Contributed by Alex Hayes, MEIS Alum
More than a year ago, Dr. Abbas Barzegar had just landed in D.C. to speak at a conference on African American Islam at George Mason University, when he received an email from Georgia State, where he had helped found the After Malcolm Digital Archive informing him that the project needed a new home. Mason’s Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies officially and proudly became that new home, launching a website and holding a panel discussion to mark the re-launch.
Dr. Barzegar, a non-resident fellow at the Center who also serves as National Director of Research and Advocacy for the Council on American Islamic Relations, moderated an excellent discussion between Aisha al-Adawiya, Ibrahim Hanif, Dr. Youssef Carter, and Kamila Barbour, all of whom are great examples of the experience, tradition, and diversity of the history the After Malcolm project seeks to preserve.
As AVACGIS Director Professor Huseyin Yilmaz observed, the African American Muslim experience is one that has been marginalized within the larger Muslim discourse, and overlooked by nearly every established academic discipline. Through their animated discussion, panelists showed the project’s immense value and relevance in the more than half century since Malcolm’s death. Mason and the Center were praised for the courage and dedication it takes to give new life to such an important resource for societal and academic discourse.
Each of the panelists is a living archive of the African American Muslim experience, and each also is uniquely placed and trained to contribute to the project, which is a collection of oral histories, and of the digital preservation of photographs and newspapers of museum quality.
Ibrahim Hanif edited the Islamic Party of North America’s al-Islam: The Islamic Movement Journal, which was published from 1971-78. Like much of the material in the project, the newspapers were donated from personal collections. During the discussion, Brother Ibrahim and Aisha al-Adawiya, whom Dr. Barzegar described as a cultural icon; gave the audience a taste of the oral histories complied through many hours of interviews compiled by volunteers since the project began in 2011.
Dr. Youssef Carter, who teaches in the departments of Anthropology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University, suggested that when a community elder passes away, it’s like a library being destroyed. Fortunately, both Brother Ibrahim, and Sister Aisha, of New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center, are skilled librarians who have devoted their lives to the preservation of black and Muslim culture.
The other panelist, Kamila Barbour, is Dr. Barzegar’s colleague at CAIR and a George Mason alumna. Growing up in the Dar ul Islam Movement, Ms. Barbour has followed in the footsteps of her father, an accomplished photographer, and now maintains the Dar ul Islam Movement collection, an archive of his photographs.
The launch concluded with a beautiful exercise of engagement with the George Mason community. The esteemed group of panelists emphasized that the African American Muslim experience is a valuable and indispensable part of Islam in America, and the community’s evolution cannot be forgotten, ignored or separated from Muslim experience globally. Nor does it benefit us attempt to sanitize it or assume that the Civil Rights movement is over. As Muslims, and as Americans, the audience was reminded throughout, that we have an ongoing responsibility to keep this heritage alive.
The panel was followed by a reception in Fenwick Library, where a documentary compilation of the original oral history interviews was shown.
The Center and its staff are proud to take up stewardship of the project. “In today's age of Islamophobia and racism,” Dr. Barzegar commented, “it is an honor to help preserve the critical legacy of African-American Islam through the lives of its most recent pioneers. Their experiences and wisdom are a treasure to learn from during this time of political uncertainty and cultural confusion,"
September 18, 2019