Islam and the Blackamerican — Sherman Jackson

Osama Alkhawaja
8 min readJul 17, 2020

The following is a list of quotes and passages from Dr. Sherman Jackson’s book, “Islam and the Blackamerican,” and should be used for educational purposes only.


  • “Islam has achieved its greatest success in the United States among the Blackamerican masses…Among the great Western democracies, America is unique in that the largest single group of its Muslims consists of indigenous converts…Islam owes its momentum among Blackamericans to the phenomenon of Black Religion.”
  • Historical Islam: “classical Sunnism…adjust(ed) to changing circumstances as the religion moved through space and time”
  • Prior to 1965: “Islam in America was dominated by an indigenous black presence…these movements conferred upon Blackamericans a sense of ownership in Islam…Islam owes the legitimacy and esteem it enjoys in the black community as a whole primarily to these proto-Islamic beginnings”
  • Post 1965: “Blackamerican Muslims found themselves struggling to reconcile a dignified black, American existence with the super-tradition a of historical Islam, on the one hand, against the presumed normativeness of a historically informed and culturally specific Immigrant Islam, on the other.”
  • “Immigrant Islam embodies the habit of universalizing the particular”

Chapter I: Islam and the Black Religion

  • Summary: the spread of Islam among Black Americans owes a great deal to the early spread of proto-Islam and Black religion
  • Black Religion: the theology of ending white supremacy — “The central preoccupation of Black Religion is the desire to annihilate or at least subvert white supremacy and anti-black racism.”
  • “What renders an act one of appropriation as opposed to simple borrowing is that the appropriator does not recognize any “property rights” of the original owners.” → Blackreligion appropriated Islam by “appealing to Islam as a means of raising the concerns and spirit of Black Religion to a new level of respectability among Blackamericans” and had it not been for this appropriation, Black people would not have accepted Islam in mass
  • “Neither blood nor biology but history that makes a “people” and that it matters little whether that history is subjectively chosen or imposed by some other from without”
  • “the tradition of historical Islam remains more of an ideal than a reality for the majority of Blackamerican Muslims, ”however, “the real and enduring significance of the early Blackamerican Islamiyin who effected the marriage between Islam and the Black Religion is that they gave Blackamericans a sense of ownership in Islam…through them, Islam Was appropriated and made the ‘property’ of Blackamericans so that for a Blackamerican to become a Muslim entailed neither racial nor cultural apostasy nor violated any of the ‘rules’ of American blackness.”

Chapter II: The Third Resurrection

  • Post 1965: “the new eyes, the new faces, and the new prism brought by immigrant Muslims would drastically alter both the focus and the image of Islam in America”
  • the encounter between Blackamerican Sunni Muslims and Immigrant Islam: “Blackamerican converts from Christianity had simply moved from the back of the bus to the back of the camel”
  • “Africans who converted to Christianity were not afforded the freedom to interpret their own reality…[their culture was viewed] through the prism of their ‘superior’ European culture and civilization, which they equated, of course, with Christian culture and civilization.”
  • “subsequent generations of Africans would inherit no sense of ownership in Christianity, such that they would be empowered to develop expressions of the religion that enabled them to remain both Christian and African naturally”
  • “All of this stood in start contrast to the situation of Islam in Africa…Islamization in Africa did not entail Arabization…their local customs were not destroyed by the Arab influence.”
  • “The introduction of Immigrant Islam into the collective space of Blackamerican Muslims resulted in the latter’s loss of their interpretive voice”
  • “immigrant Muslims would acquire the ability to influence even Blackamerican Muslims who lay beyond their physical reach…a corporate will to re-create American Islam in the image of an idealized for of ‘back-home’ Islam”
  • “Indeed, among Blackamerican Muslims, the symbolism of growing a beard or donning Middle Eastern clothing (As markers of a commitment to a more authentic Islam) came close to burying the old folk piety and the pursuit of racial justice in the graveyard of ‘American jahiliya’ or pre-Islamic ignorance”
  • Immigrant Islam: 1) “effectively render[ed] immigrant status as a proxy for bona fide religion learning” 2) “confirm[ed] the immigrant perspective and ignored native concerns and aspirations…if Palestine and Kashmir were bona fide Islamic concerns, why not police misconduct or Affirmative Action… 3) “ would be unable, as such, to turn the problems of the inner city into bona fide Islamic priorities” 4) “a mentality that increasingly equated the truly Islamic with the non-American” 5) “affirm[ed]…the complete compatibility between Islam and the dominant culture in the West”
  • Post-colonial religion: “like Black Religion, is not reveled but a product of history… “only by reversing the losses inflicted upon the Muslim world could Muslims under the influence of Post-Colonial Religion find true redemption” “These bitter experiences gave rise to a number of situation-specific responses”
  • “Modern Islam is left with an extremely cramped aesthetic…a social order that consists of almost nothing but ‘donts’…culture phobia…these cultures are of limited portability and stand little chance of gaining mass appeal in the West”
  • “Classical Islam also avoided the trap of universal into which Modern Islam has failed by committing itself primarily to a legal rather than a theological/philosophical discourse. Legal discourses deal in concretes and are guided by the question “What should be done given a specific context and a specific set of facts? Theological discourses deal in abstract universals and are guided by the question “What is the universal and permanent truth of the matter.” Legal discourses can accomodate change and difference across space and time. Thus, jurists in Yemen could openly recognize that what they sanctioned as legitimate might be legitimately proscribed by jurists in Cairo.”
  • Modern Islam in America: “The tradition of “Arab and Muslims” is conceived of as the normative code for Muslims everywhere”
  • “Modernized scholars in the West also tend towards a certain romanticism that portrays the classical Tradition as an unattainable ideal for most mortals”
  • “For either group [immigrant vs. indigenous] to set up to its historical experience as the exclusive prism through which to determine the priorities and substance of American Islam would be to invoke a false universal”
  • “the challenge conforming Blackamerican and immigrant Muslims is essentially whether they can find common historical ground”
  • failure of Modern Islam to “identify white supremacy (as opposed to ‘the West’) as both an evil and a cause of its shattered sense of self.”

Chapter III: Black Orientalism

  • “presumption that blacks under Islam were a slave class in a slave society is a major premise of Black Orientalists”
  • “like every people, Muslims (especially immigrants) like to think of their heritage as being essentially good and only accidentally evil”
  • tendency to fall back on the American experience as the master-analogue in explaining all historical reality
  • “Assante equates Arabness with whiteness and then proceeds to argue as if the two function identically”
  • “It is thus misleading to imply…that the experience of subject population, even under a regime of Arab supremacy, would be the same as the experience of New World blacks under a regime of white supremacy”
  • “the standard to which Black Orientalists will hold Arab governments in Africa is not whether the latter serve the practical needs of their people but whether they promote the ideological and psychological needs and interests of Black-americans”

Chapter IV: Between Blackamerica, Immigrant Islam, and the Dominant Culture

  • “blacks remain the only Americans whose conversion to Islam connotes neither cultural nor ethnic apostasy…without Blackamerican Muslims, Islam would be orphaned in the United States
  • What does it mean to be American?
  • “Islam is quite at home with negotiated political arrangements that accomodate religious and ideological pluralism”
  • “religious differences did not preclude the possibility of mutual cooperation over other mutual interests” “Medina was a political arrangement according to which Muslims, pagan and Jewish beliefs and lifestyles were protected by virtue of their agreement to be “citizens” of the nascent “Prophetic State.”
  • “Quran does not establish but actually confirms pre-exisiting right and standards of conduct among non-Muslim peoples”
  • “Having established the propriety and legitimate basis upon which Muslim-Americans can embrace America…it is a “gross exaggeration to insist that Muslim recognition of the validity of the U.S. Constitution implies a violation on their part of God’s rightful monopoly as Law-Giver” “to my mind, a far more profitable approach would be not only to accept the provisions of the U.S. Constitution but to commit to preserving these by supporting and defending the Constitution itself.”
  • “many immigrant Muslims seek accepted by mainstream American in exchange for domesticated Islam that can only support the state and the dominant culture and never challenge these”
  • “Blackamericans are arguably the most American of all peoples.”
  • The challenge: to embrace ways and institutions that are identified with the dominant culture without violating one’s sense of agency and authentic self
  • “As far as Blackamerican Muslims are concerns, since the Great Migration to Sunni Islam…Rather than mining America for positive elements for the construction of. Black American Muslim persona, the focus of Muslim cultural authenticity has radically shifted to an imagined overseas utopia”
  • “As such, only a persona rooted in the knowledge, history, and experience of America could be effective in serving the needs and interests of Blackamericans”
  • “jurists riled on custom in virtually every area of Islamic law” “Holding to rulings that have been deduced on the basis of custom, even after this custom has changed, is a violation of Unanimous Consensus (ijma) and an open display of ignorance of the religion” “duty of every jurist to give due consideration to the specificities of time and place” “it is obvious that nay authoritative jurist of any school, nay, any independent jurist, period, can only decide ruling for his particular time and place”
  • Islam must cease to be an impediment to a Blackamerican Muslim constructing a modality of being both black and Muslim in America to live both fully and righteously
  • “it may be that of all the Americans, Muslim Americans have the greatest stake in a constitutional order that enables them to. “protect their protection”

Chapter V: Blackamerican Islam Between Religion, Nationalism, and Spirituality

  • An indispensable part of creating a better world requires internal reflection and change (Islam is not just a public domain — it is also about refinement of the self and physiological well being)
  • “at its best, “religion resists”
  • Islam → has stopped being culturally productive (“cultural production”)
  • hard to identify with islam in terms of everyday existence
  • “If Islam is to retain concrete meaning in the everyday lives of Blackamerican Muslims, it will have to continue to show its ability to address the concrete and circumstances that inform and circumscribe their lives”
  • “The Quran itself, however, at least on my reading, evinces an emphatic opposition to white supremacy, not as an institution aimed specialty at Blackamericans but as a system of normalized domination that idolizes a second creator and promotes a false mysterium tremendum”
  • “any spirituality that is to prove meaningful and efficacious for Blackamericans will have to come to terms with the psychological dimensions of the Blackamerican experience”
  • Iman: “is to cause or bring about safety, security, tranquility though one’s relationship with God”
  • we must resist temptation to “conflate our wishes with god’s wishes…” and cultivate a “regime of critical self-analysis, discipline, and character building that is independent of one’s grievances against the world”
  • “One who has knowledge but does not live by it is like a candle that lights the way for other by burning itself out”



Osama Alkhawaja

Lawyer writing on politics, history, and anything that interests me in at the moment