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Having an identity is important to most people, whether this identity is shaped through aspects such as nationality, religion, occupation, gender or ethnicity, to name but a few. Finding that identity takes time for some, and in a globalised world where trends and preferences seemingly change overnight, it’s not always easy to find firm footing. People who find themselves in minority (or marginalised) groups can find it even harder to forge an identity, leading many to live with uncertainty about how to embrace and express themselves within society.

The concept of identity is a complex one that permeates various aspects of human life. It can be viewed as what makes one individual different from another. While defining oneself by nationality is an aspect of identity, it can also involve language, personal beliefs, preferences and lifestyle. Each of these aspects represents one way an individual can identify and belong within a group – and just as there are different aspects, there are many ways to define one’s identity.

This understanding is pertinent in a modern world where Muslims, identifying through the Islamic faith, might find it hard to define their identity. In a world where Islamophobia has gained traction and extremists justify their actions in the name of Islam, it has been hard for some Muslims to define and embrace their identity. In various parts of the world, Islam and those who practice the faith are portrayed in a negative light and associated with oppression, warfare and violence. Anti-Muslim hate crimes are common, and the faith itself is routinely misinterpreted within political systems and Western culture.

It’s against this backdrop that Fiyaz Mughal OBE, the Founder and Director of Faith Matters and former Director of Tell MAMA, looks at the Islamic faith and sets out to clarify its true nature in the book Muslim Identity in a Turbulent Age: Islamic Extremism and Western Islamophobia, which he co-authored together with Mike Hardy and Sarah Markiewicz.

The book combines the diverse contributions of various voices, all corresponding to the message of peace highlighted by the King of Jordan’s Amman Message – that Islam and peace are intertwined. Through the book, Mr Mughal and his co-authors present fresh perspectives on the religion, the role of faith communities in spreading peace and seeking reconciliation, and how Islam stands out despite the prevalence of extremism and Islamophobia.

One of the book’s key points is that the authors believe the Islamic identity is constantly changing. As Muslims around the world search for identity, they are faced with the challenge of sifting what’s true from what’s not. Negative media portrayals and internal struggles for unity within the Muslim world haven’t helped, but the authors believe that the collection of essays in the book is a starting point for bringing people together towards a common understanding.

A Global Identity

Traditionally, Muslims have come together through a common identity as believers and followers of the Quran and the prophet Muhammad. Their formative history and spiritual heritage are to be found in the teachings chronicled in the Quran, rather than drawing their identity on where they lived. While the effects of globalisation are felt even through religion, it’s still common to experience Muslims of different tongues and genealogies recognising each other as brothers.

Regions of the world where Islam is the predominant religion regard it more than just a system of belief and worship, but rather as a way of life. Worldwide, the community of Muslims use the term ummah to describe the global unity in the faith and how each member is part of the wider community, regardless of where they live.