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Negotiating Ambivalence: The Social Power of Muslim Community-Based Health Organizations in America



This article analyzes three ways in which groups of socially and politically marginalized first-generation Muslim immigrants used the power of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to advance their interests in the United States. Specifically we examine the founding of nine Muslim community-based health organizations (MCBHOs) in Chicago, Detroit, Houston, and Los Angeles. We argue that MCBHOs (1) offer a vehicle for the expression and enactment of personal piety and self-fulfillment in ways that link traditional Islamic charitable values with American voluntarism, (2) mobilize middle-class Muslim values in American civil society in ways that normalize the difference of being Muslim in an Islamophobic environment, and (3) enable founders to mobilize the social and cultural capital of faith-based organizations to defensively enact American Muslim citizenship and belonging. Muslims, particularly those of immigrant origins, strategically deploy positively valued faith-based charitable and professional group identities through these NGOs to counteract their publicly stigmatized religious group identities.