Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
In this paper, I look at how Muslim-American college students and young professionals integrate ideas about ethics, religion, and culture to build their own interpretations of Islam and community. For these young Muslim-Americans, being targeted because of their religion and the desire to counter negative representations of Islam are motivating factor to join social justice activist groups. I interviewed Muslim-American activists, between the ages of 18 and 25, on their social justice work. I examine (1) why they consider themselves activists, (2) how activism becomes part of an ethical project, rooted in Islamic ideals of justice and pluralism (Safi 2004; Shah-Kazemi 2006), and (3) where they find acceptance and belonging with other like-minded people. While Muslim-Americans can be seen by outsiders as a monolith, united in defense of Islam, in practice, the Muslim community remains divided by sectarianism, ethnicity, gender, and theology. Paradoxically, passionate involvement in activists’ campaigns can distance them from other Muslims, isolating them from religious spaces (seen in the UnMosqued Movement) and Muslim communities. But if Islam is motivating their social activism, how do they continue to maintain a Muslim identity and also deal with isolation from the Muslim community? Using the frame of “ordinary ethics” (Das 2015), I examine how Islam is reinterpreted as relevant to the ethical choices made by these individuals. This frame allows them to develop a pluralistic activist identity that helps them find community and shared moral frameworks with other minorities in America who are also facing their own forms of oppression.