Document Type : Research Article

Author

Lecturer in Islamic Studies

Abstract

As recent anthropological and sociological research conducted under the rubric of “multiculturalism” and “race relations” confirms, communities are not pre-given but imagined, constructed by forging across differences (and not subsuming them) through extroverted webs of global and local connections. In the United Kingdom, since the Salman Rushdie Affair there has been a notable development of an emerging Islamic political identity, one that challenges constructions of identity and community based on race and ethnicity. This new “Islamic” identity is at once residual and self-conscious; it is newly articulated in the public space with new symbols and narratives impacting on wider policy decisions. Furthermore, it is contingent, negotiated within the private spheres of social/local spaces as well as global contexts of everyday lives. As a result at times this “Islamic” identity is in conflict and tension with other positions held by groups and individuals. This tension is perhaps most visible in the determination of Muslim women (and others) to separate culture from religion in order to acquire rights. In other words, a consequence of this politicisation of Islamic and Muslim identities is the assertion of women’s rights from within an Islamic context.
This paper considers the complexities of the British Muslim-Islamic identity and the positions it offers to British Muslim women to acquire rights from the State, the community and the family. By recognising the interplay of religion, gender and ethnicity in the every-day lives of British Muslim women, it is possible to reveal how notions of self-hood and identity have re-constructed rights and provided Muslim women in the UK with a platform from which to attain rights. This new “Islamic” platform has potential to transform British government policy and orthodox constructions of women’s rights in a secular State. In order to assess these insights, first this paper will examine the formation of this politicised Islamic identity in the UK. Second it will show how this new identity has provided Muslim women with tools to challenge current perceptions of rights, gender and ethnicity. Third it will look at specific rights and through examining the “Islamic” discourse in the UK it will show how Muslim women are negotiating and transforming the understanding of rights. The main conclusion of this paper is that although Muslim women are not a homogenous group, the formation of an articulated “Islamic” identity in the public and private spheres enables Muslim women to negotiate and acquire rights in new and transformative ways.

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