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Stop. On Thugs and Rioters and Human Beings

It might feel like the right thing to do to call oppressed Black youth “thugs and rioters” because of the open wrongs you see. It might feel like the right thing to do to call those who detest the detestable actions of burning, looting, and destroying “ignorant of the cause.”

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I’m not sure I have the words for what I’m trying to say, but I’m going to give it a try. I don’t speak with any authority or a more valid perspective than you or anyone else. I’m just speaking to you as a human being, your sister in humanity, as we share space on this earth.

Yes, I’m African-American or Black American, depending on the label most palatable or preferable to you. And yes, I was (and remain) in Baltimore during these infamous “riots,” the effects of which I (we) still feel today.

But I’m not a Baltimorian. I came to this area only two years ago, and before that I visited only periodically for community events and to visit friends. And before that, I lived in Saudi Arabia for several years. So I don’t speak with the experience of someone who has always called Baltimore my home. I came here only because the drive to my then job would have been too long a stretch each day.

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But this isn’t really about Baltimore, is it? This isn’t about the city made famous by The Wire or, more recently, by the state of emergency declared on national news.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a Black History lesson or try to convince you that you should feel sorry for me. Yes, it’s a bit odd to hear the blaring sirens of fire trucks and police cars a bit more than I’m used to. And it’s a bit inconvenient (and annoying) to have a curfew that is more befitting of a little kid inclined to stay out past dark. And I’d rather not make do with what’s already in my kitchen because the store I frequent was preemptively closed, barricaded, or destroyed.

But that’s not what hurts right now. Because living in concern for my safety—and that of “my people”—is a way of life for me. And it didn’t start in Baltimore, and unfortunately, it won’t end there.

But even so, I’m not going to plead with you to be more disturbed or outraged at senseless murder than you are with the loss of homes and property.

But it’s a worthy plea, so I get it. And it needs to be made. Because there is definitely something wrong with a mindset (or should I say heart condition?) that incites more fury at the sight of burning cars, looting, and angry youth than a trigger-happy neighbor killing an unarmed boy holding Skittles, than a father being choked to death by law enforcement, than a bullet ending an eighteen-year-old’s life, and than a young man dying of suspicious spinal injury while in police custody.

And nope, I’m not going to try to “prove” that a large portion of what is being called the Baltimore “riot” and “uprising” was neither, and that the vast majority of the people who came out of their homes were peaceful demonstrators who were simply trying to shout—from the bottom of their hearts—for their nation and fellow countrymen (police officers and citizens alike) to listen to them, to see them. To stop chastising them for merely existing.

I’m not even going to claim that my pain is more authentic, more consistent, or more visceral than yours. Because, as my younger sister would put it, I don’t really see much benefit in comparing scars and wounds to see who suffered more. If you have scars, you know how it feels to hurt and heal. If you have wounds, you know how it feels to hurt and need healing.

So as I write this, I’m asking you, whoever you are, only one thing. Stop.

Stop. And take a moment to reflect on the reality of your existence, the reality of your life.

Stop. And listen to the heart beating in your chest.

Stop. And reflect on that rhythmic thumping, that perennial countdown to your last breath.

Stop. And reflect on the only guarantee we all have in life.

Our death.

Now imagine, moments after your soul is seized, asking yourself, “What was all of this for?”

Why am I (or they) so angry?

Why am I (or they) so pissed?

Why am I (or they) so frustrated?

Why am I (or they) constantly debating and arguing with people?

Why are we constantly living in our heads and assuming no one cares?

Why do we constantly think someone else has it all wrong?

Why do we take nearly every dissenting view or alternate opinion as an attack? Or an indication of opposition? Or the justification to just sit still?

Why are we so eager to prove others wrong?

Why do we assume that every solution is either-or?

Can’t someone detest senseless murder and the destruction of homes and property?

Can’t someone support me, my people, and our cause and disagree with us from time to time?

Can’t diverse populations—or even a single “race”—have different approaches and outlooks, yet still strive for the same goal?

Can’t someone make a mistake or say something wrong, yet still “get it” and genuinely care?

Can’t someone be part of the problem and the solution at the same time?

And tell me, as the angels are preparing your Book of Deeds, is there any guarantee that your record will not reveal that YOU are guilty of this from time to time?

So I ask you, I beg you. Stop.

Stop assuming, and start listening.

Stop preaching, and start walking.

Stop arguing, and start dialoguing.

Stop blaming, and start doing.

If you have something beneficial to share, then share it.

But stop “calling out” those who don’t have the same knowledge as you.

If you see a wrong, then speak up.

But stop assuming others aren’t addressing the wrong just because their fight against injustice looks differently from yours.

If you feel that more should be done, then do more.

But stop assuming that you’re the only one who feels this inspiration and urgency.

If you believe in helping the suffering people in the world, then help them.

But stop assuming these people reside only in Iraq, Syria, and Palestine.

And if you want to go to Paradise, then do your part to get there.

But stop assuming that others don’t want their Lord’s mercy (or haven’t earned their Lord’s mercy) as much as you.

Prophet Muhammad, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), said, “No one who has [even] an atom’s weight of pride in his heart will enter Paradise” (Muslim).

And do you know what pride (kibr) is? It is looking down on people and rejecting the truth.

So if you hear about a Black man getting killed and you think he must have done something to deserve it. If you feel anger and frustration only when some catastrophe hits the people who look like you. If the only “senseless suffering” is on the other side of the world. If you learn about a sudden “riot” or “uprising” in a city, and you think, “They’re just a bunch of thugs.” If you protect your son or daughter (or yourself) from “bad influences” by keeping them away from those people (whoever they are). If you are Black and think you have the right to say who is or who isn’t doing enough—or you think the melanin in your skin gives you the right to justify and defend destruction of homes and property.

Then you have a problem. And it’s much bigger than the one that is feeding the anger and frustration driving your cause. And it is much, much bigger than any riot or uprising out there.

So before you post any more about the #BaltimoreRiots or #BaltimoreUprising, first quiet the riot of pride in your heart.

You are merely a human being, a child of Adam—as is every man, woman, and child around you, who share this earth with you. You might think you have something to say to help others. But if it starts with looking down on them, or assuming they don’t care about you, it is better to keep quiet, lest you add to the confusion and injustice in the world.

It might feel like the right thing to do to call oppressed Black youth “thugs and rioters” because of the open wrongs you see. It might feel like the right thing to do to call those who detest the detestable actions of burning, looting, and destroying “ignorant of the cause.”

But it’s not.

Because saying or doing “the right thing” always starts with purifying the heart. And purity cannot exist in a heart polluted by pride. You can’t look down on others because they look different from you. Or because they respond to injustice differently from you. You can’t reject truth (for or against your cause) just because it doesn’t fit into your preferred racial or cultural narrative.

At least not if entering Paradise is your agenda of “the right thing to do.”

So no, let’s not talk about thugs and rioters. And let’s not defend destruction of homes and property. And no, let’s not cast aside the greater issue of preserving and protecting the sanctity of human life.

I ask you only to stop.

Stop, and take advantage of this opportunity of life.

Stop, and take to moment to purify your heart.

And before you ask someone to support (or not support) a certain cause, first ask them to join the ranks of the men, women, and children rising up…

To stop destructive pride from rioting and looting the goodness of human hearts.

 

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy. Her latest novel Muslim Girl is now available.

To learn more about the author, visit ummzakiyyah.com or subscribe to her YouTube channel.

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Daughter of American converts to Islam, Umm Zakiyyah, also known by her birth name Ruby Moore and her "Muslim" name Baiyinah Siddeeq, is the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of more than twenty-five books, including novels, short stories, and self-help. Her books are used in high schools and universities in the United States and worldwide, and her work has been translated into multiple languages. Her work has earned praise from writers, professors, and filmmakers. Her novel His Other Wife is now a short film. Umm Zakiyyah has traveled the world training both first-time authors and published writers in story writing. Her clients include journalists, professional athletes, educators, and entertainers. Dr. Robert D. Crane, advisor to former US President Nixon, said of Umm Zakiyyah, “…no amount of training can bring a person without superb, natural talent to captivate the reader as she does and exert a permanent intellectual and emotional impact.” Professor K. Bryant of Howard University said of If I Should Speak, “The novel belongs to…a genre worthy of scholarly study.” Umm Zakiyyah has a BA degree in Elementary Education, an MA in English Language Learning, and Cambridge’s CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). She has more than fifteen years experience teaching writing in the United States and abroad and has worked as a consultant for Macmillan Education. Umm Zakiyyah studied Arabic, Qur’an, Islamic sciences, ‘aqeedah, and tafseer in America, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia for more than fifteen years. She currently teaches tajweed (rules of reciting Qur’an) and tafseer. In 2020, Umm Zakiyyah started the UZ Heart & Soul Care community in which she shares lessons she learned on her emotional and spiritual healing journey at uzhearthub.com Follow her online: Website: uzauthor.com Instagram: @uzauthor Twitter: @uzauthor YouTube: uzreflections

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Susan

    May 2, 2015 at 8:47 AM

    TAKBEER!!!

    If you don’t get out there and, at least, engage in militant nonviolent civil disobedience you are part of the problem!

    • mojo

      May 2, 2015 at 2:40 PM

      “your people” as you put it, are the American public, you are American first and what you would like to be known as second.
      You surely would not like to live in a Country which does not allow Civil Disobedience, or would you?
      Take a Political stand and leave the scum on the streets to get on with the looting and thieving.

  2. Isobel

    May 3, 2015 at 1:54 PM

    Mash’Allah, you are so articulate!! Thank-you for the reminder, something I needed to hear <3

  3. Tes

    May 3, 2015 at 2:36 PM

    The mayor, police chief and most of the city council of Baltimore are black. Baltimore is a city run by black people trying to shift the blame to white people who had little part in this fiasco.

    Islam is a religion founded by a man, Mohammed, known to capture, own and trade slaves. As per his example, Muslims have been active in capturing and trading slaves to this day. One great motivation for Muslims to join the Islamic state is their capture and trade in sex slaves. There are populations of “black” Arabs who are the result of the Muslim slave trade. Their numbers are relatively low because male slaves were all castrated in a brutal operation that removed most external genitalia.

    In short, Baltimore needs to look at its own black leadership for an accounting for Freddie Grey’s death. Muslims need to look at their own religion for institutionalizing slavery and racism in the Islamic world.

  4. Reema

    May 3, 2015 at 5:25 PM

    Thank you for such a beautiful post, sister Umm Zakiyyah. The need for reflection is so important in times of catastrophe. Otherwise, people act on impulse, and like you say, only add fuel to the fire. This is what the prophet (pbuh) would have done and we must model the highest of our peers to ensure the safety of our communities.

    Mojo, the sister is in no way compelled to take a political stance, as you demand. She is, from my perspective, a Muslim American, whether one identify bears more weight than the other is her personal choice.

    Regarding the prophet (pbuh): this is directed at you and Tes. The logic you use is intolerably fallacious. Almost every nationality/ethnic culture has been in some way, shape, or form either involved in the enslavement of marginalized groups of people or complicit in this tragic state of human existence.

    Might I remind you that the most lucrative slave traders and owners were a product of European colonialism (i.e. Britain, America, France, Spain, Denmark, etc). Rome and Greece are known to be two of the first civilizations to engage in slavery.

    With that said, it is not Only Muslims that must self-reflect. We must all engage in self-reflection!

  5. Tes

    May 3, 2015 at 8:42 PM

    I’m sorry, Reema. Your information is not true. 28 million Africans were traded to the Muslim Middle East. This does not count slaves of other nationalities, such as the Slavic peoples who were held by Ottoman and Arab Muslims. The Atlantic slave trade in African slaves involved 11 million Africans, of which 5% ended up in North America. The Ottoman Muslim empire took a blood tax of Greek, Armenian and Jewish children. Boys were made slave warriors and girls were made concubines and maids.

    Mohammed was the founder of the Muslim religion, and Muslims are entitled and/or obliged to follow his example. Safiya is one of the most famous examples of a woman who saw all her male relatives killed by Mohammed by day, and was taken to his tent for sexual purposes that very night. This is why Muslim forums are rife with discussions of what men may do with “what their right hands possess”.

    As for self-reflection, the United States paid to end slavery with our bloodiest war, costing us nearly one million casualties, an act never seen before or since in the history of the world. Christians were active in the abolition movement, rightly noting that Jesus lived a life of poverty and never oppressed another man or took a woman as his sexual property.

    • Amatullah

      May 6, 2015 at 11:04 AM

      Before answering or rather defending your claims, I’d just say – GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT.
      “Mohammed was the founder of the Muslim religion ….. their right hands possess”.
      Not a SINGLE fact stands correct in this passage, Shame. I wont bother reading the rest as they might be as fallacious as this.
      The least you can do for us is not post hate comments/prejudiced thoughts and leave us at Peace. A man like you can look down at us based on faulty assumptions, imagine a nation full of people like you. Eww.
      Allah save us.

    • Amatullah

      May 6, 2015 at 11:11 AM

      I know I shouldn’t be telling you this as it wont matter. But still, this is an excerpt from the life of Safiya you’re speaking about –
      Although Safiyya was Huyayy’s daughter, she had a pure heart and had always wanted to worship her Creator and Lord, the One who had sent Moses, to whom she was related, and Jesus, and finally Muhammad, may Allah be pleased with all of them. Thus as soon as the opportunity arose, not only to follow the last Prophet, but also to be married to him, she took it. Although Safiyya had in Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) a most kind and considerate husband, she was not always favorably accepted by some of his other wives, especially when she had first joined the Prophet’s household. It is related by Anas that on one occasion, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) found Safiyya weeping. When he asked her what the matter was, she replied that she heard that Hafsa had disparagingly described her as ‘the daughter of a Jew’.

      The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) responded by saying, “You are certainly the daughter of a Prophet (Harun), and certainly your uncle was a Prophet (Moses), and you are certainly the wife of a Prophet (Muhammad), so what is there in that to be scornful towards you?” Then he said to Hafsa, “O Hafsa, fear Allah!”

      Once the Prophet was accompanied on a journey by Safiyya and Zaynab bint Jahsh when Safiyya’ s camel went lame. Zaynab had an extra camel and the Prophet asked her if she would give it to Safiyya. Zaynab retorted, “Should I give to that Jewess!” The Prophet turned away from her in anger and would not have anything to do with her for two or three months to show his disapproval of what she had said. Some three years later, when Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was in his final illness, Safiyya felt for him deeply and sincerely. “O Messenger of Allah,” she said, “I wish it was I who was suffering instead of you.” Prophet exclaimed, “By Allah, she spoke the truth!”

    • Anonymous

      May 8, 2015 at 6:07 PM

      Muhammad SAW was a man of peace. If he ever fought, it was because the Lord commanded him.
      Now since you believe Christ has always been the Lord of humanity, you inevitably believe Christ is the Lord in the Bible who commanded the MURDER of children. The most one can find in Islam is an allowance for collateral damage perhaps. There is NEVER a command in Islam to MURDER CHILDREN.
      “Then I heard the LORD say to the other men, “Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children. But do not touch anyone with the mark. Begin your task right here at the Temple.” So they began by killing the seventy leaders. “Defile the Temple!” the LORD commanded. “Fill its courtyards with the bodies of those you kill! Go!” So they went throughout the city and did as they were told.” (Ezekiel 9:5-7 NLT)
      According to Christians, it was Christ who commanded this;
      “Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children.”
      It doesn’t matter if “it was in the old testament”. He (according to Christians) still commanded the MURDER OF CHILDREN because Christians say he was always the LORD.
      Never in the Quran and Sunnah can any direct command to murder children be found or women or old people! In fact killing children and women is UNACCEPTABLE(in our religion). A woman was killed in war during his time and he sallahualayhiwasalam condemned it. There is a narration which can be taken to show that collateral damage is acceptable. But this is nothing compared to the sheer RUTHLESSNESS commanded by the LORD(who Christians say is Jesus Christ AS) in the Bible.
      Islam has restrictions in war. Does the Bible have the same level of restrictions? I highly doubt it. When Rasulullah sallahualayhiwasalam fought, he fought wicked, evil people and ONLY by the command of Allah. He also pardoned the people who had persecuted him and those who believed with him for over a decade. You may call his reluctance to kill “oppression” but the fact is he never did anything as brutally commanded by the Lord(who you say is Jesus Christ AS) in the Bible.

      If you are sincere for the truth, quit lying for Jesus(typical Christian tactic.) You lie about and insult the final Messenger because that is the only way Christianity can be preserved-lies and insults. But he was a loving mercy from God to all the nations and peoples and sent to all of humanity not just the lost sheep of Israel and he is the supplication of Abraham AS and the Good News of Christ AS. On the day of standing Christ AS will be a witness against you and reject your worship of him before God and you won’t have any ally or helper so won’t you repent and seek His forgiveness? And Allah is extremely forgiving and constantly merciful.
      As Allah says in the book,
      رَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ
      (My mercy encompasses all things)

      However the disbelievers invoked His curses and wrath and so they will be in the fire forever as He promised.

      Please repent from insulting the Good News of Christ AS or you will taste the warning of the Messengers and the threat of God.

  6. Reema

    May 3, 2015 at 10:37 PM

    Wow. People like you exist? That is scary.

  7. Tes

    May 4, 2015 at 12:55 AM

    Reema, you would prefer to attack me personally than answer my claims. This is because the Muslim slave trade is a well documented fact and Mohammed’s slaves are reported in the most reliable Muslim sources. Black Muslims who view Islam as a religion of social justice are ignorant of the true facts.

    For instance, have black Muslims heard of the Zanj, or “Negro”, Rebellion in 9th Century Iraq? Hundreds of years before Europeans became involved in slavery, Africans were taken as slaves to Iraq by the Muslim Abbasid dynasty. These black slaves did brutal work on sugar plantations and salt mines. They dug out and hauled away contaminated topsoil to reclaim land. In the late 800s, these black slaves rebelled and a war ensued that claimed at least 300,000 lives.

    In fact, contrary to popular belief, the Europeans did not go through the jungles of Africa hunting slaves. Rather, they blundered into several established slave ports in Africa and tapped into an already thriving market in African slaves, purchasing the slaves through Muslim brokers.

    As for Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, here is a story about one of his black slaves from Sahih al Bukhari’s hadiths:

    “Allah’s Apostle[Mohammed] was on a journey and he had a black slave called Anjasha, and he was driving the camels (very fast, and there were women riding on those camels). Allah’s Apostle said, “Waihaka (May Allah be merciful to you), O Anjasha! Drive slowly (the camels) with the glass vessels (women)!”

    • M.Mahmud

      May 7, 2015 at 10:01 PM

      Didn’t God command slavery in the Old Testament? That then means you believe Jesus AS was a slaver because you say he is God. So thank you for refuting yourself with the silly “Jesus was loving and Muhammad was not” nonsense. All of that is invalidated by the fact that you believe Jesus AS is the Lord and always has been (who commanded ruthless massacres and expulsions and literal murdering of children at the hands of Israelis in the Old Testament.)
      Now the first generation of Muslims did not do anything close to the bloodshed (children included) commanded by the Lord(who you say has always been Christ AS) to the Israelis in your Bible.

      Thank you Tes for refuting yourself! I would lay off the insults to the final Messenger if I were you.

    • Mark ibn Mark

      May 8, 2015 at 5:11 AM

      You seem to be blurring the lines between the actions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and those of the Muslims long after he died. If that’s how you want to handle it, do we blame Christianity or Judaism for the involvement of Christians and Jews in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade…the most brutal and dehumanizing slavery system in the last 2000 years?

      The Old Testament not only allowed slavery, but enjoined it in certain circumstances. The New Testament was silent on the issue. Islam allowed it in certain circumstances, but demanded clear human rights for the slaves, and encouraged their freedom and demanded their kind treatment. Slave raiding and slavery based on race are not permissible in Islam, no matter how many ignorant Muslims may try to justify it.

      You seem to get your information from only anti-Muslim propagandists instead of real scholarly sources. I can tell because you are full of the usual talking points.

  8. Nasra

    May 4, 2015 at 10:15 AM

    Mash Allah, your article moved me wallahi and I thought it was well said and well written. I was shocked when the mayor of Baltimore said in the press conference that “these are thugs”. It’s easy to say that statement when you never cared about their plea, there peaceful protest and their demands, their out cry of INJUSTICE!!!
    Wallhi, I live in Canada and I was clued to my TV since the Micheal Brown shooting, then Eric Gardener, then Scott (North Carolina) and now Freddie Gray. I am lost for words, and SubhannAllah I feel their anger, frustrations, sadeness etc.. I think it is very legitimate. That does not mean that I support violent riots, lootings or destuctions but to me killing a life is greater!!!

  9. Mark ibn Mark

    May 8, 2015 at 5:13 AM

    You seem to be blurring the lines between the actions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and those of the Muslims long after he died. If that’s how you want to handle it, do we blame Christianity or Judaism for the involvement of Christians and Jews in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade…the most brutal and dehumanizing slavery system in the last 2000 years?

    The Old Testament not only allowed slavery, but enjoined it in certain circumstances. The New Testament was silent on the issue. Islam allowed it in certain circumstances, but demanded clear human rights for the slaves, and encouraged their freedom and demanded their kind treatment. Slave raiding and slavery based on race are not permissible in Islam, no matter how many ignorant Muslims may try to justify it.

    You seem to get your information from only anti-Muslim propagandists instead of real scholarly sources. I can tell because you are full of the usual talking points.

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