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International Review of Business Research Papers Vol. 6. No.3. August 2010 Pp. 70 -82

Ethnic Identity Dilemma A Case Study of the Indian Muslims in Penang, Malaysia

Saidatulakmal Mohd1

This paper investigates the ethnic identity dilemma among the Indian Muslims in Penang. Penang is an island located on the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia. It has which has the highest concentration of the Indian Muslims population. A sample of 500 Indian Muslim respondents was interviewed from all over Penang Island using a face-to-face interview. The study found that while almost 90 percent respondents chose Indian Muslim as their self-reported identity, this percentage decreased approximately when respondents were asked to choose their ethnicity in five different situations, in which, on average only 22 percent respondents chose Indian Muslim as their ethnicity. The study used Logit analysis to investigate the underlying factors that determine identity. The study found that age, primary education, identification with majority group, knowledge about ethnic group and sense of belonging to the ethnic group were significant determinants.

Field of Research: Ethnic Identity

1. Introduction

Ethnic identity is commonly defined as the ethnic component of social identity. Ethnic identity is crucial to the self concept and psychological functioning of ethnic group members (Maldonado, 1975). Critical issues include the degree and quality of involvement that is maintained with a person‟s own culture and heritage; ways of responding to and dealing with the dominant group‟s often disparaging views of their group; and the impact of these factors on psychological well-being (Phinney, 1990). As explained by Roosens (1989) people change their ethnic identity if they can profit by doing so, which means that ethnicity is something to be played with or to be used for manipulation. Denial of ethnic identity appears to center mainly around prejudice and internal oppression (Semons, 1991). The complexity of ethnic identity leads to the possibility of “ethnic switching” or commonly known as “identity dilemma”; more commonly observed among individuals who are descendents of an ethnic group different from that of the residing country.

Ethnic identities are fluid across time and social contexts, sometimes even to the point of "ethnic switching" (Alba 1990 and Nagel 1995 as cited in Sanders 2002) that could be associated to individual facing an “identity dilemma” or “identity crisis”. Accepting one‟s ethnic identity is a straightforward task for an individual born in a family living in a country carrying the family‟s ethnicity Ethnic minority individuals, being first-generation immigrants or born in the country considered, need to negotiate their identification with their ethnic group and their identification with the mainstream culture of the society, due to their minority status and often racial or cultural distinctiveness (Gong, 2007).

Saidatulakmal Mohd, School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia email: eieydda@usm.my

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