Yehia is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Michigan, specializing in comparative politics. His dissertation covers the provision of state benefits to Muslim communities at the sub-national level, with a regional focus on Europe. Yehia asks why some religious leaders choose to accept state aid while others refuse it, and he considers how both the partisanship of state bureaucrats and the strength of Muslim networks affect leaders’ decision-making. Thanks to funding from the 2022 GISC Summer Fellowship, Yehia was able to travel to Belgium, his primary case, to conduct fieldwork toward his dissertation.
Yehia began his study of European Islam upon joining the Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan. In addition to taking a wide range of methodological and substantive courses intended to prepare him for fieldwork, he has also sustained an effort to learn French in order to conduct interviews and work in archives in Belgium. In fact, thanks to the previous summer’s 2021 GISC Fellowship, Yehia was able to enroll in the fully immersive French language program at Middlebury College in the summer of last year. Yehia’s continued relationship with the GISC has thus extended from language training to research work.
Yehia arrived in Belgium in April in order to begin fieldwork, where he joined the Group for Research on Ethnic Relations, Migration and Equality (GERME) at the Free University of Brussels (ULB) as a Visiting Researcher. Relying on his contacts at ULB, he began to establish a network among local activists, religious leaders, and state bureaucrats in the three Belgian regions of Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels, all with links to Belgian Muslim communities. After a few weeks of this preliminary work, Yehia began to conduct semi-structured interviews with several of these figures. So far, he has conducted interviews in Arabic, French, and English.
While these interviews go in-depth on the questions asked in his dissertation, Yehia also hopes to capture a larger picture of Belgian Islam by conducting a survey of over 300 religious leaders throughout the country. He is therefore using GISC funding to hire and train enumerators in Belgium who will be tasked with carrying out the survey. Yehia is relying on his contacts at the ULB in order to hire these enumerators.
Yehia is also working to set up focus groups among mosque communities in Belgium. The need for these groups emerged after a round of early interviews where it became clear that religious leaders do not make decisions unilaterally but instead seriously consider the priorities and desires of the communities they serve. In order to qualitatively explore the relationship between leadership and community members, Yehia is currently setting up focus groups of 6-8 individuals among mosque communities throughout Belgium.
The qualitative aspects of Yehia’s work are supplemented by original data he has collected on over 250 Belgian mosques. He is thus already able to show that mosque behavior varies with the partisanship of state bureaucrats and the embeddedness of transnational Muslim networks. Yehia is using fieldwork to expand this dataset, which is among the first to center the mosque and its community as a unit of analysis, by visiting local archives (such as the Archives of the City of Brussels) and by accessing data held by municipal governments.
Yehia will continue his fieldwork over the coming months with an eye on developing his second case, the Netherlands. Like their counterparts in Belgium, Dutch municipal governments have a great degree of autonomy in determining aid to Muslim communities. Using data on 400 Dutch mosque communities, Yehia is already able to show that a similar variation exists for Dutch Muslims in terms of whether or not religious leaders agree to accept state-led accommodation efforts. As his fieldwork progresses, Yehia hopes to use the cases of Belgium and the Netherlands to speak to European Islam altogether and to shed late on how religious leaders navigate their own agency vis-à-vis the state in advanced democracies.
Wondering how this can be you? All students currently enrolled at the University of Michigan in an undergraduate or graduate/professional degree program (master's or doctoral level) are eligible to apply for the GISC’s Fellowship Funding.
The GISC Fellowship Funding may be used for the following:
Language training - to offset the costs of program fees for language learning.
Research support - to offset costs for an original project supporting Senior, Master’s, or Doctoral thesis completion.
Travel expenses (graduate students only) - associated with conducting original research or language training