Muslim-American Women in the United States: What is Considered Muslim Enough?

AECKERT_101221_502Seren Karasu

Islamic communities within the United States are perceived as one and the same. Since the events of 9/11, comparative studies emphasize Muslim identified individuals as members of an “emerging collective identity” (Sirin et al., 2008, p. 261). However, identifying Muslims as members of a collective group ignores diversity within the Islamic religion. In light of the literature (Jeldtoft, 2011; Jensen, 2011; Sirin & Fine, 2007; Sirin et al,. 2008), institutionalized religious practices (e.g., wearing the Hijab for women and religious beard or hats for men) are viewed by non-Muslims as universal markers of a Muslim religious identity. Moreover, there are gender differences within the Islamic religion making orthodox women more identifiable by out-group or non-Muslims, via their choice to wear the Hijab (to cover their heads). The majority of research rooted in discriminatory attitudes towards women perceived, based on the Hijab, to be Muslim in the United States, focuses on an out-group (non-Muslim identifying) perspective (Elashi, Mills, & Grant, 2010; Jeldtoft, 2011; Sirin & Fine, 2007; Sirin et al., 2008). Out-group discrimination of Muslim women underscores a collective identity assuming homogeneity within the Islamic religion. There is a dearth of research focusing on how Muslim women in the United States define their faith within their own community, and how discrimination occurs within-group (Elashi et al., 2010). Viewing discrimination solely from an out-group perspective, neglects the range of subjective interpretations of being ‘Muslim enough’ in American Islamic communities. To address the literature gap, the present review will examine how female Muslim identity is constructed in the United States.

Muslim-American women face the challenge of reconciling different aspects of their identities. It is important to recognize categories of one’s identity (i.e., gender or race) are not mutually exclusive, and intersectionality underscores that multidimensional nature of identity (Crenshaw, 1989; 1991). Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) coined the term intersectionality to encompass how the interplay between one’s race and gender changes one’s experience. Therefore, Understanding a Muslim-American woman’s identity, involves understanding the intersection of her gender, religion, and in most cases her race. Sirin and Fine (2007) discuss how a “hyphenated self” (p.152), can be used to understand how one’s identity can be “at once joined, and separated, by history, the present socio-political climate,” (p.152) etc., especially during global conflict. Muslim-American women’s identities therefore have become hyphenated in the aftermath of 9/11 in the United States. How much a Muslim woman chooses to identify with her faith is subjective. However, perceptions of Muslim women differ depending on how visibly religious they appear by both in-group and out-group members.



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