Malikka Bouaissa (left), founder of al.arte magazine, and Assia Missaoui, a contributor, at a cafe in Antwerp. Bouaissa started al.arte both to highlight the work of artists in MENA countries and to show young European Muslims that the images they see in the news media don't show the life and creativity that are flourishing in Muslim communities in Europe as well as other parts of the world. Image by Nick Shindo Street. Belgium, 2016.
'The media makes us look one way, but we feel another way,' said Selma Sandic (in the burgundy headscarf), 22. Sandic, a kindergarten teacher, added, 'They associate us with stuff that's not us.' Young Muslims of Malmo, which is funded by the Swedish government, is part of an EU-wide network of community-building Muslim youth groups with more than 100,000 members. Image by Nick Shindo Street. Sweden, 2016.
Kevin Shakir, the Malmö-born son of Kurdish immigrants from Iraq, uses media to try to affect integration policies. A precocious 20-year-old, Shakir studied politics at Lund University before launching a career as a social media strategist (his clients include Malmö Live, a conference and performing arts venue) and political commentator (he’s a regular contributor to the Swedish-language news site Makthavare). “I’m not mainstream—I’m pragmatic,” Shakir said of his form of activism. “If you want to change a system, you have to work from within to shape an alternative vision that focuses on the key issues you want to change.” Image by Nick Shindo Street. Sweden, 2016.
Rosengard, a majority-immigrant district on the outskirts of Malmo, is the first stop for many newcomers to Sweden. The well maintained green spaces and kitchen gardens are projects seeded by Ibn Rushd, an umbrella organization that sponsors grassroots activism in Muslim communities throughout Sweden. 'Rosengard is Sweden's future,' said Aladdin Al-Qut, the organization's director for the Malmo region. Image by Nick Shindo Street. Sweden, 2016.
Merchant, 22, lives with relatives in Manchester, where she has connected with likeminded Muslim 'freethinkers' through the London-based Inclusive Mosque Initiative. 'I will not give my kids a prison of religion,' she said. 'They can have their own opinions. The main thing is to respect everyone's thoughts.' Image by Nick Shindo Street. U.K., 2016.
Many of the young Muslim activists Nick Shindo Street met are challenging the assumptions of both conservative immigrant cultures and secular European majority societies. Some of the questions they're asking: What does it mean to be a Muslim? What's my relationship to the Quran? Do traditional sectarian identities mean anything to me? How can I challenge the sexism or homophobia within my parents' community without buying into the racist agendas of European nationalist political movements? The young people on this "left fringe" of European Islam are far more numerous than we generally realize because their activism tends to focus on collaboration and incremental change rather than spectacle—in other words, they're not nearly as sensational as ISIS recruits and other actors on Islam's violent fringe, so they don't get the same kind of attention from news media and government. But in terms of both their numbers and influence, progressive Muslim activists are a much bigger, if generally untold, story.