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Can Americans Be “Real” Muslims?

Umm Zakiyyah

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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.

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.

39 Comments

39 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

      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

Cleaning Out Our Own Closets This Ramadan: Bigotry

Why Eliminating Hate Begins with Us

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Before Muslims take a stand against xenophobia in the U.S., we really need to eradicate it from our own community.

There. I said it.

There is no nice way to put it. Muslims can be very intolerant of those outside their circles, particularly our Latino neighbors. How do I know? I am a Latina who came into Islam almost two decades ago, and I have experienced my fair share of stereotypes, prejudice, and just outright ignorance coming from my very own Muslim brethren.

And I am not alone.

My own family and Latino Muslim friends have also dealt with their daily doses of bigotry. Most of the time, it is not ill-intentioned, however, the fact that our community is so out of touch with Latin Americans says a lot about why we are often at the receiving end of discrimination and hate.

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…” (The Qur’an, 13:11)

Recently, Fox News came under fire for airing a graphic that stated, “Trump cuts aid to 3 Mexican countries,” on their show, “Fox and Friends Weekend.” The network apologized for the embarrassing error, but not before criticism of their geographical mishap went viral on social media. The reactions were of disbelief, humor, and repugnance for the controversial news channel that has become the archenemy of everything Islamic. People flooded the internet with memes, tweets, and comments regarding the ridiculous headline, Muslims included. American Muslim leaders quickly released statements condemning the lack of knowledge about the difference between Mexico and the nations of Central and South America.

Ironically, however, just about two months ago, my eldest son wrote an essay about the bullying he experienced in an Islamic school, which included insults about him being Mexican and “eating tacos” even though he is half Ecuadorian (South America) and Puerto Rican (Caribbean), not Mexican. I include the regions in parentheses because, in fact, many Muslims are just as geographically-challenged as the staff at Fox News. When a group of Hispanic workers came to replace the windows at his former school, my son approached them and spoke to them in Spanish as a means of dawah – teaching them that there are Latin American and Spanish-speaking Muslims. His classmates immediately taunted him saying that the laborers were “his cousins.” Although my son tried countless times to explain to his peers the difference between his origins and Mexico and defended both, they continued to mock Latinos.

On another occasion, a local masjid invited a famous Imam from the Midwest to speak about a topic. My family and I attended the event because we were fans of the shaykh and admired his work. A few minutes into his talk, he made a derogatory remark about Mexicans, and then added with a smile, “I hope there aren’t any Mexicans in the room!” A gentleman from the community stood up behind my husband, who is Ecuadorian, and pointed at him saying, “We have one right here!” Some people chuckled as his face turned red. The shaykh apologized for his comment and quickly moved on. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes. This was nothing new.

Imam Mohamed Alhayek (Jordanian Palestinian) and Imam Yusuf Rios (Puerto Rican) share an intimate moment during the 16th Annual Hispanic Muslim Day. Photo/Caption by Melissa Barreto — at North Hudson Islamic Educational Center (NHIEC).

Once, I visited a Pakistani sister, and as I enjoyed a cup of warm chai on her patio, she turned to me earnestly and said, “You and (another Latina Muslim) are the only educated Hispanics I know.” She then asked me why Latinos did not have “goals and ambitions” because supposedly, all the Hispanic students in her daughters’ school only aspired to work in their parents’ businesses as laborers. She went on to tell me about her Hispanic maid’s broken family and how unfortunate it was that they had no guidance or moral values. I was shocked by her assumptions, but I realized that this was the sentiment of a lot of Muslims who simply do not know a thing about our culture or have not taken the time to really get to know us.

When I accepted Islam back in 2000, I never expected to hear some of the narrow-minded comments and questions I received from those people who had become my brothers and sisters in faith. After all, I came to Islam through the help of an Egyptian family, I declared the Shahada for the first time in the presence of people from Pakistan, and I was embraced in the masjid by worshippers from places like Somalia, Sudan, Palestine, India, Turkey, and Afghanistan. A white American convert gifted me with my first Ramadan guide and an Indian sister supported me during my first fast. I expected to be treated equally by everyone because Islam was for everyone and Muslims have been hearing this their whole lives and they preach it incessantly. I do the same now. As a Muslim Latina, I tell my people that Islam is open to all and that racism, colorism, classism, and xenophobia have no place in Islam.

Nevertheless, it did not take long for me to hear some very ugly things from my new multi-cultural community. I was questioned about whether I was a virgin or not by well-meaning sisters who wanted to find me a Muslim husband. My faith was scrutinized when my friend’s family introduced me to an imam who doubted I had converted on my own, without the persuasion of a Muslim boyfriend or husband. I was pressured about changing my name because it was not “Islamic” enough. I was lectured about things that I had already learned because foreign-born Muslims assumed I had no knowledge. I was even told I could not be a Muslim because I was Puerto Rican; that I was too “out there,” too loud, or that my people were not morally upright.

I know about good practicing Muslim men who have been turned down for marriage because they are Hispanic. On the other hand, I have seen sisters taken for marriage by immigrant Muslims to achieve citizenship status and later abandoned, despite having children. I have been approached by Muslim men searching for their “J-Lo,” who want to marry a “hot” Latina because of the disgusting exploitation of Latina women they have been exposed to from television, movies, and music videos. I have made the mistake of introducing this type of person to one of my sisters and witnessed their disappointment because she did not fit the image of the fantasy girl they expected. I have felt the heartbreak of my sister who was turned down for not living up to those unrealistic expectations, and who continues to wait for a Muslim man who will honor her as she deserves. An older “aunty” once said to my face that she would never let her children marry a Latino/a.

I met a brother named José who was told that he had to change his un-Islamic Spanish name so that he would be better received in the Muslim community, even though his name, when translated to Arabic, is Yusuf! I have been asked if I know any Hispanic who could work at a Muslim’s store for less than minimum wage 12 hours a day or a “Spanish lady” who can clean a Muslim’s house for cheap. I have spoken to Latino men and women who work at masajid doing landscaping or janitorial services who have never heard anything about Islam. When I approached the Muslim groundskeeper at one of these mosques with Spanish literature to give them, he looked at me bewildered and said, “Oh, they are just contractors,” as if they did not deserve to learn about our faith! I have heard that the child of a Latina convert was expelled and banned from returning to an Islamic school for making a mistake, once. I have been told about fellow Hispanics who dislike going to the masjid because they feel rejected and, worse of all, some of them have even left Islam altogether.

Latina Muslims share a laugh during the 16th Annual Hispanic Muslim Day.
Photo/Caption by Melissa Barreto — at North Hudson Islamic Educational Center (NHIEC).

A few weeks ago, news was released about the sentencing of Darwin Martinez Torres, who viciously raped and murdered Northern Virginia teen, Nabra Hassanen during Ramadan in June 2017. The story made national headlines and left her family and the entire Muslim community devastated. Although the sentence of eight life terms in prison for the killer provided some closure to the public, the senseless and heinous act still leaves sentiments of anger and frustration in the hearts of those who loved Nabra Hassanen. Muslims began sharing the news on social media and soon, remarks about the murderer’s Central American origin flooded the comments sections. One said, “An illegal immigrant from El Salvador will now spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison where all his needs will be met, and his rights will be protected… When we attack efforts to stop illegal immigration and to deal with the criminals coming across the border every day, remember Sr. Nabra… we should all be united in supporting common-sense measures to ensure that our sisters do not walk in fear of attacks. (And no, this is not an ‘isolated case’…).”

Although I was just as relieved about receiving the news that there was finally justice for our young martyred sister, I was saddened to see that the anti-Hispanic immigrant sentiment within our own community was exposed: To assume that Latino immigrants are “criminals coming across the border every day” is to echo the very words that came from current US President Donald Trump’s mouth about immigrants prior to his election to the presidency. To blame all Latinos for a crime committed against one and claim it is not an “isolated case” is to do the same thing that Fox News and anti-Muslim bigots do when they blame all Muslims for a terror attack.

Why are we guilty of the same behavior that we loathe?

I do not like to air out our dirty laundry. I have always felt that it is counterproductive for our collective dawah efforts. It is embarrassing and shameful that we, who claim to be so tolerant and peaceful, still suffer from the very attitudes for which we blame others. As I write this piece, I have been sharing my thoughts with my close friend, a Pakistani-American, who agreed with me and said, “Just like a recovering alcoholic, our first step is to admit there is a problem.” We cannot demand our civil rights and expect to be treated with dignity while we mistreat another minority group, and this includes Latinos and also other indigenous Muslims like Black Americans and Native Americans. I say this, not just for converts, but for my loud and proud, half Puerto Rican and half Ecuadorian children and nephews and others like them who were born Muslims: we need a community that welcomes all of us.

Latinos and Muslims share countless cultural similarities. Our paths are the same. Our history is intertwined, whether we know it or not; and if you don’t know it, then it is time you do your research. How can we visit Islamic Spain and North Africa and marvel at its magnificence, and travel to the Caribbean for vacation and notice the Andalusian architecture present in the colonial era structures, yet choose to ignore our shared past? How can you be proud of Mansa Musa, and not know that it is said his brother sailed with other Malians to the Americas prior to Columbus, making contact with the indigenous people of South America (even before it was “America”)? How can you turn your back on people from the countries which sheltered thousands of Muslim immigrants from places like Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey after the collapse of the Uthmani Empire, many of which carry that blood in their veins?

Latino Muslim panelists during “Hispanic Muslim Day” at North Hudson Islamic Educational Center, Union City, NJ Photo/Caption by Melissa Barreto — at North Hudson Islamic Educational Center (NHIEC).

We need to do a better job of reaching out and getting to know our neighbors. In recent years, the Muslim ban has brought Latinos and Muslims together in solidarity to oppose discriminatory immigration laws. The time is now to establish lasting partnerships.

Use this Ramadan to reach out to the Latino community; host a Spanish open house or an interfaith/intercultural community iftar. Reach out to Latino Muslims in your area for support, or to organizations like ICNA’s WhyIslam (Por qué Islam) for Spanish materials. A language barrier is not an issue when there are plenty of resources available in the Spanish language, and we have the universal language that has been declared a charity by our Prophet, Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and that is a welcoming smile.

There is no excuse.

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#Society

MuslimARC Releases Guide for White Muslims By White Muslims

The author of the MuslimARC Guide writes an introduction

Bill Chambers

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“As people who are both white and Muslim, we straddle two identities -one privileged in society and the other, not. We experience Islamophobia to varying degrees, sometimes more overtly depending on how we physically present, and at the same time we have been socialized as white people in a society where white people hold more social power than People of Color (POC). The focus of the toolkit is to provide resources and information that will help guide us toward good practices and behaviours, and away from harmful ones, as we challenge racism within the Muslim community (ummah) and in society at large.” MuslimARC Guide 

As part of our mission to provide education and resources to advance racial justice within the Muslim community, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) is producing a series of community-specific guides to be a resource for those who want to engage in anti-racism work within Muslim communities.

The first in this series, the Anti-Racism Guide for White Muslims, has been written specifically for white Muslims, by white Muslims under the guidance of the anti-racist principles of MuslimARC. While white Muslims know that Islamically we are required to stand for justice, growing up in a society that is so racially unequal has meant that unless we seek to actively educate ourselves, we typically have not been provided the tools to effectively talk about and address racism.

The Anti-Racism Guide for White Muslims is a tool and resource that speaks to specific needs of white Muslims who are navigating the process of deepening their understanding of racism and looking for concrete examples of how, from their specific social location, they can contribute to advancing anti-racism in Muslim communities. The Guide also addresses views and practices that inadvertently maintain the status quo of racial injustice or can actually reproduce harm, which we must tackle in ourselves and in our community in order to effectively contribute to uprooting racism.

The Guide was developed by two white Muslim members of MuslimARC, myself (Bill Chambers) and Lindsay Angelow. The experiences, approaches, recommendations, and resources are based upon our own experiences, those of other white Muslims we have encountered or spoken to, and research and analysis by others who have been cited in the Guide.

As white people, we are not always aware when we say or write something that reflects our often narrow analysis of racism and need to be open to feedback from Muslims of Color. My own personal process of helping to develop this Guide made me aware of the many times I was in discussions with Muslims of Color, especially women, when I had reflect better upon the privilege I experience as a white person and also the white male privilege that comes with it. It is difficult not to feel defensive when you realize you may have said too much and listened too little on a topic that is really not about you.

Talking about racism is a hard topic and we anticipate that for many white Muslims reading the Guide, there may be a feeling of defensiveness and having difficulty learning from the examples given because you feel that the examples don’t apply to you. You may feel the need to call to attention the various forms of injustice you feel you have experienced in your life, for example where you felt like an outsider as a convert in Muslim community. Our advice is to recognize that those reactions are related to living in a society where we are very much shielded from having to deeply understand racism and examining our role in it. In the spirit of knowledge seeking, critical thinking, and the call to justice communicated to us in the Qur’an as expectations that Allah has of Muslims, we must push past those reactions and approach the subject matter in the spirit of knowledge, skill-seeking, and growth.

“People, We have created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should get to know one another (49:13).” One of our most important purposes is to really “get to know” one another, build just and loving communities together, all the time knowing we all come from the same source and will return together. If this Guide does anything, let it inspire a deeper understanding of our unique identity as white Muslims and how to use it to advance a more just society.

You can find the  #AntiRacismGuide for White Muslims at http://www.muslimarc.org/whitemuslimguide

Further reading:

White Activism Is Crucial In The Wake of Right-Wing Terrorism

Beyond Muslim Diversity to Racial Equity

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#Current Affairs

Why Sarfaraz Ahmed’s Racist Slur Strikes Beyond Cricket

Amad Abu Reem

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The Pakistani cricket team, that has been dogged with many off-field problems in the past decades, is now facing an issue that many outside the Indian subcontinent find perplexing—charges of racism, after Sarfaraz Ahmed, the team captain was caught on mic calling a South African player a “kala” (literal translation black).

Some are wondering how racism could even be an issue in a team which has all shades of brown, from very fair to very dark. In fact, racism in the subcontinent is dirty laundry that no one wants to talk about.

For far too long, racism has festered in the brown world (or “desis”—a term that encompasses the people of this region), be it the Indian subcontinent or Arab countries. And thankfully (not for Sarfaraz of course), it has been brought into sharp focus with Sarfaraz’s racial slur caught on mic.

Lets face it, the word “k*^la” is offensive and derogatory, but if you were to ask most desis about this incident, they would tell you that the word “kala” is normal part of the language and completely innocuous. While “k*#a” and other iterations of this word are indeed a commonly used “taunt”, it is nevertheless a taunt and far from innocuous.

The repercussions of a national team captain normalizing racism goes far beyond a joke.

It would not be surprising if Sarfaraz himself does not understand the gravity of the situation, because of the routine use of this word in Pakistan. Many consider it neutral. In fact, cricket fans in Pakistan often refer to the West Indian cricket team as “Kali Aandhi” (Black Storm).  The intention, many would argue, is not to insult but just a factual observation of blackness. But that explanation falls flat, because it is not as if Pakistanis call the Australian team “Chitti Aandhi” (White Storm).

Others would argue that this is just out of habit. So should we just let bad habits fester?

In reality, there is nothing innocuous and innocent about racism among brown people. The British left the Indian subcontinent more than 70 years ago, but not before infusing a white superiority complex among their ex-subjects.

The derogatory capacity of a pejorative word has far reaching consequences. Slurs perpetuate prejudices and cause intolerance and harm.

Let’s look at the negative coloring of this word- no pun intended.

As an example of why this issue extends beyond humor or innocence, ask most desis: what is the number one attribute in brides that parents look for, especially  in arranged marriages? The answer would be “light colored skin”. It is not a secret that most brown people still do not appreciate their children having dark or black spouses. While some of these folks may argue that not marrying into the black race is related to cultural differences, how come it is much more acceptable then to marry into the white race?

One needs to realize that the difficulty of considering darker/black spouses is not borne out of instant prejudice. It stems from a slow and steady indoctrination process that is common among most desis and Arabs. Many times, this process is not out of ill intent. It is not even conscious for the most part. It just happens out of routine behaviors. As an example of this process, mothers will tell their children to stay out of the sun, not because they may be harmed by sun exposure, but they may become “kala”. What is amusing and sad, is that many white people spend countless hours and money to willingly become a little “kala” by resorting to sunbathing or staying locked up in tanning parlors!

Let me speak from personal anguish—a painful personal experience that I have not shared with many others out of embarrassment. Growing up, my family used to visit Pakistan often. While I am not at the darkest end of the “brown spectrum”, I was darker than my cousins. This was enough for me to be routinely subjected to taunts of “k&*a”. Dark was bad was the message I got, as do many young children. I cannot recall if my uncles and aunts participated in this, but I do know they did not admonish their children either. Amusingly enough, I was even called “Indian” as a taunt (this continued well into adulthood too), because in the petty minds of my cousins, Indian was near synonymous to black—it was like two insults packed in one!

While I pretended to shake this off, it bothered me enough to secretly buy a stash of skin-bleaching cream, transfer it to an unlabeled container to avoid embarrassment and use it. I was only 11 or 12 years old! Please tell me how harmless these taunts must be to cause a young child to want to change his skin color that Allah gifted to him?

Recently, playing cricket with some desi friends, I was reminded of those painful times. The same “kala” slurs that you heard from Sarfaraz were targeted at a very dark friend. To make it more palatable, the taunts were packaged in jokes, such as “we need more light, because so-and-so will be in the picture”, or “don’t let your blackness rub off on the ball”, etc.

My dark friend took it with a smile or a laugh. However, I always wondered what was going on inside his mind. I regret that I did not say anything from the very first time I heard it, but being dark myself I felt hesitant to come to his defense. I never participated in the jokes; it would be hypocritical. But I know I could have—because it is like a pecking order, the lighter shades joke about the darker shades, even if the differences in shades are invisible to an outsider.

Eventually, I garnered the strength to advise my good friend (very light-skinned) who was the main source of the comments to lay off and that he may be hurting our friend’s feelings. And while I have no doubt about our fair friend’s good heart, I suspect that similar to those with white privilege, he didn’t even realize the problem with his jokes.  

It is not enough to just talk about racism and its cousin colorism, as if it only affects other societies. It is intricately woven in the desi and Arab societies. It gets passed down from generation to generation, like an inherited disease.

It is time for a change among our societies. The Muslims among desis and Arabs need to pay heed to their own Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), who forbade racism of any kind. What culture is more important than the Islamic culture of an egalitarian society, where race and color have no impact on position or influence or the opportunities for success?

It is time for all brown people, Muslim or not, to purge the scourge of racism, not just from our tongues, but our hearts. Stop telling your children to avoid sunlight to avoid becoming dark. Stop using the word “k*&a” at your homes in ANY context of someone’s skin color. Stop telling your family the color of your newborn child is congratulatory if white or a commiseration if dark. Stop your children’s friends or cousins from making any negative comments (in jest or otherwise) with respect to anyone’s complexion- this is a form of unacceptable bullying. Raise children who feel completely comfortable and beautiful in their complexion, no matter the shade.

Because black and white are both beautiful.

. هُوَ اللَّهُ الْخَالِقُ الْبَارِئُ الْمُصَوِّرُ لَهُ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ يُسَبِّحُ لَهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Best Names . All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. (Surah Al-Hashr 59:24)

A Shade Less | Not Fair and Lovely

Between a Rock and a Hard Place- Black and Muslim

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