Zain Abdullah aims to create a voice with his book, “The Black Mecca: The African Muslim of Harrlem.”
Before becoming a professor, Zain Abdullah served as a Chaplin for the metropolitan New York and New Jersey prison system. However, he saw himself as simply a part of the system rather than helping to reverse it.
“I was asked, ‘Why do you want to resign your work as Chaplin?’ [It was] because I am here to help and you are preventing me from doing that,’” Abdullah said.
For more than three years, now Abdullah has focused his interests in the intersection of identity formation and how the intersection of religious, racial and ethical processes influence one another.
Abdullah said he is interested in the vicious cycle of African-American males and crime and sensitizing people to issues concerning this epidemic.
His most recent research led him to write “The Black Mecca: The African Muslim of Harlem.” The book looks at West-African migration to Harlem and how they incorporate themselves into the urban landscape by negotiating the boundaries of black, African and Muslim identities.
Abdullah currently teaches Islam in America and has taught classes on international immigration, urbanism, gender and sexuality. He received his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University, his M.A. from the New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research Current Research.
His office windows framed a view of the Bell Tower and the North Philadelphia skyline, somewhat prophetic of his mission.
“I want to be seen as more than a public intellectual, but someone who is here to help others through my research,” Abdullah said.
Abdullah’s interest in West-African migration was sparked when he heard about a group of West Africans in 2007 who came here on a boat to Massachusetts. They were taken to court and deported back to West Africa.
“West Africans never felt safe abroad,” Abdullah said. “They were seen as outsiders and asked for their papers. There is a lot of bureaucracy and red tape relating to immigration policy in the U.S.”
He explained how the French Pasqua Law of 1974 helped to reinforce American immigration policy.
“This law pushed immigration to the U.S.,” he said. “It showed an opulent American life [and] ultimately changed what they thought of the meaning [of] success in the 1980s.”
“[Chain migration is] ignited by only a few courageous souls who go and then attract more to come after them,” Abdullah said.
“When West Africans began migrating to America, they lost their values,” Abdullah added. “Community sits at the heart of West-African people. When a person receives a job in the younger generation, they are providing for more than simply themselves or even their household – they are providing for their whole community.”
Abdullah’s interest in these concepts is what let him to write his book, which takes a look at West-African migration to Harlem.
While writing his book, Abdullah said he understood there had to be an intersection between the immigrant and the resident.
“When I talk about the book, I talk about it in a way that the reader will understand how the immigrant is engaged by society,” Abdullah said. “I think it will help us understand our own world better. It can give us a better sense of the world that we now live in and who we are as a people.”
Abdullah said he hopes by writing this book, it will give the people he is writing about a voice.
“I come from a working class community,” he said. “It’s always been hard for me to be purely theoretical and less pragmatic. I want to make sure whatever I do matters to people and their everyday lives.”
Priscilla Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.