African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles. By Allan D. Austin. New York: Routledge, 1997. Pp.194 +40 Maps and Illustrations. $21.95, paper.
Islam in the United States of America. By Sulayman S.
Nyang. Chicago: ABC International Group, Inc., 1999. Pp. 165, $14.95, paper.
These books, written by Allan D. Austin and Sulayman S. Nyang, two of the pioneers in the study of Islam in the United States, provide an excellent introduction to significant aspects of the religion of Islam in the New World.
African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spritual Struggles is a condensation of Austin's groundbreaking book, African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Sourcebook (New York: Garland, 1984). The new book includes updated information about forty more African Muslim slaves, several Arabic manuscripts, and scholarship produced by Muslim slaves that the author has found since 1984. Allan D. Austin, a specialist in antebellum American history, analyzes the fascinating biographies of numerous West African Muslim slaves who lived in the American South between 1730 and 1860. These men and women, who were 15% of the slave population, were the first Muslims in the United States and established a rich Islamic heritage in antebellum America.
His current book presents the fascinating stories of Ibrahim Abd ar-Rahman, Bilali Mohammed, Job Ben Solomon, Lamine Kebe, Umar ibn Said, and many other literate Muslim slaves who had been royalty, military leaders, Imams, and scholars in West Africa. These Muslims left their mark in American history by resisting subjugation, reading and writing in Arabic, faithfully practicing their religion, and telling the stories of their lives in West Africa. African Muslims In Antebellum America is the most important book on the history of Islam in the United States before the twentieth century and has established the paradigms and themes for new and exciting work in this area such as, Sylviane A. Diouf, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (New York University Press, 1998), and John Hunwick's research project on West African Arabic manuscripts. Thanks to the author, we now have a compelling and comprehensive case study of Muslims in pre-twentieth century America that fills the gap of information that existed before his publications.
Islam in the United States of America provides a comprehensive introduction to the variety of multicultural communities and institutions in twentieth-century American Islam. The book consists of selected essays written by Sulayman S. Nyang, a pioneering scholar in African and Islamic studies at Howard University. In the eleven chapters of this text, Nyang utilizes historical and social-scientific analysis to address the racially and ethnically diverse experiences of American Muslims and their institutions.
The author's dynamic presentation of the cultural, social, and political issues of African, African-American, Arab, Caribbean, Asian, and European Muslims in the United States supports his central thesis that American Muslims are "not a monolithic group; ... [various communities] respond differently to some challenges facing Muslims; ... and [have adopted] different degrees of assimilation to American culture and society" (p. 70). Nyang's creative and comprehensive analysis of indigenous and immigrant Muslim communities makes this book one of the important introductory texts on Islam in the United States. His original documentation of the establishment of American Muslim schools and civil rights organizations, the Islamic press, and Darul Islam, the most influential African-American Sunni community, provides a dynamic view of the culture of Muslims in the United States.
Allan D. Austin and Sulayman S. Nyang have produced significant contributions to the new wave of scholarship on Islam in the United States. Their books are highly recommended.
Richard Brent Turner, The University of Iowa