Learning to Be Muslim—Transnationally
Received: 6 January 2014 / Revised: 4 July 2014 / Accepted: 16 July 2014 / Published: 28 July 2014
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This essay discusses the religious upbringing experiences and reflections upon them articulated by 53 Muslim American youth who were interviewed as part of a larger sociological study of Arab American teenagers living transnationally. On extended sojourns in their parents’ homelands, these youth—most were
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This essay discusses the religious upbringing experiences and reflections upon them articulated by 53 Muslim American youth who were interviewed as part of a larger sociological study of Arab American teenagers living transnationally. On extended sojourns in their parents’ homelands, these youth—most were born in the US although some migrated to the US at a young age—were taken “back home” to Palestine and Jordan by their parents so they could learn “their language, culture, and religion”. They were asked about learning to be Muslim in the US and overseas in the context of a much larger set of questions about their transnational life experiences. The data provide insights into the various types of early religious learning experiences Muslims have access to in a US Christian-majority context. The essay then examines how these youth later experienced and interpreted being Muslim in a place where Muslims are a majority. The study found that while a majority of youth said they learned more about their faith, almost half (42%) said that it was the same as in the US, that they did not learn more, or that the experience contributed both positively and negatively to their religious understanding. Key to these differences was the character of their experiences with being Muslim in the US. A majority of girls and of youth who attended full-time Islamic schools and/or were part of a vibrant Muslim community in the US gave one of the latter responses. On the other hand, most of the boys who grew up isolated from other Muslims in the US reported learning more about Islam. They were especially pleased with the convenience of praying in mosques and with being able to pray in public without stares. The data show that living where one is part of the dominant religious culture does not necessarily make for a deeper experience of religion. What seems to matter more is the type of experience with being Muslim each youth brings into the situation, as it was these that informed their subjective interpretations of what it means to be Muslim.