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Citizenship Denied: The Racialization of Muslim American Men and Women post-9/11


The racialization of Muslim Americans is examined in this article. Qualitative in-depth interviews with 48 Muslim Americans reveal they experience more intense forms of questioning and contestation about their status as an American once they are identified as a Muslim. Because Islam has become synonymous with terrorism, patriarchy, misogyny, and anti-American sentiments, when participants were identified as Muslims they were treated as if they were a threat to American cultural values and national security. Their racialization occurred when they experienced de-Americanization, having privileges associated with citizenship such as being viewed as a valued member of society denied to them. This article highlights the importance of gender in the process of racialization. It also demonstrates the need for race scholarship to move beyond a black and white paradigm in order to include the racialized experiences of second and third generations of newer immigrants living in the USA.
Critical Sociology
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DOI: 10.1177/0896920513516022
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DOI: 10.1177/0896920513516022
Citizenship Denied: The
Racialization of Muslim American
Men and Women post-9/11
Saher Selod
Simmons College, USA
The racialization of Muslim Americans is examined in this article. Qualitative in-depth interviews
with 48 Muslim Americans reveal they experience more intense forms of questioning and
contestation about their status as an American once they are identified as a Muslim. Because Islam
has become synonymous with terrorism, patriarchy, misogyny, and anti-American sentiments,
when participants were identified as Muslims they were treated as if they were a threat to
American cultural values and national security. Their racialization occurred when they experienced
de-Americanization, having privileges associated with citizenship such as being viewed as a valued
member of society denied to them. This article highlights the importance of gender in the process
of racialization. It also demonstrates the need for race scholarship to move beyond a black and
white paradigm in order to include the racialized experiences of second and third generations of
newer immigrants living in the USA.
sociology, race and ethnicity, racialization, gender, de-Americanization, citizenship
Since 9/11, the status of Muslims both within the USA and globally has garnered significant
attention from scholars, researchers, politicians, and the media. The Pew Research Center pub-
lished several reports on Muslims, from public opinion polls capturing Muslim worldviews and
their attitudes toward America and Islamic extremism to the impact Islam has had on the religious
and political landscape in the USA (Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project, 2007, 2011).
Of growing interest is how non-Muslim Americans view Muslims. American resistance to the
building of mosques within its landscape reflects an increasingly common sentiment towards
Muslims in the USA. A blog post by Martin Peretz, the editor-in-chief of the New Republic, in
Corresponding author:
Dr. Saher Selod, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Simmons College, 300 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
516022CRS0010.1177/0896920513516022Critical SociologySelod
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2 Critical Sociology
response to the debate surrounding the building of the Park 51 mosque near Ground Zero in New
York City, provides a glimpse of some of these feelings:
But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam
Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their
brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need to honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of
the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse (Peretz, 2010).
Peretz’s sentiments are not unique and are becoming more commonplace in the years after 9/11. On
8 August 2012 at a town hall meeting in Elgin, Illinois, US Representative for Illinois’ north-west
suburb Senator Joe Walsh warned his constituents of the threat of radical Islam in the USA. The
predominantly white audience met his vitriolic statements against Muslims with applause (reported
in Salon, 9 August 2012). On 5 August 2012 Wade Michael Page, a self-proclaimed white suprem-
acist, murdered six Sikhs in their Wisconsin temple. Authorities are not sure if the motivation for
Page’s attack was due to his Islamophobic beliefs and whether or not he mistook the Sikhs for
Muslims; however, he believed there was an ‘impending racial holy war’. Just one day after the
attack at the Sikh temple, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was destroyed by a fire, a gunshot was fired
at a mosque in Elk Grove, Illinois, and someone threw a bottle filled with acid at a mosque in
Lombard, Illinois. On 17 April 2013, two days after the Boston bombings, before the identity of the
bombers was revealed, a Muslim woman wearing the hijab was attacked in Malden, Massachusetts
(reported in Huffington Post, 18 April 2013, see Stuart, 2013). Muslims have come under attack by
their fellow citizens as a result of the belief they are a monolithic group that is a threat to American
society. Consequently they are treated as if they are unworthy of the universal protections afforded
by American citizenship.
The data in this article provide empirical evidence that a Muslim identity has become racialized.
Based on interviews with Muslim Americans, the processes of how Muslims experience racializa-
tion when they encounter de-Americanization, cultural exclusion and a denial of a national identity
are revealed. When private citizens (fellow citizens) identified participants as Muslims they began
to question and interrogate them about their nationality and loyalty to the USA. This exclusion
from social citizenship or membership in society is the result of the negative associations of a
Muslim identity. Muslim signifiers are riddled with meanings such as the oppression of women and
violence against modernity (Huntington, 1993). Islam is viewed as a ‘threat’ and its adherents are
considered anti-modern and anti-Western (Ahmed, 1992; Razack, 2008). The data in this study
show that when American men are identified as Muslim they are treated as if they are a threat to
national security while American women who are identified as Muslim are treated as if they are a
threat to Western cultural values. Thus, private citizens racialize Muslim men and women by acting
as gatekeepers to citizenship through repetitively contesting their status as Americans. Muslims are
denied privileges associated with social citizenship by continuously being questioned and chal-
lenged about their nationality, allegiance and standing in American society; they are racialized.
Race scholarship in the USA has been dominated by black and white understandings of racism.
This black and white model of race has been useful in examining the experiences of African-
Americans with structural racism in a US context. However, as the American racial and ethnic
landscape changes, so should theories of race. Kibria (1998) argues the externally imposed pan-
ethnic identity of Asian-American has racialized several ethnicities into one larger race. The
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 lifted restrictions on migration from Africa, Asia, and the
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Selod 3
Middle East to the USA. Prior to the passage of this act, migration was limited to people from
European countries. As a result of this new immigration law, the Muslim population in the USA
increased greatly. Racialization enables an understanding of this popuation. Within the US context,
racialization has been defined as ‘the extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassi-
fied relationship, social practice, or group’ (Omi and Winant, 1986: 64). Racialization is a process
of racial formation (Omi and Winant, 1986), where racial categories are constantly created, occu-
pied, transformed and destroyed within specific political, social and economic contexts. Murji and
Solomos state, ‘The idea of racialization is useful for describing the processes by which racial
meanings are attached to particular issues – often treated as social problems – and with the manner
in which race appears to be a, or often the, key factor in the ways they are defined or understood’
(2005: 3). Taking from all of these definitions and conceptualizations of this term, for the purposes
of this article racialization is understood as a process where new racial meanings are ascribed to
bodies, actions and interactions. These meanings are not only applied to skin tone, but other cul-
tural factors such as language, clothing, and beliefs. Racialization enables a discussion of how new
racial meanings are created, transformed, and destroyed. It aids in understanding how race and
racism are constantly fluctuating and being transformed due to the political and social contexts in
which they exist.
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, many scholars are increasingly employing the term ‘racializa-
tion’ to describe the experiences of Arabs who are currently racially classified as white by the US
Census (Bayoumi, 2006; Cainkar, 2008; Hassan, 2002; Jamal, 2008; Naber, 2008). Central to this
argument is the fact that 9/11 has increased the visibility of Arabs as a minority (Alsutany, 2008;
Cainkar, 2009) and consequentially they do not enjoy the privileges associated with whiteness.
Racialization in this case is used to describe the processes of how Arabs are denied access to white-
ness. These processes include rejection from social membership or belonging, acquiring the status
of enemy within, and being viewed as inherently violent and oppressive to women (Jamal, 2008;
Naber, 2008). There is a problem in talking about a universal Arab experience with race because
some Arabs pass and enjoy privileges of whiteness, while others do not. Scholars often conflate the
terms ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ in analyses, making it difficult to understand what specific factors cause
racialization to occur (Cainkar, 2008; Jamal, 2008). For example, ‘the racialization or “otheriza-
tion” of Arabs and Muslims in mainstream American culture’ (Jamal, 2008: 116) represents the
way religion and ethnicity are used interchangeably in discussions on race and racialization with-
out distinction of the uniqueness each identity contributes to this process, or how they may inter-
sect. Data from the Detroit Arab American Study pertaining to racial identification reveal that Arab
Muslims are more likely to self identify as ‘other’ over white even though they are classified as
white by the USA census, while Arab Christians were more likely to identify as ‘white’ (Shryock
and Lin, 2008). Recent research on health disparities and psychological stress of Arabs living in the
USA suggests Muslims as opposed to Christians are more likely to experience higher levels of
psychological stress because of higher levels of discrimination they encounter post-9/11 (Amer
and Hovey, 2007). The conflation of Arab and Muslim may be due to how these terms are pre-
sented in the media, as if they are synonymous (Joseph et al., 2008) or due to the fact these identi-
ties are often equated in the minds of most Americans. Nonetheless, it is important for scholars to
identify the specific factors, such as a religious identity, that contribute to the racialization of a
group. Racialization provides a theoretical explanation of how racial meanings are applied to cul-
tural symbols and signifiers, such as the hijab or a Muslim name, illuminating why some Arabs are
treated and therefore self-identify as the ‘other’ instead of ‘white’.
There have been a few scholars who have utilized the term racialization to better understand and
examine the Muslim experience since 9/11 in Europe and the USA (Meer and Modood, 2010;
Rana, 2011; Selod and Embrick, 2013). Meer and Modood (2010) argue that racialization is a more
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appropriate term than Islamophobia because it allows for an examination of the impact anti-
Muslim sentiment has on people, Muslims, rather than examining how a religion is vilified. The
racialization of Muslims is not a new phenomenon. In Europe, biological racism at one point incor-
porated aspects of religious difference. Muslim and Jewish bodies were essentialized due to factors
beyond skin tone (Grosfoguel and Mielants, 2006; Rana, 2007). The contemporary process of
racialization for Muslims is tied to current imperialisms such as the ‘War on Terror’, a military
campaign started after 9/11 in pursuit of al-Qaeda. This ‘War on Terror’ targets terrorism rather
than individual nations, resulting in a myriad of ethnicities and nationalities being classified into a
monolithic category of Muslim (Rana, 2011). The unique political, economic and cultural situation
of each nation is ignored, but rather the religion of the region is overly exaggerated and held
responsible for the country’s instability. Rebels or insurgents in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan are
homogenized into the ‘Muslim other’ where Muslim religious signifiers, behaviors, beliefs, as well
as phenotypes such as skin tone signify terrorism, misogyny, fundamentalism, and sexism.
Racialization occurs through a combination of cultural and biological ascriptions onto the Muslim
body, resulting in the differential racialization of Muslim men and women. Muslim men are denied
the privileges associated with citizenship and human rights when they are deported and/or detained
without due process, while Muslim women are treated as if they are in constant peril from Muslim
men, a notion which is used to justify colonial and imperial actions by the state (Razack, 2008).
Based on qualitative interviews with Arab and South Asian Muslim Americans, this article
reveals the salience of the multifaceted components that explain how a Muslim American experi-
ences racialization. As this study reveals, Muslim Americans experience higher levels of scrutiny
and interrogation about their American identity when they are identified as a Muslim by wearing
religious signifiers. The underlying assumption behind such questioning is that because they are
Muslim, they are not true Americans – indeed there is a widespread presumption that Muslim val-
ues are fundamentally opposed to those of mainstream America. Because Arab and South Asians
are already racially categorized in the USA as white and Asian respectively, the impact of their
racialization is unique. Those who pass for white and are classified as white are stripped of this
classification while those who are already racially classified are further demonized. In this article,
I argue that ‘Muslim’ is becoming a de facto racial classification, one that is experienced in practice
although not formally recognized. This process occurs when a religious identity is essentialized.
Through the testimonies of Muslim Americans living in Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth, I show
how the continuous contestation of one’s nationality, allegiance, and standing by fellow citizens
because one is a Muslim is a form of racialization. The ‘de-Americanization’ of Muslims because
of their religious signifiers constitutes a form of racialization involving maintaining racial and
ethnic boundaries of social citizenship. The next section reviews the relationship of race to citizen-
ship and brings attention to the importance of social aspects of citizenship, such as membership
and belonging.
Racial Barriers to an American Identity: Examining Social
America has had a history of excluding individuals from citizenship because of their race, gen-
der, class and religious identity (Haney Lopez, 1996). Although citizenship can no longer be
legally denied to individuals solely based on these characteristics, not everyone equally enjoys
all of the privileges citizenship affords. Scholars who study social aspects of citizenship focus
on who can claim belonging in society and who is denied social membership. Ascriptive aspects
of citizenship such as race, religion, gender and sexual orientation are valued in some individu-
als, making them ideal citizens, and devalued in others (Smith, 1999). Racial, religious and
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ethnic differences become barriers to social membership and a sense of belonging in America.
Because cultural traits have become important characteristics of citizenship, cultural citizenship
is a more recent theoretical concept in studies on citizenship (Maira, 2009; Miller, 2001; Ong,
1996; Pawley, 2008; Stevenson, 2003). It is defined as ‘the cultural practices and beliefs pro-
duced out of negotiating the often ambivalent and contested relations with the state and its
hegemonic forms that establish the criteria of belonging within a national population and terri-
tory’ (Ong, 1996: 737). According to this definition, the state plays an important role in deter-
mining which cultural attributes can exist within a national identity. In a post-9/11 society that is
currently engaged in a ‘War on Terror’, the state has created a profile of the enemy. Because of
the application of terrorism to Muslim bodies (Maira, 2009; Rana, 2011), Muslims are rejected
from inclusion in a national identity. A good American, after all, does not inflict harm on the
state and its citizens. This ideological construction that Islam is essentially in conflict with the
West due to its tendencies toward religious fundamentalism and anti-modernity, is not new
(Huntington, 1993; Lewis, 1990). Samuel Huntington argued in his famous article ‘Clash of the
civilizations’ (1993) that in a post-Cold War era the next major political and military conflict
would be between the Islamic world and the West based on religious and cultural differences.
The state capitalized on this thesis after 11 September in order to gain public support for foreign
policies such as the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as domestic policies such as the
creation of the Department of Homeland Security, all under the guise of keeping America safe
from another terrorist attack (Kumar, 2013). Thus, the state has played a role in the racialization
of Muslim bodies and cultural values as anti-American, perpetually foreign, misogynistic and
violent, to further its domestic and global agenda.
It is not just the state that reinforces the boundaries of citizenship, but it is also private citizens
who maintain its borders by acting as gatekeepers. Glenn (2002) highlights how both the state and
the private citizen work to maintain boundaries of citizenship.
Citizenship is not just a matter of formal legal status; it is a matter of belonging, including recognition by
other members of the community. Formal law and legal rulings create a structure that legitimates the
granting or denial of recognition … the maintenance of boundaries relies on ‘enforcement’ not only by
designated officials, but also by so-called members of the public. (Glenn, 2002: 196, emphasis added )
Social interactions between citizens shed light on how private citizens protect boundaries of
social citizenship by validating certain ascriptive attributes associated with nationality such as
race, religion, ethnicity, and gender. Glenn (2002) identifies three main components of social citi-
zenship or membership: nationality (being identified as a member of a particular nation), standing
(being viewed as a capable and responsible member of society) and allegiance (being seen as a
loyal member to society/nation). Having any of these traits contested because of one’s skin tone,
cultural traits, language, nation of origin, or religious identity counters the ideals of universalism
and reinforces barriers to inclusion in American citizenship based on such differences. This arises
when bodies are subjected to exclusion from a sense of belonging within the nation because they
are racialized as perpetually foreign, bad for society and disloyal to America. The testimonies in
this study confirm that Muslim bodies experience this form of racialization by their fellow citizen.
Interactions with private citizens show that in this post-9/11 period, Muslim men and women are
viewed and treated as if they are a physical and cultural threat to American society. Muslim men
and women are not racialized in the same way, but rather in gendered ways. Men are more likely
to be viewed as if they are disloyal and a threat to national security. Women who wear the hijab are
constantly questioned about their nationality and cultural values, because the hijab signifies for-
eignness and misogyny to their fellow private citizens. Muslim Americans are narrowly defined by
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6 Critical Sociology
their religious identity, making their national identity invisible, insignificant and irrelevant to the
rest of society. In this paper, through Muslim Americans’ testimonies I support the thesis that
Muslims are racialized by their fellow citizens when their nationality, standing and allegiance are
contested by their fellow citizens.
The study methodology included in-depth interviews with 48 Muslim Americans. The interviews
ranged in length from 45 minutes to three hours and took place between 2009 and 2012 in the
greater Chicago area in Illinois and the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area in Texas. The majority
of the participants were South Asian (n=29) compared to Arab (n=19). Participants consisted of 15
South Asian American women (11 Pakistani and four Indian), 14 South Asian American men (nine
Pakistani, four Indian, and one Bengali), 10 Arab American women (eight Palestinian, one
Egyptian, and one Syrian) and nine Arab American men (eight Palestinian and one Lebanese).
Participants’ ages ranged from 20 to 71. A little over half of the women participants wore the hijab;
therefore, I was able to compare the role of religious signifiers in the lives of Muslim women. Of
the 14 women interviewed who wore the hijab, only one also wore the jilbaab (a coat-like garment
Muslim women often wear over their clothes to hide their figure). Only one of the men in the sam-
ple wore a religious symbol, the traditional Muslim beard. The majority of the participants were
native citizens or born in the USA (n=34), while a little under one third (n=14) were foreign born
and were naturalized citizens. Over half were professionals with graduate degrees in medicine, law,
and business.
The interviews consisted of a series of semi-structured, open-ended questions about the every-
day lives of the participants before and after 9/11. Questions included where they lived before 9/11,
what their relationship was like with their neighbors and whether or not it changed after the attacks,
who they spent most of their time with, and about their work/education experiences. Participants
were also asked if they could comment on any major differences in their lives before and after 9/11.
I was interested in whether or not 9/11 had changed these relationships. Because I was curious
about how religiosity influenced experiences with anti-Muslim discrimination, I asked a series of
questions about respondent participation and membership in religious organizations, such as
mosques. I also asked about race and ethnicity and what role each played in their daily lives, in
order to understand which experiences should be attributed to their race or ethnicity and which
were related to their religious identity.
Because Muslims are an underrepresented group within the larger population, participants were
recruited through snowball sampling. Participants were asked to recommend someone to be inter-
viewed. Snowball sampling is a reliable method when the population is hard to access (Gray et al.,
2007). According to Pew Reserch Center (2011), Muslims comprise around 0.8 percent of the US
population. As a result Muslims are not represented in the normal distribution of the population and
consequently a non-random purposive sampling is justified.
Data Analysis
Participant testimonies reveal a pattern in the ways Muslims have been questioned about their
status as US citizens. Though many participants reported previous experience of having their
nationality questioned because they were not white, after 9/11 their religious identity triggered a
more intense level of interrogation. Analyzing the interviews, it became clear that Muslim
Americans were repetitively questioned about the three themes of social citizenship that Glenn
(2002) identified: nationality, standing, and allegiance.
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Nationality Denied: Racializing Muslim Women Who Wear the Hijab
Several of the participants in this study had been questioned about their nationality prior to 9/11. If
participants belonged to an ethnic group that had already been racialized, they admitted having
been questioned at one time or another during their life about their nationality. Those who had a
darker skin complexion were repeatedly asked where they were from, even when they responded
they were born in the USA. Thus, after stating where they were born and grew up, they were accus-
tomed to the follow-up question, ‘Where are you really from?’ Their ethnic identity was an obstruc-
tion to their status as an American. Even though some Muslims were accustomed to being
questioned about their American identity, 9/11 changed the ways in which they were questioned.
Muslims felt pressured to defend and demonstrate their patriotism to the USA, as exemplified by
the prominent display of numerous American flags on the windows of Muslim stores throughout
the city, in cabs, and on the lawns of Muslim homes immediately after 9/11 (Benjamin, 2010). The
interviews reveal being a Muslim – regardless of nation of origin – produced the assumption one
was not an American, but also somehow anti-American and a potential threat to society. Furthermore,
the testimonies highlight how anti-Muslim and Islamophobic actions are gendered. Muslim
American women who wore the hijab were often put in a position of having to defend their status
as an American when they were out in public. Muslim women who wear the hijab have become a
target for public ire towards Muslims.
Samira, a 25-year-old Palestinian American, was in high school when 9/11 happened. At the
time she wore the hijab, Samira relayed some negative experiences she had, such as being cursed
at on the bus by a stranger. Some time after 9/11, she decided to take off the hijab because as she
read more about religion and women, she believed it was not necessary for women to cover them-
selves in order to protect their modesty.1 Although Samira was one of a few participants in the
sample to permanently remove her hijab after 9/11, her experiences of both wearing the hijab and
not wearing it since 9/11 is poignant because the comparison provides evidence of how the hijab
incites questions about nationality.
I feel that, when I was wearing the scarf and closer to 9/11, I was more – I was apologetic for 9/11. I was
bearing the burden of 9/11, as if I had something to do with 9/11, and I felt that taking my scarf off not only
empowered me to make decisions for me based on what I felt was right for me, but also empowered me to
say to people in my country, ‘9/11 wasn’t my fault. I don’t know why you hate me. You can hate me if you
want, but you know what? It wasn’t my fault. I’m not related to any of these people. They don’t even come
from the country I originate from. I’m not gonna feel sorry for what happened, because it wasn’t my
fault.’… Now, when I think about it, I almost become a little angry that I had to apologize for actions that
I had no part in … I feel like the Muslim community, the Arab community has been very apologetic … It’s
like all of a sudden this happens, and people are treating us like crap … So people nowadays, they don’t
see me and think Muslim [or] Arab. They think Mexican [or] Jewish. When somebody asks me my
nationality, I say American.
Samira’s testimony represents the frustration and anger that comes along with being associated
with foreign terrorists because of one’s religious identity. This association stripped Samira of her
cultural status as an American citizen. Her nationality was contested and the collective responsibil-
ity externally imposed upon her because of her religious identity caused her stress. The majority of
the Muslim women who wear the hijab in this sample were willing to accept the responsibility of
dispelling misconceptions about Muslims, although a few confessed this collective responsibility
was emotionally and mentally taxing. By taking off the hijab, Samira felt she was reclaiming her
American identity in the public sphere. Because Samira has a lighter skin complexion, without the
hijab she now passes for a white. She felt without the hijab she was able to avoid the stares,
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8 Critical Sociology
questions and constant condemnation many Muslim Americans face because of their religious
identity. Her testimony highlights the level of anxiety her religious identity caused because it situ-
ated her as someone who was from an ‘enemy’ nation, interfering with her ability to claim her
American identity. Samira attributed feeling liberated and empowered to removing the hijab,
although in reality this act was not free but came at the cost of distancing herself from her religious
identity in order to make her feel more American. Furthermore, it is apparent from this testimony
that Samira’s lighter skin tone and the removal of religious signifiers resulted in her ability to claim
social membership. She is no longer viewed as the threatening ‘other’ but rather has been absorbed
into the normative image of an American, because she passes for white. While the religious symbol
plays a significant role in Samira’s experience, it is important to note that her skin tone is also an
important factor in her claiming membership in society. By taking off the hijab, she is able to claim
a white identity. It is the intersection of a religious symbols with gender that emables an under-
standing of how one is racialized and then de-racialized with the removal of the hijab. Islamic
signifiers, such as the hijab, mark someone as the ‘other’ or a ‘foreigner’ and can diminish privi-
leges associated with having a lighter skin tone. It is important to note that South Asian and Arab
women who have a darker skin complexion are not able to pass for white even without the hijab.
However, they acknowledge that without the hijab, they do not experience the same type of scru-
tiny as the women who wear it.
All of the women in the sample who wore the hijab admitted to having been questioned about
their nationality, even though the majority were born in the USA. The hijab does not just signify
foreignness; it represents an ambiguously defined geographic part of the world that is antagonistic
to democracy and American values: the Muslim world. The association of Islam with anti-American
sentiments placed the Muslim women in the sample in the precarious position of having to resist
their exclusion from an American identity by defending the compatibility of their religion with
American values. Negative associations, such as un-American and anti-American values with reli-
gious signifiers result in their de-Americanization. Private citizens police the boundaries of citizen-
ship by assuming someone who is a Muslim is not capable of being an American. It is important to
note that gender plays a significant role in how Muslim men and women were interrogated. Private
citizens did not question Muslim men in the same fashion as they questioned Muslim women wear-
ing the hijab. The former were more likely to be questioned after being introduced to someone and
having their Muslim name revealed, but were rarely yelled at by strangers on the street unless
accompanied by women who wore the hijab.
Farooq, a 39-year-old computer scientist and Jordanian American who immigrated to the USA
when he was 17 years old, discussed his experiences of having his nationality questioned. Because
he has an accent, he is often questioned about his ethnicity. He does not have a beard and dresses
in professional attire typical of any businessman. Farooq has a medium skin tone and admits he is
frequently mistaken as Mediterranean, unless he is in the company of his wife, a white American
convert to Islam who wears the hijab. When he is with her, he is often assumed to be Arab. Her
visible religious signifier results in the assumption they are both Arab regardless of the fact that she
is white. He described how when accompanied in public with his wife and family, strangers have
yelled at them to ‘Go back to Arabia!’ indicating how Farooq’s white American wife is no longer
seen as white, but as an Arab foreigner. By wearing the hijab she is stripped of the privileges asso-
ciated with whiteness and consequently of membership of society.
Farooq’s experiences resonated with the majority of the Muslim men participants. They did not
incite ire from strangers like Muslim women who wear the hijab. Because the hijab is a gendered
religious symbol, it was Muslim women who had their status as a citizen questioned in public by
strangers. When lighter skin toned Arab or South Asian Muslim women who pass for white put on
the hijab, their whiteness was revoked. For the Muslim women in the sample who were darker in
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skin tone, the hijab further racialized them as being from a foreign country that is at war with the
USA. After 9/11 the public scrutiny about their nationality intensified. When Muslims are yelled at
to ‘Go back home’ they are denied a place in society. Repetitively being questioned about your
nationality is one of the ways Muslims are categorized as the ‘other’ and the process of racializa-
tion can be understood in its relation to citizenship.
Cultural Racism: Questioning American Values in Muslim American Men and
American Muslims’ social citizenship was routinely contested when they were questioned about
their American cultural or democratic values. Women who wore the hijab were more likely to be
interrogated about their lack of American values by strangers in public spaces compared to
American Muslim men and American Muslim women who did not wear the hijab. Cainkar (2009)
argues Muslim women who wear the hijab have become a target for verbal and physical assaults
from non-Muslim Americans in the public sphere because of the associations of the hijab with anti-
Western values. To many Americans, the hijab signifies the oppression of women and is viewed in
opposition to Western ideals of feminism (Ahmed, 1992; Haddad et al., 2006; Razack, 2008). All
of the women interviewed shared similar experiences that were triggered by wearing the hijab.
Nazia, a 37-year-old Indian Muslim American stay-at-home mother, lives in a predominantly
white middle-class southwest suburb of Chicago. Nazia has a very light skin tone and could pass
for white to most strangers on the street. She migrated from India 15 years ago and is a naturalized
American citizen. She used to wear the hijab, but chose to take it off after 9/11. When asked about
her experiences wearing the hijab, she remembered an encounter she had with a woman at the mall.
Nazia: I used to wear a hijab, and there was this lady who came and asked me why I did
this. She told me, ‘Why do you have to do this? You don’t have to do this here in
America.’ So I said, ‘You know what, I just started doing this after coming to
America. I didn’t do it before when I was in India. I did after coming to America
because I learned more about Islam.’ And, so, she just kinda gave me a look.
Interviewer: Where did you meet her?
Nazia: In the mall. I was wearing my headscarf and she just came and told me that I
don’t have to do it here in America, you know this is America. So, she was prob-
ably thinking since Muslim women are seen as being oppressed, she probably
thought that she would let me know that it’s not the case here in America.
Nazia described her interrogator as a white woman in her mid to late 40s. There are two impor-
tant processes occurring simultaneously in this interaction. First, it is assumed that Nazia is not
from the USA because she wears the hijab (nationality questioned) and second, she is seen as
someone who lacks American values instead of as someone who is employing them. Nazia coun-
tered this supposition by explaining that as an American citizen she exercised her freedom by
choosing to wear the hijab. Nazia is treated as if she is incapable of being a good American
because of her religious identity. By wearing the hijab, she represents patriarchal values of male
dominance and oppression rather than American ideals of gender equality. The stranger in this
scenario reinforces to Nazia who is capable and who is incapable of being an American. Women
who let their men oppress them do not uphold Western feminist ideals. These women are made
to feel as if they are somehow corrupting American cultural values and the freedoms they sup-
posedly guarantee. Muslim women are denied their nationality and standing because they trans-
gress cultural norms.
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10 Critical Sociology
Maryam, a light skinned 29-year-old Syrian American who was born in the Midwest, decided to
wear the hijab after her second year of college. She grew up in a predominantly white, small town
in the Midwest. Before she wore the hijab she passed for white to strangers who did not know her
or her family. A few months after 9/11, she described experiences she had in a cafe because she
wears the hijab.
Yeah. Let’s see – I mean, little things, like one time I was at [a chain restaurant], and there was this woman
who was reading a newspaper. She kept staring at me, and like reading her paper, and then giving me this
evil eye. And so, I was just like, ‘Oh, can I help you?’ And she was like, ‘You and your people all ought to
just go home. You’re no good to this society.’ And I got real upset, and I was like, ‘Well, you know, you
should really read some of your statistics, ‘cause I think an overwhelming majority of us have done more
good for this society than anything else.’
Because Maryam wears the hijab she has her nationality and standing questioned. She is lumped
into you people and told that she and her people are not good for this society. The message being
delivered is Muslims are not a part of the ‘us’ and are assigned outsider status. It is Maryam’s
religious identity that triggers the accusation that Muslims are somehow corrupting American
society. The assumptions made are that Maryam is not an American, and also that she is somehow
a bad influence on America. Unfortunately, this was not the only negative experience Maryam has
had regarding her status as a citizen. She recalled having a man yell at her at the grocery store
about ruining America. She recalled feeling frightened when this strange white male approached
her at a grocery store and aggressively verbally accosted her. Other customers intervened on her
behalf, but she feared his verbal attack could have become physical. Maryam not only has to
defend her status as an American she must also demonstrate her Muslim values are not harmful to
America, something she did not have to do prior to 9/11. Because she is identified as a Muslim by
wearing the hijab Maryam is treated as if she is culturally inferior to an American, even though
Maryam was born and raised in the USA. The essentializing of cultural traits associated with
Islam is precisely where the process of racialization is located and rejection from social citizen-
ship is the consequence.
These types of questioning may seem harmless in relation to the experiences of many other
groups of people who have weathered much more violent and abusive types of racism and dis-
crimination, but it is far from irrelevant or inconsequential. First, it demonstrates how pervasive
and powerful stereotypes are in guiding an individual’s actions. Muslim American women who
wear the hijab are put in the uncomfortable situation of defending their religious beliefs and prac-
tices in relation to their values as American citizens because they are often approached by strangers
in public spaces. They are assumed to subscribe to anti-Western values where women are subservi-
ent to men, marginalizing Muslim men as abusive and barbaric and Muslim women as passive and
helpless. This misconception of Muslim women as victims of abuse and in need of saving is not a
new phenomenon that developed after 9/11, but has been perpetuated in the West in order to justify
colonial projects in Muslim countries (Ahmed, 1992; Al-Saji, 2010; Razack, 2008). The hijab has
come to simultaneously symbolize the submission and degradation of Muslim women and aggres-
sion, patriarchy, and barbarism of Muslim men. One of the privileges of whiteness is the uncon-
tested association of citizenship and unquestioned rights to resources (Garner, 2006). The ability to
be viewed and treated as if one is a contributing and valued member of society is a privilege of
whiteness that is denied to racialized groups in the USA. Nazia and Maryam’s interaction high-
lights the prevailing ideology non-Muslim Americans have concerning the hijab and the women
who wear it. They are a cultural threat. Their encounters with strangers are not unusual, but some-
thing the majority of the participants who wear the hijab have experienced with strangers in public
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spaces. The bodies of Muslim women who wear the hijab become a site of contestation between
American and Islamic values. Prior to 9/11, Muslim women experienced some questioning and
othering due to their religious identity (Peek, 2011). However, after 9/11 private citizens became
more vigilant in defending American values and therefore felt empowered to verbally accost
Muslim women about how their cultural values are a threat to American values. Although Muslim
men were not held accountable in public spaces like Muslim women, they were not immune from
this treatment in private spaces.
Saleem, a Lebanese American doctor in his early 30s lives in a young, urban, white neighbor-
hood in Chicago. Saleem is an American citizen who was born in Lebanon (his father is a natural-
ized American citizen). He moved to Chicago to complete his residency. He has a lighter skin tone
and claims if anyone questions his ethnicity they assume he is a white ethnic. He recalled an inci-
dent where his patient demanded a new doctor after he realized that Saleem was a Muslim because
of his name.
Saleem: When the patient saw my badge, he really got scared. So one of the nurses
wanted to make him feel better, and he said, ‘You’re a Muslim?’ and she said,
‘But he’s a good one.’ Kind of like the default is like I’d be bad … I had a
patient call me a fascist. I don’t think he knows what that word means, because
– I don’t think anyone knows what the word means.
Interviewer: What was the context?
Saleem: Well, the context was that he was not happy with the services we were providing
him at the hospital, and he said, ‘I would like a different doctor.’ I said, ‘Tell me
what’s wrong, so I can find you another doctor.’ He said, ‘I want someone who’s
white.’ I’m thinking that I am white – at least based on the United States’ defini-
tion of what ‘white’ is. And I said, ‘Well, tell me more,’ and he said, ‘I want
someone who’s American. I want someone who is familiar, someone like me.’
Once identified as a Muslim it was assumed Saleem was not an American and consequently not
white, even though Saleem is considered white according to the US Census.2 In this interaction his
nationality and racial identity are questioned because he is a Muslim. What is even more interest-
ing is the response the nurse gave. She attempts to defend the doctor by categorizing him as a
‘good’ Muslim as opposed to a ‘bad’ one. Although it is impossible to know exactly what the
nurse’s definition of ‘good’ Muslim is, one can infer that the ‘good’ Muslim is an individual who
is able to assimilate into the mainstream, such as a modern and secular Muslim who does not trans-
gress the norms of society by wearing religious signifiers and displaying their religious identity. On
the other hand, ‘bad’ Muslims are anti-American fundamentalists similar to the terrorist attackers
of 9/11 (Mamdani, 2004). Individuals who display their Muslim religion in outwardly visible ways
violate social norms. By placing Saleem into the ‘good’ category, she reduces Muslim Americans
into two types: those who are worthy of inclusion in social membership and those who are not.
Saleem is questioned about his values in private spaces by people he knows. Muslim women who
wear the hijab, on the other hand, are open targets for public scrutiny.
This line of questioning reveals similarities as well as differences in experiences between Muslim
men and Muslim women who wear the hijab. Muslim men are questioned by private citizens about
the values associated with Islam in private spaces, such as work or at social gatherings with acquaint-
ances and even close friends. Muslim women were also questioned in private spaces, but Muslim
men were rarely approached by strangers and questioned about their values in public spaces like
Muslim women who wear the hijab. The majority of the Muslim men in this study admitted they
avoided talking about politics and religion because they feared being viewed as anti-American for
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12 Critical Sociology
their views on foreign policy (not supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). Muslim men cen-
sored themselves in order to avoid interrogation about their loyalty and values. Muslim women who
wear the hijab were unable to avoid these interactions because the hijab is a visible symbol of Islam.
Because women are viewed as cultural threats and are not seen as physically intimidating, those who
wear the hijab are increasingly encountering hostility in public spaces.
The pitting of Muslim values against American values is an example of how religious identity
can fuel cultural racism. Cultural racism, when cultural traits (language, religious beliefs, attitudes,
etc.) are viewed as inherently inferior to white ones, is a way that racist ideas are expressed in a
colorblind society (Bonilla-Silva, 2003). Cultural racism does not replace the reality that skin tone
still matters in a racialized society, but highlights the importance of racialized cultural attributes. In
the case of Muslims, their religious values are assumed to encourage violence and terror (Meer and
Modood, 2010). When a citizen is made to feel as if he/she is a threat to American society because
of his/her religious identity by a fellow citizen, the boundaries of citizenship become visible. The
testimonies reveal that Islamic symbols have become so loaded with negative cultural connota-
tions, such as foreigner, enemy of the state, misogynist, submissive, and anti-American, Muslim
Americans experience exclusion from the basic privileges citizenship should entail.
Disloyal and Dangerous: Muslim American Men Policed by Fellow Citizens
In addition to nationality and standing, private citizens frequently questioned their fellow Muslim
citizens about their allegiance. These actors played an important role in denying Muslim Americans
their rights associated with citizenship, such as being viewed as a loyal member of society. Muslim
men were more likely to be questioned about their allegiance to the USA compared to Muslim
women who wear the hijab. The interviews reflect how Muslim men were criminalized by their
fellow citizens because of their religious identity.
Aziz, a 30-year-old South Asian management consultant, was questioned about his loyalty and
allegiance by his professor at an MBA program he attended on the East coast. This professor used
to make derogatory comments about Muslims, and on a few occasions he would make comments
about Aziz being a Muslim in front of the rest of the class.
I did hear things and comments in classes though. There was a professor. I remember in one of our classes.
I had told him before that I was Muslim. I was a practicing Muslim and prayed five times a day. We would
talk about Muslim countries [the course had nothing to do with the Middle East], which was for some
reason a favorite topic of his, I would always say actually, oh, I’ve been there or had the opportunity to
travel. But I remember in the middle of one class or beginning of one class he’s like, ‘Oh, we’re talking
about Afghanistan today.’ But he’s like, ‘Aziz, have you been to any camps there?’ And that really was like
crossing the line to me.
By asking Aziz if he had been to a terrorist training camp, this professor created the association of
him with Islamic extremism and terrorism. This stigmatized Aziz in front of his fellow classmates
by suggesting he was capable of being disloyal and dangerous to his own country because he is a
Muslim. Aziz felt powerless and did not feel comfortable challenging this behavior of his profes-
sor. This was not the last time Aziz experienced such insinuations. At his current job, a partner of
the company he works for made a comment joking about where he was over the weekend because
of a terrorist attack in India.
Aziz: I remember this partner I was working with who after there was a terrorist attack in
India … asked me on Monday morning jokingly like, ‘Ah-ha, where were you this
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Aziz was not alone in this questioning. Abdullah, an American born Pakistani male in his early
30s works in a managerial position in a financial institution in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan
area. He has a darker skin complexion but is easily identifiable as a Muslim at work because he
wears a nametag. He relayed to me an incident where a client came into his office and asked to
speak to his supervisor. The customer went to his supervisor to complain about him working at the
institution because he felt he could be a threat to national security. Abdullah’s Muslim name made
him suspect to this customer. This type of questioning of Muslim men’s loyalty to the USA high-
lights their vulnerability in society. Jamil, a 20-year-old college student recalled some experiences
he had had with friends in high school and on campus.
Jamil: There have been times my friends will joke around and call me a terrorist.
Interviewer: Does that bother you?
Jamil: When I was in high school I used to laugh it off, but in college I’ve found more
Muslim friends which is how I avoid these types of jokes.
Although I interviewed only a handful of college students, many of them admitted they found
comfort in spending time with other Muslims on their college campuses. Although Jamil laughed
with his friends when they jokingly called him a terrorist, it was apparent his choice to spend time
with other Muslims protected him from such negative comments. Thus, there is a consequence
these anti-Muslim sentiments have on Muslim men. Hamza, a Pakistani American lawyer in his
mid-30s, stated that for a period after 9/11 he avoided talking about politics or religion at work
because he felt muzzled in a post-9/11 society. He feared being labeled as a terrorist sympathizer
for expressing certain political views, such as those on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Feeling silenced was a sentiment expressed by the majority of the male participants in the study.
They all wanted to distance themselves from any type of association with terrorism or sympathy
for terrorism. Because their religious identity and gender are two of the main characteristics associ-
ated with terrorism (Rana, 2011), they made conscientious efforts to avoid discussing their reli-
gious or political beliefs to escape this type of scrutiny. Being treated like a potential threat to
national security because of one’s religious identity further emphasizes how a Muslim identity is
racialized and situated against a normative ideal of citizenship that is characterized by whiteness.
Whites are not questioned about their loyalty in the same way as groups that have been racialized.
For example, African-American men have been subjected to racial profiling by police and fellow
citizens. Currently, policies such as the SB Arizona 1070 Act has made it mandatory for all non-
citizens to carry their documentation in Arizona. This bill encourages law enforcement to rely on
racial and ethnic stereotypes when profiling Latinos (Fisher et al., 2011). While there are signifi-
cant differences in the ways Latino, African-American and Muslim men experience racism, they
have each been treated as if they are a threat to society and are subsequently policed by the state
and private citizens, demonstrating how their status as citizens is vulnerable at best. When private
citizens informally police their fellow citizens based on religious symbols, such as a name or a
piece of clothing, a Muslim identity is essentialized in a similar fashion as biological features for
African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians in the USA. When American men are questioned about
their allegiance to society as a result of the attribution of barbarism, violence, and terrorism to their
bodies because of their religious identity, it reveals how the boundaries of citizenship can suddenly
tighten resulting in the creation of newer racialized bodies, such as Muslims. The interviews dem-
onstrate how Muslim men are more likely to be questioned about their loyalty to the USA and
treated as if they are a threat to national security, whereas Muslim women who wear the hijab are
treated as a threat to Western cultural norms and values. It is important to review how the experi-
ences of Muslim women who did not wear the hijab differed from those of Muslim men and of the
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14 Critical Sociology
women who did wear the hijab. The testimonies indicate these women were not interrogated about
their cultural values like the women who wear Muslim religious signifiers.
You Are Not a Real Muslim
Muslim women who did not wear the hijab were not targets of anti-Muslim hatred like those who
wore the hijab. The participants who did not wear the hijab were aware that their friends and family
members who wore the hijab had very different experiences than they did. Asra, a 25-year-old
Indian American living in the Chicago area at the time of the interview, told me that after 9/11 resi-
dents and staff at the nursing home she worked at began to ask her about her ethnicity and
When I was working at the nursing home pre-9/11, I don’t think questions of my ethnicity or religious
affiliation ever came up. The people there were awesome, like the residents and the patients I worked with.
They called me Angel. And people thought that was my name because that’s how they would refer to me.
Post-9/11, they started asking me, ‘Oh, so where are your parents from, and what did they believe in?’ And
I’m like, ‘Okay, they’re just curious.’ But I was a little anxious with that as well. Like, those questions
made me a little anxious.
Asra has a darker skin complexion and does not pass for white. Her ethnicity triggered questions
about her religious affiliation after 9/11. She admitted this made her somewhat anxious because she
was not sure how they would treat her once she told them she was Muslim. Her co-workers told her
she was not a real Muslim because she did not wear the hijab or jilbaab.
I don’t fit that representation. I don’t cover my head. I don’t think they [co-workers] see Muslims as being
friendly and I am very friendly. I remember in that lab, and I don’t know if this happened in the nursing
home, but like several people made the comment that ‘You’re not really Muslim’. And like of course I am.
‘No, you’re not. You’re a different kind of Muslim. You’re American.’ I’m like, of course I’m American,
but I’m also Muslim.
Because Asra does not wear the hijab and is a woman, her national identity was not contested like
it was for Muslim women who wear the hijab. Her co-workers reinforce the ideology that a Muslim
identity and an American identity are incompatible. They accomplish this by dismissing her
Muslim identity and instead allowing her to claim an American one. Her experience exemplifies
how Muslim signifiers are viewed as a transgression of American values and norms. The women
who wear them have vastly different experiences than the women who do not. They are not racial-
ized as a threat to cultural values.
Hina, a 37-year-old Pakistani American architect also felt she has not been identified as a
Muslim since 9/11. She has never worn the hijab and claimed that while growing up her ethnic
identity was never an issue for her. She always felt her national and ethnic identities were compat-
ible. I asked her if she had ever been asked questions about Islam or Muslims at work since 9/11.
She told me no one ever talked to her about religion at work and she did not face the scrutiny other
Muslim women have had to face. She feels this is because she does not wear the hijab.
No, but I think – I mean I don’t wear hijab either. I don’t think people looked at me or scrutinized me like
some other women probably felt based on wearing hijab.
The fact that women who do not wear the hijab do not have their citizenship questioned as do the
women who wear it highlights how important Islamic religious signifiers are in racializing
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individuals. These Muslim women are neither treated as if they are a threat to this homogeneous
cultural identity nor made to feel they represent a physical threat like the men. They may have had
to endure questions about their ethnic and religious affiliations, but are not targeted in the same
way as Muslim women who wear the hijab. In some instances these women were placed into the
good Muslim’ category while Muslim women who wore the hijab were placed in the ‘bad Muslim’
category. The fact that religious signifiers incite such interrogation about social membership
reveals the precarity of Islam’s presence in the USA.
This article chronicles how private citizens strip Muslim Americans of privileges that should be
guaranteed with citizenship. In a post-9/11 society, a slight majority of Americans support curtail-
ing the civil liberties of Muslims in the name of increasing national security (Sullivan, 2009).
While the state creates the legal parameters of citizenship, it is private citizens who behave as
informal gatekeepers of social membership. Often private citizens act based on the cues provided
to them by the state. For example, through laws and policies instituted by the government in the
name of defending the nation and its citizenry against another terrorist attack, the public has been
given permission to report any suspicious behaviors. The Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting
Initiative (NSI) is a collaborative project where federal, state, local, and tribal agencies gather
information on ‘suspicious behaviors’ that could be related to terrorism. Through this initiative citi-
zens and communities are encouraged to report suspicious activities and behaviors to local, state or
federal agencies. However, as ‘suspicious behaviors’ are not clearly defined, the public is forced to
rely on their own assumptions and stereotypes of what constitutes terrorist activity. Americans are
therefore encouraged to distrust their fellow citizens. In the case of post-9/11 America, this distrust
is rooted in xenophobic attitudes towards Islam and Muslims.
In public spaces, private citizens treat Muslim women who wear the hijab as if they do not have
the same rights to public spaces as they do. By verbally accosting women who wear the hijab, they
deny them their right to exist in space without scrutiny. The right to exist in space or feel as if one
is a part of the fabric of society is a privilege that is not enjoyed by all citizens. Skin tone, nation
of origin, sexuality, culture and religious identity are a few of the characteristics that trigger one’s
racialization in a hypernationalistic society. By questioning Muslim Americans about their nation-
ality, standing, and allegiance private citizens work as important agents in setting a Muslim iden-
tity apart from the national community while reinforcing in culture characteristics of an American
identity: white and Christian. Muslim American experiences demonstrate how ascriptive charac-
teristics of citizenship are still worthy of examination. Religious signifiers intersect with skin tone,
gender, nation of origin, and language in unique ways. Wearing the hijab or having a Muslim name
results in being treated as a foreigner. For Muslims who can legally claim whiteness due to their
racial classification, religious signifiers (a Muslim name and the hijab) result in their racialized
interactions with their fellow citizens.
Racializing a Muslim identity is a gendered process. Muslim men and women are stripped of
social membership in different ways. First, religious symbols such as the hijab are gendered.
Muslim women who wear the hijab are immediately recognizable as Muslims and subsequently
treated as foreigners. Muslim women are denied privileges afforded by citizenship when they are
questioned about their status as Americans, and when they are treated as if their religious values
contradict and degrade American values. Women are seen as less threatening physically and in turn
become open targets of violence and aggression. Looking simultaneously at the intersection of
religion, race, and gender enables a more complex understanding of the Muslim experience to
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16 Critical Sociology
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues (2001) that the USA is a racialized social system, where struc-
tures and ideologies in society are organized based on how agents are placed into racial categories.
What makes the Muslim situation more complex is that they are not situated neatly within one
racial category. They occupy many racial categories based on their racial classification by the state.
However, their religious identity has become racialized because the physical and cultural aspects
of their religious identity became essentialized as inherently violent, anti-American, disloyal, patri-
archal, and submissive. For Muslim Americans in the context of a post-9/11 society, racialization
occurs when new racial meanings are applied to their bodies and as a result they are denied mem-
bership in society. Racialization explains how Muslim women who passed for white before wear-
ing the hijab lost privileges of whiteness once they put it on.
I argue that, in the context of the USA, ‘Muslim’ is becoming a de-facto racial classification. The
religious identity is riddled with so many negative associations that those who are identified as
Muslim consequently have racial experiences in their everyday lives. A Muslim is becoming a lived
racial other in practice even though ‘Muslim’ is not formally recognized as a race or racial classifica-
tion by the US Census. Newer theories of race are required to explain how a religious identity can
provoke racial experiences. Rejection from citizenship because one is perceived as foreign is a racial
act. These newer social constructions of what it means to be Muslim, along with rigid boundaries of
who can be an American, reinforce the idea that these two identities are inherently incompatible.
Muslim Americans are given the task of defending their religious identity, claiming their national
one and demonstrating the compatibility between the two. The findings from this study demonstrate
the importance of race scholarship moving beyond a black and white paradigm to one that incorpo-
rates other important characteristics – such as gender, nation of origin, culture, language, and reli-
gious identity to name a few – which result in an identity becoming racialized. There is a trend in
race scholarship moving towards a such a new paradigm of racial formation (Omi and Winant,
1994), or creating new frameworks to understand multiracial identities (Brunsma and Rockquemore,
2001). An interesting new paradigm on race in the USA is the Latin Americanization theory (Bonilla-
Silva, 2004). Bonilla-Silva argues that we no longer live in a biracial society, but a tri-racial one that
mimics Latin American countries (Bonilla-Silva, 2004). This tri-racial society is made up of whites,
honorary whites, and collective blacks. These newer paradigms of race reflect how society is chang-
ing racially, ethnically and in terms of religion. Racialization is another way to theorize about newer
forms of racism because it provides the needed language to include the experiences of immigrants
and their offspring with racism. It also creates a place in theory for the incorporation of signifiers
other than skin tone, such as clothing, language and religious symbols. While phenotype still mat-
ters, it is not the only factor in determining individual experiences with racism. In a hyper national-
istic state, it is important to understand how ascriptive aspects of citizenship become more salient.
Racial, ethnic and religious differences become qualifiers of exclusion. In a nation ‘at war with
terror’, those who are perceived to be potential terrorists and threats to American values become the
other. Because race is a fluid concept and constantly changing, scholars must be careful to avoid
making inaccurate comparisons of racialized groups as a way to legitimate each group’s experience
with racism. This is not to say there are not similarities: there are, but the differences are socially,
politically, and economically contextually unique. Until scholars begin to unpack these factors and
their salience in individual experiences, it will become harder to, first, acknowledge that Muslims
experience racism because of their religious identity and therefore, second, nearly impossible to find
a way to combat these newer forms of racism.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit
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1. Muslim women are split on their views about the hijab. Some women argue that the Quran dictates that
women must cover their hair, while other women believe in a different interpretation that states that
women must dress modestly, but do not have to cover their hair (Ahmed, 1992).
2. Arabs are currently considered white according to the US Census, even though they were historically
denied citizenship because of an association with Asians.
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... Pieces by a handful of Muslim-identifying female journalists appear to be staple fare as far as opining on the niqab is concerned. The values/ identity discourse opposed to the niqab is ostensibly meant to produce an alternative "progressive Muslimness" palatable to the West, including its relative invisibility (but of course, "Muslimness" can rarely be entirely invisible, as it is routinely racialized in both the United Kingdom and the United States (Franks 2000;Moosavi 2015;Galonnier 2015;Selod 2015), a fixed idea of what is Islamic, and conflation of condemnation of political regimes that force Islamic clothing on women with the condemnation of women who wear the niqab by choice. ...
... " Others questioned her motives, implying that she supported the terrorists, to which she responded emphatically: "No, I'm trying to say that I'm with Islam. " By coming out as a pious Muslim through the adoption of a visual signifier of Islam, Halima had her social citizenship symbolically revoked; her status as an American citizen (as well as her loyalties) was contested because as a Muslim, she was immediately cast as a threat to Western cultural values (Selod 2015). This phenomenon was widely described in research literature on Muslim experiences in post-9/11 America (Esposito 2010;Cesari 2013;Kundnani 2014). ...
... In this stigmatizing process, niqab wearers (of all racial and ethnic backgrounds) are denied their national identity (Selod 2015) which in both the United States and the United Kingdom also depends, at least culturally, on possession of English language skills and recognizable (preferably dominant native) accents (Milroy 2000;Jones 2001;Lippi-Green 2012). Therefore, despite the partial invisibility of niqabi women's phenotypical features, they are immediately assessed as belonging to a race that is in some way "foreign" and which is operationalized through the use of infantilizing language toward them. ...
Bringing niqab wearers' voices to the fore, discussing their narratives on religious agency, identity, social interaction, community, and urban spaces, Anna Piela situates women's accounts firmly within UK and US socio-political contexts as well as within media discourses on Islam. The niqab has recently emerged as one of the most ubiquitous symbols of everything that is perceived to be wrong with Islam: barbarity, backwardness, exploitation of women, and political radicalization. Yet all these notions are assigned to women who wear the niqab without their consultation; “niqab debates” are held without their voices being heard, and, when they do speak, their views are dismissed. However, the picture painted by the stories told here demonstrates that, for these women, religious symbols such as the niqab are deeply personal, freely chosen, multilayered, and socially situated. Wearing the Niqab gives voice to these women and their stories, and sets the record straight, enhancing understanding of the complex picture around niqab and religious identity and agency.
... It may be particularly helpful to disaggregate public and private regard for Arab Americans. Due to negative portrayals of Muslims in media and derisive political rhetoric (Khan et al., 2019;Melhem & Punyanunt-Carter, 2019), the negative sentiments toward Muslims in the U.S. following 9/11 (Awad et al., 2019;Selod, 2015), and conflation of "Muslim" with "Arab" in U.S. media and culture (Abdel-Salam et al., 2019;Zopf, 2018), Arab Americans may feel that they live in a society where their group is viewed negatively. Nonetheless, because of positive sentiments regarding their own Arab identity, Arab Americans' perceptions of how their group is viewed by society (i.e., public regard) may greatly differ from their own personal feelings ARAB AMERICAN ETHNIC IDENTITY 6 regarding their group (i.e., private regard). ...
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Arab Americans constitute a diverse, sizeable ethnic minority in the United States. However, limited research has examined the content of Arab American ethnic identity and whether this ethnic identity differs by demographic factors. In the present study, we developed measures of Arab American ethnic identity and cultural practice, and assessed differences in those variables by gender, religious affiliation (Muslim, Christian), and age. Arab American adults recruited online from Amazon Mechanical Turk (N = 391) completed an adaptation of the Multidimensional Inventory of Black Identity and a measure of cultural practice that was created for this study based on pre-existing scales. Items loaded onto dimensions of identity (ethnic centrality, private regard, public regard), and subscales showed invariance across gender and religious upbringing. When examining group differences in ethnic identity, we found that attitudes regarding being Arab American varied by gender, such that Arab American women reported higher private regard and lower public regard than men. In turn, participants raised in Muslim households reported higher ethnic centrality and cultural practice than those raised in Christian households, potentially related to Muslims’ status as a religious minority in the United Status. Finally, young adults were lower in centrality and private regard than older adults, suggesting either that ethnic identity may develop into adulthood or that young adults’ ethnic identity may be influenced by growing up in American society post-9/11. Taken together, findings illustrate the heterogeneity in the ethnic identity of Arab Americans. Further research is needed to understand individual differences in Arab Americans’ ethnic identity.
... In recent times, studies of racism against immigrants have attempted to move away from the presumed dichotomy between whites and "Others" (Moosavi 2015;Selod 2015;Karaman and Christian 2020). Such studies attempt to look beyond skin colour and focus on class or religion to explore "cultural racism" (Giroux 1993;Wren 2001) or the "new racism" (Werbner 2005;Van Dijk 2000). ...
Full-text available
Studies of racism against migrants have recently attempted to move away from the presumed dichotomy between whites and “Others”, yet the focus is still on white people racialising others: whether Black, Asian or Muslim. Attending only to white versus Others homogenizes select groups of non-whites including Asians. Racialization and racism by Asians and among Asians have also been ignored. Consequently, there is a dearth of studies on issues of race in non- white settings. Through engaging the themes of co-ethnicity, intersectionality and postcoloniality, this special issue contributes to extant studies in three ways through 1) examining new geographical sites of racialization and racism; 2) illuminating racialization and racism beyond the white/Other binary; and 3) introducing new dynamics in racialization and racist discourses, including intersectional factors such as nationality, class, gender, language, religion, temporal framings and postcoloniality.
... 4-9;Jacobson 2010, pp. 179, 182-83;Selod 2015;Ibrahim 2008). ...
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The ideology of white Christian nationalism has become increasingly visible in the United States. This ideology intersects with public debate over immigration, posing a threat both to immigrants’ well-being and to American ideals of democracy. This essay considers how religious leaders in primarily white Christian communities addressed two historical moments related to immigration in the U.S.: Proposition 187 in California, and the “travel ban” instituted by the Trump administration in 2017. Christian leaders who supported Prop 187 and the ban, and those who opposed the two policies, tended to talk past each other when they discussed the issue of immigration and these specific policies. Pro-187 leaders used rhetoric of economic damage and pro-ban leaders used rhetoric of national security, whereas anti-187 and anti-ban leaders used rhetoric of hospitality and nondiscrimination. Christian leaders who opposed these policies attempted to apply the moral teachings of their religious tradition, but ethicists and religious leaders who wish to fully engage in conversation about immigration in the U.S. should incorporate discussion of economic and security concerns into their consideration of hospitality, in order both to address anxieties and to pull the veil back on racial and religious discrimination that hides behind these anxieties.
... In recent times, studies of racism against immigrants have attempted to move away from the presumed dichotomy between whites and "Others" (Moosavi 2015;Selod 2015;Karaman and Christian 2020). Such studies attempt to look beyond skin colour and focus on class or religion to explore "cultural racism" (Giroux 1993;Wren 2001) or the "new racism" (Werbner 2005;Van Dijk 2000). ...
Academic work on the “veil”, while important in challenging commonly held ideas about Islam and gender, often falls into a familiar series of observations: veiled women are frequently excluded from these debates; women’s bodies and sexuality have become (or rather, taken on new significance as) battle grounds in arguments about national identity, religion, and culture; and the veil not only marks religious identity, but plays a role in the racialisation of religious minorities. Despite this important work, ideas about Muslims in general and Muslim women in particular seem particularly resistant to counter evidence. The essay employs work on epistemic injustice to develop an account of the persistence of negative attitudes towards Muslims. Connecting research on testimonial injustice and epistemologies of ignorance, I argue that epistemic injustice can help explain the epistemic significance of visible manifestations of Islam for white, European forms of knowing.
Literature on Muslims and Islam has not empirically assessed the impact of American Muslims' gender, religiosity, income inequality, and the interaction between the latter two factors, on their attitudes toward homosexuality. Using logistic regression models fitted to data from the 2017 Pew Survey of US Muslims (n = 712), this article assesses these factors' effects on their view that society should either accept or discourage homosexuality. Findings reveal that men, compared with women, and more religious individuals tend to express homonegativity; while those from higher-income households are likely to agree that society should accept same-sex relationships. Also, the religiosity-prejudice association is moderated by income inequality. These findings have important religious and social implications. Firstly, the prevailing approach of essentializing Islamic perspectives on homosexuality as being favorable or prejudicial overlooks that they are socially contingent. Secondly, policies contributing to Muslim minorities' economic well-being can encourage them to embrace liberal religious and social values.
This case study is a sociocultural analysis of how Kareem, a young Black man, both constructed a historical narrative and rearticulated two of his racialized identities. Kareem carried out two mediated actions. In the first, he incorporated cultural tools from the classroom—the schematic narrative template of racial progress and the specific narrative of the Movement—to support his thesis that NBA legend Bill Russell advanced the Civil Rights Movement. In the second, he positioned Bill Russell as a model Black man, drawing on cultural tools forged from his self-identification, his awareness of the racialization of Black men, and his desire to articulate a positive image of them. Data include field notes, audio-recorded conversation, written work, and an interview. The paper concludes with implications of this study for K-12 educators, teacher educators, and researchers: (1) that students' racialized identities and experiences are cultural tools that can intersect with disciplinary learning; (2) that racialization includes non-racial identities and practices; and (3) that history/social studies curriculum and instruction can facilitate students’ analyses of how narratives function in the learning of the past.
Omi and Winant examine the creation and negotiation of race's role in identify construction, contestation, and deconstruction. Since no biological basis exists for the signification of racial differences, the authors discuss racial hierarchies in terms of a "racial formation," which is a process by which racial categories are created, accepted, altered, or destroyed. This theory assumes that society contains various racial projects to which all people are subjected. The role that race plays in social stratification secures its place as a political phenomenon in the United States. This stratification is tantamount to what Omi and Winant call "racial dictatorship," which has three effects. First, the identity "American" is conflated with the racial identity "white." Second, the "color line" becomes a fundamental division in American society. Finally, oppositional racial consciousness became consolidated in opposition to racial dictatorship.
Exploring the social, and specifically legal origins, of white racial identity, Ian Haney-Lopez here examines cases in America's past that have been instrumental in forming contemporary conceptions of race, law, and whiteness. In 1790, Congress limited naturalization to white persons. This racial prerequisite for citizenship remained in force for over a century and a half, enduring until 1952. In a series of important cases, including two heard by the United States Supreme Court, judges around the country decided and defined who was white enough to become American. White by Law traces the reasoning employed by the courts intheir efforts to justify the whiteness of some and the non-whiteness of others. Haney-Lopez reveals the criteria that were used, often arbitrarily, to determine whiteness, and thus citizenship: skin color, facial features, national origin, language, culture, ancestry, scientific opinion, and, most importantly, popular opinion. Having defined the social and legal origins of whiteness, the book turns its attention to white identity today and concludes by calling upon whites to acknowledge and renounce their privileged racial identity. Lopez notes that race is a highly contingent social construction that manifests itself in specific times, places, and situations and is informed by other markers of identity. Being White is not a monolithic or homogenous experience; it is changeable, partial, inconstant, and social. Whether one is White, and indeed what is means to be White, can change based on when and where one is and what one is doing.
Three stereotypical figures have come to represent the 'war on terror'-the 'dangerous' Muslim man, the 'imperilled' Muslim woman, and the 'civilized' European. Casting Out explores the use of these characterizations in the creation of the myth of the family of democratic Western nations obliged to use political, military, and legal force to defend itself against a menacing third world population. It argues that this myth is promoted to justify the expulsion of Muslims from the political community, a process that takes the form of stigmatization, surveillance, incarceration, torture, and bombing. In this timely and controversial work, Sherene H. Razack looks at contemporary legal and social responses to Muslims in the West and places them in historical context. She explains how 'race thinking,' a structure of thought that divides up the world between the deserving and undeserving according to racial descent, accustoms us to the idea that the suspension of rights for racialized groups is warranted in the interests of national security. She discusses many examples of the institution and implementation of exclusionary and coercive practices, including the mistreatment of security detainees, the regulation of Muslim populations in the name of protecting Muslim women, and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. She explores how the denial of a common bond between European people and those of different origins has given rise to the proliferation of literal and figurative 'camps,' places or bodies where liberties are suspended and the rule of law does not apply. Combining rich theoretical perspectives and extensive research, Casting Out makes a major contribution to contemporary debates on race and the 'war on terror' and their implications in areas such as law, politics, cultural studies, feminist and gender studies, and race relations.
Detroit's Arab communities have attracted global attention not only for their size, age, and cultural vibrancy, but also for their symbolically charged location between the West and the Arab Muslim world. As a geopolitical interface, located at the edges of what are widely believed to be civilizations in a state of clash, Arab Detroit is valuable (and often contested) territory. It is courted by politicians, investigated by the media, tapped by ethnic marketers, developed as a tourist destination and a conduit for overseas trade, monitored by U.S. government agencies, and studied by social scientists. Until the 1990s, however, very few people outside Michigan knew anything about its Middle Eastern immigrant and ethnic groups. In 1983, Sameer and Nabeel Abraham began their groundbreaking study, Arabs in the New World, by noting that Arab Americans were, until recently, "largely unnoticed in American society":.
The treatment and role of women is one of the most discussed and controversial aspects of Islam. In this volume, three scholars of Islam survey the situation of women in Islam, focusing on how Muslim views about and experiences of gender are changing in the Western diaspora. It offers an overview of the teachings of the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad on gender, analyzes the ways in which the West has historically viewed Muslim women, and examines how the Muslim world has changed in response to Western critiques. The volume then centers on the Muslim experience in America, examining Muslim American analyses of gender, Muslim attempts to form a new "American" Islam, and the legal issues surrounding equal rights for Muslim females. Such specific issues as dress, marriage, child custody, and asylum are addressed. It also looks at the ways in which American Muslim women have tried to create new paradigms of Islamic womanhood and are reinterpreting the traditions apart from the males who control the mosque institutions.