Humanities Speaker Series discusses the Emergence and Challenges of Being a Muslim Woman in America

Published: April 02, 2018

Humanities Speaker Series discusses the Emergence and Challenges of Being a Muslim Woman in America

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – In commemoration of Women’s History Month, the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi held its spring 2018 Humanities Speaker Series on March 22. CLA hosted Dr. Sylvia Chan-Malik, assistant professor of American, women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, who addressed Islander students, faculty and staff about her new book “Being Muslim - A Cultural History of Women of Color in American Islam.”

“Islam is not just a religion,” said Chan-Malik. “It became an expression of gender, justice, equality and a new sense of humanity. For women of color living in 1922, being Muslim was visionary.”

Chan-Malik discussed the history of Islam in the 20th century in the United States from the perspective, life and voice of women of color. She started her lecture introducing a photo and the story of four African American women, who converted to Islam because it offered affirmation and a sense of community amid the racism and displacement they experienced in the urban north.

“These women felt they were part of a sisterhood,” shared Chan-Malik. “They experienced a spiritual belongingness, support and a connection to a suitable religion that was an answer for racism.”

Chan-Malik offered insight on how Islam emerged within the African American community by telling the story of Florence Watts, one of the first women of color to convert to Islam in the country. Little was known about Watts until Chan-Malik’s book. The lecture also discussed how the Great Migration and the desire for an improved quality of life was a motivation for the development of Islam in Chicago.  

The audience participated with their questions and represented a wide range of Island University majors, including English, history, psychology, communications, and others. A student mixer was hosted before Chan-Malik’s lecture, where students and faculty enjoyed snacks and beverages. The Humanities Speaker Series was also an opportunity for University scholars to work together on an enduring theme within the humanities.

“The Humanities Speaker Series is for everyone; students, faculty, community members, people interested in history, literature, religion, culture, ideas, politics and anyone who is intellectually curious,” said Dr. Peter Moore, chair of the Department of Humanities. “We are proud to be part of a university that supports the humanities and promotes the kind of vibrant intellectual engagement the speaker series provides.”

The Humanities Speaker Series is partially funded by the Division of Research, Commercialization and Outreach at A&M-Corpus Christi.