Throughout the country, Muslims of all stripes have honored Black History month, recognizing the contribution of Black Muslims to the ummah (Muslim community).We’ve shared a lot this month, in #UmmahAntiBlackness we examined stories and accounts of anti-Black racism in Muslim majority societies. One of the themes that came up in #BeingBlackandMuslim was the pain some Black/African Muslims as they experienced racism.
This is the A-word we are talking about, the Arabic term abid (s. slave), abeed (pl. slaves), abda (female slave). As stated early in this blog post, MuslimARC largely developed in response to the virulence and pervasiveness of anti-Black racism in social media. Drop the A-word as a campaign is not limited to Arabs, but to all Muslims who have used racial slurs. Dawud Walid wrote an article titled Intra-Muslim Racism: Confronting Ethnic Slurs and Racism Among American Muslims where where he explains:
It is not uncommon for Arabs from the Levant to refer to Blacks as abeed (slaves). In the South Asian community, Blacks or people with darker skin are sometimes referred to negatively as kallu (Black person). In the Somali community, it is also not uncommon to hear other Blacks being called jareer (nappy head) and adoon (slave). And even among some Nigerians and Ghanaians, there is widespread usage of the word akata (wild animal) to describe descendants of their former enslaved tribesmen who are Americans.
While some may see such calls as divisive, we are standing up for and with those who have been wounded by racial slurs. Several studies show that interpersonal racism has a cumulative effect, resulting in negative emotional and physical health outcomes for the victims. We are calling each one of you to play a role educating your friends, family, and co-workers. Regardless of where you come from or your background, the use of racism slurs is hurtful. And this needs to stop. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah Subhana wa ta’ala says:
Sahih International: O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. 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. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.
This verse reveals that even if you think it is cute to use the n-word and you don’t mean it offensively, it is something that Allah Subhan wa ta’ala considers wrong. Even if you don’t think the subject of your offensive nickname is not offended, you have offended someone else. Someone like me, felt the full brunt of the violence behind those words. As a child, I was attacked by a bully, had a plug of my hair ripped out my head and called the n-word. I asked an old man for the time and was told, “I don’t speak to N—s!” I grew up hearing the jokes in the back of the class, and that experience was crushing. For years, I didn’t know Muslims used anti-Black slurs. Then when I slowly discovered them, I heard embarrassed apologetics. But what really bothered me was that many Muslim schools were not well equipped to deal with racism on their campus.
One can be actively racist, passively racist, actively anti-racist, but you can’t be passively anti-racist. I spent months calling out people on twitter for using the word abeed. Many questioned our methods. And this work, itself angered me, frustrated me, and made me wonder was it worth it. I still believe that there is a place for calling out foul behavior. This study shows that regardless of the resistance or hostility people expressed when confronted on the their stereotypes, they are less likely to express prejudiced views afterwards. But I don’t think it should be the job of the victims of prejudice to call out the perpetrators. You need to check your own people and do it out of love for them because it is cutting away from their humanity.
There are many methods that we can take to confront racism and stop our Muslim community centers, Islamic schools, camps, and outreach programs from becoming toxic, ethnically and racially polarized spaces. We still have to explore the best methods and see which ones would be the most effective. Regardless, we have to stick to the Qur’anic injunction of enjoining the good and forbidding wrong. It is time for our community to say this is unacceptable and incompatible with the spirit of Islam. We’re calling on our co-religionists to take a stand against the use of anti-Black slurs (and all racial slurs), whether in English or in other languages including those of their fore bearers. Wednesday February 26, tweet your thoughts on ways we can #DropTheAWord. We know better, we must do better, and it is up to each of you to do your part.
Alexander M. Czopp, Margo J. Monteith, and Aimee Y. Mark. 2006,”Standing Up for a Change: Reducing Bias Through Interpersonal Confrontation” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 90, No. 5, 784–803
When I began my research on depictions of Blacks and Africans in pre-modern Arabic Literature, I came across a passage:
It was related that a black man came to Said ibn Musaib Radiyallahu’ anhu (A wise man too) for asking him advice and Said told him to not worry for being black and he reminded him as follows: “the best of men are three blacks whose names are: Bilal, Mahjaâ and Luqman the wise.” 
According to the tafsir of The Quran Website, Luqman was a well known sage mentioned by pre-Islamic poets. The mufassir writes, “He has been mentioned in the poetry of the pre-Islamic poets like Imra’ul-Qais, Labid, A’asha, Tarafa and others.” In Imam Malik’s Muwatta a narration says:
Yahya related to me from Malik that he heard that Luqman al-Hakim made his will and counselled his son, saying, “My son! Sit with the learned men and keep close to them. Allah gives life to the hearts with the light of wisdom as Allah gives life to the dead earth with the abundant rain of the sky.” 
While I loved thumbing through hadith, I admit that I have never been strong in my study of tafsir. So it is no surprise that I didn’t know much about Luqman the Wise. My historical outlook focused more on seerah and social institutions that developed in Muslim societies, rather than on traditional Islamic sciences. Despite Bilal being a prominent figure in the imagination of Black American Muslims, Luqman escaped me all these years. And what made it worse was that there was an entire chapter of the Qur’an dedicated to him.
It wasn’t so much my academic studies and teaching responsibilities than my time management and avoidance of the judgmental Muslim gaze that made it difficult for me to take classes and find time to study. Since I’ve been married, I’ve been able to strengthen my Islamic knowledge in areas that had long been neglected, such as memorization, tajweed, and tafsir. I also needed a Maliki fiqh refresher. In light of my feelings about my own gaps in knowledge, developing a curriculum for a Muslim summer camp and teaching 10 to 14 year olds Islamic studies was really daunting. Did I mention I taught pre-teens? Over the course of the summer I found that my students needed to focus on adab towards each other, their instructors, and their parents. I turned to Luqman the Wise for his advice.
While covering a great deal, Luqman’s advice as revealed in the Quran is really straight forward. Allah tells us in Surat Luqman:
13. And (remember) when Luqman said to his son when he was advising him: “O my son! Join not in worship others with Allah. Verily! Joining others in worship with Allah is a great Zulm (wrong) indeed.
14. And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.
15. But if they (both) strive with you to make you join in worship with Me others that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not, but behave with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who turns to Me in repentance and in obedience. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do.
16. “O my son! If it be (anything) equal to the weight of a grain of mustard seed, and though it be in a rock, or in the heavens or in the earth, Allah will bring it forth. Verily, Allah is Subtle (in bringing out that grain), Well-Aware (of its place).
17. “O my son! Aqim-is-Salat (perform As-Salat), enjoin (people) for Al-Ma’ruf (Islamic Monotheism and all that is good), and forbid (people) from Al-Munkar (i.e. disbelief in the Oneness of Allah, polytheism of all kinds and all that is evil and bad), and bear with patience whatever befall you. Verily! These are some of the important commandments ordered by Allah with no exemption.
18. “And turn not your face away from men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily, Allah likes not each arrogant boaster.
19. “And be moderate (or show no insolence) in your walking, and lower your voice. Verily, the harshest of all voices is the voice (braying) of the ass.”
The first piece of advice he offers his son is to not join partners with Allah (God). In class discussion, my students noted that not ascribing credit to a person who did the work is wrong. I compared that to not thanking their parents for raising them, feeding them, and clothing them, but instead thanking their neighbor or BFF. We went further by discussing how a lying about someone is a form of oppression. Therefore, we concluded that lying about Allah, who created us all and giving credit to something else, is truly a great oppression. We also discussed being good to our parents, even if they don’t have the same beliefs as us. We talked about establishing regular salat (ritual prayer) and encouraging the good and forbidding the wrong. We talked about how Allah is knowledgeable of all we do, the no matter how small or how we hope to conceal it. Our discussion about pride was both humorous and deep. We talked about being upon to receiving advice and admonition without discriminating based on status, race, class, or education background. We talked about how we could love nice things, but not be boastful or brag. Instead, we should show gratitude and avoid showing off. Finally, we talked about using pleasant voices and not being walking stereotypes as young Black Americans (this goes for immigrant Muslims too because immigrant Muslims can be loud and obnoxious as an afternoon in Tahrir Square in Cairo demonstrate). Luqman’s advice covers a great deal, tawheed (Unity of Allah), to establishing consistent practice, encouraging the good and forbidding the wrong, personal conduct, and inner disposition.
Writing in the 14th century, Ibn Kathir describes Luqman in Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah:
He is Luqman Ibn ‘Anqa’ Ibn Sadun. Or, as stated by As-Suhaili from Ibn Jarir and Al-Qutaibi that he is Luqman Ibn Tharan who was from among the people of Aylah (Jerusalem).
He was a pious man who exerted himself in worship and who was blessed with wisdom. Also, it is said that he was a judge during the lifetime of Prophet Dawud (Peace be upon him). And, Allah knows best.
Narrated Sufyan Ath- Thawri from Al-Ash’ath after ‘Ikrimah on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) as saying: He was an Ethiopian slave who worked as a carpenter. Qatadah narrated from’ Abdullah Ibn Az-Zubair as saying: I asked Jabir Ibn ‘Abdullah about Luqman. He said: “He was short with a flat nose. He was from Nubia”
Narrated Yahia Ibn Sa’ id Al-Ansari after Sa’ id Ibn Al-Musayib his saying: Luqman belonged to the black men of Egypt. He had thick lips and Allah the Almighty granted him wisdom but not Prophethood. Al-Awza’i said: I was told by ‘Abdur Rahman Ibn Harmalah: that a black man came to Sa’ id Ibn AIMusayib asking him for charity. Sa’ id said: do not feel distressed for your black color because there were from among the best of all people three blackmen: Bilal Ibn Rabah, Mahja’ (the freed-slave of ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab), and Luqman, the wise who was black, from Nubia and whose lips were thick.
Narrated Al-A’mash after Mujahid: Luqman was a black huge slave, thick-lipped, and crackedfooted. ‘Umar Ibn Qais said: “Luqman was a black slave, thick-lipped and cracked-footed. It happened while he was preaching some people, a man came to him and said: aren’t you the one who used to look after the sheep with me at such and such place? Luqman said: yes, I am! The man said: then, what made you of that position? Luqman said: telling the truth and keeping silent regarding what does not concern me.” (This Hadith was narrated by Ibn J arir after lbn Hamid after Al-Hakam)
Ibn Abu Hatim said: I was told by Abu Zar’ ah that he was told by Safwan after Al- W alid after ‘Abdur Rahman Ibn Abu Yazid Ibn Jabir who said: “Allah the Almighty raised Luqman’s status for his wisdom. A man used to know him saw him and said: Aren’t you the slave of so and so who used to look after my sheep not so long in the past? Luqman said: yes! The man said: What raised you to this high state I see? Luqman said: the Divine Decree, repaying the trust, telling the truth and discarding what does not concern me.”
Narrated Ibn Wahb: I was told by ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Ayyash Al-Fityani after’ Umar, the freed slave of ‘Afrah as saying: “A man came to Luqman, the wise and asked: Are you Luqman? Are you the slave of so and so? He said: “Yes!” The man said: You are the black shepherd! Luqman said: As for my black color, it is obviously apparent, so what makes you so astonished? The man said: You became frequently visited by the people who pleasingly accept your judgments! Luqman said: 0 cousin! If you do what I am telling you, you will be like this. The man said: What is it? Luqman said: Lowering my gaze, watching my tongue, eating what is lawful, keeping my chastity, undertaking my promises, fulfilling my commitments, being hospitable to guests, respecting my neighbors, and discarding what does not concern me. All these made me the one you are looking at.”
One day Abu Ad-Darda’ mentioned Luqman the wise and said: He was not granted wisdom because of wealth, children, lineage, or given habits, but he was self-restrained, taciturn, deep-thinking, and he never slept during the day. In addition, no one has ever seen him spitting, clearing his throat, squeezing the lemon, answering the call of nature, bathing, observing trivialities, or foolishly laughing. He was very eloquent and well-versed. He did not weep or cry when all his children died. Finally, he used to frequent the princes and men of authority to mediate and think thoroughly and find admonition. So, because of all these he was granted that great wisdom.
Some people claimed that he was offered Prophethood, and that he feared not to be able to carry out its requirements and obligations. Thus, he chose to have wisdom for it is easier -this cannot be totally true -and Allah knows best! ‘Ikrimah also narrated that: Luqman was a Prophet.1
1This narration is very weak for the sub-narrator, Al-Ja’ fi is mentioned by Imams Al-Bukhari and An-Nasa’i among the Weak Narrators.
However, the majority of scholars are of the view that he was a wise man and not a Prophet. Moreover, he was mentioned in the Glorious Qur’an and was highly praised by Allah the Almighty Who narrates his advice to his own son. 
Ibn Kathir’s recounting of Luqman narrations raises important issues about the intersection of race and piety. This is something that has gone largely unexplored by many scholars. Reflecting his time period, Ibn Kathir’s description highlights the fact that Luqman was not just a dark skinned Arab, but his thick lips and broad nose indicated his sub-Saharan African descent. In other words, they highlighted his otherness in Arabia. Further, he was a former slave and a shepherd. The respect he gained for his piety contrasts with his low social status. When questioned about how he attained a position of respect and influence as a preacher, in one tradition Luqman states, “The Divine Decree, repaying the trust, telling the truth and discarding what does not concern me.” Luqman tells the questioner that Allah gave him the status, and that he repaid his debts, told the truth, and stayed out of people’s business. In another tradition Luqman answers, “by lowering my gaze, watching my tongue, eating what is lawful, keeping my chastity, undertaking my promises, fulfilling my commitments, being hospitable to guests, respecting my neighbors, and discarding what does not concern me.” This tradition highlights how Luqman earned his rightful place in society as preacher through following Allah’s laws and maintaining good relations with people through hospitality and mutual respect. He encourages the questioner to do so in order to be raised also. Ibn Kathir’s tradition bring to light two realities of ethnic identity in the medieval Arab world: 1. the lower status of blacks in general their societies and 2. the possibility to gain respect due to piety, knowledge, and eloquence. In other words, if a humble Black shepherd can be so esteemed for following basic tenets of the faith, you can too.
While Luqman’s identity as a Black African initially raised my interest, his wisdom transcends racial or ethnic designation. Although he is not a prophet, his advice is still worthy to mention in the Quran. I think his role helps clarify what it means to be a prophet, a messenger, or a friend of Allah. A prophet receives revelation, but it is not obligatory for him to spread it. A Messenger spreads what is revealed to him. While there was a seal on prophecy, there are still friends of Allah who help guide us to rightful conduct. While it may not be clear who those are in the modern age, the Quran clearly tells Luqman the wise has something for all of us. And for that reason, the Golden Advice Series have featured a book expounding upon the ayaat in the Quran titled, O My Son (Luqmaan’s Advice). I recommend getting the entire series, not just because of Luqman, but for the precious pearls of wisdom in the texts. I also think we should spend more time reflecting on Luqman’s advice and focus on applying his advise during Ramadan. In that spirit, I will leave you with some videos by a khutbah Sheikh Muhammad Ninowygave focusing on the Advice of Luqman to his son.
Hat tip to Tariq Nelson for pointing out the DVD release of AmericanEast, a film about Arab Americans. Because touches upon Islam in America, it should be of interest to all Muslim Americans. However Arabs and South Asians are viewed, it effects all of us. At the same time, this film clearly is about Arab Americans and recent immigrants and their struggles in America. Within the media, most people think Muslim equals immigrant. As Tariq Nelson notes, trying combat the stereotype that Islam is a foreign religion is like fighting an uphill battle.
Very few films in the West are going to show the nuanced lives of Muslim American men and women, who manage to balance their religious traditions and American culture. I haven’t seen the film, but often films about Arab or South Asians immigrants in the West depict Islam in a negative light. They often feature a story arch where a character liberates themselves by distancing themselves from their faith and practice. In very few stories have I seen Islam as being depicted as something that gives meaning, richness, or even frees a character. To me, that shows that many writers and filmmakers aren’t able to capture the spirit that has moved hundreds of thousands of Americans to convert to Islam. Nor are they able to articulate, with any creative license, the passion of a Muslim coming into a deeper spiritual awakening. Since I haven’t viewed the film, I’m not going to make any pre-judgments. Instead, I am going to look at this film as a step in the right direction.
Here’s a synopsis from the film website:
“AmericanEast” is a timely, poignant drama about Arab-Americans living in post-9/11 Los Angeles. The story examines long-held misunderstandings about Arabic and Islamic culture, and puts a human face on a segment of the U.S. population whom most Americans know nothing about, but who today are of particular interest to them, either from curiosity or suspicion. The story highlights the pressures under which many Arab-Americans now live by focusing on the points-of-view of three main characters.
Mustafa (Sayed Badreya) is a widowed Egyptian immigrant and the owner of Habibe’s Café, a popular hang-out for Los Angelenos with Middle Eastern backgrounds. He is devoted to providing his children with a moral upbringing despite the pressures of contemporary American urban life. He also finds himself cast in the role of protector to his unwed sister Salweh, for whom, by family and tribal custom, he is responsible for finding a traditional suitor. But his respect for tradition comes up against his own aspirations to adapt to the American Dream when he decides to open a new restaurant with a Jewish partner – his friend Sam (Tony Shalhoub). This “unholy alliance” is unpopular amongst the habitués of his café and the insular Arab community in which Mustafa resides. It is one of several personal points of tension that gradually build against the backdrop of larger, national events affecting the Arab-American community and lead to the explosive denouement of the story.
Salwah, Mustafa’s sister (Sarah Shahi), must also reconcile her traditional values and familial obligations with new American realities. Although she is grateful to Mustafa for bringing her to America when she was young, and allowing her to pursue an education, conflict arises between them when Mustafa insists upon fulfilling his duty of finding her a traditional, arranged-marriage partner from Egypt. The arrival of this arranged suitor, her older cousin Saber (Al Faris), throws her life into turmoil and makes her question her own beliefs and faith. Secretly, she is attracted to an American, Dr. John Westerman (Tim Guinee), a young and attractive non-Muslim. Any caution she feels toward him, however, is thrown to the wind by the abrupt arrival of Saber and a possible impending marriage that she does not want. She becomes sorely tempted to experience intimacy with the young doctor outside of marriage, a taboo. While she undergoes this internal conflict, her suitor Saber is staying as a guest at the home she shares with Mustafa and his children, and the incompatibility between this traditional man, her future “husband,” and Mustafa’s Americanized family is another source of irritation adding to the mounting tensions underlying the story.
Mustafa’s friend Omar (Kais Nashif) is a struggling actor and Habibi’s Cafe regular, a young Egyptian man who supports his dream of becoming a movie star by working as a part-time cab driver for Mustafa’s ragged, one-car taxi company. Because of his Middle Eastern looks and accent, however, he is constantly cast in the role of a terrorist in American TV shows that portray only a shallow understanding of Arabs and their culture. When an opportunity for a non-racially-designated role arrives, Omar feels his chance for success — to be seen as an actor first and not a Muslim — has finally arrived. It is the break he has been waiting for on many levels: a chance at the financial freedom necessary to marry and support his pregnant American girlfriend Kate (Amanda Detmer), and a chance for him, and his future child, to be embraced as an American, in the same way that he has embraced America.
But misunderstandings and prejudices related to his Arabic background conspire against him once again and his opportunity is lost, pushing Omar to make a drastic, unreasoned decision that sets off a chain of events leading to a violent conclusion that affects the lives and conflicts of all the other characters – an explosive reminder of the simmering pressures under which Muslims live in the United States today. Will their American Dreams be shattered by a climate of distrust and suspicion, or will their hopes and aspirations be embraced by their fellow Americans?
While my heart is at home, some things right now seem more real to me than some of the things that are preoccupying my friends and loved ones. I am not saying that I’m not interested in this historic moment. There is something amazing about a Black man making it this far in a presidential election. But, the lack of nuance in media representations of race and gender in the presidential election is not as real to me as making sense of being a Black woman in the Middle East. I know everyone is a buzz in the US. But being in a predominately Muslim society puts a lot of Muslim issues to the forefront. I am constantly wondering if there is a spot for me in this imagined community of ours, as a Black American Muslim woman.
There are times when I felt like there wasn’t room for me and that my experiences were dismissed. Two recent pieces have reminded me of the pressures I experienced as an early Muslim. But at the time of the articles, the country’s internet was either down or I was in transition. Since these pieces were published, I have had some time to reflect on how a Black American Muslim identity causes a lot of dissonance in an Arab Muslim society. Abdur Rahman wrote a very insightful and historically grounded piece called, I’m Just A Muslim Muslim Tariq Nelson also contributed to the discussion with his take on, Just A Muslim. He wrote:
It is this understanding of being “just a Muslim” that I reject. You must – like the brother in the meat store – become a pseudo-foreigner of some type and adopt a hodge-podge of immigrant cultures rather than adopting Islamic values. Being “just a Muslim” has essentially come to mean running away from one’s family, and history in some attempt to “pass” into “non-blackness”. In addition they adopt a parochial and reactionary attitude and a paralyzing suspicion of all things American or Western.
Years ago, a young Arab American woman was pretty upset with me. She was mad because of the paper I wrote in a sociology class on inequality and social stratification. The paper was about multiple identities. Much to my suprise, the title upset her. I had felt it was a pretty inocuous title. I don’t even think she really read too far into my paper. Besides at that time, I was still pretty new to the religion. I was naive and wet behind the ears. So, my paper definitely didn’t have the sharp critique you might find in my writing today. But still, the following bothered this young woman enough for her to tell me how much I sucked:
“My Multiple Identities as an African American Muslim Woman”
It got under her skin. To her, it showed where my loyalties were. “You didn’t put Muslim FIRST!” She said in a distressed and judgmental voice “The Most IMPORTANT thing is that we are MUSLIM!” This kind of bothered me. Because at the time, of almost all the Muslims in this little circle, I was the most identifiably Muslim Muslim. I wore hijab at the time. I participated in the Muslim Student Association, as well as the Black Student Association. Despite my efforts, my loyalty as a Muslim was constantly called into question by my Arab and Desi peers.
Someone called me a nationalist because I still participated in the Black Graduate Student Union. When I used to point out that they go to ethnic picnics, Lebanese iftar, Egyptian Day, Libyan picnic in the park, Bangladeshi dinner, Pakistani gathering, not to mention the ethnic after-eid-after parties. These were places I was never invited to. I pointed out that they all these ethnic functions. The argument someone made was that the people in their closed ethnic gatherings were all Muslim. For them, their ethnicity was intrinsicly tied to being Muslim. They were preserving their culture and language because one day, they hoped to go back home. Their functions or fundraisers could be completely secular and or for some nationalistic. But they were helping other Muslims.
Me, on the other hand, I was encouraged to divorce myself from the Black community. At the same time, I was told to give dawah. In fact, I was encouraged to give dawah. But dawah basically meant repesenting some Muslim issue overseas in some campus event. I’m not saying that no immigrant Muslims cared about African Americans. There was one who took an active interest in supporting the cause of a young Black man who happened to be Student Body president was arrested for showing up to a Senate meeting on campus.Many of the people who put those pressures have since changed their views. In many ways they too had utopian visions of what the Ummah looked like. Their own cultural practices were illegible to them, because for them they operated within an Islamic cultural matrix.
While some Muslims were mad because I didn’t claim I was just a Muslim-Muslim. I was never really allowed to be just a muslim-muslim. I was constantly referred to as “The Black” sister in a community that was diverse, but Black American were underrepresented. I was sort of relegated to Black things, like marrying ex-cons and being broke all the time. I was even told that I wasn’t just a Muslim indirectly in some not so nice ways.
Perhaps I felt pressures more intensely because of the relative isolation. But the pressure I experienced raised some important questions. Does participation in a community entail that you give up who you are? Should we end our participation in other communities, our ties with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, associates, sorority or fraternity brothers and sisters. Do we give up affiliations, inclinations, cultural tastes and affinities and adopt others? How do we talk about who we are? What are we? Can I be just a Muslim, while holding on to those descriptors that make me unique? I think my stance on some of these questions is quite clear. I also believe that these broad communities and categories do not make a human. But they are a part of who we are and our being in this world. At times I feel like a composite of many different things and experiences. Some of them intersect and and reinforce what I feel is the true person inside. At times my experiences and things conflict. But never once have I felt like a Muslim divorced from my cultural context as a Western woman of African descent who became Muslim as an adult. Once I become Just a Muslim, I lose my voice and am lost to some authoritarian dogma.
Sometimes I wonder why I am so preoccupied with concerns that are in the states. Right now I’m living in an alternate universe. I’m abroad in an oil rich country where “Fair” equals “Lovely.” All the way across the world, I’m not feeling the reach of many of the containment policies and strategies during this Cold War between Black Men and Black women in America. At this point, I’m joining the non-alignment movement, to focus on development. But I will have my defenses up just in case some missiles shoot my way.
Non-alignment is a good strategy right now. Relationships are just no big on my mind right now. I got some immediate things to take care of. But, the marriage issue does come up often. I get the usual question of whether I’m married or not. Women usually say something like, “Maybe you’ll find someone here.” “Maybe when you get married you can visit us in Yemen.” etc…etc.. A couple of occasions an expat mentioned somebody’s name.But because I’m not doing a back flip just hearing about the random brother. I’m not ready to drop out of my Ph.D. program and become an instant homemaker. So the issue usually passes. A sigh of relief, I get back to focusing on my Arabic and surviving.
I’ve been trying to play matchmaker for a while. And so far, I have a zero success rate in match making. And not so much luck in my own bureau of internal affairs and love. I know all about what not to do. But still who am I to be a matchmaker? Despite any blow back that I have received from a possible link up gone wrong, I still discuss gender relationships with a number of my married and single friends. I like having conversations about Muslim marriages and Black women in healthy relationships. I like seeing positive examples. For many women of different ethnic groups getting married is a given. But not for Black women. Who said life was fair? I guess it will all balance out in the Last Days.
One of the things that drew many Black women to Islam was the idea that women were honored. In fact, as women we applied the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) last speech to ourself, “a white is not better than a black, a black is not better than a white.” When I went to a mosque for the first time it was a predominantly Black mosque. That was the first time I saw so many Black families, in tact families. Sadly, over the years, the reality of unstable marriages in the African American Muslim community settled in. I had saw figures like Malcolm X, loyal to his Betty Shabazz, with a strong sense of self. I just kind of expected Black Muslim men to not buy into gendered racism or colorism. But over time I have seen that there is a small but increasing number of Black men who exclude Black women as viable partners.
Clearly, the growing trend has roots in some shifts in the consciousness of Black American Muslims. In the early 90s there was still that tinge of Black nationalism from the sixties movement. Black Power, Black consciousness, what ever you want to call it, whithered away. More of younger brothers moved away from the W.D. community, critical of what they saw as syncretic practices of “Baptist Muslims.” These Muslims aspired to engage with other mainstream Muslim communities. They began to seek training from immigrant teachers and some even went abroad to study. This generation hoped to integrate into a singular Muslim identity. Bloggers like Tariq Nelson seems to be of this ilk, he sees intermarriage as a way of forging a new American Muslim cultural identity.
As Black Muslims shifted from thinking of ways that Islam could solve issues that plagued the Black community, they begin focus on global issues that seemed to rock the “Muslim world.” During this time Many Black Muslims began looking for a culture. They adopted markers and signifiers. They began wearing thobes, Moroccan jellabas, shawal kameeses, turbans, wearing sandals or those leather socks in winter, speaking with an Arabic or Desi accent. Some men say they want a native speaker of Arabic, so that their children can speak Arabic. Others say they want their children to ahve a culture, especially one they see as closer to the culture of Rasullah (s.a.w.). Basically, they seem to be aspiring to create a new ethnic identity for their children by marrying Arab women or South Asian women.
But over the years, a disturbing trend began to emerge, where professional and educated Black men were buying into some negative stereotypes about educated Black women. I found that we were traded in for Moroccan and Malaysian women, many of whom were not well educated. For these men felt they were trading up. Often these men let us know why these women were the types of women that we never could be.It didn’t take me long to notice that in my immigrant community, white convert women were hot commodities. Initially immigrant Pakistani, Indian, and Arab men pursued them. Over time, I began to see more African American sunni men married to white convert women, as well as immigrant women. As this trend rose, I began to see more and more single African American women. Mind you, these observations are anecdotal. There are no studies, besides one conducted by Zareena Grewal on marriage preferences in four Muslim communities. It affirmed that Black Muslim women were the lowest on the totem pole of marriage choices. Not surprisingly, even the African American informants stated they desired an Asian or Arab bride.Overall, it is a negative message that they are sending. But then again, isn’t this world full of negativity?
African American men frequently feel the brunt of racism when their immigrant brothers at the masjid won’t let their daughters marry African American men. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a Black Muslim man tell me that was his primary grievance. South Asian families are even more resistant to interracial marriage than most other groups. And they are very unlikely to approve of their daughters marrying an African American male. So some men , with the aspirations of transcending the ethnic, tribal, and so-called racial boundaries have found other ways around it. They have found a place in the world that seems not only to accept interracial marriage, but families seem to welcome these African American men as knights in shining armor who will wisk their princess away to the Land of opportunity.
While this fairy tale should have a happy ending. One where, that the newly married couple cursed, harrassed, or bothred by all those evil Black spinsters and their jealous glares. But apparently some Muslim men are finding certain trends problematic. Maybe I’m not such a evil wench after all.
Umar Lee wrote about the Muslim marriage session at the MANA conference in his blog entry,
“Morocco is Not the Solution” and Thoughts of Muslim Marriage Discussion. He wrote:
Brothers have personally told me that they would go over to Morocco and spend a lot of money on getting married (flying back and forth a couple of times, flying the sister back, the visa application process, paying the necessary bribes in Morocco to get the marriage license, paying the actual dowry, paying for the wedding, paying for the wedding celebration, giving the family money, etc.) ; but would not give a black woman in America a significant dowry because in their minds black women weren’t worth that much. They would say you can always marry a black woman who will only want you to teach her a sura because she may be hard-up and needing to get married ASAP.
For anyone not familiar with Umar Lee, he is a white American convert who writes a popular blog. And no, I don’t think he’s mad at all the brothers who are stealing those white convert women, let alone the seemingly endless supply of third world women. He continued:
The moment that brought the loudest applause though came towards the end when a brother from the Washington, DC area came to the microphone and simply stated ” brothers, going to Morocco is not the solution” and at those words the sisters erupted in cheers and laugher and many of the brothers chimed in ( although more in laughter).
So then the brother who stood up and said the infamous state, Abdur Rahman, wrote a blog entry explaining his reason for the statement.
It sends a loud and pernicious message to the world that our Black women are too unruly, uncouth, unmanageable, unlovable, unredeemable to take as a wife and to build a life with. I’m sorry, I believe she is not only lovable, but worthy of love. She’s crazy at times, but who isn’t. You can’t be a Black man or women in America and not be a little crazy? And if she happens to be in a lowly condition, isn’t it our responsibility as men, followers of the final Prophet and Messenger to humanity (pbuh), to raise her up by Allah’s permission and place her in her proper station. Does it ever occur to us, or do we even care really, that her lowly and unrefined condition stands as an indictment on our own manhood. I should like to know what other people turn their backs on their own women, heaping scorn and invective on her, calling her vile and despicable names (”chicken head”, “Safire”, “B*#th”).
Over the past year, I have written about this issue. Several times I have weighed in on this subject in comments and other discussions. People may consider me a racist for exploring the damaging effects of racism in the communities that I consider myself to be a member of. Sometimes I speak some uncomfortable truths (well, they’re true for me) from a very unique perspective. But just to be clear, I am not angry that someone made their personal choice. But I am angered when I hear about men who abandon their Black wives and children in favor of their new “mixed-raced” family. I am angered when I hear unfair statements about Black women thrown around to justify their personal choices. But ultimately, I have to let those statements roll off my back. I move on. I can’t internalize it. Yes, there are people who will judge me by color of my skin and say I’m not good enough even though they have felt that how much that hurts when they were discriminated against. Perhaps in their pain, they can’t see the hurt they dish out when they tell women who are not blond enough, not light enough, hair not straight enough, too educated, and have some genetic predisposition to have an attitude. I guess it is hurtful when you live in a society that discriminates against you, then in your own little ethnic enclave, you get devalued. To tell someone they are unworthy of love is truly an injustice.
I don’t think that every Black man who has traveled abroad has consciously though about denigrating his sisters in the states. Nor do I buy into the negative stereotypes about Moroccan women or women from developing nations. Once again, I would like to assure my readers that I am not condemning interracial relationships, but I am condemning racist, essentialist notions that may drive the popularity of a growing trend. I just hope we think about the underlying reasons of why we do things. Ultimately, it is not up to me to judge, but Allah will know your intentions. And that’s what you’re going to be judged by. That’s what we’re all going to be judged by.
I’ve been reading a really good book of short stories about marriage. One story was particularly funny in Arabic, it is called زواج فتاة غير باكر it is a great story that I wanted to share with you. It’s not for the feint of heart, there’s jinn, madness, and the uncomfortable predicament of one young bride. I’m only providing a rough translation, since translation isn’t my strong suit. But I think you’ll enjoy the story anyways.
Uqbah al-Azmi was famous for dealing with jinn and for his incantations and spells. One day he passed by his neighbor who went crazy during her wedding night. So he made an incantation on her to see if she had fallen under a jinn’s spell. He told her family, “Leave me alone with her.” So they left them alone. When he was alone with the young woman he said to her, “Tell me the truth about yourself!” She said, “I am in my family’s home and they want me to go to my husband’s house and I’m not a virgin. So I feared that my fault would be revealed. So do you have a trick for my issue?” ‘Uqbah told her, “Yes.”
Then he went to her family and said, “Indeed a Jinn entered her body and asked me to leave from her. So you pick where you want the jinn to leave. But take heed, whatever part that the jinn leaves from, it will perish and rot. So if it leaves from her eyes, she will go blind. If it leaves from her ears, she will go deaf. If it leaves from her mouth, she will go mute. It it leaves from her hand, it will whither. If it leaves from her leg, it will cripple. If it leaves from her opening down there, her virginity goes. It is your decision.”
So after her family consulted each other for a long time they said to him, “We haven’t found an easier way to escape disgrace. So force the Shaitan out, and for you whatever you want. So he made them believe that he did exactly that. So the woman went to her husband.
الدكتور محمد التونجي اروع ما حكي من قسس العرب في الزوج Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al Marefah, 2005
At first, Black America thought it was only in America. But in reality, the world doesn’t really give a shit about black-on-black violence. Ten years ago, the international community didn’t do squat and allowed machete wielding mobs kill 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. At that time American Muslims were concerned with 10,000 white Bosnians who were slaughtered by white Serbs and Croats.The Muslims were also concerned over the sactions against Iraq and escalating violence in Chechnya. So, now in the midst of a hellish war in Iraq and Afghanistan and threats against Iran, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, between 300,000 and 450,000 Africans have been killed in the past 4 years. 2 million people are internally displaced countless women raped and tortured. That is 2 million displaced in a country of 40 million (5% of the population) and the region of Darfur had a population of 6 million (1/3 of the population).
“The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines the term as: Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
The conflict in Darfur has been going on for almost four years. Throughout this I have been pretty appalled by the lack of response by the American Muslim community to the continuing crisis in Darfur. Now, Muslims remain silent because they are too preoccupied with conspiracy theories. Let me qualify that, some of us Muslims do care. And we are savvy enough to see through the bullshit conspiracy theories and opportunistic organizations (with anti-Muslim and anti-Arab leanings) that are basking in this shameful tragedy (crying crocodile tears as they press their political agenda). There are some very energetic and concerned students from the Islamic Society of Stanford University that organized an information meeting this past Friday evening. Many Muslims have been silent on this issue because of accusations that Israel has funded and armed the rebel groups in Darfur. Others are silent because the most outspoken organizations advocating sanctions against Darfur are linked to Zionist groups. Carl G. Estabrook’s article Is Humanitarian Interventionism Humane? points out that not a single Darfurian spoke at the events last year. And Muslims voices were silenced during the events.
For those interested in the history of the region, New York Review of Books has a review of two recent books on the conflict here . Read the reviews and check out the books. Ignorance is not an excuse at this point.
Here are excerpts from letters and emails that I have written to community members (any mistakes are my own, feel free to comment if you have corrections):
Yoooooooooo, I’m glad someone spoke up. But the Muslim community’s reponse has been really wack. I remember going to an event held at SCU and met some of the Lost Boys. Muslims were in denial about Sudan’s policies against Southern Sudan. It was still that us versus them mentality. It was still sweeping our dirty secrets under the rug. Some Muslims claimed it was a conspiracy, that Zionists were trying to make Muslims look bad. That is so ridiculous when you look at what has gone on. It is so ridiculous to dismiss people’s real life stories. These people wanted to turn a blind eye to the camps. They wanted to turn a blind eye to the thousands of stories of children who fled for their lives. They wanted to believe that these stories were all hype. The reaction made my stomach hurt. It seemed like I could barely get a response by my Muslim friends when I sent out information that the Sudanese was now targetting Muslims. Oh, now we sort of care because the victims are Muslim. And years later, after all the publicity, we get a few obscure leaders who take a strong stance????
A few Islamic organizations have been stepping up, such as Islamic relief.
There are many human rights violations in Africa, and throughout the world, that people don’t care about. That is because they don’t know about it. We don’t know because our media is myopic. Also, people in America don’t really care because they are racist and it doesn’t matter if brown people, let alone black people kill each other. They believe that ethnic groups and “tribal people” are always fighting. That was the theory that Clinton accepted in the 90s. That theory influenced him and therefore he did nothing as a million people died. As for us Muslims, we tend to focus only on issues as they relate to the Muslim community. My hope is that we break out of our own myopia.
We should hate injustice whenever it crops us. We should all care, whether it is in Uganda, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, and Chechnya, etc. Do we have a moral obligation to do, say, or at least feel something? It is wrong for a government to target civilian populations. Do I think that sanctions will end the violence? No, more will die. I do believe that we need peace keeping troops, whether from the UN, African Union, or even if the Muslims could get themselves together and we should send some observers there. My primary problem is that few people are coming up with a solution to end the killing, raping, and maiming. I remember how Muslims were deeply concerned about Bosnia in the 90s.Bosnia was an incredibly complex region and there are still UN troops there. Some people claim that the US got involved only when they saw al-Qaeda operatives in Yugoslavia defending the besieged Bosnians. Whether or not they were actually tied to al-Qaeda, there were at least some Americans who did go to Bosnia and Chechya to help them. But I digress…
I especially care about this isse, because it exposes the hypocrisy of the Muslims who are committing atrocities. It makes Muslims look like racist Arab imperialists who hate Black Africans. This is especially problematic because of the long history of raiding and enslavement of black Africans by Muslims. This conflict, as well as other acts by earlier opportunists, turns people away from Islam who would have otherwise been inclined to do so. I know we have many other conflicts in the world, but even if we aren’t able to right a wrong can we not at least hate it with our heart. Instead, we focus on why Americans would be interested in the conflict. It is sad when we only focus on the atrocities committed against us while we look away when Muslims kill each other over sectarian and ethnic differences.
I know that I am deeply flawed. But I do believe that I will be held accountable by allowing atrocities to occur without so much as being moved to lift a finger, write a letter, or even feel bad about my own inadequacy to correct that wrong.
I do not think we as a community have adequately addressed the way that race and ethnicity plays out in this conflict. And when we talk about race in the Middle East, we must not use the racial framework in America. Brazil would be a better model, or Latin American countries such as the Dominican Republic. And because this issue is complicated, it is even more important hat we examine the tribalism, regionalism, and classism in our societies.
It is important to not be dismissive of the ways we in the West, and the Muslim world, perceive African identities. Commentators have noted how African lives have been devalued in the press. A similar process is going on in the ways Westerners devalue the lives of Arabs and other “Brown” peoples. For instance, we can compare the press coverage of the UK bombings in summer 2005 when the lives that were loss were European. The most frequent comment you hear in the US is that “Those people have been killing each other for thousands of years.” This, of course, is untrue. It is a racial essentialism about Arabs. It gives Americans comfort to draw upon this racist trope in order to avoid accepting our complicity in the unprecedented violence in the Middle East.
So, back to my point. I do believe that perceptions of African Muslims did, and still has, impact on how Muslims identify with the conflict. Fact is, many Muslims in the Middle East believe that African Muslims are second rate Muslims. Some of this is largely tied to language. Although Muslims in the West are increasingly aware of the high level of Islamic scholarship in Africa. However, African Muslims are often perceived as Muslims who mix their Islam with animist practices and superstition. (Similarly, many immigrant Muslims in America have questioned my Islam even when I wore hijab because they assumed I was in Nation of Islam and therefore not a real Muslim).
There are a number of Arab Muslims who believe that only Arabic speaking Muslims are real Muslims. I myself had this shocking revelation while I was in Morocco. The perception of African Muslims no doubt, plays a role for some who hold that bias. This leads the discussion to the role of Arabism. (This notion is not limited to race since in North Africa, Berber speaking groups were often perceived as less Muslim than their Arabic speaking brethren). I have two examples of Arabism in this conflict, the role of the Arab Union and Gadafi’s role in the development of the Janjaweed’s racist ideologies.
First, the Arab Union really downplayed the conflict. They completely sided with Khartoum and ignored the realities of Darfur. Why? Why did they not take their fellow AU member to task? Well, Arabism played bigger role than doing the right thing. While Ghadafi talks about North African and sub-Saharan unity, he has funded Arab supremacist groups and privileged pastoral nomads over settled black populations. Reports have indicated that he funded and trained some of the Janjaweed because of his dream for Arab unity in the region of Chad and Darfur.
This is not an attack on Arabs, but rather, a critique in the way the rhetoric of Arab nationalism has been deployed in ways that marginalize Black Africans in multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies. Here is another interesting article that critiques the simplistic binary of Black African/Arab:
I also would like to clarify. This is not to imply that we, as a community, are hypocritical because we focus on the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Palestine. But, we do have a problem if our hearts are not moved by the suffering of our brothers and sisters because they do not look like us or are not in the Muslim heartlands. The conflict in Darfur has gone on for four years and only recently did I see Muslims more outspoken about it. For some, it is not on the top of their agenda. I am glad that Saudi organizations have been raising money to alleviate the suffering (it is promising to hear that). I am grateful that Islamic Relief is there (and we have an organization without an alterior motive to donate to). But aid organizations are now getting attacked and they are starting to pull out because it is not safe for them. My hope is the the UN, African Union, and Arab Union will do something so humanitarian aid can continue and that the displaced can be repatriated.
Finally, I would like to say that I’m disgusted with the news coverage on the issue. First, it was Aljazeera who did an amazing job breaking the news in 2003. But since then, you will rarely see a picture of a janjaweed to get a sense that this is truly a black-on-black issue and Muslim-on-Muslim issue. Instead, the media portrays this in a racial dichotomy (African versus Arabs). But contrary to what supporters of the Khartoum government argue in their apologetic statements, just because the groups are in the same “race” does not preclude genocide. Serbs and Bosnian Muslims are both Slavic Europeans and Hutus and Tutsis are both Africans, Ashkenazi Jews are Europeans, as are the Germans. So that flimsy excuse holds no weight.
By behaving badly, I don’t mean Muslims not praying or transgressing personal morality. I mean things that violate someone else’s humanity and dignity. You know, things like genocide, terrorism, enslavement, child abuse, and violence against women. How do Muslims come to terms with the atrocities committed by other Muslims?
Should their actions cause a crisis of faith? Should we reflect upon our core beliefs to understand why the trans-Saharan slave trade occurred, why genocide is going on in Darfur, why there is still the enslavement of blacks in Mauritania, why female genital mutilation is praticed in many parts of the Muslim world inluding Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, and in some parts of the Levant and Iraq? Or should we Muslims try to defend our faith and seek the core spiritual truths. Do we explain that these actions were due to cultural practices, even though the perpetrators may sincerely believe that they are doing some actions in the name of the faith? How do we come to terms with the fact that religious ideology is used to justify all sorts of brutality?
My understanding of these issues have been shaped by my training as a Western scholar. But there is the part of me whose identity is tied up with the cultural religious complex called Islam. Although I try not to let my faith blind me from seeing historical realities, my identity shapes how I understand those realities. I have read several articles that make broad generalizations in their critiques of Muslim/African encounters and Arab/African encounters. Often Arab and Muslim are depicted as synonomous. Right now, Arabs are the only ethnic group that it seems generally okay to say vehemently racist things abou them. Many Arabs are Muslim, but clearly not all Muslims are Arabs. In fact the majority of Muslims come from Indonesia. Few people have bad things to say about Indonesians. But I digress.
I am in a society that is largely hostile to both my race and my religious beliefs and practices. Our communities tend to circle their wagons and in this defensive position we are less likely to be introspective or reform driven. Instead, any criticism from outsiders is taken as an attempt invalidate our beliefs and identity. But this does not mean that we should focus on defending our beliefs and cultural practices against important critiques. The truth of the matter is that Muslim women are still not able to secure the rights accorded them in the Shariah. There is a huge difference between High Culture, popular culture. Doctrine and ideology does not determine the actions of individuals. Instead, a full range of overlapping and conflicting interests can drive why individuals and groups choose to do certain things. What I think is important is to expose how individuals manipulate the naivete of their followers. It is important to look at the political economy of any movement. It is essential to look at the material motivations, as well as consider whether or not spiritual beliefs were sincere. And just because someone is sincere in their beliefs, that does not mean that they are not misguided. This is why it is important to move beyond the Us/Them mentality. The Us/Them mentality is really the thing that allows us to behave badly against other human beings. Anyways, that’s my thoughts for now. This meditation will continue…
A food activist came to campus today. Bryant Terry had a wonderful book called “Grub” which was full of information, recipes, and historical background on healthy sustainable living. I think he was surprised to find a receptive audience. I was even surprised how many books he sold. It is not just that we are health nuts. But a lot of us know something is wrong in the world if 10 companies make 50% of the food we eat. That is like less than 200 people deciding what we process, what we digest, and the amount of energy we have. Terry was inspired by the Black Panther’s food breakfast programs for children. He does a wonderful service by bringing his message to children in the inner city.
Well, today thousands of innercity children are fed poor diets. I did some work as an intern in East Oakland where I did inventory of the food available to low income neighborhoods. Oakland issued a bunch of licenses to liquor store owners, but does little to promote businesses that truly serve the community and provide opportunities to train and develop the youth. It is surprising how few black businesses are in predominantly black neighborhoods. The institutions that be in the city of Oakland support the licenses of the Yemeni-American Cartel, ahem, I mean Grocers. But, little support has been given to providing these communities with actual grocery stores and not just full of junk food and alcohol.
I went to one of the protests against Muslim owned liquor stores, but a friend of mine had misgivings. It wasn’t really feeling her misgivings or lack of condemnation of the Arab/Muslim liquor store owners. It wasn’t a conversation I could get too much into without getting heated. I suspect a lot of immigrant Muslims had similar misgivings. They did not come out in force and represent. I think it is ironic how they will condemn this and that, but Muslims are not willing to condemn an exploitative economic institution. Especially one that preys upon the downtrodden by capitalizing on their weaknesses and nafs. This economic exchange is one that also perpetuates bad relations between Arabs and African Americans. The liquor store interaction is often the only interaction Arabs have with African Americans. And in fact, many immigrant Muslims have never seen the other side of African American life, you know, the other 75 % that is not under the poverty line. Likewise, many African Americans only experience of Arabs is the paranoid and often rude Arab liquor store owner. Ive been talked to crazy like I was some crack head ho.
So, while I’m feeling the food activism and sustainable living, the main problem is access to resources. I find it appalling how easy it is to get liquor and how hard it is for to get a fresh meal, let alone a salad. I see this as a political problem. And it is a public health problem. The African American community is plagued with health problems associated with poor diets, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heat disease. And they dont have access to good health care. I know people who want to open grocery stores in the inner city, but their endeavors receive little support. In Palo Alto, I can get in my car and drive to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Heck, I can even get to Safeway and get some fresh vegetables. But across the tracks in East Palo Alto, I heard there still isn’t a single grocery store. So, like EPA, in Oakland, there are poor families, the elderly, single mothers, and children who don’t have the same access as I have. But what is in front of them is a quick escape from their day-to-day toil of an inescapable cycle of poverty.