Islam is the second largest religion in the world and the number of Muslims is even rapidly increasing. With that increase comes the issue of Muslim identity. Identities in principle are socio-cultural and socio-psychological structures. Each ethnicity possesses a limited set of ethnic, religious and cultural elements. Muslims are in search of their identity – not their religious identity, but the identity that they can earn through their intellectual efforts and their accomplishments.
In shaping and protecting the identity of the Muslim community throughout history, the mosque is the most influential factor. Historically, in the first generation of the Ummah of Muhammad (peace be upon him), the mosque was a key institution to represent Islamic society and state in Medina. Another distinctive feature is women’s and men’s clothing that differs from that of other religious groups. Women covering themselves, for some it’s a personal choice, for others it’s because of cultural considerations. However, Muslim women take numerous criticisms in this regard. According to some people, that kind of clothing is isolating. While a woman wearing the abaya to cover her head and body doesn’t mean that she’s isolating herself. However, a lot of so-called educated people do think that way.
The cover does not deprive them of their rights. For instance, the oldest running university was founded by a woman, Fatima al-Fihri. Islam gave women the right to own property and inherit from relatives, which was a revolutionary concept in the seventh century and a way the Islamic identity distinguished itself from others.
However, in most cases when you say that you are a Muslim, you are identified as an Arab and Islam as Arabism. Those assumptions appear especially when people don’t recognize the right identity of Muslims. When people say that, they are just denying the fact that only 15% of the world’s Muslims are Arabs. Muslims should refuse to reply to the question: ‘So you are a Muslim, that means you are from Saudi Arabia, right’?
In conclusion, people should recognize Muslims’ identity not just by their clothing, language or origin, but by the intellectual identity that defines them. Here is how Allah guides Muslims for their identity: “Say verily my prayers, my sacrifices, my living and my dying are for Allah, no one else shares (that) with Him, and I am the first (and foremost) of those who submit/devote to Him .” [Quran, Surah Al Anaam]