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Being Muslim in Australia: Experiences of discrimination and protective factors for integration

Researcher Amiirah Salleh-Hoddin

Supervisors Dr Anne Pedersen and Adjunct Professor Brian Griffiths

Date: 9th February, 2011

Background

Minority Muslims in Western societies have been put under the spotlight due to terrorist attacks in recent years. However, a lot of the existing literature is either based in the United States or in Britain. The present study contributes to the emerging literature on the status of Muslims in Australia in the current political climate in terms of experiences of discrimination and how this may impact on their feelings of integration within the larger Australian society.

Participants

Invitations to participate in an online questionnaire were sent out to various Muslim organisations in Australia for distribution among their networks. Only Muslims who were Australian citizens and who were above 18 years of age were eligible to participate.
Out of the 110 responses collected, 88% were from Western Australia. Respondents had an average age of 30 years (range 18-70) and about two-thirds of them were female (66%). The majority of the respondents were highly educated with 76% of the sample holding a degree or postgraduate qualification and only 2% who did not complete secondary schooling. Slightly less than half of the respondents were migrants (47%); there were a couple who were refugees (2%), and the rest were born in Australia (36%). The respondents came from diverse ethnic backgrounds, the most common being Asian (33%), followed by Middle Eastern (17%), European (16%), from the Indian subcontinent (16%), and African (4%). There were also a few respondents who described themselves as having dual ethnicities (14%). About half of the respondents considered themselves as visible or identifiable Muslims (51%) in terms of their everyday appearance and clothing. Of this group, they tend to be females wearing the hijab (81%; with 3% wearing the niqab, or full face veil).

Overview of study - aims & measures

  1. To examine if the constructs used in Forrest and Dunn’s (2010) study on Middle Eastern Australians would also be useful in terms of understanding the experiences of Muslim Australians (and subsequently, their feelings of integration), respondents were asked about their experiences of discrimination at work, in education, housing, dealings with police, when out shopping, and in sports, as well as instances of being disrespected, treated with distrust, and called names because of their perceived religion.
  2. To examine any protective factors for Muslim Australians to feel integrated in Australian society. These factors were based on related research on intergroup relations and prejudice and were classified into three categories – (i) socio-demographics, (ii) individual and (iii) interpersonal factors. Socio-demographic factors include gender, ethnicity, and visibility. Identity factors include personal self-esteem, collective self-esteem, and ingroup evaluation (how positively or negatively an individual thinks about his or her social group). Interpersonal factors include intergroup contact (both amount and quality) and experiences of discrimination. With the exception of intergroup contact, the other factors, to the best of my knowledge, have not been used in research directly relating to feelings of integration, although they have been found to be relevant in other intergroup interactions.
  3. To qualitatively explore the issues and concerns among Muslims in Australia to enable a fuller understanding of their experiences.

Results

  1. Multivariate analyses indicated that males reported significantly more discrimination than females with regard to housing and marginally more discrimination with regard to education. Middle Eastern Muslims were significantly more likely to report discrimination with regard to housing, policing, shops/restaurants and public spaces. Visible Muslims were significantly more likely to report discrimination with regard to shops/restaurants and being treated disrespectfully, and marginally more discrimination in public places and being called names. However, the frequency of discrimination scores indicated that respondents generally did not encounter discrimination all that often.
  2. After controlling for socio-demographic factors, the regression indicated that out of the six correlated factors, three (one identity and two interpersonal factors) had a significant effect on feelings of integration among Muslims in Australia. More specifically, participants with lower collective identity (maybe because of society’s expectations), and those who had a higher amount and more positive intergroup contact, were more likely to feel more integrated.
  3. Thematic analysis of the data supports the quantitative findings of the present study where the respondents mostly reported experiences of discrimination in terms of treatment in the public sphere. It also supports previous research on the role of media in the negative construction of Islam and Muslims in the public discourse and how it contributes to prejudice. However, the respondents also recognised that there were some issues and problems within the Muslim community itself which may contribute to the prejudice towards themselves, and that they have an active role to play in minimising this prejudice and to feel integrated.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that it is almost a decade since the defining events of 9/11, the findings suggest that Muslim Australians are still facing some discrimination in significant areas of their everyday lives based on their perceived religion. Although levels were relatively low, any discrimination could be argued to be too much. However, a more important finding from the present study is that there are protective factors which override these simple experiences of discrimination in terms of affecting feelings of integration among Muslims in Australia. Positive integration is possible, and the data suggests that in spite of the everyday discrimination still faced by the Muslim community, Muslims recognise that they do not have to let it affect their sense of belonging and limit their participation in society.

Reference

Forrest, J., & Dunn, K. (2010). Middle Eastern Australians’ experiences of racism. Unpublished document, Macquarie University, Western Australia.