Saturday, November 15, 2008

Muslim-American Youth and Identity

(This was originally posted in my facebook notes)

My high school MSA recently created a website with a forum and one of the important discussions taking place is on identity, being Muslim, and particularly being second-generation adolescent here in the U.S.

I think this is a really important topic and I wanted to compile a list of reading material that I've come across that may help us better understand the nuances of what's going on to appreciate the opportunities of our situation but also to allow us to face challenges in a more constructive way.

"Muslim American Youth: Understanding Hyphenated Identities through Multiple Methods"

This book that just came out this year (2008) by NYU press (thanks to Maheen Zaman for giving me a heads up on this a few months ago). Alhamdullilah I got a copy and got to read through it. (Random point of information: in Bobst library of NYU, on the first floor, they have a display of recent books published by the NYU press and this is one of the them. I thinks it's on the top row of the display, all the way to the left..)

It's by Selcuk R. Sirin who's an assistant professor of psychology at NYU with Michelle Fine, professor of social psychology, women's studies and urban education at the Graduate Center, CUNY. [I went to a presentation by her on this book there at the CUNY Grad Center alhamdullilah and got my book signed :)]

It's 243 pages and very interesting. Six of the seven chapters of this book which is academic in nature is followed by a section where you "meet" one of the young participants of the study and sort of get a sense of their individual life story. I enjoyed these sections, some of them just being really inspiring with their vision "you just can't leave people have to go up to somebody. You just have to tell people.." (pg. 30) and what they do. Others inspire respect and awe for the struggles they go through in life, at home, at school. There's a girl talking about her dad being incarcerated on immigration grounds...People dealing with suspicion and discrimination.

And hope for the young generation. "The blend of Islam as the foundation, and American soil as the space where she feels she can engage as a young Muslim woman, is a blend that satisfies her, despite her analysis of racial profiling. A knowledge of history and global politics gives her a sturdy basis on which to critique, and appreciate, the social and political possibilities for young Muslim American women." (pg. 153)

The book also has interesting sort of art pieces called "identity maps" where participants "draw a map of your many ethnic, religious, and social identities. This should be an illustration of how you see yourself as a Muslim American person."

One of the points that stuck out for me was that the "emergence of the "Muslim American" identity as a category:" "There are many routes, both figurative and historical, to being a Muslim in the United States. Although there is a tendency to assume there is a single Muslim American identity because there is so much diversity within the group, the label of "Muslim American" is misleading." (pg. 32)

"Within both immigrant and U.S.-born groups, Muslim American differ in their race, ethnicity, religious practices, immigration status, and historical roots in the United States. Given this diversity, it is reasonable to question the very category "Muslim American." Even so, we rely on this grouping because of recent historical events such as the Iraq War and the 9/11 attacks, combined with the strong belief of most Muslims that their religious ties cut across racial, ethnic, and national boundaries. Thus, even though we use the term "Muslim American" in this book to illustrate a phenomenon of emerging identity, we also must remind both ourselves and our readers that there is no singular, monolithic, category of people called "Muslim Americans." Rather, there are many groups of people who can be labeled as Muslim American." (pg. 37)

I want to type out the chapter titles to give you an idea (and remind myself) of what this book goes through:

1. Growing Up in the Shadow of Moral Exclusion

2. Muslim Americans: History, Demography, and Diversity

3. Moral Exclusion in a "Nation of Immigrants": An American Paradox

4. The Weight of the Hyphen: Discrimination and Coping

5. Negotiating the Muslim American Hyphen: Integrated, Parallel and Conflictual Paths

6. Contact Zones: Negotiating the Space between Self and Others

7. Researching Hyphenated Selves across Contexts

2. Religious Identity Formation Among Bangladeshi American Muslim Adolescents

This is a study done by Sadia R. Chaudhury, a doctoral student at Columbia University along with Lisa Miller, a professor of psychology and education also at Columbia.

Though the study was with youth whose parents are from Bangladesh, I think there's definitely a lot of insights that are relevant to children of immigrants from other places around the world so don't feel left out :)

Some of the important issues that stood out for me from this paper were just the idea of being able to discuss what you're going through with your family, feeling a generation gap, parents not being able to understand where you're coming from, the importance of having a good support network of peers around you that you can talk and be real with, people searching and coming in contact with people of other faiths can prompt them to ask questions and look into their own religion more deeply. Hope you get a chance to check it out.

This was published in the Journal of Adolescent Research.

"Although Islam is the fastest growing religion in America, very little research has been conducted on the lived experiences of Muslim-Americans. In this pilot study, the first of its kind, the process of religious identity formation among Bangladeshi-American Muslim adolescents is explored. Sixteen participants (6 males) completed semistructured interviews, and this qualitative data was analyzed using a Grounded Theory approach. Based on the findings of this exploratory study, a preliminary understanding of religious identity formation in Bangladeshi-American Muslim adolescents is presented and discussed in detail. Our qualitative interviews uncovered the presence of two distinct groups of adolescents with respect to religious identity formation—internal seekers and external seekers. Finally, through our thematic analysis, we uncovered several factors that facilitate the formation of religious identity in this population. While this research is only preliminary, it is hoped that this research provides valuable information on the religious identities of Bangladeshi-American Muslim adolescents."

"How Does It Feel To Be A Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America" by Moustafa Bayoumi

(also thanks to Maheen for pointing this book out)Moustafa Bayoumi is a professor of English at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York and co-editor of The Edward Said Reader.

ma sha Allah this book has gotten a lot of good press, I've seen it on display (a welcome change for a good book that profiles and humanizes Muslims vs. the "Islam = destruction of our country" books) in the front lobby of the Barnes and Nobles at Union Square in Manhattan.

Ma sha Allah it is written beautiful. The stories I've read so far include that of a whole family - sister, brother, mother and father, just suddenly incarcerated in the middle of the night and their traumatic experiences of being locked up for almost three months in prison based on ridiculous immigration charges. There's Sami who actually joins the marines in May 2001...he ends up going to Iraq...There's a scene of witnessing the cruelty of his fellow soldiers: "Sami was getting more worried by the blood lust he saw in Andrew's eyes. But at the same time, he worried that if he were seen showing too much mercy to the Iraqis, he would be branded as being soft on the enemy. "I am wearing name tapes that say 'U.S. Marine, United States,' but my parents are Arab, and I can't forget that. I wanted to treat them as good as I can without showing bias..."(pg. 64)

There's Yasmin who struggles with being elected to her high school student government but is forced to resign because the school coordinator of student affairs accepts no excuses for her not to attend a school dance...Even the rules for applying to student government are changed after this 'incident' with her. This starts Yasmin on a journey of much legal research, correspondence with CAIR, ACLU, meeting with an attorney and finally running for president (of the student government).

"Since finishing high school, Yasmin has burned through her undergraduate degree in three years and has begun a master's degree that she will soon finish. She has also challenged her father's wishes. After finishing college she told him that she would not become a doctor. She has other ideas now, plans that illustrate the growing assertiveness of young Arab and Muslim Americans to claim their rights through the system. Yasmin is going to law school." (pg. 114)

there's a NPR article on book with an excerpt

Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11 by Geneive Abdo

It's been two years since I read this book..I don't remember specific things but just have good feelings and memories of mostly enjoying reading it...

The author is a respected journalist and has another book called "No god but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam" that was published in 2000.

I like looking at the reviews on the back: Desmond Tutu, John Esposito, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Oliver Roy and Vali Nasr all praise the book. In the foreword she mentions Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-'Allah who's articles I'll have to mention soon. The first chapter is called "Imams for a New Generation" and has sections Shaykh Hamza, Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, and Imam Zaid. The next chapters are called "the Child-bride of the Dix Mosque, the Roots of Islam in America, Taking It to the Streets, Muslim Voices, Women in the Changing Mosque, Heeding the Call and the Future of the Faith." I enjoyed reading this book more than Paul Paul Barrett's "American Islam: the Struggle for the Soul of a Religion" which interviews Imam Siraj, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Asra Nomani, and others. (there's a video with Barrett and Dr. Umar talking about each others' book )

"Muslim Youth Speak: Voices of Today's Young Muslims" Edited by Yahiya Emerick

"What do Muslim youth today think about Islam? What are their suggestions for living and promoting it? What are their observations about the state of Islam in America today and how to make it grow? This book is a compilation of essays, plays, exhortations and other writings by actual Muslim youth. Find out what's going on in the minds of the second generation."

Dr. Tariq Ramadan in his 2004 book "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam"

"We are currently living through a veritable silent revolution in Muslim communities in the West: more and more young people and intellectuals are actively looking for a way to live in harmony with their faith while participating in the societies that are their societies, whether they like it or not. French, English, German, Canadian and American Muslims, women as well as men, are constructing a "Muslim personality" that will soon surprise many of their fellow citizens. Far from media attention, going through the risks of a process of maturation that is necessarily slow, they are drawing the shape of European and American Islam: faithful to the principles of Islam, dressed in European and American cultures, and definitively rooted in Western societies. This grassroots movement will soon exert considerable influence over worldwide Islam: in view of globalization and the Westernization of the world, these are the same questions as those already being raised from Morocco at to Indonesia.

Globalization contains the paradox that at the same time that it causes the old traditional points of reference to disappear, it reawakens passionate affirmations of identity that often verge on withdrawal and self-exclusion. The Muslim world is not exempt from such phenomena: from Africa to Asia, via America and Europe, this kind of discourse is multiplied. It is about self-protection, self-preservation, and sometimes even self-definition over and against the "Western megamachine," to use the formulation of Serge Latouche: "Whatever is Western is anti-Islamic" or "Islam has nothing in common with the West." This bipolar vision is widespread and gives some Muslims a sense of power, might and legitimacy in Otherness. But not only is this bipolar and simplistic vision a decoy (and the claims that justify it are untruths), but the power it bestows is a pure illusion: in practice, the Muslims who maintain these theses only isolate themselves, marginalize themselves, and sometimes, by their excessive emotional, intellectual, and social isolation, even strengthen the logic of the dominant system whose power, by contrast, lies in always appearing open, pluralistic and rational." - pg. 4-5

"The terminological debate about whether to say, for example, "Muslim American" or "American Muslim" is, properly speaking, void of meaning. The real question is not, from the Muslim point of view, about justifying the primary attachment of believers - which is naturally that which they have to God and their faith - but rather, more specfically, to clarify the nature of the connection that exists between Islamic requirements and the concrete reality of citizenship in Western countries. Do the Islamic sources allow a Muslim to be a true American or European citizen, or does a contradiction exist such that the notion of "Western Muslim" cannot be realized?" - pg. 93-94

Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah

I must mention Dr. Umar and two of his amazing articles that are available on the Nawawi Foundation website (

Two particular papers are must-reads especially for this topic:

Islam & the Cultural Imperative

This article addresses the fundamental need for American Muslims - among the most promising, wealthiest and educated Muslim minorities in history - to consciously establish a new, unique cultural identity. To lay down roots and survive, Islam must reflect the good in America’s diverse races and ethnicities. Historically, Islamic jurists have upheld the Prophet’s legal precedent for respecting non-Arabs’ ethnic and cultural differences as long as they did not contravene his teaching. Islam’s spread and triumphant past reflects this glorious global culture. ..

"A successful Muslim American culture must provide psychological space for all constituents of our highly heterogeneous community, taking on a cosmopolitan cast from the outset like a nationwide peacock’s tail reflecting our rich internal diversity. One size does not fit all. Culturally speaking, what is right for the suburbs may not be right for the inner city. What suits African-American or Asian-American identity may not always suit others. But to embrace all and foster a true sense of continuity and community among us, our culture must address Islam’s transcendent and universal values, while constructing a broad national matrix that fits all like a master key, despite ethnic, class, and social background. This overarching cultural template must allot generous sub-group space for each individual entity to foster its own self-image and unique cultural expression. It must facilitate dynamic internal diversity, while promoting mutual understanding among groups, cross-cultural communication, and interfaith cooperation with the larger American society."


Living Islam With Purpose

The earlier Nawawi Foundation paper Islam and the Cultural Imperative addressed the necessity of establishing an authentic indigenous Muslim cultural presence in America. Living Islam with Purpose complements that paper by offering an operational framework for accomplishing the task. This framework consists of “five operational principles"...The paper emphasizes the need for American Muslims as a whole to become directly involved in their self-definition and the construction of their future as individuals and communities. This task cannot be left to others or to chance; the five operational principles provide an invaluable resource for determining the way forward.

Other papers by Dr. Umar can be found in the "reading room" here a bio of Dr. UmarDr. Umar has published A Muslim in Victorian America: The Story of Alexander Russell Webb which is a biography of Mohammed Webb (d. 1916), who was one of the most significant early American converts to Islam.The Nawawi site says "Dr. Abd-Allah is presently completing a second work entitled Roots of Islam in America: A Survey of Muslim Presence in the New World from Earliest Evidence until 1965 and is also updating his dissertation for publication."

[Off topic a little but in appreciating Dr. Umar, he also has three audio CD sets that I know of: Famous Women in Islam

The Principal Imams and Their Schools

and also with Shaykh Hamza: The Attributes of God in Islam]

Abdal Hakim Murad (T.J. Winters)

there's a section on British Muslim Identity by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad

including an article entitled:

"Tradition or Extradition? The Threat to Muslim-Americans" which starts with "Is American Islam inevitable?"

British and Muslim? Problems faced by converts in the UK

Muslim loyalty and belonging: some reflections on the psychosocial background


Misc. There's an interesting book by Amin Maloof called "In the Name of Identity." I typed up the first few paragraphs in a note in facebook

This is a new book that just came out that I saw recently Muslims: In Western Politics (there's a table of contents available online)

Also check this new book out: Al' America: Travels Through America's Arab and Islamic Roots "Amid a heightened wave of xenophobia directed at Arabs and Muslims, San Francisco Chronicle writer Curiel reminds readers of a rich store of cultural borrowings and relationships that have gone deep into the very fabric of American society, including its most precious symbols and artifacts."

I think this is an example of the alienation and reaction that just really drives home the importance of "Islam & the Cultural Imperative:"

"The Koran, punk rock and lots of questions"

Article by Anas Coburn entitled "Muslim Identity in Postmodern America

I'm taking a "Psychology of Immigration" class right now at the City College - I loved this breakdown from an article by J. W. Berry entitled "A Psychology of Immigration. We got a handout based on it labeled "the Acculturative Outcomes of Interaction between Maintenance of Cultural Heritage & Inter-Group Relations"

Strategies of Migrant Groups: (What shall we do? What shall we adopt?)

Assimilation: Relinquishing one's own ethnic identity and adopting that of the dominant society.

Integration: Incorporating part of the dominant culture while maintaining one's own cultural identity.

Separation: Self-withdrawal from the dominant cultural society into one's own ethnic groups.

Marginalization: Loss of contact with own cultural group without adopting the culture of the dominant group.

[And to each of these, there are corresponding] Attitudes of the Receiving Society (What should they do? How shall we adapt?)

Melting Pot: Expectation that the migrant group will Assimilate

Multiculturalism: The widespread acceptance of the value to a society of cultural diversity.... Read More

I liked the distinction made between assimilation and integration. I think a lot of people including myself before used them as synonymously. Also I like that attention is also put upon the dominant or receiving society and what they encourage or even have policies to "encourage," because that environment that one is in plays a major role on what one does or is allowed to do.

4/2/09 I am absolutely fascinated by this field of study! This is a new book (2008) that Mehdi Bozorgmehr, the professor of an intro to sociology class that I am taking mentioned the other day:

Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age (Russell Sage Foundation Books at Harvard University Press)Philip Kasinitz, John H. Mollenkopf, Mary C. Waters and Jennifer Holdaway

Although the book acknowledges "there was no predominantly Muslim group in our study" (pg. 272), I find the following introduction really relevant to Muslim immigrants and their children in the U.S.

“A second reason to study the children of immigrants involves the future of American ethnic and racial relations. Before 1965, immigrants to the United States were overwhelming European. Since then, most have come from other parts of the globe. Given how the United States has historically constructed racial categories, they are not generally regarded as “white.” Yet they are not African Americans either. Since the cleave between the “white” descendants of immigrants and the “black” descendants of American slaves has so strongly marked big cities, the emergence of a large and rapidly growing group that does not fit easily into either of these categories has enormous potential consequences.” -pg. 3

“Unlike their predecessors, the children of the current immigrants are becoming American in the midst of continuing immigration. Our understanding of assimilation has been largely shaped by the experience of the descendants of the southern and eastern European immigrants who came to the United States between roughly 1882 and 1924 (Foner 2000, 2005). Their incorporation took place after legislative changes in the 1920s, the Depression, and World War II sharply reduced new immigration. Their children came of age in a context of low immigration with few new arrivals to reinvigorate ties to the old country or to reinforce old country ways. Americanization was further reinforced for many by the experience of serving in the American armed forces in World War II. Today, by contrast, members of the new second generation rub shoulders with recently arrived immigrants their own age in the streets, classrooms, and workplaces of New York. There is therefore a good deal less distinction between the first and second generations than in the past (Rumbaut 2004; Waters and Jimenez 2005; Foner and Kasinitz 2007).

Today’s second generation also grows up in communities where the parents have more transnational connections than in the past. Modern communications and cheap transportation enable immigrants to remain socially connected to their home communities. Today’s transnational immigrants (or “trans/migrants”) and their children remain active in social networks that make it possible for them to live in more than one society at a time, perhaps never fully committing to either (Glick Schiller, Basch, and Blanc-Stanton 1992; Portes 1999; Levitt 2001, 2007; Levitt and Waters 2002). New York’s immigrant neighborhoods are jammed with businesses selling low cost phone calls and instant money transfers to remote parts of the globe. In every group, some second generation people remain strongly tied to their parents’ homelands. They visit often, send money back, and even contemplate settling there. A suprising number of first generation West Indian and Latin American parents “send back” children to live with relatives when the dangers of the New York streets terrify them or they suddenly lose their child-care arrangements. These transnational connections may be quite important to the American lives of the new second generation.

Finally, it is important to study the second generation because so many first generation parents worry about what will happen to their American children. While social scientists cannot automatically accept their view of their community’s problems, we should nevertheless take their concerns seriously. Anyone spending time in America’s growing immigrant communities will hear parental concern over the second generation. “We are afraid for our kids,” we have been told. With a mixture of awe, fear, and disdain, immigrant parents say their children are “becoming American.” This is the stuff of sermons in Korean churches, of discussion in Ecuadoran hometown associations, of debate in Chinese newspapers.

Sometimes this is only a vague but nagging fear about cultural loss among people who are otherwise quite happy in America. Jhumpa Lahiri’s fictional couple, for example, find themselves inexplicably afraid for their U.S.-born son at Harvard: “So we drive to Cambridge to visit him or bring him home for the weekend so that he can eat rice with us with his hands and speak Bengali, things we sometimes worry he will no longer do after we die” (Lahiri 1999:197). Other times the fear is more pointed. West Indian Brooklynites told Mary Waters that “we are losing our kids to the streets,” a shorthand both for the manifold dangers of the American ghetto and for the less well understood but nonetheless frightening impact that being considered a black person in racist America was having on their children (Waters 1999).

This fear is part of the paradox of the immigrant experience. Immigrants come to America to improve their lives and those of their children. Most manage to do just that. They overcome hardships and obstacles to give their children the chance to become Americans. At the same time, parents are often uncomfortable with and anxious about the future of the new Americans they have created. Whether the experience of the immigrant second and 1.5 generations in New York justifies these fears or not is the most important question that we hope this book can answer.” –pg. 4-5

Professor Mahmood Mamdani has a chapter in his "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror" (2004) called "Culture Talk; or, How Not to Talk About Islam and Politics" (pg. 17-62) that's definitely worth checking out.

Also Olivier Roy has a book that also came out in 2004 called "Globalized Islam: the Search for a New Ummah" where he has "Acculturation and 'Objectification' of Islam," "Recasting Identities, Westernizing Religiosity" and "Religion as Identity" among other sub-headings in the introduction. (I recently heard him speak at Columbia on his latest book called Holy Ignorance: The Age of Religion without Culture which I don't think has been translated yet, but the original is out

a beginning...

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate

All praise be to the Creator and Sustainer of all and prayers and blessings be upon upon beloved Prophet, Muhammad.

...A friend of mine urged me today start a blog; other's have encouraged me to do so before...I have been posting a  number of links and notes on facebook...I'm still trying to think of the pros and cons of posting there vs. having my own blog..

But to start I want dedicate the coming up with the name of this blog to my friend and classmate Abdul Latif. Abdul Latif had to bear with 4 years of me spitting out random information at the most random times on everything from there's an event going on somewhere, this book on _____ just came out, so-and-so said blank, another so-and-so is going to be here for the coming three times I definitely annoyed him with it, other times some of the information was beneficial...

Anyway, a name came out of it and this would allow me to share information jokingly starting with "in Ebaade news today..." and getting feedback that "ebaade news has been weak lately" :)

in sha Allah (God-willing) I pray that this site will of some benefit to any readers out there...My name by the way is Ebad or Ebadur Rahman (yes I know it's plural :) long story)  

peace and blessings,