Teaching the Study of Muslim Minorities in Higher Education in the United Kingdom

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Tahir Abbas

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Abstract

In this paper, I reflect on my experiences of teaching sociology of Islam at
an elite British university: the University of Birmingham. As a trained economist
with postgraduate degrees in social science and sociology and as a former
Whitehall civil servant, my foray into the world of Islamic studies has
only been recent. Indeed, it was the events relating to British Muslim
minorities between 1999 and 2001 (namely, the arrests, trial, and sentencing
in relation to the mostly Birmingham-born “Seven in Yemen” in 1999; the
9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, DC; and the urban disturbances
in northern England 2001) that propelled me to interact with this vast and
rich field of learning and scholarship. These three events compounded matters
in relation to identity politics, Islamism, and international political economy.
Having already researched and written on matters related to education
and class,1 entrepreneurship and culture,2 and Islamophobia and the print
news,3 my new focus on Muslim minority issues stemmed precisely from
my existing interests in ethnicity, culture, and multiculturalism.4
Upon joining the University of Birmingham in 2003, I spent my first two
years concentrating on teaching a specialized course, “Ethnic Relations in
Britain,” to finalists. In 2005, I began to teach a new course, “Islam, Multiculturalism,
and the State” to finalists. In this article, I discuss the resulting
insight into teaching to a largely non-Muslim audience issues relating to
Islam and Muslim minorities ...

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