Muslim Cool

Race, Religion, and Hip Hop in the United States

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Su'ad Abdul Khabeer
  • New York, NY: 
    New York University Press
    , December
     288 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


“Hard Times Like God”: Review of Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and Hip-Hop in the United States (Khabeer 2016)

“Blackness is invaluable to our collective existence” insists Su’ad Abdul Khabeer (222) in Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and Hip-Hop in the United States. Khabeer centers Blackness in this rich ethnography of American Muslim lives.

Several prominent scholars of religion—Tom Tweed, Aaron Hughes, and Richard Martin, among others—have recently urged Islamic Studies scholars to broaden the linguistic, geographic, historical, and theoretical scope of their inquiries. Khabeer’s work both interrogates the political stakes of rethinking the boundaries of Islam while compellingly demonstrating how Islamic studies scholars have always already been broadening that scope (and to this point, see also the work of scholars like Kayla Wheeler, Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst, Kathleen Foody, Brannon Ingram, Kristian Petersen, Juliane Hammer, Çemil Aydin, Amina Wadud, and Debra Majeed, to start).

Khabeer’s core theoretical intervention, the category of “Muslim Cool,” challenges two “hegemonic ethnoreligious norms”: the elision of Muslim with Arab and South Asian immigrant communities, and the privileging of whiteness above all other US racial identities (2). By detailing and analyzing her interactions with IMAN, a Chicago-based Muslim-led initiative dedicating to “healing the ‘hood,” Khabeer demonstrates how Black music, style, and relationships to the US nation-state have directly informed broader American Muslim lived practices (17).

While others are certainly better equipped to analyze Khabeer’s contributions to the study of hip-hop and performance theory, I was excited to note that Muslim Cool makes several key interventions in the study of American religions. Muslim Cool’s thick description and accessible theory make this book engaging for and teachable to intermediate and advanced undergraduate courses on race, politics, and American religions. In particular, Khabeer’s work dovetails neatly with the insights of Sylvester Johnson in African American Religions, 1500-2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and Judith Weisenfeld’s New World A’Coming (New York University Press, 2017). Muslim Cool does much work toward showing the reader that the American religious landscape has always included Islam, and that in the United States, Islam functions as a religio-racial identity. Khabeer also demonstrates the centrality of space and place to the study of American religions, illustrating how urban spaces facilitate and ground religious exchange.

As a scholar of gender, I am glad to include Khabeer’s ethnography on the too-short list of considerations of Muslim masculinity. (Joseph Massad’s Desiring Arabs [Chicago 2008] and Amanullah de Sondy’s Crisis of Islamic Masculinities [Bloomsbury 2013] are likewise substantial contributions to that list.) Muslim Cool’s engagement of Muslim dandies suggests sartorial stylings as both a means of “racial-religious self-making” and as a mode of resistance to American white supremacy (23). With her consideration of the “hoodjab,” a material expression of Muslim piety originating among Black US American women and appropriated by other members of the ummah, Khabeer’s work on Black Muslim fashion maps a complex imbrication of “race, class, gender, and style” (23).

Two brief points of critique. First: beyond a brief engagement with the hypersexualization of Black men in the American white supremacist imagination, Khabeer fails to meaningfully engage with theories of sexuality (150-52). There is no engagement in Muslim Cool with LGBTIQ Muslims, and no suggestion that the concept of Muslim Cool makes space for gender non-conforming Muslims, regardless of racial or ethnic background. This omission fails to reflect the crucial contributions of queer, trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming Muslims to the American religious landscape. Second: though this is hardly her fault, Khabeer’s rejection of what she calls the “post-racial fallacy” is no longer quite so audacious after the November 2016 election. Very few scholars, I think, would now attempt to argue that “anti-Black racism is over” in the contemporary United States, particularly since the anchor of Khabeer’s ethnography, Chicago, has become a political dog whistle signaling calls for increased state surveillance and policing of Black US Americans (5).

With all this in mind, Khabeer voice is ultimately an important one to add to conversations about American religions, gender, and the study of Islam. Her most significant contributions are an insistence upon centering Blackness in US American Islam, and a compelling demonstration that both Blackness and Muslim identity challenge and expand our understandings of American-ness and American religion(s). Blackness, Khabeer urges, has been and is a “blueprint for the Muslim self,” and can offer a map toward “cross-racial solidarities in the United States” (221, 228). Muslim Cool convincingly argues that sympathy or hostility toward American Blackness has shaped American Muslim identity, and indeed, US American identity, full stop.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Megan Goodwin is a Visiting Scholar with Northeastern University's program in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  Her work focuses on race, gender, sexuality, and American minority religions.

Date of Review: 
January 4, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African American Studies at Purdue University (IN).

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