Skip to main content

Believing in South Central

Everyday Islam in the City of Angels

The area of Los Angeles known as South Central is often overshadowed by dismal stereotypes, problematic racial stigmas, and its status as the home to some of the city’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods. Amid South Central’s shifting demographics and its struggles with poverty, sociologist Pamela J. Prickett takes a closer look, focusing on the members of an African American Muslim community and exploring how they help each other combat poverty, job scarcity, violence, and racial injustice. Prickett’s engaging ethnography relates how believers in this longstanding religious community see Islam as a way of life, a comprehensive blueprint for individual and collective action, guiding how to interact with others, conduct business, strive for progress, and cultivate faith.

Prickett offers deep insights into the day-to-day lived religion of the Muslims who call this community home, showing how the mosque provides a system of social support and how believers deepen their spiritual practice not in spite of, but through, conditions of poverty. Prickett breaks past the stigmas of urban poverty, revealing a complex and vibrant community by telling the stories of longstanding residents of South Central—like Sister Ava, who offers food to the local unhoused people and finds the sacred in her extensive DVD collection. In addition to her portraits of everyday life among Muslims in South Central, Prickett also provides vivid and accessible descriptions of Ramadan and histories of the mosque, situates this community within the larger story of the Nation of Islam, explores gender issues, and unpacks the interaction between African American Muslims and South Asian and Arab American Muslims, revealing both the global and local significance of this religious tradition.

192 pages | 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2021

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Religion: Islam, Religion and Society

Sociology: Race, Ethnic, and Minority Relations


“. . .compassionate and generous ethnography. . .”


"Prickett’s approach deftly advances theory on ethical subjectivity, Black placemaking, racial formation, feminism, and urban religion. . . .Due to its comprehensiveness, compelling writing style, and theoretical acumen, this book would make an excellent addition to any undergraduate or graduate course relating to race and religion in the social sciences. For specialists, I can confidently write that it is also an essential read for any scholar working on religion and urban space."

Sociology of Religion

"When even the methodological appendix brings you to tears, you know you have found a gem of a book. Such is the case with Prickett’s wonderfully-written new book Believing in South Central. An urban ethnography of an African American mosque in South Central Los Angeles, the book is an embodiment of the magic that ethnography can do when done well: it can create an intimate portrait of the complicated and beautiful everyday lives of people and communities... Believing in South Central is an excellent read for both scholarly and general audiences interested in Islam, race, class, and urban contexts, particularly Los Angeles. It is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you have finished it. Its themes and its wonderfully detailed methodological appendix make it an outstanding choice for undergraduate and graduate courses in religion, urban studies, and ethnography."

Social Forces

"Prickett's study masterfully illuminates the deep entanglements of class, race, and gender in the defining of faith and ritual for members of MAQ [Masjid al-Quran]... This book is also a stunning ethnography. It is attentive to many methodological concerns of positionality, access, and immersive fieldwork, but it is also a story of friendship, love, and loss."

New Books Network

"The greatest strength of Believing in South Central is the depth of fieldwork that the author has undertaken and analyzed. . . . Prickett offers a clear lens through which to view the often intimate details of this particular urban community of American Muslims. . . . This book is accessible to non-specialists or undergraduates. It demonstrates the diversity of American Muslim communities and offers a quality introduction to ritual and communal practice in Islam."

Reading Religion

"Much has been written about the spiritual lives of African Americans, from work on the Black Church, emerging from enslavement, to the Nation of Islam and other Black nationalist religiouspolitical movements. Prickett offers a needed contribution to this literature in her discussion of the religious lives and identities of Black Muslims in the post-NOI era."

Nova Religio

"The book’s title bears witness to how the act of believing in South Central entails not only personal faith commitments but also a collective hope for the well-being of a neighborhood. Still, even as believers invest in the neighborhood, they continually negotiate social boundaries that distinguish them from the neighborhood. . . . Through documenting the ebb and flow of trust that she thoughtfully wades into, Prickett invites readers to also believe in and for the well-being of a community striving to faithfully embody its religion as African-American Muslims."

American Journal of Sociology

“Smart and highly original, Believing in South Central details how a small Muslim community in South Central, Los Angeles, makes meaning of their faith in the midst of a changing racial landscape and a declining community of believers. Prickett brings nuanced analysis, beautiful prose, and seamless narration together in this ethnography that will expand scholars’ understanding of how African Americans practice their Islamic faith outside Arab and South Asian Muslim communities."

Ula Y. Taylor, author of The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam

Believing in South Central is an amazing book. What Prickett has achieved with her writing style is extraordinary. I found myself getting to know the characters, engrossed in each of the rich ethnographic stories that tell us so much about how religion is deeply intertwined with race, class, and gender.”

Melissa Wilde, author of Birth Control Battles: How Race and Class Divided American Religion

Table of Contents

Introduction: Living a Muslim Way of Life in South Central

Chapter One: “Our Test Is Living a Community Life”

Chapter Two: “Don’t Move. Improve”

Chapter Three: “Money Is Funny”

Chapter Four: “Why Not Just Use a Cucumber!”

Chapter Five: “That’s What They Think of Us”

Conclusion: “Allahu Akbar”

Methods Appendix

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press