African-American Muslims and
the Question of Identity
Between Traditional Islam, African Heritage,
and the American Way
Ali Marzrui, in his 1986 televised PBS series, “The Africans,” argued that Africans are the cultural heirs to a “triple heritage,” consisting of (1) Africanity or traditional indigenous culture, (2) Islamic culture, and (3) Western culture. This triple cultural heritage, according to Mazrui, is at the center of all of the African continent's contemporary conflicts and predicaments.1 I intend to argue here that African-American Muslims are also heir to this “triple heritage,” but that vastly different historical circumstances between continental Africans and Africans in the diaspora (i.e., in the Americas) have resulted in entirely distinct patterns of interplay among these three cultural factors. In other words, the patterns of enculturation (socialization within the indigenous culture) and acculturation (adaptation to non-indigenous cultures) are vastly different in the African diaspora from what they are on the African continent, even though the basic cultural factors are similar, if not identical. Nevertheless, this “triple heritage” lies at the center of all of the African-American Muslim community's contemporary conflicts and predicaments, in much the same way that the “triple heritage” is at the center of Africa's conflicts.
Mazrui states that the “triple heritage” of the African continent actually consisted of two distinct phases: one of antiquity and the other modern. The modern phase began over a thousand years ago with the introduction of Islam into Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries. Western culture entered Africa much later, with the intrusion of colonialism beginning in the fifteenth century. However, during the phase of antiquity which dates back thousands of years to the dawn of civilization among Africans in Egypt, Africa was heir to both a Semitic (Hebraic and Arabian) culture which was the progenitor