How do Western European Muslims view homosexuality?

The frequency of mosque attendance, the norms of the country of origin, the time since migration and experiences of discrimination all play a role in how Western European Muslims view homosexuality. Niels Spierings of Radboud University and Antje Röder of the Philipps University Marburg reached that conclusion based on research they conducted among 2,783 Muslims in Western Europe and published in International Migration Review on 22 December.

It is often assumed that Muslims in Western Europe have more negative attitudes towards homosexuality because of religion. Spierings and Röder’s research explores whether this is the case and how it is related to migration and discrimination.

They found that Western European Muslims who feel more connected to their religion and attend mosque more often have more conservative attitudes towards homosexuality. Moreover, the impact of mosque attendance is stronger among Muslim migrants who grew up in Europe. “That may sound paradoxical”, says Spierings, “but if you turn it around, it’s quite logical: the people who have been socialised in Europe and who go to mosque less often seem to be more detached from the norms that apply in their parents’ home country.”

“Certainly, we see that first-generation Muslim migrants’ attitudes are more shaped by their origins. In countries like Iraq and Somalia, for example, homosexuality is punishable by death and people are arrested for it. Migrants who grew up in those countries are, on average, more negative about homosexuality than Muslims who come from countries where it is not prohibited, such as Turkey or Macedonia”, says Spierings.

“For Muslims from the second or ‘one and a half’ generation – Muslims who were born abroad but grew up here – an important factor are the opinions about homosexuality held by the population in the European country to which they immigrated. Thus, second-generation migrants who live in the Netherlands are, on average, more tolerant of homosexuality than those who live in Portugal.”

Finally, the research shows that the impact of mosque attendance is stronger among groups of Muslims who experience more discrimination themselves. “That suggests that the very group that feels less welcome in society is more inclined to adopt a more conservative attitude. It’s almost a vicious circle whereby discriminating against Muslims based on their culture and religion actually reinforces that cultural stereotype.”

Differences between Arab and Western European countries

Earlier this year, Spierings, in collaboration with colleague Saskia Glas (Radboud University), published a study among 9,000 Muslims in Arab countries about the way Muslims practise their religion and what they think about homosexuality and homosexuals. “There are clear differences in the causes we found among Western European Muslims in this survey and the causes we found in the previous study. This shows that religion plays a contextual role; beliefs depend on the environment. For example, different norms regarding homosexuality prevail here, and beliefs mainly respond to the debate on integration and discrimination. In contrast, in the Middle East, they are more intertwined with the debate on imperialism and neo-colonialism.”

Returning to Europe, the figures suggest that social integration is taking place in terms of Muslims’ attitudes towards homosexuality, but factors like mosque attendance can slow this down. The group growing up in Western Europe is more likely to adopt ‘local’ values.

Spierings: “The results of this study underline the importance of socialisation. It is not true that a Muslim will always have a negative attitude towards homosexuality. Someone who grows up in Western Europe will be more inclined to adopt the views of the local population. Education, social environment and other factors play a significant role in this.”

For the study, the researchers used a questionnaire completed by 2,973 Muslims in 17 Western European countries. The respondents were asked about their background, religiosity, and attitudes towards homosexuality and other topics. DOI: 10.1177/01979183211041288

Meer weten? Neem contact op met

  • Niels Spierings, niels.spierings [at] ru.nl
  • Science Communication Radboud University, media [at] ru.nl, +31 24 361 6000

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Diversity, Religion, Society