Trials of identity : investigating al- Jāḥiẓ and the Zanj in modern pro-Black discourse
MetadataShow full item record
Scholarship about the Muslim philosopher al-Jāḥiẓ and the Zanj revolt of the same era has focused primarily on a specific set of historiographical questions. What was the relationship between al-Jāḥiẓ's explorations of skin color and the revolt of the largely dark-skinned Zanj slaves in Basra, if any? Was the Zanj revolt essentially a class or race rebellion? Such questions, while significant, speak to the specific historical concerns--about the social relations and political-economic systems--of Abbasid-era Baghdad and Basra. Somewhat neglected are the modern uses of this figure and moment in discourses outside the purview of academic study, particularly among politicized Black Americans and Black Muslims, for whom (in some quarters at least) al-Jāḥiẓ and the Zanj revolt hold special import. The rise of Sunni Islam among Black Americans since the 1960s has presented an array of challenges to the unique sociopolitical and religious circumstances in which practitioners are mired. How to develop a religious tradition able to answer to the unique sociopolitical challenges faced by Black Americans, and how to develop simultaneously a religious practice centered on God rather than sociopolitical systems? At the cross-section between politics and religion, Blackness and orthodox Sunni Islam, the answers to these questions have already begun to be attempted, with al-Jāḥiẓ and the Zanj revolt sometimes playing a pivotal role.