30% of American Muslims are Black. Every 28 hours a Black person is killed by someone employed or protected by the US Government. What affects the Black community affects us—all life matters, Black life matters. It is crucial that we take a good look at what is going on in the working class city of #Ferguson and why it is important for the Muslim community to stand in solidarity with our Black brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends and coworkers.

Last Saturday in St.Louis County, Missouri, an unarmed 18-year-old student named Michael Brown was shot and killed by someone from the Ferguson Police Department. His body was left out in the sweltering heat for 4 hours. He was walking with a friend near his grandmother's house. This killing came soon after a father of six, #EricGarner, was choked and killed to death by the NYPD and it was caught on a cell phone. Following a vigil after his death, riots erupted in Ferguson, and if you want to know why they are rioting watch this video. Vigils, protests and civil unrest were met by armored officers, GI joed up in surplus combat gear from the Iraq and Afghanistan war.

Colorlines reports that besides “…racial profiling, police shootings and lack of transparency surrounding their investigation has for the past few years been a subject of local concern.”   One of the only Black elected officials who had been doing citizen journalism, Alderman Antonio French, was arrested. Journalists were arrested and tear-gassed—coincidentally, the same American-made tear gas used by the Israeli army. It was extremely twilight zone-ish seeing folks in Gaza sending Ferguson protestors tips and tricks on teargas via Twitter, but started making sense when according to a St. Louis County Police department press release the former Chief Timothy Fitch, along with law enforcement officials from across the United States, visited Israel to “learn how Israel's police, intelligence and security forces prevent terror attacks.”

A Lesson in Structural Racism

Let's look at the underlying problems, not the symptoms, and see how we, as a community, can try to understand what is happening. Many of us conflate individual bias with racism; racism is bias plus power. 

Structural or Institutional Racism – a system of societal structures that work interactively to distribute generational and historic advantages to groups of people based on race and that produces cumulative, race-based inequalities.

Aggressive police tactics and racial disparity are the core of this struggle in this town. Ferguson, near St. Louis, Missouri, is 60% Black, yet almost all the police force is white. Last year, Black Missouri residents were 66% more likely to be stopped by police, and more likely to be arrested, even though white residents were more likely to be found with contraband.                                                                               In the two-minute video posted to YouTube Sunday night, in a digitally altered voice hacktivists Anonymous delivered a strict list of demands for local police and legislators, “Anonymous will not be satisfied this time … with simply obtaining justice for this young man and his family,” the voice says, “Anonymous demands that the Congressional Representatives and Senators from Missouri introduce legislation entitled 'Mike Brown's Law,' that will set strict national standards for police conduct and misbehavior in the USA.”

“No Justice, No Peace”

This protest cry was heard when 50,000  protesters took to the streets of Washington DC for Gaza. It was again heard in Ferguson. As we see in Gaza, true peace cannot exist without justice. Natasha Lennard writes that 'to urge that citizens remain “peaceful” all-too-wishfully asks for a peace that does not exist.'  Much respect to the Muslim community in St. Louis for sending this letter in solidarity to the Brown family. But were Muslims out en masse as they were for the rallies for Gaza? Justice should not mean 'just us' as Br Dawud Walid says eloquently in his khutbah and writes about here.

Far too many of us use words like 'those K%^lu and ab#$d” to demonize and criminalize an entire race without looking at any underlying factors, especially the structural racism that exists in this country from mass incarceration, housing policy and employment and education practices to even how and where highways were built.

Muslim-Owned Liquor Stores

Many Muslim businesses were looted and destroyed by some of the protestors in Ferguson. It is easy to look at pictures of looting occurring in the city and perpetuate stereotypes. I am categorically not supporting the looting, especially of businesses like these, but I do want to comment on an aspect of Muslim business in inner cities across the US, especially because so much media focus in on property damage instead of  loss of human life.

As one imam calls it, “The most disgusting ironies of Muslim life in the United States.”  Muslim liquor stores in the corners of inner cities and Black neighborhoods is an epidemic problem. Downtown Baltimore, DC, Oakland, LA – name any city in the United States and I will find you tons of Muslims who own liquor stores there. This practice is exploitative. Many of these areas are food deserts, where there are no grocery stores, no safe places for families to shop and for Muslims, many of whom are immigrants, to come and open stores in areas with high concentrations of existing liquor stores that contribute to the crime in the area is really problematic.

The liquor store business is highly lucrative, pumping out $2 billion out of the inner cities. Little children who have no place to buy a candy bar are introduced to alcohol a few steps from their homes and schools because our Muslim brothers choose to partake in the free economy and wring the system. With each visit to buy anything from bread to cashing a check, alcohol abuse is normalized. Many store owners often don't live in the areas, as it is deemed 'unsafe' for their own families.

According to a Brookings Institute report, “Although the relationships are complex, the high concentration of liquor stores in the inner cities, the ready availability of beer and hard liquor, and the high incidence of alcohol abuse are deeply implicated in the troubled homes, disorderly neighborhoods, and dangerous streets there.”

“Alcohol use has been associated with assaultive and sex-related crimes, serious youth crime, family violence toward both spouses and children, being both a homicide victim and a perpetrator, and persistent aggression as an adult. Alcohol 'problems' occur disproportionately among both juveniles and adults who report violent behaviors.”

The report further states that neighborhood disorder takes many forms — “public drinking, prostitution, catcalling, aggressive panhandling, rowdy teenagers, battling spouses, graffiti, vandalism, abandoned buildings, trash-filled lots, alleys strewn with bottles and garbage. But no social disorder is at once so disruptive in its own right and so conducive of other disorders and crime as public drinking.”

We know ourselves how damaging the effects of alcohol can be when we are not even allowed to assist, account or transport alcohol because of the multitude of sins that can come from it. It is abhorrent in itself to call a race 'animals' and then to provide them the very means that God has forbidden, precisely because it ignites the animalistic behavior in all of us, regardless of the color of our skin. Are these businesses making the community or destroying it? Remember Muslim or not, they are also the Ummah of our Beloved.  

Anti-Black Individual Bias and the Global Ummah

I was at my daughter's homeschooling review and the reviewer, after pleasantly chatting for a while, asked me personal questions about where I grew up and my ethnicity. “You are the first Pakistani/Indian who has spoken to me this way.”

Needless to say I was shocked, especially since I know we have many 'desi' home-schoolers in the area. She went on to say, “I grew up in Chicago and many Pakistani corner store owners would look at us like we would steal something, they called us names that they thought we could not understand, but we did.”

If you have ever wondered why some of your Black Muslim brothers and sisters may not be as hyped about the Palestinian cause, or any other cause overseas—although there are many vocal Black voices here who support justice globally—allow me to share some of their voices and points that made me pause and reflect:

“To be brutally honest, Muslims from other countries expect you to donate to their native country, but won't invite you to their home for iftar or Eid, won't make you feel welcome at the masjid (where their nationality is in the majority), and most likely wouldn't donate to charities that support individuals who are African-American and Latino (both Muslim and non-Muslim).”

Not going to assume collective guilt, but how do you expect a people to feel your pain when you call them 'ab$%d” and sell them haram? How do you think you are looked upon?

“Umm yeah. I'm like so y'all asking me to send money and aid overseas but you selling pork liquor and lottery tickets (all haram) to MY people and I'm supposed to be cool with it? NO.”

Men who come from overseas are seen as exploitive predators, as they come to the inner city to pick up women — many who are working the streets because they are victims of sex traffickers — instead of representatives of the Sahaba whose ethics spread Islam to Southeast Asia through their business and trade. And on top of that, if a Black man asks for an Arab or South Asian sisters' hand in marriage he is told he cannot even look at them, let alone ask for her hand in marriage.

After Brown's murder, the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, especially on Twitter, showed how mainstream media paints a narrative of young Black men, picking and choosing what is shown. Looking at this is an important exercise in examining how many of us are influenced by what is shown about African Americans on TV and movie screens, and examining our own racial bias.

Criminalizing a race-hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown shows how mainstream media paints a narrative of young Black men pic.twitter.com/QDuPL6Rt2b — Hena Zuberi (@HenaZuberi) August 11, 2014

The State of Many Inner City masajid

Last year, I was given a tour of inner city masajid in Baltimore and I was dismayed at the state of several masajid. If every dollar that we spend in masajid in the 'burbs was matched, and community centers were built by Muslims in the places they are needed the most, Islam in America would be a force of positive social change that we wax so eloquently about. It is about time that we go beyond the homeless feedings, Eid gifts and coat drives and start building institutions and safe places for young men and women in inner cities.

This is the kind of institutional building that we need to be doing for the da'wah and for the betterment of our wider communities. As we know that we are all the ummah of the Beloved, Muslim or not. We have a collective responsibility to want the best for others, no matter their religious or non-religious affiliation. Our neighbors have a right upon us.

ISNA 2014 and the Water Crisis in Detroit

On a related note because it has been on my mind, how many American Muslims know what is going on in Detroit (the economic and water crisis) where the largest Muslim organization is holding its convention? I bring this up because 30 percent of American Muslims are Black and it is vital that their issues and voices be heard.

This is what it means to be poor in #Detroit, where water prices are twice the national average. Exorbitant water bills come in that working class families can't afford so the water gets cut off, leading to unsanitary conditions, which means now you are scared of losing your kids.

“Many parents in homes without water are sending their children to live with family or friends for fear of losing their sons and daughters to Child Protection Services.”  The Detroit Water and Sewage Company supplies water to nearly the entire metropolitan area, but it is set up in such a way that it doesn't have the power to increase rates in the suburbs, only for city residents.

Structural racism again. 83% of the population is African-American. 

Some immediate proactive things that your Muslim community can do:

  • Sign this petition
  • If you are attending the ISNA convention this year in Detroit than learn about the water crisis there. You can use this website to donate to vetted folks who are suffering from unfair water bills http://detroitwaterproject.org.
  • Mobilize and join the protests for issues aside from the ones that affect Muslims and your ethnicity/race
  • Every masjid in the United States should be talking about Ferguson, social and racial justice and structural racism in this country at Friday prayers (request it from your imam).
  • Learn about Anti-Black racism.
  • Confront your own stereotypes and racism- stop the next person who you see use words that are racist, that dehumanize or criminalize any race.
  • Give salaam to a Black brother and sister as they walk into the masjid.
  • Invite Black voices to speak at the masjid or community center to share their experience.
  • If you know someone who owns a business that sells liquor, introduce them to organizations like iman who have helped some Muslim store-owners turn their businesses into grocery stores or replaced the liquor with fresh produce. Here is an awesome incentive and if you don't have one in your city start one. Look at how this indigenous Muslim community tackled the problem of liquor stores and all that they bring with them to the neighborhood. This is Islam.
  • Have the masjid that you attend adopt a masjid in the inner city to hold joint fundraisers and events to build the bonds of brother and sisterhood.

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
Frederick Douglass

 

Photo Credit aol.com

19 Responses

    • Jamil

      The issue of Muslim owned businesses is complicated. Strictly speaking, selling alcohol is haram and Muslims should avoid businesses which deal with alcohol. However, calling Muslim store owners predators is not productive – many of these people have had a difficult time finding other employment due to limited educational opportunities and economic background. Pretending that America is the “land of plenty” for all immigrant Muslims is misleading and inaccurate. It’s part and parcel of the American Dream mythology which also suggests that native minority Americans (ie African Americans, Latinos, etc) need simply apply themselves to learning and pull themselves up by their bootstraps to achieve financial freedom. Many Arab/Muslim immigrants don’t have the luxury of being employed as aerospace engineers like many “proper” upper middle class Muslims (where, in their gainful employment, they can design weapons systems used to murder countless innocent Muslims and others from the air – without, I might add, earning the ire or condemnation of our leadership). I also think it’s important to acknowledge another aspect of this again admittedly difficult dynamic – that of Arab/Muslim owners who have been murdered or assaulted in their stores. I can’t count the number of people I’ve heard of who have been shot and/or killed in their inner city shops over the past 30 years. These are not isolated incidents, but an unfortunate reality of doing business in impoverished communities. Did these individuals deserve to die because they’re selling alcohol? Who is shooting them? And does the fact that many of these individuals have been shot by African American men give Arabs/immigrant Muslims the right to vilify an entire community? The answer, of course, is no…blanket generalizations about any community are harmful and divisive and do little to advance the cause of positive inter-Muslim relations. I’m just pointing out that the equation is much more complicated than the author presents and will require more than one-sided lecturing. The American Muslim community doesn’t have the luxury of allowing itself to be divided by ethnicity, race, immigration status, etc.

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      • candice

        Brother, I think you’re making excuses for Muslim business owners. If we were talking about Muslim women selling sex, rather than Muslim men selling porn mags and beer, would you be talking about these poor souls who didn’t have the luxury of putting themselves through nursing school or engineering school? I think not. Peddling haram is peddling haram, period. While it damages our image as a community in concrete terms, you have to wonder whether we all suffer from the collective harm of failing to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.
        At the same time, you’re demonizing some mythical population of middle-class Muslim aerospace engineers who design weapons of war. Where are these people? A Muslim can’t even apply for a gun license without raising suspicion, much less start designing AR-15s!
        I agree with you when you say that our community can’t afford to be divided, but it’s already divided. Can you deny that converts and Black American and Latino Muslims are marginalized within the broader Muslim American community? Sure, the masjid loves to have the local Spanish-language channel conduct an interview in the mussallah about Latino Muslims and broadcast it on the nightly news, but have I ever seen a Spanish-language sign (or even English, for that matter) in that very same masjid announcing that board elections for the masjid will be held? No. They wouldn’t say no to publicity, but actually having Latinos participate in directing the affairs of the masjid, that’s not gonna happen. And the same goes for the treatment of Black American Muslims. Everyone loves to hear brother so-and-so give a lecture, but actually inviting him to help the masjid make long-term plans is a whole ‘nother question. And if I even get started on Islamic schools, ya Allah, help me! The racism and bigotry that Black and Latino Muslim kids have to deal with in Islamic schools is enough to choke you up with tears. Their parents chose Islam. Their parents chose to raise them as Muslims. But it’s hard to convince a kid who deals with racial and ethnic harassment at school that the “Islamic” environment is better.
        The mere mention of these issues and the issues that Sr. Hena raised are not an incitement to division. It’s a reality that many Muslims refuse to face. Will these problems go away by NOT talking about them, for fear of causing division? Or is it more likely that the people who propagate and perpetuate racial/ethnic marginalization and tokenism are the source of the division?

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    • Kesa Hopkins

      Wrong. The African American population of the County of Wayne is 39.6%- the whole for Michigan is 14%. DWS serves 40% of Michigan, 80% of whom are white, where on earth do you get the figure 83% (of any population in Michigan) is African American?

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    • Jamil

      The NY Times article is very interesting…indeed, heartbreaking at times. We have a long way to go. It all starts with education – immigrant Muslims need to educate their children about the the African American experience (which is part and parcel of the Muslim experience), and indigenous Muslim parents need to educate their children about how the African American human/civil rights struggle mirrors the global struggle for justice. Most important of all, we need to develop genuine empathy for one another. This is not a luxury but an article of faith, the sincere belief that if one part of the body (Ummah) feels pain, the the entire body suffers. Here’s hoping that the revolution in social media helps us overcome these barriers, allowing people (including Muslims) of different backgrounds to connect on a more visceral level, to truly empathize with one another so that we might connect the dots…to truly appreciate that human suffering is all connected.

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  1. Salih Abdullah

    Mashallah this is an excellent post. Very well articulated and accurate from my perspective. I remember my mother (Allahu Magfirlaha) spoke to a Palestinian sister after Hurricane Katrina, and the sister had no sympathy for the people that were killed in New Orleans because they were kuffar. My mother became angry and said she had no sympathy for the Palestinians. Of course the sister was outraged after that, exclaiming “but they’re Muslims!” Although it could have been handled differently, the sentiments are real. And the fact that they’re Muslims was probably not the REAL reason for her outrage, because when Muslim from central Africa, Somalia, or some other non-Arab location are killed, much emphasis is not placed on their plights in our communities. Of course, unless those communities consisted of predominantly members of that ethnic group.

    Foreign Muslims come to America, reap the benefits of the freedoms and rights of the land, establish Muslim communities and much of the time they find ways to ostracize the indigenous Muslims of the community. As the article mentioned, they do not invite them to their homes; they will not give them their daughters and they don’t hear their concerns. Of course, many of the Black Americans come with baggage that many are not equipped to deal with, but much of the time, there seems to not be any effort to attempt to understand the plight, and what could be done to remedy these problems.

    I think this article is a good step in the right direction in regards to rectifying ourselves as an Ummah and uniting on the basis of Islam. I think we should create think tanks that can involve multiple segments of our community where topics like this can be discussed by influential members of our communities and then we make collective decisions that money, focus and energy can be directed towards. If anyone has any ideas as to how we can start something like this, or if there is anything like this that currently exists, please tell me.

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    • Islah Umar

      ASA Salih, agreed. tThese articles are well researched and well written. I think the statistic -30% of muslims are African American may be on the low side. It is about time Muslims world wide openly support the plight of the African American. All have benefitted from our blood. ws

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  2. Fazila

    Assalamu Alaykum! This is a great article, May Allah help us in realizing that united our ummah can be invincible. As a ummah we getting turning apart from the true essence of islam, starting from our ownselves as muslims, due to all types of prejudice, from racial to financial, complex of superiority and arrogance due to better knowledge of the deen, due to lineage, and the list goes on. If we don´t resolve this matters it will always be very easy for the enemies of islam to destroy us, as they are already doing. May allah forgive us our fauls and guide us to the straight path. Jazakallah for such a brilliant article and for all your efforts in sharing such beneficial knowledge. May Allah bless you always. AS

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  3. Hira Amin

    Excellent analytical and well-researched article masha Allah. The Ferguson incidents is strikingly similar to the London riots over the same topic – structural racism.

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  4. Saf

    Brother Jamil,agreed that it is complex. But I do not get why there is a debate on whether it is right or wrong? Alcohol is haram,period.How to get these muslims selling alcohol to turn to other long-term halal productive businesses should be the solution to discuss, let us not justify a crime here and call it self-defence or survival.One cannot convert haram to halal because of not having plush middle class income?Poverty is a test for Muslims,after all they got born into the deen for free ! Its like the way Taiban sold heroin to Europe but boasted that they don’t smoke it anyway.Today Afghanistan and Pakistan have the highest number of heroin addicts after the balkan states.Haram breeds Haram,to me that is the point of Hena Zuberi’s article.

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  5. snoozer

    This obsession with on this blog race and racism is bizarre. First off,each person is an individual, we are born of different races and nationalities, but we have no say in the matter. It is absurd to think we should pigeonholed into thinking a particular way because we’re born a certain race or nationality. I don’t represent a race or nationality, but myself. When I’m making some of life’s decisions, I don’t think how will this effect my race or nationality, but how it effects myself and family. We Westerners are suffering from neurosis when it comes to race, we put it above everything. If you’re not perceived to be a worshiper of so and so race you’ll get the worse label in society, a racist. The White Westerner isn’t the only one suffering from this neurosis, the so called I minorities do too! They think if anything goes wrong in their life it must be a result of them racist! They been conditioned, by the system that they are a prized people, any disagreeing with them and their ways can only be racist. If you ain’t understanding, think about the Israeli Jews, and their belief that everyone who doesn’t agree with them is an anti Semite! I’m not special as a person’s who ancestry is European or responsible for the world’s problems, and you as a “minority” aren’t a perfect little peace loving humanitarian, and vice versa. We are separated by our actions as Individuals.

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