The empirical insights of this paper derive from 29 in-depth semi-structured interviews among self-identifying Muslim youth of migrant origin in Madrid, conducted over a timeframe spanning from March 2016 to February 2018. The sample size was decided upon to an extent organically, based on the principle of saturation (Mason 2010). All interviews were conducted in Spanish, with the exception of one first generation interview in English. Of the 29 respondents, 16 could be categorized as second generation and eight as generation 1.5, alongside a comparative sample of five first generation migrant youth.Footnote 3 In the second and 1.5 generations, most participants had parents that originated from Morocco, while a few had Palestinian, Egyptian or Syrian origins. Finally, among the first generation group, one participant hailed from Tunisia, another from Senegal, and the remaining three from Morocco.
Madrid can be characterized by a more equal distribution of immigrant groups across neighbourhoods. This would be in comparison with regions like Barcelona, for example; rather than resembling ethnic ghettos, Madrid could be depicted as having diverse, working class neighbourhoods (Astor, 2009). Participants drew from a range of towns or municipalities in the Community of Madrid, as well as neighbourhoods in the city, that fit such a characterization. The entire group broke down into 52% female and 48% male; with ages falling within ranges that included twelve participants from ages 16–20, eight from ages 21–25 and five from ages 26–30, with additional outliers including one 13-year-old and a 32, 33 and 35-year-old. The older participants were included because of their continued activity in youth organizations, and the added value of their perspectives.
The interview script consisted of a combination of multiple choice and open-ended questions, although if the participant opted to continue in a certain direction beyond these confines, they were encouraged to do so. Questions proceeded in various groupings, seeking a sense of the participant’s background (name, age, sex, current place of residence, birthplace, legal status, and so forth), current trajectory, and future plans. When initially asked if they ascribed to a certain religion, and once self-reporting as Muslim, they were then prompted to provide their own perceptions of their religious, social or cultural practice of Islam. The participant was later asked if they self-identified in other respects (i.e. nation, ethnicity), and as to how they believed their family, friends and society identified them. Interviewees were accessed via snowball and volunteer sampling through various channels, including through personal contacts, colleagues, social networks and Muslim communities and youth associations. The author conducted interviews at libraries, mosques, cafés and community centres, with a few arranged via email as agreed with the participant, and two interviews administered by a second professionally qualified interviewer.
Regarding email interviews, while a relatively new phenomenon, it is increasingly standardized in the literature as a new form of data collection. Advantages include how it allows for access to otherwise inaccessible groups, as well as can remove cues or field status differences between researcher and participant (Meho 2006). In this case, the researcher could certainly not claim authentic access to some neighbourhoods. At the same time, this method has several drawbacks, including that it may jeopardize the validity of the data, and that it may limit participant expression (Cea D'Ancona 2014).
In this vein, several other limitations and qualifications surfaced, many of which stem from the nature of the study’s constricted size and scope. As outlined earlier, even given greater resources and remit, studies in Spain are limited in accessing Muslim populations. One can gather from the educational and occupational breakdown of the sample, as well as the consistent generous cooperation and coherent expression in the narratives, that the study could carry a selection bias, most likely due to the utilization of the snowball method (causing a self-selecting participant pool). Additionally, the study’s lack of longitudinal data means it cannot provide insight as to an evolution of identity that would take place. It is also important to take into account the attitudinal or memory bias of the participants’ self-reporting. Moreover, the author held an “outsider” position as a researcher, and moreover did not belong to the group under study, which could affect how a participant may contribute in a discussion (Carling et al. 2014). Finally, the researcher could understand or interpret interactions subjectively, albeit with a conscious attempt at to remain objective.
Hybrid identities in conscious self-identification
The principal finding in this investigation of self-identity and belonging includes how the participants would present their multi-faceted self-identities, consciously selecting, combining or retaining identity labels. Each individual articulated different combinations of nationality, community allegiance, cultural or religious identification. Iman, a generation 1.5, 23-year-old engineer, explained his own self-label of three components:
“I identify as Muslim, Muslim and Spanish, also. Also Arab. I don’t have any problem with it. You don’t have to feel only Muslim or Spanish or Arab, there’s no reason, so I feel like all of them. If you call me Arab, yes, I speak Arabic perfectly. If you say Spanish yes, perfectly Spanish. If you say Muslim, yes, perfectly Muslim. I can identify with any of them without an issue.”
In this account, Iman communicated how he did not feel the need to limit himself to an exclusive ethnic label. For example, he also emphasized his identification with Islam alongside his self-described Spanish and Arab components. Indeed, some participants rejected exclusive identities in conscious identity construction. There was a propensity to entertain multiple attachments and engage in continual reconstruction of identity. As 30-year-old, second generation international development professional Ayim recounted, he felt his identity was composed of his life trajectory of experiences:
“Honestly, I identify as the sum of my experiences that have composed my identity. Something that makes it unique is that I speak and write Arabic, a characteristic that unites me with a large part of the population. I grew up in Spain, where I have had the most important experiences of my life, and Madrid is my city. I consider myself Muslim, the religion in which I was raised. So, the sum of all these experiences, this is what makes me who I am.”
Similarly, 26-year-old, second generation dentist Obadah explained:
“I identify as a citizen of the world, because I was born here. But my family, my origins are from there [Palestine]. I was born in Granada, but later I lived in Valdepeñas and then came to Madrid. I have so many places that I don’t feel rooted in one. I am a citizen of the world, you have to change the chip, there aren’t as many borders between countries and now it is very important that we don’t fall into these problems that the world has … we have to open the mind and think of what we have in common with people, rather than what sets us apart.”
A few more examples serve as illustrative. Nur, a second generation, 13-year-old student, identified as Spanish, Muslim and Madrileña with Syrian origins. She felt most at home in Spain, although explained that in the future she would consider travelling and living in another country, like the U.S. Chaima, a 16-year-old student and second generation, identified as Spanish, Muslim, and partially Moroccan, and felt most at home in Spain. Of course, the hybrid identification among Muslim youth in this study has been observed in other research on Muslim youth throughout Europe (Vertovec and Rogers 1998). However, further observations regarding this hybrid identity,Footnote 4 unique to these Madrid participants, follow.
Hybrid identity alongside attachment to community of residence
As can be observed in the data presented thus far, when self-identifying, participants almost always included reference to the community of residence. Of 16 s generation participants, 13 indicated some attachment to Spain or Madrid. Out of the three that did not express such belonging, two were instead emphasizing their identity as a world citizen (not exclusive of a Spanish affiliation), while only one identified solely as Muslim. Five of the eight generation 1.5 participants referenced some ties to Spanish or Madrid identity. Finally, one of the five first generation participants expressed affiliation with the city of Madrid, and the rest identified with their country of origin.
For example, among the second generation, Yusuf, an 18-year-old student, emphasized his Riffian origins, but also added,
“I identify as a believing Muslim, and think it’s because my father taught me how to believe, and since then I have believed in God. I feel Moroccan when I’m with my parents, when I’m with my friends I feel Spanish.”
Warda, a second generation, 19-year-old university student, also emphasized she felt Spanish, even when peers identified her otherwise:
“I am a Muslim Spaniard, my brothers, we are Muslims, we feel Muslim, but later with the issue of Spanish or Moroccan, I feel more Spanish … I remember we did a survey [in class], and I put that I felt more Spanish than Moroccan, and when they did the count, they counted me as more Moroccan than Spanish, and I, directly I told the group, that why had they changed count? That I felt more Spanish than Moroccan, and they have to respect my decision and can’t change it.”
While they are relatively small comparative groups, overall, more of the second generation conveyed sense of attachment to Madrid or Spain than did generation 1.5; moreover, the majority of the first generation did not express attachment to their place of residence. The second generation affiliating with the resident community more than the first is an observation that resonates with the findings of the recent “Long-term Study of the Second Generation in Spain.” It surveyed over 6000 children of immigrants from 2007 to 2008 and over 5000 of the same participants from the previous survey over the years 2011–2012, in the cities of Madrid and Barcelona (Portes et al. 2016).
It is of brief note that in addition to expressing attachment to their communities via self-identification, the participants’ sense of belonging to the community could also manifest in a less conscious manner, simply through a communication of rootedness. For example, Jihan, an age 18 university student and also generation 1.5, said she felt Muslim and Moroccan, yet felt most at home in Spain, preferred to speak in Spanish, and wanted to continue to live in Madrid. This brings the discussion to how actual practices reflected identity and sense of belonging, in addition to solely conscious self-identification.
Hybridity in practice: multiple language use and mixed cultural or religious practice
The interviews were directed so as to not only allow the youth to consciously reflect on identity, but also to gather related information indicating whether there were links to this reported identity and cultural practices. In consonance with hybrid identification, participants provided narratives that demonstrated diverse cultural practices. To varying degrees, respondents identified multiple language use in interacting with different groups, whether families or peers. Moreover, in explaining their faith practice, they also indicated that mosque attendance took on a different significance in Madrid in comparison to its meaning in their or their parents’ origin country, for example.
The participants often communicated in multiple languages depending on the environment in which they found themselves. This enabled them to connect and navigate among a variety of groups. Among the first generation, there was an unsurprising preference to speak in a language other than Spanish. Meanwhile, most of the second and 1.5 generation confirmed that they largely spoke Spanish among friends, and all were at least bilingual. Arabic was sometimes spoken in the home in some measure, and if participants had friends with migrant origins, they often used a language apart from Spanish to speak with them. However, even with family and their (first generation) parents, participants explained how language depended on the context. As 20-year-old, second generation student Ihsan described:
“It depends on who I am talking to. When my mom is happy … we speak in Moroccan. When she’s angry we speak in Syrian, and when there’s a debate, in Spanish. I speak in Syrian with my father, apart from Moroccan jokes.”
Nur, second generation and 13, spoke with her parents in a mix of Spanish Arabic [“Españarabe”], and with her siblings in Spanish or English. She used mostly Spanish among friends, although tried to practice her English among those who could speak it, and sometimes spoke in Arabic with others. Iman also adapted his language choice to his audience:
“With my friends it depends, a bit more [in Spanish], there are times when it’s not easy in Spanish and other times when it’s not easy in Arabic. It depends on what you are talking about, because sometimes you feel like a subject is a lot easier than the other.”
Adapting language use to the specific context provides one example of how the youth employed hybrid practices. In addition to this, the way in which they incorporated civic engagement within their communities of residence, alongside their cultural or religious beliefs and practices, demonstrated another form of meshed multiple identities and practices. Rajae, a 30-year-old, first generation Arabic teacher from Morocco, with a second generation husband, observed that mosque attendance seemed to assume another meaning in Spain than in her origin country:
“Here in the mosques in Europe, they can take on a different role than mosques in a Muslim country. For example, I come to the mosque to pray and perform my religious activities, but apart from that, the mosque is a place where we can do interesting things, like teach Arabic, provide activities for young Muslims—for example, young Spanish Muslims that were born here—give talks about a lot of things that aren’t only about a religious theme. So, the mosque relates to things apart from religion, we do community things.”
Amin, a twenty-two-year-old second generation student, who also worked and volunteered part-time, explained how his Islamic association helped underprivileged youth in the municipality of Parla in the Community of Madrid,
“We work at an association that helps young people find work. Here in the southern zone there is a lot of unemployment and people don’t finish their high school studies. At the Muslim level, we work with ONDA of Madrid.”
In this way, some participants combined participation in their local community with their “minority” religious or cultural identity, alongside demonstrating multiple language use as a medium for adjusting or attuning to the demands of the situation.
Hybridity in navigating and claiming inclusion and belonging
In exercising these bilingual or multilingual skills, as well as combining religious or cultural behaviours with forms of societal participation, participants leveraged hybrid identity and practices as a resource for inclusion. Some recognized this explicitly. For example, Nessrin, a 32-year-old lawyer and generation 1.5, contemplated how speaking Arabic as well as Spanish had opened many doors for her in her career, explaining she felt it was an advantage. She elaborated on why she believed hybrid identity is an asset:
“I never thought about the question of identity until I was in an interview a couple of years ago. They asked me if I felt Moroccan or Spanish, and I didn’t answer because I didn’t know what to answer. I never thought about having to choose between one or the other, and I always thought that both added up to more than the two alone.”
Ibrahim, a 22-year-old, second generation student, also explained how his hybrid identity and range of perspective allowed him to find solidarity with multiple groups:
“I was born in Europe, I’m European. And it could be that I have much more in common with a well-travelled Spaniard than with a Moroccan from a small town, because we find ourselves in the same thing, we grew up in the same way. Basically, I also believe that the Spanish identity is a little complex. What is Spanish, right? …. And I think it’s true that I—for example –-the fact of being Spanish or from Madrid makes me share this identity with a lot of people from Madrid, and the fact that I speak Arabic means I have something in common with these people although they are from different worlds, but in the end, I feel I share things with them. … We are composed of many things, we can’t limit ourselves. Identity is multiple.”
As such, hybrid identity and practice among this collective were often used as strategies for inclusion, as they were willing and able to employ their multiple social and cultural capital to better mesh with the given situation or particular environment (Zhou and Bankston 1994).
However, in addition to the above pattern, several participants communicated that they further felt they had a right to such diversified identities, and that their difference should be respected in Spanish society. In other words, not only did they demonstrate a sense of belonging in expressing attachment to Madrid or Spain, but they also felt facets of their identity or religious practice should not exclude them from recognition and belonging, either.
Jauad, a 28-year-old financial analyst and generation 1.5, identified as Moroccan and part Madrileño, and said he felt more at home in Spain than in Morocco, and planned to remain in Madrid in the future. He also emphasized rights as part of a citizenship that included policies accommodating or allowing religious practice. He pointed out:
“Religion and politics have their respective places and shouldn’t be mixed. This doesn’t mean that you can’t create policies for practicing religious, and they should also be able to participate as citizens with full rights. I think people practicing their religion in freedom should be normalized, in the same way it is for people who don’t believe.”
It is of note that experiences of discrimination were communicated by the vast majority of the participants, although not consciously or directly linked to their hybrid identity or practices. While this account cannot digress into these discrimination experiences, they were referenced at times when claiming a right to multiple or minority identity.
For instance, Ibrahim had argued earlier that identity was multiple, and expressed his objection to being stereotyped:
“There is a very typical idea from Spanish society, and that is that being Moroccan or being from the Maghreb even though I’m from Madrid, from Madrid all my life, they see me as “moro.” It’s a concept that we make negative and doesn’t exist in Arabic, or in other languages. It’s a name that a lot of people in the world are grouped under, “moro.” It reduces it to just that, and it’s a negative thing.”
Ibrahim’s note as to Spanish societal use of the epithet “moro,” often levied with a derogatory connotation, points to the specific real and imagined boundaries that this population may address. In Spain, in addition to referring to migrant origin, “moro” can also be a blanket term to refer to Muslims, depending on the intent of the individual articulating it. The intersectionality of the term, and the negativity associated with it, is very illustrative of the compounded discrimination these youth can encounter.
Ihsan also claimed what she believed were her rights to minority religious practices, arguing that the law protected these individual rights when it came to donning the veil:
“In public school, they don’t want you to wear the veil. [They say] “You—take off your veil.” Supposedly we can be free, in the Constitution it says we have freedom of religion. I don’t understand why, when I have to study, when I have to work, when I have to live my life, I need to be restricted to what you want. I don’t like it, I don’t understand it, I don’t understand … they have the law, and later there is what they say.”
A final example of claims to hybrid identity includes Moseen, a 35-year-old, second generation graphic designer. He identified as Spanish, Muslim and from Madrid, and similarly argued for his rights to religious observance in light of his Spanish citizenship:
“I’m Spanish, Muslim, I believe first Spanish by birth, second place Muslim and third place Madrileño... I’m Spanish, I’m Spanish and patriotic, but they make you, they discriminate and they make you feel, it’s painful, it’s because of uneducated people, closed people, they are closed, but this can create other problems … in my case I’m Muslim and if they deprive me of my right to, I don’t know, observe Ramadan for example, this is depriving me of a right.”
As briefly mentioned, Spanish citizenship governance has established various diversity management instruments and protective bodies, in support of constitutional and legal rights to religious liberty and wider non-discrimination based on race, sex, religion or other personal attributes. Participants cited these guarantees throughout the course of their interviews. Moreover, in providing accounts of perceived discrimination, either due to migrant or ethnic origin, or encountered institutionally or societally, several participants asserted their rights to a variegated or minority identity, or to engage in practices that formed a part of that.