Shams, Tahseen. 2022. "Race, Religion, and Geopolitics: Dating and Romance Among South Asian Muslim Immigrants in Canada." Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review. https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/srac015.
Using the “complex religion” framework, this article shows the importance of religion while recognizing how race, national origin, and geopolitics shape how Muslims navigate their romantic lives. Based on 50 in-depth interviews of South Asian Muslim immigrants in Canada on interfaith and interracial romance, I show that taken-for-granted labels “Muslim” and “South Asian” are ambiguous even for the participants as they navigate the search for compatible partners. Race and ethnicity are important components alongside religion and sect that together give meaning to negotiations about who is a “real” Muslim. And despite a sense of panethnic desi groupness, religion, sect, and nationality create fissures that challenge and limit notions of brown solidarity on the ground, even for children of immigrants. Finally, I identify how another important yet overlooked dimension of Muslimness—global geopolitics—shapes participants’ romantic pursuits. Overall, this article problematizes current approaches to studying Muslim immigrant experiences in the West.
Arguing for more conceptual specificity regarding the term “Muslim diaspora,” I identify two conflation problems in the scholarship on Muslim immigrants. First, the immigrants’ “Muslimness,” which refers to the signifiers, thought-processes, discourses, and actions that others perceive as associated with Islam, is often conflated with the immigrants being “Muslims”—i.e., members of a discrete, bounded group supposedly different from non-Muslims. Second, Muslims’ transnational engagements—meaning, their cross-border ties between exclusively the sending and receiving countries—are often conflated as being diasporic—connections targeted towards other Muslims abroad motivated by a sense of religious solidarity. Consequently, researchers have been largely unable to distinguish Muslims’ religious performance from an ethnic one and have taken Muslims’ immigrant transnationalism as evidence of an emerging “Muslim” “diasporic” consciousness. This review article parses existing scholarship on Muslim immigrants in the West and offers a new way of conceptualizing “Muslim diaspora” to move past these ambiguities. It offers the concept of “heartland”—distinct from immigrants’ “homeland”—to better distinguish Muslims’ religion-based diasporic expressions from their ethnicity-based transnational ones.
Honorable Mention, Best Scholarly Article Award 2020, Global and Transnational Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association
Precariousness is the notion that unstable and temporary employment can induce in those engaged feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. As a “successful” minority because of their high education-levels and economic attainments, South Asian Americans can hardly be described as precarious. However, ethnographic observations reveal a collective precariousness felt by this group. Despite measures of success, their positionality as a racialized and stigmatized religious “Other” induces in them an insecurity akin to that felt by those un(der)employed. They fear that despite their achievements, they can be discriminated against in their workplace because of their race and religion. This anxiety influences their education and career choices, and political engagements. Theoretically, precariousness is largely conceptualized to be contained within national borders. However, South Asian Muslim Americans’ precariousness is influenced by that of Muslims of other nationalities abroad, underscoring its transnational dimension and how it can extend beyond immediate networks and physical borders.
Based on ethnographic data on South Asian Muslims in Los Angeles and analysis of publications of the largest Muslim organization in North America, I show that at the individual-level, Muslim Americans try to distance themselves from the “Muslim” label, which associates them with “terrorists.” Instead, many self-categorize into the seemingly more favorable “moderate” identity, which tends to render Muslims politically passive in the long run. Contrastingly, Muslim organizations strive to construct a “Muslim American” identity that can allow Muslims to engage in mainstream politics by “Islam-izing” core components of American culture on the one hand, and “Americanizing” tenets of Islamic beliefs on the other. Theoretically, this article engages with the scholarship on security, surveillance, and visibility to show how the observed’s visibility is not always only repressive, but can be used to resist imposed categories—but only to some extent, as my findings reflect how the racialization of Muslims and the security regime give these identity-making strategies a double-edge. While these strategies provide Muslims with some advantage in getting ahead in day-to-day lives, these do little to dismantle Muslims’ hypervisibility and can even serve to reinforce the largely adverse climate of surveillance, security, and control.
Largely overlooked in the international migration literature, migration from the Muslim world can reveal how the combination of globalization and ongoing homeland tensions shapes immigrants’ collective identity formation in the hostland. Using the case of Bangladeshi Muslims in Los Angeles, this article ethnographically traces how ongoing and historic homeland, hostland, and global political–religious contexts shape immigrants’ everyday struggles over identity categories through two distinct but overlapping processes: (1) the immigrants’ exposure to a more expanded, diverse range of people in the hostland; (2) their import of homeland cleavages to the receiving society. It argues that through international migration, migrants both produce and experience globalization, consequently both reiterating and reconstructing their identity categories in the hostland. It also shows how the immigrants’ cross-border ties to not only their homeland and hostland but also to nation-states beyond shape their identity-work, thus revealing conceptual ambiguities about transnationalism and diaspora.
Shams, Tahseen. 2015. "The Declining Significance of Race or the Persistent Racialization of Blacks?: A Conceptual, Empirical, and Methodological Review of Today's Race Debate in America." Journal of Black Studies 46(3): 282-296.
The sociological literature of the past several decades has emphasized two apparently contradictory perspectives—the “declining significance of race” and persistent racialization of Blacks. This article surveys the empirical evidence in support of both these perspectives and attempts to explain this seeming contradiction. Based on a thorough review of recent literature on this polarized debate, this article argues that proponents of the decline of race argument misconceptualize race and apply methodologies that fail to measure the hidden ways in which structural racism still operates against African Americans today.
The existing literature on Muslims in post-9/11 America largely focuses on cities where Muslims are organized and visible in large numbers. This interview-based qualitative study instead focuses on Bangladeshi Muslims in Mississippi. Using intersectionality and impression management as analytical tools, I explore how these individuals negotiate their identities to navigate interactions with Mississippi’s predominantly White Christian society. I identify three patterns of impression management: distancing religious identity, highlighting ethnicity, and confronting stereotypes. These patterns provide insight into the conceptual tools used, as well as the overarching racial dynamics in America. This article is the only research conducted thus far on this minority in Mississippi.
In the context of a growing campaign to focus more international development efforts on women and girls, this article presents a pathways model of multigenerational global human development through an examination of gender and women as agents of development in the context of motherhood. As the vast majority of the world’ s women are mothers, issues related to motherhood are fundamental to addressing gender and development. Based on the United Nations’ concept of human development and a review of the literature, we explore how women are uniquely effective development agents in that increases in women’ s access to income, education, and health often have higher potential payoffs compared with men in terms of the next generation and beyond. A human development paradigm that does not fully include women is both an injustice to half of the world’ s population and a missed opportunity for maximizing human development for both men and women in generations to come. Gender and development policies must consider the enhancement of human capacities for long-term improved quality of life, and they must address structural barriers to equality to not only allow women more opportunities in the public sphere but also to transform gender relations in the domestic sphere.
Photo Credit: BUFLA