Changing attitudes towards British Muslims and multiculturalism

For over 30 years, Professor Tariq Modood has influenced public, political, academic and media discourse, promoting deeper understanding of multiculturalism and driving improvements in equality standards.

Professor Tariq Modood is one of the UK’s leading analysts and commentators on multiculturalism contributing to British Muslim studies alongside a public intellectual engagement that draws on political theory and sociology. His research reaches beyond pure theory to consider notions of integration, religion, national identity and cultural racism in a changing socio-political context. 

Promoting equality

The introduction of a religion question in the 2001 UK Census was influenced by Professor Modood’s research, which highlighted the need to analyse diversity and inequality in Britain with more specificity than the generic categorisation of “ethnic minorities”. Subsequently, policy-makers adopted a more targeted approach to analysing disadvantage in schools and labour markets by acknowledging how the experiences of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis differ from those of other groups.

This was followed by the outlawing of religious discrimination in employment in 2003. Three years later, Professor Modood’s work informed the creation of the offence of incitement to religious hatred. By 2010, racial inequality had been addressed in all strands of the Equality Act.

Informing policy 

Professor Modood has also been a key advisor to organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Commission on Multi-ethnic Britain. He was a Steering Group Member of the Commission on Religion in British Public Life, which reported in 2015 and sparked a national debate.

His pioneering understanding of Islamophobia as cultural racism and that it needs a contrasting concept of reasonable criticism of Muslims and Islam has been adopted in the working definition of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims and is being used by many organisations.

Creating change 

Research conducted in 1999 by Professor Modood and colleagues at the University of Bristol revealed stark differences between the academic opportunities of white staff and those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. While the latter were more likely to have a doctorate, they were less likely to be involved in research work, less likely to be employed full-time or permanently, less likely to be promoted and more likely to be on a lower level of pay.

This led many universities to review their employment policies, along with the Department of Education, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE).

His work with colleagues at the London School of Economics (LSE) on how some ethnic minority student applicants are under-selected by some universities has been equally influential. In 2015, he co-authored a report with Craig Calhoun, Director at the LSE, for the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, on the challenges that the new public character of religion poses for British universities.

Encouraging debate 

“When I first started studying British Muslims and notions of racial equality in the 1980s, everybody thought in terms of black and white. I was one of the first people to challenge that,” says Professor Modood, who in 2001 was awarded an MBE for services to social sciences and ethnic relations.

“It’s encouraging to note that some of the ideas, perspectives and policies that I have argued for, now have a critical mass of proponents and some have been made into laws and policies.”

In the wake of 9/11, Professor Modood was instrumental in changing public and political opinion about multicultural integration at a time when debates about national citizenship were clouded by suspicion and insecurity. 

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