Emerging New Avenues for Muslim Political Participation


A strong theme in the literature on Muslim political participation is the insufficiency or ineffectiveness of mainstream channels for non-citizens to participate in politics and the potential for consultative bodies and civil society organizations, to serve as viable alternatives. However, the consultative bodies have very limited advisory powers and have no true decision-making competences. Migrant communities generally perceive these fora targeting exclusively at migrant or Muslim issues as ineffective. They caution against “tokenism” and rigid institutional designs which may reinforce and not reconcile ethnic and religious differences. Instead, they ask for “deliberative forms of democratic dialogue”, essentially based on power-sharing in a society[1]. State authorities, however, prefer a single, authoritative and representative voice of Muslims to pursue dialogue, which is difficult to attain considering the diversity of Muslim groups in liberal societies. In short, political interactions between immigrant organizations and state authorities in the context of consultative bodies have yet to yield mutually satisfactory forms of dialogue.

Muslim civil society organizationsconstitute an important tool for the integration of migrants into political processes since they are instrumental in voicing migrants’ demands and concerns. An overview of recent integration literature in Europe highlights the growing relevance of migrant-led associations and their political function in terms of democratization[2]. Gathering together politically engaged, religious Muslims, these organizations may be effective mediators with government authorities and can potentially contribute to better integration outcomes.[3] They can also play a crucial role in addressing structural discrimination and institutionalized racism which present obstacles for participation.

In this context, it is my contention that should these associations be provided with  resources and training for capacity building, they not only can introduce and challenge Islam related questions, but also play a critical role in “translating” ethnic, religious or cultural demands and grievances, if any, into a political discourse relevant for the mainstream society. For that, however, they need a common language and framework of references, in other words, “ground rules” of political interaction. That language and framework, I argue, should be human rights. I will explore in the next post why and how.


[2] Faist, Thomas (2009) “Beyond a Methodologically Nationalist Perspective on Civil Society”, Turkish Studies, 10: 2, 317-318.

[3] Fennema, M. & J. Tillie (2001), ‘Civic community, political participation and political trust of ethnic groups’, Connections 23 (2): 44-59.