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Can Americans Be “Real” Muslims?

When I wrote the blog Beyond Black Victim Status: Slaves Are Superior, I shared the story of an Arab Muslim high school teacher who told me that Black Americans could never really be Muslim. I wish I could say experiences like this are anomalies to Muslims indigenous to the West. Unfortunately, American Muslims not only have the difficult task of navigating racism and colorism whenever they attend masajid and events populated mostly by immigrant populations, they also have the weightier task of filtering these ‘isms’ from the teachings of Islam itself.

Stop Imitating the Kuffaar

It was while living in Saudi Arabia I realized that, to many Muslims from predominately Muslim countries, the term kuffaar (an Arabic term denoting those who disbelieve in Islam) is synonymous with “American” or “Western.” Thus, in the minds of non-Western Muslims, anything that is believed to have originated from American culture or “the West” immediately falls under the Islamic prohibition of “imitating the disbelievers.”

The idea that American=disbeliever is so widespread that in many schools in Saudi Arabia, students are forbidden to style their hair in any manner perceived as “American.” Several of my friends’ daughters were admonished for coming to school wearing braids or “corn rows” (rows of thin braids plaited to the scalp), and their sons were similarly admonished for coming to school with afros (puffy curly or kinky hair that stands up on the head rather than falls down toward the shoulders). However, Arab female students were allowed to wear thick braids and ponytails, and Arab male students were permitted to have long, straight hair.

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Also, many scholars and students of knowledge taught that jeans and “Western” pants are forbidden for Muslims to wear, while Arab thobes and Pakistani shalwaar kameez are allowed—despite the fact that none of these items of clothing were worn by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) or his Companions raḍyAllāhu 'anhum (may Allāh be pleased with them).

The Myth of “Islamic Culture”

I don’t believe in the concept of making an effort to develop or define ‘Islamic culture’ or ‘Muslim culture.’ I see living Islam as essentially prioritizing its goals and limits over our own goals and limits, where our own goals and limits may be set by our own cultural choosing. Basically, be ok with and enjoy your culture whoever you are where ever you are but keep Allah first and strive to not transgress His boundaries. When culture transgresses the limits, prefer the limits over transgressing. When man defines what of world culture can be framed as Islamic and what can’t, it is ALWAYS a subjective activity and the repercussions will result in human beings making holy, the unholy and unholy, the holy.”

—Khalil Ismail, “Islamic Culture?”

Islam is a way of life more than it is a religion, Muslims often say. And depending on how we define “way of life” and “religion,” this is true. But how do we define these terms?

Ironically, most of the time, we don’t.

Yet nearly every Muslim (including myself) has repeated this mantra over and over again—with pride and wholehearted belief. And herein lies the problem. Without clearly defining these terms, the mantra takes on a life of its own in the minds and lives of the Muslims repeating it, and the result can be disastrous if we define a people’s culture as a “way of life” and thereby imply that it is competing with Islam itself.

And nowhere have I seen the negative effect of this thinking more than on American converts to Islam.

America Is Inherently Evil?

“It was only recently that I began to realize that I’m not inherently evil because I’m American,” my friend told me as she reflected on her experience as a Black American in a predominately immigrant Muslim community—and she accepted Islam more than ten years ago.

Like my friend’s experience, often when American converts to Islam attend masajid populated mostly by immigrants from predominately Muslim countries, it is quite the norm to hear lectures and Friday khutbahs imploring the congregation to avoid the “un-Islamic” influence of the West. And like my experience in Saudi Arabia, in these masajid, the concept of “imitation of the disbelievers” means merely appearing or behaving “American”—as judged primarily by the observations and opinions of Muslims who are not indigenous Americans. This belief is so widespread that converts are regularly told to change their American names to “Muslim” ones, and apparently this “rule” extends beyond real life, “When is Tamika going to get a Muslim name?” someone asked me about the fictional character who accepts Islam in the If I Should Speak trilogy that I authored.

Though the actual Islamic caution against “imitating the disbelievers” concerns only matters that are specific to systems of disbelief as opposed to general cultural patterns, it is rare that this distinction is actually made in Islamic classes and lectures on the subject, especially when America or “the West” is discussed. Islamic scholars themselves acknowledge that this issue is subjective; thus, any apparent “imitation” must be weighed against a person’s circumstance and culture, and ultimately, any real transgression stems primarily from a person’s intentions.

In Islam, as a general rule, worldly matters such as hairstyles, clothing, food, recreation, and any culture-specific speech or behavior do not fall under the “imitation” category. Allah has made humans different nations and tribes, and naturally, these differences will manifest themselves in how people dress, speak, and interact.

The Truth Behind Anti-American “Islamic” Views

In my experience, the constant vocalized need for Muslims to differentiate themselves from the “evils” of the West and the subsequent labeling of anything “American” as prohibited stem more from personal issues affecting immigrant Muslims to the West than from religious issues affecting all Muslims. Immigrant Muslims left their homelands to settle in the United States despite the fact that many Islamic scholars teach that it is forbidden to leave a Muslim land and settle amongst non-Muslims, except in cases of necessity or for da’wah (calling others to Islam). Thus, in an effort to justify their presence in an apparently “non-Muslim land,” some of them become obsessed with avoiding any form of assimilation, as this is viewed as blameworthy and sinful. Unfortunately, this obsession influences the way Islam is taught in these masajid, which are often attended by indigenous Americans learning about Islam for the first time.

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Daughter of American converts to Islam, Umm Zakiyyah writes about the interfaith struggles of Muslims and Christians, and the intercultural, spiritual, and moral struggles of Muslims in America. She is the internationally acclaimed author of more than fifteen books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the newly released self-help book for Muslim survivors of parental and family abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You, with contributions by Haleh Banani, behavioral therapist.Her books have been used in universities in America and abroad including Indiana University-Bloomington, Howard University, University of D.C. and Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.To learn more about the author, visit uzauthor.com.

40 Comments

40 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Juma Mohamed Mtema

    March 17, 2014 at 2:41 AM

    Muslim American face a lot of Fitnas because of American Culture but that should not be discouraged from following Allah we as human beings we were created in different cultures that is the wish of ALLAH and being human specifically Muslims we should continue to lean more Muslim teachings and strive to pursue Islamic teachings as much as possible as no body is perfect. Subuhanah Allah! Allahu Akbar

  2. Avatar

    Fatma kalkan

    March 17, 2014 at 2:52 AM

    Muslim world is not consist of Saudi Arabia infect their wiews are not wide spread. I am from Turkey and in Turkey no one thinks that all Americans are disbelievers and I have many friends from different Muslim countries that they believe just like Turks. Please don’t be discourage by Wahabis they do not represent all Muslims in fact they are small group among more than 1,3 B Muslims. Surely American culture has good sides and millions of Americans are good people and they practice their own religion. Islam respects religious freedom. And discrimination is forbidden. I recommend you to visit Turkey you will be treated very nicely Muslim American or any other American. Saiudies does not represent all Muslim nations or Sunni Islam .

    • Avatar

      Desert Rose

      March 17, 2014 at 10:28 AM

      Let’s not kid ourselves here!! Turkey is not exactly the model for an ideal Islamic culture. On the contrary, I think Turkey has done more to distort the image of Islam by showing what a secularised Islam ought to be. A quick browse of Turkish TV channels goes to show just much Turkey doesn’t want to be associated with Islam. What’s more, Turkish TV dramas have infected most of the Islamic worlds by normalising “making out” sessions and sex scenes. Other non-Islamic practices are more rampant in Turkey than most other Islamic countries. Now, I’m not naive enough to paint all Turkey with the same brush, as I am sure the majority of Turkish people are Allah fearing, but I refuse to accept the notion that Turkey is superior to Saudi Arabia or other more conservative Islamic nations. Instead, the focus shouldn’t be on governments, but rather on communities. As there are many Islamic communities in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, USA and other parts of the world who project the best face of Islam by caring for one another, being productive members of their communities and living in peace and harmony.

      • Avatar

        Ann Schauen (@annschauen)

        March 18, 2014 at 2:48 PM

        as a turk myself, I have to admit that I agree with you. the focus should never be on governments which are but a natural extension of the current secular world system; we should rather emphasize on the efforts and the goodwill of the muslim communities living in these countries.unfortunately most of the time we have the penchant to confuse the local/historical culture with what is Islamic or not, so I find Umm Zakiyyah’s distinction to be fair and needed..

        • Avatar

          Hisham

          March 19, 2014 at 9:33 AM

          The biggest boost to spreading indecent stuff on tvs in the Arabs world and the Gulf in particular has not been Turkish stuff, rather the media outlets owned by the Saudi Prince Waleed, But of course it is easier to blame Turkey/the West

      • Avatar

        Isma'il Abu Yaseen

        July 4, 2019 at 11:32 AM

        Masha’allaah,well said!

    • Avatar

      Mahmud B.

      March 17, 2014 at 11:20 PM

      There is no one out there who calls themselves a Wahabi

      We should stop calling muslims from saudi arabi “Wahabi’s”. There is no such thing

      Al-Wahab is one of Allah’s names by the way

      See what Yusuf Estes has to say about this

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFsoI3IYkrU

  3. Avatar

    melanie

    March 17, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    SubhanAllah, there is good and bad in every culture..Allah himself says he made us different tribes so that we might know one another…Why do we make this so difficult??? After you get over the initial mistrust/awkwardness you will find so many things you never knew about!! The world is an amazing place.

  4. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    March 17, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    There is simple difference in the indigenous versus native American Muslim dichotomy, but at the same time, it is complicated. In my masjid and in organizations run by immigrant Muslims, they tend to assume because I am American, that I don’t know Islam. I know the regulars at my masjid and they know me. Yet, we will have a function and the once or twice a year immigrant Muslim will come up to me and marvel at me for reading Quran or stare at me, wondering why I am a black American in a group of Indians, or tell me I am not following one of their cultural rules they wrongly think is Islamic (the most extreme example was a guy telling me it is not allowed to read the Quran in the back of the masjid because when he walked or stood in front of me, his butt would face the Quran). For me, the biggest shock was me changing my name and having many immigrants actively discouraging me from doing so. In our community there was a strong opinion five years ago, that you should not change your name unless it was haram. Another opinion was that you must keep the name of your father. This second one has cultural and racial dimensions. Siraj Wahaj told us in a lecture and I still don’t think they get it: “My ancestors did not come here on a passport.” So when I change my last name, I am not changing the name given to me by my father. My father was denied the chance to be who he was and was basically driven into drinking, hard labor and a short life. He certainly had no chance to learn about his ancestors in West Africa. A black American has a sort of exemption on the last name thing, at least at conversion, because our names were taken from our ancestors when we came to America. So while some majids create a false division, there was a point for me where they were demanding I maintain an American identity in the way they, as immigrants, thought I should maintain an American identity. The joke about that is that every black American has to consciously our unconsciously develop a dual consciousness: one American and one black. There are those who use Islam as an anti American statement, but if you live in the US, that’s not a logical position.But even the the anti American crowd is engaged in the all too common American behavior of rebellion. I live in an area where there is basically a conspiracy by the leadership that we make sure we don’t take anyone to court, no matter how much the other side is over the line. The most we do is to demand letters of apology. Suing and making people pay is how you fight in this money driven place. Anyway, it’s a simple dichotomy, but depending on the immigrant group you deal with, there are many manifestations and our goal is to be Muslim in the way acceptable to Allah. I have many faults and the once a year people are not much offense to me as much as the super, pretend-perfect Muslims who do not find humility in the salah. May Allah make us more love our brothers and sisters we are supposed to be and may Allah have Mercy on me and correct my many faults.

  5. Avatar

    Lars Bendixen

    March 17, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    This is exactly what I have been debating with some local immigrant brothers in my community. These problems are so common. JazakAllahkhair for speaking out.

  6. Avatar

    ArafatNY

    March 17, 2014 at 4:07 PM

    I recently moved to my community which is 90% pakistani and I am of indian/bengali decent. However, I look very pakistani, so usually when I first meet an elder I get a lot of love in the way they give me salam, their tone and how they ask me in urdu about myself (how are you, age, etc) but after the elders find out Im not pakistani, I notice the change in tone, less salams, eye contact and such. now a days, when I go to the masjid I just feel like an outcast of some sort and barely get the warm feeling I use to get or the warmth I get from folks that still think Im pakistani.

    what should I do?

  7. Avatar

    Bro. Isa

    March 17, 2014 at 4:19 PM

    Alhumdulillah this is a good article and as a second generation African-American Muslim I can definitely understand though this topic never ceases to amaze me. Coming from a family that learned Islam under Imam Warf Dean Muhammad I’ve always had a strong sense of the harmony of my African-American identity with Islam. But when I became more involved with the majority Muslim community I started to see these odd (and somewhat comical) prejudices that have little to know Islamic grounds to stand on.

    Long story short, this is a much needed discussion. JazakAllahKhairum

  8. Avatar

    AbdurRahman Ibn Mas'ood

    March 17, 2014 at 5:12 PM

    This is not directed at the sister in particular (my wife is a big fan of your books btw) but at the plethora of articles I’ve seen on this. I’m tired of hearing us Western Muslims (especially Americans tbh) brag on about how amazing, cultured and sincere we are in the practice of our deen as compared to our brothers and sisters in the east.

    I know this is used as a context to help us Muslims in the West understand how important it is to not see living in the West as being a dichotomy of I’m either on this train or off it, but we need to find a way of doing it without always sounding like Muslims in the East are doing it wrong and we are somehow doing it right. Visit Turkey, Tunisia or Malaysia and the Muslim world is not so homogenously unlivable anymore.

    I too have spent the past 4 years in KSA not only studying Islam but also spending 20+ hours every week with Saudi teenagers, and I can tell you for a fact that even if the context is different most of the deen and life issues these kids go through are in essence not too different from the issues Muslims in the West go through.

    This is not to distract from the importance of the main topic being made, but simply in how we look at it.

    • Avatar

      GregAbdul

      March 18, 2014 at 3:19 AM

      Brother for me, the issue is Civil Rights. We have a long history in America of teaching the white Christian man that he can’t be open about his hatred for black people. We are now to the point that the white hateful political party constantly uses coded language (dog whistles) when wanting to remind white audiences of black inferiority. So whites have a long history of being told to at least act in a decent way, even if you are full of racism. Many immigrants do not know this experience and I can say as a black person, I sometimes find more open racism at my masjid than I do in the white Christian world. Blacks and non immigrants are not perfect and we have to work through these issues in a better way as well, but the fact is, I have seen sisters specifically, terrorized at the masjid because they were not Pakistani or Arab. Maybe us guys ignore it more. Allah knows. Today we have Muslim women who come to the masjid and are reduced to tears. I think we are trying not to all point at one group. I will say the criticism I have of my black American masjids is that sometimes they bend over backwards not to offend the Farrakhan fake Muslims. The NOI is a hate organization. The NOI is not true Islam and those of us who know better should know that making peace by hiding and making excuses for hateful black people is no solution. However, those of us not in the hate cult often end up at immigrant masjids and we are making and adjustment…and simply talking through some of our issues here.

      • Avatar

        Yusuf Smith

        March 18, 2014 at 9:38 AM

        My experience is that racist attitudes among immigrant populations have not been examined or accounted for because of the dogma that white racism causes more harm and therefore is the only racism that really matters. There is even the doctrine that only white racism is racism because “whites have the power”, even though in the Muslim community, we don’t.

        Examples are that immigrant families often will not allow their children to marry Muslims from other ethnic backgrounds, particularly converts (often, blacks more than whites). Among whites (here in the UK at least), you could not express the view that inter-racial marriages are wrong or that you do not want a black son/daughter-in-law or grandchild in polite company, but refusals of marriage for racial reasons are common in the Muslim community. I have had more than one refusal on those grounds and I’m sure every convert has, or knows someone who has.

        • Avatar

          Fatima

          June 2, 2014 at 2:37 AM

          Death to white supremacy :)

      • Avatar

        ConfusedGuy

        June 9, 2015 at 4:03 PM

        How do you know that NOI is not real Islam? Most Orthodox (Sunni) Muslims (of whatever race) seem to welcome them with open arms, and agree with most of what they say, if not every single thing that they say.

        I know that I as a “white man” I am considered to literally be the Devil, PERIOD, and responsible for ALL of the evil in the world, according to black Muslims (NOI?). Have you not seen what they are saying in the countless videos for instance (including the calls for violence)?

        And according to other Muslims (Sunnis), whites are at the very least, considered to “figuratively” be the Devil (and the lines of literal and figurative seem to blur). They would say that all white people are indeed, pretty much evil, and of course responsible for all the evil and bad in the world. Whites in many ways, it seems, are considered to be a bad, despicable, unworthy race that have done nothing but brought misery, heartache, and evil into this world.

  9. Avatar

    Bashiru Ismail

    March 17, 2014 at 6:37 PM

    Well, I don’t know if I’m in a position to speak but I think the bottom-line is Islam is practiced from the heart. Even in the time of the prophet, he gradually converted his people into full muslims. We need to understand that especially when one doesn’t come from a “native muslim” or “muslim predominant” environment, it is sometimes extremely difficult to practice Islam fully and happily. Sometimes, it is so so lonely to be muslim.

    Sadly, even the muslim community that is supposed to be united together in harmony is divided amongst sects… beliefs… cultures…and schools. Enjoining the muslim ummah and embracing one another as one is suppposed to be the foundation of islam itself. Why is there so much discrimination without even trying to understand? Why do we judge one another without even getting to know one another? Why do a sect of muslims look down on another sect of muslims with scorn and discord? Why do we spend so much time discussing differences and dividing when our focus should be uniting and enjoining?

    I believe as muslims we should look beyond race, colour, culture, nationality and even language barriers. Islam is supposed to unite us as one!!!

  10. Avatar

    UmmAmmaarah

    March 17, 2014 at 7:58 PM

    Assalamu-alaikum. All these comments remind me of how divided we are despite claiming to be one. I find it sad and amusing at how Muslims from different cultures look down upon those different from them. At the ‘Islamic School’ that my daughter attends, most ‘White Arab’ mothers will not even acknowledge or say Salaam to the darker skinned non-arabs; at any school gathering it’s always cliques, and while I do understand that it’s always more comfortable to hang out with birds of the same feather, it is disheartening to watch the intentional ‘ignoring’ of the other groups, it seems very counter-productive and damaging. And of course, this is a scene you see at most masajid as well sadly enough. May Allah guide us to the best practices of our Deen and make us one.

  11. Avatar

    Hyde

    March 17, 2014 at 9:24 PM

    Never understood this obsession to lining up Saudi Arabia to the paragon of Islam. Rubbish really. From homosexuality to pornography to degenerate consumption mentality to straight up Whabbyiyya Jaliyahaa to building the tower of doom in The Noble Sanctuary, let’s please stop issuing edicts of Islamic perfection to Arabia (and yeah time to strip the title of Saudi from the name; Saud’s reign ends).
    And what is wrong with being an American Muslim? I propose that America is probably the best country to be Muslim.
    I’m a Muslim in America who likes Celtic culture and studies The Civil War, and I don’t see anything wrong with that ?

    • Avatar

      Fatima

      June 2, 2014 at 2:36 AM

      And you are a settler colonizer who sees nothing wrong with living on stolen native land?

      • Avatar

        Hyde

        June 8, 2014 at 9:30 PM

        Where did you get that from my comment ? When did I say anything that juxtaposes that ?

  12. Avatar

    ZAI

    March 17, 2014 at 10:59 PM

    Good article and agree w/ most of the main points…
    Umm Zakiyyah, isn’t it necessary as well to address the popularity
    of the Pan-Islamic Muslim nationalism among many American-Muslims, and Muslims
    everywhere else, as well? This ideology also contributes mightily to myopic or narrow negative views of America or the feeling that being an American-Muslim is somehow
    contradictory because “our” loyalty lies elsewhere. It promotes a stark
    dichotomy of “us” vs. “them” within a ideological framework that is all-encompassing
    and absolute, rather than a more piecemeal view of looking at issues individually
    and fostering a more nuanced discussion where we can be fully American while
    criticizing some things about America or fully Muslim while disagreeing with Muslims
    elsewhere…

  13. Avatar

    Mahmud B.

    March 17, 2014 at 11:23 PM

    I want to say to the author of this blog post: Why dont you put your books on Amazon for the Kindle. Its free to publish them there as ebooks. And you get worldwide exposure. And price your ebook there for $2.99 to start

    All the best

  14. Avatar

    Noorunnisa

    March 17, 2014 at 11:28 PM

    We cannot change people. We cannot change governments (not so easily, at least). But God has given us the ability to think and to act according to the Qurán. If each of us here can persuade our families and our spheres of influence to stop racist and divisive thoughts, be kind to each other and turn to God for guidance, in syaa’ Allah, slowly but surely, we will all see a better world around us :-). Accusations and blame are counterproductive. Assalamu’alaikum Wr Wb!

  15. Avatar

    Yusuf Smith

    March 18, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    It is not only Gulf Arabs who have these kinds of attitudes to westerners and western clothing and other customs; I have seen it among Indo-Pak Muslims as well. I believe the reason is that these are places where colonialism either didn’t happen (as with Saudi), or left the customs and scholarship of Muslims alone. People aren’t expected to follow western customs in dress by the state, which in some Muslim countries treats traditional Muslim dress as a sign of subversion. Even young men can wear traditional robes or shalwar-kameez without fear; in Egypt, for example, they would be subjected to harassment or arrest. So it is understandable that Muslims resist the spread of alien, un-Islamic customs in places where they are not forced on people.

  16. Mobeen

    Mobeen

    March 20, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    Great article Umm Zakiyyah. One point that was made that I would raise contention with is the following statement: “Though the actual Islamic caution against “imitating the disbelievers” concerns only matters that are specific to systems of disbelief as opposed to general cultural patterns, it is rare that this distinction is actually made in Islamic classes and lectures on the subject, especially when America or “the West” is discussed……In Islam, as a general rule, worldly matters such as hairstyles, clothing, food, recreation, and any culture-specific speech or behavior do not fall under the “imitation” category. Allāh has made humans different nations and tribes, and naturally, these differences will manifest themselves in how people dress, speak, and interact.”

    Is that true? I would be curious to read any scholarly sources if you have them that elaborate on this particular point.

    In my limited readings and study of the topic, the imperative to avoid certain types of imitation is substantiated textually through a few key narrations – of them is the Prophet’s instruction for men to trim their mustaches and grow their beards, the narration about the lizard hole, and the famous hadith “man tashabbaha bi qowmin, fa huwa minhum” (whoever imitates a people is from them). More broadly, one will find a theme in the hadith literature highlighting the Prophet’s desire to establish a unique Muslim identity in many areas, though certainly not all.

    Taking into account the role of culture within the larger context of Islamic law, it is possible that certain actions constitute a type of reprehensible imitation in, say Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, that would not be reprehensible in the United States (again, this is based on my limited studies from teachers of mine). These rulings may be informed by a variety of factors, and anti-Western sentiment should also be viewed in light of those socio-cultural realities and the states geopolitical experiences with the west. For example, it is possible to view the proscription of isbaal as a general prohibition of dressing in an arrogant format, and in certain societies “American clothing” (whatever that is) may be a sign of cultural rejection and arrogance which scholars in those regions are seeking to curb. There are other excuses I could conjure up if one wanted to try and validate why a foreign scholar may issue such a ruling.

    I think as American Muslims we are very sensitive of attempts by foreign scholars to cast judgments on our societies that to us make very little sense or are grossly misinformed. Unfortunately, I think we rarely extend that same courtesy to scholars elsewhere and a common trend I’ve come to notice is this dichotomy where one expects foreign scholars not to comment on his/her local affairs while summarily dismissing the judgments/rulings of those scholars when speaking to their own societies (please dont misconstrue this as discussing your specific experiences per se, this is more of a general note).

    Lastly, though one can certainly be blamed for misdirecting their focus in regards to what constitutes reprehensible imitation, or the general misapplication of the principle, I think we should be wary of dismissing it altogether (I don’t think that’s what you were doing, but many do), lest we throw out the baby with the bathwater. Allah knows best.

    • Avatar

      GregAbdul

      March 22, 2014 at 10:44 PM

      al hamdulillah, your question is put forth in a very scholarly and technical way.

  17. Avatar

    aksayed

    March 27, 2014 at 12:40 AM

    A very large part of the Qur’an refers us to the Signs of Allah (SWT) in His creation. These include the diversity and variety that exist in plant and animal life, as someone has said in these comments that “He has made us into nations so that we may understand one another”. Therefore, it is absurd to even think that the flower of the rose plant is Islamic and all others are un-Islamic, let alone discriminate against anyone of them. Hence, the different plants lives with their different flowers, fruits, leaves, size, shapes, colours, etc, are like the different cultures, customs, traditions, languages, socio-economical and political affiliations, etc, of different nations. This means that in the unified field of the Islamic way of life, there is no universal sign, symbol, name, identity, culture, custom, tradition, dressing, language, socio-economical and political affiliation, etc, like in plant and animal life. Muslims are required to preserve the different cultures, customs, traditions, languages, etc, in their pure forms using the injunctions of the Qur’an, like the Prophet (SAW) preserved Arab culture, custom, tradition, etc, discarding paganism of his time, for all Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula. Hence, Muslims who give preference to the knowledge of the Hadith over that of the Qur’an misunderstand Islam and divide the ummah. Furthermore, it needs to be understood that our mission of PEACE in the Islamic way of life is like all missions of peace that contains the components of DIVERSITY, UNITY and JUSTICE, as per the knowledge of the Qur’an. A very large part of the Qur’an refers us to the Signs of Allah (SWT) in His creation. These include the diversity and variety that exist in plant and animal life, as someone has said in these comments that “He has made us into nations so that we may understand one another”. Therefore, it is absurd to even think that the flower of the rose plant is Islamic and all others are un-Islamic, let alone discriminate against anyone of them. Hence, the different plants lives with their different flowers, fruits, leaves, size, shapes, colours, etc, are like the different cultures, customs, traditions, languages, socio-economical and political affiliations, etc, of different nations. This means that in the unified field of the Islamic way of life, there is no universal sign, symbol, name, identity, culture, custom, tradition, dressing, language, socio-economical and political affiliation, etc, like in plant and animal life. Muslims are required to preserve the different cultures, customs, traditions, languages, etc, in their pure forms using the injunctions of the Qur’an, like the Prophet (SAW) preserved Arab culture, custom, tradition, etc, discarding paganism of his time, for all Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula. Hence, Muslims who give preference to the knowledge of the Hadith over that of the Qur’an misunderstand Islam and divide the ummah. Furthermore, it needs to be understood that our mission of PEACE in the Islamic way of life is like all missions of peace that contains the components of DIVERSITY, UNITY and JUSTICE, as per the knowledge of the Qur’an.

  18. Avatar

    archerofmusings

    March 27, 2014 at 10:59 PM

    @aksayed obviously brother you have misunderstood islamic legislation completely. What do you mean
    “Muslims who give preference to the knowledge of the Hadith over that of the Qur’an misunderstand Islam and divide the ummah. ”
    When the the only way the Holy Qur’an can be understood ia through the Prophet s life and hia sayings. There are many verses whicg are general but do not apply in specific circumstances which leads us to understanding traditional sciences of islam like usul. This Is why many Muslims ignorant of these sciences start to make their own interpretation like the above by yourself.

    Regarding the written comments in the article that:
    “Though the actual Islamic caution against “imitating the disbelievers” concerns only matters that are specific to systems of disbelief as opposed to general cultural patterns, it is rare that this distinction is actually made in Islamic classes and lectures on the subject, especially when America or “the West” is discussed……In Islam, as a general rule, worldly matters such as hairstyles, clothing, food, recreation, and any culture-specific speech or behavior do not fall under the “imitation” category. Allāh has made humans different nations and tribes, and naturally, these differences will manifest themselves in how people dress, speak, and interact.”

    This is not a correct evaluation of the hadeeth as many aspects of culture derive from other disliked values such as immodesty, arrogance, indecency, leading to zinah and the likes. Though it doesn’t come directly under the ‘imitation’ hadeeth but it is given that impression which makes it problematic. Therefore the above qouted statement should be looked into with a scholar of a high calibre and understood correctly or it will lead to a semi-muslim identity which has existed for 1400years even in non muslim countries. The difference was they didn’t ALWAYS ‘do what the Romans did in Rome’.
    Hope this clarification was understood.
    Wallahul haadi

    • Avatar

      aksayed

      March 31, 2014 at 12:57 AM

      It is true that the Qur’an instructs us to “follow Allah and the Apostle”. But it also instructs us “to obey the Prophets according to the Will of Allah” (Al-Qur’an 4:64). In addition to this, it also instructs the Prophet (SAW) “not to say or do anything” in his deen (way of life, not religion) that was not revealed to him in the Qur’an (Al-Qur’an 69:44-46). Furthermore, it needs to be understood, according to the above mentioned verses of the Qur’an that the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) is “the path and the practice” of the Qur’an and not that of the Hadith or any other teachings or practices outside of the Qur’an. This is one of the fundamental teachings of Tauhid, which requires absolute unity between the Word of God and the sayings and doings of the Prophets.
      Hence, the achievements of the Prophet (SAW) which impress me according to the knowledge of the Qur’an are found in world history. For example, he was only one in history who was “most extremely successful in both the secular and religious levels”. He achieved this feat by replacing the dichotomy of the secular and religious with “the all truth” found in the revealed knowledge of the Qur’an. By this process, he did not only eliminate extremism and fundamentalism, both secular and religious, but also eliminated the falsehood and ambiguity found within and between these divisions in every aspects and dimensions of our lives. This was the most basic and dynamic Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). Then why are the majority of the Muslims following the religious path of taqlid, aqidah, silsila, khanqah, sainthood, priesthood, sects and madhabs to separate the knowledge of the secular and religious? Does the Qur’an not tell us to eliminate the dichotomy of the secular and religious and secure all true knowledge of both secular and religious as one unit of knowledge by the natural and rational process of ilm-ul-yaqin (certainty of knowledge by inference or reasoning), ayn-ul-yaqin (certainty of knowledge by seeing and observing) and haqq-ul-yaqin (absolute knowledge, like this is a pen, etc)? Is this ignorance of the Qur’an not due to the influence of the Hadith or giving preference to the Hadith rather than the Qur’an?
      Thus, the Prophet (SAW) was “Pope and Caesar” at the same time because he based his Faith in Allah (SWT) on sound reason and logic, which were inspired by the Qur’an and not by his own thought process or imagination. Therefore, when he required proof of the existence of God, the Qur’an provided it. Likewise, when he required answers on evolution and the creation, the Qur’an provided it. In addition to this, world history records the fact that “he was the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and one spiritual empire”. He did not go around to the Western part of his empire telling people, “Look at you, you look like Bush and Blair” because they did not keep a beard and wore the kurtha. Likewise, he did not impose the beard on Muslims of his time in Arabia because the Qur’an did not instruct him to do so. They kept beard, wore the kurtha and sat on the floor and ate their food even before he was born. It was their custom and tradition to do so. All the Prophet (SAW) did was take out the paganism from their custom, culture, tradition, etc, as per the knowledge of the Qur’an. We are to do the same with all customs, cultures, traditions, etc.
      Thus, the practical application of Hadith does have its problems. Not only does it not tolerate the diversity of the different cultures, customs, traditions, etc, or the inclusion of the secular, but it does not also encourage the progress and development of the ummah according to science by stating that it is bid’ah to use the microphone in the mosque or the printing press to print copies of the Qur’an because the Prophet (SAW) did not use these modern day developments. About ten years ago, Islamic scholars in Turkey acknowledged all these problems of the Hadith after a “massive NO to Shariah Law” by the people of Turkey, and took a decision to rewrite the book of Hadith so that it would collaborate with the Qur’an. I don’t see how that would make a difference to Shariah when the Qur’an dictates the path and practice of the Sunnah in a better manner than the Hadith as the “mother of all books”. Did not the first Caliph of Islam burn all the Hadith he wrote before his demise and did not the second Caliph of Islam consider it improper to write the book of Hadith as an additional source of information to the Qur’an? Why?

      • Avatar

        archerofmusings

        March 31, 2014 at 2:37 AM

        Aah now you reveal your true colours, wr have a MUNKIR Al-HADEETH (rejector of hadeeth) in our midst. Or do you ascribe yourself as ahlul quraan(adherents to the Qur’an only)?
        Nontheless your arguments are old and flawed, all of the claims that your group promotes have been answered long ago try reading this for a change:

        https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&ei=6ww5U_vML86kigey_YGIDw&url=https://archive.org/details/TheSunnahAndItsRoleInIslamicLegislationdr.MustafaAs-sibaee&cd=3&ved=0CCkQFjAC&usg=AFQjCNH8E4m_0JwprFQrbz6xNtlnwxzTkQ&sig2=i1tNuHaxg4lDu1zfpbrDdQ

        May Allah guide you to the aqeedah of the ahlus sunnnah wal jamaah

        • Avatar

          aksayed

          March 31, 2014 at 5:58 AM

          This is a common occurrence among Muslims. If you don’t like the opinion of another Muslim call him or her a KAFIR or MUNKIR and form a sect against him or her, which is a major sin for which there is no forgiveness on the day of Judgment. I did not enter this debate to promote the Ahlul Qur’an. I am also not in agreement with some of them on some of things they say and do but I have not detached myself from them or any sect or groups of Muslims because they don’t agree with me. I think the ummah needs all the diverse opinions it can find to establish consensus on these opinions. Unfortunately, we don’t have an Assembly of God fearing and knowledgeable Muslims to establish such consensus between you and I. Therefore, brother I have no authority to judge you. I am only allowed to say what I think is the correct interpretation of the Qur’an if I am not in agreement with you, merely because Allah (SWT) compels me in the Qur’an to establish equity with the ummah on all matters that concern the ummah. Thank you for your discourse.Was-salaam.

          • Avatar

            archerofmusings

            March 31, 2014 at 6:47 AM

            Opinions are only valuable if there are based on saheeh aqidah of the ahlus sunnah wal jamah. To label someone from a sect (which does Ta’weel) is proven not only from the Qur’an (see the verses of hawa and zayg) but also the sahab and all the way down to the righteous ulama of the ummah.

            Ahh but I can’t say much now can I ,as you don’t believe in an authority except yourself. I pray that Allah guides us well and give us the correct understanding. Ameen . Wsalam

  19. Avatar

    Najash

    April 22, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    I’m Muslim who happens to be black and based in the UK. Alhamdullillah my parents came from Zanzibar in East Africa but I cant tell you how many times I’ve encountered the weird and never ending question as to WHEN DID YOU CONVERT? from mainly Pakistani Muslims here in London. Basically in their eyes since I’m black I cant be born a Muslim and my answer has always been simple, Islam Came to Africa (614) before it went to Indian Subcontinent…

    I have encountered blatant racism from my fellow Muslims (esp Asians) in this country than whites but then again, not all Asians are racists but the fact still remains.

    In the masjids they dont care t=if you cant speak Urdu…unless they are asking for Masjid donations and dont expect any duas for our brothers and sisters in Central Africa Republic (of course Palestine, Pakistan, Afghanistan is guaranteed)

    This is Islam in the 21st Century England.

  20. Avatar

    I

    May 15, 2014 at 8:23 AM

    Salam,

    Such an intimidating topic to us All, Muslims.

    I am born Muslim Alhamdulilah, I am Tunisian. If I might say something as an Arab Muslim is Please Do Not place KSA as the reference or the bottomheart of Islam today! It’s far away from being a model for Islam practices. It can only be an example of Hypocrisy, many everyday life aspects are dyed with culture/traditions rather than Islam. Nonetheless, there are in KSA several examples of a good Muslim, individually speaking.

    In my humble opinion, there is no country/culture that represents Islam the best. It’s all related to the general consciousness, education and Morals. And Islam is all about Morals in the first place. the more people are traditions-free and repect each other, the better Muslims theyr are (Think about Malasiya, and many western counties).

    I think that there should be a battle deep down in the soul/heart of every muslim to become a better muslim everyday without weighing other brothers and sisters in Islam or trying to have down looks at their cultures.

  21. Avatar

    spine

    May 31, 2014 at 7:55 AM

    As an ex American convert to Islam I found difficulties with being a Muslim. Whether one agrees or not, Islam like all religions was fostered in a particular culture, and this culture has influenced the religion. When you convert you have to embrace aspects of that culture, you have to embrace their politics, etc. You have to fit within the parameters of their culture, and if you stray out even a little bit you’re a traitor or siding with the kuffar, there is a lot of peer pressure amongst the Muslims ive been around. To pit it in simple words you have to become subservient to them. People are different, we have our differences, how we think, what we eat, how we smell, our politics, etc. Sometimes these differences are so great you can’t connect. This is especially true when we don’t speak the same languages, never underestimate how important language. You really can’t build a bond and understanding with eacb other if you can barely communicate.

    Saying all that, that isn’t really that important or the reason why I no linger practice Islam. My problem was theological, not social, I can deal with not having Arab or Pakista I fri3nds if Islam was true for me. My problems started with a book, a book on Qadar, the book is by a very excellent scholar from Jordan, he has an entire series on important topics. When I read the book it really destroyed my belief in a all knowing, a all powerful God. Maybe that is a reason scholars dissuade people from discussing Qadar. There are still a lot of things I loce about Islam, the justice, charity, modesty my, etc.; but the belief is illogical.

    • Avatar

      Umm ZAKAriyya

      May 31, 2014 at 12:10 PM

      May Allah make it easy for you brother. And help you find your way back to the truth. Qadr is incomprehensible . How did you make such a huge decision based on something no man can understand ?

      And what about the Quran? The book
      On Qadr even helped you reject the Quran? The Living Miracle?!

  22. Avatar

    Fatima

    June 2, 2014 at 2:30 AM

    To sum it up, Umm ZAKAriyya wants Muslims on stolen native land to assimilate into amerikan settler colonializer project.

  23. Avatar

    Yusuf

    August 18, 2014 at 1:59 AM

    If you have every lived in Saudi you would realize that these people are the worst Muslims and give Islam a bad name. I would rather live among non Muslim Americans because they practice Islam better than these Muslims in Saudi.

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#Society

On British Muslims & Racism: Do Black Lives Matter?

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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#Society

Non-Black Muslims Will Need To Do More Than Post Hashtags And Attend Rallies To Combat Anti-Black Racism

The events of the past two weeks have highlighted the disastrous outcomes that emerge when racism and white supremacy interplay with police brutality. The unbridled aggression by the police results from ineffective and insufficient sanctions on police power and authority. The casual murder of Mr. George Floyd by a police officer, filmed by bystanders and security cameras, is the spark that apparently allowed for more citizens to galvanize and echo the cry that “Black Lives Matter.” In response to this, various Muslims and Muslim groups and organizations have come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and have attempted to raise their version of awareness.

Data from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) in 2020 show there is a strong support from the Muslim community towards building coalitions with Black Lives Matter movements, with 65% of Muslim respondents to a nationally representative survey indicating support, more than any other faith group measured.

 

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Although another ISPU survey administered in 2017 indicates there is strong Muslim support for the Black Lives Matter movement in general (66%, higher than any faith group measured that year, and the general public), there are questions around how much of this is performative, perfunctory and merely playing to the popular theme of the moment. Black Muslims and Black Americans – in general – have consistently experienced anti-Black treatment at the hands of non-Black Muslims in business, social and religious spaces. In ISPU’s 2017 American Muslim Poll, 33% of Muslims who identify as Black or African American reported experiencing racial discrimination at the hands of another Muslim. Although Black Muslims are more likely to report racial discrimination from outside their faith community (56% vs. 33%), one cannot ignore the issue of intra-Muslim racism, especially since the experience is often far more painful when it comes from a fellow believer.

Since protests began in late May, various non-Black Muslims and non-Black Muslim-led organizations have attempted to speak up and lend their voice to the issue. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are just a few of the organizations that have made statements, hosted events or co-sponsored events to help raise awareness of racism. Muslim organizations have over the years consistently addressed oppression – mainly in other countries. There have been hundreds of rallies and protests against oppression that have occurred in non-White Muslim countries. Additionally, Islam as a theology, calls on us to depise oppression and challenge it. Therefore, it is understandable that non-Black Muslims and non-Black Muslim organizations would eventually see the need to speak out against oppression of minorities in America, and now specifically African American and Black Muslims. But it has taken many generations to get here, even though oppression has been a bedrock of this nation for centuries.

For many years, non-Black Americans championed the causes of non-Black Muslims but seldom the Black Muslims. For many decades, Black Muslims have called the Adhan, raised money for foreign causes and highlighted foreign issues. The support and respect have seldom been returned or reciprocated to the Black community. Although the faith and approximated-shared experiences may at times allow for empathy from non-Black Muslims toward African Americans and Black Muslims, non-Black Muslims and organizations continue to fail to be real purveyors of justice when it comes to the oppression of African Americans and Black Muslims in America.

For years, various organizations have hosted or publicized events that do not have Black Muslims on their panels. The line-up changes once the community pushes back. In a number of cases, there is a connection between anti-Black racism and the exclusion of Muslim women, particularly Black Muslim women. The exclusion of Black Muslims from the public and national discourse on the American Muslim experience, is an example of the anti-Black racism that is not interpersonal, but systemic in the Muslim community. This is important to note, because an event is seldom conceived or approved by one individual.

In one example from less than a month ago, two national organizations were prominently featured as co-hosts. We can then safely say that at least two people (we can assume with a fair degree of certainty that it was more) saw the line-up and the final ad for the event and still chose to publicize the event. One of the speakers then chose to decline to participate and recommended an African American Muslim woman replace him on the panel. That multiple Muslims were involved in the planning of this event and approved the final list of speakers while choosing not to correct or be more just in their representation of Islam in America points to this issue of anti-Black racism as not merely being interpersonal, but systemic. This is just one example of many. ISPU data collected in 2017 illustrates that Black Muslims experience a higher rate of intrafaith racial discrimination than non-Black Muslims, with 33% reporting that a fellow believer discriminated against them because of their race in the past year at least once. (Figure 2)

Muslims Experience Racism From Other Muslims as Well as from the General Public.png

In this past week alone, I have had to personally deal with acts of anti-Black racism while talking about the importance of addressing racism in this country. In one incident, I was invited to be part of a newly formed coalition. Attendees were majority African American Muslims, but there were also non-Black Muslims (white and minorities) scheduled to be in attendance or helping to organize. One non-Black Muslim was effusive in how they communicated with me during the day. However, once I began pushing back on how the event was being organized, their tone shifted to dismissive and rude. I struggled with naming this anti-Black racism because, as a communication scholar, my default is to look at the theory behind why we communicate how we do. So even as we experience it, we still try to find reasons not to believe it.

In a second incident, a number of individuals with religious duties were discussing the topics of engagement for our upcoming meeting. A non-Black Muslim of color indicated that they wanted to discuss another topic in addition to Black Lives Matter and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. I responded stating that the way in which the statement was worded was hurtful and represented an erasure of the lived experience of Black individuals in this country. The response was further dismissal and glossing over of the experience, even after other non-Black Muslims attempted to redirect the individual and encourage them to focus on anti-Black racism. The person’s initial response was clearly rooted in anti-Black racism–even if unintentional–as to this moment, it does not seem like the person understands how their initial statement and subsequent responses continue to perpetuate anti-Black racism. In the end, the individual did agree that they will also focus on Black Lives Matter in our next meeting as long as we were willing to focus on other issues in future meetings.

These various types of aggressions against Black Muslims in Muslim spaces continue to place a burden on the Black Muslim community, particularly the African American Muslim community. I am a Black Muslim who has spent over half of my life here in America. However, I also know that as an immigrant, I sometimes experience a different level of privilege as a result of my immigrant status.” It feels like I am seen as different from African American Muslims at times. Anti-Black racism among Muslims is layered, insidious, systemic and interpersonal. The approaches to addressing anti-Black racism and to supporting Black Lives Matter Movement cannot be sporadic or occasional. It will require painful discussions, robust analyses and purposeful action to continue the changes that have gained some momentum in this moment.

There are many who are already doing the work to bring meaningful change and awareness. Non-Black Muslims will need to do more than post hashtags and attend rallies. To address racism, it is important to use valid tools, invite and connect with the appropriate people and support active organizations. Supporting any Black organization is not the approach. There needs to be a seeking out and supporting of organizations, individuals and tools that do or support anti-racism work in our communities.

  • Organizations to research, work with and/or fund long-term: MuslimARC (Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative), Muslim Wellness Foundation and the Black Muslim Psychology Conference, Black Muslim COVID Coalition and Sapelo Square. These are just a few to begin with. There are more. Research. Find them. Support them.

  • Individuals to learn from and grow with: Ms. Margari Hill, Dr. Kameelah Rashad, Dr. Donna Auston, Imam Dawud Walid, Sr. Ismahan Abdullahi, Imam Mik’ail Stewart Saadiq, Imam Nadim Ali and many, many others. Many of these individuals are currently engaging in a lot of scholarly work, community support and community keeping. Research their work, look up events when they are slated to speak and give talks, and engage them in that way as a start. If they or their organizations have opportunities where you can pay them to do a presentation that is in the normal scope of their operations, then do that. I would urge you not to offer them a mere stipend. See what it takes to have professional development for an organization and compensate accordingly. There are many other non-Muslim intellectuals who are doing work and have written extensively. We have intentionally named Muslims and Muslim organizations in this piece.

    • There are some non-Black Muslims of Color who are also doing significant work that can help individuals of particular cultural backgrounds understand the underpinnings of their own anti-Black racism.

    • Dr. Mona Masood is doing great work facilitating discussion on anti-Black racism among diasporic populations from South Asia particularly.

    • Dr. Sylvia Chan-Malik also researches Black Muslims and offers classes on combating racism. These classes are specifically targeted for a non-Black cross-section of the community.

  • Tools to employ:

    • The Black Islam Syllabus, developed and curated by Dr. Kayla Renée Wheeler, is an extensive list of scholarly research and writings, movies, poetry, TV shows, websites, essays and hashtags. This is a great place to begin.

    • Identity Politics podcast, co-directed by Sr. Makkah Ali, can provide insight into issues around race and identity in the Muslim community.

There are many other resources available that can start or enhance the process of working to combat anti-Black Muslim racism, bolster support for Black Lives Matter initiatives and draw us closer to being a community and nation that truly values each other with equity.

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Africa

Top 10 Books On Black Muslim History

The history of Black Muslims seems to be trapped between Bilal raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and Malcolm X. While these are particularly bright supernovas in the pantheon of giants from Muslim history, they are far from being the only stars in that history.

Recent events have meant that many Muslims want to actively close that gap in their knowledge of Black Muslims. This isn’t just an academic interest, it is one of the recurring pieces of advice given by Black Muslims themselves when asked what the rest of the Muslim community can and should do to actively fight against racism in all its forms.

When you don’t know the story of a people, it becomes easy to belittle or even dehumanise them.

So here, in no particular order, are my Top 10 books on the history of Black Muslims in the English Language.

  • Centering Black Narrative: Black Muslim Nobles amongst the early pious Muslim by Dawud Walid and Ahmed Mubarak

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There are many reasons why tokenising Bilal ibn Rabaah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) is embarassing. One of them is because there are just so many other Black Sahaabas out there to talk about. This great book showcases so many of the greatest generation who, we may not have realised, were black. I actually did a prior book review on this that you can check out here.

  • The history of Islam in Africa edited by Levtzion & Pouwels 

This is less a book and more like a mini-encyclopaedia. This is for the serious student of history and a good reference book. If you want to tell the difference between the Songhai and the Sanussi or want to tell apart the different Tariqahs – this is your encyclopaedia. I mean book.

  • Illuminating the Darkness: Blacks and North Africans in Islam by Habeeb Akande

Habeeb Akande is one of the most prolific Black Muslim writers out there on a range of topics. This book offers a sweeping narrative dealing with history, social issues like interracial marriage and the concept of race as dealt by scholars such as Al-Suyuti. As expected, this book is well researched and well written so a good primer for those new to the topic.

  • Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa by Ousmane Kane

Timbuktu and West Africa was for a time one of the richest centres of Islam in terms of wealth and intellectual tradition. To read about this time read this book by the Harvard professor Ousmane Kane. To all those who believe in the idea of racial superiority, you’ll be quickly disabused of that notion when you realise that this is the intellectual depth of a book about the intellectual depth of Black Muslims in West Africa.

  • The Black Eunuchs of the Ottoman Empire: Networks of Power in the Court of the Sultan by George Junne

In almost every Muslim Empire, the Sultans and rulers might change but there is a constant presence just off centre if you look closely enough. Eunuchs, who were often but not always of Black heritage, were right there at the centre of power. While the institution that brought them there was horrific and inhumane, the power they wielded was serious and far reaching. This book goes through the lives of a group of Black Muslims who shaped the Muslim world in ways that may surprise you.

  • The African Caliphate: The Life Work & Teachings of Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio by Ibraheem Sulaiman

In a part of the world that gave us the world’s richest known person, great kings and warriors – you have to be pretty special to stand out. Usman Dan Fodio was more than special. He was one of those people who excelled as a military leader, a teacher and a person. He revived the sunnah and stands as one of the giants in the history of Islam. Learn about the man they call simply “Shehu.”

  • The Caliph’s Sister: Nana Asma’u, 1793-1865, Teacher, Poet and Islamic Leader by Jean Boyd

History tends to be His story far too often. It is the history of great men doing great things. 50% of the world is missed out with women far too often playing cameo roles as femme fatales or spoils of war. Well, the story of Nana Asma’u bucks this trend. She was not just a towering figure. If her father conquered lands, Nana conquered hearts. Learn about her story. Herstory – get it? Just read the book.

  • Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas by Sylvaine Diouf

The story of how enslaved Muslims struggled to hold on to their faith and values, to not just survive but to actually thrive is fascinating and should be required reading. While there are other books that deal with the subject in a more detailed manner, this book is accessible and touches on all the main themes from revolts to literacy levels. Ms Diouf does a lot to shine a light on one of the darkest institutions in Islamic history.

  • Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser

It is a measure of the man that despite being the greatest sportsman of all time, it was still only the 2nd most interesting part of the life of Muhammad Ali. How this young scrawny kid from Louisville went from being Cassisus Clay to one of the most recognisable human beings on planet Earth is not just a biography of a superstar but the story of the struggle of a people, the many missteps on the road to that struggle and the ultimate redemption that awaited. Long after the name of the Presidents and Kings of his era will be forgotten, the name of Muhammad Ali will live on.

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley

For me, even though it speaks to a specific person, place and struggle, this is by far the greatest of all the books out there on the history of Black Muslims . This is the denouement of a centuries long struggle for the survival of faith against the greatest odds and how slavery, racism and enforced conversions all came crashing down when one man of rare intelligence decided that it was time to overcome “by any means necessary.” If you have not read it, what are you waiting for? It will change you.

As I argued in a previous article called Erasing Race: Problems with our Islamic history, the history of Islam without Black Muslims isn’t really a history at all.

Whether you decide to read any of these books or check out some YouTube videos or articles about the history of Black Muslims, let us all educate ourselves. Only then will we all be able to start helping to build a more just world. Only then will we all be able to breathe.

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