Islam is the fastest growing religion in Western Europe today. As a consequence, the emergence and growth of Muslim religious congregations is one of the most important changes that have taken place within the European third (or voluntary) sector in the last 20 years. However, more often than not, these congregations are described as “enclaves” or “integration traps” isolating new citizens from the rest of society, a picture that has remained largely uncontested due to a lack of more extensive research.
The intention of the Swedish Muslim Congregation project is to present – for the first time in Europe – nationally representative data about the activities and roles of local Muslim congregations. We have concentrated primarily on three problem areas:
Our aim, first, has been to map the congregations’ demography and activities (especially the extent of voluntary social work). Second, we have investigated Muslim experiences of the reactions of others in their surrounding environments, as reported by congregation representatives. To what extent do Muslim congregations encounter local opposition and support? Third is our focus on Muslim congregation collaboration with other organizations and public institutions. The Scandinavian welfare model boasts a long established emphasis on collaboration between third sector, municipal and state organizations. Are the Muslim congregations able – and willing – to connect to the established forms of cooperation that already exist in Sweden between the public and third sectors?
An essential part of the project is the nationwide questionnaire sent to the 147 local Swedish Muslim congregations that we identified, to which we received 105 replies (a 71 percent response rate). Non-response analysis showed no
statistically significant differences in response propensity that could be connected with the different existing schools of Islam, nor with the type of municipality (metropolitan, small town, rural district, etc.)