“If racism is ever to be finally undone—and that remains a very open question indeed—we will have to first and foremost stop lying to ourselves.” —Tim Wise, White Like Me

***

“The author kept revisiting the same point over and over again. I got so annoyed. It was like she didn't think we got it the first time…”

Like most writers who strive to improve their work, I benefit greatly from hearing feedback from readers. Over the years, I've found that both positive and negative reviews are quite beneficial. But occasionally the benefit proves a point of reflection not only for me but for humans in general.

This was one of those reviews.

What irked this reader was that different incidents in my novel reiterated the same point: that true faith involves actions of both the heart and limbs. In other words, Islam is both belief and submission.

And the reviewer was right. Though no particular scene or incident was ever repeated throughout the story, this central point was visited more than once.

But I couldn't help asking…

Why is this a problem?

Here We Go Again

“Oh, I'm so tired of hearing people cry racism,” the woman said, rolling her eyes. “It's getting old.”

There it was again, the “I'm tired of hearing the same thing over and over again” argument.

Yet I found myself thinking… If you're tired of merely hearing about racism over and over again, then imagine what those who experience racism over and over again must be going through.

I'm sure people are tired of hearing about a host of painful things. Impoverished children, homelessness, and war to name a few. But is this any reason to stop talking about them?

Today, it seems that hearing about painful matters is like holding a remote control in front of a flickering television set. If these topics bore or irritate us, or if we've already watched that “episode”, we shift restlessly on the couch and change the channel. Then we grumble that “the same old show” was aired at all.

Our priority is to remain soothed, entertained, and un-annoyed at all times.

Destroying Righteous Labels

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), said, “Every small bone of everyone has upon it a charitable act for everyday upon which the sun rises. Bringing about justice between two is an act of charity. Helping a man get on his mount, lifting him onto it or helping him put his belongings onto it, is a charitable act. A good word is a charitable act. Every step you take toward the prayer is a charitable act. And removing a harmful thing from the path is a charitable act” (Bukhari and Muslim).

It is truly heartbreaking that many Muslims' hearts have become so hard that they not only will avoid spending their time or energy in these ways, but they actually express boredom or frustration with even hearing about a need to do so.

What's more is that many have ripped the righteous labels from opportunities of goodness. Reminders to fear Allah are “people being judgmental.” The poor asking for charity is “lazy people with their hands out.” And mentioning an incident of racial injustice is “playing the race card.”

The Race Card

 When a person who commands the good and forbids the evil regarding racial discrimination is accused of “playing the race card,” this begs the question of what lies in the heart of the speaker. Excepting cases in which the speaker has personally witnessed unambiguous evidence that an alleged victim of racism is lying or gravely mistaken, accusing someone of “playing the race card” is merely the tongue giving voice to what lies in the breast.

People need to take responsibility for themselves. They shouldn't be pointing fingers at others. What if racism wasn't involved at all?

These are common defenses of the one expressing annoyance with hearing about racism “over and over again.”

Even if we ignore the obvious—that being a victim of racism isn't mutually exclusive to recognizing either the need for self-responsibility or the possibility of non-racial factors being involved—these defenses, like the “race card” label itself, reflect the mindset of the speaker more than they call into question the legitimacy of a discrimination claim.

After all, it's not that the speaker actually imagines that racism has suddenly disappeared and is no longer in need of addressing, just as the one accusing the poor of being “lazy people with their hands out” doesn't actually imagine that poverty has suddenly disappeared and charity need no longer be given.

It's simply that the speaker doesn't want to take personal responsibility for removing this social ill—just like the stingy person doesn't want to share his wealth.

 Reminders of social injustice are like reminders of poverty in the world. Those who still have within them even a grain of goodness become disturbed when confronted with these painful truths. But the true measure of righteousness is what we do about this uncomfortable stirring within.

 Those who accuse anti-racists of “playing the race card” (or poor people of being “lazy beggars”) have chosen to answer this internal disturbance by blaming the reminder. Those who decide to fight racism and poverty have chosen to heed the reminder.

And this is no small distinction. This simple decision—between blaming and heeding—could determine our fate in this world and in the Hereafter.

The Same Point Revisited

There are very few reviews of my books, whether positive or negative, that affect me deeply. But witnessing a Muslim getting annoyed with the essence of faith being a repetitive theme in an Islamic novel—and being moved to publish this annoyance for the world to read—made me shudder.

Given that nearly all pieces of writing have repetitive themes—a fact that qualifies a piece as a “single work”—I couldn't imagine what this Muslim wanted upon opening the book.

I got so annoyed. It was like she didn't think we got it the first time…

I was immediately reminded of the story from Bukhari about a man who came to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and said, “Counsel me” and the Prophet said, “Do not get angry.” The man repeated his request many times, but the Prophet kept saying: “Do not get angry.”

Did the Prophet think this man didn't hear him the first time? Or was the advice so pertinent that it needed to be repeated…over and over again?

The religion is sincere advice.[1]

In other words, a pivotal part of our faith is giving good advice. And as we know from reading the Qur'an, supplicating to Allah, and repeatedly falling into sin, the most important words require revisiting…“over and over again.”

So when we hear certain themes constantly revisited, whether concerning the essence of faith or the social ills of poverty and racism, this is likely a sign from Allah that we need to pay attention.

It's not time to shut our ears. It's not time to get annoyed or grow tired of “lazy beggars”—or of people “playing the race card.”

It's time to heed that uncomfortable stirring within, even if this means revisiting the same point over and over again…

Until we get it right in front of Allah.

References:

[1] A hadith collected by imam Muslim.

 

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy and the novels Realities of Submission and Hearts We Lost.  She is now writing juvenile fiction stories under the name Ruby Moore. To learn more about the author, visit themuslimauthor.com or join her Facebook page.

 WRITTEN FOR MUSLIMMATTERS.ORG

Copyright © 2012 by Al-Walaa Publications.  All Rights Reserved.

16 Responses

  1. Abdus Sabur

    JazakAllahu Khair for the article. You’ve given me much to think about. I admit, have been guilty of becoming bored or annoyed with hearing a simple, clear message repeatedly. Insha’Allah, I will listen now with open ears and an open heart in the future. Barak Allahu feek

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  2. Face to Floor

    Umm,

    I think that this is a twofold matter. One, it is true that there are many callous hearted people who don’t want to be reminded of social injustices. But there is another that is especially pertinent to African-Americans. I think people of various races/ethnicities are tired of AA complaining, while ignoring the pathological nature of their culture and value system (and i am talking about what has become the cultural norm today for a large segment of African-Americans). I think there are many people who are FRUSTRATED with black CULTURE, and when they offer common sense advice or criticisms, they are labeled “racists.”

    Basic advice to African-Americans like, “stop fornicating and breeding illegitimate kids,” “stop doing drugs and alcohol,” “educate yourself/speak at least semi-standard English,” “don’t wear your trousers down to the point of rear end cleavage,” “don’t put tattoos all over your neck and face,” “stop listening to this degenerate music, which is brainwashing you and influencing you to behave like savages,” “stop murdering each other”—i mean real basic elementary components of civil behavior—is labeled as “racist.”

    After a certain point, when one observes the behavior of the black underclass, one loses most or all sympathy for that group of people, for it doesn’t take much insight to realize that MOST (not all—but MOST) of their problems are self-inflicted… and they actually LIKE their culture. Very often the black functioning class, because they have a misplaced sense of racial solidarity (and this often includes functioning Muslims) will race to defend the black underclass (culture), instead of condemning it. This makes other groups think that “all American blacks are the same.” People are different, and people have different values.

    What i think needs to happen is for people to have an HONEST and open dialogue on race/racism and CULTURE in America. And that can only be done when people get beyond being overly sensitive about this subject. I write about this some here:

    http://facetofloor.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/its-the-culture-not-the-color/

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      • American Muslimah

        It got thumbs up because it is easier to blame the victim. It always amazes me how people, with little to no knowledge of the complexities of the American racial structure, decide that they are the authorities on the matter. It breathes of hubris. What is ironic is that many immigrants, that come from post-Colonial developing countries, will cry about bigotry and oppression of American foreign policy but then deride African Americans who have been victimized for centuries by institutionalized racism.

        There are a few things that if the author of the above post should be aware:

        First, African Americans do not seek the “sympathy” of other groups. We are not whiners who think that others will solve our problems. Indeed, we have a rich legacy of standing up against injustice. We have rebelled against the chains of slaver, been attacked with fire hoses, were attacked by police dogs, faced down the barrel of police guns, and were lynched from trees all over this country searching for justice. It will behoove the author to remember that it was African Americans who fought for the civil rights that so many come to this country and benefit from. To generalize us and be dismissive demonstrates a harboring of the same ignorance and bigotry that Muslims face. You know, those crazy, bomb-toting “Moslems” who know nothing but hate and destruction. Who can sympathize for them when they are just running around killing each other and everyone else?

        Second – the author mistakenly confuses plights of American and other cultures as originating with and belong to African Americans. I will not go into the details of how ignorant it is to assert that all African Americans are in engaged in drug use (I mean the Arabs have their hasheesh and the whites have their meth) or alcoholism (unlike the pristine non-blacks in bars, teenage raves, and college parties)…that they all dress provocatively (unlike the young Muslim girls that come to the masjid in tight clothes, see-through hijabs, and with enough make-up on to furnish a small theater group) because they are oversexed. The author also advises blacks to educate themselves. I guess she means like all of the budding immigrant scholars at the gas stations and convenience stores all over the country. I could go on, but I will not because I do not wish to degrade myself any closer to the level at which this author’s ideas and claims about African Americans stem.

        It would be of great benefit of the author of the above post to follow her own advice and educate herself. She needs to learn to write in a way that does not make her seem like an ignorant bigot who only serves as tool for divisiveness – which I am quite sure she is not. I have few suggested readings:

        The Quran – the author would benefit greatly from reading the Quran – specifically ayat like:

        “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.” (49:11)

        The Hadith of the Prophet (saws) – Perhaps if the author took more time learning how the Prophet uplifted the condition of people, she will be encouraged to work harder at helping instead of generalizing.

        The Soul of Black Folks by W.E.B. Dubois – Co-founder of the NAACP, Dubois’ book demonstrates the structure and machinations of institutionalized racism against blacks in this country.

        If reading beyond her own musings is too difficult, there is an excellent documentary “The House I live in” by Eugene Jarecki. It chronicles Americas war on various non-white groups by criminalizing them, and shows how it is now being done to whites impoverished because of the recent recession and lack of jobs.

        Inshaallah, I pray this will be of benefit to the author of the above post and May Allah deliver her and all of her ilk from their insipid racism – ameen.

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  3. June

    Assalamu alaykum,
    Good article with some good reminders! I know I like to “brush up on the basics” now and again with my Islamic studies and I’ll re-read books and articles all the time until I can internalize them well enough to act on them.

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  4. Saima

    Asalamualaikum sister, we have made a mindset in ourselves and we are judgemental by race and other things..i believe after coming to Eemaan the very first thing we catch is WE ALL R SAME except for taqwa and as soon we take over this hurdle we can get to our destination ,for me i always try to judge people through their taqwa it doesnt matter what race and kind they’re , we help people coz Allah has put rights for them in our money , rich and poor both would be put on test by Allah ,for Him nothing is impossible .

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  5. Saima

    Muslims are racist coz they’re ignorant and nonmuslims are coz they are away from Islam, awareness is the only way which is the reponsbility of every true muslim to spread wheather through pen,voice,intention,money etc etc ,we know everuthing but we need reminders everytime and this is very important to keep in touch with them so that we are on the right path ,may Allah bless you umm ZAkiyya and every muslim in this world .

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  6. Saima

    For charity …we all are responsible for our assets we would be asked for the rights of poor,relatives .In my poor knowledge i think charity starts from our close relatives, and in my affordense i always help my relatives and then other people who should i help ,may Allah give us the real knowledge.

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  7. amisa

    Umm Zakiyyah,
    Jazak Allah Khair for taking the time to write this article. It is good to bring up the topic of racism from time to time so that we all may take a deeper look at ourselves to see how we are making changes, for better or worse!

    Face on Floor,
    (“stop fornicating and breeding illegitimate kids,” “stop doing drugs and alcohol,” “educate yourself/speak at least semi-standard English,” “don’t wear your trousers down to the point of rear end cleavage,” “don’t put tattoos all over your neck and face,” “stop listening to this degenerate music, which is brainwashing you and influencing you to behave like savages,” “stop murdering each other”)

    Wow, if I hadn’t read who this advice was addressed to, I would think you were advising all of America! Most of, if not all, of the things you mentioned apply to whites as well. #’s 1&2, CHECK, I know more whites that do those than not. #3 You no what I says about what you says? Your 100% right. We whites ain’t need no more education on how to speak English good. It’s them black folk that ain’t learned no better! #4 Some white Americans have the opposite clothing issues. They wear shorts and skirts that are so short that you pray they don’t bend over, sit down, or that anything falls out! # 5, 6, and 7 can be said about whites too! What makes it racist is when you single out African Americans, or any other specific race, as if they are the only ones that need such advices. For every AA that I have seen wearing saggy pants, I’ve seen just as many whites. For as many black druggies I know, I can name just as many, if not more whites and so on. The issues you mentioned aren’t ‘race’ issues, they are ‘human’ issues. There will always be those, regardless of race, who are immoral, will lie, cheat, steal, and kill to get what they want, have poor language skills, or a questionable wardrobe .

    My question is, why is it that African Americans still have their own culture in a country that proudly nicknames itself ‘The Melting Pot’? Is it because they didn’t want to join in with everyone else? Or because we keep them as far away from the melting pot as possible because they might ruin the ‘special blend’ we got goin? That is, keeping in mind that we whites wouldn’t even let them use the same bathroom or water fountain as them until some 50-60 years ago! I’m not so sure that their suffering is as ‘self-inflicted’ as you said!

    How can an open and honest dialogue happen when we aren’t listening to them? If someone comes complaining that they don’t have equal education or job opportunities, should we first listen to the explanation of why they feel that way, and check to see if they’re claims are right? Or do we just say, suck up, you know your not as good as everyone else, improve your English, get a better education and then we will discuss things, while at the same time making sure that such resources are out of their reach. That is not a dialogue, but that’s how we tend to deal with AAs in America unfortunately.

    I am sorry if I have offended anybody, of any race. I hate using generalizations and words such as most, all, and a lot of. We are all human and have our strengths and weaknesses but we must be honest with OURSELVES, first and foremost, if we are to change anything for the better in sha Allah! Even if the truth hurts!

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    • Hilarious

      Black people were brought /bought for slavery by the first settlers and it is quite normal for them to feel that an injustice has occurred. Looking at the American society I still feel that the black people are neglected, treated differently and allowed to, just exist; rather than to integrate. No wonder why they don’t trust anyone!

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  8. Nina

    The first thing that came to my mind when i read this article is about the islamic man giving a review about the author’s work. I have to wonder what he thinks of the Quran? Because many topics are repeated over and over and in prayer we recite over and over at least Surah Fatihah if not other verses as well.

    It’s sad to think about how anyone could not want to here something that is unjust or just plain wrong over and over until it is fixed.

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  9. facetofloor

    Amisa,

    Seventy percent of black children are illegitimate. As for whites, it’s about 25%. Blacks and whites are on welfare at nearly the same numbers… but there are 6X more whites than blacks. Black males make up 6% of the population… but commit 40% of the murders. The issues i am bringing up are not intrinsically race issues. But a substantial part of black America has adopted these values and considered normal… and PART OF BEING BLACK.

    As for white people, they still try to marginalize their cretins. They don’t consider the toothless meth-heads in the Ozarks as the embodiment of “whiteness”—and many white people will call them what they are: “white trash.” On the other hand, people like Trayvon Martin, are defended IN THE NAME OF BLACK SOLIDARITY.

    I’m not trying to defend white pathology. There is PLENTY of it to go around. Black people, however, love to complain how they are being discriminated against while not making an honest evaluation of the prevailing black culture. Why do whites/immigrants look down upon black Americans? Part of it is a purely racial matter (something that black people largely can’t change), but the other part is a CULTURAL matter (that cna be changed, but many African-Americans don’t want to change). Blacks are largely disliked b/c of their BEHAVIOR.

    As for self-infliction, white people aren’t killing black people. BLACK PEOPLE are killing black people (85-90% of black murders are intra-racial). Nobody forced African-Americans to embrace to current degeneracy that is rap music. This is self-infliction, and the reality of the matter is that many of them LIKE IT THAT WAY. That’s why they don’t change their behavior.

    *Comment edited to comply with Comments Policy*

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    • lolgtfo

      I love how facetofloors comment was downvoted and cannot be seen any more when he makes some very srong points.
      Truth hurts huh?

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  10. RCHOUDH

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Beautiful article sister Mash’Allah! I love your articles on issues pertaining to race here on MM. And I am enjoying the civilized discussion that’s been going on here in the comments section so far. Let’s remember to keep it civilized! Race is one of those very sensitive issues that can easily get derailed by many factors, so In sha Allah let’s not allow that to happen here! I just wanted to say in response to facetofloor’s and Amisa’s comments, that what you’re both saying is true and not mutually exclusive. Alot of the social problems faced by certain minority groups here in the US are both self-inflicted by the minority culture itself and imposed upon through the institutionalized discrimination that still exists in the US (I’m also including the poor white communities here as well, even though they are not minorities in and of themselves).
    What I find to be beautiful about our Deen (and which has been alluded to by other commentors above) is that when we sincerely learn and follow upon it, we can develop a sense of empathy and respect towards others that keeps us away from adversely judging them based on their race, culture, class, etc. In other words, we can start to appreciate individuals for who they are and not for where they come from. At the same time, we are told to appreciate and learn about each other’s different cultures, ways of living, etc as long as these practice are not opposed to the Deen. So we can learn to not become “colorblind” (another form of myopic worldview just like out and out racism). And through gaining a certain appreciation and respect towards others, we can then learn to empathize with the issues, problems affecting individual communities (both within our Ummah and within communities outside it). May Allah help us all to become righteous arbiters of justice Ameen.

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  11. Zobia

    Assalamu alaikum, thank you for this.

    I used to get so annoyed when people would say “s/he’s just playing the race card!” but now I just laugh.

    What do they think? Are we playing Yu Gi Oh? In which case, the only reason our Black/African-American muslim sisters and brothers would pull the race card would be to counter a White supremacist dragon!

    We as an ummah need to continue to talk about racism. We need to listen to our brothers and sisters who suffer racism; they’re the ones who suffer racism, they should be at least given the privilege of an open heart and listening ear.

    And muslims from desi communities need to be especially vigilant. I know that we should respect our aunties and elders but do not be silent! Explain their racism in a calm manner. If anything, it will show young kids that we do not tolerate racism.

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