30% of American Muslims are Black. Every 28 hours a Black person is killed by someone employed or protected by the US Government. What affects the Black community affects us—all life matters, Black life matters. It is crucial that we take a good look at what is going on in the working class city of #Ferguson and why it is important for the Muslim community to stand in solidarity with our Black brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends and coworkers.
— RT (@RT_com) August 14, 2014
Last Saturday in St.Louis County, Missouri, an unarmed 18-year-old student named Michael Brown was shot and killed by someone from the Ferguson Police Department. His body was left out in the sweltering heat for 4 hours. He was walking with a friend near his grandmother’s house. This killing came soon after a father of six, #EricGarner, was choked and killed to death by the NYPD and it was caught on a cell phone. Following a vigil after his death, riots erupted in Ferguson, and if you want to know why they are rioting watch this video. Vigils, protests and civil unrest were met by armored officers, GI joed up in surplus combat gear from the Iraq and Afghanistan war.
Colorlines reports that besides “…racial profiling, police shootings and lack of transparency surrounding their investigation has for the past few years been a subject of local concern.” One of the only Black elected officials who had been doing citizen journalism, Alderman Antonio French, was arrested. Journalists were arrested and tear-gassed—coincidentally, the same American-made tear gas used by the Israeli army. It was extremely twilight zone-ish seeing folks in Gaza sending Ferguson protestors tips and tricks on teargas via Twitter, but started making sense when according to a St. Louis County Police department press release the former Chief Timothy Fitch, along with law enforcement officials from across the United States, visited Israel to “learn how Israel’s police, intelligence and security forces prevent terror attacks.”
A Lesson in Structural Racism
Let’s look at the underlying problems, not the symptoms, and see how we, as a community, can try to understand what is happening. Many of us conflate individual bias with racism; racism is bias plus power.
Structural or Institutional Racism – a system of societal structures that work interactively to distribute generational and historic advantages to groups of people based on race and that produces cumulative, race-based inequalities.
Aggressive police tactics and racial disparity are the core of this struggle in this town. Ferguson, near St. Louis, Missouri, is 60% Black, yet almost all the police force is white. Last year, Black Missouri residents were 66% more likely to be stopped by police, and more likely to be arrested, even though white residents were more likely to be found with contraband. In the two-minute video posted to YouTube Sunday night, in a digitally altered voice hacktivists Anonymous delivered a strict list of demands for local police and legislators, “Anonymous will not be satisfied this time … with simply obtaining justice for this young man and his family,” the voice says, “Anonymous demands that the Congressional Representatives and Senators from Missouri introduce legislation entitled ‘Mike Brown’s Law,’ that will set strict national standards for police conduct and misbehavior in the USA.”
“No Justice, No Peace”
This protest cry was heard when 50,000 protesters took to the streets of Washington DC for Gaza. It was again heard in Ferguson. As we see in Gaza, true peace cannot exist without justice. Natasha Lennard writes that ‘to urge that citizens remain “peaceful” all-too-wishfully asks for a peace that does not exist.‘ Much respect to the Muslim community in St. Louis for sending this letter in solidarity to the Brown family. But were Muslims out en masse as they were for the rallies for Gaza? Justice should not mean ‘just us’ as Br Dawud Walid says eloquently in his khutbah and writes about here.
Far too many of us use words like ‘those K%^lu and ab#$d” to demonize and criminalize an entire race without looking at any underlying factors, especially the structural racism that exists in this country from mass incarceration, housing policy and employment and education practices to even how and where highways were built.
Muslim-Owned Liquor Stores
Many Muslim businesses were looted and destroyed by some of the protestors in Ferguson. It is easy to look at pictures of looting occurring in the city and perpetuate stereotypes. I am categorically not supporting the looting, especially of businesses like these, but I do want to comment on an aspect of Muslim business in inner cities across the US, especially because so much media focus in on property damage instead of loss of human life.
As one imam calls it, “The most disgusting ironies of Muslim life in the United States.” Muslim liquor stores in the corners of inner cities and Black neighborhoods is an epidemic problem. Downtown Baltimore, DC, Oakland, LA – name any city in the United States and I will find you tons of Muslims who own liquor stores there. This practice is exploitative. Many of these areas are food deserts, where there are no grocery stores, no safe places for families to shop and for Muslims, many of whom are immigrants, to come and open stores in areas with high concentrations of existing liquor stores that contribute to the crime in the area is really problematic.
The liquor store business is highly lucrative, pumping out $2 billion out of the inner cities. Little children who have no place to buy a candy bar are introduced to alcohol a few steps from their homes and schools because our Muslim brothers choose to partake in the free economy and wring the system. With each visit to buy anything from bread to cashing a check, alcohol abuse is normalized. Many store owners often don’t live in the areas, as it is deemed ‘unsafe’ for their own families.
According to a Brookings Institute report, “Although the relationships are complex, the high concentration of liquor stores in the inner cities, the ready availability of beer and hard liquor, and the high incidence of alcohol abuse are deeply implicated in the troubled homes, disorderly neighborhoods, and dangerous streets there.”
“Alcohol use has been associated with assaultive and sex-related crimes, serious youth crime, family violence toward both spouses and children, being both a homicide victim and a perpetrator, and persistent aggression as an adult. Alcohol ‘problems’ occur disproportionately among both juveniles and adults who report violent behaviors.”
The report further states that neighborhood disorder takes many forms — “public drinking, prostitution, catcalling, aggressive panhandling, rowdy teenagers, battling spouses, graffiti, vandalism, abandoned buildings, trash-filled lots, alleys strewn with bottles and garbage. But no social disorder is at once so disruptive in its own right and so conducive of other disorders and crime as public drinking.”
We know ourselves how damaging the effects of alcohol can be when we are not even allowed to assist, account or transport alcohol because of the multitude of sins that can come from it. It is abhorrent in itself to call a race ‘animals’ and then to provide them the very means that God has forbidden, precisely because it ignites the animalistic behavior in all of us, regardless of the color of our skin. Are these businesses making the community or destroying it? Remember Muslim or not, they are also the Ummah of our Beloved.
Anti-Black Individual Bias and the Global Ummah
I was at my daughter’s homeschooling review and the reviewer, after pleasantly chatting for a while, asked me personal questions about where I grew up and my ethnicity. “You are the first Pakistani/Indian who has spoken to me this way.”
Needless to say I was shocked, especially since I know we have many ‘desi’ home-schoolers in the area. She went on to say, “I grew up in Chicago and many Pakistani corner store owners would look at us like we would steal something, they called us names that they thought we could not understand, but we did.”
If you have ever wondered why some of your Black Muslim brothers and sisters may not be as hyped about the Palestinian cause, or any other cause overseas—although there are many vocal Black voices here who support justice globally—allow me to share some of their voices and points that made me pause and reflect:
“To be brutally honest, Muslims from other countries expect you to donate to their native country, but won’t invite you to their home for iftar or Eid, won’t make you feel welcome at the masjid (where their nationality is in the majority), and most likely wouldn’t donate to charities that support individuals who are African-American and Latino (both Muslim and non-Muslim).”
Not going to assume collective guilt, but how do you expect a people to feel your pain when you call them ‘ab$%d” and sell them haram? How do you think you are looked upon?
“Umm yeah. I’m like so y’all asking me to send money and aid overseas but you selling pork liquor and lottery tickets (all haram) to MY people and I’m supposed to be cool with it? NO.”
Men who come from overseas are seen as exploitive predators, as they come to the inner city to pick up women — many who are working the streets because they are victims of sex traffickers — instead of representatives of the Sahaba whose ethics spread Islam to Southeast Asia through their business and trade. And on top of that, if a Black man asks for an Arab or South Asian sisters’ hand in marriage he is told he cannot even look at them, let alone ask for her hand in marriage.
After Brown’s murder, the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, especially on Twitter, showed how mainstream media paints a narrative of young Black men, picking and choosing what is shown. Looking at this is an important exercise in examining how many of us are influenced by what is shown about African Americans on TV and movie screens, and examining our own racial bias.
The State of Many Inner City Masajid
Last year, I was given a tour of inner city masajid in Baltimore and I was dismayed at the state of several masajid. If every dollar that we spend in masajid in the ‘burbs was matched, and community centers were built by Muslims in the places they are needed the most, Islam in America would be a force of positive social change that we wax so eloquently about. It is about time that we go beyond the homeless feedings, Eid gifts and coat drives and start building institutions and safe places for young men and women in inner cities.
This is the kind of institutional building that we need to be doing for the dawah and for the betterment of our wider communities. As we know that we are all the ummah of the Beloved, Muslim or not. We have a collective responsibility to want the best for others, no matter their religious or non-religious affiliation. Our neighbors have a right upon us.
ISNA 2014 and the Water Crisis in Detroit
On a related note because it has been on my mind, how many American Muslims know what is going on in Detroit (the economic and water crisis) where the largest Muslim organization is holding its convention? I bring this up because 30 percent of American Muslims are Black and it is vital that their issues and voices be heard.
This is what it means to be poor in #Detroit, where water prices are twice the national average. Exorbitant water bills come in that working class families can’t afford so the water gets cut off, leading to unsanitary conditions, which means now you are scared of losing your kids.
“Many parents in homes without water are sending their children to live with family or friends for fear of losing their sons and daughters to Child Protection Services.” The Detroit Water and Sewage Company supplies water to nearly the entire metropolitan area, but it is set up in such a way that it doesn’t have the power to increase rates in the suburbs, only for city residents.
Structural racism again. 83% of the population is African-American.
Some immediate proactive things that your Muslim community can do:
- Sign this petition
- If you are attending the ISNA convention this year in Detroit than learn about the water crisis there. You can use this website to donate to vetted folks who are suffering from unfair water bills http://detroitwaterproject.org.
- Mobilize and join the protests for issues aside from the ones that affect Muslims and your ethnicity/race
- Every masjid in the United States should be talking about Ferguson, social and racial justice and structural racism in this country at Friday prayers (request it from your imam).
- Learn about Anti-Black racism.
- Confront your own stereotypes and racism- stop the next person who you see use words that are racist, that dehumanize or criminalize any race.
- Give salaam to a Black brother and sister as they walk into the masjid.
- Invite Black voices to speak at the masjid or community center to share their experience.
- If you know someone who owns a business that sells liquor, introduce them to organizations like IMAN who have helped some Muslim store-owners turn their businesses into grocery stores or replaced the liquor with fresh produce. Here is an awesome incentive and if you don’t have one in your city start one. Look at how this indigenous Muslim community tackled the problem of liquor stores and all that they bring with them to the neighborhood. This is Islam.
- Have the masjid that you attend adopt a masjid in the inner city to hold joint fundraisers and events to build the bonds of brother and sisterhood.
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
― Frederick Douglass
Photo Credit aol.com