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How Not to Stop Racism in the Arab American Community – A Response

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By: Diala Khalife

A response to “How do you stop racism in the Arab American community? Heck if I know”

I write this in response to a deeply problematic blog post published by Muslim Matters on December 11th. The piece was met with objections and critiques by some Arabs and non-Arab Muslims on Twitter [1].

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The original post attempts to analyze the persistence of anti-Black racism in the Arab American community. However, it reduces anti-Black racism to interpersonal interactions, and minimizes its severity and consequences.

The post also commends Brother Dawud Walid for his writing  and work to challenge anti-Black racism in the Arab American community; however, the author does not acknowledge or process his or his community’s complicity in perpetuating anti-Black racism, or our accountability to dismantle it.

Confronting or “stopping” anti-Black racism requires us as Arab Americans to both elevate our discourse on the subject and to develop community efforts to dismantle it. I offer these recommendations on how we can deepen our discourse on anti-Black racism in the Arab American community:

1. Do not discuss Arab American anti-Black racism as a pathology “that can lead someone to judge another based solely on the color of their skin;” also, do not reduce it to “bigotry,” or Arab Americans “being jerks;” do not discuss racism as though it is unrelated to power.

Referring to racism as “bigotry” minimizes the severity and consequences of anti-Blackness in our community. We need only look to Black men like Michael Haynes, murdered by an Arab gas station owner in Detroit, to recognize how devastating its consequences can be.

Racism is not a “disease” or a pathology. This analysis reduces anti-Blackness to the ways it is manifested in racist interactions, and is perpetuated at the individual level. This is the same reason why it is reductive to suggest “engagement between the communities” or “basketball leagues” as a means of confronting anti-Black racism – it naively assumes racism can be “solved” by basketball games that increase interaction between Black and Arab Americans.

Racism is not the product of repeated racist interactions: anti-Black racism is a set of multiple, intersecting structures. White supremacy is one structure that is foundational to the distribution of power, resources, rights, protections, and the assignment of ability and worth along racial lines to uphold a hierarchal system in which Whiteness dominates. White supremacy is maintained by systemically – though not to equal degrees – advantaging all non-Black people in the US at the expense of devaluing, dehumanizing, exploiting, killing and marginalizing Black people and communities. And white supremacy is not just made and maintained by white people – it is also upheld by people of color. This means as Arab Americans, though we are also marginalized by white supremacy, we are also privileged by it in relation to the majority of Black Americans.

For example, we light-skinned Arab Americans [2] are privileged by our ability to pass as white. Also, the majority of Arab Americans are class-privileged, meaning we benefit from the ways capitalism intersects with white supremacy to marginalize and exploit Black people and communities. Not only do we benefit from white supremacy – we are actively complicit in upholding it. This segues neatly into my next recommendation.

2.  Do not generalize anti-Black racism among Arabs and Arab Muslims as simply “racism.”

In order to seriously address anti-Black racism in the Arab American community, we need to talk about anti-Blackness with specificity; this means naming and analyzing the specific ways Arab Americans have been and are still complicit in producing and maintaining structures that dehumanize, abuse, exploit and devalue Black people.

Let us take, for example, the lecherous Arab-owned liquor stores and gas stations in poor Black neighborhoods, such as parts of Detroit and Chicago: these stores participate in the ways that capitalism systemically exploits Black people and communities. Arab American gas station and store owners often deliberately set up in poor Black communities and become financially successful at the expense of the people in these communities. Most of these store owners, who usually do not even live in these neighborhoods, suck money out of them without putting any of their profits back into the community.

Not only are Arab Americans– at both the collective and individual level – actively complicit in the economic exploitation of Black people and communities: Arab Americans also reinforce these systems by justifying the inequalities that are the result of it. I repeatedly hear materially successful Arab immigrants in Michigan, for example, disdain poor Black people who have not “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” and other statements that blame Black people, not racist structures, for the high concentration of poverty in several Black communities. You can read about some Arab American store owners that have made similar statements in the relevant chapter in Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream.

3. Do not praise Brother Dawud Walid exposing anti-Black racism in your community while simultaneously not articulating a commitment to take action against it yourself, and not calling on others in your community to take action.

When you highlight Dawud Walid’s commendable efforts to combat racism without taking action yourself, you inappropriately place the responsibility on Black people to dismantle the racism that dehumanizes and exploits them; it is never their responsibility. At the same time, you also deflect from your complicity in this racism, and fail to claim accountability for it. This is especially problematic in the absence of a concerted effort to confront anti-Blackness in the Arab American community.

Claiming accountability and recognizing our complicity are only the first steps we must take to challenge Arab American anti-Black racism. I hope this post will compel fellow Arab Americans to recognize the urgency of developing community efforts and discourses that aggressively challenge anti-Black racism.

 

[1] My thoughts draw on Twitter conversations with Amina Wadud (@aminawadud), Dawud Walid (@DawudWalid) on the original Muslim Matters post; they are also are informed by Tweets from Tareq Yaqub (@Tareq772) on it. My thoughts have also been formed and informed by an Open Letter to Non-Black People of Color written by students at the University of Michigan, and by the Black Girl Dangerous post “We are not all Trayvon: Challenging anti-Black racism in poc communities.”

[2] I recognize that my post in many ways reinforces a Black-Arab binary that essentializes Arabness and Blackness. I did not have room to discuss nuances and complexities in this piece. I hope to discuss why this binary is problematic in future writing, along with discussing intra-communal ethnic racism in the Arab American community.

I Tweet on anti-Black racism in the Arab American community and in the Arab world at @ArabAntBlackRac.

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49 Comments

49 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Youssef Chouhoud

    December 25, 2013 at 3:22 AM

    Jazzak Allahu khayr for your input. Since you took the time and care to respond to my article in long form, I’ll return the gesture. InshAllah we will publish my response next week. In the meantime, I will encourage others to read and comment on your piece. Again, thanks for your effort.

    • Avatar

      Diala Khalife

      December 25, 2013 at 1:11 PM

      Salam Youssef,

      Thank for taking the time to respond to my article and engage with it.

      In the effort of extending this conversation in ways that are more centered on pushing the discourse than responding to each others’ pieces, I am wondering if instead you’d be interested in collaborating with me on an open letter to the Arab American community. We can include a broad sketch of anti-Black racism in our community, highlight examples of community efforts to address this, and include our own recommendations; most importantly it will include a call for action/a statement of individual and collective community accountability.

      I think working together could enrich our writing on this. I understand we have different understandings of anti-Black racism, but I think we have more to gain by writing together than writing in response to each other. Please let me know your thoughts on this.

      • Avatar

        Youssef Chouhoud

        December 28, 2013 at 3:31 PM

        W/Salam Diala,

        If the goal is to push the discourse, I think it is important that we first clarify what it is we’re talking about. I’d like to spell out my ideas a bit more, some of which I think have been misunderstood or misrepresented.

        ***

        First, the aim of my article. My post was, in large part (I’ll get to the exception in a bit), not meant as an analysis of racism in Arab-American communities, but an acknowledgment of the phenomenon, a nod to Br. Dawud’s efforts to increase awareness, and preliminary thoughts on how to address these ills. That is why although I acknowledged some of the factors that have influenced anti-Black attitudes (including structural ones), I did not elaborate on them. Aside from it not being the focus of my piece, the reason I did not go into greater analytical detail is because I’m generally skeptical of our ability to recognize the relationship one process has with another, let alone form a coherent understanding of multivariate complex processes.

        Put differently, I have no idea how one can, with any confidence, disentangle (among other factors) the influence of American racial stereotypes, economic disparity, Arab historical legacy, etc., on anti-Black attitudes in the Arab-American community. Barring disaggregation, I don’t see how you can have a meaningful discussion about the structural causes of racism that are specific to Arab-Americans, let alone hold Arab-Americans collectively and invariably complicit in maintaining such structures. Such an enterprise is far too generalized and deterministic, making light of the agency that has lead to multiple examples of inclusive Muslim communities with comparatively healthy race relations. Thus, in an effort to get to what we really care about, I took for granted the existence (to varying degrees) of anti-Black racism in Arab-American communities and focused on a preliminary discussion of what we can do to undermine it.

        ***

        Second, the call to action. Contrary to your assertion, I did not place the onus on Br. Dawud to remedy our situation. In fact, you alluded to (albeit in caricatured fashion) the preliminary recommendation that I mentioned in my post. I admit that I could have chosen a more apt example; in offering a basketball league as a possible manifestation of the crosscutting interactions that I suggested communities implement, I clearly opened myself up to charges of reductionism and triviality. More importantly, a trusted mentor advised me that some may read into that example racial connotations that clearly I didn’t intend. So, mea culpa on that point.

        I stand by my underlying contention, however. No one could argue against the need for more discussion and awareness of this topic in our masajid and conferences. It would no doubt be beneficial to educate those who are not aware of the harm that is caused by racial slurs (or are unaware that they are racial slurs in the first place), as well as underscoring the Prophetic teachings on brotherhood in our community and the evils of any chauvinist belief.

        Yet, we have to be mindful of the limitations of these tactics. Are we assuming that the ones who pay close attention to what their imams say are the same ones perpetrating racism in our community? Are the individuals that are attentively sitting in conference sessions the same ones that go back home and casually throw around racial epithets?

        This is where the exception to my analytical sidestepping comes in. Clearly segregation plays a meaningful role in the perpetuation of racism in our communities, and so my previous piece suggested that we – everyone – work together to build a more inclusive atmosphere with activities that bring together our youth, especially. 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.

        ***

        Last, a note on your approach. I think you may focus a bit too much on within-group solutions to racism. This problem, however, can’t be addressed in a vacuum. This is an issue that must be tackled at the broader community level since, as I’ve alluded to above, it is isolation that provides the breeding grounds for racism.

        A corollary to the level at which we address racism is the way in which we address it. There is a sense of blaming and shaming that I feel accompanies the litmus test of complicity that you offer. I realize this may not be your intention, but it is nonetheless manifest in the interactions I see on Twitter where individuals are called out for using racist slurs and multiple people pounce on their ignorance. The effect of this tactic is often retrenchment and an ossifying of racist attitudes. We have to be more mindful (and this is a reminder for me first) not to harden hearts in our quest to make a point, however valid it may be.

        ***

        In sum, while I recognize that there are structural reasons for the persistence of racism among Arab-Americans, I feel it is far too difficult to pinpoint and generalize about these structures in any meaningful way. That is not to say that on an individual community level, structural factors that heighten racial tension cannot be addressed — the case that one commenter noted below about IMAN surveying liquor store owners and the neighboring community, then finding solutions to help the owners provide more wholesome products is a prime example. Each community, however, will have its own dynamics and forces at work, so generalizing would lead to false assumptions and false conclusions.

        The only apt general recommendation I see is greater education coupled with greater interaction. Here, too, each community will have to assess how to broach the topic effectively and manifest cross-cutting activities, but this general approach I feel provides the most bang for your buck. To that point, a more inclusive community would not only tackle the ills of racism, but of classism and other chauvinist behavior, too. I make no claim that this is a panacea, but it a sturdy foundation and guard, nonetheless.

        There are lots of forces that opt us in to various beliefs of our superiority over another. Our goal should be to foster an environment that makes it easier to opt-out of these misguided notions.

        I apologize for writing a lot here, but it will be my last word on this topic for a while as conference papers and qualifying exams beckon. I readily admit I could be wrong about some of my notions and I still have a lot to learn (please feel free to forward any material you think would be beneficial). I hope, however, that I’ve offered something of use for you to consider. Barack Allahu feeki for your diligence.

        w/Salam,
        Youssef

    • Avatar

      KHADIJAH BINT COSTELLO

      December 25, 2013 at 9:40 PM

      The words of our Prophet Muhmammad sala lahu alahi wa salam make it so very clear, that remains an enigma as to why racism among Muslims continues to be a big problem. In his last sermon he said to his Ummah:
      “All of mankind is from Adam and Eve. An arab does not have superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; white have no superiority over black, nor does a black have any superiority over white; except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shallbe legitimate to a Muslim, which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.”

      • Avatar

        Riz Khan

        December 26, 2013 at 9:08 AM

        Mashallah! beautiful words! nothing can be more beautiful than the sayings of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). Allah may guide all the sisters and brothers along the right path.

  2. Avatar

    David

    December 25, 2013 at 5:04 AM

    In response time to this article cease with blaming Caucasian people out of convenience for points. The hub is Blacks and Arabs not having a good structure in Detroit and etc. That is the consequence of unary.

    • Avatar

      Diala Khalife

      December 25, 2013 at 1:25 PM

      Hi David,

      Thank you reading my piece and thank you for your comment. As The Saliba mentioned in their comment, the references to whiteness and white supremacy do not deflect accountability from Arab Americans in their role in perpetuating anti-Black racism, nor dismiss the role played by structural inequalities in Detroit.

      I am referencing whiteness to account for the ways in which Arab Americans’ (Levantine, and other typically light-skinned Arab Americans) classification as white on the census, as well as our light skin, have given us access to many privileges that come with being assimilated into this category, and the ability to “pass” as white.

      • Avatar

        Hamza21

        December 25, 2013 at 5:21 PM

        Thank you for this timely article but I must correct you ALL arabs are classified as “white” by the US census regardless of skin color, as noted by 30 year old court case of Mostafa Hefny.

        http://thegrio.com/2012/09/04/detroit-immigrant-wants-to-be-classified-as-black/

        • Avatar

          Diala Khalife

          December 26, 2013 at 2:16 AM

          Salam Hamza21,

          Thank you for your comment, and for that link. I think we are the same page. Was not disputing that all Arabs are classified as white by the census, but trying to account for the fact that dark-skinned Arabs do not have the ability to pass -i.e., be perceived as white.

  3. Avatar

    are you stupid

    December 25, 2013 at 5:07 AM

    WHY IS THERE ANTI-BLACK RACISM? [edited] please be respectful and use a real name/or handle when commenting according to our comments policy.

    • Avatar

      Arab American

      December 25, 2013 at 7:20 AM

      It would be a benefit to humanity not to be around people like you

  4. Avatar

    Hassan

    December 25, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    In point number 1, the case you mention of Michael Haynes, how was it related to racism? Is it automatically assumed that when crime is committed against black person it must be due to racism, not just person committing crime being jerk?

    • Avatar

      Diala Khalife

      December 26, 2013 at 2:24 AM

      Salam Hassan,

      Thank you for your comment. There are outrageously high numbers of Black men (and women – Rekia Boyd, Renisha McBride) that are murdered because they are falsely perceived as a danger or threats to their killers lives; this fear is racialized – it is deeply connected to and produced by tropes (images and narratives) that depict Black people as hyper-aggressive, prone to violence and criminality.

      So due to these images, narratives, the high tensions between Black residents and Arab storeowners in these neighborhoods, and the fact that anti-Black racism is deeply internalized in the Arab American community, I think we can safely say that Michael Haynes’ murder was due to anti-Black racism.

      • Avatar

        Hassan

        December 26, 2013 at 9:10 AM

        I think this is a quite dangerous that you assume intentions, but regardless the person is dead and the killer should be punished.

        • Avatar

          Diala Khalife

          December 27, 2013 at 1:28 AM

          Respectfully, I actually do not presume intention, but consider intention irrelevant; what matters is impact. And I think it is more dangerous to presume the staggeringly high numbers of Black people murdered by non-Black folks has nothing to do with race, than to presume purposeful intent.

  5. Avatar

    Safia

    December 25, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Thank you sister Diala for writing this piece. And thank you for recognizing your privilege and standing in solidarity with black Americans. I was appalled by the previous article on this issue, and said to myself – of all people Arab Americans (and other Muslim immigrants; 1st 2nd or nth generation) should have nothing but praise to say about black Americans because had it not been for the civil rights struggle and the sacrifices of so many black bodies, this community would not have been able to even establish roots in America.

    • Avatar

      Diala Khalife

      December 26, 2013 at 2:38 AM

      Thank you, sister Safia, for reading and for your comment. :)

      I agree, we are deeply indebted in many ways to Black Americans, whose language and ideas we have consistently used to mobilize and inspire our own civil rights struggles. I would add to your thoughts that we also have a responsibility to be more active and consistent allies in their continuing struggles to dismantle anti-Black racism in the US – especially in the face of their consistent, tireless solidarity with us in Palestine anti-Zionist struggles.

    • Avatar

      Nadia

      December 29, 2013 at 12:14 AM

      Very well said Safia! Well all should be very thankful for those who sacrifices their lives for as to enjoy this country.

  6. Avatar

    The Saliha

    December 25, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    Assalamu Alaykum,
    Loved your article! Using Critical Race Theory definitely opens up the conversation so that we’re not just using the same old line, “Let’s all hold hands and get along.” Racism is much more complicated then that.
    Also in response to David, Dalia’s piece isn’t take a shot at Caucasians as much as she’s looking at Whiteness: who qualifies as White, and the affordances that are produced from being assimilated into this label.

    • Avatar

      Diala Khalife

      December 26, 2013 at 2:43 AM

      Assalamu Aalaykum,

      Thank you so much. :) I appreciate it! I am also weary of language like “Let’s all hold hands and get a long” that first of all, assumes anti-racist work can/has to happen without the discomfort of those perpetuating racism, and without the presence of tension and agitation. I am also weary of it because it doesn’t capture how racism is deeply tied to unequal power relations!

      I appreciate your response to David’s comment – that is exactly what I meant.

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  8. Avatar

    David

    December 25, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    MR, Khalife. The only people that get privileges are those whom give it to others. America is governed by the U.S Constitution and this the supreme law of the land. Personally I look at the intent of character.

    • Avatar

      Ala

      December 25, 2013 at 3:16 PM

      David, it’s MRS, not MR.

      Wonderful article, Diala. I’m so glad you wrote on this subject, as it’s been something that has bothered me (as an Arab American male) for as long as I can remember. The problem doesn’t seem to be improving, either. So ironic, and frustrating.

      • Avatar

        Diala Khalife

        December 26, 2013 at 2:54 AM

        Thank you so much, Ala.

        I also do not remember a time when I didn’t observe this in our community. It is tragically ironic considering many things but particularly 1) the fact that in our civil rights struggles and in our organizing around Palestine we consistently draw on and mobilize around the ideas of Black scholars and activists; 2) Arab Americans, particularly Arab American males appropriate Blackness (particularly representations of Blackness in commercial hip hop videos) and mimic Black “swag” all while being enacting anti-Black racism.

        I think unfortunately it will remain deep and persistent until we as a community make a concerted effort to confront it, and change our practices that reinforce it.

  9. Avatar

    Muhamed

    December 25, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    Excellent points made, thank you for pointing out specific issues that must be addressed (especially in point 2).

    This is not a criticism of most of the content here, but I feel the author carries a rather harsh tone in her assessment (to a degree). Youssef, by his own admission, states that he has no ready-made answers – which logically welcomes this type of feedback; I feel the tone could have been a bit more respectful.

    Also, point 3 is extrapolating negativity that isn’t necessarily there. He’s highlighting the efforts Dawud has been making, but he does not argue that this in and of itself is enough to take care of the issue. He does not place the onus of addressing these structural problems on the shoulders of black Muslims by pointing out his positive outlook of one specific effort. I’m not sure why any one article on this website is supposed to be a comprehensive catch-all for every issue on a particular subject.

    • Avatar

      Diala Khalife

      December 26, 2013 at 3:05 AM

      Salam Muhamed,

      Thank you for your comment! I see where you’re coming from. However, I have to say that usually arguments/issues with tone tend to get in the way of engaging with the ideas in the article, and derail from them (see here for example: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Tone_argument).

      I also do not think I was disrespectful in any way in my article.

      In addition I do not think, nor did others who commented on his article on Twitter, that in point 3 I extrapolated implications that were not present in the article; the author highlighting Dawud’s work was not accompanied by a statement of his individual or our community complicity, or a call for action; this is why I say the article implicitly places the burden on Dawud and others.

      Third, I did not include this in my article, but I will get to it here – the piece did not only do the above, but also dismissed the potential impact of some of the suggestions Dawud makes as “negligible.” This is also deeply problematic.

      I did not any way expect Youssef’s piece to be a “catch-all” but I do think it is fair to expect that Muslim Matters articles contain rigorous analyses of racism that are not reductive or limited.

      Thank you and would appreciate your thoughts.

  10. Avatar

    David

    December 25, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    Ala, Thanks for your enlightened words. But lot MRS, Khalife speak for self.

  11. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    December 25, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    I think it’s good to raise this subject and I commend Dawud and Diala on that level. However, I found no useful or concrete suggestions in this article. It seemed mostly to be a confusing lecture on what language one should use in describing the problem of anti-Black racism. Oh, wait, am I not supposed to say, “racism”? Confusing.

    I’ll offer an idea, though though it is not fully formed.

    Wealthy Arab-Americans and Muslims should create a foundation that would do two things:

    1. Train and finance poor Arab immigrants to start businesses other than liquor stores. These immigrants get into the liquor store business because their relatives are already in it, so the know-how is there, and because the bar to entry is low. Give them alternatives.

    2. Finance African-Americans to start businesses in African-American neighborhoods, with a focus on alcohol-free grocery stores that offer fresh produce and meats at affordable prices.

      • Avatar

        Amel

        December 27, 2013 at 1:25 AM

        Am glad to read of such an initiative and pray this will become more widespread throughout the country. Reading the articles, it is striking to me how much people fear not having enough money if they stop selling alcohol and other prohibited items. People should understand that the amount of rezq/sustenance one will have in a lifetime has already been determined while in the womb. How you acquire it, however, is up to you.

    • Avatar

      Diala Khalife

      December 26, 2013 at 3:25 AM

      Salam Wael,

      Thank you for your comment. Please point out what parts of my article are confusing to you so I can explain and clarify. I think your comment that “It seemed mostly to be a confusing lecture on what language one should use in describing the problem of anti-Black racism” is dismissive.

      My article focused on the discourse the previous article lacked in analyzing and describing anti-Black racism. I tend to think that analyses of racism that are limited and reductive are harmful to efforts to address it; here’s why: they undermine the severity, pervasiveness and consequences of this racism in our community, and they do not compel aggressive responses to it.

      You say “Oh, wait, am I not supposed to say, “racism”? Confusing.” I wrote that we must specify that we are talking about anti-Black racism because there are specific ways we have been complicit in perpetuating it, and this specificity of our relationship and racial positioning to Black people is not captured with the general term “racism.”

      To your other point, that my article contained no concrete recommendations – I agree this is a shortcoming, and I hope to write on my suggestions and recommendations in future articles (see my comment to Youssef above). I agree that the Arab owned convenience stores, liquor stores and gas stations in poor Black neighborhoods is one crucial area in need of urgent change.

    • Avatar

      Houssein

      December 28, 2013 at 9:16 AM

      Baaraka llahu fiik, good idea . Racism doesn’t exist in real
      Islam , dangerous is to sell our faith in Allah for fear to lose
      some dollars.We should stand up for the poor people , justice
      and bounty will come from Allah.
      Prophet Mohammed was sent as a Merci and we are representing
      of him.
      Living in ignorance is not part of Islam, we should learn our dine and
      act upon it, if not we will become foam as the prophet said.
      Thanks

  12. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    December 25, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    I am stunned that Muslims Matters is dealing with this in such an articulate fashion. I know Islam tells us not to be racist, but for years, I have seen many Muslims dodge this issue totally. To be fair, there is Indo/Pak racism and Spanish racism and even black racism. But each has a unique feature. Indo/Pak racism is really classism based on the setup in the old country and black Americans end up being the untouchables. Spanish racism is a softer racism since they have a high degree of miscegenation in Spanish society. Black racism is another one we as Muslims don’t condemn enough. It is only a small impotent group, but we should all make it very clear we do not like Louis Farrakhan lying on our Prophet or our deen. We say they are not Muslims in a too-polite way and as a result, way too many people are confused about the fake Muslims in the Nation of Islam. To be racist is one thing. To operate a business based on your racism when you claim you are a Muslim is another thing altogether. We all like money and some of us, even Muslims, we get so desperate we do haram and don’t care who we hurt. That best describes the Arabs who sell the haram in black neighborhoods. As Muslims we all know it’s wrong to sell poison. The only justification I can think of when I see my Muslim brothers and sisters selling haram is that they think that because they are in America and in a black community, the rules of Islam do not apply to them. We all have a preference for what we grew up with, the people and the language. But when that preference veers off into hurting those who don’t look like you is what hurts me. I have dark skin. Praise be to Allah, Islam is my life’s achievement. I live in a black area and I hurt for all those who have not received guidance and I hurt that the people who come to my community to exploit the ignorance and lack of guidance claim Islam. That is the difference between harmless prejudice and hostile destructive discrimination. We can’t help but to like our kind. How can you be a Muslim and not understand when you are destroying another human being or think that because that soul you suck off lives in dark skin, that Allah does not see?

  13. Avatar

    Abu Abdillah

    December 25, 2013 at 10:46 PM

    As-Salamu `alaikum,

    An obvious oversight this article has fallen into that the initial article fell into as well is that racism is racism. I’ve seen African-American muslims commit more or less the same racially motivated slights–and worse–against Arabs. I’ve also witnessed the presumed aggressor of all things racist (the white man, of course) being the recipient of the same evil words and deeds this article assumes the white race guilty of. Similarly, the exclusion of white muslims, convert and otherwise from a discussion that concerns them as much as anyone else is indicative of the limited understanding of racism in the first place.

    • Avatar

      Dawud Walid

      December 26, 2013 at 9:24 AM

      As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum Abu Abdillah,

      There’s a difference between racism and bigotry. As there are Black Americans who are Muslims and show bigotry towards Arabs, it’s not something deeply institutionalized, nor does it have practical bearing in the community. The same does not hold true regarding Arab anti-Black racism.

      Racism involves a power dynamic, brother. Power relates to who defines Islam and authority for our community including who leads national organizations. A Black person, who is Muslim in vast majority of cases that says something bigoted about Arabs, for instance, is not calling into question the legitimacy of someone’s standing in the Muslim community nor threatening their identity. When the inverse is done, it literally has to the point of running people out of the deen.

      So racism and bigotry is not proportional though both are un-Islamic. The latter in no way equals the former regarding social consequence and how it plays out in the Muslim community. You’re comparing the two within the context of this conversation seems diversionary to be frank.

      White Muslims in the community face a different challenge of being fetishized in many cases in immigrant communities and being seen as “The Man” in many majority Black congregations. That’s a whole other topic.

      • Avatar

        Abu Abdillah

        December 26, 2013 at 3:24 PM

        As-Salamu `alaikum,

        I appreciate your response, Dawud, and am, of course, aware of the distinction between racism and bigotry. However, the point I made was hardly diversionary, but instead based upon years of observation of this specify in various communities here as well as in the Middle East. The racism of some Arabs toward some African-Americans is, without a doubt, a serious detriment to our community, it is only one aspect of a dynamic, if not volatile, reality.

        • Avatar

          Diala Khalife

          December 27, 2013 at 2:11 AM

          As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum Dawud, Abu Abdillah,

          Respectfully, I have to echo Dawud’s point that racism and bigotry should not be compared or conflated because the latter is not institutionalized/structural, nor are the consequences nearly as severe.

          I also agree with Dawud that comparing the two – particularly comparing Arab anti-Black racism to prejudiced comments by Black Americans to Arabs – is diversionary; in other words, it deflects and derails the conversation from Arab anti-Black racism (which is the original topic at hand), and which you admit is a serious, pervasive reality in our community.

          • Avatar

            Abu Abdillah

            December 27, 2013 at 6:07 PM

            Wa ‘alaikum al-Salam wa Rahmatullah,

            Thanks for your response Diala. I’m not sure if I would have taken the time to respond to an anonymous commenter on a blog.

  14. Avatar

    Riz Khan

    December 26, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    I intend to publish the last sermon of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) and to distribute it in my immediate neighborhood. First of all it is a work for sawab/thawab (reward for good work from Allah). Second it would educate the people about the last sermon of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). Third it would help in curtailing racisim due to the specific instructions as below!

    “An arab does not have superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; white have no superiority over black, nor does a black have any superiority over white; except by piety and good action.”

    I think only love and friendship can reduce evil. if someone is racist why not give him/her a gift of the last sermon of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) with the words against racism highlighted. We are all muslims. We belong to same faith. if someone is racist let us teach him/her the true message of Islam with love and kindness. May Allah guide all the sisters and brothers along the right path, Ameen!

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    Dr. Amina Wadud

    December 26, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    Salaam Sis.

    Thank you for writing this excellent and deeply insightful essay. As the responses to it In the comment section indicate, it is not only timely but much needed.

    I am convinced that when Islam is taken as a radical transformative way of life, we do have the ability to overcome our short comings, no matter how systemic certain ill-habits, like racism, sexism may be. To me, that is the power of tawhid…we are all one humanity before one God.

    Everything else is shirk.

    Keep up the good work and may Allah bless you in your efforts.

    Your sister in Allah, amina wadud

    • Avatar

      Diala Khalife

      December 27, 2013 at 2:22 AM

      Salaam Sis.,

      Thank *you* for your deeply insightful Tweets on the issues in the previous post. And for your call for and emphasis on the importance of both discourse and action.

      Inshallah the work of everyone who is involved in the effort that Brother Dawud Walid began will bring about concerted movements to confront and dismantle this in our communities.

      Your sister in Allah, Diala

  16. Avatar

    AREF ASSAF

    December 26, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    Careful use of terms is in order here. I think the accusation should be levied more against Muslim Arabs and other Muslims. Not all Arabs are Muslims. The racism you speak of hardly exists outside of the slums or inner cities. It is not evident in the larger cities, in our daily interaction with Black Americans in our professional job environments. But and while I recognize the disease of racism does afflict the majority of business owners who venture into Black areas, other ethnic communities can easily be found guilty of same. Koreans, and specially Indian liquor store owners are taking advantage of the economic failure of inner cities and the corresponding social and political ills. Arab Christians on the other hand tend to establish their business in either Arab/Middle Eastern sections of towns or in ‘mainstream’ business locations. While I have no tolerance for discriminatory practices or racism-based attitudes towards people of different color or faith. The writers need not fall in generalizations that will obscure any possible solution. I don’t have time to elaborate here but here is my summation of the dilemma at hand: What we are witnessing here is economic racism rather than color based racism. And the price some of these merchants pay is often their own lives.

    • Avatar

      Dawud Walid

      December 26, 2013 at 12:14 PM

      It’s not simply economic based or classism. It is systemic relating to tribalism and racism even more so.

      I know several brothers, including myself, who were interested in marrying Arab sisters in which the men were turned away for no good reason. They reason was Black and/or not being from their nationality, not lack of education or money. One brother I know is a medical doctor for goodness sake. Some of us have been called 3abed in these situations. You’d be hard pressed to find a Black American Muslim who doesn’t know someone that this has happen to, if not it happening to them personally.

      This is clear un-Islamic and not something isolated. I don’t think that you realize the extent of the problem at hand, but we’re telling you.

      • Avatar

        Amel

        December 27, 2013 at 1:09 AM

        As-salamu Alaykum,
        There is also discrimination between Arabs themselves when it comes to marriage. In Jordan, for example, about half the population is Palestinian. Jordanians and Palestinians go to school together, work together, and live side-by-side. Palestinians are not exactly new in the country. When it comes to marriage, however, many families (on both sides) will not allow it. There are many exceptions, however, which is something positive, because I believe that marriage is the main way that such problems can be solved. When people allow their children to marry into different groups, they are doing something very good for society because the children of these marriages will understand that racism or tribalism is rooted in ignorance. I have pointed out many times that if these same Jordanians and Palestinians were in America, Americans would simply consider them “Arabs” (and Muslims) and not care about the finer nuances of which tribe or village they came from. They might be discriminated against in America even if they come from a very prestigious tribe or family. No one is going to care about that. I think when you get to such a point, where you yourself are discriminated against for some reason, it makes you start thinking about the issue more deeply.

        If you are a parent and want your children to be open-minded, you cannot just talk about the issue, although talking is important. You must take the initiative to have friends of your own who are from different cultures and races. You should visit them in their homes and have these friends visit you. You should have your children play together. As they get older, you should expose your children to different cultural experiences. They should read the literature of oppressed peoples and understand their own history (whatever it is). You should not tolerate racial slurs and obviously should not make any yourself. These are all things you can do on a practical level…because it is much easier to change the attitudes of the next generation than it is to reprogram an older one.

        Regarding the phenomenon of Arab-run liquor stores, this probably needs a post (or a book) of its own. Having known many people in this business, I would say that such people are generally very, very ignorant of Islam and its teachings. Many are very uneducated and are even illiterate. Many are greedy as well, so you are dealing with a very bad combination of characteristics to start with. I am mainly talking about the owners, especially the first-generation ones who immigrated from other countries. Their employees may be there for a variety of reasons. In many cases, they were raised into the business by their parents, or they have newly immigrated to America and have not found other work. Some masjids send dawah teams to these stores, which is good, but I think it needs to go a bit further than that. When these teams go to such stores, they should go with a list of other jobs they can do…a list of employers that will be willing to hire them. Maybe the masjid could pay for them to attend college as well. Otherwise, you may have appealed to a person’s sense of guilt and religious duty, but you have not offered them practical alternatives. If you go a bit deeply into why people work at such stores, you will find that many are trapped and controlled by the owners. In some cases, it is purely psychological, but in other cases it is more than that. The point is, though, that there are people working in such stores who do not want to be there. These people need to be shown a way out. Others have made their choices in life and will continue to destroy their lives and the lives of others (including their own families) by remaining in such a disgusting business. But maybe it would be a good idea for communities to start thinking about ways to get rid of such businesses…perhaps by buying them and having the former owners sign a contract promising not to start another store. These stores could then be transformed into regular grocery stores or something else that is halal, which would then provide more employment for Muslims as well.

  17. Avatar

    RCHOUDH

    December 27, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    Assalamu alaikum sister Dalia,

    Mash’Allah great article and I hope and pray that both you and Brother Youssef can work together to bring more insightful and necessary articles such as the ones you both have already written about re: racism in Muslim communities. I just wanted to say that I also agree with your assertion that racism is more than just people spewing racist slurs at each other. It’s also extremely institutionalized and I was disappointed to learn about how some Arab Muslims perpetuate such institutionalized racism through the opening of liquor stores in predominantly black neighborhoods (I’m from the East Coast and so I’m not that familiar with how Muslim communities are like in places like Chicago and Detroit). And I also liked how you mention the role American white supremacy places in maintaining a racist hierarchy of “acceptable/unacceptable” groups below the predominant white majority. Besides light-skinned Arabs being given white privilege status due to their skin color, you also have Asian Muslims (both South and Southeast) clamoring to live up to the “model minority myth” that is usually bestowed upon Asians in general. I believe that immigrants in general (especially those of the first-generation) are made to believe in the idea that the American Dream is achievable by anyone who’s “hard-working” and that also plays a factor in these Muslims discriminating against African-American/Latino Muslims. I have a question though about the distinction between racism and bigotry. I’ve been onto other social justice anti-racist sites and usually whenever such a distinction is made, people get very upset and start to derail the conversation by giving examples of how “privileged” people are discriminated against too. So is it still feasible to continue making this distinction, because the average person who may have never studied about Critical Race Theory might take offense at the notion that their experiences with discrimination are not examples of racism? Hope I’ve made myself clear, and if not, I apologize!

  18. Avatar

    Kobie

    December 28, 2013 at 8:53 AM

  19. Avatar

    Halima

    December 28, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    I think the first article posed a question and also challenged us to look for a solution. You did that here. Amazing article sis. Loved it.

  20. Avatar

    TimbuktuTexas

    December 29, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    AA – Thank you all so much for this discussion on a primal issue that affects us all (whether we understand it or not). In the above dialogue, I would fall on the side of an institutionalized racism underpinning and masking a lot of what we consider individual preferences…cultural gaps and failures in the society at large, drifting down to effect the personal response. (Btw, we should all know that dividing and devaluing a people is a necessary step of the oppressor, and there is overwhelming proof that African Americans have a **great** history.) This is a fight against ignorance, and we need to address these issues if we truly want a richer, stronger and happier present/future. There are efforts underway. In the quick, branded societies of today, we need a hard “re-brand” away from these temporal caricatures of convenience and towards fostering real connections that move us forward, together. We will all benefit for the good, as Muslims, as Americans, and as humanity. God is great(er) – we probably haven’t seen anything yet.

  21. Pingback: Talk Arabs How Not to Stop Racism in the Arab American Community – A Response » Talk Arabs

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#Current Affairs

Politics In Islam: Muslims Are Called To Pursue Justice

Imam Asad Zaman, Guest Contributor

Published

The pursuit of justice is a core Islamic value. One of the important roles Allah, the Exalted, assigned to His messengers is the task of establishing justice among the people. Allah, the Almighty, emphasized the importance of justice when He prohibited Himself from oppression and declared it forbidden among us humans. Allah is the Lord of all justice and fairness. In His fairness, He commands us to not allow our anger or hatred towards any group lead us to injustice against them. “Be just,” He commands, “it is closer to righteousness.”

Allah, the Most High, commands us to be witnesses for justice, even against ourselves. The concept of “even against ourselves,” is an open call to all people of faith to rise to the occasion, especially where we see systemic or structural oppression. In most such cases, the oppression is carried out in our name, usually by our elected government.

Allah’s emphasis on justice leads many Muslims to worry that if they vote for a president who transgresses against another country, the fault falls on everyone who voted for him. This fear paralyzes Muslim engagement in the American political system. Let us examine the circumstances of responsibility in such cases.

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To be clear, the present governments of almost all countries on Earth, including the so-called Muslim countries operate with corruption and oppression. Taking Egypt as an example, the government’s domestic policies have led to the unjust death and imprisonment of thousands of Egyptian citizens, and their foreign policy enables the perpetuation of Gaza’s destruction. This, however, does not require the average Egyptian Muslim citizen to reject all relationship to the nation of Egypt. The question then arises: how responsible is the Muslim for the actions of his government? Likewise, when the American government acts with injustice at home and abroad, how responsible is the American Muslim for the actions of his government? When the average citizen is not consulted before the execution of military operations, to what degree are we held responsible?

Allah’s Messenger provided for us a balanced approach to engaging with the injustice around us. Abu Saʿīd al-Khudri narrates that he heard the Prophet say,

“Whoever sees evil should change it with his hand; and if he is unable to do so, then he should change it with his tongue; and if he is unable to do so, then he should hate it with his heart—that is the least of faith.”

Let us take a practical example:

In 2001, President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. To justify his action, he invented a series of lies that Iraq possessed nuclear capabilities. It took him more than a year to align the power brokers in America and Europe to enable this evil action to occur. Neither the opinions nor the interests of the American population were taken into consideration.

Before the invasion, the public had two concerns: that the justification presented for the war was speculative and unfounded, and the war would result in countless unnecessary deaths. These worries quickly materialized into realities as time proved them to be true. However before the war, various politicians, pundits and opinion makers helped sell this unjust action to the people in order to gain their consent. They are undoubtedly guilty of murder and should be remembered as peddlers of death.

But what was the duty of an average American Muslim? The hadith mentioned above lists three levels of engagement:

Level One:

Someone who was part of the military or legislative authority had a duty in front of Allah to attempt to stop the invasion with action. If he was a congressman, he had a moral duty to vote against the war. If he was a member of the military, any intelligence agency, or government policy group, he had a moral duty to challenge the claims of the war’s proponent’s and provide information to the public so that they can know the truth. This duty applied to the person despite the likelihood that such a course of action would have probably jeopardized their career or their life.

Level Two:

Most Americans were not in the position described in level one. In their case, their duty was to speak out against this act of injustice. They could have written letters to their legislators, participated in protest rallies, held events in congress, and even spoken to their neighbors, classmates and colleagues about how wrong this action was. Any American Muslim who was not under threat of arrest for speaking out, but chose to remain silent still, failed to fulfill his duty to protest the evil.

Level Three:

There is little likelihood that the approach of silence would be justified for most American Muslims. There are countries (such as Saudi Arabia), where people can be arrested, tortured, even murdered if they speak out against the government. A Muslim living in one of these societies has a duty to at least engage with the injustices around them on an internal level, detesting the action from the core of their heart. As for the Muslim who does not detest that millions of innocent people are killed, they should check their heart; they would be missing what the Allah’s Messenger described as, “the least of faith.”

What faith is left in the heart of the Muslim who is not bothered by the death of more than a million Muslims?! Even if his mind is polluted with patriotism, tribalism, nationalism, or an inclination towards military culture, there is no excuse for the lack of humanity that is required for this level of apathy.

Considering the hadith above, our minimum duty is to stand and speak against the use of our tax dollars for such acts of injustice. There were indeed many Muslim and non-Muslim voices of dissent that protested the American invasion of Iraq. In addition to the spiritual duty of speaking out against injustice, it was clear to many what was later proven to be true: the invasion was not good for America. The financial and human loss incurred by this war has not made neither America, nor the world safer.

Many propose that Muslims should react to the injustices in their countries by leaving them. But this evasive approach fails to actually address the injustice. There is a greater, though more challenging, expectation of addressing the injustices from within, especially in a country like America where criticisms are tolerated and protest can lead to policy that is felt around the world. A large amount of the pain, and suffering that is happening to the Muslims today can be stopped from inside America. Our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Jordan, Somalia, Kenya, Yemen, Iraq, and Sudan are hoping that we will do something from our positions that will alleviate their suffering. They need our help.

Exonerating ourselves because our government acts without our consent may appease our consciences, but is of no benefit to our global Muslim community.

Such an approach is contradictory to the teaching of the Prophet as made clear by the hadith above. We have the opportunity and ability to speak out against evil, so passive dissent is not an option.

Allah tells us the story of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and al-Khadir 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)  in Surah al-Kahf (peace be upon them both). When they boarded a ship of some men who agreed to give them a ride to their destination, Khadir pierced the boat’s basin, damaging their source of livelihood. Confused, Musa criticized this action, as it seemed like an injustice towards people who readily did a favor for them. What Musa didn’t know was that the men would encounter a tyrant king who had sent his men to seize all boats that were sound and intact. And as these men had helped Musa and al-Khadir, he wished to help them evade this king’s oppressive policy; the minor damage saved them from losing their boat!

The king was an oppressive tyrant. Musa and al-Khadir (peace be upon both of them) did not possess the power to remove the king or prevent the king from his evil action, and so they took action according to their ability. They knew that though they could not save everyone from the injustice, it was still their duty to act within their capacity to reduce the king’s injustice.

The Story of The Secret Believer

Allah also tells us the beautiful story of the secret believer in the Quran, who worked in the unjust government of the Pharaoh at the time of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). We know he had a fairly high status in the government because he was part of their most confidential meetings. This secret believer did not exit the government after he saw the many evil deeds of the Pharaoh’s government. During the discussion in the Pharaoh’s cabinet where they decided that Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was to be killed, this believer rose up and voiced his objections to the injustice, citing historical, logical, and emotional appeals. The meeting, however, concluded with the decision to execute Musa. Having been unable to stop this royal decree, he still made the effort to warn Musa so as to give him the chance to flee.

Allah tells us the beautiful story of the secret believer in the Quran, who worked in the unjust government of the Pharaoh at the time of Musa Click To Tweet

Instead of condemning him for participating in a government founded upon unbelief, Allah exalts his mention in His glorious book. He is our example of speaking truth to power, and the reason for Musa’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)safety from Pharaoh’s plot. This man used his position to obstruct oppression, not perpetuate it.

As Muslim Americans, we live in a non-Muslim country. The decisions and actions of our government impacts all of us living in this country. Disengagement will allow selfish people to make decisions that will result in harm to our communities.

Participation will allow us to follow the examples of proactive engagement so as to prevent harm and ultimately change corrupt systems from within. An all-or-nothing approach will almost always lead to nothing.

Allah, the Exalted, provides these examples so that we can understand the practical role of Muslim in an overwhelmingly hostile society. Even though our environments have not reached that degree, we can still relate to the feelings of being oppressed and ostracized for our faith. Allah’s lesson to us in these stories is that our faith shouldn’t prevent us from trying to change these circumstances.

And to Allah is the end of all matters.

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#Current Affairs

Oped: The Treachery Of Spreading Bosnia Genocide Denial In The Muslim Community

Ermin Sinanovic, Guest Contributor

Published

The expanding train of the Srebrenica genocide deniers includes the Nobel laureate Peter Handke, an academic Noam Chomsky, the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, as well as almost all Serbian politicians in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. One name in this group weirdly stands out: “Sheikh” Imran Hosein. A traditionally trained Muslim cleric from Trinidad and Tobago, Hosein has carved his niche mostly with highly speculative interpretations of Islamic apocalyptic texts. He has a global following with more than 200 hundred thousand subscribers to his YouTube channel, and his videos are viewed by hundreds of thousands. He has written tens of books in English, some of which had been translated into major world languages. His denial of the Srebrenica genocide may seem outlandish, coming from a Muslim scholar, but a close inspection of his works reveals ideas that are as disturbing as they are misleading.

Much of Hosain’s output centers around interpreting the apocalyptic texts from the Qur’an and Sunnah on the “end of times” (akhir al-zaman). As in other major religious traditions, these texts are highly allegorical in nature and nobody can claim with certainty their true meaning – nobody, except Imran Hosein. He habitually dismisses those who disagree with his unwarranted conclusions by accusing them of not thinking properly. A Scottish Muslim scholar, Dr. Sohaib Saeed, also wrote about this tendency.

In his interpretations, the Dajjal (“anti-Christ”) is American-Zionist alliance (the West or the NATO), the Ottomans were oppressors of the Orthodox Christians who are, in turn, rightfully hating Islam and Muslims, Sultan Mehmed Fatih was acting on “satanic design” when he conquered Constantinople, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a false flag operation carried out by the Mossad and its allies, and – yes! – the genocide did not take place in Srebrenica. Such conspiratorial thinking is clearly wrong but is particularly dangerous when dressed in the garb of religious certainty. 

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Hosain frequently presents his opinions as the “Islamic” view of things. His methodology consists of mixing widely accepted Muslim beliefs with his own stretched interpretations. The wider audience may not be as well versed in Islamic logic of interpretation so they may not be able to distinguish between legitimate Muslim beliefs and Hosain’s own warped imagination. In one of his fantastic interpretations, which has much in common with the Christian apocalypticism, the Great War that is nuclear in nature is coming and the Muslims need to align with Russia against the American-Zionist alliance. He sees the struggle in Syria as part of a wider apocalyptic unfolding in which Assad and Putin are playing a positive role. He stretches the Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings to read into them fanciful and extravagant interpretations that are not supported by any established Islamic authority.

Hosain does not deny that a terrible massacre happened in Srebrenica. He, however, denies it was a genocide, contradicting thus numerous legal verdicts by international courts and tribunals. Established by the United Nations’ Security Council, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) delivered a verdict of genocide in 2001 in the case of the Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstić. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague confirmed, in 2007, that genocide took place in Srebrenica. In 2010, two more Bosnian Serb officers were found guilty of committing genocide in Bosnia. The butcher of Srebrenica, Ratko Mladić, was found guilty of genocide in 2017.

In spite of this, and displaying his ignorance on nature and definition of genocide, Hosain stated in an interview with the Serbian media, “Srebrenica was not a genocide. That would mean the whole Serbian people wanted to destroy the whole Muslim people. That never happened.” In a meandering and offensive video “message to Bosnian Muslims” in which he frequently digressed to talking about the end of times, Hosain explained that Srebrenica was not a genocide and that Muslims of Bosnia needed to form an alliance with the Orthodox Serbs. He is oblivious to the fact that the problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the former Yugoslavia stem not from the Bosniaks’ purported unwillingness to form an alliance with the Serbs, but from the aggressive Greater Serbia ideology which had caused misery and destruction in Bosnia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Kosovo. 

Hosein’s views are, of course, welcome in Serbia and in Republika Srpska (Serb-dominated entity within Bosnia), where almost all politicians habitually deny that genocide took place in Srebrenica. He had been interviewed multiple times on Serbian television, where he spewed his views of the Ottoman occupation and crimes against the Serbs, the need to form an alliance between Muslims and Russia, and that Srebrenica was not a genocide. His website contains only one entry on Srebrenica: a long “exposé” that claims no genocide took place in Srebrenica. Authored by two Serbs, Stefan Karganović and Aleksandar Pavić, the special report is a hodge-podge of conspiracy theories, anti-globalization and anti-West views. Karganović, who received more than a million dollars over a six year period from the government of the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska for lobbying efforts in Washington, was recently convicted by the Basic Court in Banja Luka on tax evasion and defamation. The Court issued a warrant for Karganović’s arrest but he is still on the loose. 

True conspirators of the Srebrenica killings, according to Hosain, are not the Serbian political and military leaders, and soldiers who executed Srebrenica’s Muslims. The conspirators are unnamed but it does not take much to understand that he believes that the massacres were ultimately orchestrated by the West, CIA, and NATO. Hosain even stated on the Serbian TV that if people who knew the truth were to come forward they would be executed to hide what really happened. Such opinions are bound to add to an already unbearable pain that many survivors of the Srebrenica genocide are experiencing. It is even more painful when Bosniak victims – who were killed because they were Muslims – are being belittled by an “Islamic” scholar who seems to be more interested in giving comfort to those who actually perpetrated the heinous crime of genocide than in recognizing the victims’ pain. These views are, of course, welcome in Serbia, Russia, and Greece.

It is not difficult to see why Hosain’s views would be popular in today’s day and age where misinformation and fake news are propagated even by the world leaders who should know better. A conspiratorial mindset, mistrust of established facts, undermining of international institutions – these are all hallmarks of the post-truth age. In another time, Imran Hosain would be easily exposed for what he truly is: a charlatan who claims religious expertise. Today, however, his opinions are amplified by social media and by the people who already question science and established facts. For these reasons, he needs to be unmasked to safeguard the very religious foundations which he claims to uphold but ultimately undermines. 

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#Society

On British Muslims & Racism: Do Black Lives Matter?

Shaykh Abu Aaliyah Surkheel

Published

Q. As Muslims, what should our stance be on racism or racial discrimination, and should we be supporting social justice movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM)? And isn’t all of this support for BLM privileging justice for black people over others, especially when we Muslims realise the increasing Islamophobia and injustices being perpetrated against our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters around the globe?

A. At the outset, let me be clear about how I intend to engage these concerns. And that is by rooting them in mainstream teachings of Islam so as to address the issue of racism in a manner that might be meaningful in a British context, and recognised as being Islamic in a Muslim one. I have divided the response into five parts: [i] Islam & racism; [ii] modernity & racism; [iii] Britain & racism; [iv] Muslims & racism; and [v] BLM & racism.

I. Islam & Racism

Although the following verse is not speaking of the modern social construct of racism per se, it is speaking to the pre-modern concept of groupings of people related by significant comment descent; in terms of location, language, history and culture. Thus we read in the Holy Qur’an: O mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and then made you nations and tribes that you might know one another. Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is he who is the most pious. God is indeed Knowing, Aware. [Q.49:13]

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The Prophet ﷺ brought skin colour into the mix in these words: ‘O mankind! Indeed your Lord is one, and indeed your father is one. Truly, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor white (ahmar, lit. ‘red’ or ‘reddish’) over black, nor black over white – except by piety. Have I not conveyed [the message]?’1

In fact, the Qur’an doesn’t only negatively condemn such discrimination, but it positively and actively celebrates diversity too: And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the differences of your languages and your colours. In this are signs for people of knowledge. [Q.30:22]

The above verses and prophetic statement, then, were a total restructuring of the moral or ethical landscape prevalent throughout Arabia at the time. True worth would no longer be determined by skin colour, lineage, or even by grandiose shows of courage or generosity. Rather, true worth would be measured by taqwa – ‘piety,’ ‘godliness’ and ‘mindfulness’ of God’s commands and prohibitions.

Once, when one of the Prophet’s wives hurled a racial slur (or ethnoreligious insult, as we might say today) at another co-wife in a state of annoyance, disparagingly called her ‘the daughter of a Jew’, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Indeed, your [fore]father [Moses] was a Prophet; your [great] uncle [Aaron] was a Prophet; and you are married to a Prophet. What can she boast to you about?’2 Again, when one companion insulted another person, by insulting his mother because she was a non-Arab, the Prophet ﷺ said to him: ‘You still have some pre-Islamic ignorance (jahiliyyah) in you.’3 Thus no Muslim has even the slightest right to resurrect the vile attitude of racism; xenophobia; tribal bigotry; or insulting people due to them being seen as the ‘Other’, when the Prophet ﷺ radically eliminated such attitudes from the believer’s worldview and relationships. Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘There isn’t a single verse in God’s Book that praises someone or censures someone due to just their lineage. Instead, praise is due to faith and piety, while blame is because of disbelief, immorality or disobedience.’4

II. Modernity & Racism

In the 1830s, Samuel Morton, an American craniologist, amassed and studied hundreds of human skulls so as to measure differences in brain size between people from various ethnic backgrounds. Morton believed he had used science to prove that white people were intellectually superior to other ‘races’. In his Crania Americana, Morton declared that not only did white people have larger brains and thus were intellectually superior to all other races, but also that black people had the smallest brains sizes and were hence inferior to all others. Morton and others used this conclusion as a ‘scientific’ justification to continue slavery in the United States and negatively stereotype black people. Many hold Morton to be the founding father of scientific racism. It’s here that, based upon this pseudo-science and on certain superficial differences in physiological traits, the categorisation of people into distinct ‘races’ begins in earnest. And while the institutional racism, racial prejudice, and white supremacy that was to follow were directed at all races in Morton’s descending hierarchy, providing adequate grounds to treat other races differently, in terms of rights and privileges, it would be black people (at the supposed bottom of the heap) that would bear the greatest and most sustained brunt of it.

Of course, modern science has long since shown that brain size isn’t necessarily related to intelligence. Instead, brain size is tied to things like environment, climate and body size, while intelligence is more related to how many neurons, or how efficient the connections between neurons, are in the brain. Indeed, modern science has also largely debunked the biological basis of race, showing that there is as much genetic diversity within such racial groups as there is between them. Science now regards race as a conventional attribution; a social construct, but not a scientifically rooted or valid classification. And while today we tend to favour the term ethnicity over the arbitrary construct of ‘race’ based upon skin colour and physiognomy, race remains, for some, a focus of individual and group identity, particularly members of socially disadvantaged groups, like blacks, where it oftentimes is a source of pride and joy. All this has led many anthropologists to argue that since there is no scientific basis for race, we should just chuck the whole idea in the bin. Others say that if we’re going to continue to insist on the social fiction of racial differences, let it be based on ethical considerations that enhance justice, fairness and familiarity between peoples, not hatred, discrimination and xenophobia. In fact, this latter way of looking at ethnic or racial divides is probably more in keeping with what Islam wants for humanity. After all, God made of us nations and tribes lita‘arafu – ‘that you might know one another.’

The above, then, amidst the activities of European empires and colonialism is where such modern ideas of racial discrimination and racism were birthed; ideas and realities which still reverberate frustratingly down to these present times. Just how many ordinary white Britons internalised the racist pseudo-science over the past one hundred and fifty years or so, not because they were particularly bad or evil people, but because they believed the ‘science’, is anyone’s guess. Add to that the usual xenophobia that often exists against the outsider, the modern feats and achievements of white Western Europe which feed into the idea of white exceptionalism or supremacy, and the political utility of whipping up blame against immigrants in times of national difficulty and economic downturn, make for well-entrenched myths and discrimination against people of colour.

III. Britain &Racism

Although the history of the United States is drenched in racism; with the issue of race still being the most painful, divisive one for its citizens, it is racism in Britain – my home, and where I was born and raised – that I’d like to confine my remarks and anecdotes to. And in Britain, just as in America, while peoples of diverse ethnic minorities have undeniably been, and continue to be, victims of racism, it is discrimination against black people that is by far the more endemic and systemic.

The recent anti-racist protests that are taking place across the country aren’t just to show anger about the death of yet another black man, George Floyd, at the hands of yet another American police officer. They are also protests against the systemic racism here in Britain too. Long before racism against blacks, Asians, and Eastern Europeans, Jews as a people, and also the Irish, suffered racism in Britain. Jewish people still do.

Whilst structural or institutional racism is difficult to conclusively prove, the lived reality of people of colour, as well as statistics after statistics, or report after report, all point to similar conclusions: Britain has a race problem. It doesn’t just have a problem with casual racism (now called micro aggression; as experienced in schools, jobs or everyday life), or racism born from unconscious bias (snap decisions conditioned by cultural upbringing or personal experience); it has a problem of systemic racism too – racial discrimination and negative stereotyping within many of its key institutions: the police force and the criminal justice system deemed to be among the main culprits.

It is, of course, argued that although Britain does indeed have individual racists, and that acts of racism do tragically still occur here, but Britain itself; even if it may have been in the recent past, isn’t institutionally racist anymore. We have the Equalities Act of 2010, as one of the clearest proofs against any institutional racism.

Or the case has been put that, ever since the Macpherson Report of 1999, which came as a result of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, in 1993 – and the two words in it that stood out from the rest of the 350 page report, that London’s Metropolitan Police was ‘institutionally racist’ – Britain’s police forces have internalised the criticism and have come on leaps and bounds since then: individually and institutionally. So to describe Britain’s police forces as still being systemically racist is unjust and unfair; or so the argument goes.

Be that as it may; and while many positive changes of both mind and structure have been sincerely made, the stark, present-day statistics tell us another story. Modern Britain is a place where black people, in contrast to white ones are: 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched; 4 time more likely to be arrested; twice as likely to be temporarily excluded from school; and 3 times as likely to be permanently excluded from school; and twice as likely to die in police custody. From any unbiased standard, does this look anywhere like equality? And just as importantly, are we saying that institutional racism is totally absent from these numbers?5

For most of my life, I’ve lived on one council estate or another in East London. In my pre-teen years, I grew up on an estate in Chingford, where most of the people were white, with a few Afro-Caribbean families and a couple of Asian ones: my family being one of them. I, like many other non-whites of my generation, encountered my share of racist abuse; and for a short time, a little racist bullying too. On the whole, I got along with most kids on the estate and at its primary school, regardless of colour; and they got along with me.

For my entire teen years, I lived on another estate in Leytonstone, where this time most of the residents were black. It was the mid 1970s, and it was a time when many young black people were, I wouldn’t say suffering an identity crisis, but more that they were searching for an identity. For unlike their parents, they were neither Jamaican, Bajan [Barbadian], or Trinidadian, nor did they feel (or were made to feel) totally British. Instead, young black Britons were turning to their Blackness to make sense of their place in Britain, developing a sense of collective cultural identity in the process. I felt a greater affinity to that culture, than I did any other. Voices like Bob Marley, Burning Spear, the Wailing Souls and Black Uhuru spoke to our plight and our aspirations. But whilst their conscious lyrics of roots reggae was coming out of Jamaica, it was home-grown, British reggae artists that would tell our own specifically British story: artists like Steel Pulse, Black Roots, Mikey Dread or, particularly for me, Aswad (or early Aswad, from ’76-’82). Aswad sang of African Children (which I’d swap in my mind for ‘immigrant’ children) ‘living in a concrete situation;’ in ‘precast stone walls, concrete cubicles. Their rent increasing each and every other day; Structural repairs are assessed and yet not done; Lift out of action on the twenty-seventh floor; And when they work, they smell.’ All of us youths crammed into the estate’s small youth centre, smiled, nodded away approvingly, and perfectly identified with the message when we first heard such conscious lyrics booming out at us. Whilst Marley spoke of the daily ghetto struggles of growing up in the concrete jungle of Kingston 12; Trenchtown, for me, Aswad spoke of parallel struggles growing up in the concrete situation of Leytonstone E11. We all a feel it, yes we a feel it!

Back to racism. My one little anecdotal proof of black victimisation from the police comes from the time when I was living on Leytonstone’s Cathall Road Estate. Police raids were a fairly usual occurrence on our estate as well as in the youth centre; sometimes with actual justification. In the youth centre, the police (usually with their police dogs), would stomp in; turn off the music; stamp out any spliff that was lit up; and then we’d all be told to line up against the wall with our hands behind our heads. Every time this happened, without exception, when it came to searching me, they never did. They’d simply insist that I leave the centre, or go home, which I would. I’d then usually come back half an hour or an hour later, and resume playing pool, table-tennis or bar football; or just soak up the vibes (not the spliff). Once, after a raid had happened, I came back to the centre, only for one of my close Rasta friends to advise me that it would be best if I stay home for a few days. I asked why? He told me that some people who hang out at the centre, but who don’t really know me, nor live on the actual estate, are saying that it’s odd that I never get searched and that maybe I was a grass. It would be an understatement if I said that I was scared stiff. I took the advice, and stayed away from the centre for a week, till I got the nod that things were all okay. A month or so later, and yet another raid. But this time, for me it was a Godsend: they actually searched me! I felt relieved, vindicated, and took it as a badge of honour. My point being is that throughout the ’70s and ’80s, there were countless times when I saw specifically black people stigmatised and victimised by the police.

To be honest, by the mid 1980s, with the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism doing their thing against the far-right National Front; with Reggae and Two-Tone Ska bands and gigs more and more mixing blacks and whites; and with attitudes of the young positively changing, I thought (perhaps naively) that racism in Britain would liklely be a thing of the past by the mid ’90s. Optimism, of course, is entirely healthy, as long as it doesn’t become blind to realism.

IV. Muslims & Racism

Here I’d like to speak about something that some Muslims will find uncomfortable: which is that we [non-black]Muslims need to admit the anti-black racism that infects our own communities. Sadly, racism against black people – including fellow black Muslims – is all too common among British Asian Muslims of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent. Whether it is being stared at by elderly Asians in the mosque and so made to feel self-conscious, to the way we of South Asian descent use the word kala, ‘black’, in a derogatory way; or whether it’s about marriage, or thinking all black Muslims must be converts and then dishing out patronising praise to them over basic acts like making wudhu – this un-Islamic nonsense; this jahiliyyah, simply has to stop.

We must speak to our elders about their anti-black racism. We need to respectfully discuss why so many of our mosques continue to make black Muslims feel unwelcome, or drive them away, and what can be done about it? Yet while our masjids are undeniably masjids; ‘Most mosques function as “race temples” created as enclosures for single ethnicities, and their mono-ethnic and introspective leadership are generally unfamiliar with any novelty occurring outside their silos.’6 Such ‘race temples’ are where Ethnic Islam rules the roost, even at the cost of shari‘ah race equality, sirah hospitality, or sunnah unity.

But racism isn’t just an issue with South Asian elders? It lurks in the hearts and minds of my generation too; and maybe that of my children’s? It’s less the stares or the ignorance about Black achievements, and more the negative stereotyping; post-colonial complexes; desperation to whiten-up; or outright racism when it comes to marriage. Here as an Asian Muslim parent, I’m happy for my daughter or son to marry – religiously speaking – some adamant fasiq or fasiqah – especially if they are of a lighter complexion: but I could never accept them marring a godly, well-mannered, responsible Black person! But we convince ourselves we are not racist: after all, I love the sahabi, Bilal. I weep when I read Bilal’s life story. My good friend, Bilal, is black. But the proof is in the pudding, and the truth is that we need to move beyond tokenism; beyond Bilal.

Those Muslims who make an issue of colour; whose racist or tribal mindsets lead them to look down upon a person of darker colour or treat them unequally, let them consider the son-in-law of the Prophet ﷺ, and fourth Caliph, sayyiduna ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. The classical biographers all state: kana ‘ali adam, shadid al-udmah – ‘Ali was black, jet black.7 Or take our master ‘Umar who is also described in the same terms.8 The colour, adam may refer to skin complexion which is dark brown, like a native American; or darker still, like in native Australian aborigines; or jet black, like many Africans. When the phrase, shadid al-udmah is added, ‘extremely dark’, then there’s no mistaking what is meant: a person who, for all intents and purposes, is black. Such a description seems quite usual for the Arabs among the sahabah. Black skin is also the colour of the lady with whom the whole Muhammadan saga begins: our lady Hagar (Hajarah); she was a black Egyptian. Or consider the Prophet Moses, peace be upon him. Our Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘As for Moses, he was tall and dark brown, as like the men of al-Zutt.’9 The Zutt were a well-known tribe of tall dark men from the Sudan.10 After knowing the above, if we are still going to look down at people merely due to their darker complexion, then what ghustakhi; what mockery and disrespect will we be possibly drowning in?

Islam is neither racist nor colour blind. It wants us to understand that skin colour has no intrinsic worth, only piety does. Yet at the same time, it allows us to celebrate differences in a way that does not offend Heaven, and in a way that causes us to offer joyful thanks to the One Who is the Maker of all Colours.

Islam is neither racist nor colour blind. It wants us to understand that skin colour has no intrinsic worth, only piety does. Yet at the same time, it allows us to celebrate differences in a way that does not offend Heaven, and in a way that causes us to offer joyful thanks to the One Who is the Maker of all Colours.Click To Tweet

So let’s have the conversations. Let’s have some serious introspection. Let’s listen to what Black Muslims have to say. Let’s desire to be healers, not dividers. Let’s educate ourselves about the reality of Black lives in general, and Black Muslim lives in particular. Olusoga’s Black & British and Akala’s Natives are good places to start. Sherman Jackson’s Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering is, with its theological insights, a must read. Above all, let’s work towards not just being non-racist, but anti-racist.

Change, thankfully, is in the air. For urban, millennial Muslims, and those of a generation younger still, these older ethnic divides are more and more of an irrelevance in their lives (though I’m not sure how much this applies to those raised in ethnic silos in Britain’s less urbanised cities). Such millennials have heard the stories of the intra-ethnic fighting; the anti-black racism; the token hospitality to black Muslims, but without ever giving them a voice; and the fruitless attempts to make the ‘race temples’ more inclusive, and how after decades, it’s a case of banging heads and brick walls. So owing to this, they are seeking to create more inclusive, culturally more meaningful spaces; away from all this toxic, ethnic Islam. Surely that’s where the rest of us should be heading too?

V. BLM & Racism

The Qur’an says: Help one another in righteousness and piety, help not one another in sin or transgression. [Q.5:2] Between this verse and the hilf al-fudul pact the Prophet ﷺ upheld and endorsed even after prophethood, we have a solid religious basis for supporting any individual or group working for issues of social justice: be it for Muslims or non-Muslims; be it led by Muslims or non-Muslims.

The Black Lives Matter movement has proven itself to be a powerful and effective vehicle over the past five years to demand reform in terms of anti-Black racism; with their current focus on justice for George Floyd and his family. Thus, how can Muslims not support it? Of course, we cannot give any organisation carte blanche support. Religiously, we Muslims cannot give unconditional support to anybody save to God and His Prophet ﷺ. Given that BLM has a few stated aims that are inconsistent with Islam’s theology (‘freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking’ is one of them, for instance), our activism must be guided by sacred knowledge and illumined by revealed guidance. Our intention is not supporting BLM, as such. Instead, it’s a case of making a stand against injustice, in this case anti-Black racism: supporting those individuals or organisations that are likely to be the most effective in achieving this goal. (It should go without saying, that we can work for justice for more than one cause or more than one set of people at the same time). And this is what the above verse and the hilf al-fudul pact have in mind. And just like the BLM describes itself as ‘unapologetically Black’, perhaps some of us need to be a tad more unapologetically Muslim?

But let’s take our focus off such theological nuances for now, and tie a ribbon around the whole thing and say: Let us, at least in spirit and in principle, if not in body, fully support Black Lives Matter as a cause, more than as a movement, in seeking to resolve structural racism; get justice done for all the George Floyds and all the Stephen Lawrences; and to get people to reflect on their own attitudes to racism and the racial ‘Other’ – ensuring our knee isn’t on the necks of others. We should support the overall goals of any grassroots movement that is working for a fairer, more just and tolerant Britain for everyone: black or white. Of course, for that to happen, from a Black Muslim perspective, anti-Black racism as well as an ever-growing Islamophobia must be tackled. Currently in Britain, God forbid that you are ostensibly a Muslim and Black!

Racism affects all people of colour. But when it comes to Black people, they face a unique anti-black prejudice as the ultimate Other, propagated both by white majorities and even other ethnic minorities. As a marginalised community South Asians, no doubt, have their own prejudices thrown their way. But they are not the same lived experiences as that of Black people. And while it can be easy to lump everyone together and perceive ourselves as having a shared trauma, statistics show that this equivalence is not really true.

In closing, I’d like to thank my youngest daughter, Atiyyah, for inspiring me to revisit and renew my ideas on anti-black racism; and my friend, Dr Abdul Haqq Baker for prompting me to write this piece, offering invaluable suggestions, and then reviewing it for me.

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Ahmad, Musnad, no.22978. Ibn Taymiyyah declared its chain to be sahih in Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim (Riyadh: Dar Ishbiliyah, 1998), 1:412.

2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3894, where he declared the hadith to be hasan sahih.

3. Al-Bukhari, nos.2545; 6050.

4. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:230.

5. GOV.UK: Black Caribbean Ethnicity Facts and Figures.

6. Abdal Hakim Murad, Travelling Home (Cambridge: The Quilliam Press, 2020), 49-50.

7. See: Ibn ‘Asakir, Tarikh Madinat al-Dimashq (Dar al-Fikr, 1996), 42:24.

8. As per Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, al-Isti‘ab fi Ma‘rifat al-Ashab (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1971), 3:236

9. Al-Bukhari, no.3438.

10. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 8:61.

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