Who Counts as a Muslim? Identity, Multiplicity and Politics

Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 31 (3):339-353 (2011)
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My aim in this paper is to carve out a political understanding of the Muslim identity. The Muslim identity is shaped within a religious mold. Inseparable from this religious understanding is a political one that is valuable in its own right in order to secure any sustainable possibility of participating politically as Muslims within a democratic liberal democracy, such as the United States. Here I explore not the historical or theological formation of the Muslim identity, rather a metaphysical understanding of it, in order to mobilize politically while avoiding the traps of essentialism. I begin with a brief overview of the early understandings of the term “identity politics” in the United States. Moving beyond interest-based movements I explore María Lugones' particular understanding of the self as multiplicitous. I then offer examples of the Muslim identity within the context of a social movement and individualist claims, in order to draw out the political aspects of the Muslim identity. In the final section I argue that the theological criteria that define “who counts as a Muslim” is a crucial aspect of how many Muslims may understand their identity as Muslims. However, I claim that in order to avoid the traps of marginalization of Muslim minorities, one must understand oneself as a multiplicitous political agent and that, furthermore, such an understanding is not at odds with Islam or one's own understanding of their identity as Muslim.

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Saba Fatima
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville


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