A groundbreaking debut collection portraying the lived experiences of Black Muslims grappling with faith, family, and freedom in America.
In Temple Folk, Black Muslims contemplate the convictions of their race, religion, economics, politics, and sexuality in America. The ten stories in this collection contribute to the bounty of diverse narratives about Black life by intimately portraying the experiences of a community that resists the mainstream culture to which they are expected to accept and aspire to while functioning within the country in which they are born.
In “Due North,” an obedient daughter struggles to understand why she’s haunted by the spirit of her recently deceased father. In “Who’s Down?” a father, after a brief affair with vegetarianism, conspires with his daughter to order him a double cheeseburger. In “Candy for Hanif” a mother’s routine trip to the store for her disabled son takes an unlikely turn when she reflects on a near-death experience. In “Woman in Niqab,” a daughter’s suspicion of her father’s infidelity prompts her to wear her hair in public. In “New Mexico,” a federal agent tasked with spying on a high-ranking member of the Nation of Islam grapples with his responsibilities closer to home.
With an unflinching eye for the contradictions between what these characters profess to believe and what they do, Temple Folk accomplishes the rare feat of presenting moral failures with compassion, nuance and humor to remind us that while perfection is what many of us strive for, it’s the errors that make us human.
About the Author
Aaliyah Bilal was born and raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She has degrees from Oberlin College and the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. She’s published stories and essays with The Michigan Quarterly Review and The Rumpus. Temple Folk is her first short story collection.
“Temple Folk is more than a special literary accomplishment, it is a gift of glorious songs. The people in the nation of Islam have not appeared very often in literature. Now, Aaliyah Bilal arrives with a splendid and grand collection of 10 stories that, with sensitivity and insight and skill, give us a world of people, our loved ones, and neighbors, who decided that life might be better in the nation. We have long needed these stories, these songs, and this gift should be praised from as many rooftops as possible.” —Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World
“Obviously a student of history, and even more so, a student of the human heart, Aaliyah Bilal lays bare the interior lives of Black Muslims in these ten extraordinary stories. Across decades, generations, and continents, Bilal's finely wrought and unforgettable characters grapple with religion, culture, family, desire, and most compellingly, themselves. Every story was an eye-opener for me. Bilal is a gifted storyteller, and Temple Folk is quite simply a masterpiece.” –Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Life of Church Ladies
“Aaliyah Bilal is a gifted storyteller who understands how to build a world that feels both particular in its contours and universal in the challenges, triumphs and yearnings of its characters. The stories that make up Temple Folk explore love, faith, loyalty and disillusionment while offering up gorgeous langauge and unforgettable imagery. Temple Folk feels like no collection I have read before and announces Bilal as a literary talent worth championing.” –Angela Flournoy, Author of The Turner House
“A beautiful and vivid collection of stories. Aaliyah Bilal is the truth. Grateful for her voice in the world.” –Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author
“Temple Folk is a remarkable debut that does many things at once. It opens the door to a people we barely know, yet opens our eyes to the struggles that make us all human. People surprise and they disappoint. They stumble spiritually and soar morally. They love with all they have and lose all they've got. Put between faith and family, duty and self, Temple folk live through all the ties that bind and break.” –Marlon James, Winner of the 2015 Booker Prize
“With her landmark debut, Temple Folk, Aaliyah Bilal shines a light on a Black American community that, for all its influence, hasn’t been given its due in fiction—the Nation of Islam. The deftness of her storytelling allows total access to characters struggling to practice faith as a means of survival. This is a truly masterful work, full of compassion, humor, nuance, and great insight.” –Emily Raboteau, Author of Searching for Zion