Determining one’s identity usually involves “differentiating oneself from what one is not” (Benhabib, 1996, p. 3). Identity, as a matter of fact, involves similarity (sameness) and dissimilarity (uniqueness) at the same time. Identity, as a mental scheme and behavioral convention, is ambivalent in some aspects; there is usually some given identity and another/other one(s) which is/are produced, defined, redefined, reproduced, transformed, dismantled or even dismissed. This means that, when a group of people share a specific identity whether national (e.g. Swedish), transnational (e.g. European), religious, etc., they likely believe in similar conceptions, which is the abstract component of identity, and the same people also believe in similar conventions, which is the concrete feature. So, collectively, people have shared behavioral conventions and specific uniqueness, which simultaneously and clearly distinguishes them from the other(s). Furthermore, it is possible to have intra-conceptual or conventional occurrence within some collective identity generating new sub-identities.
According to the linguists Wodak, et. al., (2009), identity concept has been discussed in several disciplines, including, but not limited to, logical, philosophical, sociological, political ones. It adds that identity never signifies anything static, but is rather an ever-changing, i.e., dynamic.
One can of course be convinced of some ideology due to certain inherited conventions or new adopted beliefs. For example, you can have a political or economic belief at some point in time, but due to some reasons, you later shift to another one. As for identity, adopting new identities or changing one’s own identity cannot be that easy. For example, an individual cannot change his/her nationality or convert to another religion so easily. This means that static/dynamic features or characteristics of identity are relatively context-based conceptions, not truth-absolute ones; identities may coexist with other ones or rather go backwards and forwards due to some certain factors and circumstances. So, identity components, including the regional, superregional, individual, collective, national, transnational, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, sexual, political ones, are intertwined. Thus, an individual/a nation voluntarily chooses out of these toned-down and social-based components to form a bigger multidimensional identity where lines of conflict fade in the process of composing. That is to say, for example, an individual - who believes in peaceful coexistence - can define himself as a Muslim or Christian. Similarly, a man may support women’s rights while he is identified as non-feminist (regardless of the exact meaning of feminism). Building upon this, you can have your own nationality that defines you as British or Portuguese for example, and at the same time there could be subsidiary ones you strongly believe in, like being a Muslim or Christian. So, the terms identity and transidentity are overlapping not conflicting.
The term transidentity is defined in view of cross-border or broad vs. narrow identities like transnationalism (a European person with reference to the British) or transreligiousness (the Muslim Ummah/nation with respect to any Muslim). Investigating religious and national identities in the Muslim world, Berggren (2007, p. 71) concluded that “[a]lthough Muslims tend to be very religious, they do not embrace transnationalism or lack strong national feelings to an exceptional degree when compared with non-Muslims. In fact, many are proud of their country and willing to fight for it”.
Contrary to the above, in extremist thought, extremists misunderstand the concept of Ummah / nation; they believe in the abode of Islam vs. the abode of war. In other words, they think of the communities lacking the implementation of the Shariah (Islamic law) as abodes of disbelief (war) except for those who have a treaty with Muslims. Thus, they set national identity aside to adopt the concept of Ummah wrongly and enforce the Shariah violently. That’s why most ISIS fighters, for example, travelled to Syria and Iraq from many different countries around the world in order to join and form the so-called Caliphate state, believing that this is the true Islamic homeland since their original homelands cannot accommodate true Muslims because the Islamic directives are not secured or exercised freely there. So, relying on weak hadith narrations, they declare that every Muslim living in a non-Muslim country is a disbeliever and that he has to emigrate to an Islamic one. Accordingly, they unwisely gave up on their homelands to join bloody, violent militias involved in the most tragic atrocities.
Extremists believe they imitate the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when he emigrated from Mecca to Medina. However, the Prophet himself said, “There is no emigration after the conquest [of Mecca]”. In addition, the Prophet (PBUH) was ordered to leave Mecca by revelation, not voluntarily. Moreover, citizenship as well as national homeland concepts had not evolved then to the same extent of the present time in terms of the rights and duties they involve. The thing is someone can be living in a homeland and defend whatever fair causes they believe in because Islam does not tell its followers to leave their homelands to become true Muslims. What is meant is that there is no contradiction between national identity (being am American, French, etc.,) and Islamic identity (being a Muslim). In other words, believing in the concept of Islamic Ummah does not contradict belonging to any national entity; there is no need to join violent groups – at home or abroad - to be defined as a true Muslim; that is, these two seemingly separate identities - your own (religious) identity and national identity - could easily be integrating and complementary. That said, the Grand Imam, in line with the Al-Azhar’s general perspective, has repeatedly asked Muslims living in non-Muslim countries to be positively integrated in their broader societies and be good ambassadors of Islam.
Benhabib, Seyla. (1991). Democracy and Differences. Princeton, NJ.
Berggren, J. (2007), More Than the Ummah: Religious and National Identity in the Muslim World:
Wodak, R., Cillia, de R., Reisigl, R. and Liebhart, K. (2009). The Discursive Construction of National Identity. 2nd edition. Edinburgh University Press.