The book highlights Black women who modeled diverse ways of agency in executing their roles in the nation-building project of the Nation of Islam. Informants candidly discussed their roles as women who were members of the Nation family between 1955 and 2000. C. S'thembile West highlights that activism need not exclude motherhood or marriage and that the home should constitute a “house of resistance,” as described in Angela Davis' seminal article, "Reflections on the Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves."
Nation Women Negotiating Islam illuminates the intricate threads that connect Nation women as a critical component of the continuum of Black women's activism, despite disparate strategies.
C. S’thembile West is retired professor emerita at Western Illinois University.
Chapter One: Context for Women in the Nation
Chapter Two: Perceptions, Rules and Practices Among Nation Women
Chapter Three: Muslim Girls Training: Nation Women, Marriage and Family
Chapter Four: Nation Women, Children and Education
Chapter Five: Nation Ideological Formations and Women
Chapter Six: A Shared Continuum of Black Women’s Community Activism
Chapter Seven: Nation Women and Politics of Protection
About the Author
Carefully situating NOI realities within the larger anti-black American culture, West’s Nation Women Negotiating Islam: Moving Beyond Boundaries in the Twentieth Century expands knowledge about NOI women’s diversity and self-perceptions, especially some women’s thought (‘freedom consciousness’) regarding the significance of their activist and conceptual contributions to shaping and sustaining the NOI as an enclave of Black love for the flourishing of Black women and Black people beyond the white gaze. This book is an important text that joins studies which challenge reigning presumptions of Black women NOI members as submissive, dependent, and unaware.
As the most visible Black American Muslim organization of the 20th century, the Nation of Islam (NOI) has been the subject of significant research over the past 50 years. Less attention has been paid to the women of the NOI, so this book is a welcome addition to a necessary conversation. Based on long-term ethnographic and oral history work, the book explores the experiences of NOI women between 1955 and 2000 within a framework of Black activism that is attentive to feminist critiques of the patriarchal nature of the organization. West also recognizes the agency of NOI women as they negotiated gender norms, sexual propriety, leadership models, education, and family building as a Black national project. In the book's seven thematic chapters West offers insights on education, gender rules, ideological formations, and what she calls the “politics of protection” (chapter 7). The book shines when West shares the stories of the women, she interviewed to then offer her careful analysis. Interestingly, the book is theoretically embedded in Black studies rather than Islamic studies or the study of American religions, thereby laying claim to the NOI and its women as central to Black communities and histories. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.
Nationalist ventures—to forge a people—can neither be pursued nor realized, certainly not sustained across successive generations, through the efforts of men alone. Characterizing such ventures as ‘patriarchal’ as though a sufficient account, is inadequate, for the contributions of women are essential. C. S’thembile West discloses how this was the case for generations of Black women who became sustaining members of various iterations of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Her book will enhance understandings of the NOI while setting a model for producing more respectful scholarship on the organizational engagements of women devoted to the rehabilitation of communities and the forging of a rehabilitated people.
A descriptive historical analysis informed by almost 30 years of critical thinking and ethnographic research, this book is a significant contribution to religion, race, and gender studies. Centering Black women’s lived experiences, West’s interrogation of perceived submissive behavior highlights the complexity of human agency and strategies employed on behalf of self, family, and community.