Kayla Reneé Wheeler

“Race Matters in Islam: The Importance of Critical Theory for Muslims and Islamic Studies Scholars”

Kayla Reneé Wheeler Speaker Photo SORAAAD 2019Recently, several Muslim Islamic Studies scholars, both inside and outside of the Academy have criticized critical race theory (CRT) for being in opposition to Islam. Critics argue that CRT, which was founded by people of color in the United States in part to explain how racism has persisted despite the end of legalized discrimination, has a Western neo-Marxist agenda that is anti-white. I argue that part of this opposition to engaging with CRT in Islamic Studies has to do with the failure to adequately consider religion and the experiences of religious minorities in conversations around power and oppression. This pushback against CRT also reveals the failure of scholars to properly translate outside of academic silos, the ways in which whiteness is a structuring force that moves across and beyond geographic borders.

This presentation will do three things. First, it will explore the ways in which CRT can be useful to Islamic Studies scholars and Muslims. Second, it will detail my own experiences with using CRT in my work on Black Muslims in the U.S. Finally, it will highlight some of the risks of having these conversations publicly, as critiques of Muslims are often weaponized to affirm Islamophobic, xenophobic, and Orientalist views of Islam.