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.


My Muslim Woman Owned Business Showcase: Mohajababes

Margari Hill talks to sisters and Mohajababes founders Afra and Eiman Ahmed about their colourful kaftan creations.

small business showcase

MH: Tell us about the day you decided to turn your own personal fashion sense into a business. What went into the decision-making process?

AA & EA: Mohajababes was launched in November 2011 by two sisters based in California and London. Ever since we started wearing kaftans in 2007, people kept asking us where we got our outfits from – every time we were at a wedding or a party! Usually, you’d either see women in traditional outfits or about five or six women in identical dresses that you knew they got from the same store. Buying a Mohajababes kaftan means you know you’ll be wearing a garment you can feel special in and be the only one at a party dressed that way.

All the ladies in our family (mums, aunts, girls) jumped on the trend and attended events in kaftans. We become so well known for it that we started to get orders from family and friends abroad. It was then, in early 2011, that we recognised that there was a gap in the market. One day, Afra decided to source beautiful, handmade, modest kaftans in a variety of colours and designs, each hand-embroidered with beads, sequins and jewels. We did this with the intention of bringing kaftans to the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, so Muslim women could have other options for evening wear. As a family we sat down, developed our brand and launched in November 2011. The response was overwhelming and this encouraged us to develop an online shopping experience and take it further.

MH: You handpick your special collection from Dubai every few months. What goes into your selection process?

AA & EA: We do take into consideration current fashion trends, but ensure our kaftans adhere to what our customers love most about them – that you can dress them up or down, that they are suitable for hijab wearers and non-hijab wearers, and that they are unique one-off pieces. We love working with high quality chiffon – it falls beautifully on the body, is an incredibly forgiving fabric and is easy to dry clean. We started by working with classic colours: blacks, reds and deep purples; but we pushed the boat out and have gotten people buying royal blue, green, yellow, teal, turquoise and peach kaftans too! Our colour choices change depending on the season, so we have a lot of bright colours for our spring/summer collection, but bring in more muted colours for our autumn/ winter collection. Most importantly, we make sure our pieces are affordable, which we know our customers really appreciate.

MH: The models on your website look like real women with real shapes and sizes. They are also diverse, so it is easy for women from various ethnic backgrounds to imagine themselves in your kaftans. How do you select your models?

AA & EA: We think it’s very important to showcase what the kaftans will look like on women with varying shapes, body sizes and skin tones. We don’t think we would be doing our brand, kaftans or customers any justice if all our kaftans were modelled on the same 6 foot 2 inch slim model – the reality is that most of our customers and most women simply do not look like that. We work very hard at ensuring our models represent our customers and are happy that so far this has made their online shopping experience with us easier. Our models are from the US to as far as the Middle East, Africa and Indonesia!

MH: What trends do you see being big for Muslim fashionistas this spring/summer?

AA & EA: Long shirt dresses, maxi skirts, tops with uneven hemlines at the back, slim short jackets of various fabrics that work well with anything! We also see an immensely popular trend in studded clothing, shoes and bags. We love it – Afra is so crazy about it – she has been looking for the perfect studded iPhone case!

MH: What are some must haves for Muslim women in evening wear?

AA & EA: We like to keep it simple and let the outfit stand out. Always wear a plain hijab or one with a pattern that compliments the outfit – not competes with it – and a fairly simple hairstyle (if you don’t wear hijab). Jewelled hijab headbands, which we sell, can be used to dress up an outfit too. A pair of black flats in whichever style (pointy, round, studded) and a belt to shape the outfit. Chunky bracelets with some neutral coloured necklaces and rings are great accessories!

MH: You have a blog on your website. How have blogs and social media impacted your business?

AA & EA: Social media has been absolutely crucial to the growth of Mohajababes. Being an online business means reaching out to your customers primarily through social media, and it has been a steady uphill climb garnering followers and fans on various social media platforms. We recognise the importance of blogging too and the additional reach that this gives us, as well as an outlet to express more of who we are. We are about to hire a blogger to meet the growth in demand and intend to blog more regularly and reach out to the community much more by blogging on issues that are important to our followers.

MH: How do you feel about online fashion collage tools such as Polyvore for the newly minted Muslim fashionista?

AA & EA: Polyvore is a valuable collage tool that we haven’t taken advantage of much as we only put together kaftan looks. However, it is absolutely brilliant for the Muslim fashion blogger and her readers – it allows the individual to creatively express and put together a combination of looks without having to purchase the items or model them herself, and readers can then take inspiration from that. One of our favourite bloggers that uses Polyvore is www.

MH: What is the future of Mohajababes?

AA & EA: We’re looking forward to continuing to provide beautiful kaftans to our customers and are looking at increasing our hijab collection and accessories that complement the kaftans. We’d also like to be able to offer custom-made kaftans to suit our customers and God-willing, we will be able to offer our customers this soon!

You can read this and other great articles in the May issue of SISTERS magazine.