Sociology and Anthropology

More than the Umma: An Exploratory Study of Muslim Identities

Many scholars have ascribed to Islam a transnational capacity other religions lack. That is to say that Muslims are more likely than non-Muslims to identify themselves in religious terms than as members of particular national political communities. As such, it may be hypothesized that since Muslims are more likely to claim a transnational, religious identity than non-Muslims, they should consistently show weaker claims of national, regional, and municipal identity, be less willing to fight for their country, and show lower levels of national pride than non-Muslims, regardless of country, region, and majority or minority status.

Using data from the 1995-1997 World Values Survey, these propositions were examined. While the findings show that Muslims tend to be very religious, it is particularly revealing that the evidence also shows that Muslims do not exceptionally claim a transnational identity, that most Muslims have strong national feelings and are willing to fight for their country, even if it is a non-Muslim country and a non-Islamic state, and that there was often very little difference between the national feelings of Muslims and non-Muslims. Thus, it may be said that a gap exists between the ideals of faith and the realities in the world. Muslims apparently have multiple, if not overlapping, attachments to their hometowns, their countries, their country’s region, and the transnational ummah. Islam does not necessarily eliminate or mitigate other identities. Rather, Islam appears to coexist with other identity forms. If so, the “civilizational” approach to Islam may distort more than it reflects the attitudes of individual Muslims and particular Muslim communities.


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