Muslim Identity in the era of globalization

Formation of new Muslim identities

Term Paper, 2015

22 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduktion

2. What is the role of Identity in Intercultural communication?

3. Muslim Identity
3.1. The history of Muslim Identity
3.2. The dimensions of Muslim Identity
3.2.1. Muslim Identity concepts
3.2.2. Global Muslim Identity

4. Muslim Identity crisis
4.1. Muslims in Europe
4.2. Globalization and identity in Muslim-dominated countries

5. New Muslim Identity
5.1. Muslim Hipsters
5.2. Muslim consumptions and religious identity
5.2.1. The Halal label
5.2.2. Muslims in the Internet

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

No doubt I speak like a migrant and a member of a minority. But I think what I say reflects a sensibility that is more and more widely shared by our contemporaries. Isn't it a characteristic of the age we live in that it has made (everyone in a way a migrant and a member of a minority? We all have to live in a universe-bearing little resemblance to the place where we were born: we must all learn other languages, other modes of speech, other codes; and we all have the feeling that our own identity, as we have conceived of it since we were children, is threatened.1

Constructing an identity today is complicated by the nature of our postmodern world we live in but more significant than ever. For most people it is very important to identify oneself with at least one aspect like nationality, ethnicity or religion. Identity could determine the position which one has in society, depending on the country one live in. Finding one’s identity can be very challenging. Many people struggle with the notion of their identity, especially minority groups like Muslims living in the “Secular World” asking themselves “Who am I?” Moreover the globalization led to significant changes in the Islamic world and within an Identity crisis.

In this paper I will focus on the following questions: What is the link between Islam and identity? What exactly is a Muslim Identity? As Muslims are coming from different countries, ethnics and different groups (Sunnis, Shiites and so on) can we talk about Muslims as a collective group or is there a Global Muslim Identity? And when how is this type of identity created? Moreover it is important to analyze which factors are salient and how do these factors interact. In the second chapter I would like to explain the role of Identity in Intercultural Communication. In the third chapter I will focus on the history of the category Muslim Identity and about its concepts. Then I will continue with the issue Muslim Identity crisis. On one hand I will investigate how the Identity crisis is defined for Muslim immigrants and what kind of problems they have to face and on the other hand how the globalization in Muslim-dominated countries leads to an identity crisis. In chapter 5 I will explain how Muslims trying to create a “New Muslim Identity” through the internet and new movements. Moreover I will illustrate what the role of Muslim consumptions is. In the last chapter I will summarize the most important results.

2. What is the role of Identity in Intercultural communication?

In the process of communication in general, and intercultural communication in particular, for a proper decoding of the messages it is of paramount importance to recognize to what extent people’s identity contributes to formulate and convey information.2

Identity is an extremely complex concept and can be defined in different ways, depending on the context. Furthermore it is a fundamental concept to all our lives. Identity makes us different from others. Identity refers not only to our national or social identity, it also refers to complex associations, beliefs, groups, and lifestyle and personal perspectives. There are multiple dimensions of identity which can be categorized as ascriptive (age, gender, ethnicity), cultural, territorial, political, economic and social.3

David A. Hollinger, an American professor of American History at the University of Berkley invented the Ethno-Racial Pentagon. This model, developed in 1995 is based on five main blocks: 1) the Euro-American 2) African-American, 3) Asian-American 4) Hispanic and 5) Indigenous people (Native American). In 2004 Hortobágyi started to create from this background a new pentagon model, “where ethnicity, identity and discourse, language and education form a permeable unit based on a common core, namely the omnipresence of the linguistic element, which is by all means the most expressive mirror of one’s identity.”4 According to Hortobágyi language is very important aspect in each speech community, regardless of cultural, racial, ethnic or gender-related speech communities. Moreover he says that if we start a conversation in a multicultural setting, we have to presuppose that the members of the speech group usually share the same codes and meanings. Differences often can lead to clashes or conflicts. This differences occur at a verbal level in form of using certain expressions to assert belonging to a group or also to exclude or discriminate someone, and on a non-verbal level in form of gestures, eye-contact and turn-taking.

People can ‘belong’ in many different ways and to many different objects of attachments. These can vary from a particular person to the whole humanity, in a concrete or abstract way, by self or other identification, instable, contested or transient way. Even in its most stable ‘primordial’ forms, however, belonging is always a dynamic process, not a reified fixity - the latter is only a naturalized construction of particular hegemonic form of power relations.5

Besides speaking also the concepts of race and ethnicity define a cultural identity. According to Hortobágyi ethnic identity is in the first place a cultural marker that shows beside the ethnic origin, shared heritage, economic, linguistic, cultural and religious background.6

During history the importance and definition of identity changed. According to Huntington after the end of the Cold War the separation by culture is replaced by the separation of ideologies. Furthermore he divides the world in major civilizations: Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu and Slavic-Orthodox civilizations. In general this civilizations differ from each other in language, culture, tradition, religion and history. In every culture there are different views between different actors: between the individual and the group, the individual and God, husband and wife, equality and hierarchy and state and citizens.7

3. Muslim Identity

Before we even begin to probe the way in which Muslim identity has been constructed it is important to remind ourselves that such a discussion, or the terms in which it has been constructed, is of quite recent provenance.8

The Islam is a strictly monotheistic religion and for many Muslims a complete way of life. The question who counts as Muslim is very significant. There are tensions between invisibility and hyper visibility. The term Muslim is often in use as a code word for a lot of debates and “problematics”. There are three main categories: gender (the hijab, honor killings and forced marriage), Muslim gangs and Muslim terrorism.9

In this chapter I will explain how the term Muslim identity was born and how the Muslim concepts are defined.

3.1. The history of the category Muslim identity

According to Geoffrey Nash the construction of a Muslim diasporic identity is a recent phenomenon. In the late 20th / 21th century the Muslim identity has become an “emergent category” due to the ever-increasing immigrant populations in Europe. In the foreground thereby were the terms race and ethnicity. Since the 1980th individual Muslims, as well communities choose the term Muslim as their primary identity.

Tariq Modood, a British sociologist describes his family’s personal shift of identity. In the 1960s/70s his family was considered being Pakistani, in the 1980s Asian and in the1990s Muslim. According to the British historian Human Ansari Muslims were subsumed within “ethic categories as part of the discourse of race relations” until the 1980s. At this time the New Rights exclusion policies led to the adoption of their religion as an identity marker. Furthermore he states that debates over religious schools and attacks against Muslims as “not belonging to British culture” promoted the British Muslim identity.10 The concept of Identity is not a fixed one. According to Hall it is almost invariably determined through the relation to the Other:

It is only through the relation to the Other; the relation to what it is not, to be precisely what lacks, to what has been called its constitutive outside that the “positive” meaning of any term-and thus its “identity”-can be constructed.11

3.2. The dimensions of Muslim Identity

Which elements belong to the culture of Islam? The Arabic word Islam literally means ‘submission’ to God’s will. The Islam has spread over a large region after its “birth”. In the 7th century. Islam is often seen as a religion characterized by orthopraxy; for example, there are the multiple moral categories of human behavior ranging from haram (forbidden) to halal (permissible). In Islam there are five pillars which a Muslims have to follow. These pillars are shahada (confession of faith), Salat (the daily prayer), Saum (the fasting during the month of Ramadan), Zakat (“charity” for poor people) and Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca).12 The Islam is a religion which influences all areas of life. Therefore the Islam have its own judicial system, called Sharia. This system deals with all aspects of life: politics, banking, economics, business laws, sexuality and social issues. These laws are based on the Qur’an and Sunnah (Hadith, actions of Muhammed).13

3.2.1. Muslim Identity concepts

What exactly are the concepts of a Muslim identity? There are seven factors which affect and construct Muslim identi(es): the ummah14 (global Muslim community), geographical location, history, social relations and the society, every day practices, personal devoutness and values.15 Tariq Ramadan16 explains that the most important Muslim identity is faith. The faith takes its point from the departure of shahada 17.

Muslims testify to their faith and state a clear foundation for their identity: they are Muslim, believe in God, in His messengers, in the angels, in the revealed Books, in fate, And in the day of judgement.18

The scholar of Islam Studies sees the concept of shahada as the most appropriate way to describe the Muslim Identity. Moreover he explains that it suits also the present situation of the Muslims, because it allows “the identity and social responsibility of Muslims to be both expressed and linked.19 The concept Dar20 refers to a society in which Muslims lived and practiced their religion. Dar is divided into two concepts: dar a-Islam ( The abode Islam ) and dar-al hab ( The abode of war). The second definition refers to a place where the legal system and government are non-Islamic.21

Nowadays millions of Muslims are living in the West. In this case they have to deal with the topic of relations between two different “houses. This relations are between people who identify themselves with various moralities, civilizations, religions and cultures. Furthermore the two houses are connected to the relations between the citizens in constant interactions with the social, economic, legal and political framework, because it forms and determines the space they are living in.22

3.2.2. Global Muslim Identity

The Global Muslim community is called ummah, which means “nation” and “community”. This definition goes beyond national borders, languages and ethnicities. ummah unites all Muslims in their faith. Religious communities such as the Muslim ummah, as a group of people refer to themselves as “we” and see their individual self’s trough that group membership. Moreover they are influenced by values of the religion they adhere to.23

Symbolically and ritually connecting Muslims trough time and across space, the idea of a transnational umma is especially well resourced to suggest a consciousness of community which need not conflict with being at home in particular locales but does shape people’s orientations to the past, present and future.24

The use of this ummah can be traced back to the Qur’an where they are described as the best community:

Ihr seid das beste Volk, hervorgebracht zum Wohl der Menschheit; ihr gebietet das Gute und verwehrt das Böse und glaubt an Allah. Und wenn das Volk der Schrift auch (diese Anweisung Allahs) annähme, wahrlich würde es ihnen besser frommen. Manche von ihnen nehmen (sie) an, doch die meisten ihrer sind ungehorsam.25 26

The idea of ummah refers clearly to historical and territorial orientation in terms of Mecca. Nowadays some British Muslims have criticized this concept due to various international conflicts. They suggest a more de-territorialized ummatic discourse.27 Only one precondition for a membership in the Muslim community was set: there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His final prophet (shahada). Moreover theoretically ethic origins, financial status and geographical location were not preconditions. If someone wants to be a member, one only had to declare himself a Muslim. The prophet says that the umma is a body, if one of its members is sick, the whole body experiences the fever and the affliction. This sure of the Qur’an can be interpreted that it does not matter where the Muslim is living in the world, they should feel and develop the sense of belonging to the umma as if one were an organ in a body.28

The “promise of Islam” was that in future it would include the whole mankind. In the early days of the Muslim nation the Islam regarded itself din wa dawalah, which means religion and state.29

Dr. Salman Sayyid30, professor of the faculty of social science of the University of Leeds urges calls more contemporary reference to the ummah as an “attempt to come to terms with the limits and crisis of the nation state”. Anderson sees the ummah as a “imagined community”. He underlines that this community is ethnically and linguistically impure. Another Islam expert, Olivier Roy claim that for Muslim minorities the importance of ummah is bigger because they have to “re-invent what makes them Muslim.”31 In the previous chapter I explained that there are two different “houses”, dar-al-Islam and dar-al-hab. According to Ramadan when we are talking about Westernization, it is better to use the words center (the West) and periphery (the rest of the planet):

The Muslims settled in the West are at the center, at the heart, in the head of the system that produces the symbolic apparatus of Westernization. In this very specific space, in the center, and in a more demanding way than at the periphery, Muslims must bear witness, must be witnesses, to what they are and to the values they hold. The whole world is indeed a land of witness, but there is a space, the fortress charged with an incomparable symbolic responsibility, which is the heart of the whole system and in which millions of Muslims now live.32

At the center there is the principle of shahada, which “protects” the essential features of Muslim identity, in itself as well in society. Shahada expresses the “duty of the Muslims to live among people and to bear witness” and to recall the “permanent” relation to God which is called al- rabbaniyya.33

4. Muslim Identity crisis

Due to the globalization and its changing of global structures there will spring up conflicts different conflicts: between institutional and geographical and psycho and sociological aspects of identity and a conflict between the global and the local culture.


1 Maalouf, Amin (2000): Mörderische Identitäten. Aus dem Franz. von Christian Hansen. Suhrkamp. Frankfurt am Main, 75.

2 Hortobágyi, Ildikó (2009): The role of identity in Intercultural Communication. In: Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Braçov. Vol.2 (51)-2009. Series IV: Philology and Cultural Studies. Brasov (Romania), 257, 10-14.

3 Ibid, 260.

4 Ibid, 257.

5 Uriya, Shavit (2009): The New imagined community. Global Media and the Construction of National and Muslim Identities of Migrants. Sussex Academic Press. Britain. Aalborg: Institut for Kultur og Globale Studier, Aalborg Universtet, 5, 12-18.

6 Hortobágyi, Ildikó (2009), 259.

7 Hortobágyi, Ildikó (2009), 258.

8 Nash, Geoffrey (2012): Writing Muslim Identity. Continuum International Publishing Group. London, page 7, line 8-11.

9 Claire Alexander, Victoria Redclift and Ajmal Hussain (2013): The New Muslims. Runnymede. London, 3. 3

10 Nash, Geoffrey (2012), 7.

11 Nash, Geoffrey (2012), 8.

12 Hamadeh, Anis (2013): Islam verstehen. Ein praktisches Handbuch. Verlag Donata Kinzelbach. Mainz, 194. 4

13 Ibid, 225-226.

14 I will explain ummah in the next chapter.

15 Pratt, Douglas (2005): The challenge of Islam. Encounters in Interfaith Dialogue. Ashagte. Alderhot, 138-139.

16 A Swiss scholar of Islam studies.

17 Declaration of faith.

18 Ramadan, Tariq (2004): Western Muslims and The future of Islam. Oxfort Universit Press, page 74, 1-5.

19 Ibid, 75.

20 House, dwelling.

21 Ramadan, Tariq (2004), 70.

22 Ramadan, Tariq (2004), 75.

23 David Hesmondhalgh and Andy C. Pratt (2005): Cultural industries and cultural policy In: International journal of cultural policy, 11 (1), page 139.

24 Claire Alexander, Victoria Redclift and Ajmal Hussain (2013): The New Muslims. Runnymede. London, 34.

25 Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Deutschland KdöR und Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (2014): Koran. Der heilige Qur-ân. Verlag Der Islam. Frankfurt. Seite 61 (Sure 3.111.).

26 (You are the best Nation produced for the benefit of humankind. You enjoy what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient.).

27 Claire Alexander, Victoria Redclift and Ajmal Hussain (2013), 35.

28 Ramadan, Tariq (2004), 89-90.

29 Uriya, Shavit (2009): The New imagined community. Global Media and the Construction of National and Muslim Identities of Migrants. Sussex Academic Press. Britain, 115.

30 Professor of the faculty of social science of the University of Leeds.

31 Wright, Hannah (2015): YBMs: religious identity and consumption among young British Muslims. In: International Journal of Market Research Vol. 57 Issue 1. MRS (The Market Research Society). London, page 3.

32 Ibid, 76, 8-12.

33 Ibid 76.

Excerpt out of 22 pages


Muslim Identity in the era of globalization
Formation of new Muslim identities
University of Applied Sciences Fulda
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ISBN (Book)
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Muslim, Islam, minority group, Identity
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Carina Zimmermann (Author), 2015, Muslim Identity in the era of globalization, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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