Religiosity, Resistance, Resilience: Islam in the African Diaspora

Feb 24th Event - Poster 1-1

Register here to attend the conference.

View panelists’ biographies here.


Invisible Muslims: Islam in Africa & the Diaspora

Rudolph Ware, Professor of History, University of Michigan

A blind spot developed where Africanist inquiry and Orientalism met, and Black Muslims disappeared. The interdisciplinary fields of African, Diaspora, and Islamic studies have been sometimes unwitting and always unfortunate heirs to ancient and recent legacies of racial and colonial thought. . This talk will explore the intellectual stakes in re-centering Islam in the story of African peoples, and African peoples in the story of Islam.


Islam in Haiti, “Land of Vodou”

Aisha Khan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, New York University

Islam in Haiti has a long and complex history, brought to the Atlantic world by enslaved Africans, symbolized through the Haitian Revolution, and revived in the contemporary moment. During my preliminary research on Islam in Haiti, in discussions with Haitian Muslims in Port-au-Prince, my interlocutors most often turned to the relationship between Islam and Vodou, particularly the ways that Haitians’ profound sense of self as Haitian are shaped by their understandings of the meeting ground of these two religious traditions. My presentation will consider “reclamation narratives,” or local historiographies of the Haitian Revolution vis-a-vis Islam; interpretations of the roles and activities of what might be called the kindred spirits of lwa and djinn; and the relationship between Islam and Vodou as they are understood to mutually constitute racial and religious identities among Haitian Muslims, and Haitians more generally.


The Possibilities and Limitations of Malik Ambar’s Spiritual and Religious Practices

Omar Ali, Professor of Comparative African Diaspora History, University of North Carolina-Greensboro
The life of Malik Ambar, a seventeenth-century Ethiopian who became the de facto ruler of the Sultanate of Ahmednagar in India, offers insight into the religiosity and resilience of Africans across the Indian Ocean world. What were the spiritual traditions of Malik Ambar’s Oromo birth community prior to his adoption of Islam? In what ways did he have to navigate the various societies into which he entered with regard to religious practices? What evidence can we point to in order to better understand his own spirituality and religiosity? Through an exploration of archival materials and oral history, the presentation will begin to explore these questions.


I am where God is protecting us‘: Islam as a Protective Factor in Somali Refugee Narratives

Ifrah Magan, Adjunct Lecturer, Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago

Somali refugees are amongst the top five refugee populations globally, and one of the largest resettled African refugee groups in the United States. This presentation explores the various migration experiences of Somali refugees residing in Chicago; how such experiences have impacted their resettlement and integration in Chicago; and how these experiences of migration and resettlement have impacted their ethnic and religious identities. Informed by critical race theory, stages-of-migration framework, and place-making theory, this presentation highlights the role of Islam in serving as a protective factor for Somali refugees, discussing the ways in which Islam and Islamic identity has shaped the overall migration experiences of study participants.


Resistance and the Nation of Islam: How Self-Determination Shapes Resilience

Radiah Shabazz, Master’s Candidate at the School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago

This presentation will examine religiosity and resilience from the lens of the Nation of Islam, a political and religious movement founded in Detroit in 1930. It will focus on the Nation of Islam’s early sociopolitical, separatist, pro-Black teachings, which have often been deemed controversial, and look at how they have played and continue to play a dynamic role in shaping Black self-determination in times of heightened racism and oppression. This presentation will also explore the ways in which the Nation of Islam positioned itself as a body of resistance against racial discrimination, and how various forms of resistance shape resilience and self-determination. While unpacking how resistance differs from resilience, the presentation will conclude with an anecdote about the historic and present racialization of resilience and why the use of the term can often be problematic, to be followed by open discussion on the various interpretations of resilience.


Songs to the African Saints of India: Music, Ritual and the Formulation of Africana Muslim Identity

Jazmin Graves, Doctoral Student in the South Asian Languages and Civilizations Department, University of Chicago

This paper explores a selection of Sidi (African-Indian) Sufi devotional songs, called jikr, in order to parse the ways in which these ritual song-texts’ veneration of God, the Prophet of Islam and African Sufi ancestor-saints crafts the historical narrative of an African Diasporan community, positioning African Sufi saints at the center of identity.