The history of migration and settlement of Muslims in Cardiff
There has been a long presence of Muslims in South Wales, going back to the mid 1800s. This is due to the productivity of the South Wales coalfields and the strategic importance of Cardiff in the international maritime trade during the 19th Century. Muslims have been living and working out of South Wales for generations, and there are particularly strong links with the Yemen, Somalia and Bangladesh. The is historical settlement makes Cardiff very important in the study of Islam in the UK, since patterns of migration, employment and religious development can be traced over a long period of time.
Paradoxically, there has been virtually no research about the history of Islam and Muslims in Wales. The available information documents the settlement of Muslims through the particular lens of employment, migration and local history. The religious character and development of the community is therefore often peripheral or incidental in writings that otherwise concentrate upon the economic and labour contribution that Muslims have made to the maritime trade. Both locally and nationally, Muslims are remarkably unaware of their history. There is little appreciation of the historical links between Britain and the Muslim world, and the strategic importance of Cardiff is recognised even less.
Aims and objectives
- to explore the experiences of Muslim migration and settlement in Cardiff
- to analyse the early religious life of the Muslim migrants
- to produce a range of outputs about Muslim migration and settlement in Britain for dissemination among a range of specialist and non-specialist audiences
- to contribute to wider national and international discussion about Muslim migration and settlement in Wales
i) Arrival and settlement
Our first question concerns the experiences of Muslim migration and settlement in Cardiff. In what circumstances did the migrants arrive in the UK? What were their experiences of work/unemployment? What were the day-to-day practices of the migrants, including social life and recreation? To what extent was it possible to maintain a halal diet, and from where (if at all) was halal meat purchased or acquired? Where did they live? Who did they associate with? Which languages did they speak? What was their relationship to their countries of origin and to their families abroad? Did they send remittances? What were their experiences of marriage and family life? What shape did community life take? In which ways was community life gendered? What was the relationship between the host society and the Muslim migrants? In particular, did the migrants suffer from racism/Islamophobia on first arrival? How did the children progress at school? What was the relationship between first and subsequent generations? What are the present day experiences of living in Cardiff for elder Muslim migrants?
ii) Religious practice at home
How did families observe the 5 pillars of Islam, and other aspects of Islamic practice at home? How were children raised as Muslims? Did women cover? Where rites of passage observed? How were homes decorated? Were there any katme Qur’an rituals, or zikr?
iii) Religious life in the community
Where did people congregate e.g. for daily, Friday, and occasional prayers? What about funerals, and tarawih prayer during Ramadan? How were the different mosques established and managed? What were the decision making processes surrounding the creation of (purpose-built) mosques? Was there a maktab for children? Were there any katme Qur’an rituals, or zikr? Who was leading prayers, and offering religious advice in the community? Were there any conversions among local Welsh community? Are there any events of significance, or occasions which are particularly memorable?
In which ways was the early religious life different from or similar to current day religious practices in Cardiff? How has the Muslim community in Cardiff changed over time? How do Muslims and non-Muslims feel about the history of Muslim settlement in Cardiff?
Since this is an exploratory study of an under-researched field, the project relies upon qualitative methods, including a series of oral history interviews, ‘walking interviews’, and focus groups. Fieldwork will be supported by archival research and an academic literature review.
1. Focus Groups
Focus groups with Muslim elders will be unstructured and will enable me to identify particular topics of interest and to select a further sample of around twenty to participate further in the research.
2. Oral History Interviews
Oral history interviews – with both men and women – will be undertaken with approximately 20 respondents. These interviews will address a range of themes, e.g. migration history; experiences of settlement; employment; gender relations, the early religious life in Cardiff, plus additional issues arising from the focus groups. Depending on the length of these interviews – which will not last longer than 90 minutes – we will interview respondents between one and three times. The interviews will be semi-structured and participants will be asked to bring significant photos (e.g. of festivals, weddings, family etc) or other objects which may aid discussion about historical events.
3. Walking Interviews
Individual walking interviews will be conducted with each participant. Participants will be given a map so they can plan their ‘significant places’ route. Whilst walking, the participants will be asked to talk about the places on route. They will be given an opportunity to use a camcorder or camera to record parts of their route. The time taken to do the walking interview depends on the route the participant has chosen; routes can include stops, coffee breaks or lunch.
Recruitment of participants will primarily rely on contacts made with ‘gatekeepers’ in Cardiff, who will direct us to relevant elders in the community. In order to get access to participants who may be unknown to the gatekeepers or who may be considered inappropriate or unrespectable by community leaders, we will also use ‘snowballing’ as well as advertising in various community spaces. Throughout the research process, the researchers have planned several dissemination activities (see below). It is expected that these dissemination activities will increase local knowledge and interest in the research project.
All focus groups and interviews (including the walking interviews) will be recorded using digital voice recording equipment which will enable a transcription to be made. Extensive field notes will be taken after each focus group and interview. Themes for analysis will emerge as data is coded and analysed and to aid this process, NVivo will be utilised.
Because of the time commitments involved it will be necessary to ensure all the participants are aware of the time demands of the research. Data will be confidential and will be securely stored in my office at the university. Guidelines from the British Sociological Association and the Oral History Society on ethical research practice will be followed, in particular to ensure honesty, confidentiality and impartiality. Consulting members of the Muslim community at each stage of the research will make it easier to establish trust, necessary for conducting sensitive research, and we hope to avoid many problems through collaboration and feedback.
Dissemination to the local Muslim and non-Muslim communities will include the following:
- If agreed by the participants, the transcripts, notes and recordings will be anonymised and stored in the UK Data Archive and/or the Oral History Society Archive. This is designed to facilitate researchers and other interested parties in accessing these accounts.
- Visits to local high schools will be organised in conjunction with the ESRC Researchers in Residence Programme
- The researchers are engaging in regular volunteering opportunities with the local Muslim communities
- A one-day dissemination event, including the production of a booklet in ‘plain language’. 100 members of agencies and participants themselves will be invited to attend the event. In order to allow participants and members of agencies to actively participate, we will organise a mixture of lectures, seminars and workshops.
- A project web site will be regularly updated and will invite feedback/queries.
- In collaboration with BBC Wales, data from the ‘walking interviews’ including – if participants agree – route maps, photographs and images from the camcorder will be featured on the BBC Wales website, an interactive and accessible website.
- Key findings will be disseminated to the Muslim and non-Muslim community through engagement with the media, including the possibility of creating a television documentary.
- Various collaborations with local Muslim organisations are also in discussion.
In order to disseminate to academic audiences, preliminary results of the research will be presented as papers at academic conferences (e.g. the BSA Sociology of Religion Study Group), for subsequent publication in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Contemporary Religion. We will publish the final results as an academic monograph.
Sophie Gilliat-Ray, 2010, ‘The First Registered Mosque in the UK, Cardiff, 1860’: the evolution of a myth. Contemporary Islam, first published online 9th February 2010: DOI: 10.1007/s11562-010-0116-9