Religion has always played a big role in my life. My parents are both very religious but allowed their children to find their own paths. Religious identity and conflict are present in Aminul Hoque’s book titled British-Islamic Identity. This is evident when the author says ‘Identification with British Islam for many third-generation Bangladeshis is a social construction lodged in contingency and conditional on certain structural and symbolic resources. Among others, these include a seemingly antagonistic foreign policy towards Muslim countries, poverty, the ideal of a global umma, a sense of victimhood in an Islamophobic society, shared customs, styles of clothing, diet, and social habits,’ The mention of ‘conditional’ connotes that there is an end to identifying as a British Muslim and that it is based on this thing that can change. Factors such as styles of clothing are materialistic, and circumstances can change at any given moment so if a Muslim can’t keep up with the trends does that make them any less of a Muslim? This also links in with the point of giving to charity and doing charity work. Members may not be able to donate as much as they previously could because of changing financial conditions or even as much time due to too many different reasons, one could be being in full-time employment. Will the identification no longer exist because members can no longer donate as much money or time? The good thing about the global umma is that it is true. As Muslims are targeted globally, we all stand united and do what we can to help our Muslim brothers and sisters. This sense of community and brotherhood sisterhood is what draws many people into the religion. A sort of family and type of love that cannot be found elsewhere.
My own experience with religion has been more good than bad. Being in a predominately Bangladeshi area means you’ll constantly be judged. In my own experience, it has been with my clothes and members thinking it is not modest enough. I am also under constant scrutiny because I wear the hijab and so the rest of my attire must match up to that. Non-hijabi girls receive just as much judgment as I do simply because they do not want to cover their hair. Another conflict under the topic of religion I face is the constant fear I feel of being attacked. Even though London is a very multifaith city, Muslims only make up 12%. Islam is portrayed to be a very violent religion in the media. And as today's society is brainwashed by social media, people believe everything that is said about Islam online.
From the color of the clothes, we wear to the types of toys we play with, the social construction of gender begins before we are even born. Another component of identity is gender. When reflecting on gender we must divide it into 2 clear sections. The first is sexual. Physically we can understand that males and females are built differently. In general, men are seen to be stronger than women physically and because of this, it is thought that men should look after women. Women and men are also believed to think differently, with men looking at the bigger picture whilst females focus on the finer details. Cultural differences include stereotypes, the most common being that men should be the breadwinners and women should stay at home and look after the children and the house. Sociologists' newfound interest in identity stems from the fact that we have an identity crisis. Although the nuclear family still exists, the shift in family form signifies some instability in gender roles.
In the Bangladeshi community, men get a lot more freedom than women simply because of their gender. This is very frustrating. In my household, my brother is allowed out of the house at any given time with no curfew whereas the same cannot be said for me. In the Bangladeshi community, there is a lot of toxic masculinity. You will often hear boys saying that something is ‘gay’. This suggests that being gay in the Bangladeshi community is something negative and forces those who are, to hide their sexuality. This causes inner conflict and does not allow a person to express themselves how they truly want to. What is considered masculine and feminine is a social construction that often causes problems with identity. We should be able to do what we want or even wear what we want without others judging us for it.
A well-known definition of class is that “A class is a group whose members share a common economic position, often involving a common lifestyle, and which is differentiated from other groups in terms of power and status, and the chance its members have of bettering themselves in material terms”(Hall and Gieben, 1992:1879). When one really looks into this definition, the conflict is very overt. It undeniably emphasizes ingroups and outgroups. This is those in the same social class. We know this is measured in wealth and assets. Those with more wealth will have a better life with better opportunities because they afford things that others can’t. An example of this could be in education where students of a higher class can afford more resources and private tutors. Students with private tutors get better grades and are more likely to be at the top of the class. This will of course have a knock-on effect when progressing in their educational journey resulting in getting into better colleges and universities. Those of a lower class will be frustrated because no matter how hard they try they will not be as good because they don’t have the means to get such resources. They are restricted, and it is very difficult to climb up the social ladder. Some may be forced to turn to crime not because they want to, but because they have to as there is no other way to put food on the table. If they get caught stealing, they will have a criminal record causing difficulties in securing future employment. Even teenagers may turn to crime out of jealousy of what their peers have and resent their parents for not being able to afford the same stuff.
I come from a working-class background and have experienced people looking down on me. Many seem to think that people in the middle class are the happiest and that, that is what we should all aspire to be. The working class is seen to be a bad thing and many seem to think that those in the working class are uneducated and do not work hard enough. This undoubtedly makes me feel belittled because although we didn’t have luxuries growing up, my parents worked very hard to make ends meet and to provide us with the necessities we needed. As a teenager, I never had the latest phone or even the clothes that were currently in trend but all that added to my identity because it made me who I am. I started working and learned the true value of money at a young age. Unlike my peers, I didn’t spend it all on shopping. I know the importance of budgeting and saving as well as treating myself to things I want. I aspire to get into a rewarding career that is also well-paid so that I can give my own children the best possible chance to become what they want to be, but I would also like them to understand how hard it actually is to make money. Money and luxuries would have to be earned rather than given at any time because this would emphasize the actual worth of whatever is being given.
When trying to define culture, a good example to look at is that of Raymond Williams. He said that ‘culture is ordinary (…) it is the common heritage of shared meanings and practices in a specific community. Although this is very informative and clear to understand. The problem with this is that even within a certain culture, some practices are celebrated differently. A culture like the other parts of identity is very complex. Also what is deemed as ‘ordinary’ to one person may not be the same to another and these personal differences cause conflict. In my opinion, Paul Gilroy argues a much more realistic version of culture which is a lot closer to its truth. ‘Cultures are constantly in flux, they ‘travel’, are permeable and changing. They are not fixed, stable attributes which can be neatly mapped onto supposedly homogenous, bounded groups. A way in which culture influences people is through the different forms of communication. Communication methods vary from one culture to another. What is deemed appropriate by one culture and community, may not be received in the same way by another. Cultures can be identified through their differences. These include cultural dances and attires, as well as their national anthem and flag. Relating to myself, in Bangladeshi culture good hosting and an abundance of food are key. Bangladeshis take a lot of pride in hosting events and making sure guests are well-fed before they are allowed to leave. Our traditional attire includes saris and salwar kameez. In my household, they are only worn on special occasions and make events just that extra bit special. Although you can find simple traditional clothes most are what some may consider over the top. I have nothing bad to say about my own experience of culture. Coming from a predominantly Bangladeshi Muslim community it often feels like one big family. You will often catch younger members of the community helping the elders with shopping or any other chores they may need to do. Aminul Hoque being a member of the community shares the same view of togetherness in his novel where he says ‘this religious and cultural homogeneity reinforces a sense of oneness and community in Bangladesh that is also evident in Tower Hamlets’.
Negativity within cultures lies with nationality. Being a British Bangladeshi I am often torn between the 2. I am considered too westernized for the Bangladeshis but not white enough to be considered British. Amin Maalouf discusses a similar situation in his book On Identity. In the novel, a young Turkish man is mentioned. This man was born near Frankfurt and unlike any of his ancestors, he can speak and write in German. Maalouf displays his frustration with the conflict when he says ‘Common sense dictates that he should be able to claim both allegiances. But at present neither the law nor people’s attitudes allow him to accept his composite identity tranquility’. This coincides with my own view. Being both British and Bangladeshi makes me who I am yet neither will fully claim me as one of their own.
To conclude, this essay has discussed some of the components of identity and has argued that it is mainly a social construct used as a force to cause conflict. Gender, culture, class, and religion are all very important aspects of my identity, and I have displayed this by explaining what they are and then linking them back to my own life and how it has directly impacted me.