Halaqa As a Place for Navigating Identities and Cultures: An Ethnographic Study of Muslim, Bangladeshi American Youth in Bay Area, California

Sunday, 10 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 32 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Zahedus SADAT, UC Davis, USA
In the post 9-11 era, academics from diverse departments such as religious studies, sociology, anthropology and geography, have joined the discourse regarding Muslim communities, youth and identities in the west (Goody, 2004; Peach, 1990; Peach & Gale, 2003). However most of these studies highlight the debate between Islam and the West while ignoring the critical debate, contestations and negotiations within the Muslim world, especially between the first and later generations of Muslim immigrants in the west. One of the sites where there is an evolving debate of the teachings and practice of Islam is a halaqa which is an informal gathering to learn about the teachings and practice of Islam.

            I have been engaged in a critical ethnographic study (including participant observation, individual interviews, focus group discussions and workshops) of a family-based halaqa organized and run by about Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants in California for the last three years. There are about ten to twelve middle-class Bangladeshi immigrant families which attend the halaqa sessions regularly. All the parents are first generation immigrants who were born in Bangladesh and then immigrated to USA; the youth are second generation Bangladeshi Americans who were all born in the USA.

 I look at how youth negotiate and contest their ‘hyphenated’, fluid, Muslim-Bangladeshi-American selves in this setting. I also explore how the nature of the halaqa is cosmopolitan: on one hand there is a tendency to focus on Bangaldeshi culture while the other hand there is a tendency to connect with globalized ideas and practices of Islam. Halaqa thus serves as a place for the Muslim-Bangladeshi-American youth to negotiate their fluid identities and connectivity to the Bangladeshi diaspora by practicing their religion and culture while also adapting to life as global citizens.