Research Sites

Melbourne, Australia


The first stage of data collection was conducted in Australia. According to the 2011 Census, over 476,300 Muslims live in Australia, making up 2.2 per cent of the total population (ABS 2012). Islam is the third largest religion in Australia after Christianity (61.1 per cent) and Buddhism (2.5 per cent). Although Christianity is still the major religion, it has experienced a steady decline in numbers since the 1970s (ABS 2012). Commensurate with this decline is the increase in Australia’s religious diversity, with the number of Australians identifying with non-Christian religions continuing to grow (Bouma 2006).

Most Muslims living in Australia are concentrated in urban centres, predominantly Melbourne and Sydney. A report published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2014) shows that the majority of migrants from Middle Eastern nations reside in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. These are predominantly Iraqi-born migrants, who are concentrated in Campbellfield (14 per cent), Roxburgh Park (13 per cent) and Coolaroo (11 per cent). A large proportion of Lebanese migrants also reside in Campbellfield (8 per cent), while Dallas and Meadow Heights are home to a large proportion of Turkish-born migrants. The area of Greater Dandenong in the city’s south has a large number of Afghan-born residents (12 per cent), many of whom arrived as humanitarian migrants.

Though country of birth is not always an accurate predictor of religious affiliation, the ABS data also reflect the geographic distribution of Melbourne’s Muslim population, with Dallas in Melbourne’s north-western suburbs having the highest number of Muslim residents (45.3 per cent of total population), followed by Meadow Heights (42.1 per cent of total population), Broadmeadows (25.7 per cent), Fawkner (24.4 per cent), and Dandenong (24.1 per cent). Socioeconomic indicators for these suburbs show that the vast proportion of Muslims living in Melbourne are socially and economically disadvantaged in comparison to the national average (ABS 2013). Yet, despite experiencing social marginalisation and disadvantage, rates of Australian citizenship among Muslim Australians remain higher than the national average (HREOC 2003). In the 2011 Census, when asked to nominate their national identity, 74.1 per cent of Australian Muslims chose ‘Australian’ compared with 84.9 per cent of all Australians. It should be noted that some of these Muslims would have arrived in Australia only recently. It is likely that, after completing the residency and related requirements for becoming Australian citizens, more of these migrants would identify as Australian (Hassan & Lester 2015).

In this project, the City of Greater Dandenong was selected as the primary Australian site for the empirical data collection. This Melbourne municipality is of interest because it is the most culturally diverse municipality in greater Melbourne, and the second most culturally diverse municipality in Australia overall. This high level of diversity is also found among the Muslim community residing there. It was anticipated that the data collected at this site would generate a benchmark understanding of Islamic faith-based and community practices. Data were also collected in the City of Hume, Darebin, Frankston, inner Melbourne (primarily via university Islamic societies), and online.


Detroit, USA


The city of Detroit, in Michigan, USA, was selected for the second stage of ethnographic research because Detroit is home to one of the largest metropolitan Muslim populations in the USA according to the census (2014). In addition, Dearborn, Michigan – a city located in the Detroit metropolitan area – is estimated to have the largest number of residents of Arab background/Muslim faith in any city outside of the Middle East. These figures however are difficult to confirm, as there is no category for Arab ethnicity in the census data, rather Arab background residents are classified as ‘white’. Despite this, there is significant civil society representation of the Arab community, particularly in Dearborn, with many research participants speaking of their involvement in the local Arab community and welfare organisations such as the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS).

Detroit is a city that has gone through several historical upheavals associated with industrialisation, de-industrialisation, fluctuating waves of migration, and racial tensions; in particular the race riots of the 1940s and 1960s. In recent times, Detroit has been heavily associated with the urban decline of the USA’s manufacturing cities, which has seen its population shrink to an estimated 700,000 people in 2014 (when data for this project was collected). Industrial decline has contributed to what has become known as ‘white flight’, as an increasing number of affluent, predominantly white residents move to neighbouring cities. This means that 82 per cent of the city’s residents are now African American. The Detroit economy reached its lowest point in 2013 when the city declared bankruptcy. These historical circumstances however led participants there to nominate place and community as significant sources of resistance and resilience.

Muslim communities in Detroit are largely based around mosques that serve particular ethnic and denominational communities. The Building Islam in Detroit project (2016) reports that there are more than 50 mosques in Detroit. These mosques have long histories, and participants spoke of them as spaces of hope and renewal. Islam has special significance for the African American community in Detroit, given its deep historical association with Black empowerment movements born from the Great Depression; Detroit is home to Nation of Islam Temple Number One, established in 1930 (Baker et al. 2004; Bagby 2004; PFFRPL 2007). In addition, Islam in Detroit has been sustained by waves of migration from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen dating back to the industrialisation of the northern cities of the USA when the car manufacturing industry was dependent on both Black and migrant labour from Middle Eastern countries and elsewhere.

detroit - researcher_s photo (2).jpg

In recent years, new arrivals from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Bosnia have settled in Detroit following displacements caused by war and conflict. Further, recent migrations from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Latin American countries have contributed to a multiethnic, multifaith renewal in some areas of Detroit. For example, while Dearborn’s communities are long established, migration in Detroit and Hamtramck has resulted in the repurposing of abandoned buildings, with newly arrived communities setting up their own places of worship. In this sense, the mosques of Detroit represent the mobility and regeneration of communities in the city. Participants in this study reported this as generating a strong level of social acceptance of Detroit’s Muslim communities as well as fostering a sense of belonging, which participants felt would not be found in other US cities.

Detroit’s history as a city, marked by continual waves of migration and settlement, shows evidence of ethnic and racial separation: it’s diverse Muslim communities are often geographically concentrated according to ethnicity and race. Separation is also visible in religious congregations, mosques tend to be more ethnically homogenous than they are mixed. This is also reflected in the language used for delivering sermons; Imams provide sermons in the language of the community, rather than in Arabic (the language of the Qur’an) or English. For example, Aisha (25–30-year-old female, Latina revert) spoke about a large Latino Muslim community in Detroit and their ability to hear sermons and receive written religious materials in the Spanish language.

More recently, tensions in Detroit have developed along sectarian lines, these have arisen from international conflicts, and particularly those taking place in Iraq and Syria. This sometimes results in hostile relations between the predominantly Shia populations of Detroit, and the predominantly Sunni populations of Hamtramck, Detroit, and the outer suburbs. One research participant identified these tensions as ‘faultlines’, which, together with race and class, form a barrier to intercultural/interfaith harmony and the strengthening of community ties in Detroit.

LyonGrenoble Paris, France


France was selected for the second stage of ethnographic research due to its long history of immigration from the former French colonies in North Africa. One of the main characteristics of French Muslims is their relative sectarian homogeneity; the large majority are Sunni Muslims, despite their diverse ethnic and national backgrounds. The majority of French Muslims migrated from the Maghreb following national independence in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia during the 1950s and 1960s, and in response to a proactive French policy of labour recruitment from these three countries in the 1960s and 1970s. Algerian migration to France began in 1968, followed by waves of migrants from Morocco and Tunisia that intensified in the early 1970s. Sub-Saharan Africans, mostly from the former French colonies of Mali and Senegal, also became a major source of immigration from 1979 onwards. These initial and large migration flows were predominantly made up of single adult males under 30 years of age, brought to France (and other parts of Europe) to bolster its unskilled labour force. The late 1970s and 1980s saw an increase in female migration following the institution of family reunion migration policies (see Figure 21).

French Muslim Population By Country of Origin

Figure 21


It is estimated that the largest practicing Muslim communities in France are French citizens of North African heritage. Many of them live in the cities of Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Grenoble, and Lille (Andre, Mansouri & Lobo 2015). Most migrants to France settled in places where accommodation was cheap – such as the Northern suburbs (banlieues) of Paris comprising the département of Seine-Saint-Denis together with the 18ème, 19ème and 20ème arrondissements. The word banlieue has increasingly become synonymous with concentrated areas of migrants and associated with poverty and disadvantage.

In terms of employment outcomes and social mobility, one-third of Muslim citizens in France are in full-time employment mainly in low-skilled factory work (32.9 per cent) and other blue-collar jobs. Compared to the overall French population, Muslims are also on average younger, with over 60 per cent aged 18–34.


In France places of worship have been built gradually over time. In recent years, an increased number of mosques and places of worship have been constructed, often changing the centre of gravity for the whole communities. The earlier mosques were smaller and not always considered by their communities to be centres for practising faith. Until recently, the official authorisations needed to build places of worship have been difficult to obtain, and financial obstacles to their construction remain. It was only after a long struggle for recognition, that a mosque was built in the Muslim-majority area of Saint Denis, a subprefecture of Seine-Saint-Denis, in Paris.

The recent demands imposed on French Muslims to publicly express their solidarity with the French Republic and dissociate themselves from radicalised groups and organisations in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks on 7 January 2015, reflect the lingering tensions between the state, Muslims and Islam in secular France (Andre, Mansouri & Lobo 2015). France has been struggling to come to terms with a changing religious landscape in which Islam, now the second religion there and a salient feature of the social and cultural milieu, is nonetheless, due to secular politics, never acknowledged as such. Tied to this is an increasing rate of ethnically-motivated crime, and more specifically a sharp spike in Islamophobic incidents, evident, for example, in the weeks following the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

In the context of secular France, it is important to note that while most Muslims identify as being of ‘Muslim culture’ or of ‘Muslim origin’ they do not necessarily self-identify as ‘practising Muslims’. In fact, an important empirical distinction must be made between those who maintain Islamic belief at a cultural level and those who routinely practise religious rituals such as prayers, observance of Ramadan, and adherence to strict dietary requirements, such as the consumption of halal food and non-alcoholic drinks. According to a French study conducted in 2011, 75 per cent of the respondents who identified as of ‘Muslim origin’ also identified as believers, but only 41 per cent indicated that they perform religious rituals; of these, 25 per cent reported attending mosque, and 34 per cent declared that they did not follow religious rituals at all (Andre, Mansouri & Lobo 2015). The remaining individuals of ‘Muslim origin’ in the 2011 French study declared that they had no religious affiliation and were simply of ‘Muslim culture’. In many ways then, Islamic religiosity in France has become an individualistic rather than communitarian pursuit. While children of migrants have not themselves experienced migration, they have a direct relation with the migratory experience of their parents. This experience finds some of its expression in the transmission of their parents’ cultural and religious heritage in relation to Islamic religiosity.


Research data for this project were collected using mixed methods approach. Several data collection techniques were employed across the three sites: individual interviews, focus groups, participant observation, photo-elicitation techniques, and a survey questionnaire. A grand total of 378 people participated in all types of data collection activities.


In Melbourne, Australia, qualitative data were obtained through:

  • 49 individual interviews
  • Four focus groups held with 26 representatives of the Muslim organisations [including the Islamic Society of Deakin University (ISDU), the Hazara Women’s Network, the Muslim Women’s Center for Human Rights (MWCHR), and Victorian Arabic Social Services (VASS)

In Detroit, USA, qualitative data were gathered via:

  • 33 individual face-to-face interviews [where participants included Imams, Muslim community leaders (including the coordinators of diverse community projects within Detroit), academics, mosque attendees and participants at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Annual conference, held in Downtown Detroit in 2014]

In Lyon, Grenoble, and Paris, France, qualitative data were collected through:

  • 33 individual interviews [representatives and their leaders come from diverse Islamic community organisations, including the Union of Young Muslims, the Islamic Association Al Islah, and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (Collectif Contre L’Islamophobie en France CCIF)]

Prior to the qualitative research phase, individuals in each of the three sites were approached to complete survey questionnaires. Overall, 237 respondents completed the survey in three sites: 96 respondents in Australia, 93 in France and 48 in the USA. Because of the discrepancy in data obtained across the three sites, when describing the separate sites, actual numbers (i.e. frequencies) of participants are presented instead of percentages.

For a more in-depth breakdown of participants’ demographics, please refer to the full report: