Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Thy Phu

2nd Supervisor

Dr. Julia Emberley

Joint Supervisor


This dissertation traces the underexplored figure of the African Muslim slave in American literature and proposes a new way to examine Islam in American cultural texts. It introduces a methodology for reading the traces of Islam called Allahgraphy: a method of interpretation that is attentive to Islamic studies and rhetorical techniques and that takes the surface as a profound source of meaning. This interpretative practice draws on postsecular theory, Islamic epistemology, and “post-critique” scholarship. Because of this confluence of diverse theories and epistemologies, Allahgraphy blurs religious and secular categories by deploying religious concepts for literary exegesis. Through an Allahgraphic reading, the dissertation examines modes of Islamic expression in a wide range of American works spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. To unravel the diverse Muslim voices embedded within the American literary tradition, the dissertation proceeds chronologically through specific periods in African American culture and history, moving from slavery to post-Reconstruction to the post-civil rights era. The first two chapters focus on the nineteenth century and examine the works of ʿUmar ibn Sayyid, Bilali Muhammad, and Joel Chandler Harris. In these chapters, Allahgraphy is used to consider the material inscription of the source texts, specifically the African-Arabic manuscripts. The second half of the dissertation examines Islamic expressions in twentieth-century American texts. Through an analysis of works by Malcolm X and Toni Morrison, these two chapters explore the multiple sensory registers of Allahgraphy. The dissertation concludes by considering the appearance of the African Muslim slave in the diary of the Guantánamo prisoner, Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Ultimately, the dissertation aims to widen literary approaches to Islam in American works and to demonstrate the continuity of Muslim voices in the American literary works. In doing so, it delineates a long tradition of black Muslim Americans’ responses to Islamophobia.