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Engaged Surrender

African American Women and Islam

Carolyn Rouse (Author)

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Commonly portrayed in the media as holding women in strict subordination and deference to men, Islam is nonetheless attracting numerous converts among African American women. Are these women "reproducing their oppression," as it might seem? Or does their adherence to the religion suggest unsuspected subtleties and complexities in the relation of women, especially black women, to Islam? Carolyn Rouse sought answers to these questions among the women of Sunni Muslim mosques in Los Angeles. Her richly textured study provides rare insight into the meaning of Islam for African American women; in particular, Rouse shows how the teachings of Islam give these women a sense of power and control over interpretations of gender, family, authority, and obligations.

In Engaged Surrender, Islam becomes a unique prism for clarifying the role of faith in contemporary black women's experience. Through these women's stories, Rouse reveals how commitment to Islam refracts complex processes—urbanization, political and social radicalization, and deindustrialization—that shape black lives generally, and black women's lives in particular. Rather than focusing on traditional (and deeply male) ideas of autonomy and supremacy, the book—and the community of women it depicts—emphasizes more holistic notions of collective obligation, personal humility, and commitment to overarching codes of conduct and belief. A much-needed corrective to media portraits of Islam and the misconceptions they engender, this engaged and engaging work offers an intimate, in-depth look into the vexed and interlocking issues of Islam, gender, and race.

1. Engaged Surrender
2. A Community of Women: Consensus, Borders, and Resistance Praxis
3. Gender Negotiations and Qur’anic Exegesis: One Community’s Reading of Islam and Women
4. Historical Discourses
5. Soul Food: Changing Markers of Identity Through the Transition
6. Conversion
7. Performing Gender: Marriage, Family, and Community
8. Searching for Islamic Purity In and Out of Secular Los Angeles County
9. Conclusion

Carolyn Moxley Rouse is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University.
"[Rouse] effectively makes her points because her sources. . . hummanize her narrative. Rouse writes in an accessible, highly readable style that makes vivid through the Muslim stories the postive and supportive life that Sunni Islam provides to African American women."—J.B.Wolford Choice
"This sharp and timely book is a pioneering contribution. Systematically mapping African American women's lives within Islam for the first time, Rouse establishes that engagement is as meaningful an ethic as liberation for black women, and black folk generally. A provocative, deeply conscientious work that will engender overdue debate in anthropology, feminist studies, black studies, and Islamic studies."—Adam Green, Assistant Professor of History and American Studies, New York University

"Rouse's study charts a neglected and much misunderstood path for Black women's empowerment. What we learn rocks many assumptions of liberalism, Western feminism, women's activism, and prevailing notions of freedom. In a climate where the status of women within Islam is uncritically used as proof of women's oppression, Engaged Surrender reads like a breath of fresh air."—Patricia Hill Collins, author of Black Feminist Thought

"Engaged Surrender is an insightful ethnographic analysis of two dozen women who are members of two masjids in southern California. We learn about their conversions, the ways their lives have changed, and how they negotiate a desire for agency and a traditional gender hierarchy—from childrearing, to hijab-wearing, to work, to marriage, to Qur'anic exegesis. Rouse's vivid portrayal of her subjects and fluent familiarity with feminist debates and anthropological theory make this book a compelling new study, particularly in the wake of 9/11."—Faye Ginsburg, author of Contested Lives

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