When reporting on Islam in America, the media often focus on immigrant communities, either from the Middle East or from Southeast Asia. But as many as 40% of the Muslims in this country were born here, and their families have been living in America for generations. By some estimates, African Americans are the largest single ethnic group within America’s diverse Muslim population. And until recently, black Muslims felt somewhat alienated from their immigrant religious brethren.
It should be stated from the outset that the overwhelming majority of African-American Muslims are Sunni Muslims. They do not subscribe to the racist ideology of the Nation of Islam, which says white people were created by the Devil to test black people. It is a common misconception that all African-American Muslims belong to this controversial group, when in fact most practice a racially inclusive form of Islam that — theologically, at least — is just like the Islam practiced in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. That does not mean, though, that African-American Muslims are exactly like the immigrants with whom they share a faith.
“My generation of Islamic reverts came out of a social movement here in the United States, says Muhaimina Abdul-Hakim, who has belonged to the Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, New York, sine 1972. “The Civil Rights movement and Black Nationalism. So we had a different political ideology about America in the first place.”
Ms. Abdul-Hakim very consciously refers to herself as a “re-vert,” rather than a “convert,” because she sees her conversion to Islam as a return to the faith of her ancestors. The first Muslims in America were slaves, brought here from Africa in the 17th century. Like so many other black Muslims her age, she converted at a time of great social change in the United States. And because of this, there is still a strong desire within the African-American Muslim community to change America’s socio-economic structure.