#IAmMuslimARC

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This short video below outlines one of the major motivation for doing this work, my work in an Islamic school. I am committed to supporting healthy environments for Muslim children to thrive and prosper. I found that many of our children were ill equipped with the skills necessary to challenge the racism they faced, whether it came from their peers or from the broader society.

I don’t want people to think that the experience was all negative. I saw many wonderful examples of students and families who embodied Islam. I have a young daughter and I constantly pray that my daughter grows up to be like many of the girls and young women I came to know. Empowering our youth with healthy self-identities and with a sense that they can help create a better world are two of my greatest motivations.  Those two years teaching secondary school left a lasting impact on me. Those students taught me much more than I could have ever taught them. I still see those beautiful young children, although most of my students  are adults, in college, starting their own families, and taking on leadership roles themselves.

Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative in many ways represents the beauty of Islam. Although I felt those deep bonds of sisterhood with individuals over the years, I had struggled calling my co-religionists brothers and sisters. Sometimes it was because of some of the  socio-economic, gendered, and racial power dynamic  that dehumanized us. Other times, it was because I felt in the end our futures were not intertwined. But this past year, the tireless  work  Namira Islam, Bangladeshi American woman who lived thousands of miles away, Laura Poyneer, a white American Muslim who at the time lived on the other side of the country, and over forty volunteers who gave their precious time showed me the depth of our bond. Our shared visions,  frustrations, hopes,  and struggles bind us together.

I am asking you to join us in this movement. We are need your input to know a bit more about MuslimARC’s reach. Please take a moment to complete this short survey.


If you checked any of these than, YOU are part of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.

 

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Come out and show your support for anti-racism education and activism in the Muslim community. Join us for a hashtag event that is part of MuslimARC’s new LaunchGood campaign to both raise awareness and funds for anti-racism initiatives and projects throughout the US.  Give $5 or 5 minutes to spread the word. Follow the event at https://twitter.com/muslimarc and use the hahtag #IAmMuslimARC to be part of the conversation on Tuesday November 11 2:00PM PDT/ 5:00 PM EST.
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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.

Color Complex in the South Asian and African Diasporas

Tariq Nelson makes an interesting hypothesis about creating an American Muslim culture through inter-marriage between all the various ethnic groups in his blog He writes:

I am of the controversial opinion that increased interracial/intercultural marriage is one of the ways that will lead to a meshing of a singular American Muslim identity. This would eventually lead to more of a blending in this country, culturally and genetically, of the many Muslim cultures as well as the American one. Intermarriage is one of the ways people that were once even somewhat hostile can become one group.

We are seeing native born Americans, of all religions, intermarrying in ever rising numbers, but when one looks at the numbers, the proportion of overall interracial births is still not growing at the rate one would think. Why is this? It is (at least partially) because of mass immigration. Immigrants are much more likely to marry someone from back home, or arrive already married, and it hinders the continuing merging of America’s ethnicities.

Read the rest of the article here.

African Americans have been dealing with these issues. We’ve worked to debunk the myth of the talented 10th for years, did away with the brown paper bag test, celebrate dark skinned men like Denzel Washinton and Wesley Snipes. Yet there are no female counterparts to Wesley or Denzel. Instead, we have Halle Berry, Beyonce, etc. and studies that show how light skinned Black women have higher rates of marraiage than their darker skinned counterparts. Muslims have not really risen above these trends. It get complex as every ethnic group brings to the table their own cultural baggage and project their desires, insecurities, and resentments on the “Others.”

I found a interesting article “Color Complex In The South Asian Diaspora” by Francis Assisi which seems to point to the cultural norms that preclude African Americans, and especially AA women, from finding willing partners in the great Muslim melting pot:

Jennifer Hochschild, a Harvard professor of government and Afro-American studies believes that skin color, rather than race, may be a better indicator of status in the United States.

In a talk May 6th 2003 at Stanford University entitled “The Politics and Morality of a Skin Tone Ordering,” Hochschild’s “strong” hypothesis was, in her words, that across races “the darker a person’s skin color, the lower he or she is likely to be on any scale of whatever is broadly perceived to be desirable in the United States.”

In other words, in America, one is still better off as a dark-skinned Hispanic than as an African American. And within these minority groups the less dark-skinned you are, the better off you are socially.

Now, according to three different studies conducted by Indian Americans in the U.S., skin color appears to have similar impact.

The Three Studies

Roksana Badruddoja Rahman of Rutgers University has completed an unusually interesting research study: The role of skin color among Hindu Indian women in New Jersey and how it affects their marriage choice. Sarita Sahay has looked into self-esteem and ethnic identity including attitude towards color among South Asian Canadian female students. And Zareena Grewal at the University of Michigan has studied the impact of color in spouse selection among the South Asian American Muslim community.

Rahman has examined the role of skin color in the Indian women’s concept of beauty and what it signifies as a status marker in the marriage market. Her hypothesis: that a larger proportion of lighter skinned women than darker skinned women feel beautiful and attractive. The study is one of the first to attempt to focus explicitly on the relationships between skin color and feelings of attractiveness and skin color and marriage marketability in the immigrant American Hindu Indian context.

Rahman’s conclusion is that “feelings related to beauty and attractiveness and marriage marketability are partially determined by the lightness of their skin.” And though her subjects are “Hindu Indian women” one can imagine that her findings are applicable to all women of Indian or South Asian origin.

The study assumes, first, that beauty and attractiveness are defined by skin color and, second, there is a link between beauty and attractiveness, and thus skin color, to marriage marketability. Rahman observes the wide popularity of hair and complexion lighteners among South Asians (living in and outside of South Asia), predominantly among women, which she says is symbolic of the high value placed on light skin tone.

Rahman cites South Asian magazine advertisements for cosmetics and bleaching creams, such as Fair & Lovely Cream and Vicco Ayurvedic Cream, that are similar to advertisements targeted towards black American women.
[…]
In her study, Rahman draws upon literature about the role of skin color in the lives of Hindu Indian women in India and black women in the United States to develop a framework for understanding skin color and its impact on U.S. first generation immigrant Indian American women in the marriage market. She then goes on to conduct extensive interviews with Indian American women in New Jersey – that area being chosen because it has one of the fastest growing South Asian populations.

Rahman argues that the politics and implications of skin color in Indian community and among black Americans are extraordinarily similar, and the strict juxtaposition of black and white works well in understanding the implications of skin color and the definition of beauty among black Americans, Indians in India, and Indians living in the U.S.

Rahman points out in her study: “I find three major commonalties between Indians and black Americans in general. First, both race and caste are systems of social closure. Second, black women in America and Indian women’s bodies are sexualized and racialized in a similar manner. And third, skin color and other facial features play a significant role.”

Thus the message relayed to the women of both cultures is that light skin is more attractive (especially to men) than dark skin, and both, internalizing the “ivory skin model”, go to great lengths to alter their phenotypic features.

Zareen Grewal’s study in Michigan shows that many South Asian Muslim immigrants covet whiteness.
[…]
Grewal has noted in her study that ‘particular physical qualities are always fetishized in constructions of beauty. However, in these communities, the stigma attached to dark color intersects with broader racial discourses in the U.S. That’s why a Desi mother of three daughters in their twenties, explicitly refers to dark coloring as a physical abnormality and deficiency.’
[…]

In the final study by Sarita Sahay and Niva Piran, authors of Skin-color preferences and body satisfaction among the South Asian-Canadian and European-Canadian female university students, they find that second generation South Asian women (in Canada), like their counterparts in South Asia, equate light skin with beauty.

Skin color is a trait germane to the experience of racism by all minorities. However, in the case of South Asians in America, they are simultaneously victims and perpetrators. As perpetrators, their racism is contingent upon a light skin ideal.

True, light skin has implications for social status among both men and women, but nowhere is it of more consequence than in the commodification of female attractiveness. This celebration of fairness as a feminine virtue is not new in South Asia’s patriarchal history, but what is shocking is the extent to which it continues today even in the diaspora.

As many Desis leave their home countries for the US, their intra-racist ideologies emigrate with them and are reinforced and transformed by the racial climate in the U.S. Sultana, an immigrant from India, explains how ideologies of color are reformulated in a society with a white majority: “Most [Desis] are samla, neither dark nor fair. So what is fair over there might be samla over here. Like, in India, you would be very fair, but here you won’t because of the white Americans. So it depends on the comparison.”

Sultana explicitly refers to white Americans as the standard to be measured against. Interestingly, although most Muslim immigrants in these communities construct whites as racially different from them, for some, like Sultana, whites remain the point of reference. For others, the ability to “pass” as white informs their color preferences.

The stigma of dark skin and the preference for light coloring are coded racially as immigrants assess their status as minorities in the U.S. and the benefits of “passing” as whites. The fetishizing of light skin is related to the broader racial climate of the U.S., where minorities from South Asia regularly experience discrimination. In other words, color-coded intra-racism is simultaneously a self-destructive internalization of white supremacy and a strategy for surviving it.

As scholars such as Grewal, Rahman and Sahay do research on their own cultures, it is important not to overlook the role played by color in current power relationships. That’s one way to combat racism from without, and within.

I found another article about the South Asian marriage market, From “Wheatish to Dark”: Globalization, Marriage & Skin Color Commodification” by Maryum Saifee.

I think these articles are fascinating because they describe some of the underlying factors that shape the contours of relations between immigrant Muslims and African Americans. For 14 years, I have heard African American brothers complain about not being able to marry other Muslim ethnicities. Recently, more African American sisters in integrated Muslim communities have begun to talk about how invisible they feel. One could be Muslim for a year or two without a single serious prospect for marriage. This is the case for several African and African American Muslim women that I know. It is striking because American society is fairly open to interracial marriage, but American Muslims seem to maintain clear ethnic lines (except when it comes to marrying White American converts).

Likewise, I have wondered about the this desire for intermarriage on the part of some African American brothers. We have own color complexes and they run deep. One of my North African friends stated, “I know why Black men like us, we look like light skinned Black women.” Some black men desiring South Asian women because they to may look mixed or racially ambiguous. Some look like mixed women who have “Caucasian” features and long straight hair (two measures of beauty within the Black community) in combination with brown skin. I remember reading Zareena Grewal’s paper on “Marriage in Color,” and her study showed how immigrant women and white women had many more advantages when it came to choosing a marriage partner. It is clear that dark skinned African American women face more challenges than their lighter sisters, in both job discrimination and in how this society perceives them. Being in the community is not about competition, but it is frustrating to see women dismissed so easily because of the amount of melanin in their skin. But then again, anyone who cannot see that these sisters are truly beautiful is really beneath those amazing sisters.

African American scholars and intellectuals have been wrestling with colorism and racism for generations. You’d think these issues would get old and that we could move past it. But as Muslims we find out that these issues resurface in very different, but no less complex and troubling ways. As one of my favorite instructors said about racism, “Racism does not just hurt Black people, but it victimizes White people too.” We’re living in a multi-cultural, stratified society; so the victims are not just Black and White. Tribalism, nationalism, cultural chauvanism, classism, and colorism are tools that really undermine our communities and prevents us from moving forward.

Top Searches that People Used to Find My Site Today

Sometimes, I wonder what is the intention of the people who google “Why you shouldn’t marry a black woman”? Was the searcher a man? Was it a woman? Were they black? Were they joking? Or do they have beef with black women? What do they think of what I have to say? Or has gendered racism prevented them from valuing anything that I have to contribute?

When I think of the people who visit my site I wonder if they have been weighted down by the same issues that have made my life feel heavy? Do I help give voice to something that they had trouble articulating? Is my blog divisive? What about those readers that I challenge? How mad do I make them? Well, I don’t feel bad because I make someone angry when I express my own subjective position. I am angry, and there should be a whole bunch more people angry about injustice and deceit. I have always had my identity and my personal choices tested, questioned, and challenged. Learning can be painful, as many of my undergrad students will attest to. Students have their presuppositions challenged, they get tested and critiqued, they have to stay up late at night trying to make sense out of seemingly incomprehensible problem sets and dense readings. Maybe some of those who visit my site find something reflected back at them that they don’t like. Some may find a reflection that affirms the struggle they have been going through. Ultimately, I hope to give speak for the voice-less, the groups whose voices have been submerged by the dominant narrative.

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