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 ofMuslim 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 leastone 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 recentInstitute 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, includingClara Muhammad,Betty Shabazz,Ilyasah Shabazz,Ameenah Matthews,Ilhan Omar,Aminah Wadud,Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, andIbtihaj 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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
Ensuring the idea of Islam and Muslims are linked most strongly to Arabs and South Asians
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.
Privileging Arab and South Asian perspectives as representative of the Muslim community at the expense of marginalized groups
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.
Marginalizing Muslims who strongly identify with their faith tradition by moving “Muslim” to a racialized but secular humanistic framework.
Making South Asian and Arab cultures normative.
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.
Conflating Arabs or South Asians with Islam
Reifying concept of a monolithic Muslim culture
Ignoring overlap between Black and Muslim identities
Promoting the idea that Islam is a foreign religion without American roots
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.
“Verily for all men and women who have surrendered themselves to God, and all believing men and believing women, and all truly devout men and truly devout women, and all men and women who are true to their word, all men and women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble themselves [before Allah], and all men and women who give in charity, and all self-denying men and self-denying women, and all men and women who are mindful of their chastity, and all men and women who remember Allah unceasingly: for [all of] them has Allah readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward.” (Surah Al- Ahzab 33:35)
Muslim men and women build masajid and Islamic centers where we can worship our Lord, men and women organize events to inspire us, men and women create civil society organizations to serve our social, economic, and political needs, men and women develop institutions to educate our future generations. Together, Muslim men and women work together to create vibrant and dynamic communities. Touching upon the theme of cooperation between the genders, Allah tells us in the Qur’an:
The believing men and women, are protectors and helpers of each other. They (collaborate) to promote all that is good and oppose all that is evil; establish prayers and give charity, and obey Allah and his Messenger. Those are the people whom Allah would grant mercy. Indeed Allah is Exalted and Wise. (Surah Al-Tawbah 9:71)
Men and women are vital to the development of the American Muslim community, however the absence of women as authoritative voices in our sacred spaces undermines our efforts to empower women, youth, and other marginalized groups in our community.
Muslim women are highly educated, with expertise in fields such as Medicine, Social Services, Education, Islamic studies, and non-profit development. Numerous articles point out that many talented Muslim women lose interest in working within the Muslim community because their contributions are not valued. The value our communities place on women’s perspectives is especially noticeable at our events, as “Qualified women scholars and other professional and activist women are not invited to speak” (Women and Mosques ). At events aimed at broader Muslim audiences, male speakers dominate public speaking and many issues that affect female congregants are noticeably overlooked or presented in a one-sided fashion. Some have pointed out that conference organizers often include a token woman on their programs. Muslim women should not be tokens;their voices and perspectives should be integral to all programming. This lack of representation contrasts with the work that women do as backbones of our communities, organizing and working in the background to ensure that our faith communities are provided with valuable services. Excluding women ultimately hampers the development of our community. It robs us of their important insights and critical expertise in fields pertinent to building healthy Muslim communities.
Mosque leadership could take some lessons from the corporate world, nonprofits, and leading education institutions, which value inclusion and diversity. Forbes Insight writes, “Multiple voices lead to new ideas, new services, and new products, and encourage out-of-the box thinking.” (Forbes Insight, N.D., pg. 4). But even more significant is that we should draw upon the spirit of our traditions of shurah (consultation) which takes into account the perspectives of representatives of those who are affected by a decision. This includes incorporating the voices of women in planning, decision making, and speaking up for our issues.The consultant group, Linkage writes, “Inclusive organizations focus on attracting, developing, and advancing women and underrepresented populations by removing roadblocks, gaining stakeholder buy-in, and developing opportunities for growth” (Linkage, N.D). Muslim community centers and masajid should develop more inclusive practices for three reasons: 1. women role models allow our girls and young women to see themselves as belonging to the community and being vital, as well as valued; 2. the representation of women will also attract talented women to participate to lend their expertise to help create thriving communities ; and finally, 3. A better representation of both genders will expand the conversations that communities need to have about critical issues so that we can be more effective in meeting today’s challenges Below you will find a list of recommendations that can help encourage inclusive practices.
Have a diverse organizing panel that includes input from both genders, community members from various socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities. At minimum a planning committee should be representative of your community or congregation in terms of gender, ethnicity, religious orientation, and age.
Consider a planning structure that can accomodate people’s needs. For example consider teleconferences, Skype or Google Hangouts for people whose schedules may not permit meeting.
Inquire with people and experts who have experience organizing diverse conferences.
Use surveys or online forms to ask for anonymous feedback or input from your community and other stakeholders regarding topics that they would like to see
Reach out to other communities not just for attendees and participants, but for advice on organizing your event.
Find new speakers in your community who may have a fresh perspective on issues.
Amplifying Women’s Voices
Women perspectives should be included not solely as separate events or panels, but women’s voices should be on joint panels that feature male and female experts speaking on a topic. This will allow for deeper discussion and multiple perspectives on an issue.
Do not assume that women can only speak to women’s issues. Ask women to speak on issues in their area of expertise or training.
Even when an event has a limited line up, it is possible to include women’s voices by inviting a sister to introduce the speakers, moderate the panel, or direct the question and answer session.
Where resources permit, offer play areas or child-care facilities so that women with children are not prevented from participation. Offer a stipend for childcare for female participants and panelists.
If you’re concerned about funding, do not be afraid to use crowdsourcing to help offset the costs of including sisters on your panels.
Organize a special session for sisters to speak to scholars because they have less social access to male leadership.
Be mindful that seating arrangements can prevent women from being able to engage with the content of the lecture. Be sure to allow women equal access to the speaker.
To locate talented women, utilized online resources such as Zahra Billoo’s list of Muslim Women Speakers and or turn to social networks to find the hidden gems locally and nationally.
If the event is separated by gender, include a microphone in the women’s area.
Because many Muslim women prefer separate spaces for privacy or nursing children, provide a private space where they can hear and view the program.
Inviting the Youth
Gather feedback from teens, college students, and young professionals under 25.
Have a member of the youth speak on a panel, give an opening, or moderate a panel.
Offer full or partial scholarships and student rates for tickets.
Organize a panel or discussion group focused on issues specific to the youth.
Reach out on social media or contact Muslim youth organizations for recommendations for rising stars. For example, MuslimARC has a list of #25Under25
Including the Audience
When organizing consider the ultimate goal of the event: Is it to raise awareness in the broader community? Is it to problem solve? Is it to gather supporters? Is it to raise funds? Is it to educate? And then develop strategies to engage the audience in a meaningful way.
Organize a workshop or breakout sessions that will allow the attendees to engage more with each other and the subject. Consider ways you can integrate Learner Centered Practices in your conference.
“Repeat all questions into the microphone before answering them if a microphone is not available to the audience” (Duke University Disability Management System, “Accessibility Guidelines for Speakers,” n.d.)
Encourage participants to ask questions by allotting time for Q&A session.This may take rigorous timekeeping because some speakers tend to go over, which cuts into time for Q&A.
Consider creating a workbook or lecture outline for the audience to follow.
Offer scholarships or sliding fee; Be sure to keep the process dignified and confidential
Include wheelchair access to the facility and offer services for those with disabilities
Record events and post online (YouTube can transcribe video)
Upon the registration, ask attendees if they need any special accommodations
Have someone record minutes or provide a summary that can inform people who were not able to attend.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can fill out the form below.