Call for US and Canadian Muslim Participants in Study on Inter-Ethnic Relations

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As Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative,  I  am asking for your support in distributing our Study of Inter-Ethnic Relations in Muslim Communities. Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) is a group of Muslims working together to build and collect the tools needed to creatively address and effectively challenge racism in our communities. As a human rights organization, we focus on education, advocacy, and outreach.

Our survey  is an eight question questionnaire intended to gauge perceptions of race and ethnic relations in Canada and the United States.  In order to have accurate data, we are tracking the initial surveys by email. Upon collection, all personal information will be deleted and data coded to ensure the privacy of the respondents. The responses will only be shared with a small research team at MuslimARC, and your information will remain private. Completing the survey will not involve any risk to you, although some questions about previous experience of being harassed or discriminated against may cause some emotional triggers.

MuslimARC is committed to continual dialogue and examination of ethnic, racial, and Islamic identity and incorporates wisdom from the Islamic sciences, grassroots activism, human rights law, the arts, and instructional design. We hope to offer work that is fresh, unique, and can be put to use on the ground challenging racism in American/Canadian Muslim communities. You can visit our website (muslimarc.org) for more information about our programming and campaigns.

We are also on Facebook (www.facebook.com/muslimarc), Twitter (www.twitter.com/muslimarc), and Tumblr (http://muslimarc.tumblr.com), if you would prefer to support our efforts through those mediums instead. Our newsletter sign-up is on our website.

The survey will be open from now until 11:59pm EST January 9th, 2015. Please share widely with your social network. Please feel free to email me or send your questions to info@muslimarc.org. You can fill out the form below.

 

 

#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.

Launching of MuslimARC

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

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

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

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

Pilgrimage for Life

Pilgrimage for life
Like many converts, I was drawn to Islam’s egalitarian message. Through Muslim student groups on college campuses and community life in various masajid,  I developed close friendships with Muslim women from all parts of the world. We were brought together by our mutual love for Allah and His Messenger.  The bonds that I developed with some of them gave me a sense of real belonging and acceptance that I had not felt with my high school friends and even member of my own family. But there were also  times when those cross cultural encounters brought to light some unsettling realities of racism and colorism. But by addressing our shortcomings we can meet the challenge and create communities that are more closely aligned with the example set by our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

Although language and cultural differences can create challenges to forming social bonds, perceptions of race and ethnic identity can have the greatest impact on how well some women are received by a community.  When asked how her ethnic identity influenced her integration into the Muslim community, Keziah. S. Ridgeway, an African American  high School Social Studies teacher, responded that her outgoing personality helped bridge the cultural divide. She noted, “however, as time wore on I did realize that many of the people that I hung out with had biases towards people who looked like myself.”  Safiyyah, a white American convert, said that her ethnicity as an Ashkenazi Jew influenced her integration because some Muslims were suspicious of her and others denied her cultural identity. She added that by extension of her African American husband, she has experienced discrimination. “We rarely get invited to the homes of immigrant Muslims. This is despite the fact that the Muslims in our mosque know us very well, and that my husband and I are active in our mosque.” Some argue that this is old world thinking and they place their hopes on the next generation.

In many Islamic schools, students socialize along racial lines,   repeating the social patterns of their own racially segregated Muslim communities. The language that many of the Arab American students use alienates a number of African American students. Kezia highlighted the common usage of the word abeed (Arabic for slave) to refer to African Americans. She said,  “their parents use it on a regular basis to describe African Americans. To them it’s just a cultural term and many don’t understand why it evokes anger from their Black counterparts.” In a Michigan school, when two weekend school teachers disciplined a child for using the term, the parents came to the child’s defense. Islamic schools are often a crucible for race relations in our ummah.

The sad reality in our Islamic schools and segregated communities contrasts with the egalitarian message that we find in the Qur’an, which says:

“O Humankind! We have created you from male and female and have made you into peoples (shu‘ub) and tribes (qaba’il) that you may know one another; truly, the noblest (akram) among you before God are the most pious (atqa) among yourselves; indeed, is God the All-knowing, the All-seeing.” (49:13).

The Prophet (PBUH) said during his farewell pilgrimage:

Oh humankind, your Lord is one and your ancestors are one. You are from Adam and Adam was from dust. Behold, neither the Arab has superiority to the non-Arab, nor the red to the black nor the black to the red except by virtue of piety (taqwa). Truly the most distinguished amongst you is the most pious

Yet, Muslims old and young are often stereotyped and categorized by their ethnic background and color of their skin.

Some have argued that the colorism and racism we find in the Muslim ummah is due to colonization. Yet, we can find even in classical Islamic literature racial hierarchies. Ibn Khaldun wrote disparaging of sub-Saharan Africans as lacking intellect. A famed Andalusian poetess, Hafsah Ar-Rukaniyyah  (1190-1191) asked Abu Jaffar how could he love a Black woman, ”Who is altogether like the night, which hides beauty/
And with darkness obscures the radiance of a face?” In the chapter on marriage in the Revival of the Religious Sciences,  Imam Ghazali wrote, “a black woman is better than a barren beautiful women,” implying that black women cannot be beautiful. Blacks were assumed to not have status in Arab society. This was reflected in some classical positions where a man could marry a black woman as a guardian. Their documentation  points to how Muslims fall short of our ideals. Blind acceptance of social norms and customs perpetuate ignorance and bias. Ethnic chauvinism leads to arrogance and robs us of our ability to see the inherent value and beauty of each human being.

Like racism, colorism is a blight in our community.  I found the traces of colorism in my students’ creative writing projects as they wrote about protagonists with skin as white as milk. Dark skin has been looked down upon in many Muslim societies through the ages. And now, there is a huge market playing into fears and insecurities.  Some halal and international markets in the US are stocked with bleaching cream. There are young girls who fear playing outside lest they become black and ugly.   Girls and women with curly and kinky hair struggle with issues of self worth and shame because they can’t tame their curls into submission. The standard of beauty is centered around pale skin and straight hair, with as European features as possible. An international student from the Gulf suggested that I pinch my daughter’s nose to make it grow straight and pointy. She recently expressed a desire to have work done on her own nose.  The frequent comments about my daughter’s fair complexion and the Muslim obsession with European features makes me shudder to think about what type of self image will my curly haired, button nosed daughter have in the Muslim community. While living in abroad, one friend said that in the West there are many types of beauty, but in Egyptian society there was one standard. It worries me that we use veiled rhetoric about liberating ourselves from western standards of beauty with hijab, all the while embracing notions of beauty that are just as oppressive, if not more. The beauty regime of whitening and straightening continues even as the society becomes more outwardly religious.

Challenging beauty norms or patterns of racism in our community can seem daunting for the individual.  Muslim womanSafiyyah said to “Remember all the Qur’an and ahadith that speaks out against racism” and “defend victims of racism when it occurs.” Citing the example of the “We’re All Abeed of Allah” campaign, which uses T-shirts and wristbands to deliver their message, Kezia argued that Muslims must unite and form coalitions to change racial perceptions. Her role as an educator, activist,  and Muslim fashion blogger places her in a special position to address these changes through education and meaningful dialogue.  Both women point the power of women’s voices. We need to speak up and against expressions racism and colorism. The disease of prejudice that plagues our community can be cured if enough of us create a stigma against violating the prophetic example.

You can read the full article and other thoughtful pieces at Sisters Magazine  January 2013 edition “All the Colours of the Ummah”

Black and White

 

 

image by Luke Chueh

black adj \ˈblak\
Definition of BLACK

1 a : of the color black
b (1) : very dark in color (2) : having a very deep or low register a bass with a black voice (3) : heavy, serious the play was a black intrigue

2 a : having dark skin, hair, and eyes : swarthy the black Irish
b (1) often capitalized : of or relating to any of various population groups having dark pigmentation of the skin black Americans (2) : of or relating to the African-American people or their culture black literature a black college black pride black studies (3) : typical or representative of the most readily perceived characteristics of black culture trying to sound black tried to play blacker jazz

3: dressed in black

4: dirty, soiled hands black with grime

5 a : characterized by the absence of light a black night
b : reflecting or transmitting little or no light black water
c : served without milk or cream black coffee

6 a : thoroughly sinister or evil : wicked a black deed
b : indicative of condemnation or discredit got a black mark for being late

7: connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil black magic

8 a : very sad, gloomy, or calamitous black despair
b : marked by the occurrence of disaster black Friday

9 : characterized by hostility or angry discontent : sullen

10 chiefly British : subject to boycott by trade-union members as employing or favoring nonunion workers or as operating under conditions considered unfair by the trade union

11 a of propaganda : conducted so as to appear to originate within an enemy country and designed to weaken enemy morale
b : characterized by or connected with the use of black propaganda black radio

12 : characterized by grim, distorted, or grotesque satire black humor

13 : of or relating to covert intelligence operations black government programs
— black·ish adjective
— black·ly adverb
— black·ness noun

Synonyms: ebony, pitch-black, pitch-dark, pitchy, raven, sable
Antonyms: white

white adj \ˈhwīt, ˈwīt\
whit·erwhit·est
Definition of WHITE

1 a : free from color
b : of the color of new snow or milk; specifically : of the color white
c : light or pallid in color white hair lips white with fear
d : lustrous pale gray : silvery; also : made of silver

2 a : being a member of a group or race characterized by light pigmentation of the skin
b : of, relating to, characteristic of, or consisting of white people or their culture
c [from the former stereotypical association of good character with northern European descent] : marked by upright fairness that’s mighty white of you

3: free from spot or blemish: as
a (1) : free from moral impurity : innocent (2) : marked by the wearing of white by the woman as a symbol of purity a white wedding
b : unmarked by writing or printing
c : not intended to cause harm a white lie white magic
d : favorable, fortunate one of the white days of his life — Sir Walter Scott

4 a : wearing or habited in white
b : marked by the presence of snow : snowy a white Christmas

5a : heated to the point of whiteness
b : notably ardent : passionate white fury

6 a : conservative or reactionary in political outlook and action
b : instigated or carried out by reactionary forces as a counterrevolutionary measure a white terror

7 : of, relating to, or constituting a musical tone quality characterized by a controlled pure sound, a lack of warmth and color, and a lack of resonance

8 : consisting of a wide range of frequencies —used of light, sound, and electromagnetic radiation
— whit·ish adjective

One day my bi-racial niece came home after visiting the other side of her family. They told her she wasn’t black, but Black AND White. My mom took out a panda bear and said, “No, this is Black and White.” This was one of many long standing conversations we’ve had in our family about mixed, multi-cultural, and Black identities. It is challenging sometimes because many of us still hold onto the one drop rule, while our multi-ethnic family members may not identify as Black, but mixed. My mother raised me with a strong Black identity while at the same time encouraging me to embrace our Caribbean, European, and Native American roots. But some members of my family don’t feel comfortable with the subject of race. They don’t want to be asked, “What are you?” They dodge the question. Unlike my racially ambiguous family members, most people assume I’m Black.Throughout my life I’ve had a range of racialized experiences from experiencing anti-black racism to being accepted by certain groups because I wasn’t too black. Sometimes people probe my background. Sometimes my ethnicity was a subject of debate. Maybe I was from “exotic” land or I had one non-Black parent. Recently some students asked me whether I am mixed or not. And I dodge the question, not wanting to reify some assumptions about Black features. I respond, “No I’m not mixed. But Black American is a multi-ethnic category, most of us are at least 20% white.” As Black Americans are becoming increasingly mixed, I wonder what label will work. We’ve gone from Negro, Colored, Afro-American, Black and African American. But what happens when those labels don’t apply, but the historical legacy still remains? Maybe one day, we’ll find a name that sticks, one without negative connotations.

Am I Just a Muslim?

While my heart is at home, some things right now seem more real to me than some of the things that are preoccupying my friends and loved ones.   I am not saying that I’m not interested in this historic moment. There is something amazing about a Black man making it this far in a presidential election.  But, the lack of nuance in media representations of race and gender in the presidential election is not as real to me as making sense of being a Black woman in the Middle East. I know everyone is a buzz in the US. But being in a predominately Muslim society puts a lot of Muslim issues to the forefront. I am constantly wondering if there is a spot for me in this imagined community of ours, as a Black American Muslim woman.

There are times when I felt like there wasn’t room for me and that my experiences were dismissed. Two recent pieces have reminded me of the pressures I experienced as an early Muslim. But at the time of the articles, the country’s internet was either down or I was in transition. Since these pieces were published, I have had some time to reflect on how a Black American Muslim identity causes a lot of dissonance in an Arab Muslim society. Abdur Rahman wrote a very insightful and historically grounded piece called, I’m Just A Muslim Muslim Tariq Nelson also contributed to the discussion with his take on, Just A Muslim. He wrote:

It is this understanding of being “just a Muslim” that I reject. You must – like the brother in the meat store – become a pseudo-foreigner of some type and adopt a hodge-podge of immigrant cultures rather than adopting Islamic values. Being “just a Muslim” has essentially come to mean running away from one’s family, and history in some attempt to “pass” into “non-blackness”. In addition they adopt a parochial and reactionary attitude and a paralyzing suspicion of all things American or Western.

Years ago,  a young Arab American woman was pretty upset with me. She was mad because of the paper I wrote in a sociology class on inequality and social stratification. The paper was about multiple identities. Much to my suprise, the title upset her.  I had felt it was a pretty inocuous title. I don’t even think she really read too far into my paper. Besides at that time, I was still pretty new to the religion. I was naive and wet behind the ears. So, my paper definitely didn’t have the sharp critique you might find in my writing today. But still, the following bothered this young woman enough for her to tell me how much I sucked:

“My Multiple Identities as an African American Muslim Woman”

It got under her skin. To her, it showed where my loyalties were. “You didn’t put Muslim FIRST!” She said in a distressed and judgmental voice “The Most IMPORTANT thing is that we are MUSLIM!” This kind of bothered me. Because at the time, of almost all the Muslims in this little circle, I was the most identifiably Muslim Muslim. I wore hijab at the time. I participated in the Muslim Student Association, as well as the Black Student Association. Despite my efforts, my loyalty as a Muslim was constantly called into question by my Arab and Desi peers.

Someone called me a nationalist because I still participated in the Black Graduate Student Union. When I used to point out that they go to ethnic picnics, Lebanese iftar, Egyptian Day, Libyan picnic in the park, Bangladeshi dinner, Pakistani gathering, not to mention the ethnic after-eid-after parties. These were places I was never invited to. I pointed out that they all these ethnic functions. The argument someone made was that the people in their closed ethnic gatherings were all Muslim. For them, their ethnicity was intrinsicly tied to being Muslim. They were preserving their culture and language because one day, they hoped to go back home. Their functions or fundraisers could be completely secular and or for some nationalistic. But they were helping other Muslims.

Me, on the other hand, I was encouraged to divorce myself from the Black community. At the same time, I was told to give dawah. In fact, I was encouraged to give dawah. But dawah basically meant repesenting some Muslim issue overseas in some campus event. I’m not saying that no immigrant Muslims cared about African Americans. There was one who took an active interest in supporting the cause of a young Black man who happened to be Student Body president was arrested for showing up to a Senate meeting on campus.Many of the people who put those pressures have since changed their views. In many ways they too had utopian visions of what the Ummah looked like. Their own cultural practices were illegible to them, because for them they operated within an Islamic cultural matrix.

While some Muslims were mad because I didn’t claim I was just a Muslim-Muslim. I was never really allowed to be just a muslim-muslim. I was constantly referred to as “The Black” sister in a community that was diverse, but Black American were underrepresented. I was sort of relegated to Black things, like marrying ex-cons and being broke all the time. I was even told that I wasn’t just a Muslim indirectly in some not so nice ways.

Perhaps I felt pressures more intensely because of the relative isolation. But the pressure I experienced raised some important questions. Does participation in a community entail that you give up who you are? Should we end our participation in other communities, our ties with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, associates, sorority or fraternity brothers and sisters. Do we give up affiliations, inclinations, cultural tastes and affinities and adopt others? How do we talk about who we are? What are we? Can I be just a Muslim, while holding on to those descriptors that make me unique? I think my stance on some of these questions is quite clear. I also believe that these broad communities and categories do not make a human. But they are a part of who we are and our being in this world. At times I feel like a composite of many different things and experiences. Some of them intersect and and reinforce what I feel is the true person inside. At times my experiences and things conflict. But never once have I felt like a Muslim divorced from my cultural context as a Western woman of African descent who became Muslim as an adult. Once I become Just a Muslim, I lose my voice and am lost to some authoritarian dogma.

Race and the Flip Side of Sex Tourism

While visiting the Tafilelt, Morocco in 2004, I passed by an odd couple in a resort hotel. The woman looked old enough to be the young man’s grandmother. But they weren’t related. He was clearly Moroccan, a beautiful bronze complexioned twenty year old with large doe eyes, and a head full of big dark curls. She was clearly a European woman, her pale liver spotted skin loosely draped on her thin frame. The woman made a romantic gesture towards him, making it clear that he was not merely a tour guide. The young man had a new set of designer shades and a crisp new outfit. The woman seemed self satisfied as if she defeated something. He was her brown prize, even if only for that moment. That air about her made her almost radiant, even through her sun damaged skin. The man seemed slightly annoyed, impatient, as if anticipating something more.

I think that was the closest I’ve come to Female Sex Tourism (see wiki entry here). But I’ve heard that it is popular in several locations where there are large numbers of unemployed brown men. In fact, someone told me that making out with a Moroccan was part of the travel experience. From the wiki article, it looks like Morocco ranks up there in the female tourism industry. I’m also familiar with stories about female sex tourism in the Caribbean. A close friend of mine, a guy originally from Guyana but grew up in the Virgin Islands told me stories about his friends. Many of the local guys hung around the docks waiting for the cruise ships to unload white girls. It was an easy hook up, no strings attached, and sometimes they’d get something out of the deal. It was especially the case if the woman was less than attractive. They might receive more than free drinks, but clothes, watches, and even money.

In November Reuters featured a story Older White women enjoy Kenya’s Sex Tourism . I found it interesting because the year before I was in an ongoing debate about Black men and Sex tourism.
During that time, there was a flurry of articles and commentary responding to William Jelani Cobb’s expose. like this and a One brother pointed out that Terry McMillan’s When Stella got her Groove Back opened doors for professional Black women to travel to the Caribbean for a little bit of relaxation and hook-up

Sex Tourism by Annan Boodram

Annan Boodram wrote an interesting <a href=”http://www.caribvoice.org/Travel&Tourism/sextourism.html”>piece</a&gt;.

Dr. Phillips emphasized that sex tourism, a product of slavery, was not new to the Caribbean. White women always wanted to sample black men, while the latter saw them as their hope of financial and social boost, she added.
American sociologist Klaus de Albuquerque agrees with the erotic element to sex tourism. He believes that for the white woman who flock to the Caribbean for sea, sun and mostly sex, it’s a ‘phallic sojourn’ in search of the ‘big bamboo’.
If an ‘escort’ plays his cards right, being with a tourist sexually can raise him a pretty penny. Most of the women are into oral sex, largely taboo among Jamaican males; for this act, some of the women are reportedly willing to pay as much as US$100. According to a Jamaican beach bum ‘Jim’, this is normally played out in their hotel room.
The success of the Terry McMillan’s book and film ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’ added a fillip to sex tourism as many successful American women flocked to the Caribbean beaches to find sex and romance.
Indeed the majority of these adventurous tourists travel to Jamaica in the winter season. They are single women in their mid-forties and are from major cities in the United States. They are not necessarily into long-term relationships, but Jim says they return regularly to their island boy, bringing gifts like jewellery,designer sneakers and clothing.
But while they like the gifts the ‘escorts’ ultimate hope is to be like Winston, Terry MacMillan’s lover – marrying and migrating, preferably to the United States. It gives them an opportunit for a new life and better days for their children. But to Dr Anthony Bryan, a prominent Caribbean scholar and professor of international relations at the North-South Centre of the University of Miami, the desire of white women and men to pay for sex can be traced, in part, to “The racist stereotype of the exotic and erotic black or mixed-race woman or man”.

I find this whole trend disturbing. I actually didn’t know it had been going on as long as it did. I really find the apologetic tone troubling. But clearly, from the media representations, Female Sex Tourism captures a lot of people’s imagination. There have even been a film about Female Sex Tourism, “Going South”and a play. While people have argued nobody had a problem with the film “When Stella Got Her Groove Back” people critique Black men who travel to exotic locales to hook up. I take pride in not ever having read a Terry McMillan book, but I have been subjected to several of her films including Stella. From what I remember, Stella did not go to Jamaica to hook up. But she did find her groove an other things. This story was loosely based off of McMillan’s life. And if you want to see how that story ends read here.