Social citizenship rights of Canadian Muslim youth: youth resiliencies and the claims for social inclusion.

AuthorMoosa-Mitha, Mehmoona


THE CONCEPT OF "SOCIAL CITIZENSHIP" is increasingly utilized to define governmental as well as grass roots activist organizations' social policy outcomes. This can in part be explained by the fact that in liberal Western democracies social citizenship rights are emblematic of society's equal care and concern for all its citizens. There are basically two ways by which social theorists define social citizenship. They are either understood in terms of material redistribution, such as the rights of all citizens to subsistence allowance so that no citizen is left without enjoying at least basic standard of living (Roche 2002: 70). Alternatively they are defined in cultural terms as "recognition" rights that interpret societal care and concern in terms of social inclusivity where all citizens are acknowledged and experience themselves as equally valuable members of society irrespective of their race, gender or other social identity locations (Yuval-Davies 1999: 13; Hall and Held 1989: 174). Some theorists (Roche 2002: 72) argue for a definition that combines both the material as well as the cultural aspects of social citizenship rights.

While I agree in principle with the view that cultural recognition rights have material implications and vice versa, over the course of this article I will largely focus on "recognition rights" to analyze the lived experiences of social citizenship that young Muslim men and women spoke of when interviewed as participants of a field study that I conducted recently.

The central argument of this article is that western, secular welfare states such as Canada are severely restricted in their abilities to recognize, and thus address the social needs of faith-based communities such as those of Canadian-Muslims. Without wishing to fall into the trap of Muslim "exceptionalism" I further argue that the political context particularly since the tragic events of 9/11 make it even more difficult for Canadian-Muslims to fully integrate as full and equal members of Canadian society (Siddiqui 2006: 11). This, I argue, results in limiting the social citizenship rights of Canadian-Muslim communities, particularly in the case of youth. I attribute difficulties of the Canadian Welfare state's relationship vis-a-vis social citizenship rights of faith-based communities to several things: the Canadian welfare state as a Post-Enlightenment project; the particular definition of secularity that it employs; the blurring of ethnic/cultural claims of recognition with religious ones and the particularly hostile post 9/11 environment that influences Canadian state's relationship with its Muslim citizens.

Preliminary analysis of themes that emerge from these narratives of Canadian-Muslim youth (ages 18-24 yrs.) will be used to initiate a theoretical discussion of the tensions and limitations that exist between a secular welfare state and faith-based communities' claims for social inclusion, particularly those of Muslim communities, which mark and define their experiences of social citizenship as Canadian subjects.

Using the field study as a reference point I undertake this discussion by basing it on three thematic areas emerging from the narratives of the participants of the field study, and which are experienced as both sites of resiliencies and exclusions by the youth in this study. The thematic areas are: vision, visibility and voice. Under the theme "vision" I discuss the narratives of CanadianMuslim youth participants on this study that attest to the importance of imagining themselves as a part of something greater than an individual self in supporting them when navigating everyday social issues. Yet the Canadian Welfare state envisions citizens in individualist terms whose ties to faith-based communities are overlooked and found irrelevant to public policy or public space. The second theme to emerge was that of "visibility" and it refers to the importance the participants of this study place on wanting to be acknowledged on the basis of their "difference," both as young people and as Muslim-Canadians. Yet in an environment where being a Muslim is visible largely in stereotypical and pejorative ways (Meer 2008; Birt 2006: 5) Canadian-Muslims are visualized only in particular and exclusionary ways. The third theme to emerge was "voice" where participants spoke of the importance of having a voice in participating in society rather than being viewed as passive recipients. Acknowledgment of their participation in society was identified as another source of resiliency. These youth rejected being viewed as passive recipients of adult care and concern and affirmed a level of self-confidence that they derived from being participants in society, enabling them to deal with social issues that they faced in their everyday lives. However this too is a site of tension as the state, and by extension society, is inclined to treat youth as "passive" citizens on the basis of their age (Moosa-Mitha, 2005). Moreover the Canadian Welfare state goes to great lengths to interpret civic participation in largely secular terms, overlooking particular claims of civic participation by faith-based communities (Dinham and Lowndes 2008). I end this paper by initiating a preliminary exploration of alternative ways by which the Canadian welfare state can recognize the social citizenship rights of Canadian-Muslim youth without losing its secular character.


From 2006 to 2008, I conducted a series of focus groups across Canada where around two hundred and fifty Canadian-Muslim youth, aged 18 to 24, participated in the study. The aim of this study was to identify the life experiences of young Canadian men and women by exploring social issues that they experienced in daily life as well as identifying resiliencies that they brought to bear when navigating social issues. One objective of the study was to gain insight into the resiliencies of these youth so as to identify ways by which the Canadian welfare state could effectively intervene in the lives of CanadianMuslim youth that was socially inclusionary and which centered the voices of the youth themselves.

A qualitative approach to research was used through the utilization of a semi-structured interview guide. The interview guide was divided into two parts; one of which was dedicated to exploring in depth the nature of social issues that the participants experienced in their daily lives as Canadian-Muslim youth. The other was concerned with identifying strengths, supports and resiliencies that youth used to navigate social issues. All participants, facilitators and the research team were Muslims, and the context of the discussion was very much about the lived experiences of being young Canadian-Muslims.

The following discussion is a preliminary analysis of three thematic areas, vision, visibility and voice, as three resiliencies that emerged as significant for the participants of this study. Interestingly the social issues and experiences that the participants narrated as experiencing could also be clustered around these three themes, depicting the obverse effects of lacking these resiliencies. For example, having a voice and participating as an individual in the life of the community and society was identified as really important to creating self-awareness that allowed youth to negotiate social issues through the use of their own faculties. On the other hand, peer group pressure on individual youth to have a particular body type or wear particular kinds of clothing could be analyzed as a demand for conformity that denied youth the resiliency of owning an individuated voice. However over the course of this article I will be focusing on a discussion of the resiliencies identified by the participants of this study.


Social inclusion is a useful concept because it translates "recognition rights" in a pragmatic manner, spelling out what they look like in practice. The ensuing discussion on various aspects of "social inclusion," using citizenship theory which has its basis in the works of theorists that center their analysis on the lived experiences of marginalized populations will serve to provide an organizing framework, and will then be applied to the discussion on social citizenship of Canadian-Muslim youth and their resiliencies.

Two ways of defining social inclusion are discernible in the literature on the subject. The first is a result of the work of economic and sociological theorists (See O'Brien and Penna 2007; Reimer 2004; Shucksmith 2001) who draw on the works of economists like Karl Polyani and sociologists such as Emile Durkheim to define social exclusion/inclusion. These theorists define social exclusion/inclusion in systemic terms. The focus of their analysis is on the barriers and other forms of dysfunctions that exist between social systems, as well as on individual's access to these systems that prove to be exclusionary to the full and equal social integration of all citizens.

An alternative analysis, which I find more compelling for present purposes, locates social exclusion/inclusion within political theory, particularly citizenship theory to explore its manifestations (see Wagner 2008 and Turner 2001). Drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt, Jurgen Habermas as well as T.H. Marshall, these theorists examine both the subjective factors such as identification of one self as a fully integrated and valued member of society, as well as objective factors such as access to resources to explain the experiences of social inclusion/exclusion of various sectors of society. Rather than formal and legalistic definitions of citizenship as status, citizenship is understood in relational terms as a dynamic process by which members of society relate to and interact with each other in society.

Thus social inclusion, using the lens of citizenship theory, is understood in a multi-modular and dynamic fashion that...

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