Muslims in the Modern World

Stevya Mukuzo

 Muslims in the Modern World 

The issue of modernity has affected Muslim population, particularly those living in the modern world . Some Muslims living in America are faced with the challenges of assimilation and “othering” as a result of modernity. Modernity can be understood as a new way of thinking, working, behaving, and also living. In this blog, modernity will be defined, “As an idea, it represents a radical rapture with the past…It encourages us to adapt alternative ways of looking at the world and its possibilities” (Kumar 2008:p. 241). Secondly, it “…can be looked at as an experience, an experience which is full of contradictions. On the other hand, it promises many things: progress, advancement, removal of ignorance, power” (Kumar 2008:p. 242). However, these changes affect some Muslims’s lives, and not everybody feels ready to embrace and accept these changes. Some view potential assimilation (ie. not wearing a hijab) as a way of interfering with their personal religious practices, hence, they will resist assimilation.  “Othering” makes Muslims feel discriminated and unequal to the rest of the society. However, through modernity and Muslim advocation, Western society has acknowledged the importance of Muslim religious holidays, which allows Muslims to freely practice their religion. Then, Muslims feel part of the larger society because their religion and practices are being taken into consideration. Modernity has also transformed gender roles in a way that it has empowered women to be not only mothers/wives but also participants in the society.

                The viewing of Muslims as the “other” has affected Muslims in many ways. First, Muslims are not given excused days that allow them to observe their religious holidays. This has led Muslims to feel excluded from society (Lennihan, 2015). This exclusion has brought about a feeling of unfairness within the Muslim community because they feel that their rights are not being considered. If Muslims’ religious holidays were recognized, “Hundreds of thousands of Muslim families will no longer have to choose between honoring the most sacred day on their calendar or attending school” (Lennihan, 2015). For example, this image shows a New York City Muslim mother bringing her children to a religious celebration from school. Through new ways of thinking about the world (modernity), Western schools have acknowledged Muslim holidays leading to the freedom of religious practices for Muslims and as a result, Muslims feeling part of the modern world. Before the recognition of Muslim religious holidays, Muslims did not feel part of the Western world, prompting them to advocate for free practices of their religion and this has had a positive effect. Through modernity, Muslims has been able to advocate for the Muslims religious holidays’s recognition. This has been beneficial to Muslims as schools in New York now allow children to freely celebrate their religious holidays and go to school.

  Given the influence of Western culture and the option to assimilate, Muslims  have tried to reconcile with modernity. “ Modernism is a movement to reconcile Islamic faith with modern values such as …equality, and progress” ( wilson, 2005:p. 456). Some immigrant Muslims coming to the United States feel pressured to assimilate and find it difficult to balance the new culture which is  also the modern ways of living/thinking with their traditional practices/beliefs. However, the reconciliation has not been successful because not every Muslim accepts the change from their traditions to modern. Some immigrant Muslims choose to embrace modernity and others reject it. For Muslims, this choice has not been an easy decision. “…The engagement of Islam with modernity remain open ended and multivocal… Muslim thinkers have argued for rejecting European modernity” (Wilson, 2005: p. 458).  The idea of modernity is so broad and abstract, which means that Muslims have a choice to be part of the modern world or not, and can decide to what extent they want to assimilate. For instance, Dr Megan P.Goodwin a professor at the Northeastern University, explain in her talk on(  April, 5, 2018 ), that different types of head coverings reflects how modernity has introduced new ways of covering. Immigrant Muslim women who embrace modernity will cover themselves less compared to those who want to maintain the traditional Muslims practices.  Regardless of the extent to which a Muslim woman is covered, the modern world views them as “the other”. This is  because they look different. As a result, racialization emerges. Racialization causes Muslims to be put aside and discriminated against. For example, my Muslim friend told me one day that she experienced  racialization after being denied a manufacturing job because she would not wear pants and remove her hijab, Since it’s part of her religion and culture. If the job was more accepting of her traditional clothing, she could have not felt being discriminated against. Through this question of societal acceptance, it makes it more difficult for Muslims to assimilate or get along with the modern world.

                This question of acceptance changed radically after 9/11, as Muslims were then wrongfully stereotyped and identified as terrorists. Muslims are identified by their religion, and they are viewed as different due to the ideas society has about Islam. It is true that:  “…Religion has played a big role in identifying a particular set of culture attitude and activity, it is also a deep source of power in a culture, pointing out how people relate to that power and the corresponding codified beliefs and behaviors surrounding it” (Chidester, 2005,p.6108).This is true because when someone identify them selves as a Muslim then, people associate them with the stereotype about terrorism. The media, a source of power post-9/11, played a big role in spreading the stereotype of Muslims being terrorists (Al Wazni 2015, p. 4). This stereotype sank into peoples’ minds leading to the rejection of Muslims from the modern world (“othering”). Muslims are put into one basket, as they face rejection from the rest. Due to modern events and the mass media, Muslims are associated with terrorism, which causes some Muslims to no longer want to identify with their religion. One of my classmate from Iran pointed out  that her mother prohibited her to identify as her self as an Iranian. This was to protect her self from the discrimination and rejection that most Muslims face. Her mother suggestion made her change her ideology as well to better assimilate and also to avoid any type of discriminate that her parents might have faced before. This fact explains how some Muslims may seek to change their ideologies and practices when faced with negative reactions from various sources, originating from stereotypes. As a result, the people associated with that religion will sometimes choose to no longer practice as freely due to the discrimination they face.

                Similar to changing cultural practices, traditional gender roles within Islam have been complicated by Western societal expectations and modernity. Gender differences and religious norms are important for Muslims. Normally, the place of a woman in the Muslim world is to be both submissive to their husband and to their religion. In some ways, they feel powerless and undermined, as “ They hold a marginalized position because of their Islamic appearance” ( Kabir, 2006:p.525). But, due to modernity, they “… find themselves in an environment that promises adventure, joy, growth, transformation…” (Kumar, 2008: p.243). For those Women who through modernity will get transformed, there will be an “ element of uncertainty, …and confusion” (Kumar,2008:p. 243). Thus, women will not only be wives and mothers in their household, but can also work outside their home and they can have more say in their home and within the society.  This freedom and equality has been a source of conflict, whereby a women’s role in a household has changed. In some cases, Muslim women are now able to go to school and work. In return, this creates empowerment and more equality in the household. All in all, modern ways of living have transformed Muslim gender roles, thereby changing their ideology and traditional practices of Islam.

Through out this blog, there are evidences that show how through modernity, Muslims’s ideology and practices have been influenced. Muslims practices, gender roles, and the choice to assimilate or not, are some factors describing the degree in which this has been an issue to Muslims living in America.  More over, 9/11 has also reinforced the stereotype of Muslims to be viewed as terrorist hence considered as “other” due to the way they portray themselves (wearing hijabs) in the US. All of these factors has led Muslims to feel discriminated against and not considered as equal to the rest of the population in the US.    

Work Cited

Al Wazni, Anderson Beckmann. 2015. “Muslim Women in America and Hijab: A Study of Empowerment, Feminist Identity, and Body Image.” Social Work 60(4): 325-333. Accessed February 28, 2018 from Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost

Chidester, David “Colonialism and Postcolonialism.” Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 1853-1860. Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Lennihan, Mark. NYC Schools Muslim Holidays. 2015. Photograph.  AP Images

Kabir, Nahid Afrose. 2016. “Muslim Women in Australia, Britain and the United States: The Role of “Othering” and Biculturalism in Identity Formation.” Journal Of Muslim Minority Affairs 36(4): 523-539. Accessed February 28, 2018 from Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost

Kumar. (May-August 2008) “Engaging with Modernity: Need for a Critical Negotiation,” Sociological Bulletin,  Vol. 57, No. 2, pp. 240-254/. Accessed March 8, 2018.

Wilson, John F. 2005. ”Modernity.”  In Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed. edited by Lindsay Jones, 9:6108-6112. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.

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