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Identities of the American Muslim Women


Muslim women in the US face a number of social problems when attempting to fit in the American multicultural societies. As the number of Muslims increase in the US, the cultural diversity of the Islamic societies tends to expand with time, increasing the need for studies that focus on sub-cultures in the US. The religious and cultural aspects of the Muslims in the US are of particular importance, owing to the uniqueness of the cultures and religion of the Islam societies in Asia and other parts of the world. This paper examines how the identity of the women Muslims in the US is constructed to fill in the existing literature gap.

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Multiculturalism is one of the most significant aspects of the American society with a long history of immigration of individuals and groups from different cultural, social and geographical backgrounds. Over the years, integration of the whites, blacks, natives and Asian groups have been the major aspect of multiculturalism debate in the US. Nevertheless, in recent past, there has seen an increase in the number of Muslim societies in the US. According to Sirin et al (2008), Islamic communities within the US are perceived as similar, despite their inherent differences.

Since the US experienced the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there has been an increasing volume of comparative literature regarding the identity of the American Muslims as “emerging collective identity”. For example, national cultures and religious practices, such as wearing the Hijab for women and beards/hats for men, are perceived as universal landmarks for Muslims (Jensen, 2011). Nevertheless, this identification tends to ignore the diversity within the Islamic culture and religion. Moreover, it should be noted that gender differences within the Islamic culture and religion make women more identifiable through their behavior codes, such as the Hijab.

Based on these aspects, out-group discrimination against the Muslim women is evident and has been researched over the years (Jensen, 2011). Nevertheless, the existing literature fails to focus on how Muslim women in the US define their perceptions of faith in their communities and how they are discriminated within their groups (Jensen, 2011). Thus, this paper attempts to examine how the identity of the Muslim women in the US is constructed in order to address the literature gap created by the previous studies that only focused on discrimination from out-group perspectives.

Identities of the American Muslim women within their groups

Gender and race are mutually exclusive individual identities. According to Crenshaw (2010), these aspects tend to underscore the multidimensional nature of individual identity. Therefore, it is worth noting that it is not possible to understand the identity of an American Muslim woman without a good understanding of the intersection of her gender, culture, race and religion (Silvestri, 2011). This information is especially important in times of crisis. Therefore, it is evident that American Muslim women have their identities hyphenated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks (Katsiaficas, Futch, Fine & Sirin, 2011).

According to the cultural and religious institutions dictated by Islam, women are supposed to adhere to the standards of dressing, behavior and methods of socialization. Nevertheless, the US is not a religious state, which gives individuals the freedom to choose whether to conform to the standards or not (Katsiaficas, Futch, Fine & Sirin, 2011). Muslim-American women have the right either to stick to the Islamic standards of behavior or not. For instance, they have the right to choose if they want to wear the Hijab.

This aspect contributes significantly to the construction of the identities of the Muslim women in the US. For instance, the western stereotypes perceive Muslim women as submissive (Jensen, 2011). In addition, those who do not cover their bodies as required under the Islamic standards are overlooked, especially within the in-groups, because they appear as “less representative” of the Muslim society and Islamic religion and culture. In addition, Sirin and Fine (2007) argue that the Muslim-American women who do not veil consider themselves as “bad Muslims” or “spoilt Muslims”.

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The issue of “what it is to be Muslim enough” is an important and major aspect of the construction of the identities of the Muslim women in the US. In addition, the beliefs of a Muslim woman in meeting the traditional codes of conduct as well as perceptions of other Muslim women on her are critical aspects that define the construction of identities of American-Muslim females.

There are three levels of identity that have been identified – religion, gender and race/ethnicity. They apply to the construction of women identities among the Muslim groups in the US (Jeldtoft, 2011). For instance, studies have shown that the majority of women who veil consider their counterparts who choose not to wear the hijab as those who are “not practicing Islam” (Jensen, 2011). In addition, a growing number of Muslim women in the US are increasingly considering the hijab culture as “a backward and traditional behavior” that moves back towards the old oppressive lifestyles. Nevertheless, some studies have shown that Muslims in the US consider religiosity as not an ideological stance of an individual (Jensen, 2011). Rather, it represents a state that defines an individual’s identity (Jensen, 2011).

Among the Muslim societies, an individual ought to prove to the others that he or she is religious. For Muslim women in the US, this is a common phenomenon. In the early 2000s, Sirin and Katsiaficas (2011) carried out a study to examine this phenomenon. According to their study (Sirin & Katsiaficas, 2011), Muslim women have a higher likelihood of fighting against discrimination, ignorance as well as stereotypes than their male counterparts. On the other hand, they have to struggle to show the others, especially those within their in-groups, that they are religious to avoid discrimination or being separated due to “lacking practice” or being “bad Muslims/women”.

In addition, the construction of an American-Muslim woman’s identity for those who wear the hijab takes place in a relatively different manner from the construction of those who choose not to veil. For example, those who choose not to veil tend to be concerned about their state as enough Muslims. On the other hand, those who wear the hijab are more likely to fight back the stereotypic perception within the out-groups than those who tend to avoid veiling.

For instance, two American-Muslim women tend to have a similar hyphenated self, but it is not common for them to use the same manner in dealing with the way the societies perceive them (Jensen, 2011). For example, practicing Muslim women in the US who choose to veil tend to show different reactions to the stereotype perceptions (Jelen, 2011). Some may tend to feel embarrassed and fight back to prove that their culture is important while the others tend to feel proud of their uniqueness. Yet, the rest might be influenced to change their dressing style to fit in the society (Jelen, 2011).

It is also important to note that not all the Muslim women in the US tend to judge each other in a given manner. For example, some sociological studies have revealed that some women who consider themselves religious and practicing do not always tend to practice the religion (Jelen, 2011). In addition, studies have shown that some women brought up in families where parents tend not to practice have the probability of starting to practice once they are grown up, including the custom of wearing the Hijab. One of the major reasons for this is the need to show the others, especially colleagues and members of the matrimonial families, that they are good Muslim women (Jelen, 2011).


This analysis provides evidence that the Muslim-American women tend to have a myriad of challenges as they try to survive in a multicultural society. The religious and cultural codes of conduct, the need to practice and become “good Muslims” tend to be in conflict with the need to fit in a multicultural society where laws provide freedom for dressing.

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Thus, these factors define and influence the construction of the identities of Muslim-American women. Within the Muslim world, a gender gap is one of the most significant issues in the society (Jelen, 2011). The Islamic culture tends to limit the freedom of choice, especially for women, in such areas as dressing and behavior. In most cases, the culture tends to limit women potential in economic, political and social spheres. Although the problem is prevalent in the Islamic states, its effects are also evident in the US because Muslims tend to practice their culture and religion within their groups.

Moreover, the western stereotypic perception of the Muslim women is based on their behavior, especially in terms of clothing as well. Nevertheless, this analysis reveals that a number of factors define the identity of Muslim-American women in the US. The in-group perceptions of women within the Muslim-American communities tend to have a significant impact on the perception of women within the groups.


Crenshaw, K. (2010). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241–1299.

Jeldtoft, N. (2011). Lived islam: Religious identity with ‘non-organized’ muslim minorities. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34(7), 1134-1151. doi:10.1080/01419870.2010.528441

Jelen, B. (2011). Educated, independent, and covered: The professional aspirations and experiences of university-educated hijabi in contemporary Turkey. Women’s Studies International Forum, 34, 308-319. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2011.04.008

Jensen, T. (2011). Context, focus and new perspectives in the study of Muslim religiosity. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34(7), 1152-1167. doi:10.1080/01419870.2010.526235

Katsiaficas, D., Futch, V. A., Fine, M., & Sirin, S. R. (2011). Everyday hyphens: Exploring youth identities with methodological and analytic pluralism. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 8(2), 120-139. doi:10.1080/14780887.2011.572743

Silvestri, S. (2011). Faith intersections and muslim women in the european microcosm: Notes towards the study of non-organized islam. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34(7), 1230-1247. doi:10.1080/01419870.2011.565779

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Sirin, S. R., & Fine, M. (2007). Hyphenated selves: Muslim American youth negotiating identities on the fault lines of global conflict. Applied Developmental Science, 11(3), 151-163.

Sirin, S. R., & Katsiaficas, D. (2011). Religiosity, discrimination, and community engagement: Gendered pathways of Muslim American emerging adults. Youth & Society, 43, 1528-1546.

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