Who Counts as a Muslim? Identity, Multiplicity and Politics

Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 31 (3):339-353 (2011)

Saba Fatima
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
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.
Keywords Identity politics  Muslim  umma  Multiplicity  Essentialism  Race
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