Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The in/visibility of South Asian Muslim Americans: Ethnicity, class and 9/11
by Khan, Fariha Irshad, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2008, 256; 3309568
Abstract (Summary)

Ethnicity can no longer be considered as originating from a culture, homeland, or a heritage, dissipating over a linear progression of time; rather ethnicity must be interrogated as a strategic manifestation of political, social, and class agendas. An exploration of ethnic identity with one South Asian Muslim American community produces a deeper understanding of ethnicity, but also fosters new theoretical perspectives. This dissertation will investigate the processes of ethnic identity construction by asking: what does it mean to possess, perform and live ethnicity in an age when terrorist threats and xenophobia lurk underneath the American pallor of civility?

Ethnicity shapes the theoretical concept structuring each of the chapters as the keystone and focuses the two main goals of this research: firstly, to re-evaluate ethnicity, its meanings and its implications, principally for a group whose identity is emergent; and secondly, to problematize the patterns of creating and maintaining an ethnic identity with a community of relatively recent migrants. A historical analysis and current review of literature indicates the complexities of assimilation as it is understood and practiced by South Asian Muslim Americans. The scholarship on ethnicity continues to increase, however a lack of substantial numbers of studies on South Asian Muslims still exists. Ethnicity must be reconsidered in order to navigate the complex dynamics in the lives of South Asian Muslim Americans and must be reconsidered through the inclusion of class.

Class displaces the contestation of religious versus ethnic identity, allowing the community to negotiate their own individual and community identity in multiple and shifting contexts. The group shares the variables of—families, faith, financial security, education, and class—all of which form the foundation for the community's creation and maintenance of ethnicity. It is class that allows for the community's agency in the demarcation of visibility versus invisibility of their ethnic identity. The significance of the community's education and financial success conveys an ambition for not only a certain lifestyle, but also for the invisibility awarded to those that achieve class status. However, in spite of their advanced degrees, English fluency, and economic success, their ethnic heritage, culture, race, and/or religion demarcates a separate space and a marked visibility in American society. Marginalization considerably impacts the community's possibilities of complete assimilation since in many respects the members of the Islamic Society still retain cultural and religious difference symbolizing their diasporic identity. Thus, this work adds to the developing literature through concentrated efforts ethnographically with one South Asian community, at one mosque, during a socially and politically charged environment against Muslims and immigrants in the United States.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ben-Amos, Dan
School: University of Pennsylvania
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 69/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Folklore, Ethnic studies
Keywords: Class, Ethnicity, Muslim, September 11, 2001, South Asian, South Asian-American
Publication Number: 3309568
ISBN: 9780549575078
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