Applied Psychology OPUS

American Muslim Youth Identity

Rania Mustafa

Research across disciplines has evidenced that young adulthood is a crucial time for identity development (Tsang, Hui & Law, 2012), which is related to both individual and collective wellbeing through, for example, connection to peers and family (Watts, Griffith, & Adbul- Adil, 1999). Minority status may be a critical component of identity development, particularly because of its associations with experiences of discrimination and cultural isolation (Ahmed, 2009; Ahmed & Akhter, 2006). One minority group for whom experiences of discrimination have been associated with negative general outcomes is American Muslim Youth (AMY; Ahmed, 2009). American Muslims constitute between 3 and 7 million individuals in the United States (Haddad, 2004; Pew Research Center, 2007). It is estimated that American Muslims will become the largest religious minority subgroup in the U.S. within the next decade (Kobeisy, 2004). In the wake of 9/11, AMY identity has become particularly complicated to navigate and may be dependent upon the ways in which they integrate their dual identities as both American and Muslim (Sirin & Fine, 2010). Emerging but limited research has begun to examine AMY identity development.

Identity formation

The post 9/11 era has created a new set of discrimination-related challenges for AMY: navigating and integrating a sense of “hyphenated self” (Sirin & Fine, 2010). Hyphenated selves is defined as the struggle to join identities separated due to history, the present socio- political climate, geography, biography, longing, and loss (Sirin & Fine, 2010). The Muslim side of identity may involve participation in religious activities and settings, and may help promote positive identity development by counteracting discriminatory social messages (Ahmed, 2009). The American side is assumed to exist because AMY live in the United States and would theoretically be exposed to American social norms that help youth fit in to the general American society (Phinney et al., 1996). The integration of these distinct identities and the development of a positive sense of self thus pose a unique challenge for AMY (Sirin & Fine, 2010; Sirin et al., 2012).

Discrimination as a facilitator or barrier toward promoting hyphenated selves. Research suggests that oppressed groups may internalize their oppression in the presence of discrimination and, in turn, experience maladaptive identity formation (e.g., lower collective self-esteem; Prilletensky & Gonick, 1996; Blasi & Jost, 2006). Theoretically, this pattern emerges because AMY internalize oppression as part of their identity by seeing themselves through the lens of the dominant culture, and explicitly or implicitly defending and justifying the general negative status quo towards Muslims (Jost et al., 2002; Jost, Banaji, & Nosek, 2004). Alternatively, discriminatory experiences that are placed in the context of oppression (i.e., are externalized) can promote heightened awareness of their identity (Watts et al., 1999), particularly if youth are able to process such experiences in supportive contexts such as faith-based settings (Sirin, 2010; Watts et al., 1999).

Current study

The current proposal will examine relationships between AMY identity, perceived discrimination, and religious participation using a cross sectional self-reported survey design. Specifically, this study is guided by the following research questions and hypotheses: (1) integrated identity is related to one’s religious participation, (2) integrated identity is related to one’s perception of discrimination, (3) the relationship between perceived discrimination and integrated identities will depend on the extent of AMY’s participation in religious settings, given that greater participation may promote opportunities for youth to process and externalize discriminatory experiences and foster integrated identity.


Participants and Design

This study will be correlational research through a quantitative design consisting of an online self-report questionnaire. I anticipate collecting data for between 175 and 200 self-identified Muslim American youth from across the nation, ranging in age from 18 to 25. A power analysis was conducted that supported the amount of participants that will be recruited for this study.


Religious participation. Items will assess AMY’s engagement in Muslim-related religious activities (e.g., volunteerism, lectures, conventions, etc.) and participation in formal organizations (e.g., mosques) in the past 6 months (e.g., “In the past six months, how often have you attended or heard an Islamic Lecture?”). Items will be assessed on a 6 point scale ranging from 1 (“never”) to 6 (“always”).

AMY Identity. This modified Collective Self- Esteem measure (CSE; Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992) will assess the extent to which AMY perceive affiliation with, and belonging to, both their Muslim and American identities (Sirin et al., 2012). In this study, both the spheres of Muslim and American identity will be measured in terms of three CSE components: (a) group membership (i.e., one’s judgment of self-worth as a member of one‘s cultural group); (b) private regard (i.e., one’s personal evaluation of one’s cultural group); and (c) identity importance, (i.e., how the significance of one‘s social group membership(s) influences one’s own self-concept). An example item of the American version for group membership is, “I feel I don’t have much to offer to the American community.” A demonstrative item of the Muslim version for private regard is, “I feel good about the Muslim community I belong to.” Illustrative examples of identity importance for both versions are, “In general, belonging to my Muslim community is an important part of my self-image”; “The American community I belong to is an important reflection of who I am.” The seven-point scale ranges from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 7 (“strongly agree”).

Perceived Discrimination. A 13-item modified version of the Societal, Attitudinal, Familial, and Environmental - Revised- Short Form (SAFE-Short; Mena, Padilla, & Maldonado, 1987) was used to measure the perceived discrimination against AMY (Sirin et al., 2012). Sirin, Abo-Zenah and Shehadeh (2012) further adapted the measure based Amer and Hovey’s (2005) study with Arab Americans, to increase construct validity and reliability. The measure assesses experiences of perceived discrimination from mainstream American society. Some examples of the items included are: “It bothers me when the media portrays a negative image of Muslims or Muslim Americans”; “I am upset that most people consider the Muslim American community to be more dangerous than other groups”; “I feel uncomfortable when others make jokes about or put down Muslims” (Sirin et al., 2012). Response options were on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (have not experienced) to 2 (“strongly disagree”) to 7 (“strongly agree”). The Cronbach’s alpha for the current sample was .90. A composite Perceived Discrimination score was calculated as the mean across all 13 items.


AMY will be recruited from a number of mosques, colleges, and community-based organizations through a snowball sampling method. According to the United States Census, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, California, Illinois, Indiana, Texas and Ohio are the states that have a high Muslim population. I will use the website, which provides information about the top ten universities in each state. Using this information, I will contact and/or research each university to find out if they have a Muslim Students’ Association. If they do, I will send them the survey, ask them to forward it to their constituency and ask their constituency to forward it along creating the snowball effect. Once the electronic signature of consent is obtained, participants will segue into an online survey hosted on Each participant will be entered into a raffle for an iPad mini.

Data analytic plan

Substantive analyses will follow three steps, paralleling this study’s hypotheses. For Hypothesis 1, a bivariate correlation will be used to assess the strength and direction of the relationship between religious participation and identity. For Hypothesis 2, the relationship between discrimination and identity will be assessed by examining the bivariate correlation between these variables to assess the strength and direction of the relationship. For Hypothesis 3 (if a significant bivariate correlation is found for Hypotheses 1 and 2), hierarchical multiple regression (2-blocks) will be used to examine the simple (block 1) and residualized interaction (block 2) effects of religious participation and discrimination on identity. This analysis will allow for the examination of moderation, and determine the extent to which the relationship between perceived discrimination and integrated identities depends on the extent of AMY’s participation in religious settings.

Strengths and limitations

Implications of this study include a better understanding of the circumstances under which discriminatory experiences, religious participation, and the interaction of the two can relate to integrated identity. Results of this study are also integral in providing valuable knowledge to community and university organizations that serve AMY.

These implications exist because of the strengths present within this study. There is relatively little research done on the AMY population. This lack of research can be seen as a limitation; however, it can also be seen as a strength. There is a lot of novel data awaiting future researchers to uncover.. In my study, I decided to undertake a quantitative study that will incorporate strong, reliable and valid measures that have been tested and used in previously acclaimed studies. Every construct and hypothesized relationship has also been supported by prior research. The inclusion of reliable and valid measures in this quantitative design provides a systematic and uniform way to operationalize and analyze constructs which, in turn, increases the internal validity of the study.  Finally, the number of participants I aim to attain is also a strength because it gives me the ability to deduce that the correlations I will potentially find are not due to chance.

Findings must be interpreted with attention to strengths and limitations of the current study. The study’s overarching limitation is that this population has undergone limited prior research, leaving many gaps for researchers to fill. One particular gap is the recruitment process. Due to the lack of mandatory mosque membership or affiliation, it is difficult to reach every AMY. I must therefore rely on the recruitment of Muslims who are voluntarily involved in a religious setting which can threaten the external validity because it limits my pool of AMY. To combat this issue, I have chosen to contact Muslim Students Associations (MSA) at universities that have a high population of Muslims; however, I must also face the reality that some MSAs may not respond, may have outdated contact information, and may be unwilling to cooperate. Another limitation the population presents is the diversity it encompasses. AMY may understand and experience the constructs very differently from one another, which may present a threat to internal validity. In addition, this is an Internet study with three constructs being operationalized and measured, therefore the survey can seem long to the average youth, which may run the potential risk of attrition. Moreover, this study is a quantitative study which leaves the study void of a human and real experience; furthermore, it expresses this understudied and vulnerable population through a two-dimensional lens. Finally, since self-report data will be used, future findings are subject to potential social desirability bias. However, anonymity of the participants will be enforced and established scales will be used for all constructs assessed in order to minimize the potential bias.

Despite the limitations, this proposed study would be one of the first to quantitatively examine the effect of identity integration in a sample of 300 AMY, thus contributing to a burgeoning body of literature on a growing youth population within the United States.


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