Muslims and Identity
Politics in America
MOHOMMED A. MUQTEDAR KHAN
Identity may be an imaginary property of humans, but its effects on society are real, both on the individual level and collectively in the form of communities, nations, ethnicities, and civilizations. Identity connects the individual to the collective; it establishes relations whose nature is political and which is known as “identity politics.” Through the shaping and reshaping of the “I” and the “we” the individual and the community shape and reshape each other.
Both the individual and the collective are repositories of identity. Through various symbolic activities, like performing the salah (prayer) on Fridays, fasting, celebrating festivals, wearing traditional garb, and frequenting community places such as the mosque, the restaurant, and the parochial school, the Muslim individual reproduces the community, and these distinct practices give the community its meaning or identity. In seeking to reproduce a particular community, however, the individual allows collective practices to shape his or her own personality to some extent. In other words the process of reproducing collective identity involves the constitution of the individual self. In reproducing an Islamic community, the individual also produces the Muslim personality.
Construction or crystallization of identity involves two processes: drawing boundaries and investing meaning in the spaces inside and outside the boundaries.1 The Muslim community, for example, draws boundaries to differentiate between who belongs to a Muslim community and who does not. It also defines what makes a Muslim community Muslim, and what does not, by identifying the characteristics of the collective and contrasting them with others and then giving meaning and relevance to these characteristics.