Expressions of Islam in Contemporary African American Communities

The Fourth Annual Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Conference, entitled Expressions of Islam in Contemporary African American Communities, held on April 7-8, 2012, hosted speakers exploring and highlighting the varied experience of African American Muslims in the United States. The conference showcased research on African American Muslims by leading academics, and featured contemporary artists as well as activists working within the community. Professor Ali Asani explained the motivation behind the conference in The Harvard Crimson, noting that the African American Muslim experience “is such an important part of the history of the U.S. and the history of Islam.”

Opening Remarks: Prof. Ali Asani & Dr. Aminah McCloud

 

Zain Abdullah: “The Black Muslim Encounter and Why It Matters”

Zain Abdullah is the author of Black Mecca: The African Muslims of Harlem, published by Oxford University Press in 2010. He holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology and is Associate Professor in the Religion Department at Temple University, where he is also a faculty affiliate in the Department of Geography & Urban Studies.

His current work focuses on the interplay of race, religion and ethnicity, and his writings cover an array of topics including contemporary Islam and Muslims in the West, religion and public life, African Diaspora Studies and African American Muslims, and globalization and transnationalism. Professor Abdullah’s articles have appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Anthropological Quarterly, the Journal of Islamic Law and Culture, the Journal of History and Culture, African Arts, the Middle East Journal, and other periodicals. He has been quoted in the New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Star Ledger, Reuters-Worldwide Religious News and other media outlets for his work on race, immigration, and intergroup relations.

He has earned awards from the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the National Museum of African Art, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the International Center for Migration, Ethnicity, and Citizenship in New York City in addition to a New Jersey State Assembly Resolution in recognition of his service to the citizens of the state. He currently serves on the Steering Committee for the Religion and Migration Group of the American Academy of Religion. As a recipient of a Ford Foundation award for 2011-2012, he is writing a book on Black Muslim conversion and the Nation of Islam in mid-century America. For information on his films, photographic work and other projects, visit him at zainabdullah.com.

 

Su’ad Abdul Khabeer: “Hip Hop, Young Muslims and Muslim Cool”

Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is an assistant professor of Anthropology and African American Studies at Purdue University. She received her PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Princeton University and her BSFS from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. In her research she uses ethnography and performance art to explore the intersection of race, religion and popular culture. Her most recent work explores the ways young Chicago Muslims negotiate their religious, racial and cultural identities through hip hop. Her future projects will look at the relationship between sound, blackness and Islam in America and the role of Muslim hip hop in US cultural diplomacy efforts. In addition to her academic writing and publications, her poetry was featured in the anthology Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak. She has a commitment to public scholarship and has written for the Washington Post, theRoot.com and blogs for the Huffington Post. She is also a Senior Project Advisor for the US Public Television award-winning documentary, New Muslim Cool.

 

Khalil Abdur-Rashid: “New Paradigms of Muslim Community Leadership”

Imam Khalil Abdur-Rashid received his BSW degree in social work from Georgia State University and has worked as a social worker investigating child abuse cases for the courts in the state of Georgia for several years before becoming a full-time Arabic language instructor for Georgia State University. He spent several years as a counselor for the Marriage and Counseling Center in Jonesboro, Georgia and has over 15 years’ experience teaching and giving workshops in various settings, such as in Montessori schools, public schools, and the universities.  A native of Atlanta, Georgia, he completed a specialization program in Islamic Law at the Dar al-Mustafa Institute in Yemen. He spent four years in Istanbul, Turkey learning Turkish and completing his MA work in Islamic law at Marmara University along with completing Islamic seminary training and receiving his doctorate and license (ijaaza) in Islamic law from the Mirani Seminary in Turkey. Imam Khalil is currently a PhD student at Columbia University, specializing in Islamic Law and Bioethics. He is an adjunct assistant professor at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service and teaches a course at NYU on Islamic Law. He also serves as Columbia University’s Muslim Religious Life Advisor and as Imam and Executive Director of Iqra Mosque in Brooklyn, New York.

 

Mustafa Davis: “Wayward Son”

Mustafa Davis began his filmmaking career studying with acclaimed German documentary filmmaker Stefan Tolz on his film “Adobe Towns – Shibam, Manhattan of the Desert.” He also studied with renowned German cinematographer Sorin Dragoi (Winner of 2004 German Cinematography Award) and developed his passion for cinematography and visual storytelling.

After nearly seven years of travel (writing and making films) through Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Mustafa returned to California and attended New York Film Academy at Universal Studios Hollywood. Shortly after graduating he made several films and television programs and relocated to the UAE where he held the position of Executive Producer of Tabah Films & Media Division Director of Tabah Foundation and produced numerous documentaries and television programs that aired on international satellite channels such as Dream, Rotaana, Ar-Risaala, MBC, Abu Dhabi TV, IQRA, Al-Aqariyya, Channel 1 Yemen TV, TV Sudan, KBC, and others.

Mustafa has since relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area where he runs his production company CINEMOTION MEDIA. He is currently in production on several feature documentaries, short films and music videos.

At the conference, Mustafa Davis screened his most recent film, “Wayward Son: The Jordan Richter Story,” a biopic of the skateboarding athlete and Muslim convert Jordan Richter.

 

Sylviane Diouf: “African Muslims Enslaved in America: Realities and Legacies”

Sylviane A. Diouf, an award-winning historian is the author of Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (NYU Press). Named Outstanding Academic Book, it has been translated into Turkish. Her most recent book is the award-winning Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America (Oxford University Press). She edited Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies (Ohio University Press); and co-edited In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience (National Geographic). She has contributed several essays and articles on African Muslims during slavery and today. A recipient of the Rosa Parks Award, the Pen and Brush Achievement Award, the Dr. Betty Shabazz Achievement Award and the the Warith Deen Mohammed Award, Dr. Diouf is a curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

 

Jamillah Karim: “Narratives of Black Muslim Women”

Jamillah Karim is author of the award-winning book American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Class, and Gender within the Ummah. She earned her Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at Duke University. Karim specializes in Islam in America, women and Islam, and race and immigration. Her most recent academic appointment was as associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Spelman College where she taught courses in the study of Islam for six years. In 2010 Karim moved with her family to Malaysia where she began her blog “Race+Gender+Faith.” As an independent scholar currently residing in Atlanta, GA, she is writing her second book in collaboration with an American history scholar in the UK. Due out in 2013 by New York University Press, the book explores women’s experiences and contributions in the Nation of Islam from the 1930s to the present.

 

Michael Muhammad Knight: “The Five Percenters: Between Afrocentrism and Islam”

Michael Muhammad Knight is the author of 8 books of fiction and nonfiction, including Why I am a Five Percenter, a reflection upon his engagement of the Five Percent tradition. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School with an MTS degree in 2011 and is presently a doctoral student in Islamic studies at UNC Chapel Hill.

 

Aminah McCloud: “African American Muslim Leadership”

Dr. McCloud is the Director of the Islamic World Studies Program and professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at DePaul University. Since 2006 she has directed the nation’s only undergraduate baccalaureate program in Islamic World Studies.  During her tenure at DePaul University she founded the Islam in America Conference and established the Islam in America Archives and the Journal of Islamic Law and Culture, of which she is the current Editor in Chief.  In addition to her work at the university, she is author of African American Islam, Questions of Faith, and Transnational American Muslims and is working on manuscripts Silks: The Textures of American Muslim Women’s Lives and co-authoring An Introduction to Islam in the 21st century and A Handbook on African American Islam.  Dr. McCloud has also worked on a number of television projects on Muslims and on task forces for the East West Institute and Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs relating to Islam and Muslims.

 

Jesse Mills: “Refugee Resettlement & Somali Youth Organization”

Jesse Mills is an Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California San Diego. As a scholar/artist/activist, Mills integrates academic research, community service, and artistry. His main research and fieldwork is with Somalis in San Diego examining nonprofit structures of refuge, cultural politics, and youth organizing, with new directions including comparative study in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. He serves as strategist for United Taxi Workers of San Diego, research consultant for Somali Family Service, anti-racism consultant for The California Endowment, and faculty advisor for USD’s Black Student Union. His artistic accomplishments include serving as original composer, musical director, and performer (guitar/voice) in the acclaimed “Hip Hop Saved My Life”, a spoken word/music/dance performance collaboration. As a holistic body of work, Mills’ scholarly and creative work seeks to manifest interdisciplinary African American and Ethnic Studies with integral community engagement.

 

Felicia Miyakawa:”I Self Lord Am Master”

Felicia M. Miyakawa is Associate Professor of Musicology and Assistant Director of the MTSU School of Music. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Musicology from Indiana University and completed B.A. degrees in both music and French at Linfield College (McMinnville, Oregon). She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in both “art” and “popular” music traditions. Miyakawa’s research areas include Hip-hop music and culture, Black Nationalism, American Popular Music, African-American music and literature, gender and pedagogy, and queer studies. She has presented papers at regional and national meetings of the American Musicological Society, Society for Ethnomusicology, International Association for the Study of Popular Music, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for American Music, as well as at popular music conferences sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Seattle’s Experience Music Project. Her first book, Five Percenter Rap: God Hop’s Music, Message, and Black Muslim Mission, was published in spring 2005 by Indiana University Press. Other publications appear in American Music, Popular Music, Journal of Popular Music Studies, The Journal of American Ethnic History, and the new encyclopedia Women and Religion in the World. She is currently at work on her second book, a biography of the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

 

Ja’far Muhibullah: Shii African American Communities

Sheik Ja’far Muhibullah is the Imam of the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Association in Austin, Texas (IABA). He completed ten years of Islamic seminary training in America and Iran in 2001 and completed his MA in Religious Studies at Duke University in 2005. He spent three years at the University of Texas at Austin completing work towards a PhD in Arabic Studies. In general, his interest is in classical Arabic, Persian, and Urdu literature and specifically in Arabic literature in medieval Sicily. Since 2005 he has owned and managed his own translating and interpreting service business. With over 14 years experience in translating, teaching, and public speaking Sheik Muhibullah has made significant contributions to the Arabic translation of Encyclopedia Britannica’s Learning and Discovery Libraries, Harper’s Magazine, UNC Kenan-Flager Business School & The Egyptian Institute of Directors, Zachary Karabell’s “Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence”, as well as other projects. He is currently managing a K through 12 Arabic and Islamic Studies curriculum development project for the Al-Hadi School in Houston, Texas.

 

Wilmore Sadiki:”African American Culture in Islam”

Imam Wilmore Sadiki is a singer-songwriter and Islamic community leader based in St. Petersberg, Florida.

 

Amir Sulaiman: “From Rumi to Rakim”

Amir Sulaiman is an accomplished poet, activist, recording artist and a two time HBO Def Poet. A native of Rochester, New York, Amir began writing poetry at the age of twelve. He holds a B.A. in English from North Carolina A&T State University and has been endorsed by some of the hip-hop industry elites. Russell Simmons refers to Amir as “blessed” and Abi Odun of The Last Poets calls Amir “the voice of this generation”.  The ACLU, Amnesty International and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition are just a few of the national organizations that have used Amir’s poetry and voice to bring life to multiple social justice and art campaigns. Amir entered the spoken word scene with the release of Cornerstore Folklore. His growing popularity lead to a record deal with UPRISING Records; the label that delivered the hugely successful multi-platinum band, Fall Out Boy. Amir’s first national debut album Like A Thief In The Nightwas released to critical acclaim in 2007. He served as host and performer on the national “Breed Love Odyssey Tour” with Mos Def and Talib Kweli and was a special guest on KRS-ONE’S “Hip Hop Lives Tour”.

Amir’s published works include the book of poetry, Words of Love, Life, and Death and much of his poetry has been published in numerous literary journals. In addition to writing and recording, Amir tours universities, high schools and community centers around the world where he conducts communication workshops and presentations, teaching the elements of poetry and exploring the intricacys of human language. Amir is currently touring for his second major release album entitled Meccan Openings. His website is available at http://www.amirsulaiman.com/.

 

Richard Turner: “Malcolm X, Jazz Culture and the Nation of Islam in Boston”

Richard Brent Turner is the author of Jazz Religion, the Second Line, and Black New Orleans (Indiana University Press, 2010) and Islam in the African-American Experience, Second Edition (Indiana University Press, 2003). He holds a doctorate in Religion from Princeton University and is Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at The University of Iowa, where he also has joint appointments in the African American Studies Program and International Programs. Dr. Turner’s areas of specialization are African American religious history and African diasporic religions. He is now working on a book on African American religion in the 1960s, that will include two chapters on Malcolm X. Dr. Turner was a fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, 1988-1989.