“My ancestors could do this, so I have to keep going with it”: Historical Narratives, Faith Practices, and Civic Engagement amongst Black Muslim Youth in Philadelphia
Irteza Binte-Farid

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pennsylvania

Primary Discipline

In this dissertation, I investigate how black Muslim youth with different ethnic histories engage with one another in the history classroom and in their communities. I offer a case study of how students draw on their family histories to expand notions of blackness across the diaspora, bring their Islamic identities into the classroom to supplement what the curriculum does not offer, and acknowledge the importance of black history over Eurocentric narratives. I followed 30 black Muslim youth in and out of history classrooms for two years in two charter schools in Philadelphia. I utilized qualitative methods, such as participant observations, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and social media analysis. I was particularly attuned to how students drew on their racial, ethnic, and religious identities to form historical understandings around topics such as slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, Black Lives Matter (BLM), and the COVID-19 pandemic. I found that ethnic identities contributed to divergent interpretations of black history and BLM amongst African American and West African youth, while engaging in Islamic practices together created friendships that formed the basis for civic engagement. Examples from this study can show teachers how acknowledging the diversity of black youth’s identities can counter essentialization of black experiences while also creating productive learning spaces. Teachers can empower students to challenge anti-Blackness and Islamophobia through historical examples. Additionally, black Muslim students can be taught to acknowledge historical difference, find common ground with peers through racial and religious bonds, and aspire for hopeful futures where black lives truly matter.
About Irteza Binte-Farid
Irteza Binte-Farid is a joint degree student in Education and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, studying the experience of Muslim youth in Philadelphia high schools and religious spaces. Irteza holds a B.A. in History from Stanford University. During undergrad, Irteza had the opportunity to study abroad in Capetown and Oxford. It was during her time volunteering at a township school in Khayelitsha township that Irteza first realized that educational research, as it pertained to race and class, was an important field of study, particularly in the ways that educational systems directly shaped student futures. In order to further understand how students’ and teachers’ everyday practices were shaped by larger forces, Irteza pursued an M.Ed. in Educational Policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. However, even while receiving a firm understanding of US education policy, Irteza realized that she wanted to study more of the processes of how students navigated intersectional identities through their everyday experiences. Irteza next joined the Education, Culture, and Society Ph.D program at Penn. She taught African American history in a West Philadelphia neighborhood school to understand the realities of classroom experiences in the city. Currently, Irteza’s dissertation examines how black Muslim youth in the Philadelphia Public Schools draw on Islamic practices, racialized experiences, and ethnic histories to construct individual identities, that in turn, shape their future aspirations. Irteza is also interested in the education of secondary history teachers and in particular how teacher education programs approach the teaching of history in culturally diverse classrooms.

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