I have been working on this draft for some time, so some of the info. may be a bit dated. But the theme of “internet tribalism” pops up in many different formats, so in my humble view, this article retains its key themes.
Whoever leaves off obedience and separates from the Jam’ah and dies, (then) he dies a death of jahiliyyah (i.e. pre-Islamic ignorance). And whoever fights under the banner of the blind, becoming angry for nationalism or calling to nationalism or assisting nationalism and dies, (then) he dies a death of jahiliyyah [Muslim]
There has been a recent uptick in phenomenon, which for lack of better terminology, I will refer to as “Internet Tribalism”.
This tribalism is pitting black brothers, who I will refer to as BAMs*, against immigrants and their progeny, who we will simply abbreviate as IMMs.
To begin, we must recognize the real divisions that exist between these communities. As a matter of reality, BAM communities are often less affluent and more likely to be in inner cities than their immigrant Muslim counterparts (the gap is not dissimilar to the national black-white wealth gap and see here). Some BAM communities have also suffered from cult-like deen that Tariq has described as a “movement mentality“. Not that IMMs haven’t had their own share of this mentality, but generally speaking, the impact has been less destructive. This mentality has also taken BAM brothers and sisters away from social integration (doesn’t equal assimilation), in addition to suppressing the desire for education and social programs. Further compounding this bad situation, many BAMs have experienced real pain and heartbreak due to the racism in immigrant communities, which is often swept under the rug. Likewise, IMM masjids can often feel more like “Back Home Cultural Centers” rather than the “Islamic Centers” they claim to be.
However, whatever problems exist, we must recognize that unity, cooperation, and mutual support is the only option for our communities to move forward. This article is written with that in mind.
Before I move on, there is a fundamental question that needs to be addressed: Is this social gap between IMMs and BAMs a result of CONSPIRACY, involving a series of deliberate actions by the IMMs to keep the BAMs down and away from the circles of influence and wealth? Or is it that just how history played out where each community was engrossed in its own priorities and issues that it did not stop and think about the other? Or as a third option, does the truth lie somewhere in the middle?
As an IMM who has been active in the Muslim community for nearly 15 years, I would like to believe the following: There is no conspiracy at hand and that there was/is no plan to keep our BAM brothers “down”. But I cannot deny that affluence and authoritarian attitudes of the immigrant community have played a role in silencing and stunting the growth of the BAM community, inadvertent as it may have been. So, while there is no conspiracy, the result has been similar – the BAM community has been kept “down”.
Regardless, conspiracy it is not. And this strange belief of the all-powerful “Immigrant Syndicate” is part of the increasing internet nationalism that has reared its ugly head, especially in some posts on Singular Voice by Br. Abdur-Rahman (AR).
While AR started with some fabulous posts about the history and issues in the black community, several later posts degenerated into fodder for disunity and hatred. Concerned brothers and sisters have consistently advised the brother with comments on his blog, but they have been summarily ignored for the most part. As a result of this “internet tribalism”, we saw the formation of new blogs along similar lines of hate-mongering against IMMs. In fact, the Islamophobic community, sensing an opportunity to exacerbate disunity among Muslims, found the posts so appealing that two of them were prominently linked on the most notorious anti-Muslim, right-wing vitriolic site called LGF- Littlegreenfootballs.com (whose members appropriately refer to themselves as lizards). While singularvoice (link) has mysteriously gone offline, the two posts can still be found on LGF.com (google singularvoice)
Other “internet tribalism” posts discuss certain sectors of IMMs, for example “Palestinian storeowners engaging in haram” and then stereotype entire Palestinians/Arabs communities for the action of a few. Ultimately this is used then as pretext for saying that we don’t need to support Palestine, as if our connection to Palestine is based on Palestinians! This is ridiculous and no different from the Islamophobes who blame our entire religion on the action of a few lunatics.
We say in response to this new internet tribalism that there are three ways to deal with the issue of BAM “disenfranchisement”:
(1) Become really angry and start believing in strange conspiracy theories. And then in this anger, go down the road with a series of counterproductive steps that will do nothing but further fracture the brotherhood along IMM/BAM lines, further alienate each other, and increase distrust of each other.
(2) Do what organizations like MANA and bloggers like Tariq are doing. Talk about the issues. Take proactive action to solve the issues. Since BAMs know BAM brothers/sisters best, since BAM brothers/sisters understand and recognize their community problems better than IMMs would, then they are in the best position to not only make sense to the BAMs still entangled in cultish and non-productive behavior, but also to actually invoke a positive change.
(3) Build on the second option. The two communities work hand-in-hand to strengthen each other. Like the example of a married couple where the husband supports the wife studying for her Masters or the wife supports the husband struggling with his start-up. Each is working towards individual goals and higher levels of maturity, but the other is actively participating and supporting. [This doesn’t imply that IMMs are the husband and BAMs the wife, or vice versa!] We believe MANA falls under this category too and its great leaders such as Imam Siraj, Imam Johari, etc. would never mean self-help and self-enrichment to be a separation and division from other Muslims. Rather, they engage in building bridges while fixing their own homes. Not fixing homes, while destroying bridges. Such that not only the two communities start understanding each other, but that we become helpers to each other as well.
But if we continue to engage in internet tribalism, then remember that when Muslims fight, the lizards pour in. The following is my response to some other “doubts” and accusations:
The wild insinuation that “I.S.N.A, Q.S.S., C.A.I.R., M.A.S., I.I.I.T, etc, clandestinely subscribe to this noxious belief that Arabs are Master Race, and that this “fact” has led them to suppress BAMs.
Not only is this belying facts, but also slanderous. Firstly, why are questions of Arab superiority only relevant to BAMs? Why is it not relevant to Indians, Indonesians, etc.? Secondly, with regard to the organizations aforementioned, none of them (except perhaps MAS) is Arab dominated; rather, non-Arabs, as in the case of ISNA (presided over by Sr. Ingid Mattson, a white American), have a major say. ICNA is run mostly by Pakistanis. And finally, why would this conspiracy only target black Muslims and not Pakistanis for instance?
The accusation that some of our beloved Imams (such as Imam Siraj) are “Uncle Toms”
This one really hurts. As everyone knows, Uncle Tom is a pejorative for an African American who is perceived by others as behaving in a subservient manner to White American authority figures, or as seeking ingratiation with them by way of unnecessary accommodation
What have we come to when we call our fellow Muslims “Uncle Toms” for working with other Muslims? Is their support and work with MAS, CAIR, ISNA, etc. equivalent to blacks joining forces with the bigots and the white supremacists? Are they being subservient to immigrants? What unnecessary accommodation are they providing?
So I say, Imam Mahdi, Imam Siraj Wahaj, Imam Johari and other illustrious black American leaders are not Uncle Toms. Never have leaders in major Islamic organizations (and I have been in leadership positions in a few Islamic organizations so this is from personal experience) looked down upon these distinguished individuals as mere tokens for black presence. Instead, “desis” and Arabs trip over each to book and listen to these men. Not because their color or race is different from ours. Rather, it is because they inspire us. Their eloquence moves us and their words enrich us. They are a treasure for the Muslim Ummah and we are only blessed and better to have them among us.
Could it be that they joined these noble and expansive organizations (the so-called “Immigrants Syndicate”), because these groups presented these men the greatest opportunity to reach the largest number of people with their dawah? Could it be that they joined these organizations because black organizations, other than the WD Muhammad movement, were not available?
Indeed these individuals are indeed not Uncle Toms. They are Elders. Elders of the Muslim community. And IMMs would take any of them over a 99% of non-BAM Imams.
Furthermore, if there is anyone who will make a difference in black communities, it is these people. They will become the bridges between the black Americans and the established organizations that are dominated by immigrants (but not mandated as such). They, dear brother, will be part of the solution. Not part of the problem.
In closing, I would remind everyone that tribalism or discrimination between Muslims, based on race, color or nationality is pure and simple JAHILIYA (ignorance). Islam came to remove this jahiliya forever, and as Muslims from various backgrounds living in the West, we cannot let this jahiliya raise its ugly head again. Unity is power, and as evidenced by the LGF cross-posts to Singularvoice, the Islamophobes will take whatever opportunity that presents itself to further disunite and cause hatred between Muslims.
There is truly no excellence for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab; nor for a white man over a black man, nor for a black man over a white man; except through piety [Ahmad]
When the Companion Ubada ibn as-Samit led a Muslim delegation to Muqawqis, the Christian patriarch of Alexandria, Muqawqis exclaimed: ‘Get this black man away from me and bring another to talk to me. … How can you be content that a black man should be the foremost among you? Is it not more fitting that he be below you?’ ‘Indeed no,’ Ubada’s comrades replied, ‘for although he is black as you see, he is still the foremost among us in position, in precedence, in intelligence and in wisdom; for darkness is not despised among us.’
Because singularvoice.com has mysteriously gone offline, I was unable to link to posts directly that refer to the accusations mentioned. I do have those posts saved and if needed, they can be reproduced. More importantly, I did not want to make this only about Abdur Rahman and singular voice. The post is about the issues, not about the person.
*BAMs: Many African-American Muslims prefer and use this term “BAMs” – black American Muslims– over AA – African-American Muslims. It is on that preference that I use it in this post, which obviously precludes any tints of racism (itself a form of jahiliya).