muslim identity crisis

Written by Muhammad Jamal Akbar 10:51 am

The Identity Crisis of Muslims in Non-Muslim Societies

The antipathy and insensitivity in non-Muslim societies have driven Muslim minorities to the brink of an identity crisis. This piece gives reference to China, India, and the United States.

Introduction

Identity crisis is a term used to describe a period of fierce exploitation of one’s identity. A person’s identity becomes endangered or insecure due to fear from society or differences in personal and expected roles of society. Identity crisis is a result of exploitation and a disregard of respect, rights, and freedom, which is what most Muslim minorities feel in secular and oppressive states.

The feeling of persecution, backlash, and severe massacres that go unreported are prime causes of the erosion of true identity. Muslim minorities try to adhere to the socio-cultural demands of their residing states so that they may be treated and given the same rights as the rest of the populace.

Such adaptation leads to misalignment of their own identity as Muslims thus creating a bipolar being. There have been efforts at the governmental level, aimed at protecting the minorities but in spite of that this identity crisis is one of the key ironic priorities faced by Muslims.1

Background

Since the dawn of Islam, there have been many convergences and divergences between the West and Islam. The areas called frontiers are “the points of contention between the two, these frontiers are what make or break the relationship of west and Islam”.2 The very foundation of interests, norms, perspectives, and ideals that West and Islam have about each other arise from these frontiers.

In Asia Minor, the European Christians and the Muslim militaries confronted each other during the period of crusades. What later came was the dawn of industrialization and capitalism that resulted in the collapse of the Muslim empire and the spread of colonialism. During the period of crusades, the Roman Catholic Church used religious sentiments for political benefits against the Turkish people.

During the 1200s, the unity of Muslims was disrupted by Christians kings who applied heavy taxation with the aim of “Reconquista”;3 the major goal of this was to make the Muslims their subjects and submissive to their prejudice against Islam. When the state of Granada collapsed, there was increased subjugation and forced migrations of the Muslim population; the restrictions on their freedom eventually turned into oppression.

This interpretation of the East through the Western construct is called orientalism.4 It is a transfiguring compound that is making an important contribution to the anti-Islamic sentiments. Edward Said states that “the orient exists for the western and it is produced with the relationship with the west and by the west”.5

The concept of Islam that arises through the lens of orientalism is what generates identity crisis among Muslim minorities. The West, which is already riddled with anti-Islamic and Islamophobic values, is not ready for the positive face of Islam. The exclusion of the Muslim minorities and the label of a terrorist are threatening the mere existence and future of Muslim minorities living in the West.

From True Islamic Values to Extremism

For Muslims, Islam is a complete code of conduct; it is the basis of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The teachings followed by Muslims are core principles that reflect true values. There have been cases of terrorism, especially the 9/11 attack after which a wave of Islamic terrorism and extremism was highlighted.

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These extremists were not following Islam but merely using it as a cover, creating conundrums for Muslim minorities. Many people who follow extremism are the people who are doing it for reactionary purposes. A radical actor is one who has feelings of discontent from society and has therefore taken the law into his own hands, to create the change that he wishes to have in society.7

The extremists basically want to reject the notion of the society, which has fueled hatred for Muslims, and the wrongfully constructed societal norms of his religion. These actors desire a political change so that they may be accepted and acknowledged. Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi, an ISIS leader, declares himself as a caliph of an ideal Islamic home, a political system that would favor his religion over the others.

Since extremists want radical change, they resort to more violent means of spreading their notions. They want to change the monopolization of the current political status with violent means which is also called terrorism. Reactionary politics induces an autocratic and retrogressive change in potential zealots,8 and so such actions do not depend on or originate from a specific religion.

Rather, they arise from the specific culture and the historical conditions that the extremists have been born and raised in. This highlights that their actions are basically determined by the societal law of the area in which they initially resided. This means that the resolution of the identity crisis would mean an end to Islamic extremism.

Islamophobia          

A phobia is defined as an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situations. According to this definition, the person with a phobia may not be able to detect the source and the rationale behind this fear; however, it grips every interaction very strongly.

Over the last decades, Western societies have been experiencing the same kind of fear very strongly regarding Islam, or Islamophobia. It can be somewhat explained as exaggerated fear and strong hostility towards Muslims, especially the ones loving in societies as minorities. The negative discrimination and prejudice are leading Muslims towards an identity crisis.

In 2009, Switzerland’s largest party presented a referendum to ban the construction of a minaret,10 and in November 2019, a pregnant woman in Australia wearing a headscarf was attacked by a local;11 such is the level of extreme hatred generated by the West around by globe.

Atrocities Faced by Muslim Minorities

There is a large faction of Muslim minority living in the United States; the Muslim immigration rate was raised when the immigration laws were changed in 1965.12 After the 9/11 attack, however, anti-Muslim and anti-Islam propaganda was generated all over the media. According to the 2010 consensus, 6 million Muslims are part of the 300 million American population.

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A 2009 survey indicates that 36% of Americans believe that Islam is a religion that encourages violence among its believers. The state of Oklahoma voted to ban the Shariah Law from being used in their judicial matters. Many Americans perceive Muslims and Americans as two opposite poles.

According to them, both identities contradict the other and one cannot possess both, which is why many young American Muslims feel more empowered when they solely identify themselves as Americans, thus creating a major identity crisis among the young generation. This changes the mindset of the young generation, creating a dilemma as to follow ‘which one’.

According to the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), there are 3 ethnicities that constitute the Muslim population: the South Asians (33%), Arabs (20%), and African Americans (30%). Farther to the East, treated as untouchables, there is a certain sense of uneasiness and continuous fear that Muslims face in India.

This is a predictive behavior of the religious majority, since they have the favor of many political parties and media groups. According to many Indians, Muslims pose threat to their secular democratic nation. Balraj Madhok, in his book ‘Indianization’, wrote that Islam was a monolithic uniformity, but Islam, like every other religion, has its pluralistic features

Narendra Modi’s reelection has brought forth the rise of a new kind of fascism. BJP has an ideology similar to the ideologies of the past, which created havoc and humanitarian crises, such as Nazism. BJP calls it Hindutva that uses the banner of patriotism and nationalism, and the principle of Akhand Bharat, a greater nation for all Hindus, a contradiction to its secular framework.

The genocide of 2002 in Gujarat which was led by the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi cannot be forgotten. The premeditated murders and kidnappings of Muslims just 6 kilometers away from the police headquarters is proof that the lives of the Muslim minority were considered insignificant.

Although the Chinese state is secular, a recent estimate says that around 350 million people are those who believe in some kind of religion. In 2016, the United States Department presented an international religious freedom report, which stated that 650 million Chinese believed in some form of religion. There are some 22 million Muslims living all over China.14 Uighurs are basically Turkic people who live in Zin Jiang, a semi-autonomous region.

China avers that the Muslim residents have been sent to counterterrorism camps for the purpose of education and rehabilitation. According to the government officials of Zin Jiang, Uighur Muslims are associated with an Islamic militant group called the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Uighur Muslims have repeatedly abjured these statements.

According to many human rights groups, their only crime is that they are Muslims and hence pose a challenge to the secular, anti-religion thought of the Chinese state. Identity crisis is that period of uncertainty where a person is insecure of their identity. The identity crisis emerges as a tool to adopt cultural values for survival.

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[1] Christopher Flood, Political and Cultural Representation of Muslims, 2012.

[2]  Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

[3] https://www.britannica.com/event/Reconquista

[4] http://arabstereotypes.org/why-stereotypes/what-orientalism

[5] Said, Edward. Orientalsim . London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1978.

[6] https://doi.org/10.1080/23311886.2018.1463815

[7] Prinsloo, Barend Louwrens. “The etymology of “Islamic extremism”: A misunderstood term?” Cogent Social Sciences, 2018.

[8] Iravani, Ahmed. “How to stem the rise of Islamic extremism.” World Economic Forum , 2014.

[9] https://news.gallup.com/poll/157082/islamophobia-understanding-anti-muslim-sentiment-west.aspx

[10] Cumming-Bruce, N., & Erlanger, S. (2009). Swiss ban building of minarets on mosques. New York Times29.

[11] Hussein, S. (2019). From victims to suspects: Muslim women since 9/11. Yale University Press.

[12] Warner, R. S. (2000). Religion and new (post-1965) immigrants: Some principles drawn from field research. American Studies41(2/3), 267-286.

[13] Teltumbde, A. (2006). 15 Hindu fundamentalist politics in India. Empire and neoliberalism in Asia, 247.

[14] Raza, Z. (2019). China’s ‘Political Re-Education’ Camps of Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims. Asian Affairs50(4), 488-501.

References

  • Christopher Flood, Political and Cultural Representation of Muslims, 2012.
  • Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
  • Ray, Jonathan. The Sephardic frontier: the reconquista and the Jewish community in medieval Iberia. Cornell University Press, 2006. https://www.britannica.com/event/Reconquista
  • Albalawi, M. (2015). Arabs’ Stereotypes Revisited: The Need for a Literary Solution. Advances in Language and Literary Studies6(2), 200-211. http://arabstereotypes.org/why-stereotypes/what-orientalism
  • Said, Edward. Orientalsim. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1978.
  • Prinsloo, Barend Louwrens. “The etymology of “Islamic extremism”: A misunderstood term?.” Cogent Social Sciences 4, no. 1 (2018) https://doi.org/10.1080/23311886.2018.1463815
  • Iravani, Ahmed. “How to stem the rise of Islamic extremism.” World Economic Forum , 2014.

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About the Author(s)

Mr. Muhammad Jamal Akbar is a recent graduate of Quaid e Azam University's School of Politics and International Relations.

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