Date of Award

Fall 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Social Welfare

First Advisor

Ram Cnaan

Second Advisor

Roberta Sands

Third Advisor

Jamal Elias


African American males form the largest category of converts to Sunni Islam in the US. This study aimed at understanding the ways in which the conversion process impacted social connections, both preexisting connections and creation and fostering of new ones post-conversion. This study sought to capture this understanding from the perspective of the converts themselves, in their own voices. Specifically, this study explored the ways in which conversion to Sunni Islam among African American men living in Philadelphia impacted their relationships with family members, friends, neighborhood members, those in the broader African American community, and in places of employment.

This study was exploratory in nature and consisted of a total of 26 in-depth interviews. The primary data consisted of 21 interviews conducted with converts. An additional 5 interviews, conducted with key informants, formed a second data source and served to contextualize the findings that emerged from the primary data source. Efforts were made to interview participants representing a diversity of ages, lengths of time converted, and denominational affiliations.

Several key findings emerged from this data. In light of the processual nature of religious conversion, the degree of religious intensification was found to be associated with the degree to which converts had traversed the boundary of their faith. Denominational affiliation was found to be important for understanding post-conversion experiences as adherents from different theological perspectives oriented their day-to-day lives in notable ways in respect to different criteria. The primary line of demarcation was found to be between fundamentalist and more moderate groups. Finally, it was found that prolonged exposure to Muslims in the city has led to nonpersonalized-acceptance, the acceptance of Muslims in the physical space of Philadelphia; this has served to curtail excessively negative reactions towards Muslims by non-Muslims in the various domains of community life, yet it appears that this acceptance has been limited to the physical realm and that true acceptance and integration are relatively speaking, lacking. The acceptance and integration to date however is suggestive of a process by which marginalized organizations with rigid boundaries began to diffuse into their broader communities and gain full acceptance.