American Imam

From Pop Stardom to Prison Abolition

American Imam

From Pop Stardom to Prison Abolition

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Imam Taymullah Abdur-Rahman's incredible life story weaves the contemporary Black American experience with the Black Muslim American experience and emphasizes the role of interreligious dialogue in the fight for abolition and justice.

By the time he was twelve, Taymullah Abdur-Rahman (born Tyrone Sutton) was a rising pop star, recruited as part of the R&B group Perfect Gentlemen, with a top-ten hit, national teen magazine covers, and an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. However, after his music career peaked, Abdur-Rahman found himself back home, with little to show for his success. He became a teen father struggling to survive in Roxbury, MA. Seeing Islam as a way to discipline himself in an unrelenting environment, he converted. He went on to work in a maximum-security prison as a Muslim chaplain, where he became zealously focused on saving souls instead of understanding the outside forces that lead men to prison.

Later, in his work as the first paid Muslim chaplain at Harvard, Abdur-Rahman began to seek counsel outside of Islam, engaging with Jewish and Christian mentors who opened his eyes to the gifts of interreligious dialogue and helped lead him to what he was truly seeking: enlightenment. With this new framework, he returned to working with prisoners and clearly saw the cyclical effects of systemic racism that keep Black and brown people locked up and without support in America today. A sweeping narrative, American Imam voices the contemporary concerns of Black Muslim Americans in the shadow of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, in the aftermath of 9/11, and in light of the fights for social justice and prison abolition. Abdur-Rahman's story sounds an indelible rallying cry for understanding across race, religion, and cultural divides.


"Captivating and poignant, American Imam traces the formative influences and wildly shifting fortunes of esteemed Black American convert Taymullah Abdur-Rahman. From his encounters mentoring men who are 'warehoused like cattle' in American prisons to his stories of Harvard students navigating their ideological differences in the midst of wider American culture wars, Abdur-Rahman offers readers honest and perceptive commentary on the social issues of our time. This lively memoir is a welcome addition to the growing shelf of literature on Muslims in the United States. The book will be a provocative addition to the reading lists of interfaith book clubs, will hold appeal for students of religion who are weary of dredging through more stodgy texts, and will be a valuable resource for American Muslim community leaders across generations."

Celene Ibrahim, PhD, author of Women and Gender in the Qur'an

"American Imam promises to tell one story, that of the metamorphosis of Tyrone Sutton to Taymullah Abdur-Rahman. But Taymullah does so much more than that! In the telling of his story he invites his readers to take a long, hard look at their own lives, to go naked to the mirror and spend time in honest conversation with the person they see there; to ask difficult questions and stay there for the answers. Taymullah does this and, in so doing, models for us what is possible. And why is this necessary? Because we were not placed on this planet to live solitary lives. We were made to be in healthy relationship with others, especially those others who are less able to fend for themselves. Yes, this is one man's story, but it is also a call to action! Read, enjoy, get involved!"

Dr. Terrence J. Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine and author of Lessons from Little Rock

"Imam Taymullah Abdur-Rahman has managed to bridge the gap between hip-hop and faith in such a unique way that it is easy to digest. His life and experience exemplify the power in hip-hop culture beyond just music, using its influence for social justice and religion. This is a must-read for anyone who wants a peek into the birth of '80s/'90s street culture and the personalities it produced."

Clinton Sparks, Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum music producer and songwriter

"This text by Imam Taymullah 'Tay' Abdur-Rahman should be read by leaders in all social, political, educational, and religious sectors. And I'm not leaving out corporate and foundation leaders either. Why? We all have a stake in the future of our country, as well as of humanity. This book provides guidance and inspiration on how we must work together to ensure that all of us are thriving in support of one another."

Irvin L. Scott, EdD, Harvard Graduate School of Education

"A long-overdue call to action for Muslims living in the West. This memoir is an ode to the much-overlooked pioneering generation of Black Muslims who helped establish the Islamic norm in America. As a former prison chaplain myself, I thoroughly appreciate Abdur-Rahman's representation of system-affected Muslims and the social/emotional/economic struggles they face on a daily basis. Imam Taymullah's stories, descriptions, and references to sacred texts are some of the most profound missing pieces to the Islamic narrative in America."

Imam Abdul-Latif Sackor, Masjid Al Kareem

"Imam Taymullah Abdur-Rahman's life journey has explored peaks and valleys most of us never see. Deeply rooted now in Islam, he has lived to reflect not only with great thinkers of the Islamic tradition but also with great writers of the civil rights movement. Abdur-Rahman's compelling stories, his engaging scholarship, and his rebounding life keep the reader hooked. He and these scholars invite us all to participate in keeping young people out of prison and in welcoming those leaving prison into loving, fruitful communities."

Eileen M. Daily, JD, PhD, retired director of the Doctor of Ministry in Transformational Leadership program, Boston University School of Theology


"American Imam details the author's incredible journey and spiritual transformation and offers a candid and unflinching view into Abdur-Rahman's rise, fall, and life-altering religious conversion. This spiritual memoir is not to be overlooked."


"The faith journey of a leader in the American Muslim community....Thought-provoking."

Kirkus Reviews

Product Info

  • Publisher Broadleaf Books
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506489285
  • eBook ISBN 9781506489292
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 223
  • Publication Date February 27, 2024