; Male, Second Generation, Scottish Born (Dundee), Pakistani origin, 21 Year-old, Sunni, Student, Undergraduate, Interviewed on 10/11/2011
  22. Azim: Dundee; Male, Second Generation, English Born (Living in Dundee for 20y), Malawi origin (Africa), 24 Year-old, Sunni, Employed, College, Interviewed on 10/11/2011
  23. Akram: Dundee; Female, Second Generation, Born in Dundee, Pakistani origin, 43year-old, Self-employed, College, Sunni, Interviewed on 04/12/2011
  24. Hashim: Stirling; Male, Second Generation, Scottish Born (Stirling), Pakistani Origin, 17 Year-old, Sunni, College, Student (and part time employed), Interviewed on 11/11/2011
  25. Khabir: Aberdeen; Male, Second Generation, Iraqi Origin, Scottish Mother, 23 Year-old, Shia, Student, postgraduate, Interviewed on 12/11/2011
  26. Adil: Falkirk; Male, Second Generation, Scottish Born (Falkirk), Pakistani Origin, 24 Year-old, Employed, Sunni, Undergraduate, Interviewed on 17/11/2011
  27. Ahad: Falkirk; Male, Second Generation, English Born, Living in Falkirk for 34y, Pakistani Origin, 41 Year-old, Self-employed, Sunni, British General Certificate of Secondary Education, Interviewed on 17/11/2011