The Registration of Religious Identity

Parallels between the United States' (Proposed) Muslim Registry and Apartheid South Africa's Population Registration Act


  • Marc Kosciejew University of Malta



This article explores aspects of the disciplinary documentation of religious, and by extension, racial identity within the context of post-9/11 United States. Using Donald Trump’s proposal for a Muslim registry as both a framing device and a point of departure, this article provides a comparative documentary analysis illuminating the chilling parallels between the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program in the United States and the Population Registration Act (PRA) of Apartheid South Africa. In both cases, documentation was used to control and discipline individuals according to particular aspects or features of their identity. In post-9/11 United States, the particular aspects or features of an individual’s identity of concern are their Islamic religious identity; meanwhile, in Apartheid South Africa, the aspects or features of identity that were of paramount significance were one’s race and ethnicity.

This article helps provide some conceptual tools for scholars interested in the classification, registration, and documentation of diverse kinds of identities. It presents a documentary analysis of the racial registration strategies of Apartheid South Africa to help historicize and problematize the United States’ previous and proposed religious registry programs. Its aim is to draw lessons from South Africa’s painful past to provide an urgent warning of the oppressive implications of identity registrations like the NSEERS program and the worrying possibility of another misguided and counterproductive Muslim registry.

Pre-print first published online 03/03/2019

Author Biography

Marc Kosciejew, University of Malta

Dr. Marc Kosciejew is a Lecturer and former Head of Department of Library, Information, and Archive Sciences at the University of Malta. He has been published in scholarly and professional journals, lectured in Europe and North America, and presented worldwide from Canada to China at diverse universities, institutions, and events from MIT to the National Archives of Sweden to Malta's National Book Festival. He is also the winner of ARMA International's prestigious Britt Literary Award for 2014 for his article on personal data rights.

In 2017, he was invited to deliver an official keynote response at UNESCO's co-hosting of the 8th Annual Conference on the New Materialisms at Paris UNESCO Headquarters as part of the preparation process for the 2017 World Humanities Conference.

In 2016/2017 he was appointed by Malta's Minister for Education and Employment to serve as Chairperson of the Malta Libraries Council (MLC), a government appointed council stipulated in the Malta Libraries Act, 2011, to provide advice to the National Library and the Minister responsible for libraries.