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Engaged Surrender

Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam

Carolyn Moxley Rouse
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Engaged Surrender
    Book Description:

    Commonly portrayed in the media as holding women in strict subordination and deference to men, Islam is nonetheless attracting numerous converts among African American women. Are these women "reproducing their oppression," as it might seem? Or does their adherence to the religion suggest unsuspected subtleties and complexities in the relation of women, especially black women, to Islam? Carolyn Rouse sought answers to these questions among the women of Sunni Muslim mosques in Los Angeles. Her richly textured study provides rare insight into the meaning of Islam for African American women; in particular, Rouse shows how the teachings of Islam give these women a sense of power and control over interpretations of gender, family, authority, and obligations. InEngaged Surrender,Islam becomes a unique prism for clarifying the role of faith in contemporary black women's experience. Through these women's stories, Rouse reveals how commitment to Islam refracts complex processes-urbanization, political and social radicalization, and deindustrialization-that shape black lives generally, and black women's lives in particular. Rather than focusing on traditional (and deeply male) ideas of autonomy and supremacy, the book-and the community of women it depicts-emphasizes more holistic notions of collective obligation, personal humility, and commitment to overarching codes of conduct and belief. A much-needed corrective to media portraits of Islam and the misconceptions they engender, this engaged and engaging work offers an intimate, in-depth look into the vexed and interlocking issues of Islam, gender, and race.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93706-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. ONE Engaged Surrender
    (pp. 1-23)

    In 1991, when I ventured onto the grounds of Masjid Ummah, a mosque in Southern California, I was not new to African American Sunni Islam.¹ In college, I had attempted to understand the “evolution” of the Muslim movement by examining the Nation of Islam’s journalMuhammad Speaksfrom the early 1960s through its transformation into theMuslim Journal, a Sunni Muslim weekly.

    What began my love of and fascination with the African American Sunni Muslim community is what I now see as an important but naive observation. In 1986, while riding on a bus in Chester, Pennsylvania, in ninety-nine degree...

  6. TWO A Community of Women: Consensus, Borders, and Resistance Praxis
    (pp. 24-35)

    When Alia, an African American convert to Sunni Islam, wakes up the city is relatively still. Outside the early morning is lit by a pervasive orange glow from streetlights reflecting off the dark sky. Her husband, Karim, and child, Tarek, remain in the bed while Alia climbs down the stairs of their poorly furnished and somewhat dilapidated one-bedroom apartment. She gets up to makesuhur, the meal the family will eat before they makefajr, the first prayer of the day. It is the month of Ramadan,¹ and therefore the meal will have to satisfy Karim and Alia until sunset,...

  7. THREE Gender Negotiations and Qur’anic Exegesis: One Community’s Reading of Islam and Women
    (pp. 36-80)

    In the fall of 1995 at Masjid al-Mustaqim, converts formed a group called “Sister-to-Sister.” They met regularly to develop a kind of authoritative community consensus (ijma) about their faith. The women used well-established methods for Islamic exegesis, including the use of Qur’an, hadith , and secondary sources written by reputable religious scholars. Each Saturday session was led by a different lay scholar on Islam, and the forum of women educating women gave sisters a chance to share their feminist exegesis with newer converts. In addition, these meetings provided an opportunity to develop some consensus regarding religious interpretations of specific Qur’anic...

  8. FOUR Historical Discourses
    (pp. 81-104)

    Close to noon, a few parents start arriving at Sister Clara Muhammad School. Zahrah, a mother and one of the few women in the community who wearspurdah, arrives for prayer.¹ Presently four of her children go to the combination elementary/junior high school and another, already in high school, comes to the school in the afternoon for Arabic lessons. Also accompanying Zahrah for prayers are her two toddlers, one and three years old. Although classes continue until two o’clock, Zahrah comes to be with her children and with the sisters working at the school. Today is special because after school...

  9. FIVE Soul Food: Changing Markers of Identity through the Transition
    (pp. 105-126)

    In the early 1940s, living in Boston with his half-sister Ella, Malcolm Little reluctantly accepted a job as a drugstore soda fountain clerk. The soda fountain was in a section of Roxbury where, according to Malcolm, blacks had assimilated much of the values of the white middle-class community. Since slavery, the black community has constructed its own system for assigning social status: a house slave was considered superior to a field slave, a light-skinned black was superior to a dark-skinned black, and, in the case of Roxbury in the 1940s, established New England Negroes considered themselves superior to recent black...

  10. SIX Conversion
    (pp. 127-151)

    With the utterance of a belief in monotheism and a commitment to the teachings and revelations of the Prophet Muhammad, a person becomes a Muslim. At Masjid al-Mustaqim, in a given month anywhere from one to twenty-five people stand in front of the congregation and take theshahada, or the witness of faith. In the early 1990s, al-Mustaqim was one of about twelve predominately African American Sunni Muslim masjids in Los Angeles county and the surrounding regions.¹ If the same statistic holds true in other masjids, up to three hundred African Americans convert to Islam every month. My estimate was...

  11. SEVEN Performing Gender: Marriage, Family, and Community
    (pp. 152-173)

    Marriage in Islam is prescribed to channel sexuality: “Whoever of you has the means to support a wife, he should get married, for this is the best means of keeping the looks cast down and guarding the chastity; and he who has not the means, let him keep fast, for this will act as castration.”¹ Marriage for Muslims is the nexus of physical desire, culture, and divine law, and according to some traditions, “The man who marries perfects half his religion.”² Some African American Muslims say the ideal Islamic marriage requires that the husband and wife cooperate to manage a...

  12. EIGHT Searching for Islamic Purity In and Out of Secular Los Angeles County
    (pp. 174-209)

    A year and a half into my research, my husband, daughter, and I traveled to Abiquiu, New Mexico, to the “Second Annual North American Muslim Powwow.” Dar al Islam, the mosque in Abiquiu, was a gift from a wealthy Middle Eastern industrialist who along with an American-born Muslim dreamed of establishing a religious community in North America. Several conferences are held yearly at the mosque, including the June powwow, an open forum on Islam.¹ About 50 percent of the Muslims who attended that year were European American, 45 percent ethnic American (African American, Native American, Pakistani American, Mexican American, and...

  13. NINE Conclusion
    (pp. 210-218)

    During Ramadan in 1996 I went with a friend, one of my white female informants, to a fast-breaking,iftar, on the Night of Power,lailat al-Qadr. The event took place at the house of a fabulously wealthy Pakistani family. The patriarch of this family bought houses for his children in an exclusive neighborhood of million-dollar homes, and it is not unusual to see women dressed inhijabrunning back and forth between the houses. The family had converted the room above their garage into a masjid, and every night during Ramadan they invited any Muslim connected to friends, family, or...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 219-222)

    In 2002, I visited the women and Imam Khalil to show them what I had written and renew their consent. The visit was important because I became aware of how deeply disturbing the events of September 11, 2001, have been to the African American Sunni community. The community in Southern California has responded in a number of interesting and subtle ways. Imam Khalil, for example, who has always encouraged his community to separate Islam from the cultural baggage associated with the faith, now is much more strident in his condemnation of oppression committed in the name of Islam. He, and...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 223-242)
    (pp. 243-246)
    (pp. 247-256)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 257-271)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 272-272)