New Age Islam
Wed Jun 19 2024, 12:00 AM

Islam and the West ( 22 Dec 2023, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Ways of Being a Muslim: Unpacking Diversity through Empirical Evidence

By Adis Duderija, New Age Islam

(With Help Of Chat GPT)

22 December 2023

Conceptualising Contemporary Muslim Diversities Has Long Intrigued Scholars Seeking To Categorise Muslims’ Varied Interpretations And Practices. However, Proposed Typological Frameworks Suffer From A Lack Of Empirical Grounding. Without Verification Against Real Muslims, Constructed Frameworks Risk Divorcing Imagined Categories From Lived Realities.


Ever since 9/11, people have wondered - what do Muslims really believe? Are their beliefs diverse or all the same? Researchers have come up with different ways to categorize Muslims but few studies asked Muslims directly.

Conceptualising contemporary Muslim diversities has long intrigued scholars seeking to categorise Muslims’ varied interpretations and practices. However, proposed typological frameworks suffer from a lack of empirical grounding. Without verification against real Muslims, constructed frameworks risk divorcing imagined categories from lived realities. Categorizing theoretically alone risks affirming biases without empirical substantiation. Too little considers Muslims’ self-understandings beyond externally imposed labels.

Previous studies proposing typologies provide conceptual schemes for understanding Muslims’ religious orientations and practices. However, few empirically test proposed categories against Muslims themselves. As a result, frameworks devised alone risk misaligning invented categories from Muslims’ lived faith experiences. Classifying theoretically prioritises prevailing theories yet risks divorcing constructed typologies from how Muslims authentically interpret their religion as lived.

By addressing this critical gap, this landmark national survey offers the first comprehensive empirical insights into the spread of proposed Muslim typologies among Australian Muslims themselves. It bridges the epistemological disjuncture between scholarly constructions detached from Muslims’ self-interpretations.

Rather than imposing predetermined categories, respondents self-classified through statements corresponding to authoritative scholarly typologies without predetermined labels. This empirical approach enables understanding through direct testimony untainted by externally imposed schemes. It enables critical reflection by grounding prevailing categories in Muslims’ own religious self-conceptions. 

Findings reveal diversity, not uniformity, characterises contemporary Muslim identities in Australia. Contrary to stereotypes, variation prevails across proposed schemas. While classifications align identities, overlaps abound between constructed categories. Such empirical insights propel rethinking prevailing conceptions through evidenced debate replacing reaction.

The main typologies empirically detected were: progressive, liberal, secular, cultural nominalist, traditionalist, Sufi, ethical Maqasidi, legalist, political Islamist and militant. Such categories do not necessarily signify rigid boundaries. They indicate families of approaches Muslims inhabit to varying degrees. The results point to fluidity and overlap across proposed schemas.

Skeptics question representativeness, yet proposed alternatives risk sustaining biases if not empirically founded. Surveys’ methodological limitations are offset against the immense insight gained into Muslims’ actual diversity by their own testimony. Numbers map distributions qualitative approaches alone cannot. Quantitative evidence challenges stereotypes through direct Muslim testimony.

Conceptual frameworks risk divorcing notions from realities. Empirical grounding reconnects categories to lived experiences. By situating proposed typologies within Muslims’ self-understandings, this research bridges epistemological divides between constructed categories and Muslims’ own religious self-conceptions. It brings proposed schemas into contact with Muslims’ diversity of practice and belief.

Findings propel reconsideration away from prevailing conceptions of homogeneity, towards more nuanced understandings informed by Muslims themselves. Diversity comes to the fore, defying assumptions of uniformity. Recognizing intra-Muslim variation undermines perceptions sustained by singular essentialist frames. New insights displace misconceptions through Muslims’ lived accounts.

The conclusions fundamentally rethink prevailing conceptions and counter misperceptions by grounding categorizations empirically in Muslims’ own recollections of religious faith in practice, diversity and community. By anchoring constructed categories in direct testimony rather than theoretical constructions, this pioneering study stands to reshape scholarly and public understanding with evidence from Muslims themselves. It points pathways beyond prevailing misconceptions through Muslims’ lived religious self-understandings.

Rethinking Muslim typologies demands direct empirical engagement to reconnect conceptual frameworks with Muslims’ internal dynamics of interpretative diversity. Situating proposed categories within Muslims’ self-reports realigns constructed schemas with lived orientations, identities and pieties. Findings prompt reconsideration grounded in Muslims’ testimony rather than imposed frameworks alone. They invite rethinking Muslim complexities and plurality through empirical insights informed by—rather than disjoined from—Muslims themselves.

Past typological work provided conceptual order but lacked empirical testing. This establishes the need for verifying proposed categories alongside conceptual formulations. The novelty lies in grounding typologies in direct self-reporting, avoiding imposed pre-packaging. Findings enable taking conceptualisations beyond constructed categories to what Muslims themselves say shapes religious and cultural self-understandings.

Future research could employ expanded indicators or longitudinal analysis. But this landmark study makes an important empirical contribution bringing proposed typologies face-to-face with lived realities by situating schemas within direct Muslim testimony from Australia. Findings prompt revisiting assumptions to rethink prevailing conceptions through empirical insights emergent from within Muslim communities themselves.

One important implication of the research  is a more robust understanding of contemporary Islam than afforded by constructed categories alone or prevailing misconceptions. Another is highlighting diversity evident in lived diversities against essentialist views. A third consequence prompts reconsidering constructs relationally formed through Muslims’ self-articulations of faith in practice, belief and community. Ultimately, findings enable renewed reflection on conceptualizing Muslim diversities empirically grounded in Muslims’ own accounts of religion in their lives.


The piece above is based on a recent academic article I co-authored titled -Muslim Typologies In Australia: Findings Of A National Survey


A decades old patron of New Age Islam, Dr Adis Duderija is a Senior Lecturer in the Study of Islam and Society, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science; Senior Fellow Centre for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue, Griffith University | Nathan | Queensland | Australia. His forthcoming books are ( co-edited)-  Shame, Modesty, and Honor in Islam  and Interfaith Engagement Beyond the Divide  (Springer)




New Age IslamIslam OnlineIslamic WebsiteAfrican Muslim NewsArab World NewsSouth Asia NewsIndian Muslim NewsWorld Muslim NewsWomen in IslamIslamic FeminismArab WomenWomen In ArabIslamophobia in AmericaMuslim Women in WestIslam Women and Feminism