“I grew up like a neglected weed, – ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it. Then I was not happy or contented.” Harriet Tubman to Benjamin Drew, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, 1855
I’m not a theologian, nor am I an Islamic scholar in the traditional sense. That was not the path that the Creator had chosen for me. Becoming a traditionally trained Muslim scholar is not easy for women, especially a convert who grew up in a Black working class single parent home. Even with the best intentions, I might not have been the best candidate, given my rebellious streak, my touch of ratchetness and irreverent humor. But there are amazing women whose graceful character, unfaltering faith and impeccable scholarship guide us in Islamic devotional life, to name a few are erudite Black Muslim women like Zaynab Ansari, Iesha Prime, and Rukayat Modupe Yakub. There are also devout academics like Professor Intisar Rabb and Professor Aminah McCloud whose credentials and contributions in their fields are unmatched. Many of these scholars have been trained in Western academies and Islamic seminaries, with a deep commitment to their faith, inquiry, and social change.
The Harriet Ross Tubman memorial Image by John Blanding from the Boston Globe
After ten years towards earning my undergraduate degree, for four years I found a place in the academy and while in graduate school I became trained as a historian of Muslim societies, race, and Islamic education. I spent hours in colonial archives to gather documents and texts to understand transformations in Islamic education, religious consciousness, racial formations, and resistance. I studied classical Arabic and hadith in Fez with a teacher from al-Qarawayin, sifted through colonial texts at the Sudan Archives in Durham England, sat in a Diwaniyya in Kuwait with the sheikh from Abu Noor, interviewed a Tijani sheikh and African students studying at al-Azhar, and parsed through rare texts that I scanned and photocopied or purchased in bookstores. While I left the academy short of a Ph.D., I have truly been blessed by the learning opportunities graduate school gave me and am forever imprinted. It informs my current work in anti-racism research and teaching. Over the years, I have met amazing scholars, western trained, traditionally trained, and those who bridge both, who have said we need a big picture of what a principled life entails. We need a Liberation Theology —an Islamic Liberation Theology—one that reflects our souls as a people and our role in repairing a broken world.
Muslim Americans must have a vision for collective liberation. Targeted by the criminal justice system, national security system, and immigration system, Muslims in America of all stripes are often overwhelmed by the onslaught and fail to make the connections with other vulnerable communities. While Muslim Americans of all backgrounds evoke Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali as examples of leadership, the language we hear today among our leaders is in stark contrast to the Holy protest of the Black Liberation movements they are part of. The legacy of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali highlight how our struggle must not be domesticated. Black consciousness shaped my Islam, as well as the Black radical tradition and the Pan Africanism of Malcolm X. Malcolm X said:
I might point out here that colonialism or imperialism, as the slave system of the West is called, is not something that is just confined to England or France or the United States. The interests in this country are in cahoots with the interests in France and the interests in Britain. It’s one huge complex or combine, and it creates what’s known not as the American power structure or the French power structure, but an international power structure. This international power structure is used to suppress the masses of dark-skinned people all over the world and exploit them of their natural resources.
Black Muslim communities are at the fulcrum of White supremacy. Affected by the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, Black Muslims have always addressed oppressive domestic politics and imperialistic foreign policies. We often serve as the conscience for American Muslim communities to remind them of the moral perils of assimilation into whiteness, as well as the conscience for America as we highlight the inequities in this country and the ways in which our foreign policy target people of color globally. This is why Malcolm X still speaks to us today.
Anti-Black racism, settler colonialism, xenophobia, securitization and criminalization rob us our ability to reach our full potential. In February 2014, we began organizing Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) online to locate other educators, community leaders, scholars, and activists to create a network of anti-racist Muslims. Three years later, we refined our mission and our work is focused on building capacity for anti-racism in Muslim communities and training allies about how Muslims in America are racialized. We train leaders from communities who are in the cross hairs of xenophobia, anti-Black racism, settler colonialism, and Islamophobia.
I advocate to increase representation of Black, Latino, and Indigenous Muslims who are are left out of conversations about national policy, media representation, and organizational infrastructure development. As Muslims, we are to stand for the oppressed and that is what should drive American Muslim public policy.
In the Qur’an, Allah tells us:
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted. (4:135)
What does it mean to stand persistently? This means we advance justice constantly, consistently, and not just when it affects us. For decades, many Muslim national advocacy groups have focused on issues that were seen as unique to the Muslim community, such as Islamophobic legislation, religious profiling, and foreign policy. But there is a growing shift, as Muslim Americans take stronger stances towards social justice. Muslim-led initiatives and service providers such as UMMAH clinic work to benefit people of all faiths.
I am also blessed to work with Faith Rooted Organizing, including Zachary Hoover and Sarah Jawaid of LA Voice. In the PICO National Network training I was allowed to bring my full self as a Black Muslim woman and share my pain, my fears, and my dreams with over a hundred faith leaders.
We need Muslim faith leaders, imams, teachers, scholars to join priests, rabbis, and clergy to articulate our Liberation Theology.
We need one that does not fall into American exceptionalism.
We need a Liberation Theology that is not appropriated by Empire. We need a Liberation theology that does not just ask for a seat at the Emperor’s table, but one of freedom.
We struggle to speak truth even as others seek fragment our conscience and lull us into a sunken place. We can not worship false idols to gain a sense of acceptance. As Muslims, we must have the courage to express ourselves as faith-full people, that we seek to please our Creator and our conduct should bear witness to our belief in love, justice, and mercy. This is why more than ever, we need a Liberation Theology to speak to the most enduring problems today, poverty, racism, and violence. That Liberation Theology should be composed by our theologians, our organic intellectuals, our artists, our teachers, our healers, our researchers, everyday people, and our most affected. Together, we can create a multilayered composition, a symphony of freedom. We need a Liberation Theology that brings us into harmony and whose pounding rhythm synchronizes our steps during our march to freedom.
That’s what Liberation sounds like. Who stands for Liberation? I invite you to share with me what stands for Liberation.
I see the blackness of winter
I see death lurking in the trees
Yeah, I see the blackness of winter
And I see death lurking in the trees
I see the blackness of my people
You know they’re calling for freedom everywhere
I’ve seen the blackness of my people
And all you got to do,
Brothers and sisters, reach out your hands,
We’re gonna take you there
Black stands for liberation, yeah, aah
Liberation Song (Red, Black, and Green) Gil Scott-Heron
Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good
For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad , are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.
Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.
Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.
The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.
As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.
From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.
Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.
Muslim individuals and families
- Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
- They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
- Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
- They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
- They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
- They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
- They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.
Muslim bodies and institutions
- Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
- By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
- It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
- Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
- Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.
#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives
Sh. Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives yesterday, May, 9th, 2019 at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas.
Immediately since, right wing media platforms have begun spreading negative coverage of the Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists as well as criticism of Israel policies.
News outlets citing the criticism have pointed to a post from The Investigative Project on Terrorism or ITP, as the source. The ITP was founded by and directed by noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson. Emerson’s history of hate speech has been documented for over two decades.
Since then, the story has been carried forward by multiple press outlets.
The immediate consequence of this has been the direction of online hate towards what has been Imam Omar Suleiman’s long history of preaching unity in the US socio-political sphere.
“Since my invocation I’ve been inundated with hate articles, threats, and other tactics of intimidation to silence me over a prayer for unity,” Imam Omar Suleiman says. “These attacks are in bad faith and meant to again send a message to the Muslim community that we are not welcome to assert ourselves in any meaningful space or way.”
MuslimMatters is proud to stand by Imam Omar Suleiman, and we invite our readers to share the evidence that counters the accusations against him of anti-semitism, bigotry, and hate. We would also encourage you to reach out, support, and amplify voices of support like Representative E.B.Johnson, and Representative Colin Allred.
You can help counter the false narrative, simply by sharing evidence of Imam Omar Suleiman’s work. It speaks for itself, and you can share it at the hashtag #UnitedForOmar
At an interfaith panel discussion, three North Texas religious leaders promoted understanding and dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. Source: DMagazine.com
The congregation, led by Imam Omar Suleiman, penned more than 150 cards and letters. source: WFAA News
“We must recognize that the white supremacy that threatens the black and Latino communities, is the same white supremacy that spurs Islamophobia and antisemitism,” -Imam Omar Suleiman
Source: Bend The Arc
“When any community is targeted, they need to see a united faith voice — that all communities come together and express complete rejection of anything that would pit our society against one another more than it already is.” -Imam Omar Suleiman
Source: Kera News
Source: The Carter Center
Imam: After devastating New Zealand attack, we will not be deterred
“My wife and I decided to take our kids to a synagogue in Dallas the night after the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh to grieve and show solidarity with the Jewish community. My 5-year-old played with kids his age while we mourned inside, resisting hate even unknowingly with his innocence…” Source: CNN
From Sri Lanka – The Niqab Ban and The Politics of Distraction
This article was originally published on Groundviews
As of last Monday, Sri Lanka is taking a seat at the table next to a list of 13 other countries from across the world who have passed legislation banning the niqab or face veil.
Amidst incensed murmurs from certain parliamentarians, and following a discussion with the country’s main Islamic theological body, the All Ceylon Jammiatul Ulema (ACJU), the President’s office has announced that ‘any garment or item which obstructs the identification of a person’s face would be barred.’ Sri Lanka has been under emergency regulations following the Easter Sunday attacks which killed over 250 people. The ban will hold until emergency regulations are lifted.
Ever since the identification of the all-male terrorists behind the massacre as members of militant group ISIS, Muslim women -for some inexplicable reason- were to bear the hardest brunt. Instances of headscarved Muslim women being refused entry at various supermarkets and prominent establishments, was followed by the usual scaremongering via alarmist infographics doing the rounds yet again ‘educating’ the public of the differences between the burqa, hijab, and chador.
A victory indeed for both anti-Muslim voices, as well as to many within the Muslim community seeking to audibly amputate themselves from a supposedly dated form of Islam – one that they claim has no bearing to inherent Sri Lankan Muslim identity. A view that discards the notion that any religious or ethnic identity is fluid, in flux, and subject to constant evolution.
The grand slam however is primarily for the current political establishment, members of whom are probably high-fiving each other as a result of this kneejerk symbol-politics manoeuvre on having supposedly successfully placated the public of their fears of homegrown terrorism. A move that bleeds hypocrisy for it comes at the cost of subliminally ‘othering’ an already marginalized segment of a minority community, while at the same time PSA’ing for peace and coexistence in this time of crisis.
What is most insulting to the intelligence of our society however, is that amidst all this brouhaha, only few have questioned the actual relevance of this new ban to the current state of our security affairs.
No eye witness report nor CCTV footage showed that any of the suicide bombers from any of the coordinated attacks across the country were on that day wearing the niqab/burqa/chador at the time of inflicting their terror. The men were in fact dressed in men’s attire, with faces completely exposed. It might serve to add here also that they weren’t dressed in traditional Muslim man garb either.
How then did the face veiling Muslim woman get pushed under the bus as the most identifiable sign of radicalism?
It is obvious that the government was cornered into passing this legislation, as was the ACJU too in having to support this move. While all communities have only their praises to sing for the exceptional work of the security forces in tracking down the attackers within only just hours, the country’s elected leadership was in dire need of respite following what many experts claim was a massive intelligence failure, a blunder involving the wrongful identification of a terror suspect, and incompetence in the handling of events overall. A distraction was desperately required. Something needed to give, and it just so happened that the niqab-donning Muslim woman was the easiest scapegoat.
To an outsider unfamiliar with Muslim religious symbolism, the face-veil can come across as alien, even unnerving. And while our first instinct is to otherize in an attempt to help deal with the discomfort of dealing with any unknown, a woman out in the street in a niqab is -for as long as anyone can remember- most certainly not an oddity that has compelled anyone to stop and recite their final rites.
The misguided belief that the face veil is a marker of extremism isn’t and hasn’t ever been based on any empirical research. If studies were to be carried out, results would show that Muslim women in general -let alone those with a face cover- have a little role to play, if any, for acts of terror committed in all the countries that have banned them.
Contrarily, there is a clear proven relationship between terrorist attacks and increases in recorded Islamophobic incidents against Muslims, with women being disproportionately targeted. One can then dare infer that being visibly Muslim carries a greater risk to oneself, than to the people around them.
The niqab ban has been put in place as a security measure they say – a flexing of muscles towards any semblance of radicalization that will deter any future acts of terror in the country. Naturally, the perpetuating of this ideological hegemony is doing Muslim women no favors. If anything, the ban is a wholly counterproductive one, in that it ostracizes an already marginalized segment of a minority community – a sliver of a percentage out of the 10% that is the country’s Muslim population.
If -as commonly believed- veiled Muslim women are being hopelessly persecuted, the ban will serve only to increasingly confine these women to their homes, under the control of the men accused of governing their lives, and further disconnected from being able to assimilate with society. Even more dangerous, there are studies which prove that having to live in an environment that is aggressively policed on the basis of belief is more likely to harbour radicalization.
Absurdity of the non-connection of the attacks with the niqab ban aside, this in itself should be a war cry for secular feminists advocating for everyone’s basic right to the civil freedoms of a liberal society. Where now are the proponents and ambassadors so wholly soaked in the ‘Muslim woman saviour complex?’ A segment of Muslim women has been forbidden from wearing what they feel best represents their Sri Lankan Muslim identity. They were not consulted before this legislation was passed, nor were they given the chance to show their willingness to cooperate on instances where identification was required.
Ludicrously, discourses surrounding veiled Muslim women are paradoxically lobbed back and forth according to the convenience of the times. In times of world peace, they are oppressed and subservient to patriarchal whims and fancies, while in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack there are hostile and threatening, capable of devising all kinds of evil. They are either victims of violence or the perpetrators of it.
This age-old preoccupation with Muslim women’s attire is in actuality a gross conflation of conservatism with extremism. In claiming that a strip of cloth holds the answer to combatting a severe global threat is trivialising the greater issues at hand. If there was a direct correlation between the attacks and veiled individuals, legislation forbidding the covering of the face in public would be wholly justified. But there is none.
Muslim women shouldn’t be faulted for the cracks in the state’s china. In not being able to answer the hard questions of accountability, lapses in acting on available intelligence, and general good governance, those at the top should leave well alone and consider hiding their faces instead.
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