Little X: Growing Up in the Nation of Islam
by Sonsyrea Tate
New York: HarperCollins, 1997. 230 pp. $22 (paper, $12)
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
The author's paternal grandparents joined the Nation of Islam in the early 1950s and by the time she was born in 1966, the family enjoyed a leading position in the Washington, D.C. temple. With a memory that borders slightly on the unbelievable, Tate recounts her early childhood in the Nation, followed by her mother's conversion to mainstream Islam, the discovery of her family's religious hypocrisy, and then her own crisis of faith and exit from Islam, followed by a journalistic career that included a stint at The Washington Post.
Tate's account has particular value for giving a sense of the life of the poor but defiant life that NOI membership entails. The awkwardness of being marked by NOI customs (clothing, diet, female modesty, no extracurricular activities or games) comes through as one strong motif ("I felt like an ugly duck"), plus the extreme relief at being able, once no longer a Muslim, to blend in with the crowd. Tate makes vivid the narrow scope of her ambitions ("I knew ... the only reason I was on this Earth [was] to become a good wife and mother") and describes the total protection by her male relatives against non-NOI men ("If somebody made your sister cry, you gotta beat him up!")-though, alas, not against non-NOI women and their cutting remarks. She recalls rumors of Fruit of Islam hit squads, the agony as an eight-year-old sitting straight through an eleven-hour temple service, and her Christian grandmother who tried to trick her into eating pork ("we knew better than to eat any pink meat"). More surprising is the author's endorsement of her education at an NOI elementary school, despite its obvious drawbacks ("We didn't have textbooks, so the dictionary pretty much became our spelling book").
Related Topics: African-American Muslims, Muslims in the United States | Daniel Pipes | December 1998 MEQ
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free mef mailing list
This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.