Letter to Imams

Muslim Anti-Racism Coalition launched this week and many joined the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #BeingBlackAnd Muslim. My Storify of the event explains the idea’s conception, the lead up and phenomenal response. AlJazeera’s The Stream covered and summed up conversation. In her article Being Black and Muslim, Hind Makki, one of the founders of MuslimARC  wrote:

I’ve often said that the three largest challenges facing American Muslim communities are misogyny, racism and sectarianism, which is why I’m proud to be one of the founding members of Muslim ARC.

Like Hind Makki, I’m so honored to work with Muslims of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, denominations, and orientations  of faith came to address racism. This Black History Month, we hope to deepen our conversation with three more hashtags. In addition, on Feb. 20 Twitter Talk with African American Muslim leaders, Dawud Walid, Amin Nathari, Amina Wadud, and Donna Auston.

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And reflecting our move from social networking activism to a grassroots movement, we are asking you to help us by appealing to our imams and khateebs to dedicate at least one khutbah (Friday Sermon) dedicated to intra-Muslim  racism. MuslimARC is focusing our anti-racism khutbahs on Friday Feb. 21st, the anniversary of the iconic Black American Muslim leader Malcolm X. Please share  our letter to imams with imams, khateeb and  local communities. You can email the letter to your local community leader from the website or download a pdf here.  Here is our letter below. Please share widely.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

February 14, 2014

Assalaamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh

We are contacting you on behalf of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC)[1] with a khutbah request for Black History Month. From the time of our Noble Prophet ﷺ‎, anti-Black and anti-African racism has plagued Muslim societies and communities. As you are aware, these beliefs go against the messages that are at the heart of our Holy Qur’an and Prophetic traditions.

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.

—Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, The Last Sermon.

One way that we can raise awareness regarding anti-Black racism today is by continuing to educate ourselves and others. If you have not already, would you please consider speaking about Black Muslim history and anti-Black racism in the ummah during your khutbah on Friday, February 21st? As an imam, you are a central figure in many Muslim communities and are thus specially positioned in your community to address these important topics and begin a conversation in your city about an issue that is often not thoroughly addressed. We ask that you take this opportunity to highlight our ethical responsibilities as Muslims to challenge ethnic chauvinism and tribalism.

In the interest of strengthening our brotherhood, we are providing you with a list of topics that we think merit particular attention given what we have observed in our ongoing conversations on social media and with Muslim organizers and activists across the country.

Among the topics that can be explored are as follows:

  • How the Prophet ﷺ specifically dealt with incidents among Sahabah (examples: the hesitancy of some companions to follow Usamah bin Zayd into battle, the Prophet’s ﷺ suggesting the marriage of Usamah to Fatimah bint Qays, and the refusal of Abdur Rahman bin ‘Awf to marry his daughter to Al-Miqdaad bin “Al-Aswad” but Bilal later marrying the sister of bin ‘Awf)
  • Reminding the believers that the use of racial slurs and name-calling are prohibited in Islam (today, in many Islamic schools and other segments of Muslim society, terms like “abeed”, “akata”, “adoon”, “jareer”, and/or “kallu” are frequently used to refer to Black individuals [2])
  • Muslim viewpoints on standing for justice, against oppression, and the duty to strive to rectify any wrongs we see being committed (for example, to speak out when we hear a racial slur being uttered)
  • Our strong tradition of standing with the most marginalized members of society, and reflecting upon how anti-Black racism continues to marginalize Black Americans [3]
  • Bringing attention to issues currently impacting Black Muslims both in the US and abroad, and including these Muslims in your dua (examples: police brutality and the frequency of extrajudicial killings of Black Americans in the United States,[4] including that of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah,[5] and the grave injustices faced by Black Muslims in the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Somalia)
  • The importance of practicing what we preach with regards to community unity and participation (examples: non-Black Muslims welcoming Black Muslims as potential spouses for themselves and their children; ensuring that all Black Muslims feel welcome and included in our masjids; and guaranteeing equal opportunities and treatment in our leadership positions)
  • Analysis of and reminders regarding the Prophet’s ﷺ Last Sermon
  • Our responsibilities towards challenging the nafs and examining where we may improve our adab and akhlaq when it comes to racist tendencies
  • Influential Black Muslims in Islamic history (examples: Luqman the Wise, Bilal (RA), or other lesser known Sahabi and Tabi’een)
  • The work of influential contemporary African or Black American Muslims such as Imam Warith Deen Mohammed
  • Lessons from the struggles of African Muslims brought as slaves to the Americas, such as Omar Ibn Said, Ibrahim Abdur Rahman , or the 19th century community of Muslims on the Sapelo Islands

Lastly, we would like to note that February 21 is the day El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was assassinated in New York City, NY in 1965. As he noted in his Letter from Mecca after completing Hajj, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.”[6] His life left a profound mark on American society and continues to inspire Muslims around the world. Still today, nearly 50 years after his death, Muslims of all backgrounds note the role his words have had in calling them to Islam and/or strengthening their imaan.
Thus, giving a “Black History Month Khutbah” is a beautiful way for Muslims nationwide to explore and discuss – together – the legacy of Africans and African American Muslims and their contributions to the ummah. We humbly request that you join us in this initiative so that we are better able to hold fast to the message of unity and brotherhood in Islam.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.—The Holy Qur’an, Surat Al-Hujurat, 49:13

Please do not hesitate to contact MuslimARC if you have any questions or to let us know that your congregation will be participating. We are also more than happy to provide you with resources for your khutbah. We encourage you to record your khutbah, if able, and to send a copy or link to the recording to info@muslimarc.org so that others may benefit from your words.

JazakAllah kheir,

MuslimARC,
The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative

Email: info@muslimarc.org
Website: http://www.muslimarc.org
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/muslimarc
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/muslimarc
Tumblr: http://muslimarc.tumblr.com


[1] MuslimARC is an organization working to find ways to creatively address and effectively challenge racism in Muslim communities. Online at http://www.muslimarc.org.
[2] Dawud Walid, “ Intra-Muslim Racism: Confronting Ethnic Slurs and Racism Among American Muslims” January 19, 2014 from http://www.altmuslimah.com/b/mca/4893/.
[3] 11 Facts About Racial Discrimination, http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-racial-discrimination.
[4] Rania Khalek, “Every 28 Hours an African American is Extrajudicially Executed in the U.S.” April 15, 2013 http://raniakhalek.com/2013/04/15/every-28-hours-an-african-american-is-extrajudicially-executed-in-the-u-s/.
[5] Dawud Walid, “Year Anniversary of Imam Luqman Shooting Today” October 28, 2010 from http://dawudwalid.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/year-anniversary-of-imam-luqman-shooting/.
[6] Malcolm X, “Letter from Mecca” April 1964 from http://www.malcolm-x.org/docs/let_mecca.htm.

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

The Relevance of Black American Muslim Thought

The Muslim American community is held together with the belief that there is no God but the One True God and that Muhammad is His prophet.  Muslims share daily patterns of worship, rituals of birth, marriage, and death. As one of the most diverse faith communities, Muslim Americans come from various ethnic, socio-economic, and cultural backgrounds.   Sometimes there are various articulations of Islam  due to different political, cultural, and religious orientations. Over the years, many Black American Muslims have been at the forefront of articulating Islamic thought for the growing American Muslim community. But this seems to have changed as a dominant narrative has taken over.

Some estimates go as far to say that there are 5 million Muslims in America. According to census data and information provided by mosques and community centers, Muslims in America make up .5% of the total population in America. Keeping it conservative, that equals just under two million. This still represents a significant number. CAIR reports that the ethnicities of mosque participants can be broken down to 33% South Asian, 30% Black American and 25% Arab, 3.4% sub-Saharan African, 2.1 European (i.e. Bosnia) 1.6% White American, 1.3% South-East Asian, 1.2% Caribbean, 1.1% Turkish, .7% Iranian, and .6% Latino/Hispanic. Other reports indicate the number of Black Americans may be even larger. Regardless of the numbers, there is no clear ethnic majority in American Islam. But these numbers raise some important issues: Who has the right to speak for American Muslims? Who are the real Muslims? Who will define the agenda for American Muslims? These questions have often been central to a debate that has emerged about the Black American/immigrant divide.

In America, there is fierce competition over resources which has led to some voices getting silenced in deciding the agenda for American Muslims. Within mainstream media, the Muslim American experience is about the immigration and assimilation experience. There is little press coverage or interest shown in the media on converts or the multi-generational Black American Muslim families. Sylvia Chan-Malik uses the term, “foundational blackness” to describe how contemporary Islam in America can best be understood by transnational affiliations that link gender, class, and religion, but also with its relationship with blackness.   However Black American Muslim foundations go back further, with memories of African Muslims enslaved in the America, even predating the formation of the United States. There are  also Sunni communities dating back to the 60s, such as Dar al-Islam movement. Some communities have origins much earlier, such as Quba Institute with roots in the 1930s Izideen village in New Jersey. Yet, consistently, there continues to be a portrayal of Islam as a foreign religion, with only internationalist interests. For over a century, some Black Americans have looked to African cultural legacies, addressed local issues, and have maintained transnational networks and ties, to articulate religious thought that is African, Islamic, and uniquely American.

While it is true that Black American Muslims were often drawn to Islam in an attempt to articulate their own cultural identity outside of the dehumanizing ascribed identity of Black inferiority, Black American Islam is thoroughly embedded in the American tradition. From the proto-Islam movements of the early 20th century, to the Black separatist movements of the 1960s, heterodox communities, and orthodox communities with leaders from or trained abroad, many Muslim communities sought to address social ills in America and globally. In particular, racism, economic and social inequality, economic exploitation, and family instability are on the main agenda of many Black American Muslim leaders. Before 9/11, some of the most prominent voices in American Islam were African Americans, including Warith Deen Muhammad and Siraaj Wahaj. Their status as citizens afforded them the privilege to critique American society and foreign policy, without compromising their Americaness. The protest tradition of many leaders helped forge a space for the next generation of immigrant and descendant of immigrant Muslims Americans to assert themselves in the public sphere. Following the events of 9/11, there has been an increasing silencing of Black American Muslim voices: a combination of little to no media acknowledgment of BAM’s as well as a systemic neglect on the part of immigrant Muslims. Over time, Black American spokespeople were gradually eclipsed as national Muslim organizations with strong immigrant interests sought to assert their agendas and provide the dominant narrative of immigrants assimilating to American values.

In contrast to the hegemonic narrative that has rendered them invisible, Black American Muslims are  vital to the health of this diverse Muslim community.  They have also continued to make great strides politically, socially, and culturally. This includes two Black Congressmen, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson, the growing prominence of intellectuals and scholars, most notably feminist scholar, Amina Wadud, and Aminah Beverly McCloud, who wrote African American Islam,  Sherman Abdul-Hakeem Jackson, and Zaid Shakir. There are also many young scholars, such as Jamilah Karim, Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, and Intisar Rabb. There is a large wave of Black American Muslim leaders who have demonstrated mastery of Islamic sciences and have graduated from Muslim institutions of higher learning, including Abdullah Ali, who earned a degree from  Al-Qarawiyin University of Fes. Black American Muslims have made cultural gains including a feature length film, “Mooz-lum,” and prominent Hip Hop artists, including but not limited to Lupe Fiasco, and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def).  The Abdullah brothers shared their story of taking time off from from the NFL to perform the annual Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj). The fencer,  Ibtihaj Muhammad, was the first Muslim woman to compete for the United States in an international competition and win a medal. Black American Muslims are very much part of the fabric of America and often play a daily role in interfaith dialogue, as many of them have family and loved ones who are non-Muslim.

Black American Muslims have used their social capital to critique American foreign policy, Islamophobia, and erosion of American civil liberties. As a group, Black American Muslims are far from nativists, as many identify with and relate to  numerous international and transnational Muslim communities. They are much more likely to attend a mosque in which another group dominates, showing their willingness to assimilate into an immigrant dominant mosque. Black American Muslims participate anti-war protests, critique extra-judicial killings through drone strikes in Chad, Mali, Yemen, and Pakistan, raise money for war refugees in Syria and alleviate suffering in natural disasters in Somalia and Pakistan. Yet  pressing social issues in their home communities, such as economic inequality, street violence, and family instability, play a large role in their everyday lives. Crime, poverty, and marriage are common issues raised in the Black American Muslim discourse from the minbar to the lecture hall. These issues also shape their outlook, which in turn causes them to be empathetic to the plight of others at home and abroad.

Perhaps the flexibility of thought can be tied to the Black American  Muslim identity, which is comprised of multiple intersections.  They are connected to many faiths and ethnic groups as part of this nation building project that we call United States of America. They are connected to many faiths and people who were either forcibly or willingly migrated to other lands  as part of the African Diaspora. They find connections with people on the African continent, and Black communities in South America and the Caribbean. They are also connected to people all over the world in  a multi-ethnic global community,  ummah. These connections have given Black American Muslims a unique juncture to relate to and speak on various issues and causes. Black American thinkers continue to be influential in defining American Muslim thought, as they connect their day to day lives with Muslims globally.

It seems to be willful ignorance on the part of the media, scholars, and some organizations to overlook these important contributions and connections.  The occlusion of Black Americans despite the continual relevancy of Black American Muslim thought makes it especially important to document this  intellectual heritage.  Indeed, we must go beyond documenting the life histories of major Muslim leaders and begin to study transformations in Muslim American thought. I look forward to the next wave of scholars who study Black American Muslims, such as Donna AustonZaheer Ali, and others who will shed light on roots of Black American Islam. These scholars can help us look at the ways in which Black American Muslims drew upon their intersecting identities in their interpretations of textual traditions in ways that address their global and local issues. I look forward to future studies of our rich intellectual traditions and the insights  that these brilliant scholars can bring to the discussion about American Islam.

Why Black History?

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

49_13

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

49:13 Quran Sahih International

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!