The Dynamics of Islamic Identity
in North America
YVONNE YAZBECK HADDAD
The immigration of Muslims to Europe and North America during this century has ushered in a new era in the relationship between Islam and the West, conditioned in part by the Muslim experience of “the West” in the form of European colonialism until mid-century and “American neocolonialism” since the 1950s. As a result the dynamic between the two is seen by Muslims as being that between conqueror and conquered, powerful and powerless, dominant and weak. This has also influenced the ways in which Muslims have formed questions of identity as they strive to negotiate a secure place for themselves and their children in Western societies.
This chapter will attempt a preliminary exploration of the dynamics shaping Islamic identity in North America. It will look at the elements that formed the variety of identities prior to emigration, the immigrant experience in America, and the options immigrants find as they struggle to make their home in an environment that they as Muslims find hostile.
The American experience has provided the Muslims with a variety of encounters and challenges and presented them with a bewildering array of options as they struggle to adapt to life in the United States. At first glance their experience may be seen as similar to that of other immigrants, raising the familiar questions of what of the old identity should be salvaged, what given up, and what renegotiated or invented as the community seeks to find a niche for itself. A closer look shows that there are some profound differences. While some of what they experience can be ascribed to changing times or political considerations, increasingly many see their marginalized situation as deliberate and specific, the product of longstanding tendencies in American society to fear and distrust Islam. Thus, while Muslims may be facing the same problems earlier generations of immigrants had encoun