Once, while in class at college, an Arab girl I was sitting next to said quite loudly to another, “Hey, give this paper to the 'abdah” referring to a black girl in the class. I wondered if she was even aware of what she was saying in English. Did she think that 'abdah translates to “black girl” and never thought of its true meaning? Did she think that I didn't understand?

 

My name is Hakeemah Cummings, I am a 25-year old Muslimah living in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, IL.  I have lived in this community for a number of years and attended an Islamic school here.

Alhamdulillah, my community has a huge Muslim population, largely Arab, and is well-established with two large masajid, two Islamic schools, a community center, and countless Muslim-owned businesses and organizations.

Alhamdulillah, I am very blessed to live in a community so dense with Muslims in a city that is so large and diverse.

Living in this community as long as I have, I have picked up a lot of the colloquial Arabic and have formally studied the language in high school and college. I remember back when our family first moved into this community, and I started attending the Islamic school in 7th grade, I heard the word “slaves” or 'abeed ('abdah (f.) 'abd (m.) ) used quite commonly to refer to black people.

English being my first language, I was used to immediately translating Arabic words to English to grasp the meaning – “slave”. I quickly took offense – as a black Caribbean muslimah, I was a minority within the community and immediately felt hurt by this term. I remember people would make the mistake of using this word around me, mostly in reference to African-Americans.

If I was in earshot, the person would quickly excuse themselves, saying that they didn't mean me, they meant … them. But what, really, is the difference between me as a black person, and “them” as black people? What makes “them” slaves? It was horribly rude, and made me extremely uncomfortable.

Other times, the word would be used casually with no concern.

“That neighborhood is scary. The 'abeed live there…”

in reference to the south side of the inner city of Chicago. Or people would say a certain kind of clothing, music, mannerism, way of speaking, or hairstyle, is “for the 'abeed.”

Once, while in class at college, an Arab girl I was sitting next to said quite loudly to another, “Hey, give this paper to the 'abdah” referring to a black girl in the class. I wondered if she was even aware of what she was saying in English. Did she think that 'abdah translates to “black girl” and never thought of its true meaning? Did she think that I didn't understand?

Clearly, if she had said “Give this paper to the slave” it would have been a revocable remark, and a confrontation may have ensued.  Not only was this term used with blatant disregard, it was furthermore tolerated by the likes of me, who cringed at its use, though I kept quiet. I remember angrily thinking, “Aren't we all 'abeed (slaves) of Allah?”

Usually, the word was used to refer to African-Americans, who are descendants of the African slaves who were stolen from Africa and brought here to the US, enduring the worst forms of oppression for many generations.

Other ethnic groups were enslaved as well in their own histories. It may come as a surprise that Arabs, as well as countless other ethnic and racial groups, have a history of being enslaved as well. That gives no one the right to call the Arabs of today slaves, so African-Americans should not be subject to that degrading terminology either.

As I grew older, I found a voice that I didn't have when I was younger. Now that I have younger siblings who are enduring the same types of racially insensitive incidents, I felt that I must address this issue head-on.

That's why I started the “We are all 'abeed of Allah” campaign; as Muslims – above any ethnic, racial, tribal, or nationalistic association we assume pride in – as Muslims, we need to know that the use of this word is a slur, and that it is degrading, insulting, ignorant, inexcusable, and will no longer be tolerated.

Furthermore, everyone, regardless of race, should proudly claim the word “slave” for him or herself – I am a slave, you are a slave, we are all slaves.

Why?

Because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) refers to us all as His slaves beautifully in the Qur'an on numerous occasions, and it is a term of honor.

This word “abeed” encompasses all of those who strive to worship Allah: an honorable way of life and the purpose for which He created us. Instead, some use this word to marginalize and insult others, stripping the word of its beauty and dignity. Shouldn't we all aspire to be slaves of Allah, and eliminate the pride we feel in the superficial labels we hold to such high standards: Arab, non-Arab, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, rich, and poor.

All of these labels bring about arrogance and misplaced pride. The Prophet (SAW) warned against tribalism, racism, classism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and nationalism, and even emphasized this warning in his last sermon, which indicates the importance this issue in Islam.

I decided to take action on this issue, so I approached the administration of my old high school to organize a “Celebrating Diversity” event where we had speakers, activities, panel presentations, and group discussions to address these issues in our schools and broader community. At the event's core was an emphasis on our religious obligation as Muslims to be fair, sensitive, and kind to others.

Racism is a huge issue and I knew that one event could not change completely, but I firmly believed that with every positive action there could be a change in the right direction.

I decided to tackle the issue of the use of the word 'abeed as a racial slur. This began with T-shirts and wristbands to raise awareness at the Islamic school, and then expanded to a Facebook campaign page, where the campaign quickly became international.

Since the campaign began on March 2, 2012, it has grown exponentially, and I hope that the awareness spreads even more. I have gotten much support from the local community, and even more overseas, due to Muslim YouTube gurus and bloggers who have supported the campaign through making videos, writing articles, and posting about the campaign on their social networking sites.

The goals of the campaign are as follows:

1) To raise awareness of the meaning of this word in English. The translation is “slave”, not “black”

2) To let people know that using this word as a racial slur is not okay and can no longer be tolerated

3) To teach this word the way the Almighty uses it: to refer to all of his worshippers, regardless of race, in an honorable way.

4) To break the link the use of the word “abeed” and the black race so that there is no ultimately no racial connotation.

Let us ALL, regardless of race, strive to be 'abeed to the One whom we dedicate our lives to. Be proud to know that you are an agent in combating the racial divides that plague our ummah. Let us all make the claim:

“We are all 'abeed of Allah”.

By Hakeemah Cummings, founder of “We are all 'abeed of Allah”

31 Responses

  1. Aisha

    I think this is a wonderful campaign and it is great that you are bringing these issues to the forefront, hopefully similar iniatiatives can begin in other cities across North American and beyond. Do you have a website where we can access more information?
    Its important that we recognize that racism exist within the Muslim community and then work to both tackle and eliminate.its existence.

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    • Bint Aisha

      Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
      being a Muslimah and originally from Bosnia (caucasian race); my heart is wholeheartedly with you.
      We are ONE body, the ummah of Allah’s last prophet Muhammad, Sall Allahu alayhi wa sallam. Love you for this initiatiive, for the sake of Allah, sister!
      BTW, we are all sisters, daughters of Aisha, radi Allahu anha! <3
      Wa alaykumu salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

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  2. Naima Asma

    Thank you so much for writing this article! It has opened my eyes to an issue which I didn’t even know existed. Being born and raised in a small German city, a city that unfortunately doesn’t even have a real Muslim community, this topic is something completely new to me. Loved that you mentioned my favorite part from the prophet’s (saw) last sermon. It’s very inspiring to see you taking action and raising awareness. May Allah (swt) reward you for it! :)

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    • huda

      Nah, she is just kidding.

      Of course she is serious, hence all the hard work she has put into her campaign! Let’s realize that racism is not dead in Islamic society and just because you do not hear about it does not make it any less real.

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  3. ahsan arshad

    racism amongst muslims is mind boggling conceptually but reality is quite dark. I praise Allah that we helped you to find a voice… as no one can better address such issues then those who have been a victim to it.
    May Allah magnify your efforts. Keep up the struggle of “changing the nation through education” (slogan of Islamiconlineuniveristy.com, IOU)
    from abeed of Allah

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  4. Umm Eesa

    I am Arab and I always found it disgusting when I found my fellow Arabs referring to blacks this way. It was actually quite shocking to me because it goes against the very essence of Islam. May Allah reward you sister.

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  5. saysay

    Salaam alykum Hakeemah. I’m so proud of you my dear sister. Being an African muslimah who grew up in the u.k we get racism here too from fellow muslims. It’s disgusting and finally someone is doing something about it and you represent us all, but most importantly you aim to bring the focus back to being a slave to the most merciful. Xx

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    • Hilarious

      It is disgusting to hear what you are describing; racism from fellow “Muslims”. They shouldn’t be referred to as Muslims because they are going against the fundamental values of what Islam is based upon.

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  6. Husn'ul'Yusuf

    May Allah bless you sistah. I must admit, being fair-skinned and all the other things I have been blessed with, sometimes I used to feel a little awkward at the sight of “others”, though it’s foolish, since Allah created everyone. But, it’s kinda hard, trying not to be racist at times, and we can thank the way the world and media is right now. But there isn’t anything bad about being black, Surah Al-Luqman is named after Luqman (may Allah have mercy on him), who was a negro and former slave. Then Allah blessed him with wisdom, and see where he lands, smack in the Quran!

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    • The Same Guy as Above

      When I said “it’s kinda hard not being racist, at times”, I didn’t mean that you proactively become racist, but that the world has become so foolish, catalyzed by a media barrage of bias, that it’s hard for anyone to keep away from these social ills. May God protect us all from racism n stuff. Btw, I am an Israeli Muslim.

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      • Again...the same guy

        As’Salamu Alaikum…I’d been having this little thought-battle within myself and it occurred to me that the nature of my previous comments was relatively derogatory, albeit unintentional. The whole thing just sort of came out wrong, and I didn’t really mean it that way. So, if they hurt anyone, I’m honestly sorry man. May Allah bless all of us, the way He created us in beautiful colors, a reflection of His attribute of creation. Wa’Salam!

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  7. Abu Khalid

    Asalam alakum

    This a nice subject sister as an Arab I know this word has become commen amongst the muslim Arabic brothers an sisters wallah I remember a Hadith that actually forbid useing this word (abeed) to refer to black people because a companion called one of his slaves abed and the prophet pbuh said do not call them abeed (because of there color) but call them khadim (servant…since the man he referred to was not a freeman yet and just a servant ) because we are all abeed Allah …..wallah I tryed to find the Hadith for the past 2 hours but I couldn’t find it so it is haram to refer to some one as abed based on there skin color. And your right even some Arabs from my country were slaves in the time of the prophet and they were the first martyrs in Islam. But inshallah this racism will disappear soon as the Muslims return to there religion and may Allah reward you for your struggle on this issue and add it to your scale of good deeds ..salamz sister

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  8. Muhammad Abdul Haqq

    The deeper ignorance that must be confronted as a means to combat racism effectively is to first make all people understand that humanity is not divided into races.That is simply Eurocentric, pseudoscientific, racializing trash.

    Another aspect of this is to make Arabs realize that there is no such thing as an Arab race, and that the original Arabs came to Yemen FROM East Africa.

    Barak Allahu Feek.

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  9. hana

    i am a muslimah of east african heritage who was born in the gulf of arabia and raised in damascus. i have encoutered racism and discrimination at school, in the street and at work simply because allah created me with dark brown skin. i knew that my beautiful deen abhores such ugly thing, my fellow so called muslim arabs still live in the jaahiliya times. may allah guide them away from such narrow-minded and ignorant view of life.
    i applaude you dear sister hakeema for your valiant efforts , and i ask allah to perserve you and grant you jannah.

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  10. Abdullah Kusari

    I’m a Yemeni born and raised in Detroit and most of my friends refer to African Americans as “Abeed”. It’s an ugly habit and I always try to remind them the meaning of the word and that we are all Abdullahs. It’s really embarrassing for me especially when I bring any of my African American friends to the neighborhood and someone else refers to them as Abeed. Some of my closest friends are African American and it gets so bad that even they refer to other black males as Abeed, as if they’re ashamed of themselves or maybe they’re trying to fit in with us just so they can feel accepted. I like the message and In Sha Allah one day the slur stops among my people and I apologize

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  11. April Lamda

    Yeah all blacks are viewed by majority of Arabs are slaves, as slave trade and slavery was ramped in Arab lands, the prophet had slaves as well. \Many slaves were from Africa, where most blacks in Yemen came from. Slavery isn’t even a sin in Islam. It’s a part of Islamic and Arab culture

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    • Ahmed Fuseini Alhassan

      @april lamda;learn your islamic law well;its not a sin in christianity either and dont know of any realigion that expressly forbade it,u could educate me though;The prophet had slaves like u claim yet he forbade the enslavement of free people! as the article showed some of the slaves of the prophet’s(SAW) era were arab,some white,some persian unlike across the atlantic that was deeply racist so much so even after their “emancipation”;society ensured that they remained slaves psychologically “shamelesslessly” proclaiming freedom and equality of men and keeping black people “downpressed”;in Islam “slave” dynasties ruled muslim majority Arab states;the earlist muslim scholars after the companions were mostly “slaves”…..it slavery was rampant everywhere in the world untill humanity unanimously agreed to stop it!like some1 said lots of the racism among Arabs boils to their holding to their jahili;pre-islamic tribal attitudes rather than due to the religion no religion has “theoretically” debunked racism,tribalism like islam;that’s undeniable!another factor that has heightened racism and tribalism(here in Africa;btw i’m black from Ghana)has been colonialism as the colonialist sort wherever they colonised to “devide & conquer”;did they aide the Arabs to revolt against the turks foe e.g?….

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  12. omar anis

    abedah is a common muslim name, may be her name is abeda? did you ever think about that? or talk to someone about it, some wise person.

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  13. Riz Khan

    My sister for your happiness I would call myself Abeed a thousand times. But “Abeed” is bad word and it is used as an insult. Our Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said in his last sermon

    There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab and for a
    non-Arab over an Arab, nor for the white over the black nor for the black
    over the white except in God-conciousness.

    another translation!

    All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.

    Nothing comes before the commands/words/sayings of our Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). Anyone guilty of racism should consider that going against the sayings of Our Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) put him/her in serious danger of losing his/her Imaan!

    I think the best way is to educate such people by showing/reading them the last sermon and make them understand that going against the sayings of Our Holy Prophet would seriously put him in a danger zone of losing imaan! May Allah guide us all along the right pathj, Ameen!

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  14. Riz Khan

    A good idea is to start a campaign of publishing/or handwritten pamphlets, charts, papers of the last sermon of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) and to distribute it in your neighborhood whether it is School, College, University, Office and any area of your respective city or country with the words against racism highlighted. It would certainly have a profound effect on any muslim (if he is a muslim). I would not only help in eliminating racism but also would be a cause of great reward from Almighty Allah for the dissemination of the sayings of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). May Allah guide all the sisters and brothers along the right path,
    Ameen!

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