Sylvia Chan-Malik is a scholar of American and gender studies at Rutgers University. She was raised in Northern California by Chinese immigrants who were culturally Buddhist but not religious. In 2001, after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, she began working on anti-racism initiatives with Muslim and Arab activist groups in the Bay Area, documenting the ways American Muslims were grappling with their their cultural differences and identities. In the course of her research, she found herself drawn to the faith and converted to Islam in 2004.
“In the narrative of American Islam, there’s this complete omission of black Muslim women who are so critical to its making,” states the scholar who hopes to change that in her new book Being Muslim: A Cultural History of Women of Color in American Islam. According to the Religion News Service, the book “walks the reader through the largely forgotten history of Muslim women of color in the past century” — beginning with black women in the Ahmadiyya and Nation of Islam movements and ending with how today’s women of color practice Islam against the backdrop of the Trump era and the ongoing war on terror.
Ms. Chan-Malik says that what is missing in today’s mainstream depictions of Muslim women of color is their own narrative. “There’s a whole generation of African-American Muslim women who are now in their 70s, 80s, 90s who have so much to tell. They have entire archives on how they created the first Islamic schools in their communities, they have all these documents and photographs in their homes, and nobody is interested. I’d love to see young Muslims try to preserve and explore and learn from these stories.”