Beyond Muslim Diversity to Racial Equity

Muslim Americans need to move beyond diversity to fight for racial equity in our communities.

We can say “Peace on Earth.” We can sing about it, preach about it or pray about it, but if we have not internalized the mythology to make it happen inside us, then it will not be.”

–Betty Shabazz

Muslims in North America love to talk about our diversity. We beam with pride during visual presentations of our communal rituals. We are awed by multi-hued crowds coming together in complete submission. We cite our ahadith and Qur’anic ayaat, declaring that there is no racism in Islam. While we claim to love diversity and condemn racism, our communities and organizations struggle with racial inequality. Leadership in a number of national Muslim organizations is not inclusive of our largest community, Black/African American Muslims. Just as sister Betty Shabazz said, we can sing about peace, but nothing will happen if we don’t internalize it. Likewise,  we can sing, preach, and pray about racism, but if we have not internalized anti-racism, then racial equality in our communities will not happen.

If our faith community is to thrive, among a number of issues, we must get our racial affairs in order. Allah tells us in the Qur’an:

Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron. Qur’an 13:11

Image from BBC http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37327113

In order to address the racialized systemic oppression Muslim Americans face in the United States, we must center those who are most impacted, including those who our community largely erases. There are some who say that since non-Black Muslims do not have systemic power in this society, they cannot be racist.  But we as a community have internalized dominant narratives, and benefit to varying degrees from the systemic oppression of Black, Latino, and Indigenous peoples. We reproduce inequality by privileging some by their proximity to whiteness, and perpetuate oppressive interpersonal behaviors that alienate a whole range of people based on their ethnic or racial identity.

Like this?
Get more of our great articles.

Despite the diversity of the American Muslim community, there is a conflation of brown foreignness with authentic Muslim identity in the representation of Muslim Americans in the media, at Muslim run conferences, and even in Muslim American outreach and marketing. Corporate blunders, from Pepsi to Shea Moisture, offend while trying to reach diverse markets. Likewise,  national Muslim organizations still falter in public relations with non-White communities, most notably in their lack of outreach to Black American Muslim communities.

The placement of one Black Muslim women on a flyer is still a milestone that we celebrate. This is because it is still common to see events discussing Muslim American  issues without a single representative from Black Muslim communities.  Recently, after viewing a flyer from a major national organization I tweeted:

A lot of Muslim orgs need affirmative action programs to reverse decades of exclusion and discriminatory practices.

In addition to feeling excluded, numerous Black Muslim speakers complain about tokenism and the micro-aggressions they face within their faith community. I was being intentional when I wrote “affirmative action”, which is defined below as, “an action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to employment or education; positive discrimination.”

I chose affirmative action because in order to make our communities equitable, our institutions must develop policies and practices that will reverse decades practices that have led to tangibly felt disparities. Some examples include hostile work environments for Black professionals, network bias leading to hiring and preferential treatment of Middle Eastern or South Asian affinity groups, lower compensation for Black and Latino employees working in Muslim run organizations. Very little work has been done to explore pay disparities in Muslim institutions. These include candidates with graduate school and doctoral level degrees. If we are to right these wrongs, then we must become proactive in addressing disparities so that our leadership is more representative of Muslim American community racial demographics. We can’t just be color blind in our approach, this is not an even playing field. We must be explicit in countering implicit bias and structural inequality in our communities. This means that we must actively recruit Black and Latino Muslims in leadership positions, offer scholarships to create more learning opportunities, and be careful to avoid bias in our own small network of associates. 

For the past three years, Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative has focused largely on interpersonal racism within Muslim communities and worked to raise awareness about the importance of addressing systemic inequalities in our society.

There is not one believing Muslim today who would argue that racism is okay.  This is why  Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative is asking for our community to show greater commitment to uprooting bigotry in our faith spaces, in our homes, in our community organizations, in our relationships, and in our work spaces. It is not enough to cite moral platitudes. If we do not internalize the principles and put them into action, then our communities will always be divided. This is why we must take the #SacredPledge to Resist Racism. Otherwise our communal wounds will continue to fester.

 

2 / View Comments

2 responses to “Beyond Muslim Diversity to Racial Equity”

  1. safiya says:

    Alhamdulillah, very impressed to see this article.Being a south asian muslim,working in NYC opened my eyes to black muslim masjids,and made me cringe at the opulence,wastage of resources,the obsessive narrative of pakistani problems and some bizarre superiority complex that south asians carry.
    Black muslims are not so hypocritical in that they are not simultaneously anti west and yet actively migrate solely for western materialism.But black muslims on their part,need to look out for their african counterparts and do more,making them feel like this wealthier side of Ummah does care for them,unlike their Gulf muslim neighbors(shame on the Arabs).African Muslims comprise of more than just the arab politics of somalia and sudan, and have a culture on par with arabs or south asians with respect to their Islam.It is the rest of africa who have been viciously neglected as they serve no political purpose of arabs,turks and pakistanis.And this correction of attitude and action will be one of great dawah and embody the true spirit of Islam-integration,equality,wealth distribution and justice.Very little zakat really goes to black muslim masjid expansions/reconstruction or to Africa itself, and this is where proof-is-in-the-pudding comes to fore.

  2. Mian Reagan says:

    “Despite the diversity of the American Muslim community, there is a conflation of brown foreignness with authentic Muslim identity in the representation of Muslim Americans in the media, at Muslim run conferences, and even in Muslim American outreach and marketing. Corporate blunders, from Pepsi to Shea Moisture, offend while trying to reach diverse markets. Likewise, national Muslim organizations still falter in public relations with non-White communities, most notably in their lack of outreach to Black American Muslim communities.”

    Couple of nights ago, my BROWN SKIN, Authentic Muslim American friend has asked ride to a stranger to a nearest gas station. He lives in her neighborhood. Gentleman is a Black skin Christian American. Happily gave her ride. Problem arise , when he noticed /saw her speaking to her fellow Muslims brothers, in front of the 7/11 and asking about where is the Taraweeh prayer helding this Ramadan, she is new in the area. They Informed her , the same place where they pray Jummah on Friday.

    The Man became suspicious to he Point, that, he was not only Praising “President Trump” view on Muslims or the Ban of 6 Muslim Nations. He reach up to the leasing office, finding details, contacting a nearby church members, (where my friend Volunteer at Sat.Day Tutoring lab, and also participate at their Wednesday noon Prayer Group).That church themselves participate in the local Interfaith Community, Including Muslims.
    Yesterday, my friend was stalked by that Church members, Spanish Congregation service member,who works at the phone store, when she tried to get a Phone for herself.

    Surprisingly enough, the Church Pastor shows up ! my Friend laughed ! and said, why should I ride BUS, I made sure she get what she came here for,and I ride home free ! She asked her to brought her home !!!

    These are the True Face of Black Life Matters Supporters.. Who does not care for other skin, hold their Jealousy towards other race !! my friend came from a WEALTHY WHITE Christian FAMILY by marriage, her Identity has been stolen by others. And felt, continue to pursue their agenda , that, they would succeeds to set her up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *