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Breakdown of the Recent Turmoil in Baltimore


By Mikaeel Ahmed Smith
What we have witnessed this past week in the city of Baltimore has caused many Americans to re-analyze the current state and condition of the inner-city standard of life and how that standard is viewed by fellow Americans. Questions have arose regarding the ever-growing gap between those living below the poverty line and the affluent. Questions regarding the educational standards set by local governments in inner cities, as well as those regarding racism in general. Equally important, many have begun to question the role that mainstream media plays in influencing the opinions of most Americans. Many of whom are often completely oblivious to realities on the ground, who swallow the stories given to them “hook, line and sinker.”

Poverty, education, media misrepresentation, and racism are the issues that inner-city Baltimore residents are protesting about. The police brutality and specifically the killing of Freddie Grey are part of a national problem, which has spun out of control in the last 4-10 years.

Racism in American Society

We are all aware of the natural racist tendencies that can arise due to ignorance among a people. America itself is no stranger to racism. In fact, the annuals of history are full of American legislated racist policies. Many of which in southern states of America are actually still in the books of law. Much of the police brutality we have seen in the recent years has been construed as a continuation of that racist tendency. As true as this may be, Baltimore is quite different and has led many to question this narrative. Simply because Baltimore is a city in which a large number of the leading officials are in fact African American. The citizens of Baltimore themselves say, “it is not racism that we are fed up with, rather wide spread corruption.”[1] In order to understand the situation from their perspective we must look historically at how slaves where controlled in America. Black African slaves were not only watched and monitored by white slave owners, but rather Black Privileged slaves were used to keep the rest of the slaves in line. Needless to say, the regular slaves despised the black masters even more so than their white masters.

Who Creates a Slum?

Baltimore has a deep history of government policies, which have shaped its slums and inner city into what it is today. Even Wells Fargo has blood on their hands. Wells Fargo agreed to pay millions of dollars to Baltimore and its residents to settle a landmark lawsuit brought by the city claiming the bank unfairly steered minorities who wanted to own homes into subprime mortgages. Before that was the deindustrialization of Baltimore, resulting in mass job losses. The outrage of Baltimore youth is not only due to the unjust killing of Freddie Grey, but rather the culmination of these problems and frustrations. Freddie’s death was merely the straw that broke the camels back.

Poor Education Standards

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In a rally that I attended the day after the riots, Baltimore residents gathered both young and old along with over 100 clergy of different faiths to discuss or vent their frustration. A common message voiced many times over, was the extremely poor standard of education in the public schools of Baltimore. Not only the quality of education but also the condition of the schools themselves. High school drop-out rates in the inner-city have reached epidemically high.

Media Coverage

Many Americans were extremely upset with the way in which the media covered the entire situation. And have again come to the realization that media often has their own agenda, and the language they use to frame a story can have many implication. The usage of the word “thug” to describe the rioters has been challenge strongly. Those opposed to the usage of this word claim that its usage stops others from looking to the deeper reasons why these people are rioting and upset. It encourages a form of mental lethargy by prohibiting others from asking the question, “why are these people upset?” I commend the swiftness with which this attempt of mental framing through language was resisted and contended.

Although the tension has subsided emotions and feeling in the city remain agitated, the indictment of the officers who killed Freddie unjustly has quelled the people for now but if our assessment is accurate, we will witness many more of these situations of unrest until the primary problems are solved.

Conclusion:  Advice to Muslims

Muslims are the new niggers of America. They can no longer live in post September 11th America behind their money in nice suburban bubbles. They are forced to go through the passage of rights that all American minorities went through. So what must Muslims do? How will they gain civil or human rights that other minorities are also fighting for?  Perhaps first by recognition that they are not white America. Secondly, by appreciation of the struggles of those who came before them. The status of elder African American Muslims in our Muslim American communities should be like that of the Companions of Badr’s status to the other companions. They deserve a degree of respect simply due to the struggles they made. Struggles that have been made by indigenous Muslims made it easier for our immigrant Muslims. Unfortunately, most African American Muslims feel extremely disenfranchised in our masjid and community centers due to a number of factors which lie out of the scope of this article. I can only hope that we realize the importance in building bridges and joining hands with those who share our common values and objectives.


[1] As per a recent rally held at Empowerment temple, held the day after the riots.

Imam Mikaeel Ahmed (Michael Smith)  is the Resident Scholar and Imam at the Islamic Society of Annapolis and the Islamic Society of Baltimore.

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Imam Mikaeel Ahmed Smith (Michael V Smith) is an Islamic scholar, writer, and activist striving to meet the educational needs of communities at the Qalam Institute in Texas. He served as the Islamic & Quran Coordinator and Islamic Studies Teacher for the Tarbiyah Academy. Imam Mikaeel previously served as a resident scholar at the Islamic Society of Annapolis and the Islamic Society of Baltimore. At the age of 18, he embraced Islam after reading the Qur’an and the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Within a year after his shahadah, Imam Mikaeel enrolled at the Dar ul-Uloom al-Madania in Buffalo, NY, where he learned to read Arabic and memorized the Qur’an. In 2008, he traveled overseas to study Arabic at the Jami’a Abu Noor in Damascus, Syria. Imam Mikaeel is passionate about meeting the needs of students of knowledge, building Islamic literacy, working with youth, and striving for social justice.



  1. John Howard

    May 4, 2015 at 4:56 PM

    Is there a tacit admission that many Muslim African Americans feel “disenfranchised” in your Muslim communities because of the racism they experience from other Muslims of a “fairer” hue? I have read on this site before comments made by African American Muslims that this is often the case. There has always been racism in the USA. Your acknowledgement that in this city the majority of the leadership is black and as well that 3 of the policemen charged are also black begs the question is racism a white problem or as we whites see it a universal problem that all races and religions experience?
    For to long white people have been told by all the other races that we are the racists and are the problem. But as we see now racism is now more than a white problem but a multiracial issue and also brings in class and position in societies.
    The Islamic communities also need to look at themselves because like the wider community they have their dirty secrets

  2. Sagal

    May 5, 2015 at 9:41 AM

    Jazakhallahu Khayr for the article. However I don’t agree that Muslims are the new n***** of America because these two groups albeit their sufferings are not the same and did not and do not share the same experiences. How can Muslims be the new n***** when Blacks are still going through subjugation and are still being terrorized in their bodies after many decades. What surrounds the issues that affect Black America have been historically upheld and sanctified in institutions. Oppression is not a one size fits all, nor is this the oppression Olympics. However Muslims and Black experiences are different and vary in severity depending on the location. And sometimes they are symbiotic and reinforcing such as the case of being both Black and Muslim.

    • Christina

      May 15, 2015 at 12:23 PM

      Salaam alaykum,

      I would also echo the previous comments and add the following:

      “So what must Muslims do? How will they gain civil or human rights that other minorities are also fighting for? Perhaps first by recognition that they are not white America.”

      This statement is problematic for several reasons, but I would first ask the author, where does that leave white converts and European-American Muslims who are white, i.e. Bosnian-Americans, etc.? Are they not also “white America” or are they not to be considered Muslim, or Muslim enough, because of their skin color? I’m sure many Muslims would argue they are “white America” and therefore enjoy certain benefits of racial privilege, however one could also raise the issues of intersectional discrimination and the identity politics associated with “passing” according to whether or not one displays a visible Muslim identity.

      If one is going to discuss issues of dismantling racism within and outside the Muslim community then it is important to not also reinforce those same polarizing mentalities with such statements.

      JazakAllahu khairan.

  3. ConfusedGuy

    June 9, 2015 at 2:18 AM

    Well, as many people say, Islam is not a religion for white or European people. It’s a religion for “people of color.” And Christianity you can “maybe” say is in some ways “sort of” a religion for white or European people (although it still is a religion for millions and millions black people and other “people of color,” but then again people of color have all kinds of religions, but most white people are either Christians, even if only barely “culturally” or they are atheist and/or agnostic). Of course Christianity used to be a religion of only black or dark skinned people and that’s the way it was when Jesus was in Palestine, before it spread to Rome, and other parts of Europe, but I digress…

    As the Nation of Islam says, the white man IS the literal and figurative devil. This is maybe not so-called “true” Islam, but this is the way that most other Muslims (Sunni) I have talked to in America seem to act and believe as far as white people are concerned. To most of them, white people at the very least, are the “figurative” devil, indeed to be blamed for every single bad thing in the world. EVERYTHING. Have whites done and are whites doing bad, evil, despicable things? Of course! But instead of just blaming white people (which they deserve of course) why not blame other people (people of color) for doing bad and evil things, if they are also guilty of this? Of course if some dude in China is doing something evil to another Chinese guy, how is that the evil white man’s fault? Well, I guess, he learned racism from the white man, as Muslims would argue. Everything as far as prejudice, and racism is blamed on the “evil white man.”

    And Christina, I don’t know if you’re a convert or if you were born a Muslim (from a Muslim family), but I do know that you were maybe told that you have to stop being a “racist” and that it’s your fault that society in the US is so effed up. And this is regardless if you are from Bosnia, Albania, etc., or a white convert (I’ve heard these stories). You maybe were told that you were basically an evil racist and did not even know it! (because ALL white people are EVIL racists, because of their white skin, and that they ALL have “white privilege”) Of course since you are female, hopefully you were spared some of this stuff.

    How would any of you feel if you are told you are an EVIL RACIST, ONLY BECAUSE of the color of your skin? Please tell me… And that you didn’t however, “realize” this? All because of “WHITE PRIVILEGE?” Is this a Judeo-Christian Marxist thing or a Islamic thing?

    What the heck kind of dawah is that? Yes, for a former KKK member, or former neo-nazi skinhead, etc., this would make 100% sense! But any Joe Bloe white dude on the street, IMO, this is really, really strange, and well, again, this proves that Muslims believe that white people are devils. How is this different than the Nation of Islam? (hint… it’s not!) And how come Sunni Muslims NEVER say that what they say is “racist?” Well, I guess because ONLY white people can be racist, right? Have you seen these videos where these people that call themselves “Muslims” talk about how they are going have to kill all white babies, kill all white people, that they have to get rid of all the evil WHITE crackers? That’s not racist at all, LOL.

    Another thing so strange is that if white people say the current president is a war criminal (and a peace criminal), many Muslims say it’s racist or bigoted! Even though these same whites said the same about Bush! And guess what, it’s for killing and oppressing Muslims! (and other things like the NDAA – but who do you think this will mostly target? Duhhhh!) And what about all of the whites that stand against the racist, Zionist terrorist state in occupied Palestine? These so-called good whites are all just racist, evil whites, so who cares about the fact that they will call out the Israeli terrorists, and are on the side of Muslims, although MORE IMPORTANT in your eyes, is that they are defending “PEOPLE OF COLOR!”

    At the end of the day, Muslims see whites as “devils,” and responsible for EVERY evil thing in the world. And you really DON’T CARE about allegedly “saving” these people from the fire! Please remember this if nothing else! You DON’T want to “save” whites from the fire…

    • Abdul Rehman Masood

      July 23, 2015 at 4:15 AM

      Aye yo chill off of Fox News for a while. We do not think of white people as the devil I don’t know where you are getting your facts from

  4. Abdul Rehman Masood

    July 23, 2015 at 4:16 AM

    Btw imam Michael great article.we shold talk about this soon

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