Northwestern Events Calendar


Black Literary Islam in the Caribbean (Aliyah Khan)

When: Wednesday, March 10, 2021
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Rebecca Shereikis   (847) 491-2598

Group: Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA)

Co-Sponsor: Program of African Studies

Category: Academic, Lectures & Meetings, Multicultural & Diversity, Global & Civic Engagement


Black Literary Islam in the Caribbean: Autobiographical Writings of Enslaved Sufi West Africans in Colonial Jamaica, and Sufi Poetry in Guyana

Join ISITA for a talk by Aliyah Khan (English Language and Literature/Afroamerian and African Studies, University of Michigan).

Moderated by Zekeria Ahmed Salem, ISITA director and associate professor of political science, Northwestern University.


Islam in the Caribbean is often considered to be a religion of subcontinental Indian indentured laborers, but there is a significant regional history of African and Black Muslim cultural production and activity: from enslaved West Africans writing Arabic and ajami autobiographies in 19th century Jamaica, to the Black Nationalist Jamaat al Muslimeen attempted government coup in Trinidad in 1990, to the poetry of the Afro-Guyanese poet Abdur-Rahman Slade Hopkinson (1934-1993). In this talk I discuss the Islamic writings of two West African men enslaved in Jamaica in the early 1800s, Muhammad Kaba Saghanughu of Côte d’Ivoire and Abu Bakr al-Siddiq of Timbuktu; and the Sufi-influenced religious poetry of Hopkinson in 20th century Guyana. I argue that their Afro-Caribbean Muslim literary works are linked across a century and a half by a concern with Sufi Muslim ideas of the “hidden” (batin) and other political-religious principles of West African Islam, pointing to the originary and continuing importance of African Sufi Islam in the Caribbean and the Americas. I also note historical cross-racial and interreligious connections between Indian Muslims and people of African descent during the colonial Shi’a Muslim Tadjah/Hosay festival in British Guiana and Trinidad, in the 1838-1917 period of indentureship following the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies. 

About the speaker

Aliyah Khan is associate professor of English Language and Literature, and Afroamerican and African Studies, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is also a board member of the UM Arab and Muslim American Studies Program. Dr. Khan holds a Ph.D. in Literature and Feminist Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Hunter College of the City University of New York. Her primary research areas are Caribbean literature and Muslim and Islamic literatures, with emphases on race, gender, and sexuality. Dr. Khan is the author of Far from Mecca: Globalizing the Muslim Caribbean (Rutgers University Press 2020), the first academic monograph on the history, literature, and music of Islam in the Caribbean. Her writing also appears in scholarly journals including GLQ, Caribbean Review of Gender Studies, and Studies in Canadian Literature, and popular venues including The Rumpus, Agents of Ishq, and Pree: Caribbean Writing. Dr. Khan is currently conducting research for a second book on Caribbean hurricanes and the ship routes of the transatlantic slave trade, and their implications for contemporary migration within the hemispheric Americas.

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