The Herstory of Malcolm X’s Legacy

Often, when we talk about the history of Islam in America, we focus on the great men and their big ideas.This month in looking at the BlackLivesMatter Movement through the life and legacy of Malcolm X, I have often thought about the thought of the many women who were were also part of the our nation’s freedom struggle. Many Muslim Americans know about Malcolm X, but few know about the women in his life. Few of us consider the role that many of our sisters who were pioneers of establishing Islam in America, such as Clara Muhammad the wife of Elijah Muhammad. Just as we remember Malcolm, we should know about Ella Collins, Betty Shabazz, and his daughters Attallah Shabazz, Qubilah Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz, Gamilah Lumumba Shabazz, Malikah Shabazz and Malaak Shabazz. All of these women have carried the burden of maintaining his legacy. And if we are the honor the man, we should acknowledge the women who contributed to his life and help maintain his memory.

While few of us recognize Ella Collins (1914-1996) as a seminal figure in American Muslim history, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center honors her civil rights legacy with the Ella Collin’s Institute (ECI). The half sister of Malcolm X, she was responsible for recruiting Malcolm X into the Nation of Islam, although Spike Lee’s film biopic of Malcolm X erased her. Throughout his life she was influential, having helped raised the young Malcolm Little after his father was murdered and mothered suffered a nervous breakdown. She was an activist who had worked for the first Rev. Adam Clayton Powell. According to her obituary, Ella Collins advised her half brother to embrace orthodox Islam and she funded his pilgrimage to Mecca. After his assassination, Ella Collins maintained the Organization for Afro American Unity after his assassination. While her role in supporting Malcolm X is noteworthy,   Ella Collins’ life history as a business woman who set up schools and worked in civil rights is noteworthy in and of itself. By looking at her life, it becomes clear that women played a central role in the civil rights movement and in instituion bulding in the Black American Muslim community.

Betty Shabazz (1934-1997) was invited to Nation of Islam meetings. After attending several meeting wehre Malcolm X preached, she joined in 1956. Following two years of courtship, they married in 1958. Betty Shabazz was pregnant with twins, when Malcolm X was assissinated. Raising her six daughters alone, Ruby Dee and Juanita Poitierr (wife of Sidney Poitier) raised funds to provide her a home and the royalties to the Autobiography of Malcolm X supported the family. Shabazz returned to school and eventually earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1975. She became a college administrator and public speaker, often defending her husband’s legacy and discussing topics such as civil rights and racial tolerance. Her life also ended tragically, when she succumbed to her burn injuries from a fire her grandson ignited.

Although she was wife of one of the most influential thought leaders in the civil rights movement, Betty Shabazz’s life history also provides a nuanced narrative of Black American life. She was a middle class, college educated Black woman who faced racism. She negotiated gendered norms in her marriage to develop a partnership with her husband. In addition, by putting Malcolm X’s life in context, we can take a critical look at ourselves in the sunni Muslim community, which failed to support Malcolm’s burial or his widow. Yet now, we find a sense of rootedness in his legacy. And when we talk about his legacy, how much do we honor the women who were closest to him.

It would do a great disservice to speak about Malcolm X’s legacy without talking about his heirs. We should know their names and their struggles because they have largely born greatest burden in the loss of malcolm x. We should know more about Attallah Shabazz, Qubilah Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz, Gamilah Lumumba Shabazz, Malikah Shabazz and Malaak Shabazz. Attallah became involved in the arts and public speaking, Gamilah hip hop, Qubilah became embroiled a supposed plot to kill Louis Farakhan, Ilyasah Shabazz became a public speaker and author of Growing Up X and a children’s book titled Malcolm Little: the Little Boy Who Grew up to Become Malcolm X . Malcolm X’s daughters, whose life histories are storied and triumphant reflect the turbulent years following their father’s assassination. Their day to day struggles is a topic worthy of study and reflection on Black American Muslim life in and of themselves.

Even separating their accomplishes from Malcolm X, these eight women point to extraordinary lives of Black American Muslim women. Centering women’s lives can give us a more nuanced sense of historical processes. Ella Collins shows us how social supports also played a role in supporting inspirational figures. Betty Shabazz provides a more nuanced picture of Black women in the 50s and 60s and how they navigated racism and gendered norms. Before the 1992 movie, while Malcolm X was being vilified and the sunni Muslim community largely distanced themselves from his legacy, it was largely Betty Shabazz and her daughters who maintained the Legacy of Malcolm X. We can’t truly honor Malcolm X’s legacy without giving thanks to the women who have shaped it.

Strategies for Coping with Islamophobia

Muslims in the West face a barrage of negative images in the media, Islamophobia, anti-Black, anti-Arab, anti-South Asian racism, and xenophobia.   Muslims in Canada and the United States  are grieving after the murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad and her sister Razan on Tuesday and the lesser known murder of Mustafa Mattan.  Some members of Muslim communities have faced increased intimidation, and others fear copycat crimes and further backlash. In the aftermath, Muslims across the country are experiencing psychological trauma, which adds to the environmental stress that Muslims have been facing. Whether in their work places, schools, public places, or neighborhoods, Muslims feel pressured to defend their identity, be exemplary citizens, and counter negative images of Muslims. Although Islamophobia is a form of religious discrimination, Muslims are a racialized group subject to interpersonal and structural racism in society. Thus, individuals with Arabic names, those who are identifiably Muslim, or appear non-white can be subject to racial stress.

The forms of racism and Islamophobia can be subtle and overt. Nadal, Griffin, Hamit, Leon, Tobio and Rivera (2012) list six major themes of microaggressions:

1) Endorsing Religious Stereotypes of Muslims as Terrorists,

2) Pathology of the Muslim Religion,

3) Assumption of Religious Homogeneity,

4) Exoticization,

5) Islamophobic and Mocking Language,

6) Alien in Own Land.

The toxic climate of these microagressions, negative media representation, employment discrimination, and law enforcement surveillance has implications on the mental health of many Muslim Americans. According to the Counseling Center of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, race related stress causes has the following negative outcomes:

Intense emotional reactions:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Helplessness-Hopelessness
  • Isolation
  • Paranoia
  • Resentment
  • Sadness
  • Self-blame
  • Self-doubt

Ineffective coping:

  • Avoidance
  • Disengaging
  • Substance Use

Health Concerns:

  • Heart Disease
  • Hypertension
  • Muscle Tension

How to deal with Islamophobia? Many people do not know take action because they do not know how to respond when they witness someone telling an anti-Muslim joke. Studies have shown that bystander anti-racism does have an affect. Perpetrators of racism are less likely to perpetuate racism after confronted.

Individuals who experience racism and Islamophobia, as well as those who have observed it, often feel powerless when they do not know how to respond. Students may not know who to turn to or what recourse that they have. Knowing strategies for addressing Islamophobia can feel empowering. There is evidence that regardless of the resistance or hostility people expressed when confronted on the use of stereotypes, they are less likely to express prejudiced views afterwards (This study ). However, it is not the job of the victims of prejudice and discrimination to call out the perpetrators or make every Islamophobic incident a teachable moment.

First, draw on your faith for strength and direction. Check your intentions in responding to Islamophobia. You will have a range of emotions. Keeping your connection and communication with Allah (swt), both will help bring ease and guidance to any situation. Second, find colleagues who will help by supporting you or by becoming advocates for addressing the situation. Organizations such as CAIR, Muslim Advocates, Take On Hate, NAACP, and SAALT advocate for and assist individuals facing racism and Islamophobia. If you are going to a mental health professional, be sure that the he/she is multicultural competent and has understanding of micro aggressions and racial battle fatigue. There is no one right way to respond to Islamophobia. The following are a few suggestions that can help empower everyday Muslims.

Recommendations for Coping with Islamophobic-Related Stress


You are not alone. You are part of the ummah. Although Islamophobia can cause feelings of isolation and depression, know that there are Muslims all over the country who share your experiences, who will validate the reality that you are facing and who are open to provide you a sense of support and solidarity.

Find your Roots

Developing a positive cultural and religious identity will help combat the invalidating experience of Islamophobia. Knowing your religion and your heritage will help bolster you against the dehumanizing experience of racism and Islamophobia. Take a history course, watch a documentary, read the Qur’an, the seerah, or historical non-fiction. Even Muslim literature may uplift your spirit and help you feel connected. Celebrate being Muslim and contributions Muslims have made all over the world.

Have a little faith

Center yourself by building your Iman. Find hope in the Qur’an and sunnah and strength and in the early Muslim community who faced oppression. Focus on the power of dua and remembrance of Allah (swt) we must also be careful not to unwittingly convey the message that crying and feeling sad is unacceptable. We should absolutely trust in Allah’s wisdom and mercy, while also acknowledging how painful this is for so many Muslims.

Take Care of You

You can empower yourself with healthy habit. Taking care of your spiritual, mental, and physical health will help you cope with the stress of discrimination.

Take a Stand

Pushing back against anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination is one one to empower yourself. Although this may look different depending on the situation, there are many ways that you can take a stand. (Adapted heavily from Coping with Discrimination)


Report It

Report any hatecrimes, Call law enforcement if you see anything threatening. If this is happening in your workplace or school, report it to HR or student affairs.



Kevin L. Nadal, Katie E. Griffin, Sahran Hamit, Jayleen Leon, Michael Tobio, and David P. Rivera . Subtle and Overt Forms of Islamophobia: Microaggressions toward Muslim America. Journal of Muslim Mental Health Volume VI, Issue 2, 2012;view=fulltext

Do you have any more resources or suggestions? Put them in the comments below. jazak Allah kheir!

Self Empathy


Rose from my Garden

Rose from my Garden

This evening, I attended a preview course on Healing and Reconciliation. One thing that the instructor brought up was that when we are hurting, it is very difficult to hear the grievances of others. Knowing that I’ve hurt others and pray that they can forgive me and move past the pain is important. By keeping this in mind, I’m more likely to forgive others.  Allah tells us in the Qur’an:

And obey Allah and the Messenger that you may obtain mercy. And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteousWho spend [in the cause of Allah ] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good (Surah Imran: 132-134

Last week’s Khutbah by Marc Manley was on humility. He reminded us about letting things go even when they chafe us. There are things that stand in the way of humility, from well intentioned peopled like myself.  Sometimes I interact with people and feel deep anger over real and  perceived slights and insults. It is fight or flight. The anxiety is real, the visceral reaction is so real and tangible for me. I’m left exhausted after the verbal battles.  My  first response is to guard myself. But these shields are something that keep me from asking for forgiveness  when I wrong Allah and when I wrong His creation. Making amends with people is one of the  most humbling things.

Making amends can be frightening. Unprepared, it can turn into a downward cycle. Recently, I unknowingly did something deeply offensive. When it was brought to my attention,  I apologized.  But my apology wasn’t accepted. Instead, it brought an onslaught of anger, grievances, and judgments about my essential self.  At the time, I was not in a place where I could accept the grievances. My life was in upheaval, I had just been dealt with another emotional blow the day before, and I was blindsided.   Sometimes I still think about that moment with a broken heart,  with unresolved  feelings. But then again, I hadn’t done much to find the space or time to resolve it. Instead, the judgment and derision I have faced still echo in my head. I let them shape how I see myself. And I wallow in this pit listening to those voices who tell me I am not worthy, I am not lovable, I need to go, I don’t belong, I’m not good enough. The over achiever in me tries to battle those voices by doing things to prove my worthiness, my cleverness, my lovability, my noble contribution to the world. But those efforts often fall short. It is time for real self work

I’ve done a number of crummy things and things I’m not proud of. I can’t even chalk them up to my youth as I did them when I was a supposedly mature woman. Still, I am learning to be more kind and forgive myself.  Part of forgiving myself is letting those voices die out, as they are untruths about me. And as long as I let them define me, I will be sad and angry.  Forgiveness for me is self care. I have been very unkind to myself as I have internalized much of the judgment and derision I have experienced in my life. I know it will be a process, but carrying on this way is doing me much more harm emotionally and spiritually. I know I have a lot of people to make amends to. I am working on becoming prepared to listen to others with empathy, from a place where I am whole.

Mobilizing Black-American Muslims

How a rally in Philadelphia could be an effective model for the future


Image source: Joshua Scott Albert @ jpegjoshua

The “Make It Plain-Philly” rally that took place on December 27th, 2014 was as much about the present day circumstances of race in America as it was about the long-term mobilization of black Muslims in America.

Philadelphia is one of the oldest and most established indigenous American Muslim communities. According to the the Association of Religion Data Archives, in 2010 Muslims made up about 2.6% Philadelphia County’s population, totaling about 40,000. It is the fourth largest Muslim population center, with at least 63 registered mosques. Islam is so normalized in Philadelphia that it is not an uncommon sight to see a hijab-clad black American Muslim driving the city bus or niqab-wearing women in scrubs at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Islam has become deeply embedded in the local vernacular, so much so that many non-Muslims use the term “ock” (derived from the Arabic term akhi which means brother) to refer to Muslims. Even Muslim modes of dress and grooming are adopted by the broader community. It is not uncommon for a non-Muslim to request a “sunni beard” trim from his local barber. Muslims have played an important role in the city’s institutions, a noteworthy example is Kenny Luqman Gamble’s redevelopment project in South Philadelphia.

Given this cultural and institutional presence in the city, black Muslims in Philadelphia have an opportunity to establish two important precedents:

First, Muslims should have a lot to say about racism in America, drawing from the history of black Muslims who have repeatedly articulated powerful critiques of racist social, cultural, political and economic structures. Taking a leadership role in addressing issues of race and racism in America is an important step Muslims in America must undertake that aligns with the moral and ethical impulses of Islam. In other words, Islam has something meaningfully important to add to the conversation, and so participation is both morally obligated and politically necessary.

Second, the black Muslim community must take this opportunity to assume a leadership role within the broader Muslim community on an issue important to America. Muslims in general must take an active role in addressing issues of racism and bigotry and black Muslims have unique insights into these issues given its history and experience of Islam in America.

In 1985, Philadelphia became the only US city in which a police department bombed civilians, killing 11 people. The Justice Department recently intervened  to curb abuses in Philadelphia Police Department.  The cases of misconduct included corruption, excessive use of force, sexual misconduct, false arrest, and homicide.  Philadelphia Muslims are no strangers to structural racism, over policing and surveillance.   The NYPD’s spy program includes surveillance of UPenn MSA students. A few years back, an APB was issued by police for my husband, Marc Manley, for taking a picture of train tracks while wearing a fez.

Likewise, black Muslims are not immune to the vulnerability of black Life, as the Philadelphia community was reminded of at the janazah of Aisha Abdul Rahman.  Black Muslims are all too often victims of gun violence.

With the intersection of race, Muslim identity and policing in Philadelphia, the spontaneous efforts Philadelphia Muslims to organize “Make It Plain” was a necessary response by a community that needs to make it presence known.

One of the most powerful statements of the rally was the presence of black American Muslim leadership. The organizers have decades of experience fundraising, community building, writing, and supporting the community.  We are witnessing increased solidarity within the Muslim community.  We are hopeful that discussions about race happening in Muslim circles across the country. But we have many hurdles to overcome in order to make long term and sustainable changes. Some black American Muslim leaders from the  Black Power movement have expressed skepticism about the efficacy of our actions. Some traditional Muslims don’t believe that protest even has a place in Islam. We have to be vigilant about exercises of privilege from our non-black allies within the Muslim community, which can derail important conversations or deflate the momentum. It is absolutely necessary that we train our non-black Muslim allies in privilege and anti-racism in order to prevent patterns of paternalism or speaking over inner-city black Muslims. We also need to develop trainings for marginalized groups and youth so that they can have the tools and vocabulary to challenge attempts to silence them.

Kameelah Mu’min Rashad, a prominent Muslim activist in Philadelphia, spoke of this rally as a call to action for Muslim community leaders and members to unite and take a stand for police accountability and racial justice. “We must put faith into action and take a stand against oppression, whether by seeking to remove it with our hands, speaking against it, or by hating it in our hearts. We are calling on our brothers and sisters to stand, speak and act!

Donna Auston stated, “it was wonderful to see our community, predominantly black Muslims, standing up for #blacklivesmatter. Both identities should speak to this moment.”

When I asked Kameelah what stood out most, she replied by pointing to a picture of a young boy holding a megaphone during the march, referring to the participation of our children. “Bring our children with us so that they will be part of this legacy. It is an ongoing struggle, a generational struggle.” She continued,  ” this is not just talk. This is their inheritance as Muslims as black people as Americans”.

The rally was held at LOVE park at 15th and JFK Boulevard at 12pm. The line up included, Tanya Dickerson, Brandon Tate-Brown’s mother, author and poet Seff Al-Afriqi, author and poet, writer Shahidah Mohammad, and keynote speaker Imam Abdul Malik. All faiths are welcome.

Make it Plain is a group of concerned Muslims who are working to raise awareness to encourage, inspire, and support the mobilization of the Muslim community to respond to police brutality and the conditions that bring about the over policing of the Black/African American community. We are kicking off this movement in Philadelphia. For more information, visit the site  You can also visit the Facebook Event page.

Originally published at Islamic Monthly.

Call for US and Canadian Muslim Participants in Study on Inter-Ethnic Relations

MuslimARC Logo

As Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative,  I  am asking for your support in distributing our Study of Inter-Ethnic Relations in Muslim Communities. Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) is a group of Muslims working together to build and collect the tools needed to creatively address and effectively challenge racism in our communities. As a human rights organization, we focus on education, advocacy, and outreach.

Our survey  is an eight question questionnaire intended to gauge perceptions of race and ethnic relations in Canada and the United States.  In order to have accurate data, we are tracking the initial surveys by email. Upon collection, all personal information will be deleted and data coded to ensure the privacy of the respondents. The responses will only be shared with a small research team at MuslimARC, and your information will remain private. Completing the survey will not involve any risk to you, although some questions about previous experience of being harassed or discriminated against may cause some emotional triggers.

MuslimARC is committed to continual dialogue and examination of ethnic, racial, and Islamic identity and incorporates wisdom from the Islamic sciences, grassroots activism, human rights law, the arts, and instructional design. We hope to offer work that is fresh, unique, and can be put to use on the ground challenging racism in American/Canadian Muslim communities. You can visit our website ( for more information about our programming and campaigns.

We are also on Facebook (, Twitter (, and Tumblr (, if you would prefer to support our efforts through those mediums instead. Our newsletter sign-up is on our website.

The survey will be open from now until 11:59pm EST January 9th, 2015. Please share widely with your social network. Please feel free to email me or send your questions to You can fill out the form below.



Open Letter to the Organizers of the African-American Islamic Summit

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم


Surah al-Ahzab 33:35

Surah al-Ahzab 33:35

“Verily for all men and women who have surrendered themselves to God, and all believing men and believing women, and all truly devout men and truly devout women, and all men and women who are true to their word, all men and women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble themselves [before Allah], and all men and women who give in charity, and all self-denying men and self-denying women, and all men and women who are mindful of their chastity, and all men and women who remember Allah unceasingly: for [all of] them has Allah readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward.” (33:35)

To: Al Qawm Institute, the Organizers of the African-American Islamic Summit, Lamppost Productions, the speakers at this forum and all the participants.

Al-Salaamu Alaikum,

This brief statement follows earlier efforts to engage the administration at Al Qawm Institute and Lamppost Productions about the disappointment we feel that the upcoming African-American Islamic Summit completely neglects the representation of diversity in our community.

The tendency to overlook certain parts of the diverse population of Muslims is endemic. It could be too many immigrants or next-generation immigrants overlooking African Americans; it could be older Muslims overlooking Muslim youth; or it could be male leaders and representatives overlooking female leaders and representatives–the problem is the same and sends a disheartening message to some members of the collective body of Muslims, namely, that you do not matter; you are not worthy of representation here, your voice does not count, your experiences are not a significant reflection of the whole.

Thus, we urge the organizers, Al Qawm Institute, the Lamppost Productions administration, the presenters and the attendees alike to remember that in serving Allah, we should endeavor to show our mutual love and respect for women as well as men who have struggled to live a life of dignity, especially as African Americans, through trials untold.

While we applaud your efforts to recognize the important contributions and experiences of being African-American and Muslim, we feel the needs of our community would have been better served if this forum was set up in such a way as to demonstrate the recognition that men did not struggle alone, women have struggled with them and women continue to support the vitality and spirit of Islam as African-Americans.

While we wish you well, we regret that this valuable contribution of women has been overlooked in the efforts to hold the African-American Islamic Summit.

This letter has been drafted in the spirit of sincere advice (nasiha) as counseled by our beloved prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. As such, we are committed to continued dialogue and forward movement on this issue. We remain open and available to the organizers of this program and others in the community who are interested in constructing more inclusive and representative platforms where matters of communal concern might be addressed and advanced.

Jazak Allah Kheir,

The Undersigned
Sister Aisha Al-Adawiya

Sister Donna Auston

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer

Sister Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad

Dr. Aminah McCloud

Dr. Amina Wadud

Sister Margari Azizah Hill

Sister Waheedah Muhammad

Dr. Jamillah Karim

Sister Mubarakah Ibrahim

Sister Majida Abdul-Karim




Lamppost representatives stated that they felt the open letter unfairly attacked their organizations and highlighted its track record inviting female speakers such as Zaynab Ansari . After exchange with organizers and supports, Sister Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad attended the summit.  During the event, event organizer Imam Amin address Sister Kameelah, apologized for the act of exclusion and asked her to read her letter. Some audience members expressed support for the letter and, as reported by one of the sisters who helped organize, some women expressed their disapproval of the letter, arguing that it stemmed from feminism, which, “has no place in Islam.” The discussions at time were emotional, but I think that it stirred a healthy discussion about leadership, authority, and gender within Black Muslim communities. In conclusion, I wanted to stress that our communities thrive with mutual consultation that takes into account the voices and perspectives of all groups, including the marginalized and disenfranchised. For us to proposer, we will need each other, as Allah (s.w.t.) tells us in the Qur’an:

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:71)

May Allah increase us in patience and forgiveness. Ameen.