Narratives Of Islamic Self-Making: Black Muslim Youth In A Philadelphia Public School
Public School Education
African American Studies
Social and Cultural Anthropology
The phenomenon I trace throughout this dissertation is how West African and African American Muslim youth navigate the complicated terrain of racial, ethnic, and religious identities within the localized context of their school, a charter school in Southwest Philadelphia named Honors Academy. I investigate the puzzle of how, given historical contestations among African immigrants and African American Black Muslims in the US, these youth, in interacting everyday with each other at school, make sense of the differences that become salient in school in their processes of becoming Black Muslims in the US. I consider the role the school and varied spaces in the school play in this process. How can we understand what sociocultural influences become salient within different contexts in the school and how these influences shape what aspects of being Black, Muslim, and ethnic become most significant within these youth’s interactions and discourses? I argue that Black Muslim youth at Honors engage in Islamic self-making, which is the process of engaging in diverse practices of religious self-fashioning, including but not limited to religious technologies. Black Muslim youth engage in Islamic self-making through praying, fasting, and dressing modestly, through making claims to public spaces, through market strategies such as selling Islamic themed products, and through creating religious material inscriptions. Islamic space-making, a form of Islamic self-making, takes place within the context of an increasingly market-driven public education and is embedded within larger social processes such as racialization, racial formations, and ethnicization. Specifically, within US Muslim communities, ethnoreligious hegemonies, a privileging of Arab, South Asian, and immigrant Islams over Black Islamic forms, operate alongside and work within US racial formations to maintain the logic of white supremacy. I note how ethnoreligious hegemonies shape Islamic self-making practices amongst Honors students and how differences between Black Muslim youth played a prominent role despite the MSA and Honor’s attempts to cultivate unity amongst their students. Islamic self-making emphasizes that there are multiple means through which Islamic selves can be cultivated and that this process is mediated differently across spaces. My spaces of investigation are identity affirming contexts, such as the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and African American History (AAH) class, which are grounded within a limited multicultural ideology at Honors but also occasionally creating alternative openings for religious expressions. Through each of these spaces, which include an afterschool club, classrooms, hallways, and a mosque, I consider specifically: How do religion, ethnic and family histories, and racial formations mediate forms of Islamic self-making for Black Muslim youth, within a racist, Islamophobic, and capitalist US context? This ethnographic account acknowledges the diversity of Black youth’s identities and counters the essentialization of Black experiences, while also investigating the link between religious expressions and racial formations.