Black Muslim Atlantic Symposium
The first panel – “The Atlantic” – began with Dr. Zain Abdullah’s talk titled “Islam and Race.” Dr. Abdullah is an Associate Professor of Religion at Temple University. In his talk, he traced the genealogy of the term “Black Muslim Atlantic” in the American context. The goal of the presentation was to show “how race trumps religion and how religion qualifies what it means to be a racial person.” He started with the intricate connections between whiteness and citizenship in the United States since the 18th century, referencing cases where Arabs and Asians portrayed themselves as white (and in many cases failed to prove their whiteness) in order to gain access to American citizenship.
One noteworthy example was that of Tom Ellis, a Syrian immigrant applying for citizenship who proved his whiteness through his Christian faith – this religious-based argument for citizenship was accepted, unlike in the case of Ahmed Hassan, a Yemeni Muslim. While whiteness and Christianity came to be tied in the US, Islam and Blackness came to be synonymous with each other and defined in contrast to whiteness. Dr. Abdullah then traced the genealogy of the term Black Muslim Atlantic, starting with Paul Gilroy and Cedric Robinson’s writings to Mustafa Bayoumi and Margari Aziza writing about Black Muslim Atlantic.