Ohlone Land

Image / Santa Clara University, 1933 (Image source Archive of California

I stopped writing poetry and stories a long time ago. But recently, I was tasked to celebrate a high point in my life. I chose to write about my Pan African Student graduation in 2003. I still cry when I think about that day and the ten years it took me to get my degree, from DeAnza, to Foothill, to Santa Clara.  There is much to be said, but sometimes through poetry or fiction we can say what can’t be said. So, here’s my poem:

 

Below ground in Ohlone land,
I was an interloper at a prestigious campus
In 1994, a community college drop out.
Searching shelves of tightly packed books
Reading authors whose quills were still wet as the
System connecting El Camino Real collapsed

Cum.
Laude.
Was possible.
Even with fits and restarts.
With failures and repeats.
Even with my world crumbling around me.
And so I earned my Kinte cloth—class of 2003.
While our kindred from the Motherland laugh at us
For making such pretentions
As wearing the cloth of kings.
But this struggle was noble.
And the imported cloth deepened its worth.
I had shed blood for this and it cost endless tears

I told my story, the daughter of a broken purple heart and
A pretty coloured girl whose teacher
Assured her Negros were of inferior intelligence.
I attained something that disproved their theories.
I am the child of the enslaved African
And the self loathing bastard who
Was a product of a violation.
I am the child of those who toiled
The soil from Georgia to Garden state
We could never have nothing. Not for long.
No, not even our bodies.
But this degree. Right here. They could never take that away.
For a moment, one brief moment, I felt free to breathe
Right there on Ohlone land.

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Letter to Essence

I penned a letter to the editor of Essence Magazine, but haven’t heard back. I thought I’d publish it here.

I’m a co-founding director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. You probably haven’t heard of my organization, as we’ve only been around for three years when we launched #BeingBlackAndMuslim. Muslim Americans are a diverse community, but media often erases the contributions of Black Muslim women. Unfortunately, the #Woke100 list failed to include a single Black Muslim woman.  For every 100 Black people in the United States, at least one is one Muslim. The erasure of Black Muslim women occurs in Black institutions that tend to be Christo-centric and in national Muslim organizations that tend to be Arab-centric. A recent Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) study says that African Americans make up about 25% of the American Muslim population. While Muslim American institutions are embracing our contributions, our faith identity is not always embraced in Black communities. Black Muslim women are making important contributions to our communities and society at large. I’d love for Essence to feature  Black Muslim women, both those who are descendants of enslaved peoples and more recent immigrants from the Mother Land. These include Black Muslim women from countries President Donald Trump tried to ban, Sudan and Somalia. There are so many examples that I look up to, including Clara Muhammad, Betty Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz, Ameenah Matthews, Ilhan Omar, Aminah Wadud, Su’ad Abdul Khabeer,  and Ibtihaj Muhammad.  It is so important that Black media celebrates our diverse faith traditions and shares nuanced stories about Black women that are not featured in mainstream media. Starting with Black Muslim women, who face triple marginalization, would be a good place to start.

Margari Hill

Programming Director, MuslimARC

Pass The Mic

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Rendering of Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer’s February 2017 tweetImage courtesy of Kelly Nuttal @typologianista

After numerous interviews and casual conversations with scholars, imams, and leaders of all backgrounds across the country, evidence points to highly qualified Black speakers and panelists receiving less compensation than their white, Arab, or South Asian counterparts in the same field. This is not to say that Arab, South Asian and White speakers don’t make important contributions. Rather, it is to point out the preferential treatment towards non-Black speakers that that privileges some and disadvantages others based on their racial or ethnic identity. The erasure, under compensation, and aversion to Black leadership is against a lot of what we claim to stand for as a community. 

The situation is so bad that speakers such as Suhaib Webb and Linda Sarsour have called out the failure to invite Black intellectual thought leaders while on the main stage of events that they were invited to.  Layla Abdullah-Poulos called on  non-Black allies to do more. She writes, “Effective allies can’t just speak about erasure; they are supposed to create spaces to pass the mic to center marginalized voices or risk becoming complicit in continuing the marginalization and reinforcing notions that we can’t speak for ourselves.” Often, people turn to educators such as Layla and myself to list the recommendations for diverse speakers that are often ignored.  What we need are accomplices who will utilize their privilege to affect change. Here are 5 tips for non-Black Muslim speakers and leaders to pass the mic:

  1. Ask Questions. Ask who else the organization has invited to be on the panel or speaker line up or for an interview. Don’t be shy about asking about the demographics of the speakers and remind the event planner to be mindful of the importance of representation. Be sure to ask what outreach was done to ensure a representative candidate pool.
  2. Pass the Mic. Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer wrote, “You don’t need to be the voice for the voiceless, just pass the mic.” If you received a speaking request, consider if there are other people more qualified to speak on the subject than you. If you don’t have a PhD in hand, with decades of work in the community, there probably is a solid list of folks with more expertise than you.  You’re probably overworked, and passing on an event might be good for everyone.  Give yourself a quota if you’re high demand: i.e. “For every 5 requests, I’m going to pass one to some other speaker.”
  3. Share your Platform. If giving a talk, ask for an underrepresented person whose intellectual property you have drawn from to share the stage with you. Look for a local person who you could bring on stage and boost their work. The truth is, they will continue the work that needs to be done when you’re busy speaking elsewhere. Invite your platform to champion someone else whose story should be told, whose perspective should be shared, whose message is important, but not as widely recognized as you.
  4. Cite your Sources. In your speeches, presentations, and writing, mention your sources people by name, and not just dead leaders, but those who hold down communities today. Your speech should cite Black Muslim thought leaders, not just Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali. In fact, your reading list should be vast to include the intellectual contributions of men and women from the Global South.
  5. Mentor those with Less Privilege. Mentor up-and-coming leaders from underrepresented groups.  Take a few under your wing. Be sure to dedicate some part of your leadership practice to lifting others as you climb.
  6. Be Humble. I mean it in a good way, not as a dis track. We should never think of ourselves as empowering others and we should refrain from paternalistic attitudes towards those we amplify, support, or mentor. Stepping back when we’re so used to stepping up is a practice of self purification. It is an honor to be able to bask in someone’s shine, walk beside them in their journey to living the life that their Creator intended for them to live. We should avoid ulterior motives, such as thinking that by sharing resources with, honoring contributions, or signal boosting a person with less privilege than ourselves means that they owe us something. It is a blessing to walk in unison with others and if we can be of service, we should give Thanks and All Praises to the Most High.

Passing the mic may be challenging if your sole income is based on public speaking. If that’s the case, I’d suggest consider diversifying your skill set so that you’re not dependent upon speaking gigs. Recognizing our privileging, we should think about who we are bringing with us. Passing the mic may be a test if we have some hurt when a person criticized us or disagrees with our stance on an issue. Passing the mic may be hard if we feel that we worked so hard to get to the prominence that we have. But then, who are we lifting up as we are climbing?  It is truly an honor and and privilege to be able to do this work, and it is a duty to constantly do better. These steps are by no means comprehensive.  I welcome you to share your suggestions in the comments below.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Marc Manley

Baby Marc

February 28th the birthday of three people who have shaped my journey and taught me to love God in the realest way. My mother who has always taught me to have faith, my good friend who helped foster my courage to return back to my faith, and my husband who has deepened my faith and demonstrated the meaning of dedication. Today is his birthday, today.

As a graduate student, I first stumbled across his blog and got butterflies. I followed the writings of this dreamy unattainable guy across the country. A few years later, two fellow bloggers told me that he mentioned me. I saw him as all the best pieces of everyone I ever cared about put together in one big man package. Creative, musical, devout, earnest, honest, generous, warm, strong, intellectual, and emotional. Being in love with love, I fell hard. I met him for the first time as I returned from a year of self imposed exile abroad. I peaked through the peephole for the first time, and I knew that this was the man I was going to marry.

The year before we were engaged, I attended my family reunion. My cousin and I shared the challenges of finding a match, somebody who was ‘hood enough to understand our family while at the same time being able to mix in our professional circles. Like my husband, we learned to be social chameleons, sharing different parts of ourselves in different contexts. Born in the Rust Belt like myself, he still holds an attachment to Detroit. My crazy matches his crazy, and sometimes that is not in a good way. We’re two strong headed, trash talking, sensitive people. And we’re also smart, so when we argue it is like clash of the titans. But more often than not we end up being something fantastic. For example, we can have tag team, go Bonnie and Clyde, on debates.

Together, we have struggled through health crisis, work-life crisis, personal battles, and deaths of close friends and family. When we got married, he was working at the school of design, trying to complete his undergraduate degree. The strain wore down his health and there were probably close calls when I could have lost him. I can tell you stories about him defending the elderly on the bus, chasing down a man who abused a woman, trying to rescue someone from a collapsed building. But the most courageous thing he does is to feel. He cries when he says goodbye to his parents, he cried on our wedding, and he cries during prayer.

My husband is probably one of the most brilliant thinkers I know. For over five years, I dedicated much of my life to studying Arabic, from three intensive summer programs, commuting from San Jose to San Fransisco for private Arabic tutoring, battling through two years coursework in graduate, even a year in Kuwait and Egypt. I studied Arabic at University California Berkeley, at Pacifica Arabic resources, at Stanford, at Universite Moulay Ismail, at Middlebury, at Alif Fez, at at Markez Diwan, and at American University of Cairo to finally make it to upper advanced. But this man taught himself! His Arabic today is so much better than mine. He has an incredible talent for learning and especially languages. He’s fluent in Japanese, Spanish, and Arabic. In addition to studying independently with brilliant scholars and hidden gems in our community, he’s the only autodidactic I know.

Our house is filled with classical Islamic texts in Arabic, books I’m afraid to crack open lest I be reminded about my my neglect of my language study. I’ve seen him filling up a notebook with three books open while surfing the internet filling. His hours are filled up with study and deep thought, often interrupted by our four year old. She’s our greatest collaboration who has really changed our lives in the most positive ways. I see so much of him and I in her. Of course she is theatrical and has a huge vocabulary.

Nobody knows the sincerity of a leader better than their family. I know that he loves being Muslim, that he is satisfied with Muhammad as his prophet, and he is satisfied with his Lord. I know of his hopes and frustrations in building a thriving community. Despite those frustrations, nothing makes him happier than seeing people well fed and belonging. He has given talks that have made me cry, that remind me of the beauty of God’s creation and our place in it. There are times when I wish I could whisk the troubles of the world away and just enjoy us without interruption. At those times, my heart aches because life gets in the way of true expressions of love and appreciation. I could write much more about this unique guy whom I admire very much. Anyways, I hope you say a little prayer for the birthday boy and our little family.

Progress

I got a chance to do a major update of the blog, adding a section of articles that I’ve written, as well as interviews. All in all When I first started blogging a decade ago I had some concerns about being so public. I was going through major changes, figuring things out, and working through spiritual, emotional, and financial challenges. Learning and growing in front of the world can be the most humbling thing. It also makes me very accessible in ways that many other folks aren’t. That accessibility means that people feel comfortable sharing their value judgments about me and my journey. I wish I could say that I didn’t care. Sometimes it hurts, but I push through that and try to live as authentic as I can. And in trying to find that place, I often question myself. I often feel like I forget more than I have learned and I am exposed to how little I know all too often.

Between my workload and traveling, I’m trying to stay on top of things. While this work has connected me to some amazing people, it also forces a schedule also isolates me. I have long hours, I’m often forced to declined invitations, and I have a hard time finding time to connect with family and loved ones. I owe a lot of people emails and writing. I’m slowly catching up, I’m making progress.

Big Changes for 2016

For those who follow the Gregorian calendar, Happy New Year!

It’s been almost ten years since I first started blogging in a place called MySpace. Eventually, I transferred my raw thoughts to WordPress. It has been such an amazing journey  and I am grateful and humbled by those who have supported me through the ups and downs.

Ten years is a major milestone and probably time to do another website rehaul. With that in mind, I have some big changes planned for the website. I’ll have a page with a regularly updated list of my writings, links to videos, and a few more must read lists. I hope to get back to creative writing and other artistic pursuits. I plan to write about my whole self, as an individual, with my relational identities as a wife, mom, daughter, sister, cousin, niece, and friend. I hope you’ll stick around.

What’s In a Name?: Using “Muslim” As a Cultural Category Erases and Stereotypes

Image source: Nsenga Knight from A Guide to the Last Rite 2011-12 ” tumblr_nihv1yRokW1qex654o1_500

In seeking solidarity with Black movements, organizers must be cognizant of and uproot anti-blackness from the content and approach to their work down to the terminology and vocabulary used. Whether doing this for the purpose of talking about solidarity with Ferguson, or in terms of addressing Islamophobia and civil liberties violations, the framing of types of social justice or, social justice issues has resulted in tangible exclusions of Black/African American Muslims and feelings of erasure. Even in the realm of  Muslim American social justice work, certain voices are privileged over Black Muslim voices. The latest wave of this patterned behavior raises serious concerns in the engagement with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  In an “Open Letter to Non-Black Muslims,” Nashwa Khan wrote:

We Muslims who are non-black, and non-black people as a whole – we need to move away from constantly wanting to center and insert our own identities. I want to see solidarity with our black brothers and sisters be genuine and authentic. I want to witness non-black people unpack our benefits and complicity. I want to see us raise black voices in this discourse instead of inserting our own thoughts or letting every black individual relive trauma by presenting ourselves as special snowflakes.

The socio-economic background of many Black American Muslims has not positioned them to engage with immigrant-origin college-educated on the same footing.  Nor do many of the Black/African Muslim activists have access to the same platforms as many non Black Muslims. Further, many do not have  institutional backing to address their grievances. Compounding inequities, Black American Muslims,  who are most affected by policing and surveillance, are often relegated to a secondary role in national Muslim organizations or Muslim-related religious civil rights advocacy groups. Making “Muslim” a cultural category, along with ethnic groups like “South Asian” or “Arab,” is problematic in a number of ways, often resulting in  practices that exclude or erase Black/African Muslims.

Effects

The of Muslim a cultural identity include reifying South Asian and Arab hegemony in Muslim discourses. One particular issue is using “Arab and South Asian” as a synonym for Muslim, or on a group that is intended to be open to all Muslims but only uses some names and ethnicities. On one level it makes sense that civil liberties groups have developed the category “Muslim, Arab, and South Asian” to address the ways in which some communities have borne the brunt of government surveillance and discrimination in  post-9/11 society. However, the cultural category has resulted in the exclusion of Black Muslims in the discussion of Muslim civil liberties or the effects of Islamophobia. Black American Muslims have been under surveillance and discrimination many decades before 9/11.


American Muslims are a diverse group, comprised of individuals of South Asian, Arab, North African, Middle Eastern, African, Latino, White, Indigenous, Asian, and Pacific Islander background. Indeed, over ⅓ of the US Muslim population is Black/African. US media,  government agencies, and organizations often ignore this, to much criticism from and distress of  Muslims. However, Muslims – both at the individual and the institutional level – engage in the framing of “Arab and South Asian” in the same category as “Muslim” and vice versa, frequently. While it may be unintentional, the results of this exclusion have toxic potential, including but not limited to the following:

  1. Centering South Asian and Arab voices as larger groups that retain their own complexities (i.e. individuals are able to identify or not identify as Muslim yet speak for Muslim communities) while reducing other groups to only their religious identity
  2. Ensuring the idea of Islam and Muslims are linked most strongly to Arabs and South Asians
  3. Minimizing the historical contributions of Black and African Muslims, as well as of Muslims in North Africa who are not Arab and Muslims from regions including Southeast Asia and East Asia.
  4. Privileging Arab and South Asian perspectives as representative of the Muslim community at the expense of marginalized groups
  5. Allowing for South Asian and Arab Muslims with little ties or stake in mosque or Muslim community life to have the privilege to set the agenda religious and spiritual life in mosques and Muslim community centers.
  6. Marginalizing Muslims who strongly identify with their faith tradition by moving “Muslim” to a racialized but secular humanistic framework.
  7. Making South Asian and Arab cultures normative.
  8. Not allowing South Asians of Sikh, Hindu, Christian, or Buddhist religious identities or Arab Christians to speak to their faith traditions, while allowing solely Muslims to speak to theirs.

Stereotypes

  1. Conflating Arabs or South Asians with Islam
  2. Reifying concept of a monolithic Muslim culture
  3. Ignoring overlap between Black and Muslim identities
  4. Promoting the idea that Islam is a foreign religion without American roots
  5. Ahistorical depiction of Black Muslims, downplaying the historical role that Black Muslims have played in freedom struggles of which #BlackLIvesMatter is a part. This includes people like Jamil El-Amin, (H.Rap Brown) who is currently imprisoned, and many others from centuries ago to today..

By talking about Muslim solidarity and taking Islam out of it, we support the creation of a Muslim cultural category that excludes people who are Black American Muslims, as well as other Muslims who do not fall into these dominant ethnic categories. While embracing the concept of self-identified Muslim, it is important to address how treating “Muslim” as an ethnic, cultural, or political identity can invalidate the experiences of converts and/or Muslims who do not fit into the major cultural categories associated with Muslim identities.

Some options to use instead (note: each of these categories has a pro and a con, which I encourage you to help flesh them out in the comments below):

  • Confessional Category: Just use “Muslim”: i.e. Mobilizing Muslims for Ferguson
  • Footnote it: Use Muslim, but include a footnote that lists the major ethnic groups: i.e. Muslims for Ferguson1

——

Calling on all self identified Muslims, including but not limited to Arab, African/Black, South Asian, North African, Iranian, Latino, Asian, and White Muslims.  

  • Direct Marketing Approach: List the target Ethnic groups for participation: i.e. Arab, South Asian, African/Black Coalition against Spying.
  • HIghlight major groups: List the groups comprising largest demographics ie: African/Black, South Asian, and Arab Muslims (ASAM) or Muslim African/Black South Asian, and Arab (MASA)
    • Include in a footnote or clear statement that all Muslims and people of all faiths and backgrounds are welcome to join.
  • Interfaith route: i.e. Middle Eastern and South Asian Interfaith Alliance for #BlackLivesMatter
  • Get Creative: i.e.  Non-Aligned Movement for #BlackLivesMatter
    • the Non-Aligned movement harkens back to the non-aligned movement comprised of multiple states, many of which also had Muslim populations, including India, Ghana, Egypt, Yugoslavia

This resources should be used liberally by non-Black Muslims to end the erasure of their Black Muslim brothers and sisters. Although many members of the Black community may not be offended by some use of the language (such is the case with non-Blacks using the n-word where some people will give their friends a pass, but overall the use is not accepted by a more conscious crowd), it is still recommended to modify the language in response to a vocal few. This article is meant to start an important conversation, one which we hope will be particularly sensitive to those who are largely excluded in Muslim American narratives. In developing inclusive language, we must be open to continual dialogue and critiques. Please share your thoughts and concerns in the comments below.