The Dilemma of Leading from Behind

Iron St. Murals in Detroit. Photo Credit: Pendarvis Harshaw

Iron St. Murals in Detroit. Photo Credit: Pendarvis Harshaw

When a marginalized person in our community is given access to power, education, or resources, we often second guess them. There is not democratic process that makes any job, fellowship, internship, roundtable, or leadership position equal opportunity for all of us. Being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right person who vouched for you, or having certain privileges can give you opportunities which are denied to someone even more deserving or qualified. In this competitive world and unequal world, we don’t have control over the privileges that are bestowed upon us or the doors that open up for us. What matters is that when we walk through some doors we kick them open so hard that they stay open. What matters is what we do with those opportunities and how do we serve others with the privileges we have been granted.
 When folks are calling out others, they often focus on the the individual who they see as having shortcomings, rather than the systemic issue that may hamper them from being able to take that ideal path. I’m a sensitive person. So when I see others talk about me or others who I work with, my empath mode goes into full gear. Depending on how we frame a critique, we can create climate where others can be disparaged.  Once someone’s character has been attacked for being self serving, especially when they work to serve the community, they tend to shut down from dialogue. It’s usually against my better judgment to try to try to give context or explain the dilemma of anyone in a position of leadership, including myself. It is not just me being defensive, but with empathy we can better understand each other and move towards a solution. And even if we are at loggerheads, with empathy we can understand the underlying assumptions and motivations that led someone to make a decision or take a stance on an issue. We can disagree without thinking that assuming a moral superiority.
Social media makes us all much more accessible, it means all sorts of moral judgements about your personal choices, your politics, or your adherence to your faith will show up in your timeline. It means that hours of your day can be eaten up going back and forth trying to save face in debates where hundreds of people reading it will form strong opinions about you. It means that people will send you screen shots of comments that may make you question your ability to operate in the community. It means that the cream in your morning coffee will sour as your inbox or mentions are flooded with critiques mixed with ad hominem attacks.
Being put in the position to represent the community is a heavy mantle to bear.  I often wish my family could go back to anonymity and live our lives like normal people. I slowly saw my private life die in 2007 when I posted my first public blog entry. Then across the world, people would recognize who I was. People who never met me had all sorts of assumptions formed opinions about my personal life, my politics, and my religious and spiritual journey. My private life ended when my husband gave his first khutbah at UPenn in 2009. Given the vitriol, I moved into obscurity until I founded an organization in 2014. Initially, I didn’t want to be the public face. I did so because people dismissed our efforts and erased the Black women involved in the project.  There are aspects of my work that I love. First and foremost, I love teaching. But I have to constantly renew my intentions because the constant barrage of critiques and debates are tiring.  The returns of doing this work are limited emotionally, personally, or financially, but this is important work.  Even though I was not the best qualified to do anti-racism education, only a few others stepped up with me to advance racial justice in Muslim communities.
I lead by from behind in trying to serve. I also lead from behind because of my own unique struggle. While coming from a disadvantaged position, recovering from the strikes against me, catching up from my late start and interruptions, trying to  get through each day multi-tasking my duties as a mom and wife of a public religious leader, my vantage point shifts and changes constantly.  I know there are people who have even stronger skills and talents that I have, but they are not built up and supported in our community. I hope to find that person more suited for this work and to have built up a healthy space for them to take this work to the next level.
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Chicago Muslims Join Mass Protest in Chicago

ciogcBLMPoster

With the full support of The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), Muslims are joining thousands in a rally and  march from Chicago’s Federal Building to City Hall to call for an elected Civilian Accountability Council. Grassroots campaigns to address violence and criminalization of Black and Latino communities are significant in this movement. This is the city where our sister Ameenah Matthews  and other Interrupters have courageously stood between rival gangs. According to Bill Chambers, CIOGC is a federation of organizations that represent over 400,000 Muslim Americans in the Chicago area.  Activists have long been fighting to change police policies, from Stop and Frisk, police killings, and even torture. In the past eight years, 400 people have been shot by Chicago police and only one was ruled an unjustified shooting. Don Rose points out,  Dante Servin, who was only the second Chicago police officer to be indicted in 20 years, but even he was recently acquitted of manslaughter for shooting Rekia Boyd.   In the Homan Square police warehouse interrogation facility  200 suspects from 1972-1991 and Emanuel Rahm approved a reparations settlement for victims of torture. Anjum Ali explains, “I heard a WBEZ story about the Chicago review board, IPRA, made up of mostly law enforcement people, and how they almost never rule an officer-involved shooting to be unjustified.” Ali  pointed out the connections between Human Rights violations against Muslims and the war on terror and Chicago. He notes, “Det. Richard Zuley who honed his torturing skills in Chicago and was sent to be an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay. Ali highlights,“The Muslim community and others have been outraged by the techniques used in the Guantanamo Bay facility, but it’s happening right here.”

 

In the video, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid  affirms, “Black Lives Matter” and states that the historic march aims to do two things:  Stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and ask for city council to pass a law to establish civilian oversight of Chicago’s police. On the CGOIC website, “this march coincides with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who used coalition building as a major strategy in his efforts for peace.” The Muslim efforts are largely coordinated by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Volunteer Chairman for Justice for All, an organization that “… has taken on the mandate of doing political advocacy for causes that do not get mainstream support.”

 

As of Saturday morning 201 have joined  Muslim Join August 29 March the facebook page.  Churches, mosques, temples, and labor unions are joining in the organized rally, which According to the facebook page, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago  is providing water for 10,000 people.

 

On the Facebook Event page  hosted by The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression states “We are uniting our shared experience fighting for justice in order to bring about a systemic change. We are empowering the people to hold the police accountable for the crimes they commit, and to decide and control how they are policed” As of early Saturday,  1263 people signed up on the facebook page. Buses are schedule to pick up participants from ten mosques including  the Muslim Community Center (MCC). Muslim Education Center (MEC), Islamic Center of Wheaton (ICW), Islamic Community Center of Des Plaines, Islamic Foundation, Islamic Foundation North (IFN), MECCA Center, Mosque Foundation, Dar-us-Sunnah, and Masjid Al Farooq. The mass rally is utilizing the hashtags #ChiRisingAug29 , #StopPoliceCrimes, and #BlackLivesMatter

The Medina: Muslim Urban Justice

MuslimUrbanJustice_flier

What does medina mean for Muslims in the United States? With major Muslim centers of population along the two coasts, in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit, Islam in the United States is an urban religion. In a recent Ramadan reflection, Hazel Gomez writes, “In the next 35 years, America will grow by 110 million people and nearly 100 percent of that growth will be in cities — not suburban or rural America.” She continues, “Our task, if we’re to remain relevant to society at large, is to create viable, urban, multi-ethnic, Muslim-led, values-based communities.” Shaykha Muslema Purmul extends the argument about the significance of Muslim institutions in urban spaces. A mosque shutting down in a suburban neighborhood may not impact the neighbors, she points out, but “… if an institution like IMAN or Islah LA or Ta’leef Collective is shut down, the neighborhood would certainly care.”

Reflecting on Malcolm X’s legacy, Rami Nashishibi calls on our faith community to deepen our commitment to the inner city for three reasons: 1) Our roots are in the ‘Hood; 2) We do a lot of “our” business in the ‘Hood; and 3) Our greatest contributions to America are in the ‘Hood. Nashishibi points out that the modern roots of Islam in America began in urban centers such as Detroit, Harlem, Cleveland, and Chicago. Many immigrant Muslim families have benefitted economically through gas stations, restaurants, corner stores, and services in the hood. And finally, as a community we can make the greatest contribution to addressing social and economic disparities in the inner city.

These disparities arise out of migration patterns and the economic disempowerment of inner city communities. With approximately 70% of Black and Latinos in cities or outer ring communities, urban justice is often linked to racial justice. Dawinder S. Sidhu writes:

Urban America is occupied by the ‘urban underclass”–the marginalized poor in America’s inner cities. Members of the urban underclass are, generally defined, those who are economically impoverished, spatially relegated to ghettos, disproportionately African-American, subjected to discriminatory policies, and lacking prospects for social or physical advancement.

Long historical processes and profound structural economic shifts, that include the decline of industry in urban America, in addition to the legacy of housing discrimination have segregated poor and minority populations in U.S. cities. Inner city poverty is a racial justice issue because of the persistence of racial and gender discrimination in employment, criminal justice system, and education disparities, which prevent communities of color in urban areas from achieving their full potential. These factors also led to complex interactions between various groups, including tensions between South Asian and Arab corner storeowners and predominantly Black and Latino communities.

On the other hand, faith based initiatives and individual Muslims inspired by Islam and their hopes for bringing power to underserved communities have led to developments such as Kenny Luqman Gamble’s Universal Companies. It is important for us to know what Muslim community leaders are doing in terms of Urban Justice. They can inspire us, while providing important models to follow. But we also need to think more about how we can mobilize the broader Muslim community to support these efforts.

When it comes to Urban Justice, what are Muslim community leaders with strong organizing experiences on the ground doing? What models can we follow? How can the broader Muslim community support community leaders who are addressing Urban Justice?

Join  this important conversation by viewing the livestream and tweeting your questions and reflections on the panel using the hashtag #MuslimUrbanJustice Thursday August 13 at 3:15 pm PST/ 6:15pm ESTTo address these issues, MuslimARC is very excited to organize a live streamed online panel highlighting the work that organizations like IMANDream of DetroitLA-Voice, and Sahaba Initiative are doing to advance Urban Justice.

We hope you’ll join us at 6:15pm ET this Thursday to discuss some of these important questions. Click here to join the event on Facebook and be sure to share it with friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Ramadan Plea to Overcome Muslim Stereotypes in America

A multi-ethnic community puts Muslims in North America in a unique position to build bridges

As we honor Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, it’s important to look back at the history of Muslims in America to guide the context of fighting increased anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S. today.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes are five times more common today than they were before 9/11. In 2014, we saw the chilling murder of 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, who was run down outside his mosque in Kansas City, Mo., by a man who had expressed his hatred for Muslims. In February 2015, the Chapel Hill shooting took the lives of three American-Muslim college students and shook the entire Muslim community. Last month there was an armed protest in Arizona outside of a mosque, and a Muslim community in New York was targeted by a man who plotted to burn down a school and mosque. The media is also filled with negative stereotypes about Muslims.

My concerns mirror those of so many Americans: As a parent to a rambunctious 3-year-old girl, I am concerned with her getting a quality education in a safe school, and I want her to live to her fullest potential and to have a positive self-identity. Yet when I taught an anti-racism workshop to 11-year-old girls last fall and asked about stereotypes, almost all of them answered that they faced some level of anti-Muslim bias. This reflects a recent survey from Muslim ARC, an organization that I co-founded, in which 82% of respondents said that they experienced racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination from society at large.

American Muslims with roots in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia face anti-Muslim bias mixed with a heavy dose of xenophobia. African American Muslims are often judged on two fronts: on the basis of religion and on the basis of race. But this native Muslim population has historical roots that go back hundreds of years. Around the time of the American Revolution, a large community of Moroccan Muslims lived and thrived in Charleston, S.C.Slaves in the Antebellum United States—nearly 15% to 30% of whom were Muslim—celebrated Ramadan in the South. From Thomas Jefferson owning a Quran to the mass adoration of Muhammad Ali to the reverberating social impact of Malcolm X, African American Muslims have always been a part of the American tapestry. The latest spate of hate crimes—both from white supremacists and from Islamophobes—belies this history.

Muslim Americans in America are a diverse group. The American Mosque Study breaks down the ethnicities of mosque participants in 2011 to 33% South Asian, 27% Arab, 24% African American, 9% Sub-Saharan African, 2% European (i.e. Bosnian), and about 1% each for white, Southeast Asian, Caribbean, Turkish, and Latino. This multi-ethnic community puts Muslims in North America in a unique position to build bridges.

This Ramadan, I abstain from drinking and eating during daylight hours and break fast at sun down with people from all walks of life. I have celebrated with Muslim Americans from Vietnam, Albania, Bangladesh, Morocco, and Mexico, and each exchange has helped me develop greater understanding of myself and empathy for others. As part of the African Diaspora, I feel a connection to African Diasporic communities in India, Brazil, Haiti, and Europe. As a Muslim, I have felt a closeness to Muslims from Eastern Europe, Yemen, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan. By celebrating our plurality, we demonstrate that there is no one single narrative for what it means to be Muslim and to be American.

 

Original article in Time.

Heartbreak, Detachment and Hope

Foregoing Community for Authentic Relationships

I came home from a community iftar on Saturday and tweeted this:

Margari Tweet

When asked what happened, I answered, “I’m breaking up with my community.” Anybody who has been through a divorce can tell you that ending a relationship can be a long process.  It begins with knowing that things aren’t working.

So, I’m in the process of breaking up with my community.

Two months ago, the reality of it being over hit home.  I was in a New York hotel, on the first over night trip away from my three-year-old daughter.  As my husband told me about the latest development in our Muslim community, I burst into tears. The masjid board was dissolved the month before, and the waqf took over, deciding not to institute elections for the foreseeable future.

I was losing the dream of an inclusive community, one where my daughter could belong to and one in which the 18-year-old version of me could prosper, rather than spiritually and economically flounder. I felt so hollowed out.  What had I been working towards for over a decade?

Read the rest on AltMuslim

Strategies for Coping with Islamophobia

Muslims in the West face a barrage of negative images in the media, Islamophobia, anti-Black, anti-Arab, anti-South Asian racism, and xenophobia.   Muslims in Canada and the United States  are grieving after the murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad and her sister Razan on Tuesday and the lesser known murder of Mustafa Mattan.  Some members of Muslim communities have faced increased intimidation, and others fear copycat crimes and further backlash. In the aftermath, Muslims across the country are experiencing psychological trauma, which adds to the environmental stress that Muslims have been facing. Whether in their work places, schools, public places, or neighborhoods, Muslims feel pressured to defend their identity, be exemplary citizens, and counter negative images of Muslims. Although Islamophobia is a form of religious discrimination, Muslims are a racialized group subject to interpersonal and structural racism in society. Thus, individuals with Arabic names, those who are identifiably Muslim, or appear non-white can be subject to racial stress.

The forms of racism and Islamophobia can be subtle and overt. Nadal, Griffin, Hamit, Leon, Tobio and Rivera (2012) list six major themes of microaggressions:

1) Endorsing Religious Stereotypes of Muslims as Terrorists,

2) Pathology of the Muslim Religion,

3) Assumption of Religious Homogeneity,

4) Exoticization,

5) Islamophobic and Mocking Language,

6) Alien in Own Land.

The toxic climate of these microagressions, negative media representation, employment discrimination, and law enforcement surveillance has implications on the mental health of many Muslim Americans. According to the Counseling Center of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, race related stress causes has the following negative outcomes:

Intense emotional reactions:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Helplessness-Hopelessness
  • Isolation
  • Paranoia
  • Resentment
  • Sadness
  • Self-blame
  • Self-doubt

Ineffective coping:

  • Avoidance
  • Disengaging
  • Substance Use

Health Concerns:

  • Heart Disease
  • Hypertension
  • Muscle Tension

How to deal with Islamophobia? Many people do not know take action because they do not know how to respond when they witness someone telling an anti-Muslim joke. Studies have shown that bystander anti-racism does have an affect. Perpetrators of racism are less likely to perpetuate racism after confronted.

Individuals who experience racism and Islamophobia, as well as those who have observed it, often feel powerless when they do not know how to respond. Students may not know who to turn to or what recourse that they have. Knowing strategies for addressing Islamophobia can feel empowering. There is evidence that regardless of the resistance or hostility people expressed when confronted on the use of stereotypes, they are less likely to express prejudiced views afterwards (This study ). However, it is not the job of the victims of prejudice and discrimination to call out the perpetrators or make every Islamophobic incident a teachable moment.

First, draw on your faith for strength and direction. Check your intentions in responding to Islamophobia. You will have a range of emotions. Keeping your connection and communication with Allah (swt), both will help bring ease and guidance to any situation. Second, find colleagues who will help by supporting you or by becoming advocates for addressing the situation. Organizations such as CAIR, Muslim Advocates, Take On Hate, NAACP, and SAALT advocate for and assist individuals facing racism and Islamophobia. If you are going to a mental health professional, be sure that the he/she is multicultural competent and has understanding of micro aggressions and racial battle fatigue. There is no one right way to respond to Islamophobia. The following are a few suggestions that can help empower everyday Muslims.

Recommendations for Coping with Islamophobic-Related Stress

Connect

You are not alone. You are part of the ummah. Although Islamophobia can cause feelings of isolation and depression, know that there are Muslims all over the country who share your experiences, who will validate the reality that you are facing and who are open to provide you a sense of support and solidarity.

Find your Roots

Developing a positive cultural and religious identity will help combat the invalidating experience of Islamophobia. Knowing your religion and your heritage will help bolster you against the dehumanizing experience of racism and Islamophobia. Take a history course, watch a documentary, read the Qur’an, the seerah, or historical non-fiction. Even Muslim literature may uplift your spirit and help you feel connected. Celebrate being Muslim and contributions Muslims have made all over the world.

Have a little faith

Center yourself by building your Iman. Find hope in the Qur’an and sunnah and strength and in the early Muslim community who faced oppression. Focus on the power of dua and remembrance of Allah (swt) we must also be careful not to unwittingly convey the message that crying and feeling sad is unacceptable. We should absolutely trust in Allah’s wisdom and mercy, while also acknowledging how painful this is for so many Muslims.

Take Care of You

You can empower yourself with healthy habit. Taking care of your spiritual, mental, and physical health will help you cope with the stress of discrimination.

Take a Stand

Pushing back against anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination is one one to empower yourself. Although this may look different depending on the situation, there are many ways that you can take a stand. (Adapted heavily from Coping with Discrimination)

              

Report It

Report any hatecrimes, Call law enforcement if you see anything threatening. If this is happening in your workplace or school, report it to HR or student affairs.

                                               

References                 

Kevin L. Nadal, Katie E. Griffin, Sahran Hamit, Jayleen Leon, Michael Tobio, and David P. Rivera . Subtle and Overt Forms of Islamophobia: Microaggressions toward Muslim America. Journal of Muslim Mental Health Volume VI, Issue 2, 2012 http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.10381607.0006.203 http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jmmh/10381607.0006.203?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Do you have any more resources or suggestions? Put them in the comments below. jazak Allah kheir!

Self Empathy

 

Rose from my Garden

Rose from my Garden

This evening, I attended a preview course on Healing and Reconciliation. One thing that the instructor brought up was that when we are hurting, it is very difficult to hear the grievances of others. Knowing that I’ve hurt others and pray that they can forgive me and move past the pain is important. By keeping this in mind, I’m more likely to forgive others.  Allah tells us in the Qur’an:

And obey Allah and the Messenger that you may obtain mercy. And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteousWho spend [in the cause of Allah ] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good (Surah Imran: 132-134

Last week’s Khutbah by Marc Manley was on humility. He reminded us about letting things go even when they chafe us. There are things that stand in the way of humility, from well intentioned peopled like myself.  Sometimes I interact with people and feel deep anger over real and  perceived slights and insults. It is fight or flight. The anxiety is real, the visceral reaction is so real and tangible for me. I’m left exhausted after the verbal battles.  My  first response is to guard myself. But these shields are something that keep me from asking for forgiveness  when I wrong Allah and when I wrong His creation. Making amends with people is one of the  most humbling things.

Making amends can be frightening. Unprepared, it can turn into a downward cycle. Recently, I unknowingly did something deeply offensive. When it was brought to my attention,  I apologized.  But my apology wasn’t accepted. Instead, it brought an onslaught of anger, grievances, and judgments about my essential self.  At the time, I was not in a place where I could accept the grievances. My life was in upheaval, I had just been dealt with another emotional blow the day before, and I was blindsided.   Sometimes I still think about that moment with a broken heart,  with unresolved  feelings. But then again, I hadn’t done much to find the space or time to resolve it. Instead, the judgment and derision I have faced still echo in my head. I let them shape how I see myself. And I wallow in this pit listening to those voices who tell me I am not worthy, I am not lovable, I need to go, I don’t belong, I’m not good enough. The over achiever in me tries to battle those voices by doing things to prove my worthiness, my cleverness, my lovability, my noble contribution to the world. But those efforts often fall short. It is time for real self work

I’ve done a number of crummy things and things I’m not proud of. I can’t even chalk them up to my youth as I did them when I was a supposedly mature woman. Still, I am learning to be more kind and forgive myself.  Part of forgiving myself is letting those voices die out, as they are untruths about me. And as long as I let them define me, I will be sad and angry.  Forgiveness for me is self care. I have been very unkind to myself as I have internalized much of the judgment and derision I have experienced in my life. I know it will be a process, but carrying on this way is doing me much more harm emotionally and spiritually. I know I have a lot of people to make amends to. I am working on becoming prepared to listen to others with empathy, from a place where I am whole.