Call for Muslim Organizations to Stand with Ferguson

Ministers try Peaceful Protests in Ferguson

Img source: St. Louis Post Dispatch retrieved August 13, 2014 from http://www.stltoday.com/

Inspired by a letter written by Rev. Dr. Keith Bolton and Rev. Deborah Blood Co-Chairs of the Sacred Conversations on Race Ministry, which was posted on Facebook I wrote up a similar letter which I would love to see from Muslim leaders and civil liberties organizations. Here is a brief excerpt:

Salam alaikum,
We await the grand jury decision on whether Darren Wilson, the police officer who fired on and killed unarmed Michael Brown, will be indicted on criminal charges. Our Noble Prophet ﷺ said, “By Allah, if you have killed one man, it is as if you have killed all the people” (Sunan Sa’id ibn Mansur 2776). While Michael Brown’s death is a deep tragedy in and of itself, the militarized response to the protests it sparked reflect racial disparities and long standing injustices in our society. As Muslims we should draw upon our strong tradition of standing with the most marginalized members of society. Allah tells us in the Qur’an:
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted (Sahih International 4:135)
Mass incarceration, police brutality and the frequency of extrajudicial killings of Black Americans in the United States , including that of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah and Amadou Diallo (One every 28 hours) are reflections of the structural racism in our society. The activation of the National Guard in Missouri this week is a stark reminder of the militarized response to non-violent protests.

Donna Auston gave me a powerful reminder that we as Muslims should not only care because some of the victims are Muslims. We should care period. Also, we must be vigilant about not making this an issue a Black male problem, the police brutality, sexual exploration, and extra-judicial executions of Black women like Women like Elanor Bumpurs or Kathryn Johnston.

Read the rest of the post on at reMARC.

Muslim Anti-Racism Response to Structural Racism

 

Show of force

Image by / Adrees Latif
04:05 23/08/2014

Today’s twitter Hashtag event was a deeply moving, and much needed conversation, among Muslims Americans. #Muslims4Ferguson organized the event with Omar Suleiman, Suhaib Webb, and Linda Sarsour. I would like to send a special shout out to Dawud Walid who gave us a heads up on the convo. Please consider standing with Muslims4Ferguson.

A letter I wrote to MuslimARC Members on August 15, 2014

Dearest brothers and sisters.

I have started writing and erased the beginning of this message several times. I, like many of you, are frustrated, outraged, and saddened by the deaths of Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, John Crawford, and Eric Garner at the hands of law enforcement. Vulnerability of Black life and police brutality are deeply personal issues for me, as I explain in an article I recently wrote for Islamic Monthly. The heavy-handed force used by the police in Ferguson has truly been disturbing. The images of militarized police confronting protestors evoked images from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The recent events point to an endemic problem of the criminalization of Black bodies. MuslimARC has closely followed the events, tweeting links and sharing the Press Release written by Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer.

On social media there is a flood of images of police brutality recorded on smart phones. As most of you know, police brutality is just one issue in a web of oppression, including school to prison pipeline, mass incarceration, wage inequality, housing discrimination, etc. One third of the American Muslim community is African American and we too feel the brunt of structural racism and the daily effects of racial microaggressions. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “The example of Muslims in their mutual love, mercy and sympathy is like that of a body; if one of the organs is afflicted, the whole body responds with sleeplessness and fever.”(Hadith-Muslim).

Although these events weigh heavy on our hearts, the discourse in Muslim American communities is shifting and national Muslim organizations are beginning to acknowledge the need to address structural racism in America. CAIR’s statement is an important step in the right direction, as well as public statements by many renowned scholars. Hena Zuberi published a thought provoking piece on Ferguson, Anti-Black Racism, Muslim Owned Liquor Stores, and Gaza. I believe that our efforts collectively, as a collaborative of Muslims committed to anti-racism has helped shift the discourse. We still have so much work to do. MuslimARC needs your help to move beyond awareness to sustained action in our communities.

The Muslim community in North America is in a unique position, due to the intersections of our multi-ethnic community, to build bridges and address racial injustice. SubhanAllah, we have come a long way in the six months since our inception. MuslimARC has a strategic plan which entails certifying educators and community leaders with anti-racism training and ranking Muslim institutions in terms of anti-racism policies and practices. We also aim to foster knowledge creation on the state of our community through research and information. We need committed volunteers who understand the urgency of our situation, as Muslims in the West. Even an hour a week on a project can help us develop effective training and programs that can help us dispel the biases that blind us and the tear down the boundaries that divide us.

I apologize for my disjointed writing and hope that this message is received well. Please keep us in your prayers and may all of our endeavors be rightly guided.

Jazak Allah kheir,
Margari

It is going to to take deep support of grass roots organizations and national initiatives to counter racial discrimination and structural racism. The real work isn’t glamorous, it is not going to garner a lot of retweets or publicity. but it is something that will be pleasing to your Lord. We are here today because people have being the hard work consistently, that have faced hardship with patience and constancy, and they haven’t given up.  Systematic racism is a many headed hydrah that requires multi pronged solutions. We have so much work to do, improving education, stopping the school to prison pipeline, undocumented worker’s rights, and the rights of refugees.   MuslimARC has developed a faith based approach that aims to have a lasting and substantive impact on how our communities address racial justice and inclusive practices. I hope that these conversations inspire each of us to action, rather than the lull us into the complacency. Now is time to move beyond platitudes about justice and begin to do the hard work that is required for addressing the ills of our society.

Letter to Imams

Muslim Anti-Racism Coalition launched this week and many joined the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #BeingBlackAnd Muslim. My Storify of the event explains the idea’s conception, the lead up and phenomenal response. AlJazeera’s The Stream covered and summed up conversation. In her article Being Black and Muslim, Hind Makki, one of the founders of MuslimARC  wrote:

I’ve often said that the three largest challenges facing American Muslim communities are misogyny, racism and sectarianism, which is why I’m proud to be one of the founding members of Muslim ARC.

Like Hind Makki, I’m so honored to work with Muslims of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, denominations, and orientations  of faith came to address racism. This Black History Month, we hope to deepen our conversation with three more hashtags. In addition, on Feb. 20 Twitter Talk with African American Muslim leaders, Dawud Walid, Amin Nathari, Amina Wadud, and Donna Auston.

FliersLarge

And reflecting our move from social networking activism to a grassroots movement, we are asking you to help us by appealing to our imams and khateebs to dedicate at least one khutbah (Friday Sermon) dedicated to intra-Muslim  racism. MuslimARC is focusing our anti-racism khutbahs on Friday Feb. 21st, the anniversary of the iconic Black American Muslim leader Malcolm X. Please share  our letter to imams with imams, khateeb and  local communities. You can email the letter to your local community leader from the website or download a pdf here.  Here is our letter below. Please share widely.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

February 14, 2014

Assalaamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh

We are contacting you on behalf of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC)[1] with a khutbah request for Black History Month. From the time of our Noble Prophet ﷺ‎, anti-Black and anti-African racism has plagued Muslim societies and communities. As you are aware, these beliefs go against the messages that are at the heart of our Holy Qur’an and Prophetic traditions.

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.

—Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, The Last Sermon.

One way that we can raise awareness regarding anti-Black racism today is by continuing to educate ourselves and others. If you have not already, would you please consider speaking about Black Muslim history and anti-Black racism in the ummah during your khutbah on Friday, February 21st? As an imam, you are a central figure in many Muslim communities and are thus specially positioned in your community to address these important topics and begin a conversation in your city about an issue that is often not thoroughly addressed. We ask that you take this opportunity to highlight our ethical responsibilities as Muslims to challenge ethnic chauvinism and tribalism.

In the interest of strengthening our brotherhood, we are providing you with a list of topics that we think merit particular attention given what we have observed in our ongoing conversations on social media and with Muslim organizers and activists across the country.

Among the topics that can be explored are as follows:

  • How the Prophet ﷺ specifically dealt with incidents among Sahabah (examples: the hesitancy of some companions to follow Usamah bin Zayd into battle, the Prophet’s ﷺ suggesting the marriage of Usamah to Fatimah bint Qays, and the refusal of Abdur Rahman bin ‘Awf to marry his daughter to Al-Miqdaad bin “Al-Aswad” but Bilal later marrying the sister of bin ‘Awf)
  • Reminding the believers that the use of racial slurs and name-calling are prohibited in Islam (today, in many Islamic schools and other segments of Muslim society, terms like “abeed”, “akata”, “adoon”, “jareer”, and/or “kallu” are frequently used to refer to Black individuals [2])
  • Muslim viewpoints on standing for justice, against oppression, and the duty to strive to rectify any wrongs we see being committed (for example, to speak out when we hear a racial slur being uttered)
  • Our strong tradition of standing with the most marginalized members of society, and reflecting upon how anti-Black racism continues to marginalize Black Americans [3]
  • Bringing attention to issues currently impacting Black Muslims both in the US and abroad, and including these Muslims in your dua (examples: police brutality and the frequency of extrajudicial killings of Black Americans in the United States,[4] including that of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah,[5] and the grave injustices faced by Black Muslims in the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Somalia)
  • The importance of practicing what we preach with regards to community unity and participation (examples: non-Black Muslims welcoming Black Muslims as potential spouses for themselves and their children; ensuring that all Black Muslims feel welcome and included in our masjids; and guaranteeing equal opportunities and treatment in our leadership positions)
  • Analysis of and reminders regarding the Prophet’s ﷺ Last Sermon
  • Our responsibilities towards challenging the nafs and examining where we may improve our adab and akhlaq when it comes to racist tendencies
  • Influential Black Muslims in Islamic history (examples: Luqman the Wise, Bilal (RA), or other lesser known Sahabi and Tabi’een)
  • The work of influential contemporary African or Black American Muslims such as Imam Warith Deen Mohammed
  • Lessons from the struggles of African Muslims brought as slaves to the Americas, such as Omar Ibn Said, Ibrahim Abdur Rahman , or the 19th century community of Muslims on the Sapelo Islands

Lastly, we would like to note that February 21 is the day El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was assassinated in New York City, NY in 1965. As he noted in his Letter from Mecca after completing Hajj, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.”[6] His life left a profound mark on American society and continues to inspire Muslims around the world. Still today, nearly 50 years after his death, Muslims of all backgrounds note the role his words have had in calling them to Islam and/or strengthening their imaan.
Thus, giving a “Black History Month Khutbah” is a beautiful way for Muslims nationwide to explore and discuss – together – the legacy of Africans and African American Muslims and their contributions to the ummah. We humbly request that you join us in this initiative so that we are better able to hold fast to the message of unity and brotherhood in Islam.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.—The Holy Qur’an, Surat Al-Hujurat, 49:13

Please do not hesitate to contact MuslimARC if you have any questions or to let us know that your congregation will be participating. We are also more than happy to provide you with resources for your khutbah. We encourage you to record your khutbah, if able, and to send a copy or link to the recording to info@muslimarc.org so that others may benefit from your words.

JazakAllah kheir,

MuslimARC,
The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative

Email: info@muslimarc.org
Website: http://www.muslimarc.org
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/muslimarc
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/muslimarc
Tumblr: http://muslimarc.tumblr.com


[1] MuslimARC is an organization working to find ways to creatively address and effectively challenge racism in Muslim communities. Online at http://www.muslimarc.org.
[2] Dawud Walid, “ Intra-Muslim Racism: Confronting Ethnic Slurs and Racism Among American Muslims” January 19, 2014 from http://www.altmuslimah.com/b/mca/4893/.
[3] 11 Facts About Racial Discrimination, http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-racial-discrimination.
[4] Rania Khalek, “Every 28 Hours an African American is Extrajudicially Executed in the U.S.” April 15, 2013 http://raniakhalek.com/2013/04/15/every-28-hours-an-african-american-is-extrajudicially-executed-in-the-u-s/.
[5] Dawud Walid, “Year Anniversary of Imam Luqman Shooting Today” October 28, 2010 from http://dawudwalid.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/year-anniversary-of-imam-luqman-shooting/.
[6] Malcolm X, “Letter from Mecca” April 1964 from http://www.malcolm-x.org/docs/let_mecca.htm.

Lessons in Misguided Attempts at Solidarity

Photo on 1-23-14 at 5.28 PM

For many Women of Color (WoC), Twitter allows them a platform to engage with thoughts and ideas. It is also a platform for activism, allowing people who would have been marginalized to bring certain issues to the fore, to respond to media coverage, and to engage with people who they might not reach otherwise. Twitter has allowed WoC and other marginalized women opportunities to call out their more privileged sisters. There has even been intense push back against elite White women and feminists because of their exclusion of different voices and perspectives.

I believe that people start out with the best intentions. Most people want to believe that they are inherently good. Most people want to believe that they are not exerted power in a way that has oppressed another. And most people who say the most racist stuff will preface it with, “I’m not racist, but…” Part of this has to do with our own biases about ourselves as people. The vast majority of people will do everything they can to protect their interests and maintain whatever advantages they earned or were given to them in life. When confronted with our privileges, most of us are defensive because we all want to believe that we are good, we are worthy, we are deserving, etc. Often people will wield their unequal advantage against those who may call to question their efforts or stances. And with that in mind, it is important for those in a position of authority,  influence, or power to be even more reflective about how they deal with others.

For awhile, I wondered why so many WoC were railing about White Feminists. Mistakenly, I thought that in the realm of ideas we were all equal. It just mattered who could present their ideas better, who had more articulate positions, and warrants to connect their facts to their argument. But, oh was I wrong. I witnessed power wielded in ways to silence dissenting marginalized women. I saw this happen over the past three days with the online discourse surrounding World Hijab Day (WHD 2014), founded by Nazma Khan. There are many beautiful and thoughtful accounts from non-Muslim participants.

My post is not about  WHD 2014. There are pros and cons to the event, and the jury was still out for me. I largely agreed that Muslim women’s experiences can’t be reduced to wearing a scarf on their head. At the same time, I do applaud their efforts at mobilizing support from non-Muslim women. I feel that others have been done better unpacking some of the problematic aspects of the campaign such as Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Ms. Muslamic, and NoorulannShahid  But what is important is that we, as Muslim women,  should have a  discussion and exploring what it means to be a Muslim woman. We should also think about solidarity and how to build bridges without becoming reductionist.

Today, I jumped into a debate the broadcaster and theologian, Vicky Beeching, a non-Muslim participant of World Hijab Day 2014.  What I found most troubling with her discussion was that she was completely oblivious to how she wielded her power and privilege to silence dissent about her participation. And she did this all the while claiming empathy for Muslim women and even going so far as to speak for us. In several discussions, she said that dissenters made libelous statements. She even told me that based on my curating the tweets on Storify was , that she would seek legal counsel. There was an uproar on Twitter and some of Vicky’s Muslim friends pointed out that our discussion was not benefitting anyone.

Please see the highlights of the exchange, reaction, and background readings in my first ever Storify

Even if we all were wrong, how can you claim to speak for Muslim women but threaten to use your litigious might and sue us? You would sue someone who observed your gas lighting techniques of argumentation? My little bit of research said that according to US law, that would be a difficult case to prove in US courts. Observation about uncited sources is grounds for libel?  Is this how you show solidarity? No, this is how you intimidate those who don’t have the same platform, who lack the financial resources, who don’t have access to five news sources, and who don’t carry as much symbolic capital.   Is this not an example of good will gone bad? Had the dissent just been dismissed or had she even addressed the Muslim women who were offended by hijab tourism with some iota of respect, I would assume good will. But instead, it just reeks of another opportunity to propel a career and become a victim at the hands of aggressive and angry brown women. The call of friendship and threat of litigation was a bit much to bear. In past discussions, some have argued that interfaith/intercultural conflicts like this are learning opportunities. So, what is the lesson we want to walk away from? No, not all elite White feminists are like this. But when they are, it is deeply hurtful and leaves a lasting impact on many of us who have had to experience these types of erasures throughout our lives
over and over again.

Muslim Youth are in the Crosshairs of a Culture of Violence

Margari Aziza Hill addresses our collective denial about the dangers Muslim youth face and create. soapbox

Media coverage of the mass shootings of Sandy Hook and Aurora Colorado theatre should make Muslims worldwide aware of the proliferation of guns and the culture of violence in America. These tragic events have sparked a national dialogue about gun control, the culture of violence, and mental health. But the American Muslim voice is surprisingly absent from the gun control debate. Muslims often think that they are immune to the problems in broader society. This has led to a magical thinking about our children’s safety and lack of support for policies that could curb gun violence.

Muslim youth in the inner city are just as vulnerable to street violence as non-Muslims. But, outside of honour killings and hate crimes, the issue of gun violence and its effects on inner city Muslim communities are rarely talked about. Most African American Muslims know a friend or family member who has been injured or killed in gunfire. Last semester, my young African American Muslim student asked me to excuse her absence so that she could help her family make arrangements for her brother’s janazah. The 19-year-old had been shot following a verbal altercation in West Philadelphia, an all too frequent occurrence. My cousin Ara Hayward, who is also Muslim, recounted the story of her husband who survived getting shot four times in front of her house. Their stories, as well as the many janazahs I have attended while working in the Philadelphia Muslim community, have raised my awareness that gun violence is a problem. As mums, we have to stop thinking that Arabic names, hijabs, and kufis will shield our children from danger.

According to the Philadelphia Police Department, there were 331 homicides and 1232 shooting victims in 2012. Although the police reports do not indicate the religious identities of the victims or perpetrators, it is clear that there are many Muslim names on both lists. In order to understand the effects of gun violence on the Muslim community, I began to survey Muslims and contact hospital chaplains and masajid. Several respondents to my survey stated that they know of as many as 10 to 15 Muslims killed since 2001. One mother has created QAAMS Hajj foundation, to help facilitate the Hajj for Muslim youth in honour of her son, Qa’id Ameer Abdul- Majeed Staten. He was gunned down in 2003. In the past five years in Philadelphia, I have seen a number of Muslim families devastated by gun violence. Some victims are caught in crossfire like Qa’id, including the young mother of four, Hafeezah Nuri-Deen or the 18 year old Shakuwrah Muhammad who had plans to attend college to become a forensic scientist. There are others who were shot in robberies, such as the newlywed from Morocco, Quadii Soulimani, who was shot just outside the masjid doors on his way to the morning prayer and the 40 year Egyptian America old store clerk, Mustafa Shaker.

Patterns of street violence are not limited to American inner cities or African Americans. Media reports have shown that South Asian and British Muslim gangs exist, scholars have pointed to the rate of Muslims in French prisons, and some Australian reports claim that Muslim immigrants are five times more likely to be involved in crime. Perhaps we need to look at the problem of disaffection of our youth, globally.

Sometimes the magical thinking results in parents overlooking their children getting involved in crime. Aliya Khabir, author of the Islamic Urban fiction novel, Just Be Still, points out that inner city Muslim communities are not addressing gun violence. She observed, “We walk around like it doesn’t exist. We pretend like we’re not the perpetrators either.” She noted, “Looking at my third grade class picture from Clara Muhammad School, only four out of all the guys in a class of 33 have never spent any time in jail.” Muslims have been involved in robberies, cop killings, and even one child kidnapping. Some parents restrict their daughters, but they are much more permissive with their boys. Mums forget how persuasive popular media and peer pressure can be. Many of our youth are not involved in crime or gangs, but because they want to be accepted they may find themselves in harm’s way by hanging out with gang members. This is why we have to be vigilant about our children’s peer groups, regardless of gender.

Our communities also have to move beyond magical thinking. Many inner city mosques are located in areas of high frequency gun violence and crime. Some Muslim leaders have taken a stand against violence, participating in interfaith peace walks. But some of our communities have developed an insular approach and assumed that these are the problems of the kuffar. Collectively, communities have not developed programmes to make streets safer for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Instead, we long for the good old days when wearing Islamic garb would protect Muslims from harm. However, Muslims earned that respect from their commitment to developing the community and living exemplary lives. Our failure to address the social decay and blight surrounding our masajid in the past two decades has been the greatest blemish on our record.

We have to begin to think of programmes that can affect positive change in our communities, including economic development, neighbourhood watches and youth programming. This is where we need to think about programmes such as Cure Violence, which has been featured in the documentary The Interrupters. Ameena Matthews has courageously stood on the frontlines, positively impacting her community. Her work demonstrates that curbing violence is not simply pushing legislation, but also transforming the culture and communities in which we live. And this is the work we have to do to ensure the safety of our children and those who come after them.

Margari Aziza Hill is an adjunct professor, freelance writer, blogger and editor who resides just outside of Philadelphia.

You can read the full article and other great pieces in the May edition of SISTERS magazine.

 

Pilgrimage for Life

Pilgrimage for life
Like many converts, I was drawn to Islam’s egalitarian message. Through Muslim student groups on college campuses and community life in various masajid,  I developed close friendships with Muslim women from all parts of the world. We were brought together by our mutual love for Allah and His Messenger.  The bonds that I developed with some of them gave me a sense of real belonging and acceptance that I had not felt with my high school friends and even member of my own family. But there were also  times when those cross cultural encounters brought to light some unsettling realities of racism and colorism. But by addressing our shortcomings we can meet the challenge and create communities that are more closely aligned with the example set by our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

Although language and cultural differences can create challenges to forming social bonds, perceptions of race and ethnic identity can have the greatest impact on how well some women are received by a community.  When asked how her ethnic identity influenced her integration into the Muslim community, Keziah. S. Ridgeway, an African American  high School Social Studies teacher, responded that her outgoing personality helped bridge the cultural divide. She noted, “however, as time wore on I did realize that many of the people that I hung out with had biases towards people who looked like myself.”  Safiyyah, a white American convert, said that her ethnicity as an Ashkenazi Jew influenced her integration because some Muslims were suspicious of her and others denied her cultural identity. She added that by extension of her African American husband, she has experienced discrimination. “We rarely get invited to the homes of immigrant Muslims. This is despite the fact that the Muslims in our mosque know us very well, and that my husband and I are active in our mosque.” Some argue that this is old world thinking and they place their hopes on the next generation.

In many Islamic schools, students socialize along racial lines,   repeating the social patterns of their own racially segregated Muslim communities. The language that many of the Arab American students use alienates a number of African American students. Kezia highlighted the common usage of the word abeed (Arabic for slave) to refer to African Americans. She said,  “their parents use it on a regular basis to describe African Americans. To them it’s just a cultural term and many don’t understand why it evokes anger from their Black counterparts.” In a Michigan school, when two weekend school teachers disciplined a child for using the term, the parents came to the child’s defense. Islamic schools are often a crucible for race relations in our ummah.

The sad reality in our Islamic schools and segregated communities contrasts with the egalitarian message that we find in the Qur’an, which says:

“O Humankind! We have created you from male and female and have made you into peoples (shu‘ub) and tribes (qaba’il) that you may know one another; truly, the noblest (akram) among you before God are the most pious (atqa) among yourselves; indeed, is God the All-knowing, the All-seeing.” (49:13).

The Prophet (PBUH) said during his farewell pilgrimage:

Oh humankind, your Lord is one and your ancestors are one. You are from Adam and Adam was from dust. Behold, neither the Arab has superiority to the non-Arab, nor the red to the black nor the black to the red except by virtue of piety (taqwa). Truly the most distinguished amongst you is the most pious

Yet, Muslims old and young are often stereotyped and categorized by their ethnic background and color of their skin.

Some have argued that the colorism and racism we find in the Muslim ummah is due to colonization. Yet, we can find even in classical Islamic literature racial hierarchies. Ibn Khaldun wrote disparaging of sub-Saharan Africans as lacking intellect. A famed Andalusian poetess, Hafsah Ar-Rukaniyyah  (1190-1191) asked Abu Jaffar how could he love a Black woman, ”Who is altogether like the night, which hides beauty/
And with darkness obscures the radiance of a face?” In the chapter on marriage in the Revival of the Religious Sciences,  Imam Ghazali wrote, “a black woman is better than a barren beautiful women,” implying that black women cannot be beautiful. Blacks were assumed to not have status in Arab society. This was reflected in some classical positions where a man could marry a black woman as a guardian. Their documentation  points to how Muslims fall short of our ideals. Blind acceptance of social norms and customs perpetuate ignorance and bias. Ethnic chauvinism leads to arrogance and robs us of our ability to see the inherent value and beauty of each human being.

Like racism, colorism is a blight in our community.  I found the traces of colorism in my students’ creative writing projects as they wrote about protagonists with skin as white as milk. Dark skin has been looked down upon in many Muslim societies through the ages. And now, there is a huge market playing into fears and insecurities.  Some halal and international markets in the US are stocked with bleaching cream. There are young girls who fear playing outside lest they become black and ugly.   Girls and women with curly and kinky hair struggle with issues of self worth and shame because they can’t tame their curls into submission. The standard of beauty is centered around pale skin and straight hair, with as European features as possible. An international student from the Gulf suggested that I pinch my daughter’s nose to make it grow straight and pointy. She recently expressed a desire to have work done on her own nose.  The frequent comments about my daughter’s fair complexion and the Muslim obsession with European features makes me shudder to think about what type of self image will my curly haired, button nosed daughter have in the Muslim community. While living in abroad, one friend said that in the West there are many types of beauty, but in Egyptian society there was one standard. It worries me that we use veiled rhetoric about liberating ourselves from western standards of beauty with hijab, all the while embracing notions of beauty that are just as oppressive, if not more. The beauty regime of whitening and straightening continues even as the society becomes more outwardly religious.

Challenging beauty norms or patterns of racism in our community can seem daunting for the individual.  Muslim womanSafiyyah said to “Remember all the Qur’an and ahadith that speaks out against racism” and “defend victims of racism when it occurs.” Citing the example of the “We’re All Abeed of Allah” campaign, which uses T-shirts and wristbands to deliver their message, Kezia argued that Muslims must unite and form coalitions to change racial perceptions. Her role as an educator, activist,  and Muslim fashion blogger places her in a special position to address these changes through education and meaningful dialogue.  Both women point the power of women’s voices. We need to speak up and against expressions racism and colorism. The disease of prejudice that plagues our community can be cured if enough of us create a stigma against violating the prophetic example.

You can read the full article and other thoughtful pieces at Sisters Magazine  January 2013 edition “All the Colours of the Ummah”