Being young and Muslim in the U.S. means navigating multiple identities. Nothing shows that more than falling in love.
Like other U.S. Muslims of her generation, Ahmed has spent a lifetime toggling between various aspects of her identity. She got to prom night by promising her mother she’d go with a gay guy. She swapped marriage in her 20s for a master’s degree. She even followed a band as it toured the country—a coming-of-age story straight out of Hollywood, except that it was a Muslim punk group called the Kominas.
“It would have been so much easier if I would have just gotten an arranged marriage,” she said. “But my parents were really half-hearted about it.”
Certain big life moments tend to force a reckoning with cultural identities. And there’s nothing that invites more questions about identity and values than figuring out who to date and marry.
American culture often presents two opposing paths for young Muslims. On one side are people like President Donald Trump, who retweets unverified videos purporting to show Muslim violence; says things like “I think Islam hate us”; and claims there’s “no real assimilation” among even second- and third-generation Muslims in the U.S. On the other are movies like The Big Sick, which depicts the autobiographical love story of Kumail Nanjiani, a Muslim comedian who rejects religion and falls in love with a white woman, devastating his immigrant family.
In reality, most Muslims are somewhere in between. U.S. Muslims—roughly 60 percent of whom are under 40—are going through a process that’s quintessentially American: finding new, diverse, self-constructed identities in their faith, ranging from fully secular to deeply pious. The contours may be particular to Islam, but the story is one shared by Catholics, Jews, and even the Puritans. Muslims are creating distinctively American forms of their religion.