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How do you Stop Racism in the Arab-American Community? Heck if I Know



Racism is a complicated issue.

Racial prejudice has persisted in America despite the evolution of countervailing social norms that not only undermine the rationales that buoy such bigotry, but shame the bigots themselves. So why are people still jerks?

There have been a myriad of reasons suggested for the persistence of racism and racists. I haven’t the space nor is this the occasion to audit the competing theories in detail, but suffice it to say that scholars have advanced various historical, socio-economic, and (yes) rational-choice explanations for the phenomenon’s resilience. Whatever the cause, it’s clear that we don’t live in the vaunted “post-racial” society we occasionally heard bandied about in the heady aftermath of America electing its first black president.

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It’s just as evident that racism, at its core, is not just a “white” problem. That is, the pathologies that lead someone to judge another based solely on the color of their skin are not limited to Caucasians, but can be just as prevalent within minority groups. One need only survey the complex light-skinned/dark-skinned divide in the black, Latino, and South Asian communities (just to name a few) to get a sense of…well…the complexes. Granted, much of this self-loathing can likely be attributed to a hegemonic sense of beauty that people of color have been subjected to for centuries, but that’s a conversation (really, a dissertation) for another time.

Perhaps the vilest form of racism, however, is that of one minority group towards another minority group. What makes it so heinous is that, unlike the privilege given to the lighter-skinned within one’s own community, this dynamic does not stem from imposed aesthetic standards, but from the emulation of the same chauvinist mindset that works to label minorities of all shades as inferior. Growing up in New York and now living in Los Angeles, I’m all too well acquainted with this largely urban phenomenon. Despite this experience, I was still surprised to read Dawud Walid’s recent string of posts on the prevalence of a particular racial slur in the Arab-American community.

Ignorance and/or Malice

duadInitially, Dawud took to The Arab American News to make his case that “Fellow humans are not ‘abeed’.” He notes how the term (which in the singular is “abid”) is often used by Arabs to derogatorily refer to blacks (“abeed” meaning slaves). Throughout the piece, Dawud highlights the history of the term and the disingenuous defense of it by those claiming that they are merely using it in the sense of “worshipper” (as in “Abd Allāh” — see this great MM piece for an eloquent take on the matter).

From there, Dawud took to social media and did a quick search for “abeed” (or its various transliterations). What he found was the casual use of the term among a mostly younger, mostly Arab demographic. After tweeting his article to the offenders, some apologized to Dawud (noting that they did not know it was offensive) and some upped the ante by verbally abusing him. Par for the course on social media, I suppose.

Dawud’s next follow-up in the series is what really caught my attention. The author acknowledges that there has indeed been–as one would expect and hope–a positive response from the Arab and Muslim community who have circulated his article through their networks. Yet, he urges us to move beyond the virtual spaces and address this issue on a “grassroots” level. Hardly anyone can fault him for that or have any qualms with the suggestion, but it does beg the question…

What Can We Really Do?

So, let’s start with the good news. It seems that there are some who genuinely do not know the meanings and connotations associated with the term “abeed” and its variants. Education in this case can be an effective and quick remedy. Once you get past this bit of low-hanging fruit, however, the prospects for meaningful change drop off precipitously.

Tackling ignorance or naiveté is one thing; curing racism is a whole other matter. As Dawud himself notes, racism is in part structurally ingrained in the Arab community at large, not just the American diaspora. If you doubt him, think of the continuing struggles of South Asian migrant workers in the Gulf countries or, less anecdotally, consider a recent study that placed Jordan among the most racist countries in the world with Egypt and Saudi Arabia not far behind.

With this inherent obstacle, one has to question the overall efficacy of addressing the issue, on forums large and small, as Dawud suggests. Would this be a good first step? Sure. But part of me thinks that you would merely be preaching to the choir by bringing this issue up at our major conferences or otherwise making the topic too abstract to gain traction. Once again, it seems you have historical, socio-economic, and (yes) even rational-choice factors at play here (the latter perhaps stemming from a misguided calculation that by putting one group down, you can raise yourself up). Ultimately, I can’t help but think that the marginal benefit of discussion–from the pulpit, the stage, or the MSA mussallah–would be negligible.

As the title of this piece suggests, I have no ready-made answers. If there is one thing studying social science has taught me, it is that cause and effect are extremely difficult to ascertain, let alone develop an effective treatment for. As an initial matter though, it seems engagement between the communities is in order. Though this is not a regional issue, it is not surprising that Dawud is experiencing this outgrowth of racism in perhaps the most segregated city in the US. No need to be heavy-handed about it, either–I imagine a basketball league would get you to the desired outcome faster than any number of sermons.

Big thanks to Br. Dawud in any case. The first step towards fixing a problem is acknowledging we have one. Racism, ironically enough, is an equal opportunity disease.

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Youssef Chouhoud is an assistant professor of political science at Christopher Newport University, where he is affiliated with the Reiff Center for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. Youssef completed his PhD at the Political Science and International Relations program at the University of Southern California as a Provost’s Fellow. His research interests include political attitudes and behavior, survey methodology, and comparative democratization.



  1. Husna

    December 11, 2013 at 1:18 AM

    Jazakallah kheir for bringing this topic up. It seems though from the lack of comments that this topic will always be something that will be brushed under the rug in the Muslim community.
    As someone who’s faced racism from other minorities and struggles daily with it, this is something that definitely needs to be worked on and it’s so scary to think that so many people have such hate for another people. The religion is absolutely against that mentality.
    Inshallah people will take notice and work hard to change their way of thinking and at least lessen racism.

  2. Mahmud

    December 11, 2013 at 1:35 AM

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    If I ever hear any Arab referring to black people as abeed, will look disgusted and say, “what are you racist” or some type of reprimand inshaa Allah.

    Anything else I’m supposed to do other than dua?

  3. Yasmeen

    December 11, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    This reminded me of something a brother once said. He was speaking about how it’s the duty of his community (he was specifically talking about the Pakistani community) to give back to our African American brothers and sisters. He said that it was because of the progress that they made in regard to civil rights, his parents were able to come to America, prosper, and lead him to the level of success he has attained. He said that giving back to them wasn’t something extra, it was like a debt that is owed.

    Anywhooo, living in Dearborn, it is so sad to see the way muslims treat other muslims. I know of a little girl who is half Arab, half African American. In school she tried so hard to hide the fact that she was half African American. It’s really sad that our brothers and sisters move to Dearborn because they want their kids to grow up around muslims and are faced with racial comments every day. There was a little boy whose mom was throwing a party at their house for all of his friends. He comes home to his mom and tells her, “So and so said he’s not allowed to go to our house because we’re abeed.”

    It’s amazing that even br. Dawud, who has done a lot for the muslims in this area, is subject to this type of negativity.

    I think awareness is key. Awareness of what the term abeed really means and awareness of how it hurts fellow muslims. I would say target the youth so when they are raising a family someday they will deal with this issue in an Islamic manner, not a cultural one.

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      December 11, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      Yasmeen, that’s a beautiful – and accurate – sentiment that the Pakistani brother shared. Truly, Muslims in the US are reaping the fruits of the African-American struggle for equality. We do indeed owe them a debt.

      The other stories you tell are disheartening, and one hopes that the children can be guided away from the cultural ignorance that is perpetuated within our community.

      I don’t doubt that awareness and conversation can have a positive effect, but I think we really need to have an eye on long term remedies that get at the structural roots of racism in the community. I trust that Br. Dawud and others like him are busy laying the foundations for the institutions that will cut across the segregation amongst Muslims.

  4. Siraaj

    December 11, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    Salaam alaykum Youssef,

    Great article, very even-handed in pointing out the problem prevalent not only in the Arab-American community, but many communities. Desi community has the same obsession with fair skin, going so far as to create creams to make darker complexioned individuals look lighter, and like abeed, the use of the term “kallu” for black americans (or canadians).


    • Youssef Chouhoud

      December 11, 2013 at 7:38 PM

      W/salam Siraaj,

      The same self-hating happens in Egypt, too. The current Miss Egypt (setting aside the problematic issues associated with this “honor” for a moment) is being blasted for not being pretty enough because her hair is curly and skin is not a pale white. Such ridiculous conceptions of beauty we have…

  5. ConsequenceIsNoCoincidence

    December 11, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    Hmm, I was expecting something a little more insightful from a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California studying Political Science and International Relations.

    You have three quotes that sum up your approach to “curing racism” 1) “one has to question the overall efficacy of addressing the issue, on forums large and small”; 2) “ultimately, I can’t help but think that the marginal benefit of discussion–from the pulpit, the stage, or the MSA mussallah–would be negligible”; and 3) “it seems engagement between the communities is in order.” The problem is you don’t provide enough support for the first two statements and the third statement is a given. So your article, sadly, leaves us nowhere.

    According to the 2011 pew research on Muslim Americans* 37% of adult Muslim Americans were born in the US, and 41% of the 63% immigrant population is from Middle East/North Africa. Of the Muslim American population “30% describe themselves as white, 23% as black, 21% as Asian, 6% as Hispanic and 19% as other or mixed race.” Based on these stats alone, there is every reason why racism should be addressed in forums such as ISNA, MSA, ICNA etc conferences. The purpose of these conferences is to instill morality (Islamic) at the root of the young generation. Racism is by far a fundamentally moral issue. Without going into extensive detail, there is a strong Biblical basis for racism which, alhamdullelah, Muslims don’t have to contend with. It is imperative, as Muslims growing up in a diverse community to teach our youth certain moral absolutes. This SHOULD come, not only from parents, but “from the pulpit, the stage, or the MSA mussallah” among other Islamic sources.


    • Youssef Chouhoud

      December 11, 2013 at 7:33 PM

      Again, bringing awareness about this issue to our communities is important, especially given that many don’t realize it’s a problem. To that end, yes, imams should take the time out to address the evils of tribalism and chauvinism. But I highly doubt that the racists in our community are relying on Islamic rationales for their views, and so giving them an Islamic refutation of racism wouldn’t likely affect their perspectives.

      Underscoring how these views are cultural legacies and undermine one’s practice of Islam could potentially be beneficial. Yet, are we really assuming that the one’s who pay close attention to what their imams say are the same one’s perpetrating the racism in our community? I think that’s doubtful. “That’s why you would want to have the issue raised at ISNA conventions,” you might say. Well, I’d surely like to hear the topic addressed more at such forums, but again we have to ask, are the individuals who are attentively sitting in these main sessions the same ones that go back home and casually throw around racial epithets? Once more, I doubt it.

      My point is that discussion decoupled from engagement has a low ceiling of success. The only proven way to undercut racism is by ratcheting up empathy. If an Arab kid goes to an Arab mosque, has all Arab or White friends, and gets his cultural legacy from his Arab parents, do you really think that some lecture from an imam is going to reach him if the ideas of his own supremacy and another’s inferiority are everywhere else reinforced?

      I argue, then, that we should address the issue, but make sure we are attaching with it a concreteness that will instill empathy in those that talk alone are unlikely to reach – which are the ones we need to reach the most. We don’t want to lecture, we want to educate; and anyone who has studied pedagogy will tell you that the more you center the learning around the subject’s self-realization, the more likely the lesson will hit home.

      The basketball league example was one in which I threw out because bball is the official sport of Muslim youth across this country. Any sport or communal activity (eg, scouts) would have a similar effect, I imagine. This is only an initial take, and I’m open to *constructive* criticism of it.

    • Miss Q

      December 12, 2013 at 3:06 AM

      Well said. Exactly my issues with this article.

      That said, as a attorney, I would say that it’s not surprising in the slightest that a doctoral candidate in political science doesn’t have a thorough understanding of critical race theory. It is not widely taught in US institutions of higher learning – you have to seek it out. (I wasn’t taught it in law school.) Reminds me of that recent story of the professor who 3 (white) students filed complaints about for teaching about structural racism in her university classroom.

      Good article otherwise.

  6. Sara

    December 11, 2013 at 9:13 PM

    I can’t say I agree with the author of that article. First of all, just because you deem a problem “hard to deal with,” that certainly should not be a green light to just drop it. And they’re completely neglecting to consider the power of taking a grassroots approach to address community issues.

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      December 11, 2013 at 9:42 PM

      I think maybe you may have misunderstood my point. I’m not suggesting we drop it at all. I’m merely cautioning us not to count on seeing results from addressing the issue alone. In fact, I’m counting on the “grassroots” to go beyond that call and make sure that they create an environment where this kind of discussion can go beyond mere words.

  7. Abdullah

    December 11, 2013 at 9:29 PM

    Salam alaequm
    By Allah this’s one of the greatest challenges that I’m facing everyday among the Arab Muslim that I’m dealing with. I’m a Muslim, African-American. I feel stereotyped and experienced cultural racism. Nothing I do/say thats better than my Arab colleague yet we are all muslim. This’s one of the issues we are sweeping under the rug and I think it’s a great time to start speaking out. I believe no one is a second class muslim.

    • Youssef Chouhoud

      December 11, 2013 at 10:26 PM

      W/Salam akhi,

      I’m not sure what to say. What goes without saying is that this is despicable behavior. InshAllah, little by little, we’ll be able to make some headway against this backwards mentality.

  8. Abez

    December 12, 2013 at 2:19 AM

    I’ve been following Dawud Walid on Twitter and the verbal abuse he gets for just retweeting the ‘abeed’ comments is terrible. He must have some pretty thick skin to be able to continue despite being insulted, and I pray that Allah opens the hearts of the people whose are closed so tightly around what they believe is their God-Given superiority over others.

    Please, keep up the good work. Racism has no place in Islam, and no place in Muslim hearts.

  9. Jasmin

    December 12, 2013 at 3:16 AM

    Racism is a form of oppression and a false belief in thinking that you are some how better than another based on things that you have no control over. I am very sad to see the lack of comments on this topic, because like someone else pointed out, we all ignore the topic. But we need to FIX this problem.

    To be honest, this topic really touches me. seriously. and I am sorry to write a comment that should be a book, but this whole thing makes me sad. The fact that this topic gets grouped under a huge umbrella of “we need to become better” rather than pointing out the real issue, “many muslims are freakin’ racist and its a problem”. It is not a we need to become better issue or a “lets work on this later” issue, it is an issue that needs to be addressed and fixed. I am glad this is anonymous.

    Alhamdulilah, I am Muslim, a believer in a God who accepts everyone, a believer in the most beautiful, who made us all beautiful. Alhamdulilah, I was born Muslim. Some days I really think hard, and it was truly a blessing, me being born Muslim, because if I was not, I wonder if I would have agreed to the mistreatment of individuals based off their race, although we say we follow the Nabi, who accepted everyone without any disgrace. I know guidance is from Allah, but even in the Quran we are told to not lead the disbelievers astray.

    Anway. Again I apologize, but this topic. wow.

    I am a Muslim. A woman. A black woman. and I wear glasses. bottom of the totem poll, aren’t I? In the sight of Allah, we are all the same but in the sight of men, this is where the issue begins. My roots are more mixed than the melting pot we supposedly live in but I identify myself as African American or black, you might say. Although, if you saw me and are ignorant enough to use the comments “abeed”, “kalu” or even “nigga”, you might think I am something else, I’ve gotten everything under the sun due to my super psycho light skin. Again, due to the lack of knowledge of the mixed american culture, I am usually able to fly under the radar as something I am not which has made me a silent racial police. Imagine sitting in a group full of people as they describe your people as thieves, culture-less and the list goes on. It hurts. It hurts knowing that the only reason you are probably even sitting there is because no one in that group knows your black or they forgot due to your noticeably lighter skin. Imagine running a volunteer group for all people and when you approach a certain area, your significant elder tells you to be careful of your own people, “there are many black people around here, you know?”. No, I do not know. Imagine being an annoying teenage kid as your friends tell the funniest of black jokes to what they think is a non black crowd, and there I go sitting, my mind seriously being blown. The experiences go on, it gets kind of nostalgic especially telling it to a crowd who will never understand because no matter what your parents had to go through to get to this country, they will never be put on the pedestal of a black man. Sorry, because I think until we understand the whole idea of the black man living in America, this will be an issue never solved. But that’s not it. And just to clarify, posting pictures of Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali is in no way acceptance. Sure you accept the famous but what about the dude that attends your masjid?

    Back to the blessing of being born a Muslim. All people want is to be accepted, trust me. That’s all we want is acceptance. I want to be accepted, I want it to be okay to be a glasses wearing, light skinned black Muslim girl. But, I’m not. Again, just being black in American is something no one has to reiterate, imagine the look on all your white friend’s faces “what are you?” and you disappoint them with, “black”. And then you find a safe haven, Islam, a way of life which preaches equality, justice, mercy, love and balance. The haven is safe but its inhabitants are not. Islam is perfect but it’s followers are the furthest thing from it, it turns out glasses wearing light skinned black girls can’t fit in here either. Some days I dream of telling the board members at my masjid “I’M BLACK, LIKE BLACK BLACK, LIKE KALU BLACK”, I wonder if they would trust me with the bank card again or if the same aunty would be so happy with my broken Urdu or if the Arab lady would not approach me for her son I would never marry? I wonder if I would still be that gori larke or that cool girl with the glasses? These are questions among others that circulate through my head as I sit there silent, letting everything soak in. Again, all anyone wants is acceptance. So where to go? Alhamdulilah I was born Muslim.

    Did I mention I was a psycho? I am kind of a obnoxious social justice, equality, fairness in every way nut, and treat everyone the same weirdo. if something is wrong, I try to be the first to say something, the first to do something, the first to stand up, I try. When it comes to this issue, it is squashed before it is ever begins. I feel like although I stand with all my friends, this is an issue which I am alone in. I go to the rallies of Palestine, Syria and try to make it to anything promoting social justice, I own a few bracelets that are broken now because of how much I wore them. Trust me. I am for the people, but when it comes to my people, I really feel like the crowd is much smaller because we are still blinded with the same arrogance of Iblis. That somehow, somehow, we are better.

    Oh, the American black man. How low is your status among the world? The only man to be hated globally. I have even heard Africans talking about you so lowly. Please find a place, a culture, that can unitedly say, “we accept you”, you won’t. I love you Allah, I love you. I am so happy that I was born Muslim.

    So how to fix this problem? We have the answers.

    1. Go read the story of Adam again, and ask yourself, how is your dislike for dark skinned people any different than Iblis and his dislike for clay skinned Adam.

    2. Take a chill pill, most of your dislike for a race is based off of arrogance, you think your better than another? I have a news flash for you. You poop, pee, eat, make babies, read, write, just like the people you are so much better than. opps, you might have thought you were special. Unless you are some cyborg, I am sorry but we ALL fall under the class of-HUMAN.

    3. For innocent by-standards, stick up for your brother and sister in Islam. point, blank. Yes, attending the dinner for a Pakistani flood is important and so is the Palestinian fundraiser, but maybe just maybe, issues in the country you live in are just important. You want people to stand for the justice of your people back home, stand for justice for the people in your current residence.

    4. Accept people. Accept them. 100% accept them, so yes that dark skinned guy at the masjid who may talk different than you do and ohhh God does not speak Arabic, accept him, invite him with you guys, etc. Same for your girls. And when you have your cultural extravaganza conversations, in which you talk about kufta for 90 minutes, remember there might be others who have no idea what you are talking about, so maybe share different things in your culture rather than parade them around like medals. Keeping it 100 :) I love kufta though! :)

    5. I know that your culture is very important, masha’Allah, but learning about another is not going to somehow negate your cultureness, I promise diversity does not bite. And newsflash, Lil Wayne is not the standard for black men, if there is anything my black father has ever taught me, it is to be everything opposite of Lil wayne. We don’t wear gold in our chains or rangs, most of us started from the bottom and we dont pop up in our new buggatis but drive toyotas like the rest of you. If anything, there are more black people who are living the same blue-color, upper blue-color life you are living. You know kinda how they always show some psycho muslims on TV to the point that you would think every muslim is like that because they dont show other ones. Same concept, if you somehow think that the majority of black people are selling drugs and singing trinadad james songs, you are wrong. watch tv, dont believe tv.

    6. Know that the “ghetto-ness” that you see on TV which is supposed to depict the whole black race is a culture of being poor not black people. So yes guh, black people know how to pronounce the letter “r”. And there are other people who talk like dat and dey aint black, u heard me? And if you actually took some time to venture into the ghetto, you will notice this “ghettoness” is across all people who are poor.

    7. I have an idea. Pretend you were back in your country wherever that was, let’s pretend Jasminville and everyone is pink race including yourself, in this country, there is stealing, rape, murder, and every crime under the sun. Now you move to America, where there is many races and cultures and all of a sudden, black people are the doers of all crime, they are the source of the America’s financial problem, murder problem, drug problem, basically your dark skin equates to bad news. Kinda weird how the ideas in your country where anyone could be bad has switched now that you are in a country with many different people. hmmm…I think the idea that anyone could be bad is universal. And always remember socioecomnomic status has a lot to do with things in terms of crime if you are trying to link things together.

    8. take part and hold team building activities, like you stated basketball, football, just things where from a very young age, people are interacting with people from different races. Although black people are pretty much good at anything and you will lose in any sport or dance competition, you should still join. Right, I mean we are the best in almost everything. muhahahahaha, how do you like me now? I am joking, but I think this is something parents should really do, rather than sneak your kids off to 10 hour Arab tea parties (which I somewhat enjoyable) and Desi bashes every weekend, take some time out for your kids to hang out with people who arent of the same culture.

    Allahualam. I will end this. It is getting to long. But to fix this problem, it takes a group of people willing to slowly progress to equality.

    I love Allah. The one who accepts when everyone else is too blind to do so; I love you, Allah, I love you.

  10. Hassan

    December 12, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    Do arabs that are more religious (attend masjid etc) also use this term or are racists? I have never seen Arab or Desi being racist against anyone who are religious and attend masjid. They do distinguish sometimes on fiqh by associating it with nationality. Like an arab would say there is a Pakistani masjid, or desi would say fulan goes to arab masjid etc.

    • The Salafi Feminist

      December 12, 2013 at 11:41 PM

      Yes, even the “religious” Arabs (my experience was with super Salafi Arabs) are racist. Sometimes they disguise it well, other times, not so much. As soon as your views differ from theirs, or you act in a way they disapprove of, they will immediately start talking about how “those people” don’t know “true Islam,” or about how Arabs were the special chosen people of Allah, and so on.

      It’s bad when you see it from the outside; worse when you marry into such a family. True colours are revealed, and rather horrifyingly.

  11. Margari Aziza Hill

    December 12, 2013 at 10:25 PM

    Salaam alaikum,
    For an issue that has hardly been broached in the 20 years that I’ve been Muslim, I guess I’m surprised by the amount of skepticism around our religious leaders and activists addressing it in khutbahs, halaqahs, and conferences. From my experience, when this topic is broached even the most cultural community centers become a less hostile places. But when it is left unspoken, ignorance triumphs.

    My main experience hearing the word was at a mosque, in the Islamic school. I taught at an Islamic school, and I’ve personally caught several Arab students using the term in front of me. A colleague of mine heard a student and worker at the store attached to the masjid refer to the black American students they were serving as ‘abeed. Imagine teaching students that call you ‘abdah, and their parents and administration who attend the same masjid all justify the term. At another Islamic school, Arab parents defended their kids calling another kid egg plant and ‘abed. Often, the administration does little to address these issues. There wasn’t even recourse when I was disrespected by my own students or witnessed a student using the term. It created a hostile environment, one which left me completely disillusioned. Many of my Black students felt like they were treated differently and, the truth is, they were. Although my daughter is only 2, I shudder to think about putting her in a hostile environment where her so called brothers and sisters treat her like a second class citizen and there is little recourse. I faced a lot of racist taunts growing up and it had a profound impact on me and even how I identified with my classmates who taunted me, wrote nasty notes, and even one who pulled out a plug of my hair and called me a n—–. I don’t want to put her Islam in jeopardy or for her to feel oppressed by her co-religionists.

    There are proven models that have helped people interrogate their own prejudices and racist attitudes. Our Islamic institutions need to get some serious anti-racism, anti-bullying, and diversity workshops. We must demand this type of training on the part of our Islamic schools and institutions that work with youth.

    Besides effective models where people have altered their views following a workshop or lecture, I still believe that Islam has the potential that brother Malcolm had so much faith in. I don’t buy the hajj epiphany, as Malcolm X had long standing contact with the Muslim world long before then. But he was observant and saw how Muslims from various backgrounds welcomed him even before the hajj. Like Malcolm, I have been embraced and shared deep connections with Muslims from all ethnic backgrounds.

    My primary hope comes from the examples in the seerah and biographies of the Companions. The fact is that if racism and tribalism were so abstract, we wouldn’t have seen it in our Prophet’s (s.a.w.) final sermon. At the root of ethnic chauvinism is arrogance, and while we may not be able to cure arrogance from someone who wants to hold onto that vice, we can demonstrate that certain practices and thought processes are detrimental for our own souls and for our ummah as a whole.

    That being said, while we cannot cure racism from someone who is entirely emotionally invested in it, we can help people who are sincerely striving. There are those who want to live by the example of our Prophet and follow the ways of the righteous people. And considering how race, tribal lineage, and ethnicity was dealt with then, we have some clear answers. This is not to say that we will eliminate all racist attitudes, but at least we can make it unacceptable. Considering how far the US has come in from my mom’s generation, let alone my grandmother who grew up in Jim Crow South, I think that we can make progress as a community.

  12. Faraz

    December 13, 2013 at 12:21 AM

    The racism problem in Arab American communities spreads deeper than just the word abeed. Just like many white Americans don’t realize many of their actions are inherently biased or prejudiced, the same effect is repeated within the Muslim community except the dominant role is replaced by the Arabs.

    Part of it is ignorance, other part prejudice, and the last part unfortunately is flat out racism.

  13. Abu Abdillah

    December 13, 2013 at 3:00 AM

    While I agree with this article in a general sense, it does fall into another more subtle form of racism itself. The suggestion that racism is or has been exclusively a white problem is a manifestation of racism even if an attempt is made to legitimate this claim with historical wrongdoings. Similarly, determining one type of racism, in this case the minority-on-minority variety, as being viler than others is similarly incorrect. Racism is racism.

  14. Riz Khan

    December 14, 2013 at 9:03 PM

    From the last sermon of Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H)

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

    I request everyone to read the whole text from any link on net can be searched on sear engines.

    May be we are not good muslim. May be we are not good human beings. We declare love for Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H) but at the same time do not act upon his teachings. We are going far away from our true religion. May Allah guide us along the right path Amin!


    December 15, 2013 at 5:32 AM

    I agree that besides explaining to Muslims about the evils of racism/nationalism from the pulpit, more “grassroots” level activities should take place in order to foster stronger feelings of brotherhood/sisterhood amongst Muslims. And different types of racism should definitely be distinguished when confronting a person about it. You’ll have people that are “accidental racists” who, due to ignorance, don’t realize that something they’re saying or doing could be construed as being racist towards others. And then you have the people who know they’re being racist, but don’t care, because of extreme arrogance, apathy towards change, lack of Deen, etc.

    The first thing Muslims should learn to do is get to know each other and not cocoon themselves off towards being only around people of their own race/nationality/ethnicity, etc. beginning from a young age. Muslims should also stay away from stereotyping and rating which groups are “safe” to be around due to mass conditioning by the mainstream media and schools. So besides targeting the youth with organizing sports tournaments and Boys/Girls Scouts activities like you mention, here are some other suggestions for community-wide events that can foster a stronger feeling of brotherhood/sisterhood amongst Muslims. These include field trips, both educational and entertaining, to museums, picnics, amusement parks, etc. We could also organize youth-led volunteer activities involving soup kitchens, homeless shelters, environmental work, hospital visits, etc. For regular ongoing activities at a local mosque or community center, we should also organize weekly/biweekly halaqahs specifically for the youth, where any and every social issue should be allowed to be discussed, including racism. Book clubs/poetry or spoken word sessions can also be organized to attract the youth towards discussing about important social issues too.

    These activities should be open to every Muslim within the community from every possible background. It should be open to anyone, no matter how much or how little they attend the mosque. In fact, I think it’s especially important to target the Muslims that are not active within the mosque. And I think it’s especially important to target young adults and teenagers, because one thing I tend to notice is that while Muslims are eager to organize trips, events, and activities for the younger set, such eagerness to organize stuff tends to taper off as the kids get older, which is a shame. So like you said, it is not enough to just tell people to love each other. You have to show them how to love each other too by making it possible for them to become friends.

  16. Shehnaaz

    December 18, 2013 at 12:06 AM

    As a 3rd generation South African of Indian origin,having faced pure racism and oppression of White over Black/Indian/Coloured it’s disgusting that (some) Muslims cannot distinguish their actions and/or words and know that Racism has absolutely no place in Islam. Having lost a world icon, a liberator like Nelson Mandela who local South African ulema say drew his inspiration and thought process from our beloved prophet Muhammad (saw) it saddens me that our brothers and sisters cannot learn lessons in kindness towards each other and we have our prophet (saw) as our given most exceptional guide. Travelling several times to the Middle East you quickly realise how indent racism is….May Allah guide us to be better iA. Great article Youssef. Discussion with Engagement is imperative in forcing people to recognize their behavior and in changing attitudes especially for our younger generation.

  17. Blackman

    December 18, 2013 at 8:41 PM

    I’m an African Somali and if any Arab dare call me or anyone near me An Abid, it’s a war. As a believing Muslim I hate to say this in a blunt way, but an Arabs and Desis got nothing on me…Black people we need to be prideful and show these people they got all the civil rights because of AA sacrifice. Black and proud!

    • Halima

      December 28, 2013 at 6:11 PM

      I second that lol

  18. Wael Abdelgawad

    December 19, 2013 at 5:23 PM

    Jazak Allah khayr for raising the subject. Racist comments and expressions are one thing I won’t tolerate in anyone, not even friends or family. I had a relative who was a great man in many ways, but used to make such comments occasionally. I always reprimanded him, but he never accepted my words. He would get angry and say, “I don’t want to be lectured!” Once he made such a comment in front of my daughter and I got quite angry and told him to keep his garbage to himself. I felt bad about that, but I needed to let my daughter know that such words are not acceptable.

    This subject must be addressed in khutbas, or even better the Eid khutbah. At Eid you get scores of Muslims who don’t appear at the masjid at any other time of the year. It’s a good time to address vital social issues.

  19. shahgul

    December 20, 2013 at 10:15 PM

    My first experience in an American masjid was an Arab woman pointing at my clothes (Shalwar Kameez) and telling me it was haram. Then I was shocked at attending a wedding where the hands of 2 men were tied together and they exchanged wedding vows. Turns out, one of the men was representing the bride. My Ara friend informed me this was the ‘real way’ a Muslim wedding was conducted. So, we have been carrying out fake Muslim weddings for centuries in the Sub-continent where a marriage is not finalized till the Qadi either hears the girl say yes, or sees her nod. And when a girl in shyness would not say yes, the whole family prods her to say yes till she does.
    Then this Pakistani brother comments on my wearing jilbabs and skirts excessively and wonders if I am an Arab wannabe? Then he warns me of how fickle Arab men are. So, I am wearing a jilbab to snare Arab men?
    My experience is, racism and ignorance go hand in hand. My experience has been that racism is linked positively to ignorance and insecurity. This disease also develops in closed groups. When members of a group close the door and do not people and ideas enter or leave, they become their own cheering squad. They root for themselves and boo at the imaginary enemy to feel good.
    We are all racist till we open the doors to our hearts and homes. What I am finding missing is that no one visits anyone at home.
    I think we need to have a project in which we take turns visiting each other. We need to hold open house events not at the masjid but at our homes. These events should not be show off opportunities, but simple potlucks where people get to know each other. Believe me those sisters in their corner who look and laugh at you will not attend. They will not invite you either, but they are outliers. There are a lot of decent, misinformed folks who will change their minds when they get to know you.

  20. Pingback: How Not to Stop Racism in the Arab American Community – A Response | NEWYORKUSTAN: American Muslim Series

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  22. Halima

    December 28, 2013 at 6:18 PM


    I’m so glad someone has brought up this subject. Kudos to Br. Dawud for laying out that piece. It’s sad and sickening how people turn a blind eye to racism in the Muslim community. I too have been discriminated against being Somali. Many times it was in the masjid. Sisters will give you the stank eye, refuse to shake your hand, and speak about you in their language. My brother once noted he had finished praying Friday prayer, and extended his hand out to the elderly Arab man sitting beside him. The man refused to shake his hand. So a younger Arab that was sitting beside him as well did instead. It just goes to show a lot of this fuel is coming from the elderly, but not entirely. Like you mentioned it’s also stemming from the younger groups on social media websites. It’s disgusting. What happened to being one ummah? It’s people that behave like this that make you feel enmity for Arabs. (Although I know all are not racist) But how can you call another human being abed? Don’t you bleed the same blood, eat, drink, and sleep too? The way I see it no one can claim to be superior to me when they breathe the same air I do. Nuff said.

  23. Zahra

    February 3, 2014 at 8:05 AM

    As an arab myself I am never proud of being nationalistic and no one should ever be because no choose to be so on so. So, I have encountered racism within the Arab community itself. When I go to pray in mosques I usually go to the mosque that makes me comfortable and most of them turned to be mosques that are mixed from all different communities and I love it. Whenever I hear such word is been used I feel disgusted and stop them because of how ignorant people can be I so upset from how a person say he Muslim and not follow it the right. Allhamdulliah as a child I grew up in a area where the community was pretty diverse but not many Arabs Allhamdulliah. I grew having my friends from different places desi, sudani, americans, and malaysians. Every human being in this world no matter who are where your from or even whatever religion deserves respect and honor. How about your fellow Muslim brother/sister in Islam??

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