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Enervation of Black Muslim Women

[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hile all Muslim women face intense backlash when challenging authority, Black Muslim women’s intersecting identities make them even more vulnerable to marginalization when they speak up.  Black Muslim women’s Islamic values are called into question as they are depicted as being more loyal to feminism than to Islam, more loyal to Blackness than to the universal ummah, and more loyal to feminism than to Blackness.  Shutting out of Black women from public discourse or dismissing their grievances and realities  goes against the spirit where women in the Qur’an and during the Prophetic time did speak their mind. Even the Creator heard the one who complained:

Certainly has Allah heard the speech of the one who argues with you, [O Muhammad], concerning her husband and directs her complaint to Allah . And Allah hears your dialogue; indeed, Allah is Hearing and Seeing. (Qur’an 58:1)

Whether through microagressions or macroagressions that dismiss our sister-scholars-activists, marginalization of Black Muslim women depletes our spiritual resources. Often, the dismissals of legitimate complaints are based on explicit and implicit bias or internalized racism, combined with sexism.

While social media allows for a widening discourse on gender, race, and Islam, it can become a toxic place. I have tried to commit myself to level of civil discussion as I critically engage with issues that reflect my anti-racist anti-sexist commitments. One of the most unnerving discourses on social media, however, involves gendered racism–especially the gendered racism that reifies stereotypes about Black women. Gendered racism is an insidious form of racism that targets only one gender of a particular racial group (i.e. all if not most Black women have attitudes, white women are easy, Black men are thugs, Asian women are submissive, Brown men are oppressors, or Asian men are asexual). The dominant society can generate these stereotypes or they may arise from internalized racism (i.e. the colorism in the Black community, orientalist tropes in discussions about gender and Islam). Even in influential scholars have generalized about Black women. In Black Skin, White Masks Frantz Fanon writes, “‘It is because the Negress feels inferior that she aspires to win admittance into the white world’.”

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Black Muslim women have been accused of being more committed to Western paradigms than to the Qur’an and sunnah when addressing the real world consequences of spiritual abuse, domestic violence, and discrimination in our faith community. I’ve seen gendered racism perpetuated  with Black American Muslim men and women bashing each other on social media. What makes it even more troubling is that a number of non-Black Muslims have chimed in on the discussion to either challenge or reify stereotypes. Many of them lack the context to understand the history of how Black men and women have been pitted against each other. As long as we are battling each other, we are not uplifting or liberating each other.

While the majority of married Black men are married to Black women, there are still negative tropes that affect how we relate to one another, how we work together, and in turn affect how effective we are as a community. In many ways the comments on my earlier blog posts provided a forum to show how these issues are a real problem within both the Muslim American and Black American communities.   One typo laden comment on my blog proclaims:

black women are what you might call a lost woman and a weak woman
her problem is she has been trained to think like racist white america but the difference is white people atach(sic) their vAlue(sic) to
themselves while black women attach
value tomaterials(sic) titles and money
she cant(sic) seperate(sic) her personal life from these things.black women
in their current state of mind will
never on a large scale ever be a
good mate for anyone especially a
american black man the white male
has ingrained to(sic) much poison into her she is therefore a walking curse the bases(sic) of her problems is she hates herself and she has been taught to hate black men she is in
a useless struggle to be a woman
to a white man notice in all her
conversations is the pursuit of
men of other races this is what they want to do they just using
problems with black men as an excuse.

Another commenter writes:

Non-Muslim professional African American men are not opting out on Black women… Just AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN. These brothers will marry Caribbean, Afro latina, or anything but African American sisters. The problem is the attitude they feel they get from Black women in this country. I frankly understand the point. As a Black professional I find dealing with many professional African American women to be a pain because of the 10 pound chip on their shoulders. I was talking to a group of lawyers, Black and white, they all agreed on one thing: There was nothing worse than having to deal with a Black female judge in the courtroom. The feeling was UNIVERSAL. The annoying neck rolling sass, which is more refined with the addition of university degrees basically turns EVERYONE OFF. So frankly.. I have little sympathy for these women.

Sadly, a number of Black Muslim men express negative attitudes towards Black Muslim women for being “too independent,” bossy, and in power struggles. Black Muslim women have not yet been able to overcome negative racial stereotypes.

 

Some blame Black women for robbing Black men of their manhood, without taking into consideration the broader social and historical forces that have undermined Black men’s agency and sense of self and dignity. Black people have internalized the dominant narrative about Black cultural pathology.  More often than not, Black women are blamed for perpetuating the pathology. The Moynihan report conducted in the 1960s argued that assertive, intelligent, and independent Black women undermined the well being of Black men. Basically these traits emasculated Black men. In essence, it is easier to blame Black women for poor schools, inner city poverty, and crime, rather than historical legacy of segregated housing, discriminatory banking, post industrial economy, and neoliberal policies.

The tropes are harmful in that they effect how our girls grow up to see themselves. Two racial tropes shape the discourse on Black womanhood in the Black Muslim community, the sexually promiscuous Jezebel and the emasculating Sapphire. Legal scholars Marilyn Tarbrough and Crystal Bennett write:

in the stereotype of Sapphire, African American women are portrayed as evil, bitchy, stubborn and hateful. In other words, Sapphire is everything that Mammy is not. “The Sapphire image has no specific physical features other than the fact that her complexion is usually brown or dark brown.” Unlike other images that symbolize African American women, Sapphire necessitates the presence of an African American male. The African American male and female are engaged in an ongoing verbal duel. Sapphire was created to battle the corrupt African American male whose “lack of integrity, and use of cunning and trickery provides her with an opportunity to emasculate him through her use of verbal put-downs.”[3]

The Jim Crow of Racist Memorabilia concisely describes the relationship between the Sapphire stereotype and social control of Black women:

The Sapphire Caricature portrays Black women as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, and overbearing.1 This is the Angry Black Woman (ABW) popularized in the cinema and on television. She is tart-tongued and emasculating, one hand on a hip the other pointing and jabbing (or arms akimbo), violently and rhythmically rocking her head, mocking African American men for offenses ranging from being unemployed to sexually pursuing White women. She is a shrill nagger with irrational states of anger and indignation — prone to being mean-spirited and abusive. Although African American men are her primary targets, she has venom for anyone who insults or disrespects her. The Sapphire’s desire to dominate and her hyper-sensitivity to injustices means that she is a perpetual complainer, but she does not criticize to improve things; rather, she criticizes because she is unendingly bitter and wishes that unhappiness on others. The Sapphire Caricature is a harsh portrayal of African American women, but it is more than that; it is a social control mechanism that is employed to punish Black women who violate the societal norms that encourage Black women to be passive, servile, non-threatening, and unseen.

500 words blogger Abagond describes Saaphire as follows:

Sapphire, named after a character in “Amos ‘n’ Andy”, always seems to have her hands on her hips while she is running her mouth – putting down her man, making everything into a fight, never taking anything lying down. She is an overbearing, hard and undesirable woman who drives men away. Think of Tichina Arnold’s character Pam in “Martin”.

The significance of the emasculating Sapphire is significant given the discourse on masculinity in Black Muslim communities. In most cultures, manhood is tied to being able to protect and provide for oneself and one’s family. Manhood is not just about being male, but linked with notions of maturity, efficacy, courage, virility, and honor. Manliness, like honor, is something that needs to be cultivated. And a blow to the manhood literally and figuratively really hurts. The definition for emasculate reads as follows:

Main Entry: emas·cu·late
Pronunciation: \i-ˈmas-kyə-ˌlāt\
Function: transitive verb
1 : to deprive of strength, vigor, or spirit : weaken
2 : to deprive of virility or procreative power : castrate
3 : to remove the androecium of (a flower) in the process of artificial cross-pollination

Emasculation is not about making a man into a woman, that is feminization. Rather, emasculation is about dehumanizing or making an adult male feel like a child, incapable of effecting change or acting as an agent for change. In addition to systems of oppression, poisonous relationships and negative life experiences can make a person feel less than human, or zapped of vigor. When it comes to the female gender, there is no equivalent term for dehumanization through emasculation. There is, however, a gender neutral term that has a corresponding meaning:

ENERVATE

Main Entry: en·er·vate
Pronunciation: \ˈe-nər-ˌvāt\
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): en·er·vat·ed; en·er·vat·ing
Etymology: Latin enervatus, past participle of enervare, from e- + nervus sinew — more at nerve
Date: 1605
1 : to reduce the mental or moral vigor of
2 : to lessen the vitality or strength of
synonyms see unnerve

In 2009, I wrote about the Enervation of Black American Women to address what many now call misogynoir, a special variety of sexism directed at Black women. Gendered racism denies Black women of their ability to define themselves and express their experiences as real and legitimate. Black Muslim women’s grievances aren’t real, because they are simply attempts at emasculating others or spreading her spitefulness. They not only render a Black woman invisble, but they camouflage her behind a coded racist caricature.  Gendered racism has detrimental effects on Black Muslim women in the the public sphere, in education settings, and in religious institutions.  It is especially troubling to see the silencing of legitimate critiques of spiritual abuse, representation, or power dynamics cloaked in religious discourse about piety and proper roles of Muslim women.

I have had the pleasure to know so many Black Muslim women from different walks of life, from professional women, stay at home mothers, community activists, public speakers, religious scholars, researchers, and thinkers. We want our communities to be embodiments of the Islamic ideals we all espouse. I’m finding women who are in the trenches working beside our men, raising sons and daughters, trying to live dignified lives.  When we make Black Muslim women, who are often carrying so much in our community,  the subject of our derision, we are only harming ourselves. Allah tells us in the Qur’an:

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:71)

Being a good ally means that we must support each other, as well as hold each other accountable. When we refuse to listen or grant a person respect because of their station in life, we are being misguided by arrogance. Taking the time to reflect on our biases, to listen and amplify the voices of the most marginalized in our community, and to develop empathy is key. By doing so, we can restore the honored place that Islam has always given Black women, such as Sumayyah bint Khayyat or Umm Ayman.

 

 

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Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), assistant editor at AltM, co-founder of Muslims Make it Plain, and columnist at MuslimMatters. She is on the Advisory Council of Islam, Social Justice & Interreligious Engagement Program at the Union Theological Seminary and winner of the 2015 MPAC Change Maker Award. She has nearly a decade of teaching experiences at all levels from elementary, secondary, college level, to adult education. She earned her master’s in History of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006. Her research includes colonial surveillance in Northern Nigeria, anti-colonial resistance among West Africans in Sudan during the early 20th century, and race in Muslim communities. She is also a freelance writer with articles published in Time, SISTERS, Islamic Monthly, Al Jazeera English, Virtual Mosque (formerly Suhaibwebb.com), and Spice Digest. She has given talks and lectures in various universities and Muslim communities.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Inqiyaad

    November 7, 2016 at 11:50 PM

    “As long as we are battling each other, we are not uplifting or liberating each other.” For all the sweet talk about helping each other and not pitting one (gender) against the other, feminism does exactly that. It is a tainted perspective that looks at society or its problems primarily through the binary of gender. Its unrelenting focus exclusively on rights of women (often at the expense of men’s rights), seeking uniformity with the male gender on every issue, (often in contradiction to gender roles and rights assigned by none other than Allah), contributes to social and familial strife. For example, male responsibility of earning a livelihood for the family is not merely a cultural thing, it is something ordained by Allah

    وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوۡاْ مَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بِهِۦ بَعۡضَكُمۡ عَلَىٰ بَعۡضٍ۬‌ۚ لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا ٱڪۡتَسَبُواْ‌ۖ وَلِلنِّسَآءِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا ٱكۡتَسَبۡنَ‌ۚ وَسۡـَٔلُواْ ٱللَّهَ مِن فَضۡلِهِۦۤ‌ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ ڪَانَ بِكُلِّ شَىۡءٍ عَلِيمً۬ا (٣٢)

    ٱلرِّجَالُ قَوَّٲمُونَ عَلَى ٱلنِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعۡضَهُمۡ عَلَىٰ بَعۡضٍ۬ وَبِمَآ أَنفَقُواْ مِنۡ أَمۡوَٲلِهِمۡ‌ۚ فَٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتُ قَـٰنِتَـٰتٌ حَـٰفِظَـٰتٌ۬ لِّلۡغَيۡبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ ٱللَّهُ‌ۚ وَٱلَّـٰتِى تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَٱهۡجُرُوهُنَّ فِى ٱلۡمَضَاجِعِ وَٱضۡرِبُوهُنَّ‌ۖ فَإِنۡ أَطَعۡنَڪُمۡ فَلَا تَبۡغُواْ عَلَيۡہِنَّ سَبِيلاً‌ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّ۬ا ڪَبِيرً۬ا (٣٤)
    سُوۡرَةُ النِّسَاء

    Allah has assigned ‘Naseeb’ i.e shares and duties due to/from either gender. Therefore, everyone has to look to the Qur’an and Sunnah to determine whether things qualify as ‘microagressions or macroagressions’ and not seek remedies beyond those dictated by Allah.

    True that, “when we refuse to listen or grant a person respect because of their station in life, we are being misguided by arrogance.” But, by refusing to point out that the person will stagnate if he/she doesn’t move on or remove oneself from the quagmire of commitment to alien ideologies (alien to Islam), we let the person succumb to wishful thinking.

    It is interesting also that you define ‘emasculation’ extensively without any discussion about specific factors that contribute to this phenomenon (for example, the role of scholars, Muslimahs, mothers, fathers, wives and current trends of subscribing to feminist ideology). While at the same time being very explicit about the causes for ‘enervation’, “It is especially troubling to see the silencing of legitimate critiques of spiritual abuse, representation, or power dynamics cloaked in religious discourse about piety and proper roles of Muslim women.” It will be interesting to see your critique of specific ‘aggressions’ within the above listed domains based solely on Qur’an and Sunnah. In the meanwhile, does feminism silence legitimate discussions about the refusal of woman to subscribe to gender roles/responsibilities assigned by Qur’an and Sunnah, and what effect does this have on male psychology and emasculation?

  2. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    November 8, 2016 at 8:58 AM

    Don’t like your headline. First: it’s a big word that almost no one knows. Second: black women in general are not enervated. black women are some of the hardest workers in the world. Are some mixed up? Tell me a group that does not have a few kooks running loose (ISIS anyone?). Black women in general go crazy in loving their kids more than most women I know. I don’t mean to bash, but often you see black underachieving boys and when you look, you see a black woman, working like a dog, eight hours a day and then maintaining a home so that underachieving boy has a soft place to lay down. Black Muslim women, in my opinion, sometimes fail to let Islam take them beyond the borders and boundaries of black culture. I would also add that when you say black Muslim women, you have to have a special section for African women. I think there’s a big difference between a black American woman and an African Muslim woman and there are big differences between East and West and a Somali and a Muslim woman from the Gambia. But not a one of them that I have seen, would I call “enervated.”

  3. Avatar

    Omer

    November 9, 2016 at 2:37 PM

    A day before election day and you guys publish a piece about black Muslim women?

  4. Avatar

    Ameerah

    February 10, 2017 at 3:27 PM

    I am tired of this. There is no racism in islam, Black people are always complaining. Seriously enough. Stop trying to bring race in to everything. I have met good and bad people of all races but black women and men do tend to come off as rude and loud to be honest. maybe change your ways and attitude and people would not think of you this way.

    • Avatar

      Ryan Williams

      February 10, 2017 at 5:39 PM

      You’re correct. There is no racism in Islam, but that does not mean Muslims are incapable of being racist. Allah didn’t make Muslims perfect and never claimed that they would be. Either people of color are making false claims as a whole, or they have a legitimate reason. I can assure you it’s the latter. You don’t have to look far either. The reactions to the hashtag #OurThreeWinners vs #OurThreeBoys/#OurThreeBrothers is a terrific example. When the black kids were killed, several Muslims questioned whether they were killed over drugs, gang activity, or some other illegal type of activity before details were released. The fact that they were stereotyped on the basis of their skin color says a lot.

      Even the statements you made are rooted in racist sentiment. You labeled a whole group, black women and men, as being rude and loud. And then went on to mention that black people should change their ways. Racism is rooted in stereotypes, much like the one you mentioned. Based on your statement, I can make a general assumption about you. The first is that you’re not black. The second is that you are not around black people regularly. I say this because this is how racial stereotypes develop. The less contact we have with a group, the more likely we will develop negative feelings about them. Also, our fears of a group pushes us to develop an us-vs-them mentality, something that we refer to as in-group out-group bias.

      Also, having these racial stereotypes that you exhibited are not only harmful, but demeaning. It devalues the people who are making the comments about. If you hold these views about black people and you’re supposed to be Muslim, what makes you think that they will feel welcomed around you? Hint: They will not. You may feel that you are justified in making your comments, but you’re doing yourself a disservice. Instead of making generalizations, try seeking out portrayals that are more realistic and positive, as opposed to seeking out the views which cater to your beliefs. At the end of the day, you’ll be a better person for it.

      Remember: The Prophet (salallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must either speak good or remain silent.” And, “And adhere to truth, for truth leads to good deeds, and good deeds lead to paradise.” You cannot speak a lie and expect not to be held accountable for it.

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#Culture

Trump And The Holy Gobble: A Tongue In Cheek Short Story

When Donald Trump tries to impress a secretary and is exposed to aloo gobi and black pepper, what follows could mean the end of the world.

Aloo Gobi

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories. This story is satire, i.e. humor. You’ve been warned!

That’s Why They Love Me

The EEOB

The EEOB

With Secret Service agents guarding his flanks, Donald Trump exited the White House and headed across the street to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which housed the majority of the White House staff offices.

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“Mr. President,” the Special Agent In Charge protested. “I wish you would eat in your private dining room, or at least in the Navy Mess. It’s safer than the EEOB break room, of all places.”

Trump gave the man a condescending smirk. “You don’t understand what it takes to be a great president. I have to let my workers know that I care about them, bigly. I’m the best at that. No one has ever been better than me at being good to their workers. That’s why they love me.”

The SAIC rolled his eyes. He knew the real reason for the president’s desire to hang out in the EEOB break room. One of the new EEOB secretaries, a petite Russian immigrant blonde named Natasha Petrova, was a former “actress” known to her fans as Natasha Lipps. It wouldn’t be long, the SAIC expected, before Ms. Lipps – err, Petrova – would be made a presidential advisor, which would naturally require personal briefings with the president.

Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, strode beside him. Trump was fed up with the man, who kept trying to talk to him about the need to cover up his affair with Stormy Daniels.

“Can’t we just get the Russians to eliminate her?” Trump demanded.

The Nuclear Football

“Well, heh heh,” Cohen stammered. “That’s not really-”

Trump waved him off. Maybe it was time to fire the dopey dummy, if he couldn’t get things done. As they entered the EEOB, Trump turned to his aide-de-camp, a tall and muscular man wearing a medal-festooned military uniform and a beret. The man carried the nuclear football, and was always at the president’s side.

“Give me the football.”

The nuclear football

The nuclear football

The aide hesitated. The football, a Halliburton Zero aircraft-aluminum briefcase with a protruding antennae, the whole thing further housed within a thick leather satchel, contained a device that the president could use to launch nuclear missiles from any location. It was quite heavy. Besides, the aide knew that Trump only wanted to show it off to Natasha Lipps – err, Ms. Petrova.

Trump snapped his fingers. “Give it, loser.”

The aide handed it over, watching with satisfaction as the president listed to one side, nearly falling over.

In the break room, Trump, out of breath from the exertion of carrying the football, beamed with satisfaction. He’d timed it perfectly. Lipps was making herself a coffee. He admired her figure, resisting the impulse to grab part of her anatomy.

A few other employees sat at the cafeteria-style tables, eating sandwiches and chatting. A brown-skinned young man stood beside a humming microwave oven. They were losers, all of them. They weren’t the president. He was! They didn’t have people all over the world reading their Tweets. He did! Something smelled good, though. He looked around, trying to identify the source of the delicious smell, when the staffers noticed his presence. They all jumped to their feet, and one man saluted. Mental note: promote that guy to presidential advisor.

Natasha Lipps gave him a wide smile. Trump leaned forward even more than he normally did, all his attention focused on the Russian woman.

“Look what I have,” he boasted, grunting as he hefted the case. “The nuclear football.”

“You are such a poverful man,” Lipps purred in her Russian accent.

Cherokee People

“Something smells good in here.” He gave her a wink. “Is that you?”

“I vish it vas, Mr. President. Is Ahmad over there.” She nodded to the brown-skinned man. “He alvays bring delicious food.”

Trump frowned at the man, who had just taken a meal out of the microwave. Ahmad? Wasn’t that a Muslim name? He turned to Cohen. “Do we still have any Muslims on staff? I thought we fired them all.”

“I don’t know, sir. The White House has thousands of staffers.”

“Arrest him. But bring me his lunch. It smells really good.”

“I don’t know if that’s strictly legal, sir, there are laws-”

Trump silenced him with a chopping motion. “Hey, you. Ahmad.”

The brown-skinned man froze. “Yes, Mr. President?”

“You’re not Muslim, are you?”

Ahmad’s eyes shifted left and right. “I’m from California.” Which was technically true.

Trump made a face. “Just as bad.”

“I believe he is Indian,” Petrova whispered.

Oh, that was fine then. Trump had been dealing with Indian-owned casinos in Atlantic City for decades. “Cherokee people,” he sang out loud, “Cherokee trii-iibe. Hey chief, what are you eating?”

Aloo Gobi

Aloo Gobi

“Aloo gobi, sir.”

Holy gobble? What the heck kind of a dumb name? Getting back to more important matters, he set the football on one of the tables, touched his thumb to the biometric scanner, and popped the case open.

Inside, a special laptop computer was custom-fit into the case. The upper panel came on automatically, displaying a map of the world, with all the major cities marked with glowing dots. The lower panel contained a keyboard and a large red button, along with two smaller buttons, one labelled YES and one NO.

Allergic to Pepper

Trump grinned at Natasha Lipps. “Guess what this does? I could destroy the planet from right here if I wanted to. Pretty hot, huh?”

“Is vonderful.”

“Mr. President, sir!” the aide-de-camp protested. “This is highly irregu-”

Trump sneezed into Natasha’s face. It was a wet, jet-propelled sneeze. Her smile flickered for an instant, then returned as bright as ever as she wiped his spittle away. Trump scanned the room. The dark-skinned Indian guy had a hand-held pepper mill and was grinding pepper onto the holy gobble.

“Stop that, you moron!” Trump snapped. “I’m allergic to pepper.”

The man gazed at him pleadingly, and gave the crank a slow-motion turn. “But I like a lot of pepper on my food, sir.”

Trump let out a tremendous sneeze, one that shook him all the way down to his spinal cord. This time he felt himself losing balance, and reached out a hand, which landed right on the nuclear football’s red button. A loud beeping noise sounded, and lights flashed on the screen, along with the glowing words:

CONFIRM MISSILE LAUNCH = YES
ABORT = NO

Trump prided himself on being a positive person. No one had ever been more positive than him in all the history of the world. He didn’t believe in the word NO. He pressed the button for YES.

Arrest That Man

Everyone stared in horror, except for Ahmad, who used the distraction to give the pepper grinder three fast turns. Then he sat, said a quick dua’ and rapidly began to eat his aloo gobi.

“Dear Heaven,” the aide-de-camp breathed. “The Russians will retaliate. We’ll all be destroyed.”

Trump smirked. “You think I would point missiles at Russia? They’re pointed at Mexico and China. Immigration problem solved, plus we win the trade war! Am I the smartest or what?”

The aide-de-camp studied the laptop screen. “One of the missiles is off target. It’s headed for California.”

Trump nodded smugly. “I always keep one aimed at San Francisco.” Grinning widely, he crooned, “Goodbye, Pelosi!”

The SAIC tapped his earpiece. “We’re getting word. The Chinese have launched a retaliatory strike. We’ll be hit in fifteen minutes. We need to get you to the bunker!”

Ahmad took out a portable prayer rug, set it down and began to pray. “Alhamdulillahi rabbil aalameen,” he intoned. One last salat before the end of the world. He would meet his end with dignity.

“I knew it!” Trump pointed. “Arrest that man. For being Muslim, and for eating holy gobble.”

Cohen sighed, and Natasha Lipps – err, Petrova – began to cry.

THE END

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Avatar

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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Shaykh Seraj Hendricks: An Obituary

This article was originally published at Al-Madinah Institute.

 

An internationally recognised Islamic scholar, who saw spirituality, justice, and knowledge as integral to an authentic religious existence.

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Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, who passed away on the 9th of July 2020 at the age of 64, was a scholar of international repute, able to communicate and engage on the level of state leaders, religious scholars and the broader public. As a scion of one of the most prominent Islamic institutions in South Africa and internationally, who also spent a decade studying at the hands of the most prominent of Makkan scholars, he not only inherited a grand bequest, but expanded that legacy’s impact worldwide. In particular, he upheld a normative understanding of Islam, embedded in a tradition stretching back more than a millennium – but deeply cognisant of the needs of the age, including the need to strive to make the world a better place.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks was a high school English teacher between 1980 and 1982 in Cape Town before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 1983 to study at the Umm al-Qura University in Makka. Before this, he spent many years studying particularly at the feet of his illustrious uncle, the late Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks – erstwhile Life President of the Muslim Judicial Council and widely regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Islam in southern Africa – as well as his father, Imam Hassan Hendricks.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks studied the Islamic sciences for more than a decade in the holy city of Makka, spending three years at the Arabic Language Institute in Makka studying Arabic and related subjects, before being accepted for the BA (Hons) Islamic Law degree. He specialised in fiqh and usul al-fiqh in the Faculty of Shariʿa of Umm al-Qura University and graduated in 1992. Shaykh Seraj took ijazat from both the late Sayyid Ahmad Mashur al-Haddad and Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qadir b. Ahmad al-Saqqaf, as well as his extensive time spent with the likes of Shaykh Hasan Mashhat and others. These scholars are all known as some of the pre-eminent ‘ulama of the ummah in the 20th century, worldwide.

Additionally, he obtained a full ijaza in the religious sciences from his primary teacher, the muḥaddith of the Hijaz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawi al-Maliki, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamaʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars. Together with his brother, the esteemed Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, Shaykh Seraj and I wrote a book on this approach to Sufism entitled, “A Sublime Way: the Sufi Path of the Sages of Makka”. Alongside his brother, he became the representative (khalifa) of the aforementioned muhaddith of the Hijaz.

Further to his religious education, Shaykh Seraj was also actively engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 80’s and early 90’s, alongside the likes of figures like Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, comrade of Nelson Mandela, and the renowned journalist, Shafiq Morton. His commitments to furthering justice meant insistence on expressing constant opposition to injustice, while fiercely maintaining the independence of the institution and community he pledged himself to his entire life. At a time when different forces in Muslim communities worldwide try to instrumentalise religious figures for partisan political gain, Shaykh Seraj showed another, arguably far more Prophetic, model.

The shaykh also was keenly supportive of the rights of women, whom he saw as important to empower and cultivate as religious figures themselves. His students, of which there were many thousands over the years, included many women at various levels of expertise. I know it was his wish that they would rise to higher and higher levels, and he took a great deal of interest in trying to train them accordingly, aware that many unnecessary obstacles stood in their way.

After his return to Cape Town he received an MA (Cum Laude) for his dissertation: “Tasawwuf (Sufism) – Its Role and Impact on the Culture of Cape Islam” from the University of South Africa (UNISA), which is currently being prepared for publication as a book. He translated works of Imam al-Ghazali, and summarised parts of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihyaʾ ʿUlum al-Din), most notably in the Travelling Light series, together with Shaykhs ʿAbdal Hakim Murad and Yahya Rhodus.

Some of his previous positions included being the head of the Muslim Judicial Council’s Fatwa Committee (which often led to him being described as the ‘Mufti of Cape Town’), lecturer in fiqh at the Islamic College of Southern Africa (ICOSA), and lecturer in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). He was a member of the Stanlib Shariʿa Board, chief arbitrator (Hakim) of the Crescent Observer’s Society, and was listed consecutively in the Muslim500 from 2009 to 2020. He was also appointed Dean of the Madina Institute in South Africa, a recognised institution of higher learning in South Africa and part of the world Madina Institute seminaries led by Shaykh Dr Muhammad Ninowy. Shaykh Seraj was also appointed as professor at the International Peace University of South Africa, holding the Maqasid Chair for Graduate Studies.

Apart from fiqh and usul al-fiqh, some of Shaykh Seraj’s primary interests are in Sufism, Islamic civilisation studies, interfaith matters, gender studies, socio-political issues and related ideas of pluralism and identity. He lectured and presented papers in many countries, sharing platforms with his contemporaries. Shaykh Seraj taught a variety of Islamic-related subjects at Azzawia Institute in Cape Town, where he was its resident Shaykh, together with his brother Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks. His classes showed an encyclopaedic knowledge that was rooted in the tradition, while completely conversant with the modern age.

But beyond his classes, he was a pastoral figure to many – a community made of thousands – whom he gave himself completely to, in service of the religion, and counselling them as a khidma (service), with mahabba (love), in accordance with the Prophetic model. Many urged him to restrain himself in this way, fearing for his health, which suffered a great deal in his final years as a result – but he saw it as his duty.

The Shaykh was an international figure, a teacher to thousands, and an adviser to multitudes. Many today ask the question as to why ‘ulama truly matter, seeing as it seems so many of them can be compromised by different forces in pursuit of injustice, rigidness and petty partisanship. Such a question will not be asked by those who knew Shaykh Seraj, for in him they saw a concern for spirituality, not paltry political gain, and a commitment to justice and wisdom, not oppression or slogans. In him, many saw, and will continue to see hope for an Islamic commitment to scholarship that seeks to make the world a better place, rising to the challenge of maintaining their values of mercy and compassion, and exiting the world in dignity.

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The Problem With “When They Go Low, We Go High” In An Anti-Black Society

In 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama’s quote, ‘When they go low, we go high’, was first invoked in response to growing anti-black and racist sentiments hurled by the current president and his supporters. Like many others, I believed it was stirring and motivational, yet never felt right in my heart, let alone mind. Going high, but what was the starting point? How are we defining the actions of the ‘they’ or ‘them’? What is the breaking point, when engagement with the ‘they’ becomes problematic and leads to your destruction? Are there rules to this engagement? What game are we playing? Who gets to be the judge or referee? So, the quote and the sentiment never really set right in my heart and led to more questions than answers.

The first assumption of the quote, ‘they’  have a moral compass and actively engaging you in this manner, placing you on the same level. The reality, whiteness in America seeks to maintain its power and control. White slaveholders and the system of hate they used to justify those they enslaved, built a model of power and control, which is the foundation of our current economy and societal structure. This institutionalized whiteness is so ingrained in our culture we are blind to its implications and oblivious to how we each play a role in maintaining this system. Ignorance of the historical development of this country and the narrative of being ‘American’ allows for ‘them’ to maintain their control and a passive acceptance of ‘their’ control and power.

The ‘they’ is often not embodied in a singular person or one group, but a collective body of thoughts and behavior; perpetuating fundamental beliefs or maintaining a perceived status quo. It is individual, institutional, and structural. While social media is full of single racially- charged incidents, when viewed as a whole, they are rooted in long-held beliefs and perceptions of white superiority and disdain for Black presence in their daily lives. Guilt, maybe. Fear. Many are not even aware of how and why they ‘hate’ Black people they simply, do. Here is where we will begin, if you cannot soundly identify or recognize why you hold a particular belief or idea, your actions can never firmly centered in a morally or ethically position. Many of the recent encounters reveal whiteness is predicated on lies; and the belief that white words are superior to truth. The interaction between a San Francisco couple, confronting a Black Man. provides a case study in how we are often engaged and the surveillance of our presence. Threats to call the police, with false information was of no significance to them in their minds, they were right and justified. This incident and the modern-day lynchings of Black persons, allows us to understand ‘they’ or morally bankrupt and will do whatever is necessary to maintain their perceived control.

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A quote by Matshona Dhilwayo bridges the gap between the contradictions in my heart and the understanding my mind seeks,

“It is possible to turn the other cheek when one has stopped counting.”

For generations, Black Americans have taken the ‘higher’ road in response to prejudice and discrimination. At times I believe, we have stopped counting because we knew few changes were coming or justice. During the pinnacle of the civil rights movement during the 60’s the emergence of Malcolm X, challenged the idea of ‘turning the cheek’ when faced with violent acts perpetrated upon Blacks by Whites. The slaps, the senseless murders of Black people on the streets, you count and recognize your enemy for who and what they represent.

In confronting our enemy, we must meet them on their home field of engagement. Millions have taken to the streets across the globe, no longer willing to accept the status quo and suffer needlessly at the hands of those who seek to negate our very existence. As a country, we must understand, this was NEVER a fair fight, on an equal field of battle, or with ample weapons. Nothing about the ‘American’ way of life ever guaranteed any of us a fair shot or equality.

You can not get justice from a system founded by people who in the 1700s published books on how to address the ‘negro problem’. Even Thomas Jefferson knew this day was coming, but in the end, he still held firmly to the belief we were an inferior race who could be easily controlled and manipulated.

Did the enemy play fair when Dr. King was trying to catch a moment of calm at the Lorraine Hotel? Was the enemy morally centered when Malcolm stood in the Audubon Auditorium and was assassinated in front of his family? Did they think twice as Medger Evers pulled into his driveway to spend the evening with his wife and family? When Fred Hampton lay in bed beside his wife was there a second thought?

The idea is not to meet your enemy on some lofty plateau of moral superiority, because they have none; their superiority is based on an ideology that doesn’t even recognize you as their equal. The real lesson, learn from your enemy- their tactics, fighting styles, and methods of engagement. Fight them not with their tools, but your own.

As people of faith, we tend to view those around us, as divine creations of The One; forgetting it was one of those divine creations, who we call the Shaytan. Yes, we accept others for who they are and respect all of humanity. The balance then becomes in recognizing just as the Quran teaches, not everyone will be called to faith or will lead peaceful harmonious lives. This is where we find ourselves, after almost five hundred years of oppression and abuse across the world, here in America, there may not be any redemptive hope for our enemy or the system they created. This does not mean, we simply acquiesce to their control and power, it means we engage them on a level playing field and defeat them using their own rules and weapons.

Knowing your enemy does not mean you become them; nor does it eliminate Divine intervention during periods of unrest. Knowing your enemy, is simply that you fully embrace the reality that they are your enemy and act accordingly. While we hold firm to our faith and the knowledge that He is the Best of Planners, we cannot enter into the enemy’s seat of power believing our mere presence and fervent prayers will somehow miraculously and instantly change their heart. That is not our calling or role, and not our divine purpose. Imams, scholars, and activists engaged in the work of justice and equality, are not divinely elevated to personas and are not representatives of our Lord, but mere offering religious insight and guidance. They hold space, offering insight, and protection.

Never, in the history of this country, have those in power and control ever fully recognized, accepted, or atoned for the entrapment, kidnapping, and enslavement of Africans. Instead, they have violently and systematically created a country of denial and continued oppression. The argument is that things have improved from the ’60s.  My response, I am still not free of the anxiety of having my children taken from this world, simply because they are Black.

We are not allowed to move about this world without having to do twice as much; be ten times better; while still being thought of as less than.

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