Muslims in the Diaspora: The Somali Communities of London and Toronto

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University of Toronto Press, 1999 - Social Science - 302 pages

Rima Berns McGown, in interviews with over 80 Somali men, women, and children, found that Somali refugees in the West have had to renegotiate their understanding of themselves as Muslims in the highly secular, Judeo-Christian-based liberal democracies in which they newly reside, a process compounded by the harsh realities of refugee life. They must confront the challenges of practising Islam in a non-Muslim country, and transferring values to their children amid a profusion of competing belief systems.

Somalis have responded to the challenges of culture clash, not by assimilating, but by weaving elements of their birth and adopted cultures together. They become Western - not Westernized - Muslims as they confront and redefine their practice of Islam and their own interpretations of what it is to be a good Muslim. Some of them attempt to create relative isolation within mainstream society. For most, the process involves a gradual accommodation of traditional customs to those of the new society, without losing what they consider to be essential to themselves as Muslims. Moreover, they have generally combined accommodation to the West with a stronger identification with Islam and a Muslim identity.

Berns McGown contends that harmonious integration is facilitated by a political culture that creates a legitimate space for immigrants and minorities, as is revealed by a comparison of the Somali communities of London and Toronto. The flexibility and diversity of views demonstrated by Somali Muslim immigrants indicate that they will integrate successfully over time into Western political systems and societies, and that this process will be encouraged if they are not artificially marginalized and alienated.


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Cultural Integration
Islam in London and Toronto
Transfer of Values
Weaving Two Cultures
London and Toronto

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About the author (1999)

Rima Berns McGown is a private scholar living in Toronto.

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