Islam and identity: The role of the mosque in identity negotiation among African Fulani immigrants

Charles Andrew Davis, Fordham University


Fulani identity, as that of most West African communities, is traditionally based on a powerful sense of belonging (Nwadiora 1996). This study examines Fulani identity negotiation in a trans-national context as migrants in New York City, placing particular emphasis on the role of religion, race, and gender. I particularly sought to know how the mosque serves as social space of belonging in the constant re-articulation of identity. The Fulani are an ideal group for the study of trans-national identity formation because of their rich history of mobility, their proud historical memory, and the traditional narrative of griots. These aspects offer a platform from which I assessed the impact of the challenging conditions of migrating to New York City to their identity. I used research methods of biographical interviewing, in a sense allowing the Fulani to be their own griots, and participant observation at three different mosques in New York City. Race and gender impact the religious experience of the Fulani, but at the same time the manipulation of religious space also impacts how Fulani elaborate and occupy notions of race and gender. It is a continuous dynamic in which Fulani are being shaped by experiences in the mosque and subsequently manipulate the space of the mosque to their social advantage. The continuum of this experience moves between incorporation into existing multi-cultural mosques in initial waves of immigration into New York City, to the settlement of West African mosques in the most recent wave of migration. At the very foundation of religious membership in the mosque is the drive to find and secure a place of belonging. This security is especially important as other cultural and social places of belonging feel fluid. The reclamation of a space of belonging creates stability in a dissonant life of mobility and becomes essential to long-term settlement.

Subject Area

African Studies|Religion|Islamic Studies|Ethnic studies|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Davis, Charles Andrew, "Islam and identity: The role of the mosque in identity negotiation among African Fulani immigrants" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3542748.