Identity construction in post-apartheid South Africa: the case of the Muslim community
Hassan, Rania Hussein Abdel Rahman
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Since the end of apartheid, issues pertaining to South African identity construction have attracted increased scholarly attention. This is reflected in a growing body of literature in several disciplines that analyze identities in post-apartheid South Africa. At the same time, a number of factors led to an equally increasing interest in Islamic and Muslim politics. However, the interest remains to a great extent concerned with the history of Islam in Africa, with very little attention paid to contemporary Muslim politics in its broader sense or indeed what this means in the South African context. This thesis, about Muslims’ identities in South Africa, aims to merge these two fields of identities in-formation and Muslim politics. In an attempt to unpack identity discourses within the Muslim community in South Africa, the study will address three main questions: How are Muslims’ identities formulated? How do they relate to each other? And how do they develop in different contexts? In order to answer the aforementioned questions the thesis will focus on how religious identities intersect with other levels of identification mainly national, ethnic and political identities. By answering the broader questions about identity construction processes, the thesis is able to address several other more specific questions. For example, what kind of interplay exists between the different identities such as those that are religious, ethnic, socio-economic or political? What does this interplay suggest in terms of the hierarchy of identities in different contexts? Instead of using identity as an analytical category, the thesis adopts the term ‘identification’, which reflects both the processes according to which identities are formulated as well as the context contingent nature of identities. After analyzing the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings of identity construction, the rest of the thesis discusses the extent to which Islam has informed Muslims’ identities at three separate, yet intersected and connected, levels. At the political identity level, I argue that religious identity has relatively little bearing on the articulation of Muslims’ political identities in post-apartheid South Africa, by comparison with the apartheid era when political activism of Muslims was heavily charged by Islamic ethos and principles. I also argue that the stance adopted by Islamic religious bodies in the anti-apartheid struggle undermined their influence within the Muslim community to a great extent as far as political identities are concerned. In other contexts however, religious bodies enjoy a more prominent role; that is particularly evident in negotiating Muslims’ rights regarding Muslim Personal Law, which is highlighted as a case in point to show how citizenship, and thus national identity, is intertwined with religious identity. At a third and final level, ethnic identities within the Muslim community are examined through the inter-community relations, which reveal that racial and ethnic identification is best understood through both cultural as well as structural approaches.