African-American Muslim Women
Beverly Thomas McCloud
Most scholars writing about Islam in the African-American Muslim community have focused their efforts on the examination of the teachings of the Nation of Islam. 1 In particular, their interest seems to have centered on a critique of the Nation's philosophy concerning the origin of the Caucasian race, a preoccupation of non-Muslim as well as Muslim writers. 2 This obsession with the teachings about race has led to two major lacunae in our understanding of the dynamics of Islam in society. First, we have relatively little informed data about the growth and development of an equally large Islamic population outside the Nation of Islam, that of the Sunni African‐ Americans who have been active in the major urban areas of the United States since the first quarter of this century. Second, there is no analytical writing about the role of women in the African-American Muslim community, including the Nation of Islam.
The conversion of African-Americans to Islam is a twentieth-century phenomenon. In a major way it is a response to American racism as a consequence of which black Americans found themselves experiencing what it means to be "a problem," with the constant knowledge of the hatred that white Americans have for people of dark skin. 3 It is also a reaction to white America's solution for "problem races," evident in its treatment of American Indians, a solution that aimed at eradicating the problem by genocide or containment. Consequently, black Americans saw two options for their survival. These were articulated by various leaders as accommodation and separation.
The accommodationists operated within the general framework of "proving the worth of the black American to white society." They stressed that the black citizen is worthy of equal status in the land, especially those black people with "acceptable" skills in areas such as home economics and trades. Booker T. Washington, the chief proponent of this school, was supported by Christian ministers from various denominations who emphasized an underlying ideology centered on the maintenance of good conduct, good work habits, efficiency, and good moral living.
The separatist movement, on the other hand, operated within the general framework of "double consciousness," which Dubois articulated as the mental