"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: August 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Re: Bait-and-switch Publishing: New Face of Academic Fraud


My commentary on the growing Web-based academic publishing scam that suckers many Nigerian university teachers predictably attracted enormous attention. It has been shared by scores of people on the Internet and has provoked strong reactions. I will respond next week to some of the issues raised in these reactions.

I enjoyed reading your write-up on bait-and-switch publishing. There is another dimension to it. There are some publishing companies in Germany who contact new PhD holders through university e-mails and some other sources. They only publish one copy of the book and others are published on request. The situation in the Third World countries is really appalling, particularly in Nigeria!
Umar Oseni, IIUM Malaysia

Ha!Ha!Ha! These bait-and-switch people remind me of some writer friends who pay vanity publishers and boast to me that their books were published in the US or UK. Good work, brother Farooq.
Nnadozie Onyekuru

At this point one cannot help but imagine the quality of graduates we produce from our ivory towers. It is really unfortunate for Mr. Michael Atovigba to allow himself to be scammed so cheaply. Whatever happened to erring on the side of caution? He missed the 'red flag' and shamelessly parted with his hard-earned $$$. By the way, this particular author (?) has always been in the news with his so-called solution to the said 262-year-old mathematical puzzle right from his days as an undergraduate at Benue State University.
Soni Akoji

I enjoyed your article. I do need to correct a point you raised, though. A lot of journals in the West do charge article processing fees, especially the open access journals. An example is the Biomed Central stable, in which case if your home institution is not a Biomed Central member then you will have to pay a processing fee (currently averaging 1700 USD). Researchers from low-income countries are exempted from paying. Suffice to say BMC journals are respected in the biomedical field.
Muktar Aliyu

Thanks for a very articulate and enlightening contribution. You covered all the bases. As you noted, this unfortunate incident is a consequence of our desperation for heroes in a society with few authentic role models. A second reason is "colonial mentality", an uncritical admiration for anything that comes from the West...
Paul C. Nwabuike

You have this habit of doing it again. I read with gripping fascination your most articulate and very informative article. What a mind boggler! I couldn't help but share it with friends.

If the assertions therein bear any smidgen of truth, then we must fear for the prospects of things unknown and their ability to do untold damage in the hallowed turf of academia. If an intellectual of any standing, no matter how base his stature, could successfully take under-passes and bypasses to success just for a place amongst the pantheon of distinguished minds, I wonder how many have passed through the sieve unnoticed. It would be farcical if it weren't so serious. I could bet the man is very mindful of his own mediocrity, and thought this was a chance to take the short cut. Well-written and thanks for sharing.
Samira Edi

Here in Nigeria, for publishing in a local journal, we first pay a processing fee of 1 to 2 thousand naira. Then, after acceptance, we pay a publishing fee of 5 to 7 naira. I must confess that I never thought the payments to be problematic. What is more, we were made to believe that the higher the fee, the more prestigious the journal! Thus, when my supervisor hinted I could publish for free, I thought that was a statement on the quality of my work! No wonder, during the online course on Research Methodology I recently took, my facilitators (from The University of Pretoria) never mentioned fees either in the course notes or discussions on "publication practice'! Thankfully, it's not too late for a beginner! But some Western-based journals do charge processing fees. My supervisor once suggested a journal to me that charges an equivalent of N80k. I ran away! BTW, is an international journal one in which researchers from different countries publish or what whose editors and reviewers hail from different countries?
Abdulrahman Muhammad

I can't imagine someone laying claim to solving a 2-century-old puzzle falling victim to a 2-year-old scam! We have all these sorts of characters laying claim to one ingenuity or another, while in the real sense they remain less than ordinary scholars. Thanks for waking the guy up. Again, thanks for that piece on Ndi Okereke.
Maiwada Dammalam

I am not comfortable with part of your claims that "In the proper protocols of academic journal publishing in Europe and North America and, I guess, elsewhere, academics don’t pay a dime to have their articles published" because I am a student in a well-known university in Malaysia and most of my publications through conferences and journals were published after paying a token. Yes I agree that most reviewers are not paid for their job, both most recognized journals such as Elsevier, Springer, IEEE and so on are commercialized academic journals.

So if you could clarify some of these it will be better for some of us to agree with your claims. Thank you.
Suleiman Isah Sani

Related Article:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More Q and A on Grammar

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

I have received a steady stream of questions from readers of this column. As is my habit, I’ve responded to almost all of the questions by email and/or through Facebook messages. But I realize that some of the questions and my answers will benefit other followers of this column. I encourage others to send me questions on grammar usage. I will be glad to respond to them. Because language use is such a sensitive subject, I have chosen not to disclose the identities of questioners unless they prefer otherwise. Unfortunately, I can only feature a limited number of questions this week because of the limitation of space.

Question:

Dr. Kperogi, you've taken me back to the classroom through your Sunday Trust column. A friend engaged me in a dialogue on a linguistic issue that I could not bring myself to articulate. Is it “birthday” or “birthdate”? Which is more appropriate? Can you properly be said to be celebrating a birthday when it does not correspond with the day you were born? My friend was born on Friday May 22; however, May 22 this year was a Sunday. We want to learn from your wealth of knowledge.

Answer:

Well, a birthdate, usually written as “birth date” (also called “date of birth,”) is just the day, month, and year you were born. A birthday, on the other hand, which is usually written as one word, (and also called a “natal day”) is an anniversary (or a day of remembrance) of the birth date. Any anniversary, not just a birthday, has to coincide only with the date (i.e., the number), not the day of the week. So if someone was born on May 22, his/her birthday will occur on May 22 every year; it doesn't matter if the subsequent days of the week don't coincide with the original day of the week the person was born. But it gets a little trickier. In popular usage, “birth date,” “birthday” and “natal day” are sometimes used interchangeably. A now rare alternative word is “birthnight” for people who were born at night. Note, too, that “birthday” can be used to denote the day reserved to mark the beginning of something, not just the birth of humans.

Question:
Dear Dr. Kperogi, thank you for your educative contributions in The Politics of Grammar column. I am a bit worried, though. You seem to be saying that we should adopt American English rather than UK English, or that we should stop using words which are perfectly all right but are 'weird' because Americans don't use them. Why should that be so?

Answer:
You didn’t read me right. I have two contradictory impulses when I write about grammar. One impulse is prescriptivist. In this mood, I point out “correct” usage norms and subtly rebuke deviations from standard usage. The second impulse is descriptivist. In this, I merely describe language use and make minimal judgments on correctness or deviations. The column on “weird words” in Nigerian English that you referenced is merely descriptive. I pointed out, for instance, that even though the word “vulcanizer”—and its other forms such as “vulcanizing,” “vulcanize,” etc—is no longer used in contemporary British English from where it came to Nigerian English, it would be senseless to discourage its use in Nigerian English because we have a material need for it.

The British no longer use the word precisely because nobody “vulcanizes” in the UK again. Americans never had it because, from the beginning, auto-mechanics in the country repaired both tires and car parts. Language always mirrors people’s material realities. Reread the article. Nowhere did I ever recommend that readers “should adopt American English rather than UK English.”

Question:
I am one of those silent admirers of your many write-ups on grammar. I had this grammar argument with my son yesterday and thought I could get some clarification from you. He had run out of gas and I informed him that “I WOULD bring some gas” to his location. He understood that to mean that I may not come with the gas. According to him, I should say “I WILL bring some gas” to his location. It’s been such a long time since I took grammar lessons at Federal Government College, Ilorin (yes, I went to University of Nigeria Nsuka but had to rely on all the grammar I learnt in high School).

Anyway, my question is, “What is the subtlety between will/would, shall/should, can/could, may/might and also between all these words taken together?”

Answer:
I’d answered this question when I wrote for a different newspaper. Much of my response will be based on what I had written.

 “Would” basically has four uses/meanings in grammar. Its most obvious grammatical function is that it serves as the past tense of the modal auxiliary verb “will.” So you were wrong to have said “I would bring some gas” since your action hasn’t taken place yet.

But “would” has three other common uses. First, it can be used to express polite request even if the request is in the present, as in: “would you (be kind enough to) give me that cup?” A less polite version of this request would be “give me that cup” or “will you give me that cup?” Note that “could,” like “would,” can also be used to express polite request, as in: “could I have the phone number please?”  (This is analogous, in some ways, to how some African languages—like Yoruba, for example—use the second-person plural pronoun, which does not exist in modern English, to signal respect to elders).

Notice, however, that Nigerians tend to misuse “could” in such sentences as “could you remember…” where “can you remember” would be the correct form.

Second, “would” is also used to express a conditional future, that is, an action that has not taken place but that might take place. E.g., “I would slap him if he talked to me like that!” Here, he hasn't talked to you “like that,” and you haven't slapped him. The sentence only implies that should he talk to you like that, you would slap him. In grammar, we say “would” is functioning here as a conditional modal verb. Note that all the verbs in the sentence (i.e., “would” and “talked”) are in the past tense; it would be wrong if the verb “to talk” were in the present tense in the sentence. That is, it would be wrong to say, “I would slap him if he TALKS to me like that” since the “talking” hasn't taken place.

Third, “would” is used to indicate an action that happened habitually in the past. Example: “when I was a kid, my mom would take me to the movie theater every weekend.” Here, the action has obviously been completed in the past. It would be bad form to use “would” if the action continues, that is, if your mom still takes you to the movie theater every weekend.

Postscript:
This was first published in my grammar column in the Sunday Trust of July 31, 2011.

Related Articles:

1. A Comparison of Nigerian, American and British English
2. Why is "Sentiment" Such a Bad Word in Nigeria?
3. Ambassador Aminchi's Impossible Grammatical Logic
4. 10 Most Annoying Nigerian Media English Expressions
5. Sambawa and "Peasant Attitude to Governance"
6. Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English
7. In Defense of "Flashing" and Other Nigerianisms
8. Weird Words We're Wedded to in Nigerian English
9. American English or British English?
10. Hypercorrection in Nigerian English
11. Nigerianisms, Americanisms, Briticisms and Communication Breakdown
12. Top 10 Irritating Errors in American English
13. Nigerian Editors Killing Macebuh Twice with Bad Grammar
14. On "Metaphors" and "Puns" in Nigerian English
15. Common Errors of Pluralization in Nigerian English
16. Q & A About Common Grammatical Problems
17. Semantic Change and the Politics of English Pronunciation


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Q and A on Grammar

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.


I continue to receive lots of smart and thoughtful questions from readers. What follows is my response to some of these questions. I will answer others in subsequent weeks. Enjoy.

Question:
Someone whose grasp of the English language I respect told me it’s bad English to say “I want to drop here” when coming down from a taxi or a commercial bus. He said “drop” in that context is Pidgin English, and that one can only “drop” from the top of something, not from inside it. Is he correct?

Answer:
Your friend is being a little too literal in his understanding of the meaning of “drop.” One of the many meanings of the word is to “leave at a destination” and to “remove from a transport container.” What your friend probably wanted to say is that in native-speaker environments drivers typically “drop” or, more commonly, “drop off” passengers from their taxis or buses while passengers “get off” from taxis or buses. In other words, a passenger cannot not drop or drop off from a car or a bus; he is dropped or dropped off by the driver since “drop off” also means “to allow to alight.” Passengers can only “get off” from a taxi or a bus. In Nigerian English, however, this distinction scarcely exists. Everybody just “drops.”

Question:
Is it “make-or-mar” or “make-or-break”? What is the correct idiom?

Answer:
The correct form of the idiom is “make or break.” But many non-native English speakers, including Nigerians, and especially Nigerian journalists, habitually write “make or mar.” Note, though, that “make or mar” isn't grammatically wrong; it's just not a Standard English idiom.


Question:
How come most people say “different than” instead of “different from” and yet the style manuals tell us that the former is incorrect and the latter correct?

Answer:
Well, “different than” is chiefly American. It’s almost absent in any other national variety of English. The traditional rule is that “than” can only be used with the comparative forms of adjectives (e.g., “better than,” “more than,” “bigger than,” “more beautiful than,” “less than,” “less successful than,” etc) and with “other” and “rather” (e.g., “other than,” “rather than”). Since “different” signifies contrast rather than comparison, it is taught that it shouldn't co-occur with “than.”

However, the phrase “different than” has become standard in American English and it seems churlish to resist it. But I don't think I can ever bring myself to say "different than." My tongue would fall off!

British speakers also have their own awkward deviation from the rule in the phrase “different to.”

My sense is that these deviations from the traditional norm were initially usage errors committed by people at the upper end of the social and cultural scale (recall my point about the unabashed elitism of usage rules?) or by a critical mass of people, which gained social prestige over time. What I've noticed, though, is that the Brits tend confine their “different to” to informal contexts. But in America “different than” competes with “different from” even in formal contexts.

Question:
I have two questions. First, what can you say about some journalists here in Nigeria [who are fond of saying] "my names are…" when introducing themselves? Second, what is the grammatical rule for using “attach herewith” when writing formal letters?

Answer:
The phrase “my names are…” is unquestionably nonstandard by the conventions of modern English. Contemporary native English speakers don’t introduce themselves that way. My preliminary investigation shows that, that form of conversational self-reference occurs chiefly in Nigerian and Kenyan English. This may indicate that it’s an old-fashioned British English form that has survived in some of Britain’s former colonies.

In modern English, though, most grammarians agree that “name” in the sense in which you used it is a language unit and refers both to one’s first name alone and to one’s first, (middle) and last names combined. So the socially normative and grammatically acceptable way to introduce yourself is to either say “my name is Danjuma” or “my name is Danjuma Olu Okoro.” The fact of the addition of “Olu” and “Okoro” to “Danjuma” doesn’t require that you inflect “name” for number, that is, it doesn't require you to pluralize "name" to "names." So it is wrong to say “my names are ….”

Now to your second question: “Herewith” has two common meanings/uses. The first is that it functions as a synonym for “hereby,” as in: “I herewith declare you the winner of the election.” Many grammarians, however, dismiss this use of “herewith” as pretentious. Others say it's archaic.

 “Herewith” is also commonly used to mean “enclosed with this correspondence [i.e., letter].” This usage is now extended to email. So it’s common to read, “I attach herewith a scanned copy of the document.” Notice that if you replace “attach herewith” with “enclosed with this correspondence,” the meaning remains unchanged. There are no particular rules for using “attach herewith” in this sense, except to remember that it can almost always be interchanged with the phrase “enclosed with this correspondence.”

Question:
I am a regular reader of your Sunday Trust column. Please I want to know more ways to improve my English vocabulary. Thank you every much.

Answer:
Thanks for being a regular reader of my column. That's nice to know. The best way to improve your vocabulary is to read well-written novels and have a good dictionary by your side. Also read good newspaper columnists and look up any unfamiliar words you come across as you read them. Get a notebook where you write unfamiliar words and their meanings. Then go over your notebook once in a while. When I was in secondary school, I improved my vocabulary by studying the dictionary alone. I had a notebook where I wrote words that interested me and noted their parts of speech and usage advice.

Related Articles:

1. A Comparison of Nigerian, American and British English
2. Why is "Sentiment" Such a Bad Word in Nigeria?
3. Ambassador Aminchi's Impossible Grammatical Logic
4. 10 Most Annoying Nigerian Media English Expressions
5. Sambawa and "Peasant Attitude to Governance"
6. Adverbial and Adjectival Abuse in Nigerian English
7. In Defense of "Flashing" and Other Nigerianisms
8. Weird Words We're Wedded to in Nigerian English
9. American English or British English?
10. Hypercorrection in Nigerian English
11. Nigerianisms, Americanisms, Briticisms and Communication Breakdown
12. Top 10 Irritating Errors in American English
13. Nigerian Editors Killing Macebuh Twice with Bad Grammar
14. On "Metaphors" and "Puns" in Nigerian English
15. Common Errors of Pluralization in Nigerian English
16. Q & A About Common Grammatical Problems
17. Semantic Change and the Politics of English Pronunciation


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bait-and-Switch Publishing: New Face of Academic Fraud

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

A new kind of insidious, Internet-enabled academic fraud is sprouting in the world. It’s called “bait-and-switch publishing.” And it’s already infecting the Nigerian academic community very badly. So what is this new fraud and why should you care?

First, in general, “bait-and-switch” scams are kinds of confidence tricks where unsuspecting customers are lured into (or “baited” to) an attractive, often too-good-to-be-true, offer. Once the customer’s interest is sufficiently piqued and sustained, the terms of the offer will often change (or “switch”). For instance, a car that was advertised for $1000 might end up costing three times the advertised price after additional, hidden costs are added. This kind of scam takes many forms.

In academic publishing, bait-and-switch scams wear academic gowns. They typically happen this way: A cute-sounding but actually fraudulent “academic journal” sends out an unsolicited email "call for papers" to individuals whose email addresses are scouted on the Internet using email-harvesting software, the kind that 419 scam artists use to get your email addresses. The software specifically targets email addresses that are listed in academic conference presentations and on university websites.

In the email solicitations, the egos of unsuspecting victims would be artfully stroked. They would be told that the papers they presented at conferences have been found to be superb and potentially earth-shattering. The cute-sounding but fraudulent journal would then inform the suckers that it would be delighted to publish their papers. Since promotion to the next rank in academia is usually dependent on number of publications, many naive academics are often overjoyed when they get these email solicitations. (I have received and continue to receive quite a few myself). 

Nigerian academics are often particularly delighted by these solicitations because the National Universities Commission (NUC) now insists that for lecturers to be promoted to the status of professors they must publish some of their work in "international" academic journals. But the email solicitations are just the bait.

The switch occurs after the paper has been purportedly peer-reviewed and accepted for publication. The authors would then be asked to pay a “service fee” for the reviewing, editing, and printing of the paper. In Nigerian academe where the culture of paying fees to journals for the publication of articles is already a tradition, this switch raises no eyebrows.

That is why a Benue State University lecturer by the name of Michael Atovigba is psyching up the Nigerian cyber community by claiming in a July 28 Guardian interview to have solved a 262-year-old mathematical puzzle based on an article he published in a bait-and-switch Pakistani journal.
Michael Atovigba
 Mr. Atovigba’s claims to unparalleled mathematical genius might very well be true, but we have no way of knowing this for certain because he chose to publish his “record-breaking” findings in the “Research Journal of Mathematics and Statistics” owned by a bait-and-switch publishing company called Maxwell Scientific Organization. By Atovigba’s admission, he paid $150 (about 23,000 naira) to get his article published.

In the proper protocols of academic journal publishing in Europe and North America and, I guess, elsewhere, academics don’t pay a dime to have their articles published. That is why the bait-and-switch publishing scam will find no suckers here. A Canadian lawyer by the name of Antonin I. Prebetic was almost suckered into the fraud by a different company called David Publishing Company until the scammers demanded a “service fee” (the kind Atovigba paid to Maxwell) before his article would be published. He recounted his experience in a widely read blog post. In the comment section of the article, many other people shared their tales of near misses with other bait-and-switch publishing scams. The "service fee" is always the red flag.

But bait-and-switch publishers are not bad simply because they demand illegal “service fees” from authors; they are bad because they flagrantly circumvent the time-honored protocols and quality control of the academic peer-review process. First, legitimate academic journals don’t send out random, unsolicited emails to individuals, flattering them and requesting that they submit their articles for publication. They rather send out calls for papers on their websites or on academic listserves. Authors can also seek them out.

Second, after receiving submissions from authors, editors of legitimate journals in Europe and North America send out the articles to two or three experts for a blind peer review. That means the reviewers have no idea who the authors of the articles are nor do the authors of the articles know who the reviewers are. This makes assessment reasonably detached and fair-minded. (Bait-and-switch journals advertise the names of their "reviewers" on their websites).

One of four things can happen to a peer-reviewed article: it may be recommended for publication without revision (which is very rare). It may be recommended for publication with minor revisions. It may be recommended for publication with major revisions. Or it may be rejected outright. For an article to be published, at least two out of three reviewers should recommend it.

As you can imagine, the review process is often time-consuming because it usually entails several back-and-forth exchanges among authors, editors, and reviewers. It takes anywhere from six months to two years for the review process to be completed. Rather perversely, in academia, reputable journals are often those that have a high rejection rate. Journals at the bottom of the totem pole usually have a high acceptance rate.

In bait-and-switch journals, no real peer review takes place since the ultimate goal of such journals is to extort money from unsuspecting authors; they are not interested in knowledge production and dissemination. Similarly, the journals have a hundred percent acceptance rate and a zero percent rejection rate. 

To give an example with Atovigba’s self-proclaimed earth-shattering article, it was submitted for review on January 8 this year and it was accepted for publication on February 03. That is less than one month of review! There clearly was no review. I was managing editor of an academic journal for four years and have myself published articles in academic journals and reviewed for others. The shortest peer-review time I have ever experienced or heard of is one year.

I am innumerate and can’t sit in judgment over the quality and claims of Atovigba’s article, but one clear evidence that the article was never truly peer reviewed can be found not just in the unusually short time span between its submission and its publication but in the fact that of the seven references in the article, a whole four are from Wikipedia, the usually helpful but occasionally error-prone and unreliable online collaborative encyclopedia. No respectable journal will allow Wikipedia references to form the majority of the bibliographic references for a scientific inquiry. Many university teachers, in fact, don't accept Wikipedia references in their students' work. Wikipedia is not a scholarly source; it can be changed, manipulated, and vandalized by anybody with an Internet connection!

So Maxwell Scientific Organization (why, by the way, would an organization based in Pakistan be known by the name “Maxwell”?) scammed Atovigba who, in turn, inadvertently scammed the Guardian newspaper, which ultimately scammed a Nigerian populace that is thirsty for heroes. But the problem is even deeper than that. Most of the suckers for this bait-and-switch publishing scams are Nigerian academics. For instance, in the volume where Atovigba’s article appeared, the two other authors in the journal are Nigerians.

This is also true of many other well-known bait-and-switch journals that I have looked at for this article. For now, I have no clue where these scams are originating from. I can only surmise that they have a Third World provenance because they can’t possibly find takers in Europe and North America. But it is interesting that Nigeria that has notoriety as the headquarters of 419 scams is disproportionately the victim of these emergent publishing scams.

Whatever it is, the NUC and university administrators (HODs, deans, vice chancellors, etc) need to act fast to stop this scam before it matures into an intractably hydra-headed epidemic. Our universities’ problems are already bad enough; we can’t afford to have a bunch of “bait-and-switch” lecturers and professors strutting around our campuses inebriated with a false sense of their academic prowess.

 Related Articles:
Ndi Okereke's Fake Doctorate and Professorship
On Bauchi's Fake Lecturer--and What Should Be Done
Intellectual 419: Philip Emeagwali and Gabriel Oyibo Compared
Andy Uba and the Epidemic of Fakery in Nigeria

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Islamophilia in Christian Black America

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

In popular Western discourses, the term Islamophilia has a somewhat pejorative connotation. Islamophobes (i.e., people who have an irrational hatred and fear of Islam and Muslims) frequently deploy the term to describe what they call the excessive and uncritical reverence for Islam and Muslims by some non-Muslims out of political correctness, paternalistic condescension, or ignorance of the “intolerant” teachings of Islam.

However, I want to rescue the term from that willfully cynical and manipulative semantic distortion. Philia is a psychoanalytic concept that denotes positive feelings of liking toward something or someone. Islamophilia, therefore, doesn’t have to be the consequence of mealy-mouthed social sensitivity, paternalism, or ignorance; it can be, and often is, the genuine admiration of or empathy with Islam and Muslims by people who profess faiths other than Islam. So Islamophiles can express repulsion at the violent acts of a few Muslims and still genuinely like the majority of Muslims who are peaceful and mind their own businesses.

I have always been intrigued by the Islamophilia I’ve encountered in black America. In this season when the blanket demonization of Muslims is increasingly being normalized and mainstreamed in popular discursive engagements in the West, it is appropriate to call attention to a community in the West that bucks this trend. Although black Americans are some of the most devout Christians you can find anywhere in the world, they are also arguably the most tolerant people toward Muslims and Islam.

I do not by this mean that there are no Islamophobes in black America. There are. After all, Herman Cain, whom I once described as a “black Islamophobic nutjob who wants Obama’s job” is a black American. Allen West, a black Republican Congressman from the southern U.S. state of Florida, is another remarkably vicious Islamophobe.
Allen West
There are also many white Christian Americans who are extraordinarily tolerant of and empathetic to Muslim Americans. For instance, Muslims and other minorities here generally find tremendous warmth and acceptance among self-described white liberal Americans. But there are also episodic displays of support for Muslims from traditionally hostile quarters, especially in moments of crisis.  For example, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, a Muslim woman dressed in a hijab was physically assaulted by a sneaky mob in a small town in the state of Ohio. When people in the town heard of the incident, they were outraged. 

In response, they all decided to dress in hijab for more than a whole week both to identify with the assaulted Muslim woman and to protect other Muslim women who might stand out because of their mode of dressing. Small-town white Americans became temporary Muslims just to protect their Muslim neighbors. I was touched when I read the story, especially because small-town America is notorious, rightly or wrongly, for being xenophobic, insular, and intolerant.

However, these exceptions don’t vitiate the often ignored but nonetheless noteworthy fact of the incredibly warm acceptance of Muslims in black American communities. This is particularly worthy of attention because black America is profoundly Christian—in more ways than any demographic group in America. The church is the nerve center of their community. That is why the spokespersons for black Americans have historically been pastors, and those who are not pastors tend to couch their messages in explicitly Christian imagery and symbolism in order to connect with the community.

Given the often acrimonious tenor of Christian-Muslim relations in most parts of the world, you would expect hostility toward Muslims in such a staunchly Christian community. But from my experience—and the experiences of many Muslims here—black American Christians are some of the most Islamophilic people you can ever find anywhere.

What accounts for that? Why should deeply believing adherents of an evangelizing faith be tolerant and even protective of the faithful of a “competing” faith?

I discussed this question this week with a black American friend of mine who actually embodies this trait in bountiful degrees. He is a very religious man who, in fact, studied Christian theology at a seminary. But he is one of the most thoughtful critics of Islamophobia that I have ever met.

Well, the first obvious reason black America identifies with American Muslims is what one might call the solidarity of the oppressed. American blacks have been victims of institutional exclusion and oppression for several centuries. So they know what it feels to be unfairly stereotyped and demonized on account of the misdeeds of a few people who happen to share similar primordial traits with you.

In a way, the empathy black Americans show toward American Muslims is an externalization of their own historical and contemporary experiences of “othering” in the hands of the dominant power structure. Interestingly, the strategies and vocabularies for pushing back at Islamophobia are derived almost entirely from the Civil Rights movement. To give just one example: the phrase “racial profiling,” which Muslim civil rights activists now routinely use, was coined by black American civil rights activists.

Second, many black Americans I have met are acutely aware that some of their ancestors who were sold into slavery in the 16th century, especially from Senegal and the Gambia, were Muslims. There are the well-known cases of Ayub Suleiman Diallo and Umar Ibn Said. Ayuba Suleiman, who was renamed Job Solomon by his slavers, was a prince who was literate in Arabic. He was sent to prison in Maryland because he resisted physical labor. A white American by the name of Thomas Bluett discovered him in prison, saw that he was literate, took him to England, and then set him free. Umar Said, a Wolof man whose first name was corrupted to Uncle Moreau and later Prince Omeroh, was a learned Muslim when he was captured and sold to slavery. While he lived in North Carolina, he wrote at least 14 manuscripts in Arabic, including his autobiography. The manuscripts are now preserved at the library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Umar Ibn Said (1773-1864)
Many black Americans are proud of this history and probably see contemporary Muslims as the surviving links to an aspect of their past that they cherish. It fills them with pride to know that not all their ancestors were ignorant, illiterate “jungle bunnies” that their slavers said they were when they were captured into slavery. I know of many devoutly Christian black Americans who bear Muslim names in honor of this past.

Third, when Islam re-emerged in black American communities in the 1940s through the Nation of Islam, it complemented rather than competed with black American Christianity. So, historically, most American blacks have never regarded Muslims as foes or competitors. Plus, Islam gave the black American community many cultural icons such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan, etc.

We all—Muslims and Christians alike— can learn a thing or two from the praiseworthy, if historically contingent, religious tolerance in black America.

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