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Protecting the Muslim Identity in the West

Identity is something most of us question. Who are we? Why are we here? How do we relate to each other? These are the big picture questions humankind has struggled with for millennia.

Who Are We as Muslims?

Something that Islam gave humankind from the start was a clear-cut identity, purpose, and path to fulfilling that identity and purpose.

We are moral agents on the earth (Quran 2:30). We are created to worship Allah alone (Quran 51:56). And we are given an example of how Allah Almighty wants us to worship Him through His messenger (Quran 33:31).

The word “Islam” itself means peaceful submission to God. And the one who does this, the one who assumes this identity and purpose, committing him or herself to this path is called a “Muslim”.

This is a huge mercy from God because without these definitions of what makes us who we are and what we are meant to achieve, human beings often live a life filled with aimlessness and confusion. Any convert to Islam can testify to this fact.

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But this is not the only identity any given Muslim holds. Muslims embrace a number of other concurrent identities, whether it is American, or Berber, or Artist, or Scientist, or Cinephile, or even rare stamp collector.

Allah tells us in the Quran:

{O humankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).} (Quran 49:13)

We, as a community, are benefited by our diversity.

Opposition to the Muslim Identity

However, there has always been an opposition to our identity as Muslims. Abraham (peace be upon him) was thrown into a fire by his own people for embracing this identity. Prophet Noah (peace be upon him) was ridiculed for centuries for it, and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was tormented and attacked for it.

Today, we see this same cycle of fear and hatred of the Muslim identity taking place in the West. Anti-Muslim sentiment is high in many Western Countries. Western Muslims are made to feel like it is somehow illegal or shameful to be a Muslim. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify as a Muslim.

For the most part, people who find something wrong with the Muslim identity do so only out of misunderstanding it or forcing incompatible definitions into its meaning.

With pressure mounting to abandoning one’s Muslim identity, doing so seems like the easy way out. But if we look at it logically, the only conclusion to abandoning the highest purpose and a path of dignity is in reality a form of oppression and humiliation.

Protection Through Understanding

With this in mind, we can begin to protect our identity by understanding it. By understanding that our purpose will always be our purpose whether we accept it or not. The path to Allah will always be the path to Allah, whether we choose to take it or not.

And the reality is that if we do not submit peacefully and willingly to Allah, we will submit to something else.

We were created to submit just like a car was created to run on dry land. Some people choose to submit to materialism, some to romantic love, some to celebrity culture, etc. But none of these things can ever fit in the place created in us that is meant for God.

We can protect our identity as Muslim by understanding that when we put something in Allah’s place, it will break us just like driving a car through water will break it.

But we can do more to protect our identity than just understanding it ourselves. We can help others to understand it as well. That is to say, we can protect our identity by making dawah, by simply being openly Muslim in the world. We can show, not just tell, people we are Muslim and that means simply that we do your best to be your best in the eyes of God.

We can also make dawah by showing that we can and do have many and varied other, concurrent identities. I think sometimes people who fear Muslims and misunderstand Islam think that “Muslim” is the only identity we hold.

Just like the white supremacist cannot see that black people are multi-faceted, as humans always are. They cannot see through their fear and hatred that any given black person can also be a slightly nerdy comic book enthusiast, or a genius scientist, or a deep-thinking artist. The white supremacist only sees a black person through a singular identity that is misunderstood and stereotyped.

Similarly, the one who fears and hates Muslims can only see Muslims as Muslim, an identity they misunderstand and stereotype, and not as human beings with complex identities.

So, a great tool in helping people understand what it means to be Muslim might just be in showing people that being Muslim also means being a nerd, or being a jock, or being an artist. That all of these identities are embraced within the Islamic framework.

Because if there is widespread fear of the Muslim identity, we will never be able to protect it if we don’t show people that Islam does not require people to be robots.

Through understanding what our identity as Muslim means and showing those who fear that identity that we are just people; complex, diverse, and just trying to do our best in a complicated world, perhaps we will have a better chance our protecting our Muslim identity.

(From Discovering Islam archive)

About Theresa Corbin
Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.