Being Muslim


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Being Muslim: A Cultural History of Women of Color in American Islam (New York University Press, 2018) offers an alternative history of Islam in the United States that centers the lives, voices, and representations of women of color. The book argues that being Muslim in the United States is marked by a state of “affective insurgency,” through which U.S. Muslim women have negotiated their day-to-day lives against ever-shifting terrains of racial, gendered, and religious meaning throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The book shares U.S. Muslim women’s stories of resistance, from the histories of Black American women in 1920s Chicago, to those of well-known U.S. Muslim women such as Betty Shabazz (the wife/widow of Malcolm X) and jazz singer Dakota Staton, to contemporary U.S. Muslim women activists working in today’s social justice struggles. Through these histories and narratives, author Sylvia Chan-Malik maps how communities of American Muslims became sites of safety, support, spirituality, and social activism, and how women of color were, and continue to be, central to their formation.

From the stories it gathers, Being Muslim demonstrates the diversity and similarities of Black, Arab, South Asian, Latina, white, and multiracial Muslim women, and how American understandings of Islam have shifted alongside the evolution of U.S. white nationalism over the past century. In acknowledging the lineages of Black and woman-of-color feminism, Chan-Malik offers us a new vocabulary for U.S. Muslim feminism, one that is as conscious of race, gender, sexuality, and nation, as it is region and religion.



“This is a compelling, comprehensive, well-researched yet intimate exploration of intersectionality in the lives of African American Muslim women. Readers make an excursion through lives and contexts, from the beginning of the 20th century into the 21st. Chan-Malik demonstrates skills beyond the ordinary as she leaves little to the imagination regarding women’s reasons for choosing Islam as a faith center and its relationship to homemaking, careers, and husbands…Chan-Malik has interrupted the stream of community biographies told through a male lens. An important book.

A. B. Al-Deen, DePaul University, CHOICE, Dec 2018 Vol. 56 No. 4

“Rarely does a work of scholarship so seamlessly and skillfully interweave methods of theory, history, ethnography, and cultural interpretation to elucidate a topic of overarching importance. With rich insight and pristine originality, Sylvia Chan-Malik establishes a new, lasting standard that will redirect future scholarship on race, gender, and transnational Islam. Readers will learn immensely from the rich fruits of such careful and judicious intellectual labor.”

—Sylvester Johnson, Virginia Tech

“This fascinating cultural history of Islam in the United States will surprise readers with its insights and subtleties of argument. By centering the lives, labor, and perspectives of US American Muslim women, and black Muslim women in particular, Chan-Malik makes a powerful case for conceptualizing Islam in the US in terms of its foundational blackness and the religious opposition to racism and sexism.”

—Zareena Grewal, author of Islam is a Foreign Country

In Being Muslim, Chan-Malik deftly analyzes the intertwined exigencies and possibilities of race, gender, and class as lived by historical and contemporary US Muslim women of color through their intentional spiritual practice…her work is a necessary ad timely intervention.”

—Donna Auston, Transforming Anthropology, vol. 27 (1).   READ FULL REVIEW

“Chan-Malik’s work is an important contribution to the study of Islam as it introduces new vocabulary and approaches…and critically engages with discourses that have marginalized Black Muslim women and women of color in representations of US Islam…Chan-Malik blends both theory and history to demonstrate that ensuring the inclusion of Black Muslim women in renderings of US Islam calls for new frameworks to conceptualize their influence, which in turn, will unsettle representations of US Muslim-ness created by their exclusion.”\

—Iman AbdoulKarim, Reading Religion: A Publication of the American Academy of Religion, March 19, 2019.  READ FULL REVIEW


“Being Muslim offers an alternative history of Islam in America,” Aysha Khan, Religion News Service, 08/01/2018

“Black Agenda Report Book Forum: Sylvia Chan-Malik’s Being Muslim,” Interview with Roberto Sirvent, Black Agenda Report, 08/01/2018

“Author shines light on women of colour’s role in shaping Islam.” Dalia Hatuqa, Middle East Eye, 10/09/2018


NYU Press