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.
“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.” (33:35)
To: Al Qawm Institute, the Organizers of the African-American Islamic Summit, Lamppost Productions, the speakers at this forum and all the participants.
This brief statement follows earlier efforts to engage the administration at Al Qawm Institute and Lamppost Productions about the disappointment we feel that the upcoming African-American Islamic Summit completely neglects the representation of diversity in our community.
The tendency to overlook certain parts of the diverse population of Muslims is endemic. It could be too many immigrants or next-generation immigrants overlooking African Americans; it could be older Muslims overlooking Muslim youth; or it could be male leaders and representatives overlooking female leaders and representatives–the problem is the same and sends a disheartening message to some members of the collective body of Muslims, namely, that you do not matter; you are not worthy of representation here, your voice does not count, your experiences are not a significant reflection of the whole.
Thus, we urge the organizers, Al Qawm Institute, the Lamppost Productions administration, the presenters and the attendees alike to remember that in serving Allah, we should endeavor to show our mutual love and respect for women as well as men who have struggled to live a life of dignity, especially as African Americans, through trials untold.
While we applaud your efforts to recognize the important contributions and experiences of being African-American and Muslim, we feel the needs of our community would have been better served if this forum was set up in such a way as to demonstrate the recognition that men did not struggle alone, women have struggled with them and women continue to support the vitality and spirit of Islam as African-Americans.
While we wish you well, we regret that this valuable contribution of women has been overlooked in the efforts to hold the African-American Islamic Summit.
This letter has been drafted in the spirit of sincere advice (nasiha) as counseled by our beloved prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. As such, we are committed to continued dialogue and forward movement on this issue. We remain open and available to the organizers of this program and others in the community who are interested in constructing more inclusive and representative platforms where matters of communal concern might be addressed and advanced.
Jazak Allah Kheir,
Sister Aisha Al-Adawiya
Sister Donna Auston
Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer
Sister Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad
Dr. Aminah McCloud
Dr. Amina Wadud
Sister Margari Azizah Hill
Sister Waheedah Muhammad
Dr. Jamillah Karim
Sister Mubarakah Ibrahim
Sister Majida Abdul-Karim
Lamppost representatives stated that they felt the open letter unfairly attacked their organizations and highlighted its track record inviting female speakers such as Zaynab Ansari . After exchange with organizers and supports, Sister Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad attended the summit. During the event, event organizer Imam Amin address Sister Kameelah, apologized for the act of exclusion and asked her to read her letter. Some audience members expressed support for the letter and, as reported by one of the sisters who helped organize, some women expressed their disapproval of the letter, arguing that it stemmed from feminism, which, “has no place in Islam.” The discussions at time were emotional, but I think that it stirred a healthy discussion about leadership, authority, and gender within Black Muslim communities. In conclusion, I wanted to stress that our communities thrive with mutual consultation that takes into account the voices and perspectives of all groups, including the marginalized and disenfranchised. For us to proposer, we will need each other, as Allah (s.w.t.) tells us in the Qur’an:
The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:71)
May Allah increase us in patience and forgiveness. Ameen.
Inspired by a letter written by Rev. Dr. Keith Bolton and Rev. Deborah Blood Co-Chairs of the Sacred Conversations on Race Ministry, which was posted on Facebook I wrote up a similar letter which I would love to see from Muslim leaders and civil liberties organizations. Here is a brief excerpt:
We await the grand jury decision on whether Darren Wilson, the police officer who fired on and killed unarmed Michael Brown, will be indicted on criminal charges. Our Noble Prophet ﷺ said, “By Allah, if you have killed one man, it is as if you have killed all the people” (Sunan Sa’id ibn Mansur 2776). While Michael Brown’s death is a deep tragedy in and of itself, the militarized response to the protests it sparked reflect racial disparities and long standing injustices in our society. As Muslims we should draw upon our strong tradition of standing with the most marginalized members of society. Allah tells us in the Qur’an:
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted (Sahih International 4:135)
Mass incarceration, police brutality and the frequency of extrajudicial killings of Black Americans in the United States , including that of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah and Amadou Diallo (One every 28 hours) are reflections of the structural racism in our society. The activation of the National Guard in Missouri this week is a stark reminder of the militarized response to non-violent protests.
Donna Auston gave me a powerful reminder that we as Muslims should not only care because some of the victims are Muslims. We should care period. Also, we must be vigilant about not making this an issue a Black male problem, the police brutality, sexual exploration, and extra-judicial executions of Black women like Women like Elanor Bumpurs or Kathryn Johnston.
This short video below outlines one of the major motivation for doing this work, my work in an Islamic school. I am committed to supporting healthy environments for Muslim children to thrive and prosper. I found that many of our children were ill equipped with the skills necessary to challenge the racism they faced, whether it came from their peers or from the broader society.
I don’t want people to think that the experience was all negative. I saw many wonderful examples of students and families who embodied Islam. I have a young daughter and I constantly pray that my daughter grows up to be like many of the girls and young women I came to know. Empowering our youth with healthy self-identities and with a sense that they can help create a better world are two of my greatest motivations. Those two years teaching secondary school left a lasting impact on me. Those students taught me much more than I could have ever taught them. I still see those beautiful young children, although most of my students are adults, in college, starting their own families, and taking on leadership roles themselves.
Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative in many ways represents the beauty of Islam. Although I felt those deep bonds of sisterhood with individuals over the years, I had struggled calling my co-religionists brothers and sisters. Sometimes it was because of some of the socio-economic, gendered, and racial power dynamic that dehumanized us. Other times, it was because I felt in the end our futures were not intertwined. But this past year, the tireless work Namira Islam, Bangladeshi American woman who lived thousands of miles away, Laura Poyneer, a white American Muslim who at the time lived on the other side of the country, and over forty volunteers who gave their precious time showed me the depth of our bond. Our shared visions, frustrations, hopes, and struggles bind us together.
I am asking you to join us in this movement. We are need your input to know a bit more about MuslimARC’s reach. Please take a moment to complete this short survey.
If you checked any of these than, YOU are part of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.
Come out and show your support for anti-racism education and activism in the Muslim community. Join us for a hashtag event that is part of MuslimARC’s new LaunchGood campaign to both raise awareness and funds for anti-racism initiatives and projects throughout the US. Give $5 or 5 minutes to spread the word. Follow the event at https://twitter.com/muslimarc and use the hahtag #IAmMuslimARC to be part of the conversation on Tuesday November 11 2:00PM PDT/ 5:00 PM EST.
A letter I wrote to MuslimARC Members on August 15, 2014
Dearest brothers and sisters.
I have started writing and erased the beginning of this message several times. I, like many of you, are frustrated, outraged, and saddened by the deaths of Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, John Crawford, and Eric Garner at the hands of law enforcement. Vulnerability of Black life and police brutality are deeply personal issues for me, as I explain in an article I recently wrote for Islamic Monthly. The heavy-handed force used by the police in Ferguson has truly been disturbing. The images of militarized police confronting protestors evoked images from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The recent events point to an endemic problem of the criminalization of Black bodies. MuslimARC has closely followed the events, tweeting links and sharing the Press Release written by Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer.
On social media there is a flood of images of police brutality recorded on smart phones. As most of you know, police brutality is just one issue in a web of oppression, including school to prison pipeline, mass incarceration, wage inequality, housing discrimination, etc. One third of the American Muslim community is African American and we too feel the brunt of structural racism and the daily effects of racial microaggressions. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “The example of Muslims in their mutual love, mercy and sympathy is like that of a body; if one of the organs is afflicted, the whole body responds with sleeplessness and fever.”(Hadith-Muslim).
Although these events weigh heavy on our hearts, the discourse in Muslim American communities is shifting and national Muslim organizations are beginning to acknowledge the need to address structural racism in America. CAIR’s statement is an important step in the right direction, as well as public statements by many renowned scholars. Hena Zuberi published a thought provoking piece on Ferguson, Anti-Black Racism, Muslim Owned Liquor Stores, and Gaza. I believe that our efforts collectively, as a collaborative of Muslims committed to anti-racism has helped shift the discourse. We still have so much work to do. MuslimARC needs your help to move beyond awareness to sustained action in our communities.
The Muslim community in North America is in a unique position, due to the intersections of our multi-ethnic community, to build bridges and address racial injustice. SubhanAllah, we have come a long way in the six months since our inception. MuslimARC has a strategic plan which entails certifying educators and community leaders with anti-racism training and ranking Muslim institutions in terms of anti-racism policies and practices. We also aim to foster knowledge creation on the state of our community through research and information. We need committed volunteers who understand the urgency of our situation, as Muslims in the West. Even an hour a week on a project can help us develop effective training and programs that can help us dispel the biases that blind us and the tear down the boundaries that divide us.
I apologize for my disjointed writing and hope that this message is received well. Please keep us in your prayers and may all of our endeavors be rightly guided.
Jazak Allah kheir,
It is going to to take deep support of grass roots organizations and national initiatives to counter racial discrimination and structural racism. The real work isn’t glamorous, it is not going to garner a lot of retweets or publicity. but it is something that will be pleasing to your Lord. We are here today because people have being the hard work consistently, that have faced hardship with patience and constancy, and they haven’t given up. Systematic racism is a many headed hydrah that requires multi pronged solutions. We have so much work to do, improving education, stopping the school to prison pipeline, undocumented worker’s rights, and the rights of refugees. MuslimARC has developed a faith based approach that aims to have a lasting and substantive impact on how our communities address racial justice and inclusive practices. I hope that these conversations inspire each of us to action, rather than the lull us into the complacency. Now is time to move beyond platitudes about justice and begin to do the hard work that is required for addressing the ills of our society.
AltMuslimah’s Shazia K. Farook spoke to Magari Hill of the Muslim Anti-Racism collaborative, an organization dedicated to strengthening dialogue between people of different backgrounds, and ways to eradicate racism from within the community.
altmuslimah: The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative was recently established. Can you explain the purpose of this group? Is it mainly an online presence?
Margari Hill : We established Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative in response to conversations on social media that began late in 2013 about the prevalence of anti-black racism amongst Muslims. Our purpose is to challenge intra-Muslim racism through educational resources and programs. Right now, we are mainly an online presence with members located all over the country collaborating through telephone conversations, video conferences, and email. At the end of this month, we will begin on the ground programming and anti-racism training with the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament in Detroit.
Throughout the country, Muslims of all stripes have honored Black History month, recognizing the contribution of Black Muslims to the ummah (Muslim community).We’ve shared a lot this month, in #UmmahAntiBlackness we examined stories and accounts of anti-Black racism in Muslim majority societies. One of the themes that came up in #BeingBlackandMuslim was the pain some Black/African Muslims as they experienced racism.
This is the A-word we are talking about, the Arabic term abid (s. slave), abeed (pl. slaves), abda (female slave). As stated early in this blog post, MuslimARC largely developed in response to the virulence and pervasiveness of anti-Black racism in social media. Drop the A-word as a campaign is not limited to Arabs, but to all Muslims who have used racial slurs. Dawud Walid wrote an article titled Intra-Muslim Racism: Confronting Ethnic Slurs and Racism Among American Muslims where where he explains:
It is not uncommon for Arabs from the Levant to refer to Blacks as abeed (slaves). In the South Asian community, Blacks or people with darker skin are sometimes referred to negatively as kallu (Black person). In the Somali community, it is also not uncommon to hear other Blacks being called jareer (nappy head) and adoon (slave). And even among some Nigerians and Ghanaians, there is widespread usage of the word akata (wild animal) to describe descendants of their former enslaved tribesmen who are Americans.
While some may see such calls as divisive, we are standing up for and with those who have been wounded by racial slurs. Several studies show that interpersonal racism has a cumulative effect, resulting in negative emotional and physical health outcomes for the victims. We are calling each one of you to play a role educating your friends, family, and co-workers. Regardless of where you come from or your background, the use of racism slurs is hurtful. And this needs to stop. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah Subhana wa ta’ala says:
Sahih International: O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.
This verse reveals that even if you think it is cute to use the n-word and you don’t mean it offensively, it is something that Allah Subhan wa ta’ala considers wrong. Even if you don’t think the subject of your offensive nickname is not offended, you have offended someone else. Someone like me, felt the full brunt of the violence behind those words. As a child, I was attacked by a bully, had a plug of my hair ripped out my head and called the n-word. I asked an old man for the time and was told, “I don’t speak to N—s!” I grew up hearing the jokes in the back of the class, and that experience was crushing. For years, I didn’t know Muslims used anti-Black slurs. Then when I slowly discovered them, I heard embarrassed apologetics. But what really bothered me was that many Muslim schools were not well equipped to deal with racism on their campus.
One can be actively racist, passively racist, actively anti-racist, but you can’t be passively anti-racist. I spent months calling out people on twitter for using the word abeed. Many questioned our methods. And this work, itself angered me, frustrated me, and made me wonder was it worth it. I still believe that there is a place for calling out foul behavior. This study shows that regardless of the resistance or hostility people expressed when confronted on the their stereotypes, they are less likely to express prejudiced views afterwards. But I don’t think it should be the job of the victims of prejudice to call out the perpetrators. You need to check your own people and do it out of love for them because it is cutting away from their humanity.
There are many methods that we can take to confront racism and stop our Muslim community centers, Islamic schools, camps, and outreach programs from becoming toxic, ethnically and racially polarized spaces. We still have to explore the best methods and see which ones would be the most effective. Regardless, we have to stick to the Qur’anic injunction of enjoining the good and forbidding wrong. It is time for our community to say this is unacceptable and incompatible with the spirit of Islam. We’re calling on our co-religionists to take a stand against the use of anti-Black slurs (and all racial slurs), whether in English or in other languages including those of their fore bearers. Wednesday February 26, tweet your thoughts on ways we can #DropTheAWord. We know better, we must do better, and it is up to each of you to do your part.
Alexander M. Czopp, Margo J. Monteith, and Aimee Y. Mark. 2006,”Standing Up for a Change: Reducing Bias Through Interpersonal Confrontation” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 90, No. 5, 784–803