Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam

Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam

Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam

Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam


With vocal public figures such as Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, and Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam often appears to be a male-centric religious movement, and over 60 years of scholarship have perpetuated that notion. Yet, women have been pivotal in the NOI's development, playing a major role in creating the public image that made it appealing and captivating.

Women of the Nation draws on oral histories and interviews with approximately 100 women across several cities to provide an overview of women's historical contributions and their varied experiences of the NOI, including both its continuing community under Farrakhan and its offshoot into Sunni Islam under Imam W.D. Mohammed. The authors examine how women have interpreted and navigated the NOI's gender ideologies and practices, illuminating the experiences of African-American, Latina, and Native American women within the NOI and their changing roles within this patriarchal movement. The book argues that the Nation of Islam experience for women has been characterized by an expression of Islam sensitive to American cultural messages about race and gender, but also by gender and race ideals in the Islamic tradition. It offers the first exhaustive study of women's experiences in both the NOI and the W.D. Mohammed community.


When you went into the Nation, the first thing they taught you was, your brothers and
sisters are in the temple and no one else matters. You can’t have any other friends; you
turn your back on everyone. Everything they want you to do, they got a place for you
to do it.
—Sonji Clay, first wife of Muhammad Ali

The Nation gave me a place to develop the confidence that I needed. It was a womb that
got me ready to come out into the world.
—Lynda, Sunni Muslim woman

Both popular media and scholarly accounts of the Nation of Islam (NOI) tend to focus on dominant male figures such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Louis Farrakhan. in the rarer cases in which literature on the Nation features women’s experiences, Nation women are often presented in relation to these dominant men, as in the case of Sonji Clay, whose comments at the start of this Introduction were included in a biography of Muhammad Ali. Or they tend to be accounts of ex-Nation women who describe the noi as controlling and repressive, as also mentioned in Clay’s comments. Missing have been the accounts of everyday noi women, many of whom, unlike Clay, consciously chose the Nation independent of their husbands or fathers. Also absent have been the voices of ex-Nation women who, like Lynda, also quoted at the start of this Introduction, have left the noi for Sunni Islam but describe the Nation as an organization that bettered their lives. This book brings such voices to the center of analysis. It portrays women of the Nation of Islam from various perspectives, recognizing the group’s patriarchal dimensions and revealing how women have experienced and shaped the Nation.

This book explores how women have understood, experienced, and contributed to the Nation of Islam throughout its eighty-year history. It illuminates how women have interpreted and navigated the NOI’s . . .

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