Happy Birthday Marc Manley

Baby Marc

February 28th the birthday of three people who have shaped my journey and taught me to love God in the realest way. My mother who has always taught me to have faith, my good friend who helped foster my courage to return back to my faith, and my husband who has deepened my faith and demonstrated the meaning of dedication. Today is his birthday, today.

As a graduate student, I first stumbled across his blog and got butterflies. I followed the writings of this dreamy unattainable guy across the country. A few years later, two fellow bloggers told me that he mentioned me. I saw him as all the best pieces of everyone I ever cared about put together in one big man package. Creative, musical, devout, earnest, honest, generous, warm, strong, intellectual, and emotional. Being in love with love, I fell hard. I met him for the first time as I returned from a year of self imposed exile abroad. I peaked through the peephole for the first time, and I knew that this was the man I was going to marry.

The year before we were engaged, I attended my family reunion. My cousin and I shared the challenges of finding a match, somebody who was ‘hood enough to understand our family while at the same time being able to mix in our professional circles. Like my husband, we learned to be social chameleons, sharing different parts of ourselves in different contexts. Born in the Rust Belt like myself, he still holds an attachment to Detroit. My crazy matches his crazy, and sometimes that is not in a good way. We’re two strong headed, trash talking, sensitive people. And we’re also smart, so when we argue it is like clash of the titans. But more often than not we end up being something fantastic. For example, we can have tag team, go Bonnie and Clyde, on debates.

Together, we have struggled through health crisis, work-life crisis, personal battles, and deaths of close friends and family. When we got married, he was working at the school of design, trying to complete his undergraduate degree. The strain wore down his health and there were probably close calls when I could have lost him. I can tell you stories about him defending the elderly on the bus, chasing down a man who abused a woman, trying to rescue someone from a collapsed building. But the most courageous thing he does is to feel. He cries when he says goodbye to his parents, he cried on our wedding, and he cries during prayer.

My husband is probably one of the most brilliant thinkers I know. For over five years, I dedicated much of my life to studying Arabic, from three intensive summer programs, commuting from San Jose to San Fransisco for private Arabic tutoring, battling through two years coursework in graduate, even a year in Kuwait and Egypt. I studied Arabic at University California Berkeley, at Pacifica Arabic resources, at Stanford, at Universite Moulay Ismail, at Middlebury, at Alif Fez, at at Markez Diwan, and at American University of Cairo to finally make it to upper advanced. But this man taught himself! His Arabic today is so much better than mine. He has an incredible talent for learning and especially languages. He’s fluent in Japanese, Spanish, and Arabic. In addition to studying independently with brilliant scholars and hidden gems in our community, he’s the only autodidactic I know.

Our house is filled with classical Islamic texts in Arabic, books I’m afraid to crack open lest I be reminded about my my neglect of my language study. I’ve seen him filling up a notebook with three books open while surfing the internet filling. His hours are filled up with study and deep thought, often interrupted by our four year old. She’s our greatest collaboration who has really changed our lives in the most positive ways. I see so much of him and I in her. Of course she is theatrical and has a huge vocabulary.

Nobody knows the sincerity of a leader better than their family. I know that he loves being Muslim, that he is satisfied with Muhammad as his prophet, and he is satisfied with his Lord. I know of his hopes and frustrations in building a thriving community. Despite those frustrations, nothing makes him happier than seeing people well fed and belonging. He has given talks that have made me cry, that remind me of the beauty of God’s creation and our place in it. There are times when I wish I could whisk the troubles of the world away and just enjoy us without interruption. At those times, my heart aches because life gets in the way of true expressions of love and appreciation. I could write much more about this unique guy whom I admire very much. Anyways, I hope you say a little prayer for the birthday boy and our little family.

The N-Word


And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. Qur’an 49:11

In late 2013, a group of activists, scholars, and concerned netizens coalesced around the issue of anti-Blackness perpetrated by Muslim youth on social media. Some of these actions included anti-Black slurs in Arabic, Urdu, Somali, and Yoruba, as well as the appropriation of the N-word by non-Black Muslims. Out that group,  Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative formed to organize social media campaigns to drop the A-Word and address #UmmahAntiBlackness,  as well to give voice to Black Muslims and celebrate their contributions in hashtag conversations that included #BeingBlackAndMuslim.  Responding to the call to educate Muslim communities about racism, MuslimARC launched as a human rights education organization.  

Black American Muslim scholars, activists, leaders, parents, teachers, and conscious members are exhausted by having to explain why it is not okay for non-Black Muslims to use N-word.  The use of the N-word is controversial, even amongst African Americans. However, when a Black person uses the term, it does not spark the same outrage as non-Black people using it. This is because in many ways it is reclaiming the pejorative. Although the Black usage of the word may raise some hairs and spark vociferous debate within the black community,  it is not racist. Oppressed people cannot be racist, they may be prejudice. When White people and NonBlack People of Color use the N-word, regardless of intent,  they are committing a racist act. When they use it as a pejorative, they are being actively racist asserting a hierarchy that dehumanizes Black people.  A non-black person using the N-word to themselves or others as a term of endearment is an act of cultural  appropriation, which is a form of passive racism. Cultural appropriation is copying elements of a culture in a colonizing manner and using them outside of their context. Cultural appropriators use those elements without having to suffer the same consequences that members of that culture. The N-word developed to highlight the othering, dehumanization, and exploitation of sub-Saharan Africans who were racialized as Black.  On occasion, upwardly mobile Black folks ascribing to respectability politics will distance themselves from other Black Americans and will use the term as a pejorative against Black people they don’t approve of. This may be internalized racism, but it still does not equate to the usage of non-Black folks.


It doesn’t matter if you are well meaning, and if your Black friends give you a pass. No individual Black person can give a non-Black person the weight of our historical experience and oppression.  Cultural appropriation is harmful for the members of the oppressed group, especially when you are using a term that is so painful for many Black people.  When someone who is not Black uses the term it is often emotionally triggering.  When non-Black people argue with Black people who are offended by their appropriation  of the n-word, it further inflicts emotional violence. It does not matter if you hear the word a thousand times by Black comedians and hip hop artists. The commodification of Black culture does not give anybody a right to appropriate the term. period.

Finally, White people and Non-Black People of Color who have no linkages with the brutal 400 years history of the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans in the Americas and Jim Crow, as well as the 18th century colonization of Africa which included forced slave labor, population movements, and mass deaths and depopulation, who continue  to face systemic racism and violence at the hands of the state and the police, your moral judgment on how Black people reclaim the term is not relevant to the discussion of why it is never okay for Non-Black People to use the term. This is an internal community discussion. The discourse around the N-word is sensitive topic for many Black Americans. The discourse is a source of many microaggressions that make workplaces, campuses, and friendships hostile environments for Black people. Non-Black people who police Black people on the moral repercussions of the term often misuse their non-Black privilege in forcing the issue.  Rather than policing Black people, they should focus on uprooting racism within themselves and their community.
Because I’m tired, here are some resources below:


The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why …


Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word …


Articles and Websites


Stop Saying N***a If You’re Not Black – Huffington Post


Straight Talk about the N-Word | Teaching Tolerance


4 Reasons White People Can’t Use the N-Word (No Matter …


Don’t Use The N-Word If You’re Not Black. The End. But If …


The n-word: An interactive project exploring a singular word …

The Dilemma of Leading from Behind

Iron St. Murals in Detroit. Photo Credit: Pendarvis Harshaw

Iron St. Murals in Detroit. Photo Credit: Pendarvis Harshaw

When a marginalized person in our community is given access to power, education, or resources, we often second guess them. There is not democratic process that makes any job, fellowship, internship, roundtable, or leadership position equal opportunity for all of us. Being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right person who vouched for you, or having certain privileges can give you opportunities which are denied to someone even more deserving or qualified. In this competitive world and unequal world, we don’t have control over the privileges that are bestowed upon us or the doors that open up for us. What matters is that when we walk through some doors we kick them open so hard that they stay open. What matters is what we do with those opportunities and how do we serve others with the privileges we have been granted.
 When folks are calling out others, they often focus on the the individual who they see as having shortcomings, rather than the systemic issue that may hamper them from being able to take that ideal path. I’m a sensitive person. So when I see others talk about me or others who I work with, my empath mode goes into full gear. Depending on how we frame a critique, we can create climate where others can be disparaged.  Once someone’s character has been attacked for being self serving, especially when they work to serve the community, they tend to shut down from dialogue. It’s usually against my better judgment to try to try to give context or explain the dilemma of anyone in a position of leadership, including myself. It is not just me being defensive, but with empathy we can better understand each other and move towards a solution. And even if we are at loggerheads, with empathy we can understand the underlying assumptions and motivations that led someone to make a decision or take a stance on an issue. We can disagree without thinking that assuming a moral superiority.
Social media makes us all much more accessible, it means all sorts of moral judgements about your personal choices, your politics, or your adherence to your faith will show up in your timeline. It means that hours of your day can be eaten up going back and forth trying to save face in debates where hundreds of people reading it will form strong opinions about you. It means that people will send you screen shots of comments that may make you question your ability to operate in the community. It means that the cream in your morning coffee will sour as your inbox or mentions are flooded with critiques mixed with ad hominem attacks.
Being put in the position to represent the community is a heavy mantle to bear.  I often wish my family could go back to anonymity and live our lives like normal people. I slowly saw my private life die in 2007 when I posted my first public blog entry. Then across the world, people would recognize who I was. People who never met me had all sorts of assumptions formed opinions about my personal life, my politics, and my religious and spiritual journey. My private life ended when my husband gave his first khutbah at UPenn in 2009. Given the vitriol, I moved into obscurity until I founded an organization in 2014. Initially, I didn’t want to be the public face. I did so because people dismissed our efforts and erased the Black women involved in the project.  There are aspects of my work that I love. First and foremost, I love teaching. But I have to constantly renew my intentions because the constant barrage of critiques and debates are tiring.  The returns of doing this work are limited emotionally, personally, or financially, but this is important work.  Even though I was not the best qualified to do anti-racism education, only a few others stepped up with me to advance racial justice in Muslim communities.
I lead by from behind in trying to serve. I also lead from behind because of my own unique struggle. While coming from a disadvantaged position, recovering from the strikes against me, catching up from my late start and interruptions, trying to  get through each day multi-tasking my duties as a mom and wife of a public religious leader, my vantage point shifts and changes constantly.  I know there are people who have even stronger skills and talents that I have, but they are not built up and supported in our community. I hope to find that person more suited for this work and to have built up a healthy space for them to take this work to the next level.


I got a chance to do a major update of the blog, adding a section of articles that I’ve written, as well as interviews. All in all When I first started blogging a decade ago I had some concerns about being so public. I was going through major changes, figuring things out, and working through spiritual, emotional, and financial challenges. Learning and growing in front of the world can be the most humbling thing. It also makes me very accessible in ways that many other folks aren’t. That accessibility means that people feel comfortable sharing their value judgments about me and my journey. I wish I could say that I didn’t care. Sometimes it hurts, but I push through that and try to live as authentic as I can. And in trying to find that place, I often question myself. I often feel like I forget more than I have learned and I am exposed to how little I know all too often.

Between my workload and traveling, I’m trying to stay on top of things. While this work has connected me to some amazing people, it also forces a schedule also isolates me. I have long hours, I’m often forced to declined invitations, and I have a hard time finding time to connect with family and loved ones. I owe a lot of people emails and writing. I’m slowly catching up, I’m making progress.

On my Privilege and my Apology

Yesterday, I was in an exchange addressing the use of a personal Facebook post in an article after it was removed. The implications of the discourse weighed heavy on me all day, through last night and into this morning. Like my tweets yesterday, anything we write is out there forever. I believe in the Afterlife, so I know I will be accountable for my words and how I exercised my privilege or ignored harm. A lower motivation is, whatever we write, no matter how embarrassing can resurface.   Everything is saved on the internet and can still be harmful to others. If members of the target population express that something is xenophobic or racist, then it is.  I was not empathetic to the feelings of Muslims whose grandparents, parents, or even themselves have immigrated to the U.S.  We measure impact not intent. An immediate apology is warranted. I am sorry.

With the ICE deportations going on right now and legislation being passed, it is important to be sensitive to the plight of undocumented, refugees, and immigrants. Being a person whose ancestors were forcibly migrated and whose bodies and blood are in the bricks of the foundations of many of the institutions, I feel a profound sense of belonging.  It also puts me in a position of privilege as a non-immigrant. With that privilege comes a lack of empathy, which I demonstrated yesterday. I was busy explaining intent of converts like myself, as well as defend ideas that have been proposed in Sherman Jackson’s Islam and the blackamerican. For many Black American Muslims, the book helped explain a toxic dynamic in Muslim American communities where many of us lost our way.  This dynamic was in accepting Arab and South Asian hegemonies (for example Tablighi jumu’ah or Saudi influenced Salafi Islam) that were detrimental to our psychological, material, and spiritual well being as individuals or the Black Muslim community as a whole. That framework does not take into account African/Black American relations, Latino Muslims, or refugees. Many people whose families immigrated from Muslim majority countries have expressed how alienated they feel with the immigrant/indigenous binary. I believe we must reject a hierarchy of who is more Muslim or who is more American. I think it is important to find language that is sensitive to all the parties involved to discuss power dynamics in Muslim communities and the politics of representation. I will do better in the future to avoid nativist or xenophobic language in my writing. I will also work more to address it where I find it.

I started anti-racism work with much to learn and I am still learning. I know I will fall short in the future, and whether I am reminded harshly or gently, I hope I respond better in the future. I will work tirelessly to keep willing parties in the room to learn and grow together. Growth and transformation in myself and others inspire me. For those who have been harmed by my words yesterday or in the past, I hope that you accept this apology. Let me know going forward how we can begin to have meaningful discussions in building a community that best exemplifies that ideals we all share.


Big Changes for 2016

For those who follow the Gregorian calendar, Happy New Year!

It’s been almost ten years since I first started blogging in a place called MySpace. Eventually, I transferred my raw thoughts to WordPress. It has been such an amazing journey  and I am grateful and humbled by those who have supported me through the ups and downs.

Ten years is a major milestone and probably time to do another website rehaul. With that in mind, I have some big changes planned for the website. I’ll have a page with a regularly updated list of my writings, links to videos, and a few more must read lists. I hope to get back to creative writing and other artistic pursuits. I plan to write about my whole self, as an individual, with my relational identities as a wife, mom, daughter, sister, cousin, niece, and friend. I hope you’ll stick around.

The Trouble with Our Criminal Justice System

Documentary Teaser for Prison Blues by Mustafa Davis.

MuslimARC organized a panel on Muslims and the New Jim Crow, a standing room only event where over 200 people ended the event with a direct action. The deaths of Black, Latino, and Native Americans by police or in police custody has raised attention to the problem in our criminal justice system. Here is an article that I’ve written on criminal justice reform:

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, an African-American father of six, was killed by a police chokehold and nearly a year later, New York City settled a lawsuit by his family for $5.9 million. Over the past year, protests erupted in Ferguson, MissouriNew York,Baltimore,Los Angeles, and numerous other cities where black people have been brutalized by police. Live tweets, live streams and pictures highlighted the militarization of law enforcement. The outrage against police brutality has galvanized activists, community leaders and concerned citizens across the country, and has spurred Muslim coalitions such as Muslims for Ferguson and Muslims Make It Plain. Activists Carmen Perez,  Linda Sarsour, and Tamika Mallory, along with 100 protesters completed a nine-day  #March2Justice from New York to Washington, D.C., in April to highlight the problem of police oppression.  But their long journey reflects the difficult challenge that we, as Americans in general and as Muslims in particular, have in addressing the real problems of policing in this country.

If the Muslim community is going to truly deal with policing, then we must address the criminal justice system as a whole. We must delve deep into the issue and make abuse and oppression in our criminal justice system our issue. We must allow our faith to inform us into peaceful action by engaging with others and calling for action and reform where it is needed.

Certainly, Muslim-American communities have made inroads into conversations about these abuses. However, stumbling blocks remain. Often Muslims will argue that law enforcement is getting a bad rap. In one news story, a relative of a Muslim woman, who was rescued by police after an arson, argued that police officers have the worst job in the world. He said, it was because “people hate you, but when they get in trouble you’re the first person they call.”

In one off-the-record meeting at a Muslim community center with the FBI, a non-black Muslim community leader compared law enforcement with Muslims, saying that both are stereotyped because of the actions of a few.  Many Muslim national organizations and advocacy groups have issued statements in support of #BlackLivesMatter protesters. When the Islamic Society of North America issued a statement about the escalation of violence during the Baltimore uprising, activists and organizations pointed out that ISNA’s focusing on the destruction of property downplayed the role of systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

The controversy over ISNA’s statement about Baltimore demonstrates how social media has helped to shape conversations about police brutality and the justice system. Muslim media platforms and national organizations are beginning to engage when previously, only a few urban-based organizations, such as the Muslim Alliance of North America and Inner City Muslim Action Network, addressed the justice system and programs for the formerly incarcerated. But times are changing.

For example, the 15-year-old murder conviction of Adnan Syed, which was detailed in a podcast “Serial,” has sparked the imagination of people across the country, as well as South Asian and Arab Muslims. These same Muslims  raised over $100,000 to support his appeal. Syed’s narrative of being a child of immigrants, a model minority youth wrongfully convicted with thin evidence because of Islamophobia continues to captivate the country. Many people, who follow this story often fail to link Syed’s fate with that of many Latino and black people, who have also been wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Project has exonerated numerous men, who served decades in prison, and some of them only getting their names cleared long after their executions. Yet, some people still believe that justice is blind and support a kind of Muslim exceptionalism when it comes to how members of the Muslim community are treated by the criminal justice system.  In contrast, when a black Muslim is accused of a crime, many Muslims will distance themselves from the case.

For black Muslims, systemic racism and Islamophobia intersect in the most powerful ways in state surveillance, law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Some recent cases highlight this reality, such as the killing of Imam Luqman Abdullah, who was shot 20 times by federal agents during a raid at a warehouse in 2009; the case of Usaamah Rahim, who was killed by police while waiting at a bus stop in June; the case of Marcus Dwayne Robertson, who was arrested and jailed on tax fraud and illegal gun possession and about to be accused of terrorism based on his e-book collection but eventually set free for time served for previous charges. These men were all black and Muslim. Yet most Muslim leaders and organizations didn’t give these cases the full court attention afforded to non-black Muslims affected by law enforcement or the prison system. This implicitly extends such mainstream racism well into the Muslim community.

The same implicit bias that causes officers to be more likely to shoot an unarmed black person than a white person also leads to racial disparities in the viewing, prosecution and sentencing of cases. Studies have shown that race also factors into the severity of the punishment, and even skin color and phenotype play a factor, considering that dark-skinned people receive longer and harsher sentences.  Such a stark reality is also underscored by the fact that Dylann Roof, a white man who murdered nine African-Americans attending church in Charleston, South Carolina, was later apprehended alive and then taken to Burger King; while African-American Usaamah Rahim was shot to death at a bus stop without having committed any crime.

Moving beyond the headlines and the latest hot spots, the Muslim community must address police misconduct as part of a larger broken system. This entails addressing policies and practices.   In the book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander demonstrates how communities of color are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration, and activists such as Mariame Kaba have worked tirelessly to raise awareness about racial injustice in the criminal justice system.  The prison industrial complex  (PIC) is a term used to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry to use surveillance, policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems. Prison abolition activists argue that the PIC perpetuates the flawed belief that imprisonment is the solution to social problems such as substance abuse, homelessness, illiteracy and mental illness.   Further, the “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to the policies and practices that push low-income children out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Schools are more likely to punish young black boys and girls more severely, charging them with crimes and sending them into the juvenile court system than their white counterparts for the same offenses. Our society is more apt to invest in prisons rather than education or preventative measures, such as substance abuse or rehabilitation programs.

The Sentencing Project estimates there are 2.2 million people in American prisons. The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration. Over the past three decades, the population has increased over 500%. Many people are in prison for nonviolent offenses. More people are coming to see these policies as costly and ineffective. Reflecting this changing tide, on July 13, President Barack Obama cut the sentences of 46 drug offenders.  In his speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Obama said, “We spend $80 billion to keep people in prison.”

For more than 20 years, I have heard Muslims cite the Hadith, “Feed the hungry, visit the sick and set free the captives.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Hadith 552) America’s incarcerated community is held captive, and former offenders often suffer from a lifetime of stigma and discrimination.

Our communities, however, are often hands-off when it comes to prison populations. They limit support to distributing prison dawah (proselytizing) while leaving rehabilitation and reentry programs cash strapped.   The Muslim community, as a whole, has done little to advocate for progressive reform of the criminal justice system.

There are exceptions. We can look to local efforts as models and amplify their work. For example, the Latino Muslim Association of America (LALMA) and Islah LA worked with faith-based community organizers, LA Voice, to help pass Proposition 47,  which reduced nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors in California.

Our national Muslim advocacy organizations and lay people across the country should support current criminal justice reform efforts. One place to start is by supporting the Ban the Box campaign, which seeks fair employment for people with past convictions. As individuals, we can donate our time or resources to help build capacity for organizations working on police brutality and the criminal justice system by taking part in faith-based organizing, joining multiethnic coalitions or supporting organizations doing grassroots work.

Muslim Americans, as a community, cannot allow for injustice to fester in our justice system and expect to receive justice for ourselves. Whether calling for criminal justice reform, supporting prisoners’ rights or advocating for changes in policing, our faith must inform our actions.


Read the original  published at Islamic Monthly.