Muslim Well-Being in Europe

by Pamela Irving Jackson and Peter Doerschler

Europe, equality and diversity are the themes of Benchmarking Muslim Well-Being in Europe: Reducing Disparities and Polarizations (The Policy Press, 2012). We begin with warnings of Muslims’ vulnerability in Europe put forward by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), and follow through with comparative measurements of the religious minority’s well-being in key areas of life specified by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. Our goal is to demonstrate the ways in which official efforts to assess well-being can yield information enabling evaluation of assumptions about Muslims in Europe and promote recognition of the disparities between their life chances and those of their non-Muslim neighbors. This information would provide a firm platform for state policymakers working toward full utilization of the talents of members of the religious minority.

While we acknowledge significant differences in the origin and history of Muslims within each Member-state, we focus on France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom as most influential in determining the direction of minority integration in Europe. These cases vary in their level of bureaucratic support for religious diversity as well as in the state’s role in determining the criteria for minority integration. Shifting mechanisms of state response to demands relating to Muslim well-being undermine claims that the national models Bild entfernt.

of integration are immutable and demonstrate their susceptibility to politics.


In three of the four states, official data collection practices do not permit direct examination of Muslim well-being despite current efforts to establish alternatives to the Gross Domestic Product per capita in assessing individuals’ satisfaction and happiness. Of the states we study, only the United Kingdom gathers official data on Muslims and other religious groups. The other three states blur ethnic, religious and national identities in official data collection and thereby teach us little about the specific needs and attitudes of the religious minority. We examine several sources of data on Muslim well-being in Europe, and use official data available in the United Kingdom as a point of comparison. Our data sources are several: FRA and the European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS) that it sponsored; ECRI and its country-by-country reports; data gathered by European agency and Member-state collaboration, including the European Social Survey; state sponsored data, including the British Crime Survey, the Home Office Citizenship Survey, the Survey of Muslim Life in Germany, and Statistics Netherlands; research Institute-university collaboration, including the German General Social Survey (ALLBUS); data gathered by survey organizations and non-governmental organizations including the Eurobarometer, the Pew Global Attitudes Initiative, the Open Society Institute’s Muslims at Home in Europe project and its Justice Initiative.

We move forward from previous examinations of the origin of Muslims in Europe and the institutional structural arrangements in the Member-state in which they live to measure Muslim integration using the benchmarking framework developed under the auspices of the European Parliament. With quantitative data we compare Muslims to non-Muslims in their trust and confidence in specific public institutions including police, courts and the legal system, their Member- state parliament, their local government, political leaders, government officials, the education and health systems. Do Muslims approve of the way that democracy is practiced in their Member-state? How do they feel about the European Parliament? We investigate whether Muslims are more worried about crime than non-Muslims and whether Muslims experience more discrimination. We compare Muslims’ levels of happiness and satisfaction to those of non-Muslims, and ask how Muslims feel about their income and employment prospects in Europe. Are they able to live comfortably on their present income? Do they keep up with Member-state politics and world affairs? Do they use the internet as much as other Europeans? How do they feel about gay rights, divorce and living with a partner before marriage? Do young Muslims have attitudes that are closer to those of other Europeans than do their older counterparts, or are young Muslims less supportive of the state? Are those Muslims who are not citizens, who were born outside of Europe or who are ethnic minorities more critical of the state and its institutions? Are highly religious Muslims alienated from state agencies?

Worry about Crime, Discrimination and Trust in Government Institutions

In answering these questions we examine data to evaluate conventional assumptions that Muslims in Europe seek to live in a parallel society or are poorly integrated more generally. We ask whether Muslims’ goals and values are different from those of their European neighbors. Our quantitative findings raise questions about assertions that members of the religious minority have failed to integrate into Europe or that they have weak confidence in its agencies and institutions. With data from the British Crime Survey, ALLBUS, and the European Social Survey we analyzed Muslims’ confidence in justice agencies in contrast to that of their non-Muslim neighbors. We found few significant differences between the two groups, and where differences did emerge they were sometimes (in the UK, for example) in the direction of Muslims indicating greater confidence than others in the legal system and agencies of criminal justice. Where Muslims indicated less trust than others—for example, in France, where Muslims distrust the police — the results were not surprising in light of international investigation and condemnation of the widespread practice of racial profiling by French police and targeting young Muslim men for random identity checks.

Results from both the British Crime Survey and the European Social Survey highlight some areas in which Muslims are more worried about crime than non-Muslims. Regardless of their income, education, gender, employment, age and ideology Muslims in the Netherlands and the UK, for example, worry more that the possibility of crime affects the quality of their lives. Yet the data also suggest that despite their unease about crime, Muslims have at least as much, if not more confidence in the legal system, judiciary and most agencies of the justice system (except for the police in France) than do members of the dominant religious group.

These results challenge the conventional view that Muslims do not accept agencies representative of the authority of European states, and it is likely that unfounded and erroneous assumptions about their lack of confidence in the fairness of their European states hamper Muslims’ full engagement in Europe. The fact that Muslims’ concerns about crime coexist with confidence in the justice system provides an opportunity for state agencies to involve them in the networks of public, private and parochial relationships that foster neighborhood collective efficacy and reduce crime. Attention to Muslims’ worry about crime would improve their well-being considerably, especially in light of their experiences of discrimination against them documented in EU-MIDIS and the European Social Survey.

We look separately throughout our analyses at those groups of Muslims widely expected to be most vulnerable in Europe: the young (15-29), males, highly religious, foreign nationals and those born abroad. This look within the Muslim population provides some surprising results: For example, in the UK, young Muslims have significantly more trust in the police than those who are over 30. We note that the British system of requiring each police force to answer to an appointed body that sets local priorities and a local policing levy might be partly responsible for young Muslims’ greater trust in the police. The level of religiosity that Muslims hold does not appear to influence their trust in the police in any significant way; highly religious Muslims are as trusting of the legal system as the less religious.

In some states, those with foreign citizenship have greater trust in the police (in France and the UK) or legal system (in France) than do those who hold the citizenship of the Member-state. Similar findings apply to those born abroad. The results suggest that attention should be devoted to learning why foreign born Muslims or those holding citizenship of a foreign state feel advantaged in some Member-states in contrast to those Muslims who were born there or hold its citizenship.

Despite the religious minority’s high levels of trust in democracy and many government institutions, a consistent picture of discrimination against Muslims in key areas of life including employment, healthcare, housing, school, shopping and social life emerges in two different data sources over several different time periods during the last decade. Data also indicate that experiences with discrimination vary across states. For example, EU-MIDIS data show that Turkish Muslims in Germany are slightly more likely to report ethnic profiling at a border patrol stop while Muslims in France and the Netherlands are more likely to be stopped by police. And while ESS data indicate that Muslims in all four states are far more likely than non-Muslims to report belonging to a group that is discriminated against, these differences vary cross-nationally with the smallest gap represented in the UK at only 16.4% compared to 29.5% in Germany, 33% in France and topped by the Netherlands at 37.1%. Religion is the primary source of discrimination in the Netherlands and UK, and plays a considerable though secondary role behind race and nationality in France and Germany respectively. Data from the ESS also show that feelings of discrimination among Muslims were on the rise between 2002 and 2008 with the greatest increase in France (11%) followed by the Netherlands (6.7%). The pervasiveness of discrimination in all four states is likely tied to the securitization of immigration and integration policies that have developed in the wake of 9/11 and subsequent attacks on European soil. In response to the perceived threat that Muslims represent to traditional European societies and their core values, many governments have responded by neglecting, alienating and even marginalizing their Muslim populations. This attitude is perhaps most apparent in the 2004 French law banning headscarves in public schools. These experiences have given rise to skepticism regarding the ability of European governments to effectively integrate their increasingly diverse populations.

Analyses of ESS data show that certain groups of Muslims - younger, more religious, males - are more likely to report belonging to a group that is discriminated against. On the other hand, attitudes toward discrimination do not vary according to citizenship or place of birth. This later set of findings is somewhat discouraging since the role of socialization in overcoming discrimination and alienation appears minimal. Without the efforts of Member states and the EU to reduce barriers imposed by discrimination, it is unlikely that Muslims can fully develop their talents.

Education, Health, Employment and General Well-Being

Following recent initiatives by individual European states, we also examine Muslims’ overall satisfaction and well-being along with measures of income, health, education, employment, awareness of political information, and access to information sources. A review of available evidence indicates that once statistical controls are introduced few differences separate Muslims and non-Muslims in their general well-being. For example, Muslims and non-Muslims express equal levels of life satisfaction and general happiness. Muslims also report having better health in Germany and the Netherlands, more positive evaluations of their country’s health care in all four states and are as concerned as non-Muslims that their health hampers their daily activities. With the exception of France, Muslims also rate the state of education in the country more favorably than non-Muslims. In the area of employment Muslims are less likely than their counterparts to hold managerial positions, work either as many as or fewer hours (UK and France) than non-Muslims and are between 15-24% more likely to have experienced long-term unemployment.

Multiple sources conclude that Muslims have attained relatively equal levels of education except in Germany where a significant education gap persists. Furthermore, European Muslims resemble other Europeans in their interest and understanding of politics, as well as their attention to news and political coverage on television, radio and in the newspaper. One pervasive difference is average household income, where non-Muslims continue to earn significantly more than Muslims. Interestingly, regardless of their higher levels of unemployment and lower income levels, Muslims express greater levels of satisfaction with the economy. Despite some gaps in attainment, especially in objective indicators like income, overall trends show that Muslims’ confidence and satisfaction in the health, economic and educational systems of their European state are not much different from that of their European neighbors, and in some important areas are even more positive. Overall, these findings provide little support for widespread perceptions that Muslims are isolating themselves in Europe.

Results from multiple studies commissioned by the European Union along with our own analyses of ESS data indicate that Muslim youth share a similar profile with non-Muslims with only modest differences in their language choices, place of birth, how often they are picked on, problems they encounter with adults and the employment status of their fathers. (Muslim youth had far fewer working mothers compared to non-Muslims.) The two groups also have similar levels of general well-being and happiness. Contrary to conventional views, Muslim youth in two countries (France, UK) are slightly more likely than non-Muslim youth to be interested in national politics and show similar levels of being worried about the state of the world. Both sets of youth also identify a similar set of critical global issues such as poverty, racism, climate change and conflict between different cultures though Muslims place racism higher on the priority list. It is clear from these results that Muslim youth appear poised to take advantage of the same opportunities afforded to non - Muslims.

A closer look at Muslims thought to be more vulnerable to disparities in well-being reveals few differences. For example, female Muslims have higher life satisfaction but not greater overall happiness in France and Germany than their male counterparts while men report higher average years of education and more hours worked. In some states, more religious Muslims report greater life satisfaction and overall happiness though less education than less religious Muslims. In most cases, Muslims born in the country of residence and holding European citizenship are just as well off as those born abroad or holding a foreign passport. Taken together, these results provide considerable evidence that Muslims in general, and more specifically Muslims in groups thought to be vulnerable, possess the requisite attitudes to help European states economically, politically and socially.

In the final segment of our study, we found that Muslims generally hold more conservative values than non-Muslims. Concerning their relationship status, Muslims are far less likely than non-Muslims to have lived with a partner before marriage or to have been divorced. Not surprisingly, Muslims also tend to hold more conservative values on moral issues such as abortion and pornography. Views on gender roles also differ as Muslims are more likely to agree that a man has a right to a job over a woman. On the subject of alternative lifestyles, Muslims are less likely to agree that gays and lesbians should be free to lead their lives as they wish. Next to their more conservative values on social issues, Muslims generally display a stronger sense of social justice and empathy for “the other” compared to non-Muslims. For example, a higher percentage of Muslims believe it is important for people to be treated equally and that government should work more actively to reduce income inequalities.

Comparing Muslims’ Well-Being in Four European States

In Table 1 we summarize the main findings from bivariate and multivariate analyses. While certain trends run consistently across the four states in our analysis - lower monthly income, stronger feelings of belonging to a group that is discriminated against, equal levels of life satisfaction, higher rating of health care all relative to non-Muslims - it is also clear that Muslims’ well-being varies across the four states in interesting ways. In particular, we have emphasized differences in Muslims’ level of trust toward democracy and various government institutions. While the aggregate results are clearly positive in that Muslims have equal or in some cases greater levels of trust than non-Muslims, it is also evident that relative to non-Muslims, Muslims in the UK have developed more positive relations with public institutions. In the same cross-national perspective, Muslims in France express more negative views of the police than their peers in the three other states. A full account of these findings shows that Muslims in the UK have more positive well-being scores as measured across a large number of indicators followed by Muslims in Germany, France and the Netherlands.

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Emerging clearly from our findings is the urgency of gathering official data on the social and economic situation of Muslims in comparison to other Europeans in those states where these data are not now collected. If they do not overlook Muslims, efforts to develop the data needed to foster social cohesion are likely to have a significant positive effect in helping Muslims create a comfortable home in Europe from which they can contribute productively to the European project through full utilization of their talents in Member-states. Well-being, satisfaction, happiness and trust are the terms of these data collection initiatives. But to the extent to which they blur the identity of Muslims as a religious minority, these efforts will fail to provide the information needed to develop policies that will be effective in reducing disparities between European Muslims and their neighbors.




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Dr. Pamela Irving Jackson is Professor of Sociology and Director of Justice Studies at Rhode Island College. Dr. Peter Doerschler is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Bloomsburg University and a DAAD fellow. Both are Fulbright scholars.