Academic journal article Pakistan Journal of Women's Studies: Alam-e-Niswan

Gender, Culture and Islam: Perspectives of Three New Zealand Muslim Women

Academic journal article Pakistan Journal of Women's Studies: Alam-e-Niswan

Gender, Culture and Islam: Perspectives of Three New Zealand Muslim Women

Article excerpt

'I think ... the youth are like the kids of the future, you know. So I think that ... because being youth we're not really old fashioned.' Asma made this comment as part of her conceptualisation of her Muslim identity. She felt that Muslim youth in western contexts occupy a dynamic positionality between various reference points, including parental culture and expectations, as well as engaging in self-conscious Muslim identity in multicultural conditions. Asma's perspectives are explored in more detail later on. A number of commentators have observed that members of Muslim minorities in Western countries are increasingly finding solidarity and common ground in religious organisations despite their, often, diverse constituency. Factors such as nationality, ethnicity, language and culture are significant in creating plurality among those of Islamic faith yet, increasingly, Muslim communities in minority situations are documented as defining themselves, as often defined by others, as primarily 'Muslim.'

This article focuses on the individual narratives of three young New Zealand Muslim women from diverse backgrounds, and their conceptualisations of their Muslim identity in relation to cultural and religious understandings. Analysis of minority individuals reveals dynamic understandings of, for example, cultural practices, religious praxis, community participation, and in relation to notions of citizenship and wider society relations. The New Zealand Muslim community is in a process of growth. It is quite recently that this community has substantially increased in numbers, and continual international in-migration of new migrants is a characteristic feature. Therefore first and subsequent generations of New Zealand Muslims, defined by plural social factors, are interrelating with one another and negotiating individual and group identities in dynamic processes.

As Vertovec (2003, 314) discusses, a focus on the making of diaspora reveals environments in which religious and cultural transformation and continuity exist together. Diasporic religious contexts, in which diverse people from various backgrounds converge, necessitate reconfiguration of social identities and religious expression, while attempting to maintain or build community. Peek (2005, 218) goes further to contend 'immigration itself is often a theologizing experience.' 'Host' aspects and integrative factors inevitably figure in these processes.

Examining individual narratives of three New Zealand Muslim women provides considered appraisal of how these individuals negotiate the challenges of identity conceptualisation in dynamic diasporic and minority contexts. Personal narratives provide localised empirical insights into how individuals' religious and cultural understandings can shift in practice and meaning over time as a consequence of dynamic social conditions and varied individual understandings.

This discussion is based on research conducted with Muslim women in New Zealand from 2006-2012. All of the participants wore hijab (modest dress that includes head covering) and exhibited self-conscious and overt Islamic identities. This discussion therefore focuses on Muslim women who cover their heads (for discussion, regarding women of Islamic faith who do not cover their heads see, for example, Ahmed 2011 and Read and Bartkowski 2000). Faith was articulated as an important supportive and empowering factor in the women's lives individually and also in the wider Muslim community. Conceptualising faith is a very personal experience and was discussed by the research participants as having both ontological and pragmatic functions (see Dobson 2012a). The New Zealand Muslim women who participated in this research are from diverse backgrounds, representing recent migrants as well as second, and subsequent, generations. Interviews were conducted in New Zealand's cities: Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland. Interviews were conducted at women's homes, as well as at local mosques. …

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