DroptheAWord

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.

DroptheAword

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:

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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.

GuidelinesDropAWord

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

Launching of MuslimARC

The past week has been a whirlwind. I am pleased to announce the launch of a non-profit organization Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative

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The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) is a volunteer-driven education organization. Launched in early 2014, our members came together on the issues of anti-blackness and racism in Muslim communities after witnessing and/or experiencing too much of it. Together, we are working to build and collect the tools needed to creatively address and effectively challenge anti-blackness and racism in Muslim communities. We are a group made up of imams, teachers, parents, lawyers, students, artists, and activists of all backgrounds, including varying ethnic and religious identities. Collectively, we organize Twitter hashtag conversations, crawl the web for scholarly materials, network with clergy, write articles, take classes, and examine our own privileges and biases while researching teaching methodology and community workshop models for use by the general public.

I put together a Storify to tell our organization’s birth story.

And today, February 12, 2014, we launched our first twitter talk FliersLarge

Why Black History?

I wrote the article below,  “Why Black History?” to commemorate Black History Month. You can read the full article and other great articles and references at  SuhaibWebb.com.

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O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.

49:13 Quran Sahih International

Black History Month is observed in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to remember important events and people  of the African diaspora. In North America, we observe it in February and the United Kingdom during the month of  October. In 1926, the noted African American historian, Carter G. Woodson (d. 1950), began  “Negro History Week.” He selected  the second week in February in order to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson felt that scholars ignored his people’s history and other cultures. Much of his work was intended to foster understanding between the races. Joan Novelli writes, “Woodson believed that if whites learned of blacks’ contributions to American history and humanity, this awareness would engender respect.”[1] This reminds me of Surah 13 in Hujarat, where Allah (s.w.t.) tells us that He created us as different peoples and tribes so that we may know another. Racial equality and intercultural dialogue are moral imperatives based on Holy Scripture and Prophetic traditions.  Black history month is an opportunity for us to get to know the rich legacy of Africans and their contributions to their societies, our ummah, and humanity. Importantly, Muslim Americans should commemorate Black history because it is our history.

 

 

Black history month is not about nationalism. The Quran acknowledges heritage and lineage, but it emphasizes that nobility is not inherited. The most noble are those who cultivate piety. This is the essence of Islam’s egalitarian message. Black history month is an education initiative intended to combat racism. Even during the time of our Noble Prophet (s.a.w.), anti-Black and anti-African racism was a problem. It still plagues Muslim societies and our own communities in North America. One way that we can combat racism is by educating ourselves, and others, about the contributions of various peoples to our ummah, society, and humanity in general. February  is an opportunity to eradicate ignorance and combat prejudice against African and their descendants.

 

 

Black History Month is an importunity to instill self-worth in our youth. When I was in elementary school, two factors played a role in my low self worth: first, the lack of education about my people’s history and contributions to society; and second, school bullies who made fun of me and called me a slave and the “n” word. Today, in many Islamic schools, young people are still called “abeed” by their classmates. Abeed is the Arabic word for slave and it is the equivalent to calling someone the n-word.[2] When I was in elementary school, I thought that all my people were was slaves. I did do not know of the many contributions Black Americans have made to this society, whether in the sciences, business, or institutions. Although I was in the Gifted and Talented Education program, I felt like I was incapable of achieving anything. It wasn’t until middle school that I began to learn about the Civil Rights Movement and the contributions that my people made.  It allowed me to imagine possibilities for myself. I could become a medical pioneer who saves lives like Charles Drew, a millionaire like Madam C.J. Walker, or a poet like Phillis Wheatley. I saw myself in those stories and I began to dream big. These stories about black scientists, inventors, explorers, doctors, and leaders can provide examples of how people triumph over adversity.

 

During Black History Month, I learned about Martin Luther King and, of course, Malcolm X. For many converts, regardless of race,  Autobiography of Malcolm X played a role in their interest in Islam. Without Black History Month, I wouldn’t have learned  about Malcolm X and it is unlikely that I would have learned much about Islam. Watching Eyes on the Prize in middle school helped me understand the Civil Rights Movement.  The Civil Rights Movement help end institutional racism encoded in segregation laws. It also create opportunities for Americans of all colors. For example, an outcome of the Civil Rights Movement was the 1965 Immigration Act, which  ended immigration quotas of  non-Europeans.[3] This is what allowed South Asian, Middle Eastern, Arab, North African, and African Muslims to immigrate in greater numbers and establish Muslim communities. We now have one of the most diverse religious communities in the country.

 

Black History Month is an opportunity to learn about the history of Muslims in America. Often, Muslim Americans see themselves as recent transplants with roots only a few decades long. Many Muslim Americans are first or second generation immigrants, but Muslims have had a long presence in America. It is estimated that 10 to 15  percent of the slaves brought to the New World were Muslim.[4]   While Muslim slaves were not able to pass on their religion to their descendants, the historic memory is significant. Many Black Americans look to this past as they reclaim some part of their identity ,which was erased under the brutal system of chattel slavery. Likewise, Muslims from all backgrounds can relate to the stories of Muslim who were enslaved, such as Ibrahim Abdur Rahman and Omar Ibn Said.[5] There was also Bilali, who led a community of Muslims on the Sapelo Islands during  the 19th century. [6] If we look at our history in North America, we can feel more at home knowing our presence dates back hundreds of years.

 

Black history if also part of Islamic history.  The 31st Chapter of the Quran is named after Luqman the Wise, who is said to be from Africa.[7] The first hijrah was to Abyssinia.  Five times a day, we hear the call to prayer and remember the first muezzin Bilal.  Islam has been in East Africa from the time of its founding and has had a presence in sub-Saharan Africa for over 1000 years. Just recently, King Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire was named richest person of all time.[8] There are also important Africans who stand out in the history of Islamic civilizations in the Middle East and Indian sub-Continent. Al-Jahiz, was a champion of Arabic and demonstrated that it is a possible to write beautiful prose in Arabic. There was also Malik Ambar who ruled the  Deccan Sultanate, a rival to the Mughal Empire.[9] Many people do not know of the complex connections between East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and India nor are they familiar with the trade routes that connected sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean. Black history can be our opportunity to explore the culture and history  of Afro-Arabs , Afro-Turks, or Siddis of India. By embracing our interconnectedness, we Muslims have a rare opportunity as Muslims to participate in Black history.

 

Interconnectedness is the strength of our community. In the borrowing and blending, and acknowledging what we have to offer, we can understand how our lives intersect.  We can take this opportunity to look for lessons in this past. We can also use this window of opportunity to begin a real process of getting to know each other’s histories and engendering a greater respect and appreciation for all peoples in our ummah.

 

 


[1] Joan Novelli  “The History Behind Black History Month”   Teaching Tolerance, 2007  Retrieved February 12,  from 2013http://www.tolerance.org/article/history-behind-black-history-month

 

[2] Anyone arguing that it no longer has negative meaning, must remember that the n-word was used common place in America also. See Huckleberry Finn.

[3] Devin Love-Andrews Immigration Act of 1965 Webchron: The Web Chronology Project retrieved from internet February 12, 2013

http://www.thenagain.info/webchron/usa/immigrationact.html

[4] Islam in America retrieved February 12, 2013 from http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/islam-in-america/

[5] John Franklin “Omar Ibn Said” Documenting the American South  retrieved February 12, 2013 http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/omarsaid/menu.html; Yusra Owais, “African Muslims: A Rich Legacy”  Suhaib Webb February 26, 2011 retrieved February 12 2013 from  http://www.suhaibwebb.com/personaldvlpt/character/african-muslims-in-america-a-rich-legacy/

[6] Ray Crook “Bilali-The Old Man of Sapelo Island: Between Africa and Georgia” 40-55 Wadabagei: A Journal of the Caribbean and its Diasporas Vol. 10 No. 2 Spring/Summer, 2007 retrieved from http://www.utc.edu/Faculty/Nick-Honerkamp/Bilali%20the%20Old%20Man%20of%20Sapelo%20Island,%202007.pdf

[7] Margari Aziza Hill “Luqman the Wise” August 18, 2010 retrieved February 12, 2013 from  https://azizaizmargari.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/rediscovering-luqman-the-wis/

[8] Erik Oritz “King Mansa Musa Named Richest Person of All Time” The Daily News February 18, 2013 http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/king-mansa-musa-named-richest-history-article-1.1186261

[9]A. Rangarajana “Malik Ambar: Military guru of the Marathas” The Hindu October 18, 2008  retrieved February 12, 2013 from http://www.hindu.com/mag/2008/10/12/stories/2008101250220700.htm