Between Resistance and Assimilation: A Critical Examination of American Muslim Educational Behaviors in Public School

By Khalifa, Muhammad; Gooden, Mark A. | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Between Resistance and Assimilation: A Critical Examination of American Muslim Educational Behaviors in Public School


Khalifa, Muhammad, Gooden, Mark A., The Journal of Negro Education


This article investigates the relationship between religious identities of African American Muslims and school performance. We examined how understandings of religion inform how American Muslims view, behave, and imagine their role in school. The first author conducted interviews over the course of a year with four American Muslims, two of whom chose not to pursue postsecondary education and two who did. In conjunction with interview responses, bracketing allowed for a conscious, transparent interpretation of data. The findings indicate the presence of two distinctive approaches in how indigenous American Muslims imagine themselves and behave educationally. In one mode, American Muslim religious identity has both appropriated and developed strands and discursive practices that hinder and even prevent successful educational attainment. In another, they sought extensive education but had nonobservant religious identities. Finally, this research reports on how traditional American institutions of agency, which often facilitate educational success, are viewed by American Muslims.

Keywords: education, Muslim, American Muslim, Nation of Islam, Black, African American

When discussing educational behaviors of American Muslims, it is virtually impossible to do so without discussing issues of race. For one, America is a much racialized society, but more importantly, American Muslims are very fragmented along racial identities. This research is concerned with White and Black (here, termed "indigenous") American Muslims who are not descendente of Middle Eastern immigrants. In academic literature, the term 'indigenous' in an American context often refers to Native American peoples. Here, the term indigenous American Muslims is used to connote Black and White Americans, who converted to Islam and who have not migrated to America from another country. The overwhelming majority of ttiese indigenous Muslim converts are Black American descendants of ex-slaves (Ba-Yunus, 1997; McCloud, 1994). Although roughly one-third of all Muslims in the U. S. are indigenous American Muslims (Pew Report, 2007), recent educational research on American Muslims has focused primarily on immigrant Muslims and their children (Muslims who have had a brief family history in the U. S., often beginning after 1960). This is true despite the tremendous educational successes that many immigrant Muslims have enjoyed and the challenges that indigenous American Muslims face. Recent American immigrants from the Muslim World tend to have more education, more employable skills, and a higher class status than their American counterparts (Ba-Yunus, 1997). One explanation for mis may be that in the pre-'war-on-terror' climate, many immigrants gained access to the cultural and social capital structures afforded to White Americans. Naff (1985), Gualtieri (2001, 2009), and Ajrouch and Jamal (2007) for example, show that Arabs who settled early in Detroit and New York struggled to position themselves into White American identities. When allowed to become White Americans, many Arabs have happily obliged. Another, although not necessarily competing explanation, for their post-immigration status, may be related to their successes and upper class status that many held before their immigration to the U. S.

From a social justice perspective, the protracted poorer educational attainment of indigenous American Muslims, as opposed to immigrant Muslims - who enjoy tremendous wealth and status in an American context - seems to be a more pressing topic of study. The paucity in research on indigenous Muslim identity and education may be attributed to essentialist research on American Muslims, in which American scholars are captivated by the mystique of the Oriental Muslim representation (Said, 1978). In Said's estimation, Americans are drawn to stereotypical, nearly chimerical images of Muslims that do not represent reality. It may be too strong to describe American researchers in this way but their infatuation with researching the Muslim 'other' (i. …

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