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Cover image for Little X : growing up in the Nation of Islam
Little X : growing up in the Nation of Islam

1st ed.
Publication Information:
[San Francisco, Calif.] : HarperSanFrancisco, c1997.
Physical Description:
ix, 230 p. ; 22 cm.
Personal Subject:


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 TATE 1 1

On Order



In a riveting portrait of life inside the Nation of Islam, Sonsyrea Tate gives voice to a girl's experience within the Muslim community, most commonly identified with its controversial leaders--Elijah Muhammad, Malcom X, and Louis Farrakhan.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Freelance journalist Tate has fashioned a female coming-of-age autobiography that unveils life in the Black Muslim sect of the 1960s and '70s. She begins with a brief survey of her grandparents' involvement with Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam. Heeding this self-proclaimed prophet's call to a life of dedicated discipline, her elders, and later her mother, embark on a religious journey through black society in Washington, D.C. At first, the demand for dignity, respect for education and pride in black achievements spur these converts from traditional black churches to new awareness and contentment. As the author details her adolescence, moving from the rigors of the Black Muslim school to the laissez-faire world of public education, we see a young woman standing with one foot in a misunderstood, restrictive parochial world, and one foot about to set down in the alluringly wide-open, but dangerous, secular world. Tate is at her best in describing the two strongest influences in her life, her mother and grandmother: Both strong women engaged in spiritual quests, they lovingly guide, chide and instruct Tate through the straits of youth. A temperate and sympathetic treatment of an African American family's religious evolution, this is not a sensational exposé of the Nation of Islam. While Tate's journalistic style sometimes goes flat, her insights and reminiscences, drawn against a backdrop of dramatic public events, hold the reader's interest. $40,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

The written history of the Nation of Islam has focused heavily on the movement's leaders, such as Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X; it has been told from an almost exclusively male perspective; and it has virtually ignored the transitional period of the 1970s, when Elijah Muhammad's son transformed the movement into one more in keeping with orthodox Islam. This cogent memoir challenges all three of these trends. Tate, a 30-year-old journalist, offers an autobiographical portrait of her childhood in the Nation and then in orthodox Islam. Here we see how rank-and-file members of the Nation lived, how their dress, organizations, and dietary restrictions set them apart even within Islam (not only pork was forbidden, but also white rice, white potatoes, and white bread). Tate's earliest years were spent in an all-Nation school, which she attended year-round and where she was drilled with the Nation's ideology about race (that whites are blue-eyed devils and blacks the superior race) and gender roles (women's role being to bear children for the Nation). She struggled against many of the strict regulations, though this rebellion was always mixed with a sense of pride, of corporate identity. But with the 1975 death of their leader, Elijah Muhammad, Tate's family and other followers were set adrift, trying to find a place in orthodox Islam, seeking ways to juxtapose being Muslim and African-American. Tate began attending public school, wearing street clothes and enjoying new freedoms, though always with more restrictions than her classmates (and her male relatives). In her teen years, Tate's family began to crumble beneath the weight of intergenerational and religious disagreements, and orthodox Islam did not prove a strong enough force to hold them together. Little X is a compelling story, despite an indifferent prose style, because it provides an honest, inside view of one of America's most controversial religious movements and perceptively points to social tensions of race, gender, and religious identity. ($40,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Booklist Review

Journalist Tate, who's written for newspapers including the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, was raised in the Nation of Islam; by the time she was a preteen, part of her family had rejected the Nation's doctrine and become Orthodox Muslims. Little X offers useful insights into life inside a movement most readers--including many African American readers--don't understand. Tate describes her education at the University of Islam, the Nation's elementary school in Washington, D.C., and her difficult transition to city public schools when, after Elijah Muhammad's death, the Nation's school closed. When she discusses the gradual dissolution of her family's tight bonds--bonds symbolized by its Muslim faith--Tate seems still, years later, to resent the Nation of Islam's restrictions on women and the moral hypocrisy of some members of her family. She has left the Muslim faith behind, but her narrative suggests she has not yet moved beyond some of the emotional complexities that faith represented within her childhood. --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

Now an award-winning journalist who has written for the Virginia Pilot, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post, Tate was Little X‘the "X" taken by her Nation of Islam family in replacement of a surname. Here she chronicles her Muslim education, her struggle within a non-Muslim world (especially regarding the treatment of women), and, finally, her break from the Muslim faith. Fraught with a bittersweet undertone, Tate's narrative of a Muslim girl's journey through childhood and adolescence in America offers mundane details of daily life as a "black princess" and submissive female. The epilog embraces her current philosophies (seemingly that of a benevolent if somewhat vague agnostic). Carol Anway's Daughters of Another Path: Experiences of American Women Choosing Islam (Yawna, 1996) explores another aspect of Muslim American women in a more academic, objective fashion. An acceptable addition to public or school libraries, this uncomplicated composition leans toward a young adult audience.‘Kay Meredith Dusheck, Univ. of Iowa, Iowa City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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