Don't forget African American Muslims

by Aminah Beverly McCloud
Chicago, Illinois - That there needs to be a conduit between America and the Muslim world for better communication is an understatement given the tensions between the two cultures. The American Muslim community is composed of two distinct groups indigenous Americans and their children, and immigrants and their children.

There is a feeling among the indigenous Muslims that they have been mostly overlooked, omitted and ignored in the role of building such a bridge. On one side, immigrant Muslims and their children refuse to recognise the existence of American Muslims as representatives of American Islam, just as Americans refuse to recognise their presence as Muslims. However, as the largest single ethnic group of indigenous Muslims, African American Muslims seem the best-equipped and well-placed to bridge the widening gap between America and the Muslim world.

African American Muslims have roots in America that are centuries old, and more importantly, a history of social and political participation in the 20th and 21st centuries through their families and the general black community. They have participated and sometimes even led organisations and movements during the Civil Rights Era, such as voter registration drives, Feed the Children campaigns and inner city programmes for the poor. Some of the current elected and appointed officials across the nation come from African American Muslim families.

Though the American government has rarely considered African Americans worthy of having a say on foreign policy, when appointed, they have proven to be up to the task. The arena of African American work has largely been on the domestic scene, with normal cycles of success and failure.

African Americans as a whole, and African American Muslims in particular, have made much of the immigrant Muslim comfort possible. Beginning in the late 1950s, African American Muslims began making name changes, introducing Arabic names to the general community. They also started demanding that federal prison officials provide halal (permissible according to Islamic law) meals, and permit daily prayers and Friday services in effect, putting Islamic practices on the federal landscape.

By the 1970s, African American Muslim women were settling lawsuits about the right to wear the headscarf in professional positions such as medicine, nursing and pharmacy. Many had been involved in making communities aware of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provided visas for immigrant Muslims.

Simultaneously, African American Muslims have been living in and visiting the Muslim world for half a century. Some have extensive familiarity as former students in the Middle East while others have chosen to act as ambassadors to introduce the Muslim world to American Muslims and vice versa. Still others have built African American communities abroad where children spend summers in the United States and the school year in the Muslim world. Many African American Muslims speak some Arabic, and some are fluent in both language and culture.

Yet, racism and a prioritisation of the immigrant voice over that of the indigenous has thus far prevented their notice as prime candidates for intercultural communication or advisors on Muslim cultures.

African American Muslims are invested in both their country and their religion and have proven as much on numerous occasions, especially since September 11, 2001. Their families are not just Christian; they have Jews, Buddhists, and practitioners of various African traditional religions in their families. Their family religious adherence could be through inter-marriage or ancestry, producing an ongoing and organic inter-religious dialogue. Their intimate knowledge of religions and cultures outside of their own definitely makes many candidates for building bridges.

What is patently clear is that a conduit between America and the Muslim world is a necessity and needs facilitators who are conversant with both cultures. Critical in this endeavour is the recognition by Americans that African American Muslims are legitimately both American and Muslim. They are bound in many ways to the ethos in which they were born, and are determined to be Muslims that respect their religion and their country.

They have much to offer that does not compromise either their American or Islamic heritage, and seek the best of both.

This potential needs recognition to be actualised. In fact, African American Muslims have been pushing for that recognition at every opportunity. On radio stations their voices are heard navigating the political waters with sensitivity and acumen. On blogs their voices are also heard negotiating highly sensitive issues, like Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, the situation in Darfur, and increasing US-Iran tensions.

They are there, and their willingness has been demonstrated. Let's not waste a unique and ready-made resource.


* Aminah Beverly McCloud is the director of the Islamic World Studies Program at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. This article is part of a series on African American Muslims written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service, 27 May 2008,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
Women of Tunisia: Let your voices be heard!

The women of Tunisia have a decisive role to play in shaping Tunisia's future. Fatma Ben Saïdane reminds women of the power of their vote and the importance of civic engagement.
"CGNews is the most successful service I know of when it comes to placing timely, important and thought-provoking opinion-pieces that illuminate intra-Muslim and so-called 'Muslim-Western' debates in important print media outlets. The ability to do so consistently and over as broad an array of media outlets across geographical, linguistic, and ideological editorial barriers is what makes CGNews stand out. Keep the articles coming."

- Shamil Idriss, Former Acting Director of the Secretariat for the UN Alliance of Civilizations

It takes 200+ hours a week to produce CGNews. We rely on readers like you to make it happen. If you find our stories informative or inspiring, help us share these underreported perspectives with audiences around the world.



Or, support us with a one-time donation.

African American Muslim women are a rare gift
A royal heritage
African American Muslims refute the clash of civilisations
Second time around for African American Muslims
African Americans help diminish Islamophobia
# of hours per week to create one edition
# of editors in 6 countries around the world
# of subscribers
Average # of reprints per article
# of media outlets that have reprinted our articles
# of republished articles since inception
# of languages CG articles are distributed in
# of writers since inception


Other articles in this series

African American Muslim women are a rare gift by Aisha H.L. al-Adawiya
A royal heritage by Sheikh Anwar Muhaimin
African American Muslims refute the clash of civilisations by Dawud Walid
Second time around for African American Muslims by Jimmy E. Jones
African Americans help diminish Islamophobia by Faheem Shuaibe