"Muslim, period. American, period" : millennial Muslim identities in the contemporary United States
Ledaman Bliss Zakarison
May 11, 2016
Department or Program
Recently, American Muslims have gained some national attention as individual American Muslims, such as Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer for the U.S. national team, and media produced by American Muslims, such as the video “Somewhere in America,” are featured in mainstream media. At the same time, Islamophobic politicians and media pundits have contributed to an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. In the midst of these disparate depictions of Muslims in the American media, millennial American Muslims are going online to claim their identities, connect with one another, and respond to Islamophobia. As young American Muslims become more visible online, groups of American Muslims such as IllMuslims are becoming the “face” of American Muslims, and the identity performances that they promote have become the most recognizable and acceptable ways to be American Muslim. In order to understand how American Muslims construct, express, and perform their uniquely American Muslim identities, I perform a hybrid ethnographic study that combines a longitudinal study of social media accounts run by young American Muslims with individual semi-structured interviews with young American Muslims and a participant-observation of an IllMuslims event. I argue that young American Muslims perform and inhabit identities that are uniquely American Muslim both online and offline. In constructing and performing their identities, American Muslim millennials simultaneously cite American culture, Islamic tradition and norms, the cultures and norms of their families’ countries of origin, and the increasingly recognizable features of American Muslim culture. In this thesis, I illuminate some aspects of how young Muslims in the U.S. are coming to understand themselves, their faith, and their relationship to and role within broader American society. I also contribute to the larger methodological toolkit of religious studies, as well as other disciplines that utilize ethnographic methods, by modeling one way that social media can be used to perform a virtual participant-observational study as well as supplement traditional, in-person participant-observation and interviews.