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What do #Ferguson, Anti-Black Racism, Muslim-Owned Liquor Stores, and Detroit have to do with Gaza?

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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.

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.

Criminalizing a race-hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown shows how mainstream media paints a narrative of young Black men pic.twitter.com/QDuPL6Rt2b — Hena Zuberi (@HenaZuberi) August 11, 2014

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

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Pingback: WHAT DO #FERGUSON, ANTI-BLACK RACISM, MUSLIM-OWNED LIQUOR STORES, AND DETROIT HAVE TO DO WITH GAZA? | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

    • Avatar

      Jamil

      August 18, 2014 at 9:23 PM

      The issue of Muslim owned businesses is complicated. Strictly speaking, selling alcohol is haram and Muslims should avoid businesses which deal with alcohol. However, calling Muslim store owners predators is not productive – many of these people have had a difficult time finding other employment due to limited educational opportunities and economic background. Pretending that America is the “land of plenty” for all immigrant Muslims is misleading and inaccurate. It’s part and parcel of the American Dream mythology which also suggests that native minority Americans (ie African Americans, Latinos, etc) need simply apply themselves to learning and pull themselves up by their bootstraps to achieve financial freedom. Many Arab/Muslim immigrants don’t have the luxury of being employed as aerospace engineers like many “proper” upper middle class Muslims (where, in their gainful employment, they can design weapons systems used to murder countless innocent Muslims and others from the air – without, I might add, earning the ire or condemnation of our leadership). I also think it’s important to acknowledge another aspect of this again admittedly difficult dynamic – that of Arab/Muslim owners who have been murdered or assaulted in their stores. I can’t count the number of people I’ve heard of who have been shot and/or killed in their inner city shops over the past 30 years. These are not isolated incidents, but an unfortunate reality of doing business in impoverished communities. Did these individuals deserve to die because they’re selling alcohol? Who is shooting them? And does the fact that many of these individuals have been shot by African American men give Arabs/immigrant Muslims the right to vilify an entire community? The answer, of course, is no…blanket generalizations about any community are harmful and divisive and do little to advance the cause of positive inter-Muslim relations. I’m just pointing out that the equation is much more complicated than the author presents and will require more than one-sided lecturing. The American Muslim community doesn’t have the luxury of allowing itself to be divided by ethnicity, race, immigration status, etc.

      • Avatar

        candice

        August 22, 2014 at 5:01 PM

        Brother, I think you’re making excuses for Muslim business owners. If we were talking about Muslim women selling sex, rather than Muslim men selling porn mags and beer, would you be talking about these poor souls who didn’t have the luxury of putting themselves through nursing school or engineering school? I think not. Peddling haram is peddling haram, period. While it damages our image as a community in concrete terms, you have to wonder whether we all suffer from the collective harm of failing to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.
        At the same time, you’re demonizing some mythical population of middle-class Muslim aerospace engineers who design weapons of war. Where are these people? A Muslim can’t even apply for a gun license without raising suspicion, much less start designing AR-15s!
        I agree with you when you say that our community can’t afford to be divided, but it’s already divided. Can you deny that converts and Black American and Latino Muslims are marginalized within the broader Muslim American community? Sure, the masjid loves to have the local Spanish-language channel conduct an interview in the mussallah about Latino Muslims and broadcast it on the nightly news, but have I ever seen a Spanish-language sign (or even English, for that matter) in that very same masjid announcing that board elections for the masjid will be held? No. They wouldn’t say no to publicity, but actually having Latinos participate in directing the affairs of the masjid, that’s not gonna happen. And the same goes for the treatment of Black American Muslims. Everyone loves to hear brother so-and-so give a lecture, but actually inviting him to help the masjid make long-term plans is a whole ‘nother question. And if I even get started on Islamic schools, ya Allah, help me! The racism and bigotry that Black and Latino Muslim kids have to deal with in Islamic schools is enough to choke you up with tears. Their parents chose Islam. Their parents chose to raise them as Muslims. But it’s hard to convince a kid who deals with racial and ethnic harassment at school that the “Islamic” environment is better.
        The mere mention of these issues and the issues that Sr. Hena raised are not an incitement to division. It’s a reality that many Muslims refuse to face. Will these problems go away by NOT talking about them, for fear of causing division? Or is it more likely that the people who propagate and perpetuate racial/ethnic marginalization and tokenism are the source of the division?

    • Avatar

      Kesa Hopkins

      August 25, 2014 at 11:22 AM

      Wrong. The African American population of the County of Wayne is 39.6%- the whole for Michigan is 14%. DWS serves 40% of Michigan, 80% of whom are white, where on earth do you get the figure 83% (of any population in Michigan) is African American?

    • Avatar

      Hyde

      August 22, 2014 at 3:40 PM

      Oh wow horray for political correctness :)

  2. Avatar

    ANMB

    August 17, 2014 at 6:19 PM

    There is hope of bridging the cultural divide amongst African-American and Immigrant Muslims, as evident in this article, that is worth reading:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/11/nyregion/11muslim.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    • Avatar

      Jamil

      August 18, 2014 at 10:44 PM

      The NY Times article is very interesting…indeed, heartbreaking at times. We have a long way to go. It all starts with education – immigrant Muslims need to educate their children about the the African American experience (which is part and parcel of the Muslim experience), and indigenous Muslim parents need to educate their children about how the African American human/civil rights struggle mirrors the global struggle for justice. Most important of all, we need to develop genuine empathy for one another. This is not a luxury but an article of faith, the sincere belief that if one part of the body (Ummah) feels pain, the the entire body suffers. Here’s hoping that the revolution in social media helps us overcome these barriers, allowing people (including Muslims) of different backgrounds to connect on a more visceral level, to truly empathize with one another so that we might connect the dots…to truly appreciate that human suffering is all connected.

  3. Avatar

    Salih Abdullah

    August 17, 2014 at 11:55 PM

    Mashallah this is an excellent post. Very well articulated and accurate from my perspective. I remember my mother (Allahu Magfirlaha) spoke to a Palestinian sister after Hurricane Katrina, and the sister had no sympathy for the people that were killed in New Orleans because they were kuffar. My mother became angry and said she had no sympathy for the Palestinians. Of course the sister was outraged after that, exclaiming “but they’re Muslims!” Although it could have been handled differently, the sentiments are real. And the fact that they’re Muslims was probably not the REAL reason for her outrage, because when Muslim from central Africa, Somalia, or some other non-Arab location are killed, much emphasis is not placed on their plights in our communities. Of course, unless those communities consisted of predominantly members of that ethnic group.

    Foreign Muslims come to America, reap the benefits of the freedoms and rights of the land, establish Muslim communities and much of the time they find ways to ostracize the indigenous Muslims of the community. As the article mentioned, they do not invite them to their homes; they will not give them their daughters and they don’t hear their concerns. Of course, many of the Black Americans come with baggage that many are not equipped to deal with, but much of the time, there seems to not be any effort to attempt to understand the plight, and what could be done to remedy these problems.

    I think this article is a good step in the right direction in regards to rectifying ourselves as an Ummah and uniting on the basis of Islam. I think we should create think tanks that can involve multiple segments of our community where topics like this can be discussed by influential members of our communities and then we make collective decisions that money, focus and energy can be directed towards. If anyone has any ideas as to how we can start something like this, or if there is anything like this that currently exists, please tell me.

    • Avatar

      Islah Umar

      August 18, 2014 at 7:07 AM

      ASA Salih, agreed. tThese articles are well researched and well written. I think the statistic -30% of muslims are African American may be on the low side. It is about time Muslims world wide openly support the plight of the African American. All have benefitted from our blood. ws

  4. Avatar

    Fazila

    August 18, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    Assalamu Alaykum! This is a great article, May Allah help us in realizing that united our ummah can be invincible. As a ummah we getting turning apart from the true essence of islam, starting from our ownselves as muslims, due to all types of prejudice, from racial to financial, complex of superiority and arrogance due to better knowledge of the deen, due to lineage, and the list goes on. If we don´t resolve this matters it will always be very easy for the enemies of islam to destroy us, as they are already doing. May allah forgive us our fauls and guide us to the straight path. Jazakallah for such a brilliant article and for all your efforts in sharing such beneficial knowledge. May Allah bless you always. AS

  5. Avatar

    Waleed Ahmed

    August 20, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    Great analysis Hena. This was much needed.

  6. Pingback: Michael Brown, Gaza, and Muslim Americans | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

  7. Pingback: Michael Brown, Gaza & Muslim Americans | NEWYORKUSTAN: American Muslim Series

  8. Avatar

    Hira Amin

    August 21, 2014 at 12:27 AM

    Excellent analytical and well-researched article masha Allah. The Ferguson incidents is strikingly similar to the London riots over the same topic – structural racism.

  9. Pingback: What do #Ferguson, Anti-Black Racism, Muslim-Owned Liquor Stores, and Detroit have to do with Gaza? - Ka Waal

  10. Avatar

    Saf

    August 26, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    Brother Jamil,agreed that it is complex. But I do not get why there is a debate on whether it is right or wrong? Alcohol is haram,period.How to get these muslims selling alcohol to turn to other long-term halal productive businesses should be the solution to discuss, let us not justify a crime here and call it self-defence or survival.One cannot convert haram to halal because of not having plush middle class income?Poverty is a test for Muslims,after all they got born into the deen for free ! Its like the way Taiban sold heroin to Europe but boasted that they don’t smoke it anyway.Today Afghanistan and Pakistan have the highest number of heroin addicts after the balkan states.Haram breeds Haram,to me that is the point of Hena Zuberi’s article.

  11. Avatar

    snoozer

    September 4, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    This obsession with on this blog race and racism is bizarre. First off,each person is an individual, we are born of different races and nationalities, but we have no say in the matter. It is absurd to think we should pigeonholed into thinking a particular way because we’re born a certain race or nationality. I don’t represent a race or nationality, but myself. When I’m making some of life’s decisions, I don’t think how will this effect my race or nationality, but how it effects myself and family. We Westerners are suffering from neurosis when it comes to race, we put it above everything. If you’re not perceived to be a worshiper of so and so race you’ll get the worse label in society, a racist. The White Westerner isn’t the only one suffering from this neurosis, the so called I minorities do too! They think if anything goes wrong in their life it must be a result of them racist! They been conditioned, by the system that they are a prized people, any disagreeing with them and their ways can only be racist. If you ain’t understanding, think about the Israeli Jews, and their belief that everyone who doesn’t agree with them is an anti Semite! I’m not special as a person’s who ancestry is European or responsible for the world’s problems, and you as a “minority” aren’t a perfect little peace loving humanitarian, and vice versa. We are separated by our actions as Individuals.

  12. Pingback: Muslim Anti-Racism Response to Structural Racism | Margari Aziza

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#Society

The Culture Debt of Islamic Institutions

The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

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Our community institutions are in debt – cultural debt. And the bill is due.

There are major consequences when the bill comes due on a debt you owe. Personal debt can lead to bankruptcy or foreclosure and the loss of your home.

If paid off before the bill comes due, debt can be a tool. Many communities in North America have utilized the qardh hasanah (goodly loan) as a way to expedite construction projects and then pay people back over time. When businesses fail to pay debt back, they are forced to liquidate and go out of business to satisfy their creditors. In extreme cases, like the economic crisis of a few years ago, major institutions repeatedly utilizing debt as a tool became over-leveraged, creating a rippling collapse.

Financial debt is not the only type of debt an organization carries. Every decision made by an organization adds to a balance sheet of sorts. Other types of debt can be technical, or even cultural.

Consider a new company that keeps making the decision to cut corners with their technology infrastructure – creating ‘technical’ debt. At a certain point, the infrastructure will need to be replaced. If not properly planned for, the cost to fix it could cripple the company.

Put another way, impatience and short-term decision making create (non-financial) debts that can destroy an organization.

The cultural debt for an organization, especially Islamic organizations, can be the most devastating.

These decisions may appear rational or well-intentioned compromises, but they come at a cost.

For example, if a community prioritizes money into a construction project instead of an imam or youth director, what is the cost of the compromise? A 5-year construction project means an entire segment of youth who will be aged anywhere between 13 and 18 risk being disconnected from the masjid.

What about the cost of marginalizing the one sister on the board multiple times such that other sisters become disenchanted and unengaged. Or what if the marginalized board member is a youth, or a convert, or a person of color? How is the collateral damage to those segments of the community assessed?

What about when the same 2 or 3 people (even without an official title) remain in charge of a masjid and aggressively push out people not in line with their agendas? Dedicated and hard-working volunteers will end up leaving and going to other communities.

What about when a few people are responsible for creating an environment so toxic and exhausting that volunteers don’t want to come to the masjid anymore? And they get so burned out that they refuse to get involved in a masjid again? Who is going to pay the bill for all the talent that’s been driven away?

What is the spiritual debt on a community that refuses to invest in an Imam or scholar for over 10 years? An entire generation will grow up in that masjid without a local resource to take guidance from. What is the impact on those kids when they grow up to get married and have their own children?

What is the cost of having overly-aggressive daily congregants who yell at people, make people feel uncomfortable, and ultimately make them want to stay away from the masjid?

Will the construction committee that decided to build a customized dome instead of a more adequate women’s prayer space ever make it up to them?

What is the cost on a community of building a massive albatross of a school that can’t cover its own overhead – and yet services less than 5% of a community’s children?

What is the cost on a congregation when the Friday khutbah becomes associated entirely with fundraising instead of spiritual development?

Did anyone plan to repay this cultural debt when they were making decisions on behalf of the community? Who is paying attention to it?

Some communities are able to shift, and make strides. Some communities are able to recognize a larger vision for growing and developing a community spiritually.

For other communities, they are now over-leveraged. The culture debt is due. To continue the financial analogy, they’re at the point of declaring bankruptcy.

These are the masjids that are empty. These are the ones where, pardon the crassness, after a few people die off, the masjid will most likely die out as well because there is no community left to take over.

These are the communities that people avoid, where they refuse to volunteer, and eventually where people stop donating.

The culture debt of the community is that people no longer feel a part of the community, and therefore the infrastructure they worked so hard to build will crumble.

Cultural bankruptcy is the loss of people.

Can the culture debt be repaid? Is there a way out? How do you undo the loss of people?

I was really hoping to have a nice and tidy 5-step action plan to fix this. The reality is, it’s not going to be easy. People don’t realize the collateral damage they’ve caused over the course of 10-20 years despite the good intentions they had.

How do you get them to accept responsibility, much less change?

It’s not going to happen. The change will be outside the masjid. This means there will be a continued rise in third spaces. Parents are using online tutors instead of Sunday schools, making their children even less attached to the masjid. There will be an increase in small groups of families getting together in their homes instead of the masjid to try and build a sense of community. There will be an entire generation of new adults who will not even desire an attachment to the masjid beyond the Friday and funeral prayers.

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them)

People will replace the local community with online communities (and sometimes the dubious online personalities leading them).Click To Tweet

We all see the masjids in our community that have been hit hardest by this culture debt. They’re the ones that used to be full and are now empty – while the same 2 or 3 people remain in charge for literally decades. They’re the ones that we fear will eventually close down or be sold off due to a lack of any real community – because the community was never invested in to begin with.

Those in positions of influence should seriously take account of the consequences of their actions on the community. Recognize the wrongs that were done and do your best to rectify them. At the least, seek forgiveness for the ramifications of your actions.

We can no longer make the excuse of having to do what we had to do in order to get institutions up and running from scratch. As the saying goes – what got you here won’t get you there. The reality across America is that too many people have used the masjid to serve their own egos, fulfill their desires for power, and give themselves a big building as something to point at and say, “I built that.” Too few have created a vision for the spiritual upliftment of a community and then worked to serve it.

And now we see the consequences of those decisions. The culture debt is due, and we might not be able to pay it back.

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#Life

I Encountered A Predator On Instagram

A predator on Instagram posing as a hijab modeling consultant, going by the name of @samahnation, tried to prey on me- an underage, 16-year-old. We don’t know if the photos on Instagram page have been stolen from a victim. These predators operate under various names.

instagram predator
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It was a Wednesday night in April and as I was getting ready to go to bed, a direct message popped up in my Instagram inbox. A little background; my personal  account on Instagram is private and it is rare that I let anyone, whom I do not know, follow me. But seeing that this was a grown “woman” with a baby and I had at least seven mutual friends, I let her follow me. 

I will say, I was definitely in the wrong to respond to someone I didn’t personally know. Somehow I thought her 105K followers gave her credibility. 

I was gravely mistaken. 

I opened the direct message. 

She had sent me a message complimenting me. This wasn’t new to me because I often get messages with compliments about my appearance from friends — we are teenagers. However, the stark difference was that I didn’t know this person at all. (I came to learn that these types of messages can go under the category of grooming). After complimenting me, she asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company. 

Many young women are targeted by predators on Instagram. Here is my story. 'After complimenting me, 'she' asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.'Click To Tweet

I replied, saying that if I had more details I’d consult with my parents and give her an answer the next morning; to which she responded demanding she must have an answer the same night as she had other offers to make. 

I then went to ask my mother. Mama was sick with the flu, quite woozy, but despite her state she said,

“this sounds like a scam to me…”.



I decided to play along with it and test her. 

I told @samahnation to tell me more and how I could verify her and her company. She then sent me numerous copied and pasted answers —hecka long— about how I could trust her; how the company would pay me and how they will still make money in the meantime. 

hijab modeling scam

Thankfully, I was apprehensive during the entire ordeal, but as you can see, this type of manipulation is so real and possible for young women and girls to fall prey. This experience was honestly quite scary and jarring for me. I was so easily distracted by what she was portraying herself as on her profile. She had a GoFundMe for a masjid in her bio and posts of photos depicting her love for her baby.
predator

I began to do some research. I stumbled upon an article about a ‘Hijab House’ model scam. Using the title of ‘consultant director’ for a well-known hijab company, Hijab House, predators were allegedly preying on young girls in Australia. Hijab House has denied any link to this scam. 

Hijab House model scam

 

The predator went as far as to blackmail and pressure their victims into sending nude photos, or doing crazy things like smelling shoes! Eerily enough, @samahnation’s Instagram bio stated that she was based in Melbourne, Australia.


The more I engaged with this predator, the more ludicrous their responses and questions got. And this happened within the span of 24 hours. 

She went as far as to ask me if I would answer questions for a survey, saying all that mattered was honesty and that the purpose of the survey was to make me uncomfortable to see if I “won’t fall under pressure.”

Clearly, this last statement about being a speech analysis specialist was a complete fabrication. Again, may I reiterate that even older people can fall prey. You don’t have to be young and impressionable, these manipulative perpetrators will do anything to get what they want.



As shown below, the situation reached an obscene level of ridiculousness. You can see clear attempts to gaslight me and pressure me into answering or changing my stance on my replies.


This was the last thing I said to the predator before I blocked and reported them in an attempt to get them caught. Observe how as soon as I called this person out they immediately became defensive and tried to manipulate me into thinking that what they were doing and asking me was completely normal- that I was the crazy one for asking for proof. 

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. They had asked me questions I found too lewd to even answer or take screenshots of.

This bizarre encounter was honestly astonishing. I do not even know if I was talking to a man or a woman.

Alhamdullilah, I am so glad because even if I was a little bit gullible, I was aware enough about predatory behavior that I didn’t fall victim to this perpetrator. I am especially grateful for my mother, who has educated me about predators like this from a very young age; whom even in her drowsy state was able to tell me it was a preposterous scam.

I could have been blackmailed.

Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

I am grateful for having an open channel of communication, that my relationship with my mother is based on trust and I could go to her when this occurred. This is a reminder and a learning opportunity for all of us how these scary things can happen to anyone. We must learn how to take caution and protect ourselves and our (underage) loved ones against such situations.

Sis, please talk to your parents. They love you and will be your first line of defense.

Grooming

Grooming is a very common tactic online predators use to gain the trust of their victim. According to InternetSafety101, young people put themselves at great risk by communicating online with individuals they do not know on a personal level. “Internet predators intentionally access sites that children commonly visit and can even search for potential victims by location or interest.

If a predator is already communicating with a child, he or she can piece together clues from what the child mentions while online, including parents’ names, where the child goes to school, and how far away the child lives from a certain landmark, store, or other location.
Online grooming is a process which can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception. As the predator (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, he may initially lie about his age or may never reveal his real age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate it to the child.”

These tactics lead children and teens to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.

They also flatter and compliment the child excessively and manipulate a child’s trust by relating to emotions and insecurities and affirming the child’s feelings and choices.

Predators will:

* Prey on teen’s desire for romance, adventure, and sexual information.
* Develop trust and secrecy: manipulate child by listening to and sympathizing with child’s problems and insecurities.
* Affirm feelings and choices of child.
* Exploit natural sexual curiosities of child.
* Ease inhibitions by gradually introducing sex into conversations or exposing them to pornography.
* Flatter and compliment the child excessively, send gifts, and invest time, money, and energy to groom the child.
* Develop an online relationship that is romantic, controlling, and upon which the child becomes dependent.
* Drive a wedge between the child and his/her parents and friends.
* Make promises of an exciting, stress-free life, tailored to the youth’s desire.
* Make threats, and often will use child pornography featuring their victims to blackmail them into silence.”

Gaslighting 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? 

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. “Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind,” writes Dr Stephanie Sarkis. 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? Click To Tweet

Recognizing signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

Second guessing. Are you constantly second guessing yourself when talking to this person or questioning your own morals that you wouldn’t have thought twice about otherwise? For example, when this person popped up in my inbox I wouldn’t have thought twice about blocking or just deleting the message if it was a man but, since it seemed to be a woman I was duped into thinking that it was more acceptable or I could trust them more.

Feeling as if you are being too sensitive. Again I cannot emphasize this enough that you must trust your instincts, if you are feeling uncomfortable and your internal alarm bells are ringing- listen to them! Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting or manipulation. 

Feeling constantly confused. Another sign that you may be falling victim to gas lighting is when you are constantly confused and second guessing your thoughts and opinions.

Three takeaways:

1. Trust your instincts (I’m going to reiterate this, always trust your gut feeling, if you feel like you are uncomfortable whether it’s a situation you are in or if you don’t have a good feeling while talking to a certain person I advise you exit the chat or don’t answer in the first place.)
2. Never answer to someone whom you don’t know. I will say this was my first and biggest mistake that I have made: allowing this person’s messages into my inbox, and replying to their ridiculous claims and questions. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if this was a woman or not.
3. Set your boundaries! This is probably the most important tip to take away from this article. Setting up your boundaries from the beginning is so important. Whether it is a friend, partner or colleague, if you do not set your boundaries from the beginning of your interaction or relationship with that person; people will not respect your limits and choices later on. Especially if your boundaries have to do with religion, moral compasses, or even specific pet peeves you have. I cannot emphasize how much boundaries matter when it comes to any daily interaction you may have in your daily life.

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#Society

Are You Accidentally Supporting Corrupt Nonprofit Organizations and Charities?

Muslim Nonprofit fiefdoms
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Former Pennsylvania State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell has a compelling story.  Even the State Attorney General, who recently charged her with several crimes, alluded to the pain she experienced in her life.  It was a remarkable story of perseverance after being affected by gun violence, triumph and helping others. Yet, there she is, facing time in prison for using a charity called “MECA” for assorted alleged acts of theft, fraud, and other crimes of dishonesty.

According to the Attorney General, Johnson-Harrell has accepted responsibility for her crimes and is pleading guilty.  She has also resigned from her public office.  Johnson-Harrell has stated she may dispute some charges. She like any other defendant is innocent until the state proves her guilty.

What is also undeniable is that many of the kinds of things the Attorney General accused Johnson-Harrell of are common with nonprofits, both Muslim and non-Muslim.  Indeed, the President of the United States has also done egregious things with his “charity” in New York, undetected by law enforcement despite his public profile, until news media started asking questions. The President faces no criminal charges. 

My purpose here goes beyond Johnson-Harrell’s legal troubles. Instead, it is to help nonprofits and their leaders stay out of trouble and to give donors an essential tool in being a thoughtful donor. We often donate because of “social proof.” Someone invites you to donate online; a friend invites us to a fundraiser, we hear a good speech or testimonial, and we give.

 We often don’t particularly care about accountability. We should. Let’s dig deeper to understand how charities work so that we can be better donors with the limited funds we have to give with excellence. 

The Role of Government Oversight in Charities 

What state a nonprofit is in makes a difference.  The state attorney general typically has regulatory authority over the nonprofit sector.  Charities have tax benefits because of the social good they theoretically provide. But what happens if the charity is not keeping faith with its beneficial role?  If a CEO of an environmental charity pilfers funds for personal use, you cannot reasonably expect a family of ducks to sue. The Attorney General is there for the ducks, the trees, the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the beaches, the works of art, the future poor patients who are not yet poor or sick, and everything else charity should benefit.  At least that’s the idea 

Abuse by nonprofits is a violation of the public trust.  It is public corruption against society and not merely cheating a donor. 

Because of this role, from time to time, you see lawsuits and even criminal prosecutions by state attorneys general for corruption by nonprofit leaders. A high-profile state representative like Johnson-Harrell is an obvious target since prosecuting her lets the rest of us citizens know law enforcement is paying attention. But these lawsuits and occasional criminal prosecutions are rare compared to how rampant nonprofit corruption is. Attorneys General typically don’t put adequate resources into regulating the more than trillion-dollar nonprofit sector. 

Religious Charities Can Usually Get Away With More

In some states, for example, California, religious corporations are exempt by statute from oversight for things like breaches of fiduciary duty. The lack of accountability is remarkable since religious charities can be extremely corrupt, something known to Americans for much of its history.  Exposing religious charity corruption has long been fodder for documentaries and movies. Certain Christian preachers on TV are known to abuse nonprofit status to flaunt extreme wealth with no negative consequences.

People who run religious nonprofits, including Executive Directors and board members, can still be criminally prosecuted, but you usually would not expect it. Various taxing authorities also have authority over charities. The IRS is the primary regulator for charities nationally. For the most part, though, the IRS has been leaving nonprofits, even obviously bad ones, alone. Religious nonprofits, like those classified as “churches,” don’t need to file Form 990s, annual disclosures required for other nonprofits. Therefore much of what these groups activities are opaque to both the government and the public. 

With some notable exceptions, governments and law enforcement at all levels mostly ignore nonprofit corruption. The times they do is typically the exception that proves the rule. 

For the most part, then, sorting out the good nonprofits from the bad ones is left to donors. We all contend with hard-sell data-driven marketing tactics from social psychology.  We don’t usually don’t know how to distinguish between good organizations and bad. 

Look Beyond The Pitch

Stories of nonprofits and their leaders can be compelling. But narratives can also be used to manipulate, distract, and hide. The raw charisma of a speaker quoting Quran and Hadith can be waived up to donors to make them think they are doing good work in the path of Allah when they may sometimes be enabling criminality. Charisma and the power of stories can get us to contribute to causes better than just about anything. 

There are various red flags to look out for, but I will focus on perhaps the most obvious one, an executive of a charity acting as a member of the board. 

No Real Board Accountability

Johnson-Harrell was on her own nonprofit board while also serving as an executive.  This practice was also present at scandal-plagued Ta’leef Collective. State law does not typically forbid a CEO or other employee (like an imam) from being a board member, despite it being a glaring conflict of interest. It has never been nonprofit best practices to have employees oversee themselves since it is a horrible idea on its face.  The only possible real justification for this is when a nonprofit is new, small, all volunteer-run, and there are not enough volunteers or funds available to make accountability a priority.  While there is potential for abuse here, we tend to ignore it out of practicality. 

Now larger nonprofits can have employees, as well as others, with personal, family or business interests with the charity (like a vendor) on the board might point to a “conflict of interest policy.”  Of course every nonprofit should have one in case unexpected conflicts come up.  They are not, however, solutions to self-created problems the organization never needed to have.

Accountability is Hard 

It still begs the question:  Why engage in the reckless practice of having an executive overseeing himself or herself?  Are there no sufficiently qualified people in the Muslim community capable of helping with the board of an organization?  Unlikely. 

What we do know is the main reason Muslim leaders (non-Muslims as well) chose to police themselves is that real accountability is hard, maybe even a little messy. 

You may have heard this story before: An Imam and a Masjid Board have a conflict, resulting in the Imam leaving.  The Imam does not go quietly, though, since he is angry with the board. He tells his supporters (of which he has many in the local community) that boards are incompetent, imbecilic, don’t understand the “youth” or whatnot.  The best way to run a Masjid, you see, is for the Imam to call all the shots. He will usually adorably say all this with the earnestness of someone who feels he is the first person who ever had this insight. Plenty of Muslims believe him and are hurt by whatever petty drama took place at the Masjid last week. They will join his new storefront Masjid, sometimes across the street from the Imam’s former Masjid. 

These are often pop-up institutions born out of vainglorious temper tantrums, built on the foundation of one man and some upset donors who soon move on to chase the next shiny thing, or simply rejoin their old Masjid. Such places typically do not last over the long haul. If you have been around a Muslim community for a few decades, you have seen several come and go.

Badly Governed Respected Institutions 

More of a long-term threat for the Muslim community is when real institutions with staying power with endowments, employees, and buildings go the route of slipshod accountability-free governance where an executive gets to oversee himself.  Eventually, when you set up institutions with plain-as-day opportunities for corruption and abuse, everything can collapse. It happened in a spectacular style for Christian institutions with no real accountability for the people running it (many are still like that).  Many Muslim institutions we all respect that do good work have nonprofit governance so poor they almost seem custom-built for corruption. 

The beautiful Crystal Cathedral outside Los Angeles once boasted a massive endowment, a global TV viewership for its “hour of power” and donor memorials that would last forever.   It fell into bankruptcy because of the same kind of nonprofit governance increasingly common in the Muslim community. Inadequate or non-existent board oversight is a form of structural corruption, even if no abusive practices are currently taking place.  It should be enough of a red flag that someone can abuse authority with no real accountability. Unless we start demanding accountability from Muslim leaders, those we trust our donations to, we should reasonably expect more criminal charges as we saw with MECA, scandals like Ta’leef, and spectacular failures like the Crystal Cathedral. 

Other Board Members May Not Be Much Help

One response by self-interested board members may be to point to the existence of “independent” board members to keep insiders (like the CEO or equivalent) in check.  You should never assume this creates accountability. We cannot stereotype nonprofit boards, of course, and many operate in different ways. I have seen Muslim institutions were board members: 

  •  Have no visibility into the organization’s operations, budget, or much of anything else important. Though they do have meetings and manage to argue about things. 
  •  Never attended board meetings despite being members for many years and did not know if the charity has been having meetings all these years.
  •  Were never informed they were members of the board, despite their names being on public information filings with the state.
  • Helped start the organization as Ph.D. students and got a lifetime membership on the board, but that was decades ago when they lived in the United States.

Those who dislike accountability prefer “straw” board members who are either not present or can be “handled” by management.   A well-known example of this is Theranos, a Silicon Valley “unicorn” startup with a fake blood-testing product. Many supposedly sophisticated investors were reassured when the company stacked its board with famous octogenarians and nonagenarians. None of them knew and did not bother to ask if the entire operation they were overseeing was a fraud

These kinds of board shenanigans generally take place where there is a CEO who is also a board member and would prefer to run things without dealing with pesky difficult questions.  Board members are there for the appearance of accountability but are often little more than seat-warmers. 

It’s Not About a Leader’s “Integrity”

Some Muslim leaders will take a call for accountability as a personal insult to their integrity.  This sentiment is misguided. Instead, it is about building systems that make our institutions sustainable. I don’t know Johnson-Harrell.  However, no Muslim can honestly claim to be better than her, either in intent or commitment to the community.  Yet, without a system of accountability, the fallibility of decent men and women magnifies.

 You need to have a Shura (mutual consultation) in leadership, that is how the Quran advises us to handle our affairs.  A nonexistent or fundamentally insincere “Shura” designed to not hold anyone accountable is asking for trouble.

Muslim nonprofit leaders can find their freedom to spend charitable dollars without meaningful accountability intoxicating. Leaders who you would never think can make severe errors in judgment start to make them.  It only gets worse from there. 

Work in an Islamic charitable institution is bigger than one man or woman.  If you create a charity with no meaningful checks and balances, your work won’t be sustainable. 

Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the first Khalifah, could not determine his salary as the leader of Muslims.  He was always accountable, and as I pointed out in a previous article, he preferred it that way. Muslim leaders should welcome accountability and not think of it as a personal slight when asked about the issue from within the community.

What Board Members Should Do 

If someone entrusted you with oversight of a charity, there are helpful educational resources that can help you be excellent. Use them.  Remove board members with conflicts of interest, especially employees and vendors. 

You need to prepare for and be present at meetings.  Hold the organization and each other as board members accountable.  Don’t be on the board to win anyone’s favor, least of all the CEO or Imam. You have an Amanah (a trust), to make sure the charity is operating with excellence in everything it is doing.   Ask difficult questions that donors will rarely know to ask. Read all financial statements and reports, that is where the mischief happens.  Make sure no executive can “handle” you into submission.  If you cannot do these things, don’t be on the board. 

The common denominator in virtually all nonprofit corruption cases is executive domination. Don’t be used.

What Donors Should Do

Encourage charities you like that have weak governance to change their practices. Uncritical support can enable structural problems, which can be destructive to the organization over the long term. Sometimes, the best contribution you can make to an organization is to encourage them to reform their governance. You can do this as a small donor. Don’t expect major donors to request such changes. 

You may not know much about the organization’s finances or how good or bad the organization’s operations are. However, you do know an employee or vendor is on the board of a charity is a signal the organization is uninterested in holding its leaders accountable. There are plenty of good charities worth supporting. If the charity remains stubborn about not allowing accountability, move on to the next one. 

 

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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