October 16, 2014: Gender, Identity, and Muslim Diaspora
Haleh Afshar, Rob Aitken and Myfanwy Franks. "Islamophobia and Women of Pakistani Descent
in Bradford.. The Crisis of Ascribed and Adopted Identities." In Muslim Diaspora: Gender,
Culture and Identity, edited by Haideh Moghissi
- particularly difﬁcult for ethnic minority Muslim women who have chosen to identify publicly with the faith
and wear the scarf as a badge of honour.
- Islamophobia creates a wide gap between Muslim women’s perceptions of who they are and the ways
in which they are viewed by the host society
- Groups on both sides of the divide demand of them that they either abandon their faith or conform to
particular forms of male interpretations of where mohajabehs should be and how they should be living
youth in the UK to be both British and Muslim, and declare it necessary to ‘choose’ between faith and
- decision by the French parliament in April 2004 to ban the hijab from all government-funded schools
and banish the mohajabehs to Islamic schools, thereby barring the most common avenues towards
cohesion and multiculturalism.
- The fears of the Muslim community that Islamophobia is dictating public policy leads to political
backlash on both sides, and can play into the politics of groups such as the British National Party,
which capitalizes on fear of the ‘other’.
This has created two ‘camps’, which I feel is the plan of the Western governments (e.g. [George W.]
Bush’s, ‘You are either with us, or with the terrorists’), where you have to choose to be either a
‘moderate’ (liked and integrated) or you are a ‘fundamentalist’ (an enemy within)…
- Muslims belong to the single community of the umma which, according to the teachings of the Prophet,
recognizes no divisions by race, class or nationality
- bombs are justiﬁed because the umma is under attack, that violent resistance is an obligation for all
believers, and that ‘collateral damage’ in the form of the death of innocents is thus acceptable
- The millennial empire of Islam did not demand of its people that they make a choice between
nationality and faith; indeed, it accommodated a vast diversity of faiths and nations under its melliat
governance that allowed for peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between people of different
colours and creeds.
- umma is seen as requiring the explicit and public support of its women, who are expected to endorse
the ‘traditional’ gender hierarchies that many of them may no longer wish to accept
- simplistic assumption that Muslim women as a whole, and those who wear the hijab – the mohajabehs
in particular – do so not only as a matter of faith, but also as a political endorsement of speciﬁcally
Islamist political views.
- women from ethnic minorities, particularly the mohajabehs, may have more in common with their
‘white’ British sisters than their male, cradle-Muslim brethren.
- although there is a shared experience of Islamophobia, for Muslim women the umma subsumes,
without excluding, their race, ethnicity and nationality.
- the decision to wear the hijab in the West is a public assertion of the right to belong to the community
of Muslims; it is not a rejection of home and hearth or kinship relations with their non-Muslim families
- ‘for the purposes of personal identity’, the nation is reconstructed and mediated through the self and
through the stories of ‘authentic’ pasts that help shape the dreams of the future
- It is only after migration that they become an ‘ethnic minority’ and acquire a unifying, ascribed group
identity, which may or may not accord with their own notions of self and nationhood.
- The communality of experience is more intense within the kin group and groups of the same social and
class background, but considerably less so amongst groups with different political views and
- even ﬁrst-generation migrants are sharply divided by class, education and poli- tics, and some feel
closer to the host society than to their own -
Whereas nationalities may be deﬁned as masculine, there is a tendency to see culture as the domain
of women, and an effective means of securing a sense of community and ethnic identity.
- Younger women may choose to replace the traditional scarf, such as those worn by their mothers, with
the stricter hijab, which covers the head and is not loosely hung on shoulders, but often they also
discard the traditional shelvar kamiz in favour of jeans and loose shirts.
- First-generation migrant women construct their own power base by reconstructing their ‘nations’
through stories, food and networks that create a functional power base for them within the domestic
Thus, of necessity, ‘cuisine’, which may be recognized as an important cultural signiﬁer becomes
diluted and changed, and frequently acquires British characteristics included for convenience and
- Women, who have been the bearers of nations, have been given the nationalities of their fathers and
husbands, and when migrating have lost their birthrights to their homelands, only to acquire that of the
male on whom they have been deﬁned as a ‘dependant’.
- They are subject to laws and requirements that are formulated and articulated as if all citizens were
Education and the Islamic principle that places no intermediaries between people and God allow
Muslim women to strive for their own deﬁnition of the true Islam and to defend their own interpretations
against obfuscating scholarship
- these women, who have been educated in Britain and have chosen to wear the formal hijab, construct
a ‘new ... British form of Islam’ with a degree of liberalism and individualism.
- The hijab can also provide a means of escape, of free movement and the possibility for women of
going to school and particularly to university.
- The negative outcomes in recent years have little to do with the young women and much to do with
government decisions to make hijab a major political issue
- Islamophobia may be a more understandable reason for the French government’s decision to ban the
- In the Western world, the hijab has come to symbolize either forced silence or radical unconscionable
- The decision to wear modest garments in general, and the hijab in particular, as a deliberate choice of
many Muslim women, had in the ﬁrst instance been an assertion of faith and an act of solidarity with
Frequently, the women who chose to wear the veil did not come from families who practised seclusion
or insisted on the wearing of the hijab; usually their mothers and grandmothers dressed modestly, and
if from the subcontinent, often wore the ‘traditional’ sari or shelvar kamiz, but not the hijab.
- The head-cover that has been worn by young women, particularly in the West, is very much a late-
twentieth-century, Western product.
- the decision to wear the hijab makes a statement that places the mohajabeh in the full light of the
public gaze, something parents and kin groups do not necessarily wish to see.
- It is often adopted and worn as a badge of honour by the younger generation of ‘white’ and ‘non-white’
as an identiﬁer that delineates a clear difference.
It is a symbolic construct that otherizes the mohajabeh and creates a communality that celebrates an
Islamic identity, and is not bounded by race, class or ethnicity.
- It creates a new category of believers who can, and often have, their roots or their aspirations in
- By doing so, they often ﬁt uncomfortably within Muslim kinship groups.
- Often women who deﬁne themselves as Muslim have a clear appreciation of both the rewards and the
duties and obligations that the faith imposes on believers in their everyday lives.
- The continuity is sustained by shared memories, stories and cultural practices; change is both a
reaction to circumstances and a process of negotiation, which results in a multiplicity of identities that
‘may or may not contradict each other’
- Women of all generations may think of themselves as migrants, as wives, as mothers, or as British
Hybridity and hyphenated identities come more easily to women who through their lifecycles move
along and between identities.
- They are not necessarily assimilated, but many share the problems of women as a whole and have
communality of experience with ‘white’, converted Muslim women who also cannot easily ‘assimilate’
within their own society.
- migrants often do not have agency and cannot exercise a choice; they live in contexts of unequal
powers that disregard their understanding of who they are and categorize them as ‘migrants’, thereby
ascribing identities to them in terms of their creed, colour or ethnicity.
Politics is understood and participation secured through kin and community networks.
- The moral economy of kin demands of members of the younger generation that they elect the kin
group’s candidate, despite the reality that the young often have political positions that do not
necessarily accord with those of their parents.
- There is a generational divide, in terms of political and social adherence and activities, which is not
easily bridged and is becoming increasingly more pronounced.
- Amongst the youth, Islam has become a more important identity signiﬁer than it is for their parents
- for these and other young Muslims, Islam as a religion is a core part of their personal and political
identity, although their interpretation of it is different from that of their parents.
- Given that ‘identities are the product of exclusion’ and constructed through difference in relation to the
‘other’, it may be that this particular kind of masculine youth identity needs to be considered in the light
of the ‘compensatory masculinities’ constructed by minority youth, which are ‘racialized’ and
‘ethniciﬁed’ and formed in opposition to the experience of oppression and dominant discourses of
masculinity and attainments
- The host society and the media were ascribing identities to these people that distanced them from the
host community and connected them to a constructed notion of their faith group.
The new labels of ‘evil’, ‘the enemy within’, and ‘terrorist’ allowed little room for manoeuvre
- For Muslims in general, marriage is not so much sacramental as contractual; it is a matter of a contract
between consenting partners.
- The marital requirement stipulates that the husband must make an initial down-payment of mehre,
before the consummation of the marriage, in order to secure the sexual services of the wife. In addition
to payment for the co