The role Islamic schools play in contributing towards pupils’ British Muslim Identity in multicultural Britain

Published: 2018/01/09 Number of words: 3033


Language is generally considered to be one of the most amazing human attributes. Namely language appears to be an inalienable precondition for the origination and formation of society, full-grown communication process and any sort of further development. The moment some idea or concept is born in the human mind, it is given a certain name (Hodge and Kress, 1993, pp. 1-3). Thus, it is impossible to operate any ideas or notional categories without their placing in the body of language, or without language itself. Thereby, language plays a central role in the educational process. It proves to be the system of storage of information, the tool for explaining or formulation of certain knowledge and the device for building further logical investigations (Hodge and Kress, 1993, pp. 1-3; Hymes, 1974, p. 19). According to Krishna (2005:358), “language plays a critical role in the formation of culture through its role in knowledge creation and application, flow of information, and functioning of the organization”. Hence, being such a significant precondition of various human activities, language proves to be of primary importance for education in all age groups, social backgrounds and cultural communities.

The current work can be identified as leading to a qualitative research. As it was described by Flyvbjerg (2006, pp. 219-245), a qualitative research aims to obtain grounded understanding of human behaviour and the preconditions that determine this way of behaviour. Again, language will play a central role in quantitative research. The form and the idea of this research requires firstly oral collection of the necessary data, and, secondly presentation and analysis of the gathered material in the written form (Green and Thorogood, 2004, pp. 80-82). In qualitative research, language appears to be a method because it is the strategy and the way by which the data is collected. Moreover, language used for the storage of information and characteristics. It can even be stated that language is data itself (Green and Thorogood, 2004, pp. 80-82; Hyde, 2000, pp. 82-90). Thus, the role of language in qualitative research or the qualitative method of investigation can be hardly overestimated. It is the sign system, tool and method that create the context and framework for this research and bring conclusions.

The described research will be carried out relying on discourse analysis. Wood and Kroger (2000, p. 2) define the methods of discourse analysis as “based on talking and, of course, writing”. In the other words, “discourse analysis” can be understood as a universal term embracing a group of approaches of analysing oral or written speech (Wood and Kroger, 2000, p. 2). The chosen aspect of discourse analysis would be narrative analysis. Narrative analysis can be better applied for the research process in order to increase the sensitivity of the researcher (theoretical layouts can be illustrated but not validated by it). “A common focus of narrative analysis is the exploration of ethical, moral, and cultural ambiguities” (Alvarez and Urla, 2002:38).

Thus, the narrative analysis will be rather useful for studying the narratives of both students and teachers in Islamic schools in order to estimate their contribution to the British Muslim identity in multicultural Britain. This way, the structure of the current research project will be as follows. The first section will briefly describe the research methodology and present the theoretical framework for the future analysis. The second section will explain the reasons and rationale for choosing this methodology. It will also present the structure and the scenario of conducting narrative analysis in details. The third section will discuss conclusions.

1 Theoretical and Methodological Framework 
The chosen methodological framework for the future detailed analysis is the following. Epistemological position for the current study is interpretivism. This concept would mean that when conducting research the respondents are taken as “social actors” playing various social or even ethno-social roles in the society. The real meaning of their narratives will be interpreted from the meaning they give their roles (Saunders et al, 2007, p. 105). Indeed, specific features and certain patterns of behaviour can be explained by the belonging to an ethno-social group.

Constructivism appears to be a similar ontological position stating that various social phenomena and their meaning are, to a certain degree, dependent on the above mentioned “social actors”. This position implies that social phenomena are not originated only by means of interaction in the society, but they are constantly reconsidered and revised (Grix, 2002, pp. 4-5; Mills et al, 2006; Klotz and Lynch, 2007, p. 309-311). From this described theoretical standpoint the ethnographic case study of two Islamic schools in the city of Leicester will be conducted. The peculiarity about choosing the schools will be the following: one of them is to be state funded, the other private funded. Narratives of various age and social groups from these Islamic schools will be analysed (four male and four female students aged 12-14; 2 male and 2 female teachers from each school).

2. Discourse Analysis: Aspect, Approaches, Structure, Linguistic Phenomena and Similar Cases
The choice for the earlier discussed methodology can be rationally explained. Indeed, both methodological positions (interpretivism and constructivism) view the human behaviour as dependant on the “social roles” these humans play. Or it can be specified in the case of the current study “ethno-social roles”. The question may be put the following way: what is national identification? On the basement of inborn characteristics a person ranks himself to a certain national community. The moment he starts to associate himself with an ethnic group, the individual begins to follow some characteristic or typical rules of that group (Smith, 1993, pp. 99-123). Indeed, it does not matter what national group a person belongs to in accordance with his appearance or race. If he does not associate himself with that group, or even dislikes this group, he would not play the role of that group’s member (Smith, 1993, pp. 99-123).

This way, the chosen epistemological and ontological positions serve a very good precondition for the research. The analysis should lead to the estimation of the role of Islamic schools in building British Muslim identity in multicultural Britain. Considering oneself to be a member of the Islamic ethnic group means playing the role of the member of this national community. Playing the role means “following the standards” (Cameron, 1999, pp. 125-143). From this standpoint, the identity denotes certain distinction on the cultural level.

The methodology implies investigation of the respondents’ narrations from both state funded and privately funded Islamic schools. This step proves to be necessary to make the results more objective. The point is that privately funded schools may be more interested in following national Islamic traditions and original customs. Usually they can be maintained by individuals or nationally-coloured organisations. Thus, there may be a more intensive tendency for the renewal of national religion and cultural traditions. State funded Islamic schools theoretically have a more formal attitude towards Muslim customs. However, this peculiarity is not a regular occurrence and the situation may differ from school to school (Ramadan, 2004, p. 131).

Conducting the analysis only on private funded or state funded school would limit the analysis and lower its objectiveness. Another very important issue for the discussed research is the topic of the narrative. It should not be too nationally oriented. However, it should not be absolutely ethnically colourless. These conditions would be necessary for reasonable potential frequency of national words and expressions (metaphors and other stylistic devices).

Choosing discourse analysis for the future investigation appears to be rather rational too. As it is known, writing, talking, discourse and conversational are the main objects of the discourse analysis (Harris, 1952a, pp. 1-30). British Muslim identity may be expressed in various forms: clothing, cuisine, language, etc. And to all of these manifestations Islamic schools make contribution. However, all the forms of national manifestation will be reflected in language. As it was already described, language proves to be a universal device of storage of various cultural phenomena. Thus, by investigating the impact of Islamic schools on the language level, in some degree other levels will be investigated too. To analyse speech, discourse analysis should be chosen, because it is one of the objects of this analysis. These characteristics of discourse analysis are explained by the fact that it positions itself on the intersection of numerous relative to the objective of the research disciplines, such as human geography, translation studies, international relations and social psychology (Harris, 1952b, pp. 474-494).

The choice of narrative analysis as the aspect of discourse analysis is explained by the fact that namely this method focuses on the manner in which individuals complete stories and narratives. Through it their interpretation of the world is obtained. This way, narratives are viewed as social products created in the framework of their ethnic, cultural and social locations (Riessman, 2001, pp. 695-710). As it was stated by Labov (1972, pp. 354-396) in his seminal work, narrative discourse enables to investigate cross-cultural perspective. Again, narrative analysis would serve a perfect tool for evaluating the impact of Islamic culture through nationally-oriented schools. It may be concluded that both discourse analysis and narrative analysis fit the type of the collected data and correspond with the aims of the further investigations.

There are various kinds of approaches to discourse analysis, such as functional grammar, emergent grammar, rhetoric, stylistic, interactional, ethnographical, conversational analysis, variation analysis, etc. (Maat and Lentz, 1997, pp. 59-71; Brown and Yule, 1983, pp. 4-19). Depending on the representational form of the narrative (whether it is in the oral or written form), the choice of the approaches will be determined. The oral form of representation would appear more striking and vivid. This way, using the oral form rhetoric approach and ethnography of communication approach may be applied (Bhatia et al, 2007, pp. 1-3). Rhetoric approach will deal with specific pronunciation, some original intonation patterns and pauses. Ethnography of communication is a broader notion that would view the general Muslim understanding of the communicative process. In spite of the fact that oral narration is a more vivid form, it will be presented only once, while the written narration may be carefully analysed and read many times over. This could pose a difficulty that may be solved by voice recording. Besides, the approaches of stylistics, functional grammar and cognitive psychology should be applied (Bhatia et al, 2007, pp. 1-3).

Narrative structure proves to be rather important for determining the influence of Islamic schools on British Muslims. To be more precise it is important for estimating their real connection with national culture and traditions. Narrative structure is the succession or the order of events in which the narrative is presented to a listener or a reader. Moreover, the belonging to a certain genre will also give some additional information about the speaker (Labov, 1980). The following example may illustrate the connection between the genre and structure of narration and certain national identity. When considering European fairy tales and the tales of Muslim world, several peculiarities may be noticed. In spite of the fact that the genre will be the same (fairy tale), differences and national identity might be noticeable. A similar situation may be observed in the interviewing of students and teachers of the discussed Muslim schools. It can be assumed that this difference will not be as striking as in the case of tales. However, some degree of ethnic colouring may be expected.

The set of all the possible stages in the generic structure of a narrative will look the following way: abstract, orientation, complication, evaluation, resolution and coda (Muntigl, 2004, pp. 109-110). The narration of the respondents from Islamic schools should be evaluated from the standpoint of the generic structure. It may be suggested that not all of the narrative will contain the above stages of generic structure. This feature has nothing to do with ethnic identity realised through the oral narrative. The point is that certain stories may be built according to an original and non-standard plan.

The usage of some lexical and grammatical categories in the narrative may hint at certain regularities. For example, according to Schiffrin (1994, p. 81), the use of the present tense may be ambiguous. It can be representative of either habitual for the predicate or repeated action, or historical present tense, which is usually exploited for narrative events. Tannen (2007, p. 39) argues that the use of constructed dialogue may also give valuable information about the speaker. As it is broadly known, the existing ways of interpretation of speech in the narration, such as direct speech, direct quotation, reported speech and indirect speech also witness the speaker’s identification with what he is discussing. Narrative peaks marked in the syntax by the means of repetition and paraphrasing are also important for establishing the speaker’s degree of involvement in the narrative (Fleischman, 1990, p. 54). All these lexical, grammatical and syntactical phenomena will serve as important indicators for evaluating national Muslim identity of the students and teachers in Islamic schools. However, it does not mean that the set of the discussed signs will be absolutely different from those of British native settlers. These phenomena appear to be breaking points of language where differences can be observed.

Among the advantages and disadvantages of the narrative aspect of discourse analysis the following should be mentioned. A vivid advantage is that narrative analysis is based on semi-structured interview, but not on questionnaires. This feature can be considered an advantage, because a questionnaire considerably limits space for revealing ethnical identity. Semi-structured interview is conducted in a natural situation and atmosphere; and the respondent does not feel that he is tested or examined (Toolan, 1988). Moreover, it generates an unconventional situation that is broader than answers to the list of questions. One more advantage is that usually a real life story is involved in the conversation. The researcher does not say much while the interview is ongoing and positions himself as an attentive listener, giving the opportunity for a respondent to speak naturally. However, all narratives are co-constructed (Toolan, 1988).

Similar discourse analysis was conducted by Wodak and Meyer (2001). It investigated the national identity of Romanian immigrants in Austria. Basing this on the group of analyses (narrative analysis was also among them), these scholars studied the ways Romanian identity became apparent and developed (Wodak and Meyer, 2001). As in the case of the current research the attention was given to specifics of nomination of various articles and objects, interlingual connections, etc. The identity was revealed to a considerable degree.

3 Conclusion
It may be concluded that discourse analysis and its aspect, narrative analysis, appear to be quite reasonable for the evaluation of the contribution of Islamic schools to British Muslim identity. Relying on other investigations conducted by means of discourse analysis in similar context, it is expected that phonetic, grammatical and lexical peculiarities of Islamic ethnic group’s language will be revealed in this case too. It may be supposed that the structure of narratives, the described situation and theuse of “culture- or religion-coloured” words will show a certain degree of Muslim identity in multicultural Britain. However, there can arise several limitations: the respondents from state funded schools may be less involved into the observing of national traditions and customs. And, besides, the presentation of narrative will take place only once, meaning the researcher give undivided attention and would be better served trying to record the narration.

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