An Investigation of the Identity of First Generation American Muslim Youth Participating in Muslim Students Associations
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American Muslim youth comprise a minority group at risk for maladaptive identity development and, in turn, a host of negative psychological outcomes. Research on American Muslim youth suggests that an identity that integrates both American and Muslim aspects of self is associated with positive outcomes such as wellbeing. One common way of assessing “integrated” identity is through examining the extent to which American Muslim youth endorse high collective self-esteem in relation to both their American and Muslim cultural groups. In this study, three hypotheses were examined to better understand the predictors and outcomes of American Muslim collective self-esteem in American Muslim youth: (1) higher perceived discrimination will be related to higher collective self-esteem; (2) the relationship between perceived discrimination and collective self-esteem will depend on the degree to which American Muslim youth are embedded and participate in religious settings; (3) higher collective self-esteem, in turn, will be associated with greater social action. Three hundred 18 to 25 year-old, self-identified American Muslim youth were administered a self-report survey in collaboration with the Inspiring American Muslim Youth (IAMY) think tank. Participants were recruited from Muslim students associations, mosques, and community-based organizations across the United States, with a focus on one large metropolitan area. A series of hierarchical linear multiple regressions suggest support for our hypothesis. Namely, higher discrimination was associated with greater American and Muslim collective self-esteem only when youth reported higher levels of religious participation, and greater collective self-esteem in turn promoted greater social action.
Keywords: Identity, Youth, Collective Self-Esteem, Acculturation, Discrimination, Social Action
Research across various disciplines has evidenced that emerging adulthood is a crucial time for identity development (Tsang, Hui, & Law, 2012). Identity can be understood as the capacity to develop a unified self-concept that enables an individual to function with coherence (Markstrom-Adams & Smith, 1996). Erikson (1968) describes identity as “a sense of psychosocial well-being….a feeling of being at home in one’s body, a sense of ‘knowing where one is going’” (p.165). Nurturing high self-esteem, developing life satisfaction, reducing self-discrepancies, fostering self-exploration and commitment, and cultivating the want to influence change (i.e., social action) are among the many benefits of positive (i.e., healthy) identity development (Tsang et al., 2012). The developmental stage of emerging adulthood is characterized by rapid and extensive physical and psychosocial changes, often accompanied by developmental crises that challenge emerging adults’ coping abilities. In the present study, we use the term “youth” to refer to emerging adults between the ages of 18 to 25, in keeping with previous research (Sirin & Fine, 2007).
Several critical life experiences are associated with youths’ identity development, including developing self-reliance, achieving life goals, and the capacity to successfully navigate life crises (Chen, Lau, Tapanya, & Cameron, 2012). Importantly, however, research has problematized singular identity and instead emphasized that a given individual may have multiple self-concepts which influence an individual’s global identity (Markstrom-Adams & Smith, 1996). Religion, identified as a salient component of ideological identity, influences identity development greatly (Erikson, 1965). It has the ability to serve as an enhancing experience for adolescent youth through its ability to provide answers to complex issues of existence and to promote feelings of importance and purpose in life (Erikson, 1964; Erikson, 1965).
However, the integration of one’s religious identity with other salient aspects of identity may pose unique and significant challenges, particularly for youth who identify with a religious community that is not necessarily or uniformly portrayed positively by one of the cultural group(s) with which they identify (Ahmed, 2009). This is a developmental challenge identified for many American Muslim youth who are growing up in an important historical moment during which they may struggle to integrate or allow their identities as both American and Muslim to coexist in nonconflicting ways (Sirin & Fine, 2010). For instance, though their religious identity may be important, American Muslim youth can also face greater discrimination and isolation from American culture because of their religious affiliation (Ahmed, 2009). Research on American Muslim youth suggests that the process of “hyphenating selves” describes the struggle to join identities (e.g., Muslim and American) separated by history, sociopolitical forces, and geography (Sirin & Fine, 2008). In turn, the development of hyphenated selves (i.e., integrated or parallel identity; Sirin & Fine, 2008) is associated with a host of positive mental health outcomes, including sense of purpose and motivation to volunteer and contribute to the greater good (Sirin, Abo-Zena, & Shehadeh, 2012).
The need for further research on American Muslim youth
American Muslims constitute between three and seven million individuals in the United States (Haddad, 2004; Pew Research Center, 2007), and are one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population. They are projected to be the largest religious minority subgroup in the U.S. within the next decade (Kobeisy, 2004; Kosmin, Mayer, & Keysar, 2001), underscoring the need to better understand the developmental challenges they face. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, identity has become particularly complicated to navigate for American Muslims because of the struggle to integrate their dual identities as both American and Muslim (Sirin & Fine, 2010). In one sense, as Americans, American Muslims face the same threat and fear of attack by extremist Muslim groups as do their non-Muslim counterparts. However, on the other hand, as Muslims, they may be perceived as part of a homogenous group which poses a potential threat to the country they call home and in fact, have experienced both overt and covert oppression through detention, deportation, and spying by security and police forces in the last decade in particular (Sirin & Fine, 2010; Sirin et al., 2012). Reconciling these two aspects of identity remains a challenge, especially as this dichotomy between the two aspects of American-Muslim identity is reinforced in situations where threats to security arise (Sirin & Fine, 2010; Sirin et al., 2012). Belonging to a religious minority, American Muslims exhibit a greater need to understand and evaluate American Muslim religious beliefs and values in the face of alternatives (Ahmad, 2009); despite the importance of understanding healthy identity development, little research has examined what factors influence healthy identity development in one of the fastest growing segments of the US population.
One common way of assessing identity is through examining American Muslim collective self-esteem, which is the extent to which American Muslims endorse high collective self-esteem in relation to both their American and Muslim cultural groups. As per Erikson’s definition of identity, collective self-esteem describes one’s self-concept and self-worth as a member of a specific social group and, in this case, American Muslim collective self-esteem serves to distinguish healthy identity development of American Muslim youth (Erikson, 1965; Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992). In examining healthy identity development, research has not investigated the factors that promote American Muslim collective self-esteem, and what, if any, are the benefits of this high collective self-esteem. For instance, though the concept of “hyphenated selves” was derived through mixed-methods research, no quantitative study has examined the correlates of American Muslim identity (Sirin et al., 2012). For the purposes of this quantitative study, American Muslim collective self-esteem will be used to assess identity, whereby identifying positively with both dimensions of identity will be reflected in higher overall collective self-esteem.
Religious participation as a potential contextual buffer in the face of discrimination
Religious exploration can be integral to identity formation during young adulthood (Ahmed, 2009) because religion can provide a set of standard actions and processes that provide guidance and a point of reference through which to understand the social world (Ahmed, 2009; Erikson, 1965). Although prior research is limited on the effects of religious participation in American Muslim youth, research based on non-Muslim populations suggests religious participation can serve as a protective factor for youth in general (Ahmed, 2009). This buffering effect may arise because religiosity can be accompanied by a sense of belonging which manifests through shared rituals and goals, and a connection to social networks and communities (Ahmed, 2009; Sirin & Fine, 2008). This promotes the development of interpersonal relationships, often spanning multiple generations (Ahmed, 2009; Sirin & Fine, 2008).
In face of the oppression, religious settings can provide members with opportunities to understand difficult experiences (e.g., discrimination; Ahmed, 2009; Todd, 2010; Todd & Allen, 2011), develop self-regulatory behaviors and coping mechanisms, provide access to role models, and provide the space and opportunity to congregate and develop a sense of collective belonging and self-worth (Ahmed, 2009; Cook, 2000; Erikson, 1965). These processes can allow American Muslim youth with high participation in religious settings to cope with oppressive experiences they are subject to as Muslims and, ultimately, develop greater collective self-esteem. However, it is also important to consider an alternative line of research, which suggests that religious participation can also serve as a risk factor. For instance, social identity theory suggests that a change in events, contexts, and experiences can activate a greater identification and affiliation with the more prevalent and affected part of identity (Ahmed 2009; Tajfel, 1981; Turner, 1987). In the case of American Muslim youth, as a result of the tragedies of 9/11 and the discrimination that followed, religion can also serve as a potential risk factor. Thus, it is important to investigate the extent to which participation in religious settings can buffer and/or heighten the effects of discrimination through the development of collective self-esteem.
The role of discrimination
American Muslims have been regarded as the most recent recipients of America’s long tradition of public support and institutional sanction of the moral exclusion of minority groups, which both creates and strengthens an imposing discharge of social prejudice, media stereotypes, and public hysteria (Sirin & Fine, 2008). The practice of exclusion and oppression is reflected in particularly discriminatory behaviors that can include the abrogation of rights, denial of economic opportunities, and physical exclusion through institutionalization (Opotow, 1990). These institutionalized discriminatory practices have been documented to affect American Muslims and are coupled by a public support for such discrimination (Sirin & Fine, 2008). For example, after 9/11, 60% of Americans favored racial profiling directed at Arabs and Muslims (Howe, 2001) and more than 39% of Americans favored the proposal that American Muslims, including U.S. citizens, carry a special ID (Elias, 2006, as cited in Sirin & Fine, 2008). Indeed, according to a Newsweek poll (2007), the average American perceived the majority of American Muslims as glorifiers of suicide bombings and condoners of violence. In a study of Muslims five years later, 84.3 percent of the survey participants reported that they had experienced discrimination because of their religion or ethnicity during the past year, either at school, on the playground, while shopping, on the street, or in other public settings. These statistics suggest that American Muslim youth may be subject to real and/or perceived discrimination on a daily basis (Sirin & Fine, 2008).
Despite the potential negative effects associated with discrimination, some evidence suggests that discriminatory experiences can also promote heightened awareness (Watts, Griffith, & Abdul-Adil, 1999), particularly if youth are able to process such experiences in supportive contexts (Sirin, 2008; Watts et al., 1999). For instance, discrimination can allow American Muslim youth to grow conscious of their identity and shift the perception of discrimination from an individual’s problem to an ecological one (Caplan & Nelson, 1973), thus allowing them to understand their discriminatory experiences as part of a broader context of oppression and increase their critical consciousness regarding oppression and its various manifestations (Freire, 2000). Participation in religious settings may be one avenue through which youth contextualize and understand experiences of discrimination (Ahmed, 2009; Chen et al., 2012), suggesting that once American Muslim youth are able to “externalize” the discrimination and attribute it to an oppressive social context, they may be at a lower risk for internalizing the oppression they face (Kunst, Tajamal, Sam, & Ulleberg, 2011; Prilleltensky & Gonick, 1996).
Integrated identities as a vehicle to promote social action
Finally, higher American Muslim collective self-esteem may be associated with other positive developmental outcomes. Indeed, research conducted with American Muslim youth demonstrates that individuals with an integrated sense of self are cognizant of the forces of oppression and have a heightened awareness for educating others (Sirin & Fine, 2008). Unlike American Muslims of the past, who sometimes changed their names or hid their religion to escape mistreatment, research shows that those of the present are more willing to publicly assert their Muslim identity (Sirin & Fine, 2008). In fact, a study conducted by Sirin & Fine (2008) indicated that 75% of Muslim participants wanted to educate others about Islam and Muslims in general. Additionally, according to a 2004 Zogby poll, 82% of American Muslims are registered to vote, which reflects their willingness to assert their political rights, have their voices heard and participate in processes related to community engagement through social action (Sirin & Fine, 2010; Sirin et al., 2012). In addition, several studies have shown that increased affiliation with a religious aspect of identity can increase motivation to engage in the social and cultural affairs of one’s community (Sirin et al., 2012). For instance, religion often promotes social action through the emphasis on values that are consistent with being a “good citizen” and being socially responsible (Ahmed, 2009; Sirin et al., 2012). This study investigates the extent to which higher American Muslim collective self-esteem– a phenomenon hypothesized to be influenced by religious participation and discrimination– is associated with greater propensities to engage in social action (e.g., educating others, volunteering efforts to raise awareness).
The current study examines the relationships between American Muslim youth identity, perceived discrimination, and social action, using a cross sectional self-reported survey of 300 American Muslim youth. We examine the construct of collective self-esteem by assessing the degree to which youth endorse high levels of esteem relative to both their American and Muslim identities -- we term this duality American Muslim collective self-esteem. Specifically, this study is guided by the following hypotheses: (1) higher levels of perceived discrimination will be associated with higher American Muslim collective self-esteem (see figure 1A); (2) the relationship between perceived discrimination and American Muslim collective self-esteem will depend on the extent of the American Muslim youth’s participation in religious settings, with higher participation in religious settings promoting opportunities for youth to process discriminatory experiences and foster higher American Muslim collective self-esteem (see figure 1B); and that (3) higher American Muslim collective self-esteem will be associated with increased social action (see figure 1C).
Participants were 300 young emerging adults (71.7% women, 28.3% men) who self-identified as American Muslim youth, ranging in age from 18 to 25 years (Mean = 20.38, SD = 1.071). A majority of participants (74.6%) were born in the United States, reported speaking English as their first language (68%) and were American citizens (93%). Participants represented a wide range of ethnic backgrounds: 39.5% identified as Arab, 26.1% identified as South Asian, and the remaining participants came from a diverse group that identified as Asian, South East Asian, Turkish, White, Hispanic, African, African American, and Iranian. This is consistent with the literature that has stated that Arabs and South Asians are the largest immigrant Muslim groups in America (Leonard, 2003; Sirin & Fine, 2007). A majority of participants’ parents were born outside of the United States (95.5% of fathers, 90.6% of mothers), suggesting that almost all participants were firstborn generation American Muslims. In terms of parental education, 59% of fathers and 51.2% of mothers of participants had completed college or advanced degrees. Among American Muslim youth participants, 11.3% were high school students, 74.3 % were undergraduate students, and 14.5 % were pursuing advanced degrees. These statistics parallel the trends in the overall American Muslim population (Sirin & Fine, 2007). Finally, information on religious practices was collected to characterize the sample, over half of whom identify as practicing Muslims (see Table 1).
Table 1. Demographic Information
Data from this study came from a self-report survey administered by Inspiring American Muslim Youth (IAMY) think tank. Young men and women who self-identified as “American Muslim Youth” were recruited from a number of mosques, community-based organizations, and university-based organizations, (e.g., the Muslim Students Association) across the nation. Specifically, 10 states are classified as having the highest concentration of American Muslims according to the U.S. Census (i.e., New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, California, Illinois, Indiana, Texas and Ohio). The majority of the participants came from New York and New Jersey. The top ten universities in each state (according to www.4icu.org) were contacted and invited to participate in the study via email and social media (e.g., Facebook). If the college had a Muslim Students Association (n = 65), the survey was emailed to them and they were asked to forward it to their constituency and ask their constituency to forward it to other interested groups or individuals, consistent with snowball sampling methods. In addition, a Facebook event was created and sent to the Muslim Students Associations. Interested participants were directed to an online self-report survey hosted by fluidsurveys.com. Participants were informed that the study was aimed at understanding the development of American Muslim identity with a focus on the influence of religious participation, discrimination, and social activism. Once the electronic signature of consent was obtained, participants completed questionnaires on each relevant study construct. Each consenting participant was entered into raffles for three 50-dollar Amazon gift cards. Surveys were administered from September 2013 to February 2014.
Demographic and basic religious practice questionnaires were collected in order to characterize the sample (see Table 1).
Religious participation. Items were adapted from Sirin and Fine (2010) and assesses American Muslim youth’s engagement in Muslim-related religious activities (e.g., “For girls only, how often do you cover your hair, if at all?”; “If you are affiliated with a Muslim organization, how would you characterize your involvement?) and participation in formal organizations (e.g., mosques) in the past 6 months (e.g., “how often have you attended or heard an Islamic Lecture?” (see Table 2). Items were assessed on a 6-point scale ranging from 1 (Never) to 6 (Always). Higher scores indicated a higher degree of religious participation. Cronbach’s alpha for the items was .89, suggesting excellent internal consistency.
|Religious Activities||For girls only, how often do you cover your hair, if at all?|
|If you are affiliated with a Muslim organization, how would you characterize your involvement?|
|How often do you pray?|
|How often do you go to a mosque?|
|Overall, how active are you in your religious group?|
|How frequently do you fast Ramadan?|
|Participation in organizations in the last 6 months||How often have you attended or heard an Islamic Lecture?|
|How often have you participated in an Islamic convention or conference?|
|How often have you participated in activities as part of a Muslim-related community?|
|How often have you volunteered at a Muslim based organization?|
|How often have you made a charitable donation to or on behalf of a Muslim organization?|
|How often have you helped organize an event related to a Muslim organization?|
|How often have you spoken at a Muslim organized event?|
|How often have you engaged in creative projects as a way to express your identity as a Muslim?|
American Muslim youth identity. This modified Collective Self- Esteem measure (CSE; Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992) assesses the extent to which American Muslim youth perceive affiliation with, and belonging to, both their Muslim and American identities (Sirin et al., 2012). This measure has been used in previous research to examine a sense of belonging and importance (Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992), including for American Muslim Youth (Sirin et al., 2012). In this study, both the spheres of Muslim and American identity were measured separately in terms of three collective self-esteem components: (a) group membership (i.e., one’s judgment of self-worth as a member of one‘s cultural group); (b) private regard (i.e., one’s personal evaluation of one’s cultural group); and (c) identity importance, (i.e., how the significance of one‘s social group membership(s) influences one’s own self-concept). An example item of the American version for group membership is, “I feel I don't have much to offer to the American community.” A demonstrative item of the Muslim version for private regard is, “I feel good about the Muslim community I belong to.” Illustrative examples of identity importance for American and Muslims versions are, “In general, belonging to my Muslim community is an important part of my self-image”; “The American community I belong to is an important reflection of who I am.” The seven-point scale ranges from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree). For the current sample, the total American CSE and Muslim CSE scores were used, and Cronbach’s alpha were .89 and.82, respectively. In order to understand the extent to which youth reported a sense of identity importance regarding both their American and Muslim CSE, a sum composite score was created and used in substantive analyses, consistent with conceptualizations of American Muslim youth identity in previous research (Sirin et al., 2012). This sum composite of American and Muslim Collective Self Esteem is termed AMCSE.
Perceived discrimination. A 13-item modified version of the Societal, Attitudinal, Familial, and Environmental - Revised- Short Form (SAFE-Short; Mena, Padilla, & Maldonado, 1987) was used to measure the perceived discrimination against American Muslim youth (Sirin et al., 2012). Sirin, Abo-Zena and Shehadeh (2012) further adapted the measure based Amer and Hovey’s (2005) study with Arab Americans, to increase construct validity and reliability. The measure assesses experiences of perceived discrimination from mainstream American society. Some examples of the items included are: “It bothers me when the media portrays a negative image of Muslims or Muslim Americans”; “I am upset that most people consider the Muslim American community to be more dangerous than other groups”; “I feel uncomfortable when others make jokes about or put down Muslims” (Sirin et al., 2012). Response options were on a 6-point scale ranging from 2 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree), 1 signified that the participant had no relevant experience. The Cronbach’s alpha for the current sample was .90. A composite perceived discrimination score was calculated as the mean across all 13 items.
Social action. A modified version of the social activism questionnaire was derived to assess social action behaviors in the past six months under the pretense that these activities would challenge assumptions and/or address misconceptions about American Muslims to increase acceptance; promote integrating American Muslim’s identities and cultures; promote equal rights and practice for American Muslims; and develop relationships between American Muslims and other groups (Stake, Roades, Rose, Ellis, & West, 1994; Calogero, 2013). Each of the behaviors was followed by a set of seven questions assessing engagement in social action in regards to a behavior. An example of an item is, “Have you attended meetings, conferences, or workshops for social action.” The 32-item measure was assessed on a 7-point scale that ranges from 1 (Never) to 7 (All the time). Higher scores indicate greater engagement in social action. The Cronbach’s alpha for the current sample was .97, suggesting excellent internal consistency.
Substantive analyses followed three steps, paralleling the study hypotheses. For all analyses, education and gender were used as covariates, given their relationship to healthy identity development in previous research (Sirin, Bikmen, Mir, Fine, Zaal, & Katsiaficas, 2008). American Muslim collective self-esteem was the dependent variable for both research questions 1 and 2. First, in order to analyze the relationship between perceived discrimination and AMCSE, a hierarchical regression was conducted. The covariates were entered in block 1 and perceived discrimination (i.e., the independent variable) was entered in block 2. Second, in order to analyze the main and interactive effects of religious participation and perceived discrimination on AMCSE, a hierarchical linear regression was conducted. Covariates were entered in block 1, the main effects (i.e., perceived discrimination and religious participation) were entered in block 2, and the centered interaction term between perceived discrimination and religious participation was entered in block 3. Lastly, for hypothesis 3, the relationship between American Muslim collective self-esteem and engagement in social action behaviors was also assessed through a hierarchical linear regression. Social action was the dependent variable, block 1 consisted of the covariates and block 2 consisted of American Muslim collective self-esteem (i.e., the independent variable).
American Muslim collective self-esteem. Overall, the sample’s American collective self-esteem was relatively high (M=5.10, SD= 1.21). This was also the case when considering the specific facets of American CSE, the participants’ judgment of self-worth as Americans (i.e., group membership) was particularly high (M= 5. 42, SD = 1.24). Further, American identity was regarded as relatively “highly important” in relation to participants’ own self-concept (i.e., identity importance; M= 5.01, SD= 1.29). The lowest of the 3 composites of the American identity was private regard (M=4.86, SD= 1.31), which measures one’s personal evaluation of the American culture.
Overall, the sample’s Muslim identity was also high (M=5.42, SD= 1.32). The participants’ judgment of self-worth as Muslims (i.e., group membership) was also particularly highly regarded (M= 5.33, SD = 1.38). Participants regarded their Muslim identity as highly important to their sense of self-concept (i.e., identity importance; M= 5.43, SD= 1.33). The highest of the 3 composites of the Muslim identity was private regard (M=5.82, SD= 1.27), which measures one’s personal evaluation of the Muslim culture (see Table 3).
Table 3. Descriptive characteristics Among Key Study Variables
Religious Participation and Discrimination. Based on the demographic questionnaires, participants scored relatively high on religiosity. Specifically, the majority of females (64.3%) always observe the practice of wearing the Muslim headscarf, over two-thirds of all participants consistently pray 5 times daily (69%), half attend mosque at least once a week (54.1%), and a majority always fast during the holy month of Ramadan (88.2%). When asked how active they are in their religious groups, 56.8% of the participants indicated they do so “often”, “almost always”, or “always”. The median religious participation score was 3.0, corresponding to a moderate level of religious participation. Similarly, participants reported an average level of moderate participation in religious settings (M= 3.23, SD= 1.16) with the mean falling around the mid-point of the scale. Discrimination was assessed through participant’s self-reports of the extent to which they perceived being discriminated against, covertly or more subtly. The rates at which participants perceived discrimination were high (M=3.95, SD= 1.27), with about half of American Muslim youth indicating moderate-to-high perceived discrimination.
Social Action. The social action measure assessed the degree to which participants had a tendency to engage in specific social action-related behaviors in the past 6 months. The social action measure specifically assessed direct action such as passing out flyers, attending meetings, and attending demonstrations. Participants, on average, report variability in their social action tendencies, with about half reporting lower to moderate levels of social action (M= 2.98, SD= 1.51).
Bivariate correlations among key study variables were examined (see Table 4). American Muslim Collective Self Esteem (AMCSE) was moderately positively correlated with religious participation (r =.33, p<.001), perceived discrimination (r=.23, p<.001), and social action (r=.20, p<.05). Discrimination was not correlated with religious participation or social action. Religious participation was moderately correlated with social action (r=.36, p<.001).
Table 4. Bivariate correlations among key variables
Hierarchical Multiple Regressions. For all analyses, education and gender were included as covariates in all models. Education (B= .16, SE= 1.74, p=.02) was significantly related to American Muslim collective self-esteem while gender was not. In order to address the first research question, only perceived discrimination was entered into the second block of the model to ascertain its relationship with AMCSE. The results indicated that perceived discrimination (B= .23, SE= .92, p=.001) was significantly positively related to AMCSE.
Table 5. Regression analysis examining the influence of religious participation and discrimination on AMCSE
In order to address the second research question, a hierarchical linear regression was conducted to assess the extent to which participation in religious settings would moderate the relationship between discrimination and American Muslim collective self-esteem (see Table 5). After entering covariates, the main effects of religious participation and perceived discrimination were entered, and neither were significant predictors of American Muslim collective self-esteem (when both variables were included in the model). However, the interaction between religious participation and perceived discrimination was a significant predictor (B= .43, SE= .16, p<.001) of AMCSE. In order to address the directionality of the variables, a post-hoc analysis was conducted. Specifically, a median split of religious participation was created and split religious participation into dichotomous categories of high and low. The interaction graph (see Figure 2) was examined under the presence of high and low religious participation. Results showed that there was no association between discrimination and American Muslim collective self-esteem when participants reported low religious participation. However, there was a significant positive association (r = .46, p < .001) between discrimination and American Muslim collective self-esteem in the presence of high religious participation. A follow-up Fisher’s z-test was conducted, and suggests a significant difference in the correlation between discrimination and American Muslim collective self-esteem in high versus low religious participation groups (z = 3.4, p < .01).
In order to address the third research question a hierarchical linear regression was conducted to assess the relationship between American Muslim collective self-esteem and social action. Both gender and education were entered into block 1, and neither were significant predictors of AMCSE. However, American Muslim collective self-esteem (B= .21, SE= .01, p=.01) was significantly positively associated with social action, suggesting that higher degrees of American Muslim collective self-esteem were associated with higher self-reports of social action.
One other set of exploratory analyses was conducted in order to examine the relationship between all substantive variables and social action in the context of one model. Specifically, a hierarchical linear regression (3-blocks) was conducted. The effects of the covariates (block 1), the main and interactive effects of religious participation and discrimination (block 2), and American Muslim collective self-esteem (block 3) on social action were all explored. The interaction term between religious participation and perceived discrimination (B=.352, SE=.02, p< .001) significantly relates to social action. However, American Muslim collective self-esteem and the covariates were not significantly related to social action.
The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of religious participation and perceived discrimination on American Muslim collective self-esteem, and the influence of collective self-esteem on social action. This study has two primary implications. First, results indicate the relationship between perceived discrimination and collective self-esteem depended on the extent to which American Muslim youth were active participants of their religious settings. Specifically, for youth who report higher relative participation in Muslim student organizations, greater perceived discrimination predicts greater collective self-esteem. On the other hand, for youth who report lower relative participation in Muslim student associations, there is no relationship between perceived discrimination and collective self-esteem. This set of findings suggests that active participation in organized student organizations may not only buffer the potential negative impact of discrimination, but may actually promote a process by which discriminatory experiences translated in meaningful ways to the integration of youth’s American and Muslim identities (i.e., higher overall American Muslim collective self-esteem).
A second implication of the current study is that a greater degree of American Muslim collective self-esteem was associated with greater endorsements of social action. This suggests that integration of the American and Muslim dimensions of identity is associated with the propensity of youth to engage in civic action and potentially become active change agents in their communities. In the following sections, we discuss these findings in light of 3 key areas: 1) perceived discrimination and its potential to promote greater identify integration, 2) the impact of participation in settings and their potential to buffer negative threats to identity, and 3) the role of healthy collective self-esteem as a springboard for social action.
Discrimination and its potential to promote greater identity integration
Discrimination has often been perceived as a risk factor for healthy identity development (Krieger, Rowley, Herman, Avery, & Phillips, 1993). However, findings from the current study suggest that perceived discrimination, in the context of high religious participation, can in fact work to promote American Muslim collective self-esteem (i.e., a marker of integrated identity), despite its negative impact. Though causal inferences cannot be drawn, discrimination may provide an opportunity for American Muslim youth to grow conscious of their identity and search for the roots of discrimination. Greater consciousness, a precipitant of self-reflection, is associated with collective self-esteem and other related experiences such as self-efficacy, empowerment, and empathy/understanding, and is part of the process of externalizing oppression (Kunst et al., 2011) and the development of critical consciousness around multiple dimensions of identity. However, this relationship is only evident in instances when youth report high levels of religious participation suggesting that connection to religious settings can create a space in which American Muslim youth are able to understand their experiences of discrimination in ways that promote healthy identity negotiation (Kunst et al., 2011). In this way, the combination of perceived discrimination and connection to a religious setting may facilitate a process by which American Muslim youth are able to acknowledge their experiences of discrimination, locate it in an oppressive social context, and allow for the integration of their American and Muslim identities. Importantly, we also note that, overall, participants from this study reported relatively high levels of perceived discrimination, further underscoring the need to understand the ways in which the impact of discrimination can be mitigated for Muslim American youth.
The role of religious settings in healthy identity development
Relatedly, the second main finding suggests that discrimination is only associated with higher American Muslim collective self-esteem in the presence of high religious participation. This suggests that religious settings can play an important role in helping youth process discriminatory experiences and promote healthy collective self-esteem, which may be the case for several reasons. Religious settings provide a set of standard actions and processes for youth to follow while exposing youth to people and mentors of similar beliefs, values and experiences (Ahmed, 2009; Erikson, 1965). Furthermore, religious settings can promote a sense of community and belonging (Todd, 2010), often through the development of interpersonal connections with peers, mentors, and institutions that can aid the process of identifying niches (Ahmed, 2009; Sirin & Fine, 2008). By providing a space to congregate and experience belonging, religious settings can promote opportunities for youth to develop and negotiate healthy identity (Ahmed, 2009; Cook, 2000; Erikson, 1965).
Indeed, the potential power of settings to influence healthy development is not a new concept, as suggested by research examining the influence of settings on pro-social outcomes (Barker, 1968; Moos, 1973). Seminal work in the field of community psychology has documented the influence of settings on individual and collective wellbeing (Barker, 1968; Moos, 1973). According to Barker (1968) settings have considerable importance in determining an individual’s behavior because they are characterized by behavioral “scripts”, which are a set of rules or norms that direct behavior. In this study, high religious participation could have promoted a set of behavioral scripts that allowed for youth to share and reflect upon experiences of discrimination, and in turn, promote the development of collective self-esteem. This parallels research on other types of religious settings, which have been shown to impact personal beliefs (e.g., social justice prioritization) and behaviors (e.g., social justice participation; Todd, 2010). This study supports the current literature by suggesting that, in face of perceived discrimination, religious settings may provide youth with the behavioral scripts and opportunities to develop self-regulatory behaviors and coping mechanisms that ultimately promote healthy identity development (Ahmed, 2009; Cook, 2000).
Another way in which settings can accord influence is through the social climates they invoke (Moos, 1973). A social climate refers to the shared perceptions and value systems that settings can foster for the individuals that they encompass (Moos, 1973). Particular dimensions of social climates included the extent to which they foster relationships (i.e., mutual supportiveness, involvement and cohesion of its members), personal development (i.e., whether individual autonomy, growth, and skill development are fostered) and system maintenance and change (i.e., emphasis on order, clarity of rules, and expectation, and control of behavior; Moos, 1973). In this study, participants’ may have experienced one or more dimensions of positive social climate by virtue of their participation in religious settings. Their religious settings may have fostered personal development and stronger interpersonal connections, which, in turn, contributed to healthier identity development.
Current research further suggests that engagement with and connection to a variety of settings is a critical part of healthy development because settings provide a collective socialization experience whereby youth learn to cope with differing sets of activities, roles, expectations, and relationships (Jencks & Mayer, 1990). Salient examples include the association between engagement in school and higher academic achievement (McLoyd, 1998), as well as the relationship between higher resourced neighborhoods and lower high school dropout and teenage pregnancy (Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, Klebanov, & Sealand, 1993), even after accounting for the effects of individual level variability (e.g., in socioeconomic characteristics; Black & Krishnakumar, 1998).
Healthy identity as a springboard for social action
The final implication of the current study is that healthy and integrated identity, as measured through higher levels of collective self-esteem, is associated with greater self-reports of specific social action behaviors. This is consistent with the mixed-methods literature on American Muslim youth that suggests that integrating American and Muslim aspects of identity is associated with greater desire to educate others (Sirin & Fine, 2010; Sirin et al., 2012). To better understand this finding we can examine the subdimensions of the American Muslim collective self-esteem, which includes an individual’s identity importance, private regard, and group membership for both their American and Muslim identities. Regarding both identities as important (i.e., social group membership(s) significantly influences self-concept), may promote the prioritization of both identities and the integration of both identities into a youth’s self-image. Having high private regard (i.e., personal evaluation of cultural group) for both identities may promote the desire to contribute to American society as an American Muslim and, in turn, having high group membership (i.e., judging self-worth as a member of a cultural group) can enhance feelings of worthiness and usefulness in both communities, increasing motivation to be a catalyst for positive change in Muslim and American cultures (Sirin et al., 2012; Todd & Allen, 2011). Though future research is needed to identify the specific mechanisms by which American Muslim collective self-esteem can influence social action, this study is one of the first to evidence the link between American Muslim collective self-esteem and social action.
Current mixed methods research on American Muslim youth identity suggests that high American Muslim collective self-esteem is an indicator of either parallel or integrated identity (Sirin & Fine, 2010; Sirin et al., 2012). Integrated identity refers to blending the Muslim and American identities fully and in a nonconflicting way. Youth with integrated identities are able to view their multiple identities as components of a larger identity that can exist with little or minimal conflict. In qualitative studies with American Muslim youth, integrated identity has been associated with experiences related to social action, such as the desire to educate others (Sirin et al., 2012). Parallel identity refers to the development of both aspects of identity in equally strong ways, but without full integration. Thus, youth may engage in “code switching” and identify more or less with one dimension of identity depending on time and place (Ewing, 1998). Results from this study suggest that parallel identity can also promote social action, and underscore the need for future research to examine the extent to which different forms of identity (i.e., integrated versus parallel) are related in different ways to social action.
Limitations and Strengths
Findings must be interpreted with attention to strengths and limitations of the current study. Limitations of this study include the inability to distinguish between the different groups of hyphenated selves (i.e., conflicted, parallel, and integrated). Future studies can incorporate other quantitative ways to measure American Muslim collective self-esteem that can distinguish between different categories of hyphenated selves (Sirin et al., 2012). It must be noted that the overall participant sample came from individuals associated with Muslim groups which does not address “unmosqued” individuals (religious adherents who do not affiliate with any particular Islamic center or community). Additionally, this study investigated relationships between discrimination, religious participation, American Muslim collective self-esteem, and social action using multiple regression models. Future studies can examine the interrelationships among these variables using more sophisticated methodology, such as structural equation modeling. Furthermore, this study conceptualizes high religious participation as a proxy for engagement in religious settings. Though survey questions specifically ask participants to think about religious settings, this study did not directly examine setting level variability. It is thus important for future research to examine religious settings directly in relation to American Muslim youth identity, utilizing methods such as hierarchical linear modeling.
In addition, there were relatively fewer male than female participants in this study. This discrepancy was addressed by controlling for gender in all models of analysis. Still, future research should incorporate a larger pool of American Muslim youth, which would enable them to view the data through a more gendered lens, and potentially discover other trends. In relation to this point, it is important to contextualize the nature of youth’s religious participation based on their gender. For instance, women’s engagement in religious settings can be limited due to different cultural rules that dictate the particular settings of which they are a part. Similarly, particular religious requirements may be more pronounced depending on an individuals’ gender (e.g., participation in Friday prayer for men; use of hijab for women). These limitations are important for future research that may seek to examine Muslim American youth identity with a gender-specific lens; However, we note that this study attempted to reduce the impact of some of these limitations by recruiting from Muslim student associations and assessing a broad array of indicators that could assess religious participation.
Additionally, although the study focused on American Muslim youth at a national level, the majority of our participants came from New York and New Jersey, limiting the universality of the findings. Future studies should take into account different contexts and statuses (e.g., home state, immigration status, etc.) that characterize American Muslim youth. Finally, since self-report data were used, these findings are subject to potential social desirability bias. However, anonymity of the participants was enforced and established scales were used for all constructs assessed in order to control for the potential bias.
Despite the limitations, this study contributes to a burgeoning but relatively new literature on a growing population of youth within the US. One of the strengths of this study is that it is one of the first to examine the effect of identity integration quantitatively in a population of 300 American Muslim youth across multiple states in the US. The inclusion of reliable and valid measures provided a systematic and uniform way to operate and analyze constructs of interests (e.g., religious participation, perceived discrimination, American Muslim collective self-esteem, and social action), and results replicate and extend previous research on American Muslim youth.
This study addresses an important gap in research related to youth identity development in American Muslim youth. It focused on the factors that predict (e.g., religious participation and discrimination) and the outcomes (e.g., social action) that are related to overall American Muslim collective self-esteem, which is a marker of integrated (i.e., healthier) identity development. This examination distinguished between high and low religious participation and investigated religious participation in the relationship between perceived discrimination and collective self-esteem, and, in doing so, contribute to the understudied area on the impact of discrimination for American Muslim youth. In fact, the results indicate that within the population of American Muslim youth, perceiving discrimination, in the context of high religious participation, accords to higher levels of American Muslim collective self-esteem. However, in the context of low religious participation, perceived discrimination is not related to American Muslim collective self-esteem. In addition, American Muslim collective self-esteem is related to a propensity to engage in social action. These findings were interpreted with respect to literature on American Muslim collective self-esteem and the role of religious settings. The study provides implications for future research and intervention programming on action that may promote higher collective self-esteem and provide opportunities to engage in social action.
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