I was talking the other day with my cousin who goes to university in northwest England. He expressed his irritation that people always perceived that he was Muslim, though with the name he sports I can’t blame others too much. I discussed with him some of the perceptions expressed on this weblog, that atheism was very rare among British Pakistanis, but rather more common among Bangladeshis. He agreed with that assessment. He met other Bangladeshi atheists, and plenty of Indians, but no Pakistanis. One aspect which I suspect grates at him is that it is not uncommon for many Muslims to carouse in their youth, so his drinking and conventional dating habits do not mark him as necessarily the non-Muslim that he is. Islam therefore is an identity into which you are born, not a set of beliefs you espouse.
But the youthful hypocrites who engage in behavior relatively indistinguishable from the typical British yob nevertheless notionally hold to Muslim orthopraxy as an ideal, and identify strongly with “team Islam.” This politicization of identity is the main problem for my cousin, because brown and non-brown alike presume his sympathies must be with his social-political team. But, as a non-Sylheti Bangladeshi Briton he is already twice-marginal when it comes to the “Asian Muslim” identity. Additionally, he also identifies most strongly in his politics with the conventional Leftism of Old Labor, combined with a mainstream social liberalism identical to other young British people (e.g., he argues for gay marriage to his Muslim parents). But these significant and substantive beliefs and ideas are subsumed by the exterior perception that he is a Muslim, with Muslim priorities and preconceptions defined in large part by the Mirpuri subculture of northern England.