Race, Racism and Social Justice, Religion & Society and Islamic Studies, Africana Studies, Migration and Transnationalism, 20th Century US History, Anthropology of Climate Change, History of Science and Ethnography; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Museum & Curatorial Studies


Zain Abdullah is Associate Professor of Race, Religion and Racism in the Religion Department at Temple University. He is the author of Black Mecca: The African Muslims of Harlem (Oxford University Press), and his articles have appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of ReligionAnthropological Quarterly, the Journal of History and Culture, African ArtsThe Muslim World, and other periodicals. Professor Abdullah has been quoted in the New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Atlantic magazine and other news outlets. He holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology along with degrees in sociology, history, and political science, and has earned awards from agencies like the Smithsonian Institution, where he has served on the International Advisory Board for a proposed exhibition on Muslim healing and now advises a proposed traveling exhibition, “America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far.” He has lectured widely, curated numerous events, and contributed to programs at the Newark Museum, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, the Museum of the City of New York, the Asia Society and Museum, the Newark Black Film Festival, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the International Festival for Arts and Ideas (New Haven, CT), and programs sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the US State Department.

Early in his career, Zain worked as a Muslim chaplain, providing pastoral care for prison inmates in New York and New Jersey, while serving on the Bishop’s Commis­sion on Ecume­nism and Interreli­gious Affairs in Tren­ton, the Chap­laincy Consulting Committee, which is the State Advisory Board of Ministry for New Jersey State institutions, the NJ Attorney General’s Stop Hate Crimes Committee, and as a consultant for agencies like the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and NJ State Troopers. In the 1990s, he organized major symposia and national conferences on community health and Black males and crime, two conventions attracting thousands, while making radio and television appearances on shows such as 9 Broadcast Plaza (Ch. 9) and The Gary Byrd Show (WLIB) Live at The Apollo Theater. For this work, he received in 2005 the New Jersey State Assembly Resolution in recognition of distinguished service, leadership, and commitment on behalf of the citizens of the State. In 2017, he was inducted into the City of East Orange Hall of Fame (NJ) for arts and education along with celebrities in other categories like actor John Amos, the late Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Naughty by Nature, and Queen Latifah.

Dr. Abdullah is currently completing a book on the Nation of Islam and Black freedom struggles in mid-twentieth century America. He is also working with film crews for a PBS series on Muslim Americans and consulted for the Netflix series, Who Killed Malcolm X. Zain is the 2018 recipient of the Ford Foundation Senior Fellowship Award to write a book on Islamophobia, race and religion in the US. And he is researching another book on the visual culture of race as an ongoing dilemma in American life.

Affiliated Faculty in the Following Programs:

Selected Publications


  • Our Freedom Can't Wait!: The Nation of Islam, Race and Social Justice in America (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2023)
  • A History and Visual Culture of Race and Religion in America (Forthcoming, 2024)
  • Black Mecca: The African Muslims of Harlem (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

Selected Book Reviews for Black Mecca

  • ETNOSIA: Jurnal Etnografi Indonesia, reviewed by Imogen Spray, University of Auckland, New Zealand (2020), 5 (1), 1-4.
  • Anabaptist Witness (theology of religions), reviewed by Ron Adams (April 2015), vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 179-181.
  • Islamic Africa, reviewed by Markus Dressler (Spring 2013), vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 128-132.
  • Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review, reviewed by Göran Larsson (2012), 2, no. 2, pp. 369-370.
  • American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, reviewed by Yushau Sodiq (2012), vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 134-137.
  • The Journal of African American History, reviewed by Courtney Lyons (2012) vol. 97, no 1-2, pp. 197-199.
  • Journal of Islamic Law and Culture, reviewed by Chernoh M. Sesay, Jr. (April 2011), vol. 13, no. 1, pp.113-115.
  • Black Theology: An International Journal, reviewed by Richard Reddie (November 2011), vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 381-382.
  • Sociology of Religion, reviewed by John L. Jackson, Jr. (Winter 2011), vol. 72, no. 4, pp. 488-490.
  • American Anthropologist, reviewed by Erin E. Stiles (September 2011), vol. 113, no. 3, pp. 511-512.
  • Social Service Review, “Brief Notes” published by The University of Chicago Press (September 2011), vol. 85m no. 3, pp. 528-529.
  • Choice, American Library Association, reviewed by Juliane Hammer (April 2011).
  • The Chronicle [newspaper, Charleston, SC], “As I See It: Black Mecca,” reviewed by Hakim Abdul-Ali (February 16, 2011), vol. 39, no. 25, p. 5.
  • LastProphet.Info (website), “Authors: Black Mecca—A Review,” reviewed by Adilah S. Muhammad (2011).
  • Islamic Horizons, “Shared Experiences,” (2011), vol. 40, no. 1, p. 60.

Selected Peer-Reviewed Articles

  • “The Art of Black Muslim Lives,” Black Muslim Portraiture in the Modern Atlantic (Special Issue), The Muslim World: A Journal Devoted to the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (Summer 2020), vol. 110, no. 3, pp. 274-307.
  • A Muslim's Search for Meaning,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Winter/Spring 2014, vol. 42, nos. 1 & 2, pp. 22-32.
  • “Transnationalism and the Politics of Belonging: African Muslim Circuits in Western Spaces,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, December 2012, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 427-449.
  • “Narrating Muslim Masculinities: The Fruit of Islam and the Quest for Black Redemption,” Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men, Autumn 2012, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 141-178.
  • “Objects of Desire: Shopping for Identity and the Meaning of Africa at the Harlem Market,” African Arts, 2011, Winter, 44 (4): pp. 8-21.
  • “Culture, Community and the Politics of Muslim Space,” Journal of History and Culture, 2010, Summer, vol. 1 (3): 8-24.
  • “Sufis on Parade: The Performance of Black, African and Muslim Identities,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 2009, June 77(2), pp. 199-237.
  • “African ‘Soul Brothers' in the ‘Hood: Immigration, Islam and the Black Encounter,” Anthropological Quarterly, 2009, Winter 82(1): pp. 37-62.
  • “Negotiating Identities: A History of Islamization in Black West Africa,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture, vol. 10, no. 1, 2008, pp. 5-18.
  • “West Africa,” Encyclopedia of American Immigration, James Ciment (ed.) (Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2001), pp. 1070-1078.

Edited Works

Book Chapters

  • “Race, Islam, and the Black Imaginary: Photography in Ethnographic Research,” in The Routledge Handbook on Islam and Race, ed. Zain Abdullah (London: Routledge, forthcoming 2023).
  • “Introduction: What Does Blackness have to do with Islam, Or How to Talk about Race and Religion,” in The Routledge Handbook on Islam and Race, ed. Zain Abdullah (London: Routledge, forthcoming 2023).
  • “Day 71, Letter 71,” in American Values, Religious Voices: 100 Days, 100 Letters, eds. Andrea L. Weiss and Lisa M. Weinberger (Cincinnati, OH: University of Cincinnati Press, 2019), p. 111.
  • “Malcolm X, Islam and the Black Self,” in Malcolm X's Michigan Worldview: An Exemplar for Contemporary Black Studies, eds. Rita Kiki Edozie and Curtis Stokes (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2015), pp. 205-226.
  • “American Muslims in the Contemporary World: 1965 to the Present,” in The Cambridge Companion to American Islam, eds. Omid Safi and Juliane Hammer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 65-82.

Film Projects

  • Muslim Americans. Invited consultant, co-writer and featured guest for this three-hour, three-part PBS documentary special film on the History of Muslim Americans. Producer, Graham Judd (June 2017 – Current).
  • Who Killed Malcolm X? Invited consultant, six-part documentary film series aired on Netflix, produced by ArkMedia, a film company honored with four national prime time Emmy Awards, an Academy Award nomination, the DuPont Columbia baton, three George H. Foster Peabody Awards, among other awards and accolades (2017 – 2018).
  • Newark Museum Black Film Festival. Invited Film Juror. Since 1974, the Newark Museum Black Film Festival (NMBFF), formerly the NBFF (Newark Black Film Festival), is known as the longest running black film festival in the United States. It provides a progressive public forum for hundreds of writers, directors, producers, performers and film buffs who enjoy African American and African Diaspora cinema. Screening in the summer months, the films reflect the full diversity of the black experience in America, past and present. And each film selection encompasses a wide range of cinematic forms and formulas, from documentary to the avant-garde (2004, 2006, 2016, 2018).
  • Blessed and Highly Favored. A film by Zain Abdullah, director and cinematographer. Documentary short. New York, NY., color, 14 mins. (2009).
  • Dollars and Dreams: West Africans in New York. Editorial Advisor. A documentary film by Jeremy Rocklin and Blue Saxophone Films, New York, NY. Color, 56 mins., 2007. Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources (DER) .
  • “Africa: Conversations with a Continent.” Panel discussant, film screening, co-presented by the Museum for African Art, New York, and the 92nd Street Y, “Dollars and Dreams: West Africans in New York,” a documentary film by Blue Saxophone Films, New York, NY. (Dec 17, 2007).
  • Karmen Geï (2001), Director, Joseph Gaï Ramaka (86 mins). Invited Post-Film Guest Speaker, a West African film based on the American classic, Carmen (1955) whose storyline is adapted to Senegalese culture. The NBFF (Newark Black Film Festival), New Screens Theater, Newark, NJ (July 23, 2003).


  • Photographic Work: Photos in Akel Kahera, Latif Abdulmalik, and Craig Anz. (2009). Design Criteria for Mosques and Islamic Centers: Art, Architecture, and Worship (New York: Elsevier / Architectural Press)
  • Figure 1.2 “Masjid Malcolm Shabazz,” p. 3; Figure 4.0 “Islamic Cultural Center, New York, Geometric Pattern,” p. 54 Figure 4.2 “Lower Level Prayer Space, Arabesque Patterns, Floral Motifs, and Calligraphy,” p. 55 
  • Figure 4.7 (repeat of Figure 4.2), p. 58; Figure 4.16 “Islamic Cultural Center of New York,” 2 photos, p. 68.

Courses Taught

Temple University Courses



Rutgers University Courses

  • Racial Formations in the United States (designed & taught)
  • Islam in the African American Experience (designed & taught)
  • Black Religion in Public Life (Special Topics designed & taught)
  • Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora (designed & taught)
  • Newark, NJ: Black Urban Life in Theory & Practice (designed & taught)
  • Constructions of Black Male Identity (designed & taught)
  • Black Images in African Cinema (designed & taught)
  • Introduction to African American & African Studies I & II
  • Black Women in the United States
  • African Cultural Retentions in the Americas
  • Black Subcultures of the USA
  • Black Political Economy
  • Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
  • Urban Anthropology

Media Mentions

Dr. Zain Abdullah Quoted In the Philadelphia Inquirer
via The Philadelphia Inquirer on February 01, 2022

Dr. Zain Abdullah Quoted In the Philadelphia Inquirer

Dr. Zain Abdullah was interviewed by Jeff Gammage for...