A Review of Sufiya Abdur-Rahman’s Heir to the Crescent Moon
April 15, 2022 § Leave a comment
By Debbie Hagan
As I listened to Sufiya Abdur-Rahman read from her memoir Heir to the Crescent Moon, an old curiosity awoke within me. As a teenager, I’d wanted to know about Islam, beyond Malcolm X. However, living in Kansas City’s suburbs, in the 1970s (pre-internet), my research was limited to the resources of the town library. In other words, I had to live with the itch of many unanswered questions.
In Heir to the Crescent Moon, author Abdur-Rahman describes how she and her three siblings grew up Muslim under the guidance of their parents, Black Power-era Islam converts. We see that Islam is more than just a religion, but a way of life: fasting, praying, studying Arabic, and attending the mosque.
Sepia-toned photos of Malcom X and Sufi scholar Hazrat Inayat Khan hung in the father’s office. He reads from the Qur’an, takes his prayer beads off his wall, and says a prayer with each bead, the “flattened tips of father’s thumb and forefinger pinched each globe then inched along to the next, the string of beads rotating in his grasp like stairs on an escalator.”
We witness Abdur-Rahman’s family’s devotion and how they bond in their worship, prayers, and deep love for one another.
Ironically, sometimes it’s the passions that unite people that also tear them apart. There’s no question about the father’s charisma and deep love for Allah and his children, but he’s haunted by his own past, a moody and mercurial man who uses corporal punishment in disciplining his children and his wife.
After seventeen years of marriage, the wife seeks a divorce, but discovers, divorce is not necessary. They were never legally married. Her husband never filed the marriage license.
“With that I knew that technically, my siblings and I were all illegitimate,” writes Abdur-Rahman. “…it called into question my entire being.”
Part of her entire being was her religion. People would ask, “What kind of name is Sufiya Abdur-Rahman? It doesn’t sound very Christian.”
In fourth grade, her best friend tells her, “You don’t pray to the real God.”
Abdur-Rahman tries to explain that even if she refers to God as “Allah,” they’re the same God.
No, her friend argues, “You’re not gonna go to Heaven…. You can ask my Dad.”
“And you’re not gonna go to heaven echoed in my head as the familiar paralysis that gripped my vocal cords whenever I cried took over,” the author says. She’s the only Muslim in her school, except for her brother who’s in second grade. No one can help her. No one can speak for her.
I grew up in a religious family too; however, mine was Southern Baptist and I’m guessing not as devout as Abdur-Rahman’s family. Still, I understand the confusion and conflict religion can bring.
For instance, our church, back in the late sixties, looked a lot like one of today’s mega churches. Pews circled around a giant aquarium-like tank, where our pastor dunked converts on Sunday morning, washing away sins, preparing a spot in Heaven. Our pastor was a disciple of Jerry Falwell, and he had been our church’s previous pastor.
In 1973, leaders sold this church to Black Muslims, so it would become Muhammad Temple #30.
This confused me, because every Sunday morning our pastor pounded his fist into the pulpit, drumming into us that this idea that our Bible, our church was the only way into Heaven. So, if that were true, how could our church could be sold…particularly to people who worshipped differently?
A simple Google search today clarifies a lot I didn’t understand. Christianity and Islam are the two largest religions in the world and are both Abrahamic and monotheist.
In fact, Abdur Rahman’s father had grown up Catholic, and “one reason he had become Muslim was because Muslims recognize Christianity as a predecessor to Islam and Christ as a prophet of Allah.”
She continues, “It was their circular black, red, and green logo with a sword, a star and crescent, and Arabic script in the middle affixed to the door that had initially drawn him to the building…. That symbol was a combination of black and Muslim pride, the very things my father was reshaping his life around.”
There. the Inman gave his sermon in Arabic, then translated it in English. “He spoke of struggles in the black community—with justice, with jobs, with safety—and related them to stories of the Prophet Muhammad’s life,” writes Abdur-Rahman.
It’s not surprising that Abdur-Rahman won the Iowa Prize for Nonfiction. Heir to the Crescent Moon offers beautifully depicted characters and vivid and evocative scenes that cause readers to become invested in her family’s life and struggles, as they’re persistently guided by unswerving faith.
Debbie Hagan is book reviews editor for Brevity. Her writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Hyperallergic, Critical Read, River Teeth, Superstition Review, and Pleiades. Her essay “Portrait in Red” will appear in the April issue of Dillydoun Review, and her essay “Lights Out” will appear in the June issue of Star 84 Review.