It is an honor…

…to receive honorable mention for Best Female Blog at the Brass Crescent Awards. I would like to thank everyone who voted for me. Congratulations to Umm Layth for Best female Muslim blog. You can check out this year’s winners, including Tariq Nelson for Best Blog and, as most of you know my future husband, Marc Manley, for Best Design. here.

Woman Arrested Over Head Scarf

Ga. judge jails Muslim woman over head scarf

Valentine’s husband, Omar Hall, said his wife was accompanying her nephew to a traffic citation hearing when officials stopped her at the metal detector and told her she would not be allowed in the courtroom with the head scarf, known as a hijab.
Hall said Valentine, an insurance underwriter, told the bailiff that she had been in courtrooms before with the scarf on and that removing it would be a religious violation. When she turned to leave and uttered an expletive, Hall said a bailiff handcuffed her and took her before the judge.

I am outraged! She wasn’t even in court, she was turning to leave and the bailiff handcuffed her!!

She’s serving 10 days for observing her religious rights? I’ve been to Georgia, but I wasn’t aware of a law that bans head covering in court. Islamaphobes have tried to depict this case as some sort of attempt to impose Islamic law. They continue to demonize the only organization that defends the civil rights of Muslims in America, CAIR. Muslim women in America want the right to practice their religious freedom and enjoy their civil rights. The fact that they court will not accommodate Muslim women who observe their religious code is a clear violation of this country’s principles. How can we be full participants in this society if we cannot even go before a judge? CAIR should not be the only group involved, NAACP, ACLU, and any other organization that cares about equal rights for all citizens.

Grieving Muslims and Predators in the Community

Jamerican Muslimah wrote a post titled, “Where do Grieving Muslims Go?” Her post was not just thought provoking, it is seriously a call to action in the Muslim community. We really need an army of psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, and social workers to deal with the host of problems that, for the most part, our community leaders sweep under the rug.

I started asking myself, where do Muslims go when we’re suffering? Have I ever attended a masjid that had a support group for me; as a convert (being the only Muslim in my family), as someone who has experienced divorce, the murder of my older brother, financial loss and so much more? I know sisters who have been homeless, on drugs, near prostitution, suffering from tremendous grief as a result of divorce or the death of a spouse or family member. I also know sisters who are single parents. They’re struggling to make ends meet, raising kids by themselves as the righteous brother moves on to his next victim wife.

I really encourage you to read the post in its entirety here. But I wanted to highlight some things that came to mind as I have dealt with some major losses, upheavals, and struggles over the past 15 years. Outside of my mentor who has often given me important insight to understand the spiritual meaning of my struggles and given me assurances that in my evolving outlook that I am maturing, I received very little spiritual and emotional counsel in the Muslim community. B
Kwame Madden related a really sad story about a suicidal brother who lives in isolation. He wrote:

Mental health issues are serious .This a much needed post. Imams are not all time the solution.Professional men and woman trained in this type of work should be able to adminster it our communties.

Where is the support for this brother? Who can he call who understands the social and religious context of this brother who is struggling to get by. Are there any social workers or counselors that can help this brother empower himself and rebuild and refashion a fulfilling life for himself?

So often the Muslim communities lack the kind of support systems that would be beneficial to its members. Even worse, I’ve seen MALE perpetrators of crimes (legal, Islamic and moral) continue to work in the Muslim community, sometimes occupying prestigious positions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say things like, “It’s not my business”, or “He’s a good brother he just has some personal problems” or “No one else is willing to do what he does for the masjid.” Too often nothing is said AT ALL. People just pretend everything’s fine. Unfortunately, by choosing not to address perpetrators of crimes (again, legal, moral and Islamic) we’re sending a message to the victim(s) that their behavior is acceptable.

I’ve been in some long standing discussion online, through list groups, and in person with academics, activists, and community members at large who have expressed similar concerns about the predatory nature of some rock star imams and community leaders. What is sad is that often the most vulnerable members of the community are more likely to fall into their hands. Not only do they lack the clarity of vision to distinguish between healthy relationships and abusive ones, but they often lack the foresight and counsel to make sound decisions about their futures. Married sisters are often wrapped up in their problems or day-to-day affairs or fearful that the newly single sister with emotional needs will be a threat. So, a grieving divorcee or struggling single sister with kids becomes prey to a predatorial member of the community. This is why the MANA marriage initiative is very important, that we find community leaders who will not officiate marriages irresponsibly.

We need community leaders and spiritual guides who are equipped to deal with local issues. This is why I think it is important that we move away from the movement type mentality and the cult of personality. We have to think about functional communities. We need to think about providing real services that can uplift our community. This takes a different type of vision, and a different type of investment in our future. Otherwise, we will continue to limp along, highly disfunctional and prone to blaming everyone else for our problems.

What makes it difficult is that both the Black American community and the Muslim community are suspicious about mental health professionals. But both have their share of trauma and difficulties in coping with the challenges of this society. For years, I’ve seen Muslims join some group, some movement, throw themselves into some cause in a hope to fill some void or deal with some pain. We have to address these issues, by training social workers and therapists who can work with Muslims, developing wellness programs, establishing grief support groups, and help lines for Muslims in crisis. Otherwise we are not only encouraging social pathologies, but fostering a culture of denial which further exacerbates the psychological and emotional ills that our people are suffering from.

Educated Muslims

Without any statistical data, some Muslim writers claim that higher education leads to Muslims losing their faith (i.e. via apostasy or by becoming liberal Muslims). I think this viewpoint is dangerous and counter productive. Perhaps this view appeals to young people who resent their parents pressuring them to achieve academically and become responsible adults. It may also appeal to those who have to struggle through school. I’ve talked to a number of young Muslims who were discouraged by their peers from pursuing a college education because it was just dunyah. Many of these Muslims have sought alternative lifestyles by becoming “students of knowledge” or seeking a dead in career in hip hop. In reality, on college campuses many young Muslims developed a strong Muslim identity and a sense of service. In fact, that is where I discovered Islam and became Muslim. We were young and impressionable and slowly evolved out of that movement mentality that continues to be espoused by some Muslim bloggers. Over time, my peers began to see that living decent lives and providing a better future for their children was the best example they could set as Muslims. The American Muslims I knew on campus were charismatic and often gave dawah and attracted a number of quality converts to the religion. In the South Bay, I have seen a whole generation of young Middle class children of immigrants and the few American Muslim families grow up, go to college, graduate, get married, and begin their own Muslim families. They contribute to building institutions, give charity, and have much more to offer than those who had little foresight to think about building a better future. This perception that only working poor Muslims maintain their faith, while middle class and educated Muslims are losing their faith by assimilating, is not only false, but irresponsible. We should be all working for the betterment of our children by encouraging them to excel in school and in their professions. So much damage has been done after religious leaders in the 90s discouraged independent thought and encouraged a utopian escapism. Meanwhile, those who overlooked honest ways of making a living constantly look for hand outs by those bougie Muslims they resent so much. I am not saying that everyone is meant to be a scholar or an academic. I am an advocate of Muslims gaining various skills, The path to improving our condition can be through community college, university education, vocation schools, job training programs, and apprenticeships. In order to have functional communities, we need to think about a diversity of skills such as carpentry, plumbing, electricians, mechanics, architects, contractors, lawyers, journalists, entreprenuers, academics, etc. I’m not looking down on working class Muslims. I come from a working class background. But I’m really tired of those who try to glorify their limited perspective at the expense of other hard working Muslims who are also struggling to find their way.

Multiple Narratives and Contestations Over the Righteous Struggle

According to census data and information provided by mosques and community centers, Muslims in America make up .5% of the total population in America. Keeping it conservative, that equals just under 2 million. Some estimates go as far to say that there are 5 million Muslims in America. I tend to stay on the conservative side because I don’t believe that boasting in numbers serves any cause.

Still, 2 million is a lot of people. And there have been multiple and contradictory narratives about American Islam. Who has the right to speak for American Muslims? Who are the real Muslims? Who will define the agenda for American Muslims? Last year, a huge debate exposing the immigrant Black American divide rocked the Muslim American community and we’re still reeling to recover from it. And when I speak of community, I talk about it in the broadest sense. I am not making any claims that Muslim Americans are a monolithic group. I’m not trying to be a downer, but the reality is that Muslim Americans do not vote in a unified way, have various political and economic interests that often conflict with their co-religionists, nor is there a central authoritative religious head that guides us all. Rather, this diverse group of people from various socio-economic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds with different political and social orientations comprises a community because we believe that There is no God but the one True God and that Muhammad is his prophet. Therefore, we share daily patterns of worship, rituals of birth, marriage, and death, etc. Mosques are also diverse, which contributes to a greater sense of community. And there are some national organizations that do work to defend Muslims’ civil liberties, foster community development, and create a forum for interfaith understanding.

I’ve written in the past and have been interviewed about the silencing of Black American Muslim voices in the past decade. Some national Muslim organizations have been critiqued for their failure to include issues of interest to Black American and other indigenous (I sort of cringe to use that word because I do have Native American relatives who might take umbrage with its use) Muslims such as white American and Latino/Hispanic Muslims. However, in many ways I don’t like how the public conversation has developed in the past year. I am troubled when some Black American Muslims use the same rhetoric and language that Islamophobes use to critique mainstream Muslim organizations dominated by first and second generation immigrants or those organizations that have an internationalist outlook. I am also bothered when I read or hear immigrant or second generation Muslims dismiss the tremendous sense of marginalization that some of us Black American Muslims have experienced in their communities.

I know that some of my Arab and South Asian friends are bothered when they are called privileged. This is not an easy pill to swallow because in American identity politics the only privileged people are supposed to be White Americans. However, there are many different types of privileges and some groups are more privileged than others. And in one community, one group can be dominant and marginalize or economically exploit another. The reality is that in America, there is fierce competition over resources. This competition has led to some voices getting silenced in deciding the agenda for American Muslims.

CAIR reports that the ethnicities of mosque participants can be broken down to 33% South Asian, 30% Black American and 25% Arab, 3.4% sub-Saharan African, 2.1 European (Bosnia, Tatar, etc.) 1.6% White American, 1.3% South-East Asian, 1.2% Caribbean, 1.1% Turkish, .7% Iranian, and .6% Latino/Hispanic.

Within mainstream media, the Muslim American experience is about the immigration and assimilation experience. I don’t see much press coverage or interest on converts or the multi-generational Black American Muslim families. You have some sunni communities dating back to the 60s. I don’t want to dismiss the struggles of Asian American, white American, and Latino/Hispanic American Muslims struggles. White American Muslim converts seem to be the darlings of the community, Latino/Hispanic Muslims exotic curiosities, and East Asian or Pacific Islander Muslims occupy some weird zone and most people can barely even believe they are Muslim.

If we Muslims in America believe in democracy and enjoy the privileges of democracy, then we need institutions that allow for more open participation in decision making. At the same time, democracy entails protecting the rights of minorities. I think before we start a discussion about exclusion or inclusion, we need to start to ground our understanding sociological, historical, and political data. I am not claiming I’m doing that in this article. Rather, I used a few statistics to make a point. In the past decade, there has been increasing integration between Black American Muslims and immigrant Muslims. But that integration has led to in some ways to that silencing that I’m talking about. And this had led to a divide in mentalities between Muslims. It is not so much ethnic anymore, but rather, Muslims in America whose primary political interests are foreign policy issues and those Muslims in America who want to focus on domestic issues and establishing Muslim communities in America. I personally don’t see them as exclusive categories. But it is jarring for converts to all of a sudden be forced to adopt some psuedo-marxist third world liberation ideology the minute they take Shahada.

This brings me back to the convert issue. According to the CAIR report, nearly 30 percent of mosque participants are converts. I think it is important to discuss the three major categories of American Muslims: 1. American converts, 2. immigrants, and 3. the children of converts and immigrants. There is a need to develop programs in order to meet the needs of these three categories. The challenging thing for us converts is that when we do convert, we often sever ties with traditional means of networking that assists in social mobility: the church, fraternities and sororities, masonic lodges, networking events and happy hours, etc. The conversion process can alienate converts from different avenues and so they do look to their co-religionists in hope of reconstituting and reconfiguring new networks of social support. Immigrant and second generation Muslims often have their ethnic networks in tact. They just have to navigate the treacherous terrain of assimilating without losing their Islamic identity. Converts, on the other hand, are challenged with becoming Muslim without losing their American identity. At the same time, the way they experience fellowship is through service in the Muslim community. But at the end of the day, they find that few of their “brothers” support them when times are bad.

A lot of converts burn out and become disillusioned after they become Muslim because they have the expectation of full membership in the Ummah. They are not making unfair expectations. These are universal ideals that are in Islamic texts. Plus, you won’t have to search too long in any Islamic bookstore to find a pamphlet on brotherhood in Islam, making promises of charity, trust, mutual respect, and support. And immigrant Muslims have also been inspired by the civil rights and black nationalism, which has some intellectual linkages with Third World liberation. Part of the anger and backlash you see from some American Muslims is that they feel like some of their co-religionists have fell short on their promises. Black American Muslims who were struggling to put themselves through school or raise a family using no riba became distraught when their immigrant co-religionists happily circulate money in their family and ethnic networks, but refuse to build economic ties with converts, let alone consider intermarriage. Immigrant Muslims are now distraught that Black American Muslims have started to say they’d rather vote for a Zionist who will promote universal healthcare rather than march in the streets and divest from Israel. Honestly, I think if you surveyed most Black American Muslims, you will find that they still sympathize with Muslims overseas, but they have developed a political pragmatism. I think Barack Obama’s election and the reaction to it is testament to shifting attitudes about politics. Even for upwardly mobile Black Americans and Black American Muslims, we are deeply aware of our historic legacy and our responsibility to make a positive contribution to our families and neighbors.

I am not trying to force my own narrative down anyone’s throat. Nor am I arguing that we should have just one narrative. Rather, I am saying that we have different interests and each Muslim in America has an obligation to follow his/her calling. If you are moved to join the Peace Corps in the Moroccan Rif, by all means, do your thing. If you want to start an interfaith dialog in your local community, do your thing. Or if your big struggle is putting yourself through school so you can take care of your momma, grandma, and be a positive example for your family, do your thing. For once, American Muslims who see their fates tied to the future of America are beginning to talk. I think we can come together and find common ground, but that takes real dialog. Some have been hurting over the past 5, 10, 15, 30 years as they existed on the margins. And yes, when you have been hurting that long, you are going to have some words that are going to sting. It may even get nasty. But if we are going to deal with the divide, I think we need to listen to how we have hurt each other and work to rectify the pain we have caused each other so that we can move on to the next challenge.

Islam 101

The Mosque in America: A National Portrait