An Islamic Salon?

Posted: December 16, 2007 in Uncategorized

Imagine for a moment that you’re a highly educated African-American living in the segregated Washington, DC of 1895. Modern distractions like radio and television haven’t been invented yet, and most other avenues for culturally rich and intellectually stimulating entertainment have been racially proscribed. What do you do? This was the predicament facing the elite members of the race at the close of the 19th, and beginning of 20th centuries. In those days, education meant a heavy dosage of Latin, Greek, or French, great familiarity with the classics of western civilization – like Shakespeare and Plato – and usually the ability to perform a difficult piece of music on either piano or violin.

In learning to cope with the injustices of segregation, these educated Blacks turned inward and developed their own avenues for cultural and intellectual expression. They formed debate clubs and literary societies, attended plays (held usually in churches), and wrote books and papers. However, one of the more important outlets they turned to – one which we are attempting to rediscover in the Washington D.C. of 2007 – consisted in holding lively and engaging programs in each others homes.

So often we hear that our masjids maintain an atmosphere inhibiting free discussion and thoughtful debate, a lamentable state of affairs. Most masjids, whether African American or immigrant, usually follow some type of “line” (some ideological “Kool-Aid” they want you to drink), and all topics not sanctioned by the administration are strictly prohibited. But the home “salon” can be the perfect remedy to combat the intellectual and cultural stagnation that so many Muslims are experiencing today.

Here in the nation’s capital, Muslims are beginning to meet not only in homes, but in little coffee shops as well. Some attend to hear the short lectures, enjoy the good (American) food and the discussions that follow, while others go simply to find a mate, and that’s o.k. too.

Recently, the home of a young sister, Bathsheba Philpott, has become the epicenter of this new salon movement. Last night she hosted the Family Halaqah Group, comprised of brothers and sisters eager to be involved in wholesome discussion and activism. We were treated to a very erudite commentary by Dr. Fatimah Jackson, anthropologist at the University of Md., on the wonderful new film Prince of Slaves. Also part of the discussion was another anthropologist, Dr. S.O.Y. Keita, along with writer Tariq Nelson. Of the close to twenty or so people in attendance, at least half were sisters, and everyone had an opportunity to share their insights and analysis. Leading the discussion was D.C. based attorney Talib Karim.

Perhaps this salon idea is something that will catch on in other cities. (more later)

  1. SubhanAllah,
    Wish I was there.

  2. […] groups, work groups, and writing workshops. So, today, when someone forwarded me a link to AbdurRahman’s latest post. I was happily surprised. Here’s a brief account of what’s going on in DC: Imagine for […]

  3. Kwame Madden says:

    May Allah reward all of you,in this effort.

  4. ummali says:

    Wow. MashaAllah, what an excellent idea.

  5. ummali says:

    If this is a family friendly environment, how do you work out the issue of small children? Are parents of small children welcome to bring them and if so is something provided for them?

  6. Sister Umm Ali

    As a matter of fact there was a sister (who happens to be a scientist and whose husband is a Professor) who had her small children there.

  7. As Salaamu Alaikum Sister Margari,

    You were there….in the spirit (smile).

  8. Carine Nouboussi says:

    Assalamu alaikum,

    By the grace of Allah, I was able to attend the meeting. The topics were hot, so were the audience and the food. We were able to listen from scholars ( and we learned that you do not need a PhD to have that title, just the insight, expertise and knowledge), and from each other. Some of the the lessons I took out of the talk: 1. we need to “step up our game” and strive to know our deen, our rights, our duties, and the command of Allah. 2. Children and young people should attend the meetings, that is how they will learn what is right and wrong, good manners, and they will get to voice their opinions and belief. Thus, we will know a little bit more on how to better cater to their needs, and they will know what is expected from them, and what their community (parents, relatives, friends…) will absolutly not be tolerated from them.

  9. Faiza says:


    A sister and I are interested in attending this meeting. How can interested parties find out where and when the next meeting will be held?

  10. Abdur-Rahman M says:

    As Salaamu Alaikum Faiza,

    As these meetings are held in private homes, we need to find out some background information about the people who are attending. Please email me your information and someone will get back to you promptly. Right now we are looking at having our next discussion around Jan. 1st or so.

  11. Asia Salaam Malik says:

    ASA, I would like to be a part of the Halaqah, but right now I am without transportation, and I live in Laurel. E-mailing is OK for now.

    What would you like to know?

  12. […]  I’ve recently mentioned that reviving the debate club tradition is a wonderful way to test new ideas and stimulate discussion, or just one facet of what I called here the ”Islamic Salon“. […]

  13. kameelah says:


    Alhamdulillah! This is a beautiful vision. And InshaAllah it flourishes (beyond DC–by the way, I love DC! Lived there for 2 months back in 06). Brace yourself, I have much to say and InshaAllah you have the sabr to read through it all.

    I live in California and I am certainly feeling the lack of Islamic intellectual and cultural community. I spent 4 years in Catholic School high school, another 4 years at a small liberal arts schools, escaped for a year to Joburg, South Africa on a Fulbright Grant, and landed back at Stanford University for my Masters. My first weeks back in the states hit me hard and I spent a lot of nights sitting and trying to figure out how I ended up in such a place where I felt unchallenged and bored. I ended up writing a lot, and doing a lot of art to think and (w)rite my way into some type of clarity and sense of community. Here at Stanford (or maybe I have not found them), there is no one to talk to about the eclectic intersections between the art I create, the deen I practiced, the historical questions I ponder, and the creative energy I want to share. There are Muslims here, but not a sense of vibrant community. I often just feel like to weird kid on the block. I am 22, and my moms and pops have often said I was “old” when I was 13, striving for a sense of “something” of movement, of passion and of possibility that most young kids don’t desire. But, it was since 13 that I knew that my intellectual and cultural needs were not meet. The idea of a salon is so beautiful and filled with potential. I have no idea where I am going to be once I finish my degree in June. I’ve played with the idea of moving back east to teach and write, but Allah knows best. InshaAllah I end up somewhere with a Salon-like vibe and if not that, InshaAllah I end up somewhere where I can organize a similar community of Muslims. I am interested in seeing where this Islamic Salon project ends up. As I said, I am in California so if you have any hints on how to get it going in the Bay Area, let me know.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s