FOUR STATEMENTS BAM CONVERTS MAKE THAT UNDERMINE THEIR FINANCIAL SECURITY

Sorry for the long delay. It is not just that teaching is overwhelming, but I avoid writing when I feel negative about the current condition of the American Muslim community. I can’t even begin to talk about the abysmal state of Muslims abroad. I know there are hopeful stories and inspiring people, but sometimes I’m left speechless. I didn’t want to sound like a whining Muslim; on the flip side, I didn’t want to sound like a braggart by publicly taking stock of my accomplishments. My reticence is beside the point of this article. So, I’m going to go just for it and make a major splash back into blogging. I can foresee this causing some major problems, however I will refrain from wasting time in back and forth debating. I just have to speak my mind because we have to address our dire condition.

I see many bright young African American Muslims struggle finding their place in the community. Often, our place in a community is determined by how others see our contribution. Our Ummah is not color blind, nor is it class blind. And many of our immigrant brothers and sisters come from societies where class plays perhaps a larger role than ethnicity. So our relative position on the social economic scale factors into the respect that our brethren afford us. So, if we, as a community, are a destitute group, we will have little clout in the discussion on Islam in America. In our brethren’s minds, we are bringing nothing to the table. Many Black American Muslims are struggling economically, unable to finish school or find financial security. The common perception is that most African American Muslims come from impoverished backgrounds or are ex-cons struggling with reintegration in society. But this is not solely the case.

Contrary to popular perception, it is not only White American Muslims who have everything to lose by converting. Many Black American converts who come from Middle Class backgrounds are financially worse off than their parents. Many Muslim American converts, in reality, have made personal, economic, and career choices that have undermined their financial security. There are even second generation Black American Muslims who are worse off than their convert parents. But without an honest look, we may be doomed to repeat the same mistakes. First, we should understand that several of the people who were promised paradise were wealthy. There is nothing wrong with wealth, in and of itself. What matters is how we use it. Islam is not the new socialism. And perhaps some people read or misread Ali Shariati. Two, we should understand that secular education is important in our upward mobility. In fact, education is the primary reason why Muslims immigrated to America. So why should indigenous Muslims give up on America’s promise and become ineffectual? Why is it so few Black American Muslims are attending college for professional, advanced degrees, growing businesses, or finding financial security? And importantly, why have so many Black American Muslim initiatives faltered?
After almost 20 years, some of us are looking back at the choices we made in our personal lives and communities? What led us to make certain choices in our education and professional development? Where did we let others down? Where did we let ourselves down? What resources did we have to achieve important milestones in life? What networks and social ties did we fail to tap into? What sacrifices have we made in becoming Muslim. Did we make any misguided decisions? How can we repair the damage and create a better future for children and ourselves?

I developed a list to begin to explore these questions. This list is not to argue whether something is haram or not, but to discuss the influence of certain religious positions on our lives. What sacrifices are converts making that have a detrimental effect on our financial security? In the next few weeks, I plan on tackling some of these issues. I will show the fatwas that Western Muslims have received from scholars abroad. I will then try to find alternative positions that allow for some flexibility, or endeavors that, at minimum, try to address the challenges we all face in this society.

1. Don’t Deal non-Muslims (Kuffar), even Your Family and Childhood Friends.
This faulty thinking leads many young Muslims astray and alienates their family. Not only do we fail to listen to our family’s advice, thinking that they don’t have our best interest at heart, but we don’t build stronger ties of interdependence. You are not supposed to break family ties, but maintain them whether or not you share the same religion. How you treat your family and friends can have a huge impact on the so many people’s perception of Islam. But self-isolating ourselves can lead our family and friends to think we joined a Jonestown style al-Qaeda group. Importantly, while there are generous Muslims who are willing to provide a lending hand, your family is bound to sacrifice much more, offer you a place to live, or take care of you if your health falters.

Not only do they no longer have social networks that they can tap into such as fraternities, lodges, and professional organizations for contacts, but their old college and friendship networks become frayed due to lifestyle choices that our religions demands (i.e. no cocktail receptions or happy hour networking parties and mixers for networking events). Sometimes their classmates just don’t relate. Converts may even suffer strained relationships with their immediate and extended family. This can lead to them losing family financial support in school, marriage ceremonies, or business endeavors.

Second, we fail to form solid alliances with non-Muslims to achieve the greater good. Without a relationship of reciprocity, we find ourselves isolated an alone. Third, we often hire incompetent Muslims and foster paternalism. Some Muslims have an “I only patronize Muslims” policy. Meaning that they hire Muslim contractors who do shoddy jobs or rip them off. Out of aversion to taking your co-religionist to a kaffir court, many Muslims will just eat the loss, as opposed to making these businesses accountable. Also, our fear of backbiting will also keep us from slandering that Muslim who did a poor job or did us dirty by reporting them to the Better Business Bureau.

2. Your Education Will Corrupt You.
Basically, the only real education is sacred knowledge. Time and time again I have heard tales of bright Muslims not encouraged to finish school, but become students of knowledge. You can end up in a dusty place for a few months or wander aimlessly for a about a year. Unlike some of your Arab and Desi American friends who spend their year abroad, you likely did #1 and your family probably won’t help you out and get back on your feet. Honestly, we do need more scholars of Islam, and to be honest, Muftis and Fuqaha with a strong knowledge of minority fiqh and American society. However, does the community need thousands of young men and women with the equivalent of an elementary degree from a Muslim institution of learning abroad?

The irony is that many converts are discouraged from completing their secular education by foreign scholars and immigrants who are largely educated with college degrees. Immigrant children go to college. They become doctors, engineers, business professionals, executives, and doctors. Most African Americans don’t come from families with enough money to foot college tuition. Nor do many of us get a full on scholarship. The primary way that many African Americans finance their education is to take a student loan. And look online at the fatwa’s. Student loans are haram. The immigrant Muslim community in America is largely affluent. So, many have an option of not taking student loans. Very few Muslim organizations offer scholarships to off set the education costs. And Muslim lending institutions are primarily geared towards wealthy Muslim purchasing homes, not student loans. So, many Muslims shut the door to education
The reality is that we need men and women who have the skills and capital to help build our communities. We need skilled labor, infrastructure building, and strategic planning from people who are trained and educated. A higher education can help alleviate some of the greatest challenges our community faces. It will lead to better earnings, which will lead to stable living. Stable living leads to viable marriages, which will help build better neighborhoods. With the rubber stamp of “denial” Black American Muslims are left to flounder, unable to become contributing members of their community and society.

3. Don’t Plan Your Family or Get to Know Your Future Spouse, Because Allah is the Best of Planners
Black American Muslims suffer some of the worst divorce rates. Perhaps we should thank Allah that many of the marriages are religious, and not civil marriages, because if we knew the real statistics, we’d lose our minds. My rough estimate would be that 75% or more of African American marriages end up in divorce. The sad thing is that many of these broken marriages produce children who become scarred in the process.
Many converts have an idealized version of stranger marriages, arranged marriages, and even the marriage match. Depending on if the Muslim comes from a cultish community or not, he or she may be pressured into making an insane marriage choice. I have heard of a college age young woman pressed to marry a recently released ex-con. I have heard of a teenage girl forced to marry Middle Aged destitute man only to be a divorcee by the time she’s 17. I have heard of young men pressed to marry women they don’t know and have 3 kids by the time he realizes that his wife is mentally deranged. There are lots of crazy anecdotes. Many American Muslims marry really young, derailing their emotional and financial development. My young students are all proponents for youth marriages; however if they knew the challenges that they would face, they’d think twice.

Converts also come with our own cultural norms, which are contrary to the American Muslim norms of love and relationships, and emotional baggage. Some communities have a sit down. Others may organize marriage meet and greet, or even large conventions. There are online matrimonials, myspace, facebook, etc. But more often than not, the process of meeting someone is a nightmare. American Muslims have not yet developed the network to create opportunities for single Muslims getting to know each other. Also that baggage. It is impossible to just throw away our notions of love and marriage. Americans are used to a honeymoon period of dating and getting to know each other. Those wonderful memories of courtship and fun times create, at minimum, some nostalgia about those romantic moments. Even more destructive than our notions of love and romance is the greatest baggage African American converts bring into their Islam. And that is their promiscuity. This stems from our own insecurities, notions of manhood or femininity, and egos tied to sexual conquests. Few of us grew up with two happy, married parents. So, we don’t even know what to look for in a spouse. Many American Muslim marriages suffer from intimacy problems and love doesn’t always develop between the couple.

Muslims are sometimes discouraged form practicing birth control. With a tanking marriage and 7,8, 9, 10 kids, there are some serious financial implications.

4. Don’t Focus on the Dunyah, but the Hereafter.
Many see wealth building or social climbing as a worldly endeavor and they begin to make irrational economic decisions. There are two roots to this version of Black American asceticism: the first, stemming from the Black American protest tradition and the second stemming from abroad. In the protest tradition, middle Class values of education and career are White values. Some Black American Muslims transfer the notions of whiteness or “the man” into the unbelievers, “kuffar.” The motivation to reject this world and take on a life of poverty becomes a political choice, tied closely to identity politics. The second root of the Black American aversion towards higher education or professional careers is a foreign import. Some forthcoming studies show how the imposition of these ideas is both unintentional and intentional. Basically, some scholars who have little understanding of the social, economic, and historical condition of Black Americans discourage them from taking the one path to social mobility. These two factors combine to drive many African American Muslims into a faulty notion of asceticism. This form of asceticism, rejecting “worldly education” and “worldly careers,” is often a detriment to many Black American families.

The other problem with this statement is that it channels some of the most talented and charismatic, but maybe not so pious, members of our community into becoming religious professionals. Islam becomes the new hustle. Many of our brightest minds go into careers such as imam, public speaker, religious scholars, or teacher at an Islamic school, when maybe they would have been better as professionals, who donated their wealth and fundraising ability to create community centers and institutions. Instead of giving to the community, they are drawing an income from the community. Further, if we, as a community, discouraged our members from attaining a college degree, then we will have board members with no education, management, or organizational skills. Finally, while non-profit work is honorable, many Muslim non-profits pay a pittance. I’ve heard of Muslims going six weeks without pay from Islamic Institutions.

This list is not limited to African American converts. I know that other converts, and even children of immigrants, who get caught in this cycle. I hope that by bringing up these points we can begin to address these problems and come with some solutions. I work full-time in the Muslim community, and I may be rough and gruff sometimes, but I am solution oriented. My goal is to empower us to work for a positive change. Just like everyone else, I am tired of bemoaning the fate of Muslims in America. It is time we do something about it. While I think I have a few good ideas, I know many of you have many more. So, let’s get to work!

Letter From a Brother

For a long time, I’ve wanted to post a link to Charles Catching’s post titled, A Letter From a Brother.

It should be easy for me to close my eyes and ears, to ignore all the problems BAM women and men are having with one another but I have daughters. One sister responded to me being concerned about my daughters by saying other brothers are simply disconnected, that they do not relate their objectification and mistreatment of BAM women to their daughters, and if she is right then woe to us.
….

In the past year I’ve read numerous blogs and articles about the suffering hearts of Black women. I have heard countless conversations depicting the atrocious acts of Black men against women. Keep in mind here, I’m talking about Black Muslim women, women who came to the religion for God and a good man! If you haven’t read, and you probably haven’t because you’re a guy, you should read a book called Engaged Surrender: African-American Women and Islam along with some critiques, questions, and concerns from other Muslim women about the book. Women have absolutely no problem reading the latest from a male scholar/author/activist/blogger about issues in the community. But hey, if women are championing mens’ causes don’t you think you need to take a second look at theirs?

Just the other day egg was thrown on my face by a co-worker. The African-American woman praised Black Muslim men stating that the reason she loved us so much was because of our respect and love for “the Black Woman”. I wanted to receive her praise as a truth but no longer had I started puffing out my chest when I got an horrible email, a story I will share in a moment. Seeing as though this woman is 50+ years old, I gathered that she was speaking more about the men in the Nation of Islam and not of Muslim men in America at large and that was sad. At that very moment, I felt my obligation went beyond informing her of any differences between the Nation of Islam and others to factually stating that many African-American Muslim women are well beyond fed-up, sick-and-tired, and too-through with brothers because of our shady ways. These women came to Islam hoping to find protection and security in addition to monotheism and have been struggling to accept the prophetic message against the backdrop of criminals, deadbeats, cheaters, liars, bigots, and bootleggers posing as lovers of Allah.

Lastly, as you read this there are others doing the same, wondering if I have any solutions or if I am even qualified to talk to African-American Muslim men about marriage. I have two answers; first, it’s time for those of us who have decent marriages to help others cultivate the same for it is so easy to read about horror stories all day. I know single sisters who have never been married swearing off men because of these stories. They need happily married Muslim women to look up to and brothers need solid examples, not charlatans. Secondly, I have daughters, and there is just no way on this earth I’m going to subject them to the kind of nonsense present today so over time, as it permits itself, I will continue this letter of sorts to my brothers, hoping that someone out there heeds the call to be more and do more without wanting more.

I frankly, was shocked by the treatment of women in the sunni Muslim community. A number of womanizers use their Muslim celebrity status and their close relationship with leaders in the community to prey on women and misuse their position to garner free services. I’ve written before about pathological narcissists and as I stated they are often charismatic. I am not saying that we should start gossiping to uncover everybody’s dirt or create the religious police with some gestapo like investigation capacities, but our leadership should take active steps to ensure that the brothers in their circle are upstanding members of the community. If they have some dirt in the past, they should repent and be currently living upstanding lives. I believe we should forgive our brothers and sisters who make honest efforts to clean up their acts. At the same time, anybody with some nefarious dealings, should be checked. The sad thing is, the women who have been preyed upon and subject to multiple sham marriages is seen as damaged goods. Women who have even been in legitimate marriages, but are divorced are often seen as damaged goods. However, a man who leaves a trail of broke-up women is never seen as damaged. Rather he is a pimp, and a lot of young brothers celebrate him.

I had a conversation with a man from the Nation of Islam who commented that sunni Muslims often show very little respect for their women. He said, “Sunni brothers are just HARSH with their women.” He believed that some of it was the misogyny that is now prevalent in our culture, but also due to the adoption of some foreign attitudes towards women. In some ways I agree, its like a number of convert men adopted the misogyny from the BAM movement and Hip Hop culture and combined it with the structures of gender relations from the Middle East and South Asia. It is as if they gained the worst of both cultures when it comes to dealing with women–misogyny and patriarchy. The same man recounted a story about how a brother who was going to jumu’ah made his wife drop him off at the door and she had to go part the car and walk a long distance in the rain to get into the crummy women’s section. He also commented that there was nothing in place in the sunni Muslim community to protect convert women from predators.

Not all of us are wallowing in misery. And there are a number of men, like Charles, who are appalled by the current state of affairs. Simply put Charles is calling all the ethical brothers, especially the married brothers, to provide examples. There are countless examples of good men who are striving to be good to their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, cousins, associates, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Please check out the site and respond to the brother’s call.

The Oppression of Muslim Brothers (Revised) 8/14/2008

I haven’t written a short story in years. Inspired by reading “Living Islam Out Loud” I decided to try to place myself in the brothers’ shoes. Let’s see what happens when Islam is used to oppress the male gender (second revision 8/14/2008):

In a masjid somewhere in America, two Muslim brothers sat in a musallah after the Maghrib prayer. With a sense of urgency, most of the other brothers shuffled out, jumped in their cars, and headed home. But these two brothers lingered a bit longer. They had recently become regulars. At this particular masjid, only a handful of the brothers attended the daily prayers regularly, like the owner of cell phone shop down the block who also lived 15 minutes away, the building caretaker who was rumored to have a cot in one of the utility closets despite having a home a lovely family in distant suburb, and the brother who always saw jinn in everyone’s eyes. He was crazy enough that he didn’t need to work, but spent his days thumbing through Sahih Bukhari looking for proofs and signs of the Last Days. Then there were commuting brothers who came for Friday Jumu’ah. The ones who came for Maghrib prayers dropped by the masjid on their way home. For them, the masjid was a buffer between the high paced demands of the workforce and the relentless demands of their families.

For the most part, it remained unspoken, but the musallah was a place of respite for all weary, lonely, and even the few crazy brothers. Not only did they fulfill a duty incumbent upon the Muslim community by attending the masjid, but they found solidarity. They were not alone in carrying their burdens. The whole society looked down upon them as villains and oppressors. Yes, maintaining their manhood and dignity in a world that vilified them was often hard to do. Even the partition wall behind them reminding them that even the Muslims saw them as sexual beasts and and all Muslim women needed to be rescued and protected from the Muslim male threat. No one discussed how heavy male gender definitions could be. They were the protectors, the providers, the guardians, the gatekeepers, the initiators, the listeners, the doers, the deciders, the leaders, and the supporters. Everyone made demands for their time, the mothers, wives, children, extended family, co-workers, bosses, even the Muslim community, everyone. But there were times when only the handful of mosque regulars seemed happy to see them. In the masjid they could have some peace of mind. Their wives, children, and families could not fault them. Establishing salah at the masjid could never be considered a blameworthy thing. Thus the masjid was a refuge where these brothers could consolation and solidarity in the silence, as they remembered their Lord in unison.

One day burdened with the shame and humiliation that he had long endured, one of the brothers finally broke his silence and turned to his friend: “Ya Akhi, please make du’a for me. I’m asking Our Lord to give me strength.”

“May Allah make it easy on you, brother,” the other replied, sensing his brother’s verge of emotional collapse. He urged him to open up.

The brother seemed reluctant to share his burden, but with some prodding he finally said: “Marriage is hard, akhi. I have prayed istikhara I don’t know what to do. ”

“Have you talked to the Imam, brother?” The other asked.

The brother lowered his voice: “I’m not even sure if he’s going to be able to help me.”

“Brother, this is all new. You seemed so happy at the iftar this Ramadan. Masha’Allah, brother, your deen seems so strong, you are representing the faith well with your courage to dress sunnah. My wife commented on how well your family seemed to be doing.”

“Ya Akhi!! Please can I confide in you?”

“InshaAllah, please brother,” He gestured to the exit, “Let us step outside of the musallah.” The brother passed, looked around. “First I gotta call wifey to let her know I’m coming home late. She gets real sensitive when I don’t eat dinner while it’s hot. But I’ll tell her some crisis came up at the masjid. That’s telling the truth, right?”

“Right! My wife is going to be upset cause I should be doing stuff with the kids. I’m already in hot water akh.” So the two Muslim brothers walked out of the masjid. One brother called his wife and walked out of earshot.

Ten minutes later, he returned to his friend with a distressed look on his face. It was clear he had been chewed out. “Okay brother, this has better be serious. Im dead meat when I get home. Ya Rubi!”

As they walked to the car, the troubled brother burst out: “This whole Islam thing is supposed to make you help you feel whole, like a man…but…but….I feel emasculated.”

“Brother, what are you talking about? You clearly are the man of the household. Why does your wife insult you? Maybe you should correctly guide her to proper etiquette between husband and wife. Have her read….umm…that book something about Muslim marriage. You know,
Gender Equity and not Equality
Islam teaches us that—”

“You see! That is the problem, akhi, she is using Islam to belittle me, to undermine me, to make me feel so inadequate! Basically undermining my manhood with all these rules!!”

“Oh no brother, she’s not one of those. She must have attended classes over at that center! I’ve been telling brothers to avoid sisters who frequent that place!”

Tears welled up in the brothers eyes: “Yes, she is. She’s no joke! Look you see this beard! You know I was clean shaven before I got married. She said she liked the way I looked when we first began courting. She started attending halaqas, then she took the marriage rights class….after that, everything changed. She said she was tired of representing Islam wearing full hijab while I blended in. After every night of her insulting me for saying I looked Western, like a little boy, like I hadn’t gone through puberty, I couldn’t take it anymore. She said I wasnt a true Muslim until I followed the Sunnah. She was right, clean shaven wasn’t Sunnah. So I grew this.” The brother pointed to his face.

“Brother, you should do things because you want to please Allah. You have to correct your intention.”

“But akhi, my beard is not good enough. She said that I must grow it long, long enough that I can grab it in my fist. She keeps telling me I am vain!! Of course my co-workers started looking at me funny. I’d come to work and they’d look at me like, ‘wha?…” I started getting profiled wherever I went. I now hardly go anywhere except from home, to work, to the masjid. At the same time, she started talking about my dress. She said I was imitating Westerners by wearing suits, slacks, dress shirts, jeans and t-shirts. She threw out all my clothes and said I have to wear either thobe or shewar khamis!! Now I am wearing the pajama pants all the time, Akhi! I had nothing else to wear at work. Of course this caused problems working at the advertising agency. Clients didn’t feel comfortable with me. They weren’t buying that religious freedom argument. Eventually I lost my job!!

“It doesn’t stop! She also criticized all the men who prayed with their heads uncovered. She told me it was not sunnah to go with my head uncovered. So now akhi I cannot leave the house without a kufi, turban, or kefiyya on my head. I have tried looking for a job, but the only place I can get a job is stocking cans in the local halal store!!”

“Wow brother, your wife is extreme. How are you holding up, financially. I mean do you need some help?”

“This has been a calamity!! Financially, though, things are going fine. She has begun working from the home. Her business is soaring. But now that I bring so little in, she says that I have relinquished many of my rights. Akhi, I have no rights in my own home! Now she says it is her home since she pays the rent. She is demanding her mahr. I have no money left! You know her family made me sign $10,000 for the marriage contract. She has made me pay back money for nursing our children. Four kids, times two years nursing each one of them, times 365 days of the year, times 4 hours a day, times thirty dollars an hour!! You do the math!! That was all of my savings. Now, my little bit of money goes for paying for a maid. She says she has no obligation to clean up. She tells me that she can go to the imam and divorce me just because she doesn’t like me. I mean, come on man! How I am supposed to feel like a man, like a human being under these circumstances!”

“Brother, may Allah make it easy on you. I have seen sisters use Islam to oppress their husbands. Can you keep a secret?”

“Of course Akhi!”

“Brother, sometimes, I don’t feel like a man either. My wife, man, my wife….oh this is so bad. Astaghfurfullah!! I know we’re not supposed to talk about what goes on with our spouses, but this is hard. You see, when we do it, she makes me keep going. She says that according to Islamic law I do not have permission to finish until she is satisfied. You see how hard I work. I’m tired sometimes and she never is. She then says I am a sorry husband for not fulfilling my duties. She sometimes says she can leave me, that she has a case according to this book she read on marriage law.”

“Ya akhi, that is hard. I didn’t know you were going through it.”

“That’s why I come to the masjid after Maghrib and hang out long past ‘Isha. I have to get reflect, meditate, get some rest before I head home and have to deal with her demands.”

The other brother sighed, knowing his misery was a part of a broader system of oppression, “Yes, that’s why I’m here, Akh.”

“Brother, don’t get me started. This stuff goes deep. Don’t get me started about my mother, whew!! Paradise lies at her feet sometimes. But wallahi, she makes me carry her on my back. No kidding, really like in the park sometimes and even in the mall!”

The brother sighed, “Ya akhi, I don’t know who has it worse, you or I?”

“Brother we both do. But our reputations would be ruined if we’d commit the most hated thing by Allah by divorcing our wives. I believe we will be rewarded in the next life is we just bear it.”

“Ya Rubi, surely with every difficulty comes ease.”

akhi: my brother
Ya Rub: My Lord
Astaghfurullah: God forgive me

(c) 2006 The Oppression of the Male Gender: Dialogue Between Two Muslim Brothers
Aziza

Timely Post: Fatherhood and Manhood

Inspired by a recent Newsweek article, Tariq Nelson wrote a timely piece on manhood in the Black community.

A real man is one that honors his wife, provides for and educates his children (boys and girls), pays off his debts, is considerate, compassionate, helps around the house, has self-dignity, and is engaged and feels a sense of responsibility for his community.
Manhood does NOT mean brash sexuality and promiscuity, selfishness, physically or emotionally abusing women, recklessness, sophomoric immaturity, ‘honor killings’, and being uncomfortable with women being educated. It is not about a man beating his chest and saying that ‘he is a man’. Real manhood is in doing what men do, not crude talk about being a man. Real men do not confuse manhood with misogyny and adolescent misbehavior.

I’ll let the blog speak for itself, it’s written by a brother sincerely striving to implement this deen and better his community. Only real men can teach our young brothers how to become men. I’ll let brothers like that do this important work. I stand behind them in their efforts.

Obsessions: Religion, Race, and Sex

Yes I admit it, I’m more than preoccupied by Religion, Race, and Sex. We have been told to avoid these three topics in polite dinner conversation. In fact, I often do not take to heated discussion about religion, race, and sex in polite dinner conversation. This is why I have a blog.

While my major field is the history of Islam in Africa, my research and studies go beyond Africa. I examine the African Diaspora in the Middle East. I have a deep interest in Islam as a global religion. My career was inspired by my personal conviction as a Muslim. I am obsessed about Islam and can talk about it for hours, days on end. I also study race and talk about race. I have written numerous papers and articles on race relations, racial passing, community identity, and the African Diaspora in the Middle East. Importantly, my discussion about race is often personal. I talk about race in that it affects me and a number of people I care about.I talk about sex, women, and gender relations. Who doesn’t think about sex?    I talk about relationships, how Muslim men and women relate to each other, how Black men and women relate to each other, how Black women relate to men and women from various Muslim communities. I talk about women’s gendered roles, men’s gendered roles. I talk about marriage. I talk about free-mixing and gender segregation. I talk about hijab, niqab, and physical attraction.

I’m obsessed with Religion, Race, and Sex.  I am building a career on it. I want to write articles about these topics, explore dusty libraries digging for books about it,  spend sleepless nights researching and editing articles about it, travel around  the world to talk with other scholars and experts about it. I  even want to teach a class about it. We’ll see how receptive university students are to this topic. I’m pretty sure I’ll have a full roster because people can’t say enough about religion, race, and sex. And it is sure to fire up some heated dialog.

This blog is an intellectual and personal exploration of these same themes that have informed my career choice. If you read the title of my blog closely analyzing why I chose certain words, it should become evident that I wanted to talk about Islam, the African Diaspora, and Gender. I haven’t really seen someone from my perspective, as a Black American Muslim, explore these themes. This is why I made my intervention. Some people have written me directly telling me I should get over talking about religion. Others say I should get over race. Even  once someone who expressed ambivalence towards my discussion of FGM. If I were to stop talking about religion, race, and sex then this blog would not have a purpose. Or maybe I could just post cute pictures of flowers, kittens, and bunnies and peppered with my own personal reflections as Just Another Muslim. No, my blog is not polite dinner conversation nor is it designed to make us all feel uplifted. I just want my readers to think. I also want to validate an experience that is forged in struggle.  I try to not present a doom and gloom scenario. Nor am I trying to be a polemic or write entries for shock value. At the same time I think that we as Muslims still need to look at a number of issues. The American Muslim community still needs to examine how race, class, and gender intersect in order to understand how to move forward.

What Black American Muslim Women Are Reading, Isn’t it Fascinating?

It’s not just Black American Muslim women, but a number of college educated Muslim women are reading this book. No, they are not reading some Muslim feminist manifesto outlining the steps to unreading patriarchal interpretations of proper gender relations. They are not forming study groups to closely read Nawal Sadawi or Fatima Mernissi. They’re not even studying Amina Wadud or Asma Barlas. No, the are reading a book written in the 60s by a Mormon woman–Fascinating Womanhood. I’ve met half a dozen Muslim women who personally swear by it. FW is their marriage manual.

It has been nearly a decade since I went through my phase of reading popular psychology and self-help relationship books. I had read several books, including John Gray’s Men are from Mars Women are from Venus and Deborah Tannen’s You Just don’t Understand, Women and Men in Conversation, to try to get a grasp on the different ways men and women interact. My quest for understanding reflected my desire to improve myself, as well as my relationships. My life circumstances changed, and I focused on myself. I wanted to improve my condition by finding a purposeful life and pursuing my dreams. But that’s another story. Needless to say, I’ve am skeptical of any book or program that makes broad sweeping guarantees of transforming your life.

In the 90s, I was really into understanding relationships. I even took a Fiqh of marriage class. Those classes agitated some brothers. They were taught by traditional scholars who taught women their traditional rights in Islam. As any of us Muslim know and one of my Muslim professors affirmed, Muslim women are not even granted their rights accorded to them in Shari’ah. So, when women would march home demanding their rights and telling their husbands that they were not obligated to do housework, some husbands tried to ban their wives from attending classes. Back then I devoured the gender equity in Islam literature, along with fiqh books. It was all about my pursuit of the Islamic ideals of marriage and gender relations. But I also wanted to break the cycle in the Black community, raise a healthy family by beginning with a solid marriage.

In my peer group, I was one of the first waves to get married. So, relationships were new for many of them. And for many of us coverts, serious relationships were just as new. Marriage was a whole new territory. At the same time, it was an exciting and new topic. We were full of ideals and we talked about relationships constantly. I think one friend had ordered a whole series of relationship tapes. I knew she was trying to gain the upper hand in that engagement, to be able to get what she wanted without direct confrontation. After that engagement failed, we never really talked about the self-help literature after that. So years passed by and all that men are from another planet stuff went by the way side.

This past year I began mingling in my old Muslim circles and finding myself in new ones, I found that FW was a hot topic of discussion. Most of my friends are married, some for almost a decade and others more recently. A few of my friends are divorced, some within the past few months and others have remained single for almost a decade. You get women together and we are going to talk about relationships. So, this book came up. I first heard of it from a friend who hated it. But just last night, a young woman swore by it. So I asked my friend what did she think. She said that even though she was unable to apply the principles, she believed that’s how things worked. I began to look it up, to see what other Muslims thought of it. It looks like a number of Sheikh Nuh Keller’s female students were reading this book.
The website, “Marriage the Fascinating Way” states:

Muslim women, for example, claim that the teachings of FW are fundamental to their religion, and found in their book of instruction, the Koran. Women of the ancient Shinto and Buddha faiths make similar claims and Jewish women rely on teachings found in the Old Testament. The Mennonite and Amish women also claim that FW is supported by their strict Christian doctrine.

One well read Muslim woman blogger wrote:

fascinating womanhood by Helen Adeline , ok this book taught me all about men , it beats men are from mars and woman are from Venus , this book I would recommend it to anyone if they want to know how to win their husbands heart . It totally destroyed my feminist ideas and views. Oh and it actually works.

Surprising I found a number of Black American Muslim who read the book did not dismiss it outright. These sisters believed in the principles and they were applying it to their lives. What makes it so interesting is that their views on femininity contrasts with the negative perception that Black women are these independent, domineering, emasculating, ball busting hell on wheels types. I know dozens of Black American Muslim women who are the Martha Stewart types. They are baking, doing crafts, sewing, educating children in the home. They are articulate, charming, soulful, and beautiful. They are smart dynamic women with a wide range of skill sets, from business to engineering as well as cooking. Almost all these women keep immaculate homes and devote a great deal of attention to rearing their children. The second wave feminists dismiss their contributions. But I read one Black woman intellectual write that the form of feminism dominated pitted Black women against Black men. It undermined the solidarity of the Black nationalist movement. But these women are beyond the nationalism phase. They are trying to find a way to rebuild families and healthy relationships. These women are trying to do something that we have seen fail in those earlier movements. They are promoting a revolutionary agenda by being conservative and maintaining traditional values. Now, that’s a fascinating read.

Azizah Weighs in on African American Muslim Marriages and “Morocco is Not the Solution” From Kuwait

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.