Book Review: Islam and the Blackamerican

Islam and the Blackamerican

Title: Islam and the Blackamerican: Looking Toward a Third Resurrection
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Author: Dr. Sherman (Abdul Hakim) Jackson

This book is split into five large sections. It is organized mostly chronologically, but it is not a history textbook, and more similar to a sociology book. Dr. Jackson starts discussing Islam in Africa and then proceeds briefly into the Africans that were forcibly brought over to the US. Dr. Jackson however quickly states that 20th century Islam amongst Blackamericans is not connected to the original faith of their forefathers that were brought from Africa. This assertion is based on the fact there is no real continuity of faiths between 20th century Blackamerican Muslims and those that came before.

He discusses at length the fact that pre-1956 Blackamericans had ownership of the interpretation Islam in America. In 1965 the US passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which in effect, lifted the ban of immigration on Asians and Africans. Before this, the Immigration Act of 1924 was in place, which essentially only allowed those of north European origins to migrate to the US. This results in very few ‘Sunni’ Muslims migrating from the ‘old’ world to America before 1965, thus the Blackamericans were free, and unhindered to be the sole representative of Islam in the US. This gives rise to many strong movements, including the Nation of Islam. Through the Nation of Islam, Islam itself was redefined and made to suit the realities of America separate from the Traditional Sunni Islam. During this time there was also much discussion regarding what was the best religion for the Blackamericans. Christianity was a possible alternative, however when Blackamericans joined the Christian faith they were still regarded as ‘Second Class’ citizens. In other words, by joining Christianity and becoming fully believing Christians they did not enjoy ‘ultimate authority’ with that tradition. Dr. Jackson feels that for a community to become successful within a faith they need to acquire religious authority within the religion. For example how people from the subcontinent embraced Islam, and their scholars have mastered the tradition and now are considered an authority within the religion.

Dr. Jackson also states that Blackamericans also needed a large, world-class and unifying religion. They could have opted for traditional African religions, but they were diverse due to each village in Africa having their own traditions. Not to mention any connection with African heritage, culture and language was essentially lost due to the oppressions of American slavery. Islam did suit their purpose, as providing spiritual meaning, strength and disciple to live in post-slavery America. This is why, pre-1965, Blacks gravitated towards the Nation of Islam and other Islamic movements, as were able to control the definition of what it means to be Muslim and not subject to any outside authority, white or otherwise.

This leads us into post-1965. This is when the large immigrant wave of Sunni Islam comes into America, from Arabian, African and Indian lands. This immigration wave significantly alters the exclusive power that Blackamericans had over the definition of Islam. This created more difficulties for the Blackamerican Muslims. Sunni Muslim immigrants started to come into America and encountering Blackamerican Muslims and Sunni Muslims begin to introduce a tradition that is different and separate from the Nation of Islam. This begins to erode the exclusive voice that Blackamericans had over Islam in America. As well, since Sunni Islam was presented as the only true orthodox representation of Islam, the followers of Nation of Islam find themselves being discredited as being true Muslims by the Sunni Immigrants. Dr. Jackson refers to this as ‘lost authority’. As a result of this, Dr. Jackson states that many more Blackamerican Muslims have turned to Traditional Sunni Islam, and by learning and studying they have become proficient in it. He encourages this path to reconciling the Blackamerican history, Sunni Tradition and lost authority. In other words, gaining proficiency in Sunni Islam can lead to scholarship in Sunni Islam by Blackamericans, and thus regaining their influence over the definition of Islam in America. The other key issue here is that Immigrants are woefully unaware of American history; as such they will struggle to understand and connect with Americans. Thus Blackamericans could be better suited to define what Islam is in America. No one can deny Blackamericans of their ‘American-ness’, thus in combination with Sunni Islam they would be uniquely situated to best represent Islam in America.

Thus Dr. Jackson describes being a ‘consumer’ and a ‘producer’ of the Islamic Tradition in America. Blackamericans in pre-1965 were ‘producers’, then post-1965 became ‘consumers’, and he believes that once Blackamerican Muslim take up the Sunni Tradition from a scholarly (but also culturally) perspective, they again can become a ‘producers’ of the Islamic Tradition in America. This would be a full circle. He believes had Malcom X been alive today, he would have been leading the way of transferring Islamic religious authority from immigrant to native born hands. This is a critical transition for continued existence of Islam amongst Blackamericans.

In the last section he refers to struggling against the social norms and systematic racism, that it is within the Islamic Tradition a spiritual struggle. He points of Sufism (Islamic Spirituality) as being a solid spiritual source for this struggle, spirituality through resistance. Dr. Jackson states that it is that psychological resistance is a means of receiving spiritual enhancement from God. I quote: To acquiesce in the face of unearned suffering is both to evince a paucity of faith in God and to forfeit the opportunity to increase it. In my words: Not being tough when faced with suffering is to display a weakness in faith and to lose an opportunity to increase ones faith in God.

Overall, this is a great book. It does read like a textbook, which is expected considering it is written by a professor. His perspective is unique, and as John Esposito states on the back cover, ‘No author is better positioned than Sherman Jackson to write Islam and the Blackamerican’ and I highly agree.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s