“The communities I write about in the book — South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh immigrants — are “othered” and scapegoated today in our country. But at the same time, they are finding the strength, courage and purpose to reshape America by telling their own narratives, building community power, and changing policy.” — Deepa Iyer 

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

41j8PRILBzL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on SEPTEMBER 29, 2015:

A vibrant multiracial America is emerging right before our eyes.  According to a new report by the Pew Research Center, “Multiracial Americans are at the cutting edge of social and demographic change in the U.S.—young, proud, tolerant and growing at a rate three times as fast as the population as a whole.” (“Multiracial in America,” June 11, 2015).

Deepa Iyer takes a looks at the struggles behind this momentous change in the United States and the challenges ahead in We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future (The New Press, November 2015).  She writes that America “has yet to fully confront the scope and effects of racial anxiety, Islamophobia, and xenophobia that have permeated our national narratives and policies in the years since 9/11.  We must change this legal, cultural, and political climate of hostility and suspicion, especially as communities perceived as ‘others’ change American cities, schools, and neighborhoods due to population increases and migration patterns.”

A native of Kerala, India, Deepa Iyer immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her parents and brother to Louisville, Kentucky.  In a 2014 interview, she reflected on her early experiences as an immigrant to America: “It did not take long to find out I was on the margins, that I was not mainstream. In the mid-80s in Kentucky, people were used to a black or white racial paradigm.  People like me fit neither.  I definitely had my share of experiencing some bullying and harassment at school, which shaped my sense of being different.”

Iyer, currently a Senior Fellow at Center for Social Inclusion, is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and University of Notre Dame Law School.  An activist, writer and lawyer, she has served as a Trial Attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and as Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). 

Her work on immigrant and civil rights issues began at the Asian American Justice Center in the late 1990s. While at SAALT for nearly a decade, she shaped the formation of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of local South Asian groups, and served as Chair of the National Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA). Iyer’s essays on immigration, the post 9/11 backlash, and racism have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, USA Today, Al-Jazeera and the Nation.

With contentious national debates on race, religion, and immigration making the news every day, We Too Sing America is a fresh voice in the conversation.

Deepa Iyer discusses her new book in this exclusive interview.

Deepa Iyer (credit: Les Talusan Photography)
Deepa Iyer (credit: Les Talusan Photography)

Why did you choose to take the title of your book from a Langston Hughes poem?  Does the poem have special meaning for you as an activist for social justice?

Almost ninety years ago, Langston Hughes wrote a poem about how Black people, though they were marginalized and rejected in all aspects of American society, grew stronger and wiser. He wrote that they too “sing America.” The communities I write about in the book — South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh immigrants — are “othered” and scapegoated today in our country. But at the same time, they are finding the strength, courage and purpose to reshape America by telling their own narratives, building community power, and changing policy. That is why the poem resonated with me. Continue reading


Debra Majeed
Debra Majeed

41oiBmodSwL._SL160_In her wonderful new book Polygyny: What it Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands (University Press of Florida, 2015), Debra Majeed, Professor of Religious Studies at Beloit College, provides an analytically robust and moving account of the aspirations, paradoxes, and problems attached to polygyny in the African American Muslim community.

By combining ethnography, history, and performance studies, Majeed seamlessly weaves together the theological, legal, and sociological dynamics of living polygyny. Readers of this book are treated to a riveting and incredibly lucid portrayal of a complicated phenomenon that brings together intimate individual stories and the broader historical and societal conditions that generate those stories in a remarkably effective fashion. In our conversation, we talked about the idea of Muslim Womanism, the methodology of dialogical performance, the Qur’an and polygyny, the paradoxes of polygyny, Imam W.D Mohammed’s teachings on polygyny, and the emotional and psychological impact of polygyny on children and women. This is among those rare books that are at once methodologically exciting and complex and yet astonishingly accessible and well written. Polygyny should also make an excellent reading in courses on gender and Islam, Islamic law, American Islam, and American Religion more broadly.



51vgUjZ2OcL._SL160_The Second Formation of Islamic Law: The Hanafi School in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2015) is a new contribution to the study of Islam and more specifically to the history of Islamic Law and its development. Guy Burak, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies librarian at New York University, explores the Ottomans’ adoption of one branch of the Hanafi legal tradition as the official school (madhhab) of the dynasty. The period of time in which this process occurred was during the 15th to 18th centuries, and Burak focuses on the lands of Greater Syria. What Burak seeks to illustrate is that through the adoption of an official school of law, the Ottoman hierarchy played a significant role in how the school of law was shaped. Examples Burak provides to demonstrate this phenomenon are the institutionalization of the position of mufti, the formalization of genealogical literature (tabaqat), and the canonization process of books essential to the school. In addition to examining the propagators of official Ottoman positions, Burak also examines how scholars not part of the Ottoman mainstream branch functioned and responded to these changes. Overall, this work represents and important contribution to the study of Islam, the history of Islamic Law, and Ottoman Studies.



Leonard Cassuto
Leonard Cassuto

The discontented graduate student is something of a cultural fixture in the U.S. Indeed theirs is a sorry lot. They work very hard, earn very little, and have very poor prospects. Nearly all of them want to become professors, but most of them won’t. Indeed a disturbingly large minority of them won’t even finish their degrees. It’s little wonder graduate students are, as a group, somewhat depressed.

In his thought-provoking book The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It (Harvard University Press, 2015), Leonard Cassuto tries to figure out why graduate education in the U.S. is in such a sad state. More importantly, he offers a host of fascinating proposals to “fix” American graduate schools. Listen in.





Christopher R. Duncan
Christopher R. Duncan

Researching the communal killings that occurred in North Maluku, Indonesia during 1999 and 2000, Christopher Duncan was struck by how participants “experienced the violence as a religious conflict and continue to remember it that way”, yet outsiders–among them academics, journalists, and NGO workers–have tended to dismiss or downplay its religious features. Agreeing that we need to move beyond essentialist explanations, Duncan nevertheless insists that the challenge for scholars “is to explain the role of religion in the violence without essentializing it.”

In Violence and Vengeance: Religious Conflict and Its Aftermath in Eastern Indonesia (Cornell University Press, 2013) he takes up the challenge. Drawing on over a decade of research in North Maluku, and informed by time spent in the region prior to the conflict, Duncan speaks with impressive authority about the before, during and after of the bloodshed. Utilizing work by scholars of political violence and the management of memory like Stanley Tambiah and Steve Stern, he shows how participants themselves produced and reproduced master narratives of holy warfare. In the process, he critiques scholarship that overstates elite agendas and machinations, remaining too focused on the causes of violence and losing sight of how, in the words of Gerry Van Klinken, “a runaway war can become decoupled from its initial conditions”. Continue reading