At the Well blog


What empowers young Muslims?

The approaches adopted in the debate about young Muslims are often problem-oriented. A different tack is chosen by Marja Tiilikainen and her team, who intend to study young people’s positive resources rather than their problems. Through participatory methods and art, she and researcher Adam Adam also aim to give young people a voice.

How did you become researchers? Marja Tiilikainen: When I started writing my Ph.D. thesis in the 1990s, the first asylum seekers from Somalia had just begun to arrive in Finland. Coincidence and slight ignorance played a part in me finding the subject, and I wrote my thesis on Somali women in Finland. Many coincidences led me to a career in research.

Adam Adam: I had just graduated from the University of Tampere when I heard that they were looking for a researcher for this project. I already knew Marja, and she encouraged me to apply.

Why did you apply for a grant from Kone Foundation? Tiilikainen: We applied for a grant for the Young Muslims and Resilience project that is aimed at studying the strengths and resources of young Muslims. Young Muslims are often discussed in a problem-oriented manner. But we are trying to find out which factors help the young people cope and how they build their identity and a sense of belonging.

In our research, we use participatory methods, in particular visual and performative methods, as well as art.

Kone Foundation supports interesting projects and novel ideas. In terms of our project, we also like their idea of supporting interdisciplinary projects that combine science and art, and the long-term funding they offer.

What makes your project bold? Adam: Our project is bold because we use bold methods. For example, our young participants also act as co-researchers. Our project also includes the Numur – Islam and I exhibition that opens at the beginning of November. Our ten young participants have produced the content for the exhibition. It will include elements such as videos, photographs, poetry and textile art. Various workshops and discussions will also be organised in connection with the exhibition.

Tiilikainen: In addition to trying and developing new research methods, what makes our project bold is the new angle we take on the life of young people with a Muslim background: rather than focusing on problems, we focus on strengths in their lives.

Who do you hope is interested in your research? Adam: I am sure other researchers and students in this field will be interested in our research, but we hope that other people will also be interested, even those with prejudices and those who lack knowledge in this field.

Tiilikainen: I would also like to add professionals who work with young people. We also hope that our project will touch the Muslim community and young people.

What inspires you in your work? Tiilikainen: As a researcher, I have always been inspired by interaction and dialogue with people, as well as learning new things in the field and gaining new insights. I love getting positive feedback and the feeling that your work benefits someone or brings them joy.

Current challenges in my work spring from the atmosphere in society and negative attitudes. The interdisciplinary approach also creates challenges in terms of different research methods, for example.

Adam: I am inspired by the idea of being able to help young Muslims find their place and realise their potential. My work is close to my heart.


Academy Research Fellow in the Department of Social Research at the University of Helsinki, Marja Tiilikainen, Ph.D., is the project manager of the project funded by Kone Foundation and entitled Young Muslims and Resilience: A Participatory Study.

Master of Health Sciences, Adam Adam, a Finn with a Somali background is working as a researcher in the project.

Other people involved in the project include Helena Oikarinen-Jabai, D.A.; Henri Onodera, Dr.Pol.Sc.; and research assistant Wisam Elfadl.

The Numur – Islam and I Exhibition will be held at Stoa in Helsinki from 1 November to 17 November 2017 and at the Institute of Migration in Turku from 26 February to 18 March 2018.