Introduction The emergence of a Muslim American identity during the past decade presents a unique example of identity as a socially constructed phenomenon. The popular media, government agencies, and, more important, Muslims themselves have increasingly adopted the label “Muslim American” to refer to Americans of this specific religious origin despite the vast ethnic, racial, linguistic, theological, and historical differences among Muslims. Growing public interest in Muslims in general and Muslim Americans in particular has led to many public debates in the popular media, but it has not yet led to adequate empirical work to better understand the unique experiences of Muslims in the United States (see Sirin & Balsano, 2007). In order to better understand how immigrant youth of Muslim backgrounds negotiate their identities in politically difficult times, specifically in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, we conducted three independent studies with elementary school students who come from immigrant-origin Muslim families (Sirin, Ryce, & Mir, 2009), adolescents (Sirin & Fine, 2007), and young adults (Sirin et al., 2008). Through surveys, interviews, identity maps, and focus groups, immigrant-origin Muslim American youth vividly portrayed the many challenges of being Muslim in the post-9/11 United States context. At the same time, and contrary to our expectations, they also found the strength and courage to claim both their Muslim and American identities by putting these aspects of their identity together in their “hyphenated selves” (see Sirin & Fine, 2007, 2008 for a more detailed discussion). Our findings show how a group of young people, caught in an historical struggle, traveled the distance between their Muslim and American identities. In this chapter we will briefly outline our findings in an effort to provide an empirical base to better understand the needs and strengths of this group of youth. Given the lack of demographic information about the population, the first section of the chapter is devoted to a brief introduction to Muslims and Muslim Americans.
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