Connect with us


The Scourge of “Internet Tribalism”


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.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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- (whose members appropriately refer to themselves as lizards). While singularvoice (link) has mysteriously gone offline, the two posts can still be found on (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.

hand-shake.png(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 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).

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").



  1. Amad

    May 27, 2008 at 8:02 AM

    Does anyone know where Br. AbdurRahman went? I hope he is somewhere out there to engage with.

  2. MR

    May 27, 2008 at 9:50 AM

    The think the majority of Black Muslim Americans are not like this. I was at ISNA East Zone in Baltmore and I saw quite of a few Black Muslims. The ratio was probably around 1 to 5. For every 5 non-Black Muslims there was 1 Black Muslim. Which was the same of Arabs as well. Also, if you take Zaytuna seminars you will also so a large percentage of the students being Black Muslims probably due to Imam Zaid’s presence.

    I think the only organizations and institutes that have yet to reach out to the Black Muslim community would be ICNA, MAS and AlMaghrib. I’ve to every ICNA-MAS conference in the pas 5 years and the Pakistani/Arab attendance has always outnumbered the Black Muslims by about 25 to 1. While at ISNA conferences it’s not as bad. I’ve taken 2 seminars with AlMaghrib (Both in New Jersey) and the ratio is around 100 to 1.

    You would think that this means there are not a lot of Black Muslims in America, but the fact is Black Muslims make up the largest percentage of Muslims in America at around 33%.

    So the question is…Where are they?

  3. MR

    May 27, 2008 at 9:51 AM

    PS – African Muslim Immigrants are NOT included under Black Muslims in my previous analysis.

  4. Amad

    May 27, 2008 at 11:11 AM

    MR, Agree that majority of BAMs are not like singularvoice. But if you saw the comments on that blog, there seemed to be a lot of agreement to some rather incredulous assertions, which was worrying. And at this time, if anyone talks against CAIR esp. or MAS, then this person will get a lot of support from the Israeli lobby foot-soldiers… that’s a strategically good fit for their objectives, considering their involvement in so much islamophobia…

    So, i thought it was essential to nip that its root.

  5. Charles

    May 27, 2008 at 11:23 AM

    Asalaamu Alaykum brother,

    Abdur-Rahman has recently contacted me and will be mobile and accessible momentarily.

    I think there are some major concerns wi th the direction that different communities are taking. I also believe it is quite shocking on the part of immigrant Muslims or GEN II Muslims that a good deal of BAMs not found at the conventions and other functions are also not rallying around people like Imam SIraj Wahhaj. I, my wife, and the people we associate with come from a long line of BAMs. I am conducting research of ol’ head BAMs and I am finding some very startling and interesting information. Little do immigrants know, the majority of non-affiliated BAMs aren’t involved in the mosques primarily for the reasons both you and Abdur-Rahman cited. I understand it may be uncomfortable to lay in bed with him but successful BAMs (and they are more than meets the eye) and their children do not see BAM leadership in the mosques, the organizations, or the speaking circuits despite having Imam Siraj, Bilal Philips, Abdullah Hakim Quick, Mahdi Bray or others with the exception of Imam Zaid Shakir. Some successful BAMs like myself, choose to be affiliated with people like Dr. Sherman Jackson.

    Unfortunately, I cannot stay long to express what I feel many BAMs have wanted to say but haven’t for whatever reason. Leaving aside a person like Abdur-Rahman, more BAMs are reading now. And to let you know, Malcolm used to say “if you want to hide something from a N-Word, put it in a book”. He got that from someone else without doubt but it is true. Primarily over the last ten to fifteen years (arguably longer) BAMs have been cowering and scraping pockets to read the latest propaganda or truth coming from abroad (notice I did not name any specific place). There has been little assessment of Muslims from an academic and objective standpoint among them. What we see today are more (though still in trickles) BAMs attempting to revisit all accounts of history, even of Muslims, from Muslim authors and non-Muslim authors, to come away with a fuller picture of what took place. For a people who’s hearts have been mired and shredded by slavery and non-identity due to race, to say simply join with the global-body of Muslims without developing thier own voices is very counterproductive and that is what all of this is about. BAMs have paid more attention to the legalistic forms of worship, institutionalized Islam, and global politics, than they have to finding prescriptive remedies for all that ails their hearts. I agree that their needs to be a certain amount of cooperation on some issues, and yes race is a social construct to a degree but not entirely, so to refer to race for example as jahili in the face of a Blackamerican won’t get us anywhere. In the context of being a BAM who reads in the English, Spanish, German, and Arabic languages, it hurts me more to know that after our Nabi’ (saaws) said what you have quoted, indeed 150 years later, Muslims actually increased their penchant for slavery, even making no differentiation between Black Muslims or Black non-Muslims. Having some sort of valid, positive racial identity is part of even BAMs orientation with the exception of a few.

  6. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    May 27, 2008 at 12:02 PM

    Ingrid Mattson is Canadian.

  7. Amad

    May 27, 2008 at 12:20 PM

    Charles, I appreciate your honest feedback. I was afraid that I would be accused of creating a topic out of nothing, esp. since AR’s blog is offline. I hope that we can engage in more dialog in a positive manner to help form those bridges of communication and understand to which I referred.

    Abu Noor, thx for the correction. The point of course is that Mattson is a Caucasian, and not an immigrant from a Muslim country.

    thank you.

  8. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    May 27, 2008 at 12:30 PM

    I believe that the issues you’ve raised here are extremely important but they are also complex. I worry that it is difficult to adequately address them through such forums and the misunderstandings often created or maintained through such communications can contribute to these problems rather than solving them if not handled carefully. For background on the serious issues involved a must read is Dr. Abdul-Hakim Jackson’s work “Islam and the Blackamerican.” (Although I don’t necessarily endorse his solutions, his analysis of the background and history is extremely important.) I also recommend Amer Haleem’s cover article in the current issue of AlJumuah magazine, which goes through one perspective of some of the history of the immigrant community here in America. I think more research and work should be done on that topic because I think people have a general sense that they know the history of the immigrant Muslim community in America but especially for the younger generations that didn’t live through it our perspectives might be skewed by current realities. Also, I will say that there is a certain “trickiness” to talking frankly about some of that history which can feed into views like that expressed by Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, although I disagree with his views. I know no one wants to play into talking points of our Islamophobic enemies, but if all the major Muslim organizations really were originally founded by people associated with or sympathetic to various branches of the Ikhwan al-Muslimoon, then we should not try to hide that fact but should explore what the real truth of those associations was. And if such groups are now led by people completely independent from those organizations and even by people who do not subscribe to the methodologies of those organizations then we should be clear about that as well. Covering up such issues will always lead to conspiracy theories and to the idea prevalent in many immigrant led masjids for a variety of reasons (some related to this, some not) that there is a true inner circle of the masjid that outsiders cannot really reach or understand and that what is said in private is different from what is said in public. Even if this is for good reasons, this leads inevitably to “suspicion” and then people are uneasy about what is said publicly even when nothing is being hidden. Of course, post 9/11 persecution of Muslim charities and organizations for foreign affiliations has made this problem a more difficult one.

    Finally I have noticed that certain groups, especially ICNA in my experience and all of the major groups to some extent have noticed this issue for some time and have made attempts to address it (which is why I agree with Amad that it is no conspiracy). However, when problems have their roots deep in the socio economic and historical realities of a country (as racial divisions do in this country and as immigrant divisions sometimes do between different immigrant groups) than it takes much more than just a realization by leadership elites that something is a problem…such realization often only results in a kind of “tokenism” which often results in feelings on all sides being worse than ever before and in a perverse way often solidifies such divisions. To make real change it requires a major commitment to really understanding the issues involved and committing to taking necessary steps to address them. It does not result from pretending the issues don’t exist but really taking the time to understand the issues and explore what would be necessary to address them.

    Two last bullet points: MANA is one of the most hopeful attempts to address these issues that we’ve seen for a while.
    A lot of these issues,especially when it comes down to why you see audiences for certain ‘conventions’ or classes dominated by one group or the other are deeply rooted in class issues. As John Edwards says, there are two Americas and there more than two Muslim communities in America and I mean that not with regard to minhaj or madhab issues, but with regard to the day to day realities that different people face. The world looks a lot different if someone is a struggling new immigrant in the inner city or if someone is a comfortable upper middle class immigrant or child of immigrants in the suburbs or is someone is a struggling Blackamerican or Latino in the inner city.

    Allaah knows best.

  9. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    May 27, 2008 at 12:35 PM

    I knew what you meant Amad, I just wanted to point it out because, as I am sure you know, there is a large segment of our community which uses “American” as a synonym for “white”…..this is problematic for a few different reasons and the reason it bothers me is different from the reasons it might bother some other people.

  10. Charles

    May 27, 2008 at 1:45 PM

    Amad it is a topic, I just don’t want us to assume Abdur-Rasheed was somehow the cause of what has been discussed privately for a long time in the BAM community and then find ourselves or others casting the blame on one man who said what many are afraid to say.

    Here is another one of my findings; of the ‘good’ and successful BAMs I am interveiwing from all over the country, most of them don’t even attend any mosque or interact with GEN II Muslims at large so certainly the stories told are not truly indicative of real BAM sentiments. There is a whole swathe of people who are not being heard and would surprise many if they were. One eighty-five year old brother who watched Imam WD Mohammed and Siraj Wahhaj rise analyzed BAMs this way; “the good and bad of it today is that BAMs are seen for the leadership they produce or don’t produce and that is a bad yardstick now”.

    We should talk sometime. Email me.

  11. joie de vivre

    May 27, 2008 at 2:58 PM

    This topic can stand alone without Abdur-rahman involved. BAM’s know the immigrant Muslims very well. They sell us the alcohol, cigarettes, pork, pornography, low quality food, gas at a higher price, lottery tickets and on top of that abusive customer service. After the race riots in America in the 1960’s and 70’s Muslims and certain Asians replaced Jews as exploiters in our communities. This is a toxic relationship. If it was just about status and education, people like me who have degrees and studied Islam and Arabic we would not have the same problems with IMM’s as the “inner-city” Muslims. When I lived in Saudi Arabia again and again they told me we are told to stay away from Black people in America. All Black people rich, poor, Muslim or not. Having white skin is valued in your countries and being dark is not. Companies make millions selling skin lightner and chemicals to straighten the hair in your countries.
    What offends people like me who have travelled to your lands is how you forget where you came from. After we get past the small percentage of you who are Doctors, lawyers and engineers we share too much in common. Afghans and Pakistanis are heavy into the drug trade. Prostitution and hashish trade is huge in Morocco. Albanian organized crime in sex trafficking and drugs. One of the oldest brothels in the world is in Lahore. Iran has one of the highest rates of drug addiction in the world. I could go on but you see the point but when you get here you guys forget all of this and say look at those Blacks.
    About Palestine nobody is saying forget them. But you IMM have no problem coming to USA and living in comfort on the graves of native Americans. This is hypocracy.
    I welcome this discussion because we have to get past this as Muslims. I truly believe the younger generation will fix many of these problems. I see it with my son and his friends they pray and play together without the fake brotherhood talk.

  12. Dawud Israel

    May 27, 2008 at 3:03 PM

    It’s an old topic but I think it stems from the world of BAMS not having an identity. IMMs already have a culture that is related to Islam (look at the Arabic words in Urdu for example) and have no trouble adhering to it. But BAMS either go the way of BET or white America or follow Desis or Nation of Islam and it’s mutant sects. BAMs are the “misfits” and don’t fit in so naturally…they attack the other groups.
    Identity issues in other words, little different from the plight of Native Americans

    Culture is important because its like a barrier that unites people with common religious beliefs, socio-economic status, education, language etc.
    AlMaghrib for example is meant for IMMs who have money to spend because they’ve established themselves whereas BAMS come from difficult lives.

    But generally I think this topic along with COUNTLESS others comes from not staying occupied. In other words, we blog too much and make issues out of ones that are so tiny they would’ve been forgotten eventually. Whoever these BAMs are that started this discussion simply don’t have anything better to do than rant!! :P

    This problem will disappear as time goes on and Muslims forge an identity not too different from the “Native” identity we forged in Muslim countries. In other words, we’ll create a unique brand of North American culture for Muslims. It’s already started to a point with Muslims building shrines to Sufis:

    I imagine in time Muslims in the West will be as mixed as the Muslims in places like Afghanistan or Guyana where there are many different ethnic groups, united by Islam, Insha Allah!

  13. Nasrin

    May 27, 2008 at 3:06 PM

    As-salaam alaikum

    Someone asked where we are. The fact is that we are everywhere. I have been reading posts here for months now. I enjoy reading some of the topics because they are usually from a different vantage point. I like to learn about other cultures and how they relate to me. Unfortunately, even here I have read jokes about blacks being slaves (in replies, not necessarily in the posts themselves). People who are identified as “Black American Muslims” are often the object of ridicule by immigrant communities.

    When I was a student, I was employed by an (Indian) immigrant who assumed from my complexion and features that I was of eastern descent. She brought me lunch regularly, introduced me to her mother and never complained about my performance. However, when she found out that I was black my employment suspiciously ended.

    There was a Senegalese vendor in downtown Cincinnati. I would often stop with my husband and look at his silver jewelry and incense. One day I happened to be walking by (without my husband) on my lunch break. I was looking at a ring that I wanted to surprise my husband with when the brother set his Quran down and tried to hold my hand. Many Arabs at gas stations are disrespectful and flirty as well.

    I have even had immigrants scowl and tell me that Islam is THEIR religion, and ask why I want to join onto THEIR religion.

    In order to end “tribalism” change must occur at a grassroots level. Until we feel that we are TRULY respected by “everyday immigrants” we are going to continue to be cynical and stand-offish. I have met a few really nice Muslims from immigrant communities, but they are not the majority.

    As-salaam alaikum

  14. Nasrin

    May 27, 2008 at 3:09 PM

    Also, we should not be so quick to automatically assume that “BAMs” come from such horrible, impoverished, conditions.

  15. Margari Aziza

    May 27, 2008 at 3:48 PM

    Salaam alaikum,
    Everyone here has made some meaningful contributions to the dialog. I was worried that other writers would associate the BAM bloggers who are raising issues with AR’s contentious views. Has there been a crop of websites attacked immigrant Muslims or reflecting tribalism? Some Muslims have critiqued MANA and bloggers like myself who explore and try to find solutions for issues that affect the BAM community. I am just wondering what do we mean by the rising scourge of internet tribalism.

    As Charles points out not all of us BAMs are lower income or even live in the inner city. I have seen the socio-economic range of BAMs, from successful lawyers to brothers selling incense and books at the Ashbury flea market. Many successful BAM cannot relate to the ghetto Islam or immigrant Islam. Over the years I have noticed that BAMs living in the South Bay would not go to jumuah at the Muslim Association of Silicon Valley located in Santa Clara(a very large masjid catering to middle class and affluent immigrant populations). Instead, they would drive all the way to Oakland 45 minutes away to feel a bit more comfortable. Because they have no real ties to the Oakland community they they commute to, they tend to trail off too. Nobody cares, nobody asks about them. There is no real sense of connection.

  16. MR

    May 27, 2008 at 4:06 PM

    We need to start inter-marrying!


  17. Amad

    May 27, 2008 at 5:30 PM

    thank you for all the good comments…
    Joie, i think the “you people” type of attitude towards Muslims who are not “indigenous” is not helpful. Though I understand where you are coming from, should I be responsible for the ills that go on “back home” ? Many of us came to this country and live in this country to escape some of the ills of Muslim societies. There are of course some cons of moving here… but that is another subject.

    And also I am sorry that while many IMMs engage in selling haram, that does not represent the majority, and that is a stereotype that is unfair. In any case, not all IMMs are responsible for what some of us might do, just like all BAMs are not responsible for the actions of a few. Furthermore, my children and the 2nd generation immigrant children are as American as anyone else. So, are they in the same category of “you people”, or do you believe that this gap is restricted to the first gens?

    Finally, I don’t quite understand what this means: “But you IMM have no problem coming to USA and living in comfort on the graves of native Americans.” Every American other than the native Americans was an immigrant. So, I don’t see why any American has more right to this country than the new immigrant. This nation was built upon immigration, some of it voluntary and some of it of course forced.

    Sr. Nasrin, sorry to hear about your experiences. What you faced is pure and simple jahiliya…I talked about some of this attitudes in an old post that I wrote here. You mentioned that there were some comments on MM that joked about slaves. Can you please let us know which, because we are pretty hard on moderating out anything remotely racist? if we didn’t notice those, our apologies.

    As for impoverished backgrounds, I did not assume that all BAMS come from this background. I mentioned that the gap is there. We are talking about the average immigrant vs the average BAM. There are many IMMs living below the poverty line… and conversely there are many BAMs who are rich and famous (lets not forget the only 2 Muslim congressmen are both black). So, obviously that is not my point. I think most people would agree that BAM communities IN GENERAL are not as affluent as IMM communities. And that this gaps is not too dissimilar to the white-black socioeconomics gap in this country.

    Sr. Margari, if you read the contentious posts on AR’s blog, many people linked to it and started their own blogs… there is a circle of bloggers expressing this thought. I don’t have all the websites handy.

    Regardless, I think, as you can see, this is a topic that needs to be opened between IMMs and BAMs, not kept within each community. That is the hope here. There ARE issues and we have to open the channels of discussion. Granted, I am not the most knowledgeable person on this subject, but I hope to learn from everyone.

  18. nasrin

    May 27, 2008 at 5:51 PM

    Bro. Ahmad, I wasn’t implying that YOU were saying that blacks were all impoverished. It’s just a popular myth I want to correct. Also, I don’t remember which post it was (maybe about hijab?), but I do remember that you did try to correct the person that made the response. That is why I specified that it was a response, not an actual post. The fact of the matter remains that so many immigrant communities have subtle, and many times not so subtle racist attitudes, many stemming from their native cultures. Then many of them come over here where racism is commonplace and they continue to practice it.

    The immigrants that sell haram might be a minority, but if those are the only ones that inner city Muslims come into contact with, they will associate that action with that particular people. There are many angles to the problem. The situation with blacks in America is a complex one. It is one that I don’t think the immigrant community as a whole is willing to take the time to understand. Honestly, I’m not sure that it should be expected that IMs would take the time needed to comprehend it.

    It is also a myth that black people have no culture besides “BET”. It is that kind of thinking that I witness all the time. People do not respect our culture, or think that it is the low class behavior that we see on television. Many people do not accept us unless we take on the traits of their culture. Many of us just aren’t willing to do that. It boils down to RESPECT. We all should just treat people the way we would want to be treated. That is Utopian thought though ;)

  19. Dawud Israel

    May 27, 2008 at 6:03 PM

    Hmmm…maybe the reason BAMs are so critical of IMMs are because they finally have a chance to look down on someone. Blacks are seen as being at the bottom and now all of a sudden these IMM fobs come over that are the butt of all the jokes.

    So BAMs get a bit more identity by bashing on someone else, feel good, feel confident and justified about it?

    In terms of BAMs and IMMs we all get used to a level of discrimination and so when this stuff comes up it seems really unusual for BAMs to get so antagonistic on their own brothers. I know for a fact that your classical Pakistani uncle will openly say, “Yes, we are negro!” because he sincerely believes he is. Hmmm?

  20. Nasrin

    May 27, 2008 at 6:24 PM

    “Hmmm…maybe the reason BAMs are so critical of IMMs are because they finally have a chance to look down on someone.”

    Or maybe we actually have legitimate gripes.

  21. Amad

    May 27, 2008 at 6:52 PM

    Dawud, I think we need to get beyond making things so simplistic and pretend nothing is wrong. We have to be open to hear the “gripes”.

  22. Tariq Nelson

    May 27, 2008 at 10:03 PM

    I want to address MR’s question:

    You would think that this means there are not a lot of Black Muslims in America, but the fact is Black Muslims make up the largest percentage of Muslims in America at around 33%.

    So the question is…Where are they?

    The vast majority of BAMs are largely concentrated on the East Coast in NYC, NJ, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and DC. The other large populations are in Detroit and Chicago. In other communities – even those with a large amount of Muslims – BAMs are relatively rare and find it difficult to navigate in these communities and often are not active in the community. (I have found that the same is true of white and Latino Muslims in these areas) I relocated to the East Coast myself (and very glad I did) because of this difficulty. The only other option converts (regardless of race) have in these situations is to “pass” which for all purposes is wholeheartedly adopting the dominant ethnicity as their own.

    In many of these communities outside of the areas I named above, there is often a synergistic coupling of Muslim with a particular immigrant group. In other words, to be Somali or Pakistani (for example) in some communities is to be Muslim and vice versa. (not to pick on Somalis or Pakistanis…this is only an example)

    I don’t know what else can be said on this topic that has not already been written or said. Perhaps I am saying this because I have been in dozens of these discussions (live, email, chat, discussion board, blogs, etc).

    As has been stated by others above, I believe that much of this divide is socio-economic. (I am told by Desi friends that it is rare to find a Pakistani cab driver hanging out with a Pakistani doctor) Perhaps people will always stratify along these lines, so sometimes I think that we are asking the near impossible of ourselves to expect anything different (minus bitterness)

  23. Musa Maguire

    May 27, 2008 at 10:13 PM

    On this topic, I would strongly suggest reading Sherman Jackson’s Islam and the Blackamerican. It is relevant and applicable to American Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds.

  24. Amad

    May 27, 2008 at 10:41 PM

    I bought the book recently Musa… inshallah, I want to read it and do a book review on it too… the first pages made for a very interesting read.

  25. Suhaib Webb

    May 27, 2008 at 11:47 PM

    Asalamu alaykum,

    Thank you for this important article.


  26. Concerned Muslim

    May 28, 2008 at 12:19 AM

    As-Salaam Alaikum

    Actually, there are some other issues directly related to this point which Br. Amad did not bring up (I don’t know if this was done intentiontionally or perhaps he intends to write something else on it?) And that is the issue of the recent trend of ‘indigenous’ Americans (this includes Caucasians and BAMs) claiming that they should take over leadership of the ‘immigrant’ community because ‘its their country’ and ‘they know best’. I have found the exact same attitude in Latino converts as well. And, sadly, this vibe is becoming more and more vocal from the ‘indigenous’ leadership of all different groups and camps; it is as if the collective silence of whom they term to be ‘immigrants’ only emboldens them more.

    I find this attitude not only ludicrous, but divisive.

    It is ludicrous for a number of reasons. Firstly, second-generation ‘immigrant’ Muslims are really just as much attuned to this environment as ‘indigenous’ Muslims, because they ARE as indigenous as the whites and blacks who have usurped this word!! I have a friend whose great-grandfather landed on Ellis Island in the late 20s; if my father landed in New York in the early 60’s, should I suppose that those four decades have a profound influence on our psyche because the one sailed here and the other flew?! We were both born here, we both speak English just as fluently, we both have similar educational backgrounds and jobs, but his skin color is white and mine is brown. Ironic that BAMs in particular make an issue of this ‘immigrant’ vs. ‘indigenous’ categorization.
    For the umpteenth time guys, AMERICA IS A LAND OF IMMIGRANTS!!! This racist dichotomy might even have some perverted basis in, say, Norway, where immigration is a recent phenomenon, but our ‘indigenous’ brothers need to stop learning their rhetoric from Islamphobes and right-wingers who use the same logic against all Muslims.
    Secondly, in terms of statistics, the very fact that ‘immigrants and their children make up the bulk of Muslims in America (surely over 70 % of active communities all over this country) needs to be taken into account.
    Thirdly, as the author of the above article mentions, there are major differences in the socio-economic make-up of BAMs and ‘immigrants’. These problems need local and national leaders from WITHIN the communities, not without. A second-generation Desi American is much more attuned to my situation and problems than a BAM, and I would like leadership and scholarship from someone whom I can relate to.

    This attitude is divisive for obvious reasons: it pits one group of Muslims against another, it presumes that merely due to one’s ancestry, one is inherently more qualified for leadership than others, it smacks of condescension, and it downright ignores the role that immigrants have played not only in this country in general, but in particular the Islamic movements and scholarship of the land. Not to mention that all ‘indigenous’ leaders are, in the end of the day, immigrants themselves (I don’t know of any American Indians in positions of Muslim leadership; of course there are numerous Indian Americans in that position;) )

    I believe that leadership of the community should be given to those who best represent it and are qualified to lead it, regardless of whether they are second-generation or fourth-generation. Also, I believe that each community NEEDS leadership from its own ranks, as that is the only leadership that will demand respect and obedience. These respective leaders should then have a working relationship with one another, and this will be a far more effective way than ‘forcing’ one leader on everyone.

    Basically, let every community appreciate what it can do, learn from where its been, and allow the other communities to interact with it in a way that best serves the ‘united’ Ummah.

    Concerned Muslim

  27. RemainNameless

    May 28, 2008 at 1:04 AM


    Being an immigrant from the mid-east and having lived here for half a decade, and in the west for a third of my life, I agree with Nasrin on the issue of the subtle nature of racism. Joie vivre, I think your concerns later becomes too personal and divisive and certainly unnecessary.

    My personal observation is that some of these stereotypes are deep-seated even amongst popular “muslim” members, immigrant and locals in some communities. I can’t test that theory but so far I’ve been fortunate to live with 4 different communities, and the pattern seems to be the same. Currently in B’ham, Alabama, I’ve come across individuals, who are regarded quite honorably in our community, but have infrequently fallen short of proper conduct. I’ve seen a different kind of racism here. One that is quite tacit, very mixed, not at all explicit, but very real in every sense of the word. You can sometimes catch it, in their voice, in their choice of words, their expression, their reaching out to the blacks, making lengthy speeches about how to lend a hand to BAMM, all the while many struggling among IMM have their voices drowned out. The talks about reaching out to the BAMS shouldn’t be made independently of the many IMM’s struggles.

    Somethings are hard to break out from I guess, especially growing up in a very race-conscious society. Top that with media re-enforcements and it’s hard to get away from it. Oh yea..someone made a comment about IMM FOBS. This is another example of a patronizing tone cloaked under the armor of satire or at least an attempt at humor. When you begin labeling people, or re-enforce stereotype, then you discredit your upbringing, expose issues of self-esteem and undermine Islam. There is no progress until the language becomes clean and we are sincere.

    Anyways, I think people that also need “reaching out to” are members of the “Big” organizations. While there are many reasons of such a divide, one that continues to be quite apparent is the fact that regardless of economic status, the color of the skin continues to play part in relations, social engagements, work, matrimonial engagements etc. Perhaps, as someone suggested, I think you’ll see less of this”division” if more of brothers and sisters take the courage to see beyond color when choosing their mates and friends.

  28. Nasrin

    May 28, 2008 at 8:36 AM

    I don’t think that interracial relationships are the answer. I think that it is destructive for the vast majority of BAMs to practice this. We have to correct our own issues before even thinking about diving into mixed marriages. I also believe that after we fix the root of our problems, mixed marriage won’t be nearly as appealing.

  29. abu ameerah

    May 28, 2008 at 10:50 AM

    woe be to this post! WOE!

    WOE! :(

  30. Amad

    May 28, 2008 at 11:10 AM

    jazakAllahkhair Shaykh Suhaib for the encouragement.

    I would like to address some of the points brought up by “Concerned Muslim”. Personally, I feel torn between two issues: desire for leadership “from within” vs. the despise for leadership “from outside”. The first is the natural desire for leadership from “within one’s own ranks” that people may feel. I think “indigenous” culture is uniquely different from “back-home” culture, and there is another natural feeling that occurs: “you guys came to our homes and took it over”. We cannot deny that such an instinct exists.

    Moreover, xenophobia (which is harsher than what we are talking about) is not a factor that is unique in this country. Wherever immigrants have come into a country and taken over positions of authority and taken jobs, even when this is a positive factor for the country’s economy, while a sector of the “indigenous” population, by virtue of a cycle of poverty, remains behind— then you will find resentment. We all know what recently happened in South Africa– locals turning upon the immigrants. Part of this xenophobia is from the natural unjustified friction, and part of it is when the immigrants don’t “take care” of the locals and interact with them in a positive manner. I think it is difficult for us to understand this as IMMs, because we may be saying that we worked our behinds to get to the point we are. But really most of us came from good backgrounds and didn’t have the history of enslavement or the vicious cycle of poverty to drag us down.

    On the other hand, I do feel that some of the indigenous demand for “indigenous power” is wrong. When I came here, I had no problem taking as my role models all sorts of scholars– blacks, whites, desis, Arabs… . So, I never felt that one scholar was better than the other because of color or background. And it is natural, as you point out, that when the majority of scholars come from IMMs because some of them were directly imported, then they will be more in the positions of religious authority. Indigenous folks just need to be patient as more and more of the locals become scholars… there will be a natural movement then towards positions of leadership. We already see that Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir, both from here, do get a fair bit of press in America. But its a slow process. The way this will occur is not to divide and start your own thing… but to use the institutions already built and make them more open and responsible towards indigenous needs and cultures.

    Finally, on a different tangent but related is that the biggest misconception is that there is no “black culture”. That is not true. Just like there is a unique Pakistani culture, unique Arab culture, there is also a unique black culture. All under the umbrella of Islamic culture. There is indeed no need for black Muslims to wear topis or to wear thowbs or salwar kameez, for example. The Muslim black culture then should just become part of what we are used to as Muslim culture as well. There is enough of a black Muslim population that it doesn’t need to adopt a foreign culture.


    P.s. Abu Ameerah, I think you meant “Wow”, not “woe” :)

  31. abu ameerah

    May 28, 2008 at 12:36 PM

    nope. sorry but i really mean’t “WOE” … not WOW.

    (i know the difference, trust me)

  32. Amad

    May 28, 2008 at 12:48 PM

    Abu Ameerah bro, that was a joke… I know you know the difference. Woe to you for thinking I didn’t… after this post, will you still treat me to the kabobs at that great Persian restaurant? :)

  33. Nasrin

    May 28, 2008 at 5:34 PM

    This may be a bit off topic, but since I may not post again for awhile I might as well ask. What are some of the main differences between Arab ad Pakistani culture? There seems to be a lot of differences as well as similarities. I don’t have close friends of either ethnic group, therefore I am not overly familiar with them….. except for their cuisine :)

    I think it is much better to ask and get to know each other rather than assuming. That is why it is often assumed that we have no culture. Many times, no one bothered to find out (smile).

  34. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    May 28, 2008 at 8:20 PM

    I just want to add one important point that goes along with Brother Tariq’s response to the issue of “Where are all the Blackamerican Muslims?”

    Those of us who are at least somewhat active in the community, (heck we’re reading internet articles about Muslims) must never lose sight of the fact that the majority of Muslims in the United States NEVER go to ANY mosque. There’s a huge number that may only show up for the Eid Salah and many more that do not even show up for those.

    Although maShaAllaah as part of the global Islamic revival, there is a revival of serious interest in and love for the deen among a certain percentage of the younger generations here in the U.S., this is still a minority of the Muslims caught up in this. And we must realize if we are concerned for planning for the community that these younger generations that were born and grew up here (of whatever background) will face additional problems different from those of the immigrant generations. Among the immigrants, many would be attached to the mosque because that was a social environment where they could connect with people that spoke their language, shared their history, etc. They could come together to assist each other financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Although I am aware of some of the problems in those communities and among that generation, one cannot help but admire the sacrifices they made for their children and the community and the success they had in establishing masajid, schools, businesses, etc. As younger generations are more ‘assimilated’ to the U.S. they have less and less reason to come to the mosque if they are not “religious” or if they don’t find it relevant to their needs and wants. Many of those who migrated as Muslims to the United States in the first half of the 20th century completely lost their deen to the point where their descendants alive today may know that their family came originally from Lebanon or Albania or wherever but they have absolutely no connection to the deen of Islam.

    Among the Blackamerican community one can also see the phenomenon of generational change as one looks at the children and grandchildren of those who first accepted Islam in the 50s, 60s or 70s. Alhamdulillaah there are some very strong and excellent families maSha Allaah but among the majority you find, as you might expect, that those who simply grew up “as Muslims” are in the majority a lot less committed to and identify less with the deen than did their parents or grandparents who originally made the choice themselves to accept Islam. Again, alhamdulillah there are many excellent and strong individuals, but anyone who has attended masjids or events affiliated with the community of Imam WD Muhammad will notice that there is a strong presence of “pioneers” but there will likely be only a handful of youth in their teens, twenties or even thirties.

    All of this is to say that there are mighty challenges ahead of the community on a variety of fronts and while it is natural that we start to focus on those people who attend the mosque regularly, or attend conventions or conferences, we can never lose sight of the big picture that the majority of Muslims in this country are not even included in such observations and their Islam is lived in a completely different context.

    Allaah knows best.

  35. SaqibSaab

    May 28, 2008 at 8:58 PM

    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.

    YES! On point throughout. I don’t love Imam Siraj simply because he’s Black. I love him because his influence and skills are POWERFUL, and his work motivates me regardless of whether I’m Indian, American, Pakistani, Egyptian, Palestinian, Iraqi or even Black. JazakAllah khair, Amad Bhai.

    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.

    When I first read part of his series posts, I found lots of wonderful insight into the nature of African American Islam and its situation today. But I also found a lot negativity towards “IMMs” and stopped reading thereafter.

  36. Tariq Nelson

    May 29, 2008 at 5:44 AM

    Those of us who are at least somewhat active in the community, (heck we’re reading internet articles about Muslims) must never lose sight of the fact that the majority of Muslims in the United States NEVER go to ANY mosque. There’s a huge number that may only show up for the Eid Salah and many more that do not even show up for those.

    Abu Noor,

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Again, alhamdulillah there are many excellent and strong individuals, but anyone who has attended masjids or events affiliated with the community of Imam WD Muhammad will notice that there is a strong presence of “pioneers” but there will likely be only a handful of youth in their teens, twenties or even thirties.

    A good friend of mine was giving a lecture for the youth at such a masjid. At 34, I was one of youngest in attendance. However, this is not limited to WD Mohammed’s movement as other BAM masjids are having similar problems with the second generation. (It is usually masked by an influx of young converts) The difference with BAMs (regardless of movement) is that it is a lot easier to melt back into greater non-muslim society as a “regular” Blackamerican and not look back whereas a Pakistani (for example) would be seen as a Muslim no matter how hard he tried to hide it.

    I have identified a number of athletes and other celebrities that grew up Muslim, have Muslim names, but are not Muslim. (Muhsin Muhammad, Idris Bashir, Ragheeb Ismail, and Malik Yoba to name a few)

    All of this is to say that there are mighty challenges ahead of the community on a variety of fronts and while it is natural that we start to focus on those people who attend the mosque regularly, or attend conventions or conferences, we can never lose sight of the big picture that the majority of Muslims in this country are not even included in such observations and their Islam is lived in a completely different context.

    Indeed…In fact, I feel that the next great frontier will be going after the “un-mosqued” who are perhaps 80-90% of the US Muslims

  37. Pingback: The BAM’s vs. the IMM’s! Tribalism within US Muslim community? « Refugee Resettlement Watch

  38. abu ameerah

    May 30, 2008 at 10:22 AM

    Abu Ameerah bro, that was a joke… I know you know the difference. Woe to you for thinking I didn’t… after this post, will you still treat me to the kabobs at that great Persian restaurant?

    @ Amad:

    Dude…if you wanna be treated to kabobs at a fancy Persian restaurant by yours truly … well then you’ve gotta take care of the following:

    1. Manicure & Pedicure – Ya. So. Guys get it done too, right?
    2. Get your hair done – Seriously man…some highlights (blonde preferably) and a little conditioner wouldn’t hurt. Know what i’m sayin’?
    3. A facial would be nice! :) I mean that! (also get the brows waxed a bit while your at it. threading actually works better)
    4. Get a decent outfit! It doesn’t have to be a couture or anything. Spring colors would be nice is all i’m sayin’…
    5. How about some cologne akhi. By this, I am NOT referring to any scented perfumes or oils!

    Take care of #’s 1-5 akhi … and then kabobing we shall go!

  39. whawha

    June 3, 2008 at 12:53 AM

    As Salaam Alaikum,
    I don’t know much about this situation so I am not going to rant about something that I am not sure of how rapid it is in the community. I will speak from personal experience:

    I will say that as a BAM what I find frustrating is that many IMM love to label everything American about me haraam, and yet everything in their culture is perfectly acceptable.


  40. Pingback: BAM!!! « The Converts Corner

  41. Pingback: PR Lessons from the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s “Obama Surgery” |

  42. Martin Makara

    December 11, 2008 at 8:31 AM

    It’s sad when people with the same destiny divide themselves along tribal lines.

Leave a Reply

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