Navigating the Cultural Divide: Islam, Gender, and the Integration of Somali Immigrants

In: Sociology of Islam
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  • 1 Denison University, PhD, Ohio State University

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This article explores gender notions and practices among American-Somalis in Columbus, Ohio. Theorists have disputed whether original or new culture should influence immigrants’ evolving identities. Interviews with thirty-eight immigrants revealed a more decisive third mode of discourse that seems to transcend the two cultural ends—namely, Islam. Participants invoke Islam to justify adopting new gender arrangements demanded by new circumstances. In other cases they cite Islam to legitimize severing ties with customs perceived as unsavory in the original culture.

This middle way between homogenizing assimilation and compartmentalizing pluralism is based on economic pressures and on rediscovering/rereading Islamic texts, emancipated from older interpretations. Doing so, participants distance themselves from aspects of the original culture while reframing cherished elements of the new culture as “Islamic”. For them, Islam facilitates transcultural integration, enabling hybrid identities and behavioral patterns to coexist, and creating dynamic, novel, and genuinely cross-civilizational representations of “modern” community and agency.

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     For example, Roble and Rutledge 2008: 95 and Hirsi 2009.

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