With Stones in Our Hands

Writings on Muslims, Racism, and Empire

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Sohail Daulatzai, Junaid Rana
Muslim International
  • Minneapolis, MN: 
    University of Minnesota Press
    , April
     416 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


With Stones in Our Hands combines academic voices with those of activists—though these labels are not, of course, mutually exclusive. Its editors, Sohail Daulatzai and Junaid Rana so clearly state their volume’s goal that I think it best to leave it in their own words: “The inspiration for this edited volume is not singular, much less unified, but there is a resolve that is unequivocally critical. It is not just a critical response to how knowledge of the world is produced but a crucial and, we hope, timely investigation of solidarity politics” (ix). From the very outset, we are told that this is a volume rooted in the theoretical—the production of knowledge—but also in the political, the activist: it is a volume examining solidarity. 

I find this refreshing, to say the least. We are living through a moment in which hate crimes are rising in the US and rising particularly on the bodies and communities of those identified as Muslims. (I am purposefully not merely saying “Muslims” here: Sikh and Indian Americans, identified by their attackers asMuslim, have borne physical and discursive violence. Being identified—racialized—as Muslim is a key element for these crimes and also for arguments of solidarity between and among communities and activists.) Of course, crimes are but one tangible way of measuring cultural climate, and perhaps the most extreme example of increased hostility. Yet even in this moment of palpable shifts in public discourse of hatred, of increased physical violence against non-white, Muslim-identified persons, there is still a tendency in the academy to demand so-called objectivity from scholars, especially perhaps scholars of Islam, Muslims, or folks of color or race more generally. There is a demand that scholars be scholars, activists be activists, to avoid cross-pollination and, perhaps most importantly, to keep one’s scholarship non-activist. Daulatzai and Rana’s volume nimbly shows what many have been arguing for years: scholarship is not and never has been neutral and perhaps it ought not to be.

Stones in Our Hands attends to anti-Muslim sentiment in terms of racism, globalized imperialism, surveillance, and protest movements, and these categories reflect how the volume is organized. Each section boasts theoretically rich essays or interviews by scholars whose areas of expertise range from gender and women’s studies, sociology, anthropology, critical race studies, Islamic studies, media studies, and more. There is a striking representation of multiple disciplinary methodologies and vantage points here precisely because anti-Muslim racism and its myriad implications, tonalities, and venues for expression can and should be interpreted through multiple lenses. 

There are a number of really excellent essays—and for the sake of both space and attention span, I cannot list them all here. Noting how what follows necessarily leaves out valuable essays, allow me to share just one essay from each of the thematic sections that readers should make time for. Additionally, each of the interviews—the final chapter of each section—is worth a read, as they center activist voices, highlight perhaps lesser-known grassroots organizations or leaders, and offer short, teachable case studies ripe for pairing with other articles in a variety of courses. 

From the section “Imperial Racism,” Stephen Sheehi’s “Duplicity and Fear: Toward a Race and Class Critique of Islamophobia” offers a double critique of the racialization of Arabs and Muslims as well as a necessary examination of how classism breeds racialization within these particular communities. It is a teachable piece that gets at the complexities of hate, bias, and narratives of belonging. In the following section, “Decolonizing Geographies,” Fatima El-Tayeb’s essay, “Oppressed Majority: Violence and Muslim Communities in Multicultural Europe” presents a clear European view of race, racialization, and religion. Her work offers nuanced critiques of race (that are otherwise often limited to the US context), gender, and religion. I recommend Evelyn Alsultany’s “How Stereotypes Persist despite Innovations in Media Representations” from the third section, “Technologies of Surveillance and Control.” In this exceptional essay, Alsultany plainly lays out how representational politics can reinscribe stereotypical conceptions of Islam, Muslims, and/or Arab Americans. I plan on using this essay in my own course within a unit on media. The fourth and final section, “Possible Futures: Dissent and the Protest Tradition,” had two excellent articles and both are required reading. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer’s scholarly take on personal narrative, “To Be a (Young) Black Muslim Women Intellectual,” speaks directly to race, politics, gender, religion, and the academy. Sylvia Chan-Malik offers a similarly personal framework through which she addresses multiple identities—and the historical, genealogical resources for finding support, solidarity, and inspiration—in “Raising Muslim Girls: Women-of-Color Legacies in American Islam.” 

In a book that aims to be working toward solidarity politics, it is worthwhile to mention citational politics. Following Sara Ahmed (2013), these are the politics of whose work is included, and in turn, how knowledge systems recreate and perpetuate white, male hegemony in the academy. The editors have done well to balance disciplinary perspectives, regional expertise, racial identifications, and also scholar vs. activist identities as well as scholarly rank positionality. Following Kecia Ali’s example, when looking at—and tallying—gender parity, this volume is comprised of the work of twenty-three authors, of whom nine are women. (There are twenty essays, three of which were co-authored, excluding the four interviews; the interviews, with each editor conducting two, featured three men and one woman.) Gender parity is less symmetrical than other forms of representation in this volume. 

With Stones in our Hands offers theoretical application to historical and contemporary examples of anti-Muslim racisms, primarily in the US. The offerings are topically and tonally diverse: some are traditionally scholarly, with abundant citations; others offer personal narrative as a framework to engage readers within the global, national, and personal registers of anti-Muslim racism; and the interviews are rooted in conversation and exchange in ways that essays cannot be. Like any edited volume, the quality and character of the essays vary, but as a whole, this is a solid and distinctive collection well deserving of a wide readership.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst is Assistant Professor of Religion and Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Vermont.

Date of Review: 
September 17, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Sohail Daulatzai is associate professor of film and media studies and African American studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America (Minnesota, 2012).

Junaid Rana is associate professor of Asian American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He is the author of Terrifying Muslims: Race and Labor in the South Asian Diaspora.


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