|Muslim American youths are often confronted by negative stereotypes of their religion in the United States, making the process of religious identity formation for this group especially complicated. This dissertation explores the religious identity development of Muslim American youths (ages 10-14 years old) in a mid-sized city in the Southern United States using focus group interviews (n=34). The three papers in the dissertation explore different facets of religious identity development for Muslim American youths.
Study One explores how the religious identity development of Muslim American youths intersects with other facets of identity (specifically, race, ethnicity, gender, and class). Data reveal that the Muslim youths in this sample have positive feelings about their Muslim identities, though their experiences often vary by race, ethnicity, gender, and class. The data also show that using an intersectional lens can help highlight and raise voices of Muslim youths that may be obscured.
Study Two explores how school contexts influence the religious identity development of Muslim American youths. In particular, this paper explores three different school contexts: a public school with a large Muslim population (Pluribus Middle), a public school with few Muslims (Minimus Middle), and an Islamic school (Muslim Middle). The structural context of both public-school settings provided daily challenges for Muslim students, including issues with cafeteria food and physical education. Youths at Muslim Middle, by contrast, reported feelings of safety and comfort in their school setting, but also dealt with issues related to gender segregation and perceptions of religiosity.
Finally, Study Three explores the types of discrimination, stereotyping, bullying, and microaggressions faced by Muslim American youths. Youths often face microaggressions related to terrorism and violence, and are frequently questioned about the practice of wearing the hijab. Youths responded in various ways: by re-imagining dominant narratives, by turning to patience and spirituality, and by standing up for their rights. Responses often depended upon contextual factors such as the source of harassment and feelings of agency in being able to respond.