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Article:Muslim immigrants face high unemployment and new gender dynamics

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Muslim immigrants face high unemployment and new gender dynamics


Study finds religious practices and political attitudes differ widely amongst groups

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TORONTO, June 16, 2005 -- York U professor Haideh Moghissi is leading a team of researchers who have made some challenging discoveries about the experience of immigrants of Islamic cultures and how they experience changes occasioned by displacement and migration. Co-investigators in the project are Saeed Rahnema and Mark Goodman. All are based in the School of Social Sciences in York’s Atkinson Faculty.


“We are particularly interested in the ways in which social class, gender and religious commitments affect an individual’s experience when he or she is forced to move,†said Moghissi. “How migrants are received by the host country, however, can also play a major role in cultural acclimation as well.â€


The project focuses on four distinct groups: Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis and Palestinians and the research team is drawn from Canada, Britain, Iran, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. In each area, research partners work actively with community members, building a basis of trust.


Already, they have found that communities are extremely diverse in their political and religious views. This supports the central hypothesis that it is not possible to identify a single type of “Islamic†migrant, as the differences are too great.


Of special interest in the study, Moghissi notes, is how men and women cope with displacement once the reality of exile and the need to adjust has been identified. Many women find that migration presents a positive experience, where they have an opportunity to establish something of a new identity, revising their relationship with their extended family, for instance.


Despite high levels of education, getting satisfying work is often difficult particularly for men. An analysis of the 2001 Census by the team shows that despite a high level of post-secondary education (almost double the national average), Muslims in Canada have a very high rate of unemployment (14.3%), almost twice as high as the national average (7.4%) and their median income is 37% below the national average.


Similar results were obtained from the over 1600 questionnaires administered by the team and its community partners in greater Toronto. Depending on the community, as many as half the males interviewed did not feel that their current job made good use of their education. Many also felt that the skill level of their Canadian job was lower than that of their work at home.


This last finding was particularly acute among Iranian males, where over 36% rated the skill level of their job as “lower†or “much lower†than their work at home. As well, 22% of Pakistani males reported that they did blue collar wage work in Canada, despite the fact that over half of them had completed a B.A. or higher degree at home. Among Afghan males, 12% in the sample are unemployed and another 32% are engaged in blue collar work.


While changing gender dynamics in the new country can lead eventually to a new understanding among partners, this social and cultural transformation can also lead to heightened struggle between the genders, sometimes with severely damaging effects.


“Culturally, when family understandings collapse, this process can be accompanied by an effort to find religious justification for gender inequality,†said Moghissi. “The difficulties encountered in the new country can drive migrant men to embrace a more conservative practice with respect to religion and a more vigorous attachment to the homeland in an attempt to recapture the dominance they enjoyed in their countries of origin.â€


These gendered meanings, however, cannot be inferred from religious behaviour alone. So far, a measure of religious practice used by the team (which is based on attendance at mosque, the taking of Halal diet, fasting, praying and following Islamic dress code) shows fairly equal participation of women and men in each of the communities, but very sharp differences among the communities, reflecting differences in national and ethnic origins and the experience at home.


While males scoring “high†on this index of religious practice nearly always match women or are higher, the striking differences are between males from different groups. Over 76% of Afghan males and 80% of Pakistani males score “high†compared to only 9% of Iranian males. As well, 40% of Pakistani males say that their “religious beliefs, faith or religious identity†is “much stronger†now than at home, compared to less than 1% of Iranian males who report this view, and 15% who find their religious feeling to be “much weaker†now. The sharply different movement in religious attitudes and practice is particularly remarkable for Iranians and Pakistanis, since both arrived in Canada as well-educated groups.


Of those interviewed in Canada, researchers found that the great majority is satisfied with life here and overwhelmingly feel that they made the right decision in coming to the country. This is despite the fact that, following the events of September 11, as much as one-third felt that attitudes towards them had become much more hostile and very few felt greater sympathy or understanding from outside their communities. Many felt that changes in immigration rules make it harder for people to come to Canada and easier for people to be deported to dangerous places.


Moghissi hopes that the findings of the Diaspora, Islam and Gender research will assist both migrant communities and policy makers at all levels of government. In identifying the problems and opportunities involved in contributing to the larger community while maintaining a distinctive culture, the study may help migrants to better address the aspects of their migration and settlement which affect their readiness and ability to adapt to a new country.


As well, it is hoped that the project’s research findings will assist government in the design and implementation of programs which will improve that experience and promote harmonious relations between migrant communities and the host country.


“I am hopeful that a surer, factual understanding of the realities of diasporic life should help break the harmful hold that distorting, stereotypical ideas have had on the description of Muslim migrants’ attempts to adapt their diverse ways of thinking to the culture of the host country,†observed Moghissi.


Moghissi is a professor of sociology who is cross-appointed in York’s School of Women’s Studies and the School of Social Sciences, in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies and the Faculty of Graduate Studies. She is also a member of the executive committee of the Centre for Refugee Studies. Her most recent publication is a 2005 three volume reference, Women and Islam, Critical Concepts in Sociology, published by Routledge, London.


York University is the leading interdisciplinary research and teaching university in Canada. York offers a modern, academic experience at the undergraduate and graduate level in Toronto, Canada’s most international city. The third largest university in the country, York is host to a dynamic academic community of 50,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff, as well as 180,000 alumni worldwide. York’s 10 faculties and 21 research centres conduct ambitious, groundbreaking research that is interdisciplinary, cutting across traditional academic boundaries. This distinctive and collaborative approach is preparing students for the future and bringing fresh insights and solutions to real-world challenges. York University is an autonomous, not-for-profit corporation.








Media contact:


Nancy White, Director, Media Relations, York University / 416 736 2100 x22094 /

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I dont know why you got angry. What you reacted to is a truthful statement .This is the current state of the Muslims we have divided according to the way we practise our faith, regions we come from and our political outlook. What they hypothesised was Muslims belonged to one group with the same thought/lifestyle.Which they proved was an inappropriate assumption. We (as Muslims) also know that this diversity have/had been the reason why Islam is a universal religion other than others. And we also know that these diversities may be the cause of our downfall.Something our beloved Prophet SAW had forseen that his Ummah will be divided into 73 sects and only those who follow the sunnah and Quraan will be saved.


Let call a spade a spade.

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York, i just love my school..


On the topic..


We all know that creditials of immigrants are not accepted in Canada, no matter what that ad you saw back in banglore was saying...ur PHD, master's degree..doesnt count for issh.

The one group, i dont want to generlise..but that i have noticed in my neighbourhood, that changes the fastest(westernizes) are the Iranis..girls I have gone to highschool whom I came to the country at the same time with, who were wearing the hijab or dressing modestly, now are..highligted blondes..heh..small observation


This maybe the difficulties the parents face, when they come to Canada, expecting a better life then had in Lahore, better jobs and stature...they instead endup dishwashers, and stock clerks in Zellers, as is the case with two of my neighbours who both have MBA's from pakistan..but one thing I notices is that they great hope for thier children, which makes them stay and strive.

on the note of religion..I don't know..but there is a strong revival of our faith in the younger generation now, specially here in Toronto..with conferences,workshops, classes etc being held everywhere. The older generation, sufferes..but the benefits are reaped by their children.

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