THE PROM­ISE OF PA­TRI­ARCHY: WOMEN AND THE NA­TION OF IS­LAM

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - BOOK REVIEWS - By Ula Yvette Tay­lor { the univer­sity of North Carolina press } —Na­jma Sharif

The Na­tion of Is­lam wouldn’t ex­ist with­out the women who made sac­ri­fices to ap­pease their hus­bands’ egos. In The Prom­ise of Pa­tri­archy: Women and the Na­tion of Is­lam, African Amer­i­can Stud­ies scholar Ula Yvette Tay­lor de­tails how these women wa­gered their pride in the height of the fem­i­nist move­ment and civil rights move­ment for the bet­ter­ment of the Na­tion of Is­lam. Clara Poole learned about Is­lam when she was des­per­ate for her hus­band, Eli­jah Muham­mad—a drunk who gam­bled away their money—to be­come a bet­ter fa­ther and part­ner. Is­lam brought a moral code, and those who didn’t honor the re­li­gion’s teach­ings were looked down upon.

The book re­futes the idea that women in the Na­tion sim­ply ac­cepted the roles “as­signed” to them. Though it seems like they ex­isted in the shad­ows, Poole and Belinda Boyd—the wives of Eli­jah Muham­mad and Muham­mad Ali, re­spec­tively—were in­stru­men­tal in writ­ing their hus­bands’ speeches. While their hus­bands func­tioned as fig­ure­heads for the Na­tion, the women in the or­ga­ni­za­tion pushed for their rights un­der the guise that it would al­low them to “ex­pand” their civic du­ties as wives, moth­ers, and daugh­ters. These women be­came teach­ers and min­is­ters, ad­vo­cated for bet­ter liv­ing sit­u­a­tions, and marched along­side their male coun­ter­parts. For the love and bet­ter­ment of the Black Mus­lim na­tion, women traded their sur­vival for their full au­ton­omy.

How­ever, they ac­tively chal­lenged Eli­jah Muham­mad and ques­tioned how Is­lamic teach­ings were weaponized against them. For in­stance, Sis­ter Doris 9X of San Fran­cisco tried to fol­low the Na­tion’s rules about birth con­trol, but af­ter her 12th child, she asked her doc­tor to in­sert an in­trauter­ine con­tra­cep­tive de­vice (iud). Al­though the idea of bring­ing so many Black peo­ple into the world can be seen as rad­i­cal, these ideas about birth con­trol were still seeped in the pa­ter­nal­is­tic, pa­tri­ar­chal no­tions about own­er­ship over Black women’s bod­ies. The Na­tion of Is­lam tried to “civ­i­lize” Black women by en­cour­ag­ing them to dress mod­estly and stay slim. These well-in­ten­tioned but mis­guided ef­forts to pro­tect the virtue of Black women by de­mand­ing that they cover up weren’t ef­fec­tive. It only re­in­forced the idea that Black women weren’t in con­trol of their bod­ies and needed to be dis­ci­plined. At times, women re­belled in an ef­fort to cre­ate a bet­ter fu­ture for them­selves. Tay­lor un­cov­ers how women se­cretly worked or fur­thered their education, even when they were or­dered not to. They were deemed “dif­fi­cult,” an is­sue that Black Mus­lim women are still deal­ing with to­day.

Much like Black Mus­lim women to­day, these women were not af­forded the lux­ury of sit­ting silently and play­ing by the rules. Op­tics don’t and can’t mat­ter to Black Mus­lim women be­cause we are al­ready crim­i­nal­ized and con­sid­ered in­her­ently dan­ger­ous. (Black Mus­lims were thought to be a cult, and the FBI heav­ily mon­i­tored the move­ments of the mem­bers of the Na­tion of Is­lam.) Main­stream West­ern fem­i­nism hasn’t been able to ar­tic­u­late the strug­gles of Black Mus­lim women. I grew up around these seem­ingly dif­fi­cult women; they had to be “dif­fi­cult” to pro­tect their loved ones and sur­vive. Tay­lor parses through the many lay­ers of what it means to be a Black Mus­lim woman while let­ting the tenac­ity, wit, and strength of the women in the Na­tion of Is­lam shine. RAT­ING:

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