Circassian Ethnic Identity and History: Background information when reading All-American Muslim Girl

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All-American Muslim Girl

by Nadine Jolie Courtney

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney X
All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2019, 432 pages
    Feb 2021, 432 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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About this Book

Circassian Ethnic Identity and History

This article relates to All-American Muslim Girl

Print Review

Map of the Caucasus/Circassian regionIn All-American Muslim Girl, Allie Abraham's family is ethnically Circassian, which accounts in part for her fair, reddish blonde hair. As Allie observes, few Americans have ever heard of Circassians, so in the novel she gives a very cursory background that only begins to describe the history and struggles of this group of people. Author Nadine Jolie Courtney, née Haobsh, knows Allie's heritage well; it is her own.

Circassians originally inhabited the northwest Caucasus area, now in southwestern Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas. Historically, the Circassians populated princedoms in the rugged mountains, fighting to maintain their cultural and political independence against the Muslim Mamluk and Ottoman Empires, and then Tsarist Russia. Circassian men and women alike were prized as strong and attractive slaves by their invaders—and many, despite their slave status, cleverly manipulated their way into higher echelons of power beyond their own borders. Circassians had their own language, which, as Allie notes, is critically endangered, spoken today by only about 300,000 people worldwide.

Christianity came to the Caucasus region as early as the first century A.D. Later, torn between the Ottomans and the Russians, many Circassians converted to Sunni Islam in the 18th century. Russia initiated a genocide of the Circassians following the Caucasian War in the 1860s. Those who survived were forced into exile, fleeing to Turkey, Syria, Israel, Iraq and Jordan (like Allie's family). Some eventually made their way to the United States, where there are now about 700,000 people of Circassian descent.

Today, the majority of Circassians live in the Middle East, southeastern Europe and the northern coast of Africa. They chiefly speak two Circassian languages known as Adyghe and Kabardian, though many also speak the local languages of the regions in which they live. Circassians remain predominantly Muslim, though the extent to which they practice and perform the cultural and religious traditions of Islam varies among different regions, and of course, among different individuals.

A new awareness of the Circassian genocide arose in 2014 during the Olympic Winter Games, held that year in Sochi, a Russian city near the Georgian border. Many of the mountain sports events were held at Krasnya Polanya, site of an 1864 Russian massacre of a Circassian village, sparking protests.

Check out this video clip of some impressive moves by Circassian performers preparing to compete on the Russian version of So You Think You Can Dance:

The Caucasus/Circassian region, courtesy of Geocurrents

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

This "beyond the book article" relates to All-American Muslim Girl. It originally ran in January 2020 and has been updated for the February 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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