Middle East studies in the News
Cluster Series Speaks Out About Modern Islam [incl. Zain Abdullah and Rob Rozehnal]
by Kirk Greenwood and Stephanie Perez
The Center for Global Islamic Studies hosted Dr. Zain Abdullah, PhD., as part of their Cluster Development Lecture Series to speak about Living Islam Out Loud: African Muslims in Contemporary America, at the University Center on Thursday.
Abdullah's lecture focused on the experiences of African American Muslims in the United States. He specifically touches upon the recent arrival of over 100,000 West Africans in Harlem, which residents are now calling, "Little Africa."
Abdullah presented a clip from a documentary on the topic in which is he also interviewed in. Interviews with immigrant African American Muslims gave insight on the way in which many live in constant fear that they will be deported back to Africa. Many migrate to New York with hopes of eventually going back, but can never afford it. As time goes on, the more they work, the less they think about Africa and forget about going back altogether.
Abdullah emphasized that Muslims here see themselves as a religious minority. However, they engulf themselves in their culture and live in constant practice of their religion in order to keep it alive. They often gather at Mosques to worship. The interviewees in the documentary said that the time spent in the Mosques reminds them of their values, family and Africa. It is a place that allows them to forget about work and create a space of unity throughout the Muslim community.
The influx of 100,000 West Africans alters both the social and religious community in Harlem. Even the Africans already living in Harlem have rethought their connection with Africa because of this recent integration. It results in scarce resources, housing and areas for merchants to sell their products. In 1995, Harlem storeowners forced the Muslims to move from 125th Street to a rundown section along West 116th. Today they operate most of the restaurants, boutiques and religious shops in the area.
Abdullah says these groups of immigrants are merely trying to create a place for themselves in America. They want to thrive within the American way of life, while still maintaining a connection to Africa and their religion. Many westerners barely pay attention to the religion of these Black immigrants. According to Abdullah many view Islam as simply an Arab religion and dismiss the Muslims. However to counteract this, the African American Muslims walk around the streets of Harlem wearing their boubou robes and tasseled hats in order to remind themselves and others of where they're from and they're true identities.
"Professor Abdullah's work provides key insights into the intersections of Muslim-American and African identities," said Professor James Peterson, the director of the Africana Studies program which cosponsored the event. "Given the university's commitment to Global Studies and to the study of Islam globally, students should welcome this opportunity to hear from and interact with an expert on these subject matters.
"My sense is that one way to counter some of the negative narratives about Muslim identity and/or the practice of Islam (that are regularly circulated in American society) is for the university community to engage people (in this case scholars) whose research and experiences provide us with a broader sense of what it means to be Muslim," he said. "And this experience is what I hope students will take away from Professor Abdullah's lecture."
Kayla Stroz, '14, attended the event.
Samantha Lo, '13, also attended the event.
"I'm a religion minor and we're always encouraged by our professors to go to lectures like these," said Lo. "It's good to get another perspective on things."
Abdullah is the author of Black Mecca: The African Muslims of Harlem. His work has appeared in many periodicals, and he has been quoted in the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Reuters-Worldwide Religious News. Abdullah is associate professor in the Religion Department at Temple University, where he is also a faculty affiliate in the Geography and Urban Studies Department. He is currently a Ford Foundation Fellow writing a book on Black Muslim conversion and the Nation of Islam in mid-century America.
According to Professor Rob Rozehnal, the director of the Center for Global Islamic Studies and person responsible for choosing Abdullah as a speaker, the cluster development series host talks from professors and researchers from all over. They collectively aim to spotlight outstanding scholarship in the comparative, interdisciplinary field of global Islamic studies. The center will host a variety of other speakers throughout the semester.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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