Negotiations of national and transnational belonging among American Muslims: community, identity and polity
Tekelioglu, Ahmet Selim
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This dissertation explores two inter-related questions: a) how US born Muslim Americans (converts, second generation and African American individuals) negotiate national and transnational belonging in the post- 9/11 context and b) how competing discursive practices around the concept of umma (transnational Muslim community) influence the way in which American Muslims negotiate an American-Muslim identity. The research presented in the dissertation is based on in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork conducted in six ethno-racially and socio-economically diverse American Muslim communities in Boston and San Francisco Bay Area, including mosque communities, educational institutions and third-space organizations. By contrast to work focused on organized political movements, the interviews in this research focused on the way in which ordinary American Muslims give meaning to their identity as Muslims through everyday discursive practices and quotidian understandings of community, belonging, and identity. The 22 months-long data collection reveals that rather than primarily through saliently foreign policy related or “ideological” considerations, American Muslims negotiate transnational and national belonging through i) simultaneous considerations of inclusion and exclusion in the wider American religious landscape, ii) citizenship practices that respond to voices that seek to marginalize American Muslims, and iii) through the medium of cultural belonging and identity. The discourse analysis and ethnographic fieldwork suggests that American Muslims primarily utilize cultural notions of belonging an identity rather than political considerations relating to national or international developments in giving meaning to their dual identity. The dissertation also notes some differences across and within research sites in Boston, San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. American Muslims imagine themselves a particular micro-community with particular needs, priorities, and cultural outlook that is different from other Muslim populations, in both Muslim majority and minority contexts. On the other hand a hybrid set of factors, not simple political considerations, shape American Muslims’ understanding of transnational Muslim identity. This is also reflected in their internal debates about questions of inclusion and exclusion (gender- based or racial), and whether unity requires uniformity regarding contentious domestic and international developments.