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On Divine Gifts And Tribulations: Reflections on Ustadh Nabeel al-Azami

Reflections on Ustadh Nabeel al-Azami

Nabeel Al Azami

In the early hours of the 14th of August 2019, corresponding to the first day following the ‘Eid al-Adha’ of the Muslim community, my friend Nabeel, son of Mamoon al-Azami, passed away peacefully in London. He was 39 years old. He honoured me by considering me a teacher to ask counsel of – but in truth, he himself was an educator par excellence by his words, his actions and his state of being.

I have nothing but good memories of this man. He was generous and kind, and personified good manners. A year ago, we were together when he was giving a presentation on his work, and we had lunch together beforehand. He was speaking to me about the subject of the presentation, and as we were speaking privately, I told him about my unease around a bit of the approach on a few points.

Nabeel was not only warm in private in response, but when we were sat in the public arena for his presentation thereafter, he, unprompted, insisted on giving me the floor, though I had no speaking role that day. He did so after addressing me and introducing me in a deeply respectful manner, so that I could offer my thoughts, even though he knew of my stance.

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I no longer even remember what I said – I only remember the generosity of spirit he had. In this day and age, that kind of magnanimity is rare, usually absent, and evidence of something beautiful.

(You can see more of Nabeel’s work here — his final book, which he wrote on the Prophet and Leadership, with leadership professor John Adair writing the forward).

A few months ago, I asked if I might visit him, while he was in the hospital. He was in the midst of various obligations but knew my travel schedule would make it difficult to find an opportunity to allow me the privilege of his company, and he had some things he wanted to discreetly discuss. We had spoken a few times on the phone after he had learned of his illness, but we had not met since. We found a common time of 15 minutes to speak privately. It turned into an hour.

When I saw him, what are called the ‘signs of sainthood’ (wilaya) were deeply upon him. His riḍā (contentment) was evident to anyone who saw him, and his concern was not for himself. Rather, it was first and foremost for his family. Whenever people ask me about him, I immediately think of that word: riḍā.

Riḍā.
Riḍā.

I left his company with a sense I cannot easily put into words – he was a paragon of strength and fortitude, while simultaneously being a person of charity and concern for his wider community. The presence of contentment, harmony, self-composure, and quiet trust in the working of the Divine. In this are signs for the ones who are aware, for they represent the rising of station (maqam) according to the sages.

There will be others who will no doubt write about Nabeel’s professional accomplishments, of which there are many, not least the book he wrote and completed while he battled his illness. These are inspiring, and a testament to Nabeel’s deep commitment to the work he devoted himself to (his last work on Prophetic leadership can be purchased here from the publisher) – a work that all about serving the community which he so loved and cared for.

I knew about Nabeel’s work, but most of our interactions showed another side to him – a facet of his personality that will forever be instructive to me. It was the aspect of him that I mentioned to my students as we read through tracts of spirituality. It was the aspect of him that asked for prayers that God might allow him to see and meet the Prophet in his dreams. It was the aspect of him that sought out to understand and comprehend the meaning of what was happening in a deeply metaphysical manner, which was admirable in such an advanced way.

“But it is as though, Allah has given me this tribulation, as an unworthy servant, as a gift. And then He has given me some challenges, that I didn’t think I would cope with. And then He somehow gave me the resources as a gift…

And I feel as though I am being taken among individuals who must have taken this journey, who are much more worthy; I am left very confused as to why I am being given this privilege. Maybe you can help explain this confusion to me.

But that aside: I hope if it is benefiting brothers, to be able to talk about our conversations, then hopefully if there is any ajr (reward) for me there, that may be something I can hold onto in the next life, as a source of salvation.”

(Nabeel al-Azami)

In the hours that followed his passing, as his family and friends prepared to bid him farewell at the funeral service, I went through my recent correspondences with Nabeel, following and preceding conversations we had. There were perhaps three recurring themes I can mention. The first was the most pre-eminent, which I’ve alluded to above, in terms of his spiritual journey and path. His instructive comments reflected a serenity of soul, a strength of spirit, and a constancy of commitment.

The second theme was the concern he had particularly for his family. His father, his wife, his children, but really the entire family – his concern for them was touching, moving, and genuinely thought-provoking to any of us who get wrapped up in the mundane nature of this world. The very last message he sent to me was an ‘ameen’ to a du’a I sent him in response to his request I pray for his wife, children and family.

Finally, the third theme was care he had for his community, and that watchfulness was something he spoke to me about in his one of his very final messages to me – the rifts within the Muslim community more generally, especially among the ‘ulama, and how their differences needed to be bridged.

In all of these, Nabeel al-Azami’s considerations were deeply important. One of the final things he said to me was his hope that if his tribulation could serve as a lesson to others, may he partake in the reward for that, and maybe it would be something he could hold onto in the next life for his salvation.

It never occurred to me to share Nabeel’s thoughts while he was still with us. When we met and discussed, we did so privately. But after he passed to the mercy of his Lord, I remembered what he said about our conversations benefiting others – and thus took pen to paper, transcribing some of the notes he sent.

There was a message that related to knowing God, and spirituality more generally, which indicated one of the priorities he thought this community needed – this is where our relationship actually began, in a way. It is fitting that be the first tract. About half-way in, Nabeel responded to a message I sent him, where I had let him know I’d used his character as an example of how to respond to tribulations in a class I teach. That class was and is based on the works of one of my teachers, the Malaysian polymath, Professor Sayyid Naquib al-Attas. In response to Nabeel’s message, I told him the title of the work, at which point he expressed great joy, saying he had used the work as a reference in his last book.

That message was followed by a concern for the community writ large, particularly vis-à-vis the partisanship and conflicts the community had been riven by in recent years. We had discussed this in person, and he re-emphasised his point in this message – it’s a rare message indeed at this time, and important to share. He knew about my apprehension I had about partisanship driving our community apart, but he excelled me in focusing on the need to bring hearts together, rather than simply analysing the problem.

I close the below with two tracts that in particular related to trials and tribulations, to which I appended a short excerpt from the writings of Shaykh Abdal Qadir al-Jilani, the Persian saint of early Muslim history, and this represented the last of the transcriptions I chose. I believe I mentioned this tract to Nabeel himself, and it formed the basis of some of our discussions.

I pray the reader benefits from Nabeel’s thoughts and prays for him. For those who knew him, they should know that Sayyid Nabeel passed away in one of the four sacred months mentioned in the Qur’an – Dhu al-Hijjah. This is the month of the Hajj; it is the month the Great ‘Id, ‘Id al-Adha; it is the month of the passing of Sayyidina ‘Umar, Sayyidina ‘Uthman, and Imam Muhammad al-Baqir.

May we all benefit through Ustadh Nabeel al-Azami for a very long time to come.

I know I will.

On Spirituality

“Thank you for your message and thank you for the du’a (supplication) that you shared. SubhanAllah, the dua’ that you shared about Allah opening up the gates so that I may know Him better; it has been a part of my tahhajud (night vigil prayers) since you mentioned it.

And you know; these many small du’as that you hear and those that you end up memorising: this is one that I wish [had been] in my system. Because I knew the du’a – but it is so simple and beautiful – but insha’Allah, Allah will give you the ajr (reward) that you reminded me of the du’a which I memorised and now it has been normalised.

And it’s wonderful: because the ability to know your Creator and discover Him is that life-long journey. We try to learn about the 99 attributes to be able to understand the incredible nature of our Creator, whom we are blessed to be created from. And the quality of my prayers have been impacted as a result of this process of ibtila’ (tribulation).

Which is, in a sense, the only way you can really achieve and access the unveiling needed to know a little bit more about your creator. So, I feel I need to be in this ibtila’ longer! There is so much I can learn now that I have unlocked a few things, you know, through the wasila (means) around me, including yourself.”

“And it is wonderful to hear that you are teaching a text on taṣawwuf; I’d love to know which one it is. The need for teaching, tarbiyat al-iman, tazkiyat al-nafs, and the sciences of taṣawwuf; it is so, so urgent and so neglected. So, if it is a public class that I can promote, let me know: I’d love to send it in the network, because there are just too far and few between.

So, thank you for sharing: but the only thing I would say here is that I certainly wouldn’t be the precise example. But good brothers around me and my shayukh and my learned friends like your good self: with your help I am trying to be an acceptable example, insha’Allah.

But it is as though, Allah has given me this tribulation, as an unworthy servant, as a gift. And then He has given me some challenges, that I didn’t think I would cope with. And then He somehow gave me the resources as a gift; and then I feel the raising of maqam (spiritual station). Not because of anything from myself, but that Allah is just gifting.

Because I thought I just had to take one step towards Allah, and he would take ten steps for me. I think I managed to just think about one step. I don’t know what little iota of indication I gave to Allah that I am interested in guidance; and that was enough. That was enough, and Allah is just raising me.

And I feel as though I am being taken among individuals who must have taken this journey, who are much more worthy; I am left very confused as to why I am being given this privilege. Maybe you can help explain this confusion to me.

But that aside: I hope if it is benefiting brothers, to be able to talk about our conversations, then hopefully if there is any ajr for me there, that may be something I can hold onto in the next life, as a source of salvation.”

On Bringing Hearts Together, in a world where lines have been drawn

“In our community, the scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets: that we know. And amongst them, we need to build bridges, and we do know that for various reasons amongst the difficulties of the world, a broken world that we’re facing, there are lines being drawn even amongst the ulama (scholastic) community. And differences of strategy and direction, and differences in trying to say this is how we can serve the ummah (Muslim community) better can and will arise.

But all I can hope for is people like yourself, in a small way myself, if I can, and others, try to at least make hearts stay together…

There should never be an instance where people amongst the ulama, who are the inheritors of the prophets, who are at the heights of those who represent the prophets in their absence today —- at least the hearts and their brotherhood should remain there.

And I think that is the case anyway amongst the most senior ulama that we know. And without naming names, I think their hearts are clear in their interaction, but they may be operating in different platforms and structures.

But I think we need bridge builders, so we keep the ukhuwwa (brotherhood) and the conversation going, as we try to navigate ourselves across common challenges in the world and navigate our community towards a direction. Which is ultimately the same direction anyway, seeking the pleasure of Allah, and following in the footsteps of al-Habib al-Mustafa salAllahu ‘alayhi wa salam.

And that’s about it, in order to be worshippers who are keen only to seek Allah’s pleasure and have that kind of connection and rida (contentment).”

On Tribulations and Trials

“Al-salam ‘alaykum, shaykh Hisham: and thank you for your ongoing affection, care, concern and spiritual advice which I really, really value, and it does help me. At some point, it would be good to talk or see you just to share the seriousness of my condition.

But, alhamdulillah (praise be to God), this ibtila’ (tribulation) is a blessing, it has given me so much khayr, by God, so much khayr – and I am full of shukr (gratefulness). I have sabr (patience) when the pain is happening, but I have shukr for what Allah is doing for me spiritually. And as one of my teachers once said: when you are suffering from a physical illness, be grateful you are not suffering from a spiritual illness. And I am really feeling the benefits of that right now.

Alhamdulillah: jazakAllah khayr for sending me all the Prophetic supplications and invocations, and alhamdulillah most of them I have been doing already, but I haven’t actually been doing [certain elements of spiritual practice I recommended], so I will immediately add this into my practice on your advice; so, thank you for that.

And although I am in a wonderful spiritual place, you are absolutely right that the hardest thing is often for the family and for the wife and the children. They are struggling a little bit and I do try to give them strength, so please make du’a for my wife and my three young children: that Allah gives them strength in the midst of this ibtila’ that we are all facing. And insha’Allah I am confident that Allah will take care of us, and take care of our affairs insha’Allah.”

“Al-salam ‘alaykum, Shaykh Hisham – I hope you are well. Thank you for your ongoing enquiry and concerns about my health and your du’a. In terms of how I am, alhamdulillah, spiritually and mentally, I am in a really good place – I have this wonderful connection and relationship built with our Lord, subhanhu wa ta’ala. My tahajjuds (night vigil prayers) are beautiful, and I am just loving the experience of this ibtila’, taking as much benefit of it as possible.

In terms of the jasad, the body: unfortunately, that is choosing to go in a different direction…Suffice it to say my physical condition is extremely serious, and I need lots of your du’a.

But my spiritual condition, by Allah’s will, is in the best place I have ever experienced, and long may Allah keep that. So, I ask for your continued dua’ and insha’Allah I will update you more next week.”

****************

Shaykh Abdal Qadir al-Jilani (may Allah be well pleased with him, and may He grant him contentment) said:

“As for one who suffers tribulation, he will sometimes be tried as a punishment and retribution for an offense he has perpetrated or a sin he has committed, at another time as an expiation and purification, and finally, for the sake of elevation in spiritual degrees and advancement to high stages, to join those versed in knowledge, people with experience of all states and stations. This they have received through the providence of the Lord of creation and of mankind.

Their Lord has sent them to ride the fields of misfortune on the mounts of friendliness and kindness and refreshed them with the breeze of loving looks and glances while in movement or at rest, because their trial was not intended to destroy them and hurl them into the abyss. Rather did He put them to these tests for the sake of choice and selection, so drawing from them the reality of faith, which He purified and separated from polytheistic association [shirk], pretensions and hypocrisy [nifaq], and presenting them with all kinds of knowledge, secrets and enlightenment. Then He made special favourites of them, entrusted them with His secrets, and granted them the pleasure of His company.

… For those trials have the effect of making their hearts pure and free from sinful association, and from attachment to creatures, worldly means, wishes, and self-willed desires. They are instrumental in melting them and smelting out the pretensions and passions, and the expectation of returns for obedient behaviour, in the form of high degrees and stations in the hereafter, in paradise and its gardens…

The sign that the trials are for the sake of spiritual progress is the presence of contentment, harmony, self-composure, quiet trust in the working of the God of the earth and the heavens, and annihilation within them until their eventual removal with the passage of time.”

****************

Anyone who saw Nabeel knows what signs were most prominent upon him. I consider it my honour that I knew Nabeel al-Azami, and my loss that I did not know him longer and better.

May God have mercy on the soul of Sayyid Nabeel al-Azami; grant him the highest stations of Paradise; and give his family strength.

إنا لله و إنا إليه راجعون

“And that’s about it, in order to be worshippers who are keen only to seek Allah’s pleasure and have that kind of connection and rida (contentment).” (Nabeel al-Azami).

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A scholar and author focusing on politics and religion, Dr H.A. Hellyer is a Senior Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute in London and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in DC. Dr. Hellyer’s career has included positions at and affiliations with the Brookings Institution, Harvard University, the American University in Cairo, and the Centre for Advanced Studies on Islam, Science and Civilisation (CASIS). He is a frequent commentator and columnist in various media in the United States, Europe and the Arab world, and is included in the annual global list of ‘The 500 Most Influential Muslims’ in the world (‘The Muslim 500’). Among his books are ‘Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans’ (Edinburgh University Press), ‘A Revolution Undone: Egypt’s Road Beyond Revolt’ (Oxford University Press) and “The Islamic Tradition, Muslim Communities and the Human Rights Discourse” (editor)(Atlantic Council).Born to an English father and to an Egyptian mother of Sudanese & Moroccan heritage and Ḥasanī & ʿAbbāsī lineage, Dr. Hellyer was raised between London, Cairo and Abu Dhabi, before receiving degrees in law and international political economy from the University of Sheffield, and a doctorate from the University of Warwick. He began researching Islamic law, theology and spirituality in his teens, keeping the company of and studying under a number of classically trained-scholars in the UK, Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and elsewhere, receiving ijazas from a number of them. Dr. Hellyer was appointed by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks as a Senior Scholar of the Zawiya Institute in South Africa, and by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (Dr. T.J. Winter) as Senior Fellow of the Cambridge Muslim College in the UK.

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    #Current Affairs

    Racism And The Plagues of Egypt – Coronavirus And Racism: America’s Two Pandemics

    Introduction

    The fight against anti-Blackness has once again hit the global stage, and American Muslims have a central role to play in the movement of racial justice. The spiritual history of America is a history of Black Muslim voices. Mansa Abubakari, a West African King, landed in South America almost 200 years before Columbus began the massacre of the indigenous population.[1] The biggest migration of Muslims to America was the slave ships where scholars fought to teach Islam to their enslaved communities. Modern Islamophobic attacks such as the Muslim Ban of 2016 are not just Islamophobic, but also deeply racist because it denies the humanity of the previous generations of Muslims. Black Muslims have carried the mantle of preserving Islam in America and have fought for racial justice for last four centuries. The immigrant Muslims who arrived during the last 50 years were a direct result of the civil rights movement that allowed immigration from Muslim majority countries. The fight for racial justice is a Muslim fight. We owe it to the generations of Muslims before us to continue their work.

    The 400 years of struggle for racial justice in America can be compared to the Children of Israel’s fight for emancipation from Pharaoh’s Egypt 3000 years ago during which the country was hit by a number of plagues. Sheikh Mendes and Imam Dawud Walid have recently referenced the story of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him), whose demand to Pharaoh to, “Let my people go[2]” is well known in many religious circles fighting for racial equality in America. [3] The Quran discusses of the plagues of Egypt in the story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) in Surah Al-A’raf. “So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people.” [7;133] The plagues of Egypt are similar to the current coronavirus pandemic in that they made systemic oppression clear for all to see. The goal here is to explain the relationship between the coronavirus and racism epidemics.

    First, the name of the surah will be discussed. Then, the story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will be put into context with the story of the other prophets mentioned in the surah. The events leading up to the Plagues of Egypt are explained and compared to the current American pandemics. Finally, there are recommendations for how to make our community spaces antiracist. A few Black scholars have been quoted throughout as to elevate their voices, and to provide some much-needed groundwork for readers who might be unfamiliar with these great American Muslim scholars. For further reading, Dr. Kayla Renée Wheeler compiled a far more exhaustive list of Black Muslim narratives in the BlackIslamSyllabus.

    Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

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    To put this verse into perspective we must first reflect on Surah A’raf as a whole, and I encourage everyone to read and contemplate the surah in depth. The A’raf, mentioned in ayah 46, are an elevated place on the Day of Judgement where people of no consequence get stuck. They watch as others are sorted towards Heaven or Hell. The people of the A’raf are not evil, but they also would not leave their comfort zones to actually commit to righteousness. Their comments to the people of Paradise and the people of the Fire are mentioned in the Surah, but do not earn a response because they are then, as they are now, people of no consequence.

    The surah begins by telling Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to not feel distressed by forcing people out of their comfort zones, and warns of previous peoples who were destroyed as they slept in their heedlessness. And how many cities have We destroyed, and Our punishment came to them at night or while they were sleeping at noon. [7;4] We cannot go back to the previous norm when Black people were suffering alone, while non-Black people could comfortably enjoy their lives whilst ignoring—and even benefiting from a system built on—the suffering of their Black brothers and sisters. A critical mass of people must refuse the continued oppression and the suffering of others for the current system to change. American Muslims should do more than give lip service to their Black brothers and sisters.

    Anti-Blackness in Human History

    The first prophet mentioned in the surah is our father Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), whose name indicates his dark black skin. And We have certainly created you, [O Mankind], and given you [human] form. Then We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam”, so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was not of those who prostrated. [7;11] [Allah] said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?” [Satan] said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from mud.” [7;12] Satan hated our father Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) for the form Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave him, which included dark black skin. Anti-Blackness is as old as humanity itself. Dr. Bilal Ware has spoken extensively about the satanic nature of racism. Claims of superiority based on a birthright are rampant throughout human history. Egyptians claimed superiority over the Children of Israel based on where they were from centuries before. Jahili[1] Meccan society claimed superiority based on lineage. The American system claims superiority based on proximity to whiteness. These are characteristics determined at birth and are beyond any human being’s control. Such claims of superiority are counter to the Islamic ethos that sets the value of individuals based on their relationship with God alone. And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” [7:172] Many other prophets and their specific fights against the oppressive power structures are referenced in the surah, which illustrates the continuity of the struggle between the children of Adam and Satan.

    A series of prophets (peace be upon them] are briefly discussed with striking similarities in the messages they delivered to their people. All the prophets teach their people about the Oneness of God and called them to rectify the vices that were specific to their society. The mala’a, or the elites, in each of their societies were mentioned as those who fought the prophets. They did so to maintain their chokehold on power, not because of a theological difference. The elites in Meccan society did not fight Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) until he began publicly preaching. They did not care that he prayed differently from them. They feared that his message would make them equal to people they belittled and disparaged. Similarly, it was the elites in Pharaoh’s court who demanded he increase the torment of the Children of Israel. This was a direct result of the magicians publicly declaring their belief and turning public opinion against Pharaoh’s magic, one of the pillars of his power. Similarly in America, the institutional structures of racism need to be dismantled.

    Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)

    The story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) begins with the demand mentioned in the introduction, “so send with me the Children of Israel.” [7;105]. Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) shows Pharaoh and his elites the signs Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has sent him with. So Moses threw his staff, and suddenly it was a serpent, manifest. [7;107] And he drew out his hand; thereupon it was white [with radiance] for the observers. [7;108] They refuse his message and demand a public contest with magicians in hopes of spinning the narrative in their favor. They fail miserably when the magicians recognize the truth and publicly declare their belief in the Lord of Prophet Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) despite Pharaoh’s threats of torture. Pharaoh said, “You believed in him before I gave you permission. Indeed, this is a conspiracy which you conspired in the city to expel therefrom its people. But you are going to know.” [7:123]

    This now leads us to the discussion of the plagues, and how they came about. After that public humiliation, the elites around Pharaoh demanded that he increase the torment of the Children of Israel. [Pharaoh] said, “We will kill their sons and keep their women alive; and indeed, we are subjugators over them.” [7;127] Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a book specifically addressing how the White supremacist system feared a successful Black presidency and responded with an increased level of racism. As a spiritual response to this heightened oppression, Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) preached patience during the struggle because he knew Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would deliver them.  The people of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) complained about the increased pain they were now experiencing as they had been suffering for years before a messenger was sent to them. Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) asked them to develop their spiritual strength and prepare themselves for a time when they would be empowered and would need spiritual discipline. Shaykha Ieasha Prime has recently called on the ummah to be increasing its spiritual strength as they organize against anti-Blackness.

    The Economic Downturn

    Then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tested the people of Pharaoh with an economic downturn. “And We certainly seized the people of Pharaoh with years of famine and a deficiency in fruits that perhaps they would be reminded.” [7;130] These circumstances are very similar to the economic recession of 2008, and as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Whenever something good would happen, the people of Pharaoh would claim credit for it, and whenever something bad happened, they would blame Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his people. But when good came to them, they said, “This is ours [by right].” And if a bad [condition] struck them, they saw an evil omen in Moses and those with him. Unquestionably, their fortune is with Allah, but most of them do not know. [7;131] And they said, “No matter what sign you bring us with which to bewitch us, we will not be believers in you.” [7;132] This rhetoric is very similar to the wave of nationalism that took over the world in the last few years. It is used by nationalist political leaders, who blame marginalized groups for the economic recession. However, the oppression of those marginalized communities was a preexisting condition that was exacerbated and exploited by nationalist leaders.

    The Plagues

    Then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent them the plagues, “the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood” [7;133]. These were such overwhelming tests for Pharaoh. He was a man that claimed to be a god, but the True God was now sending him something that destroyed the riches he had built and could not be blamed on someone else. It revealed all of his lies. The plagues sent to Pharaoh were specific to the land of the Nile that depended on the production of agriculture and built imposing monuments. It is difficult to look grand when your fields are flooded or consumed by locusts, your water turns to blood, and you and your monuments are covered in lice and frogs. Similarly, the coronavirus pandemic exposed the faults in our health care system, the shortcoming of our food supply, the fragility of the economy, and the deep racism that is embedded into the entire system. The people who were deemed essential to work were treated as sacrificial and were forced to choose between paying for food and rent or risking exposure. They were offered empty platitudes that did not include the protective equipment they needed, increased financial compensation, or health care if they were to fall ill.

    Coronavirus attacks the body’s ability to breathe, and it has been widely reported to have affected communities of color far harder than any other group. Black Americans are far more likely to have asthma due to highways going through their neighborhoods, and therefore more likely to die from Covid-19. This is a direct link to a racist system of redlining and highway construction that took away their ability to breathe. Black Americans are imprisoned at disproportionally high rates where social distancing is impossible. There are many false assumptions about the imprisoned population. The truth is that more than 90% of all cases never go to trial, and an accused person’s ability to defend themselves is almost impossible with exorbitant amounts of money. Many Muslims now claim affiliation to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), may Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him. Covid-19 could be killing the next Malcolm X in prison this very moment. All that without even discussing the economic impact of coronavirus on communities of color that if left unchecked will widen the racial wealth gap. The scarcity of food and resources that were created by the plagues undoubtedly affected the Children of Israel and not just their oppressors; however, the end result of plagues was justice for the oppressed.

    From Eric Garner to George Floyd, Black Americans have been fighting to breathe in America. The Arabic word nafs which is usually translated to a soul/self has the same root word as nafas, which means a breath. So, a more accurate translation of nafs is actually a breathing soul. Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a nafs (breathing soul) unless for a nafs or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he/she had slain humankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he/she had saved humankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors. [Surah Al-Ma’idah; 32] American Muslims have tended towards the medical profession as a means of fulfilling the above verse in saving people. We should be focusing the same level of energy at saving populations by fighting both the coronavirus and racism epidemics.

    Naming the Oppression

    The coronavirus epidemic and the recent public murders of Black Americans created a tipping point that did not exist before. Former NBA player and prolific author, Kareem Abdul Jabbar said, “it feels like hunting season is open on blacks.” The murder of George Floyd was so egregious that groups dedicated to preventing police accountability called for Derek Chauvin to be held accountable. America was force to collectively acknowledge the murder of a Black man at the hands of a police officer. Corporations who peddled in racism were issuing apologies when they saw the tide of public opinion turn. The murder of George Floyd made America look the ugliness of racism in the eye. Of course, police brutality and racism did not begin with George Floyd nor did it end with him. Many more people lost their lives at the hands of the police during the protests. For every name we know, there are countless others we do not know. Police brutality is a leading cause of death for Black men in America. Even if we do not know their names, every victim leaves behind a family to mourn their loss while knowing that the murderer not only walks free, but wears a uniform that allows him to continue to kill without consequence. May the brave young woman who took the video receive Divine reward and healing for her bravery. May the burning in the heart of every mother who lost a child be granted Divine patience and healing.

    In Surah A’raf, the people of Pharaoh also acknowledged their oppression of the Children of Israel, and they vowed to stop oppressing them. And when the punishment descended upon them, they said, “O Moses, invoke for us your Lord by what He has promised you. If you [can] remove the punishment from us, we will surely believe you, and we will send with you the Children of Israel.” [7;134] We know that the people of Pharaoh reneged after the plagues were lifted. But when We removed the punishment from them until a term which they were to reach, then at once they broke their word. [7;135] So We took retribution from them, and We drowned them in the sea because they denied Our signs and were heedless of them. [7;136] Pharaoh in his arrogance witnessed all of the signs Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) including the staff, his hand, and the plagues. He then witnessed the Red Sea split, and still he followed Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) into the sea until he was drowned. His hatred blinded him, and his racism killed him.

    America is now at the same moment of realization. Of course, Black Muslims have never been unaware of racism. It is a privilege for non-Black Muslims to learn about systemic racism rather than experience it firsthand. The ability to see right from wrong is not guaranteed for us. Arrogance can blind us as it has blinded Pharaoh and his army. I will turn away from My signs those who are arrogant upon the earth without right; and if they should see every sign, they will not believe in it. And if they see the way of consciousness, they will not adopt it as a way; but if they see the way of error, they will adopt it as a way. That is because they have denied Our signs and they were heedless of them. [7;146] The ability to see the racism is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). May we be protected from spiritual blindness. No Muslim in America should be able to claim a lack of awareness of systemic racism any longer. No should they continue to favor their comfort zones over our love for our Black brothers and sisters and assume they will be forgiven. And they were succeeded by generations who, although they inherited the Scripture, took the fleeting gains of this lower world, saying, ‘We shall be forgiven,’ and indeed taking them again if other such gains came their way. Was a pledge not taken from them, written in the Scripture, to say nothing but the truth about God? And they have studied its contents well. For those who are mindful of God, the Hereafter is better. ‘Why do you not use your reason?’ [7;169]

    Fighting the Oppression

    Pharaoh claimed to be god, and White supremacy is the false god of our time. It is built into our psyches, our financial systems, and our power structures. Statues were erected to idolize those who upheld it. White supremacy is a system where lighter skin makes people smarter, more trustworthy, and more beautiful. We know this is a lie on its face, and yet it breads anti-blackness that is deeply engrained into everyday life. Fighting anti-blackness is a spiritual struggle, and we should make sincere intentions to fight it in all its forms. We must stand with the people of righteousness who fought for the abolition, civil rights, and an end to colonialist exploitation.

    White supremacy in America is in a housing system that segregates people and exposes them to pollutants in their air and their water. It is in an education system that funds or defunds schools based on that segregated housing, and uses the police as an extreme punishment for a child’s infractions. It is in a judicial system that criminalizes poverty and imprisons those who cannot afford bail. It is in a prison system that forces people to work without financial compensation and is protected by the Thirteenth Amendment. Plans to fight the coronavirus pandemic were halted because communities of color were more likely to be affected in yet another disturbing attack. White supremacy is so deeply engrained that it leads some to harm themselves by bleaching their skin and burning their hair in hopes of appearing more like their oppressors. It is everywhere including our spiritual spaces.

    Muslims often quote ayah 48:13 and the last sermon of Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) with pride that the tradition stands firmly against racial injustice. While Islam itself does, Muslims often unfortunately do not. One of my community members recently shared a story about entering a masjid in hijab, and being asked if she was Muslim. What was even more egregious is that after a discussion, the family that asked concluded that because of her black skin, she was in fact NOT Muslim despite praying in a masjid. Many of the non-Black Muslims were shocked to hear this, but the truth is that I have never met a Black Muslim who did NOT have a racism in the masjid story. Ask the Black Muslims in your circle about their experiences, and the flood gates will open. You will also see the hurt and betrayal in their eyes for having to endure racism inside their places of worship. Apologize to them for not listening sooner and thank them for being willing to teach you and trust you to want to be better despite their trauma.

    Call to Action

    It is not enough for anyone to not be racist; we must be anti-racist. Acknowledge the anti-blackness you have internalized within yourself and have those difficult conversations with your family members. Ustadha Zaynab Ansari speaks about the pathological ideologies of how black bodies are viewed in America.  Join and support organizations like the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and the Muslim Alliance of North America. Embrace a Black Muslim ethos of viewing Islam as a theology of liberation. Support Black scholars and the Black masajid. Invite them to speak not just about anti-Blackness, but on their areas of expertise in Islam, history, community development, etc. Demand that the immigrant masajid be antiracist. Black Muslims should be on the Board of Directors and on the Zakah committee to ensure the equity of those spaces. Hire a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion expert to have a difficult conversation about race in your organization. If the Black Muslims do not share their experiences of racism in the masjid, it is not because they did but happen, but because they do not trust the community to care to change it. Build that trust and build coalitions of communal healing to end the segregation of masajid into Black and immigrant masajid in the first place. The way out of the pandemic is to take care of those who are most vulnerable. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “You are given rizq sustenance based on the most vulnerable among you.” Communities who have turned the tide have done exactly that. Learning to be anti-racist is one of many steps we can take to lift the difficulty our communities are facing. We need at least be as non-discriminatory as the virus that only sees a human body.

    Anyone who is not Black has benefited from the theft and subjugation of generations of Black Americans. We should not meet Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) having sided with an oppressor. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says, “Oppression is layers of darkness on the Day of Judgement.” We can choose to follow the prophetic path, or we can choose to let our racism destroy us. And for every nation is a [specified] term. So when their time has come, they will not remain behind an hour, nor will they precede [it]. [7;34] There will be an accounting for our society as a whole, and there will be an individual accounting. Those who follow Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will enter eternal gardens and those who follow Pharaoh will enter an eternal fire. And the people of no consequence, those who choose to do nothing, will sit on the A’raf.

    [1] This story is mentioned in West African oral histories

    [2] “Let my people go.” (Exodus 5-1: NIV)

    [3] The plagues of Egypt are discussed differently in the different Abrahamic faiths. “The Christian and Jewish traditions discuss the angel of death taking the life of the first-born son from every family in Egypt except those who left a marking on their doors so the angel of death could pass over them.”

    [4] Jahili is a Quranic descriptor for Pre-Islamic Arab society. It is derived from a root word meaning ignorance.

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    Gender Relations

    Loving Muslim Marriage Episode 10#: Do Angels Curse the Wife Who Refuses Sex?

    It is often heard that the Prophet said that if a man calls his wife to bed and she refuses him, that the angels will curse her until the morning. There are a lot of ways that people understand this, but what is the right way of understanding this Hadith?

    Join us with Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jandga to talk about this commonly mistranslated, misunderstood narration.

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    #Society

    Our African American Siblings Are Speaking, Are We Listening? Here Are 15 Things African American Muslims Want You To Know

    African American Muslimss

    In the Fall of 2018, we surveyed Muslims of Hispanic/Latino descent and asked what is the one thing they would want the Muslim community to know about them. We gathered 25 responses and released an article called, “25 Things Latino Muslims Want you to Know.” The purpose of the piece was to educate the general Muslim body about the Latino Muslim community and its dynamics, to debunk common stereotypes about Latinos, and to lend a voice to a marginalized sector in the Islamic community and in the United States.

    Now, with the current climate of racial tension in the U.S. and the revival of the national movement for Black rights, I thought it not only imperative, but seriously overdue to put together a similar list of reactions from our African American brethren. Moving away from the obvious fact that there should be no racism in Islam, we want to open up about the racism and anti-blackness that unfortunately does exist within the Muslim community and how that affects our relationships with each other and hinders the struggle for change.

    When I was collecting responses for this article what I found was that, unsurprisingly, Latino Muslims and Black Muslims have similar messages to send to the general Muslim community. Our shared experiences fuel a mutual call for justice and equality in society and within our own places of worship. I also had a difficult time gathering the same amount of feedback, because I began at a time when images of the murdered Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks were still circulating social media as a constant reminder of the injustice happening all over the country, specifically the targeting Black men and women. These wounds, so deep and raw were gaping in the collective psyche of African Americans, both Muslim and non-Muslim, fueling sentiments of anger and mistrust, and rightfully so. Many people refused to comment while others could not find the right words to use to address the Muslim brothers and sisters who have often failed them, as well.

    The following is a list of 15 things the African American community, not only want you to know, but have been saying for decades. Are we listening?

    • I think people should know that civility (avoidance of controversial topics for the sake of being polite and getting along) undermines anti-racism work. Anti-racism demands frank discourse, active listening, and reflection. None of that can take place if we cannot clearly define the problems we face. – Candice Elam, Nurse, New Jersey
    • Our culture is not the antithesis of Islam. We do not come from broken homes. Umm Layyan Zainab, Mental Health Counselor/Recovery Specialist, Brooklyn, New York
    Our culture is not the antithesis of Islam. We do not come from broken homes. – Umm Layyan Zainab, Mental Health Counselor/Recovery Specialist, Brooklyn, New YorkClick To Tweet
    • We are not your religious underlings. Many foreigners, especially Arabs and Indo-Paks, feel as though they have religious and cultural superiority over us. Just to list a few reasons they may feel this way: Firstly, they never really took the time out to learn and understand the history of oppression the indigenous people have been going through for over 500 years. But when it comes to them and their people back home, it is a top priority and the world must hear about the tears of the people of Palestine, Yemen, etc. This mentality is counterproductive to our religion of Islam because our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was a mercy to mankind, not just one nation, but all nations. Secondly, we are viewed as guests in their religion so, therefore, we should follow and adhere to their way, like somehow, we lack the ability and capability to understand and apply the teachings of Islam. I have always said that the slave master said we were 1/3 of a human, but now in the eyes of some Muslim foreigners, we are 1/3 of a Muslim. Our shahadahs are not truly recognized in their eyes. Thirdly, I believe some foreigners have the disease of racism in their hearts and it is present in their own countries towards dark-skinned people. What I am saying is based on what I and others have experienced. Abu Taahir Jalal, Islamic teacher/Youth Advocate/Mental Health Coach, Yonkers, New York
    • One thing I would like non-black Muslims to know is that not all African Americans are the same.  We have differences in culture depending where we are from.  I grew up in the Midwest. Our culture is vastly different from those who grew up in the South compared to those who grew up in the North. Then you have those who are Muslim compared to those who are not.  Lifestyles are different.  People do not realize this. – Zaneta Trent, Homeschooler/Health Educator, Baltimore, Maryland
    • All Black Muslims are not African American. There are also Afro-Latinos, Caribbean Muslims, etc. Halleemah Munoz, Educator, Atlanta, Georgia
    All Black Muslims are not African American. There are also Afro-Latinos, Caribbean Muslims, etc. Halleemah Munoz, Educator, Atlanta, GeorgiaClick To Tweet
    • I would like the immigrant and/or non-Autochthonous Muslim community to understand that the Indigenous/Autochthonous “Black American” community facilitated the changes in the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization laws through the Civil Rights Movement and we are the reason why your family was able to immigrate and prosper here. Therefore, we should be acknowledged and respected for our struggle for equality that led to your presence. Additionally, you need to understand that your opportunities here lie solely on the U.S.’s agenda to make us a permanent bottom caste and to deny our right to equal opportunity, reparations for chattel slavery and upwardly mobility. This is called the racial wealth gap inequality where, through structural racism, we have been denied equal opportunity and access to wealth accumulation and resources. Please do not conflate our poverty with lack of drive, lack of self-determination, laziness, or apathy. Please do not believe that we are criminals and vagabonds. On the contrary, we built this country and through our blood, sweat, tears, struggle, and resistance, you have benefitted. – Elenia Norman, disabled, former Educator, Baltimore, Maryland
    • All black Muslims are not converts/reverts to Islam. – Shareefa Carrion, Designer/Entrepreneur, Atlanta, Georgia Designer/Entrepreneur
    • We did not become, and we do not remain Muslim to switch slave-masters. We do not “convert to Islam in jail/prison en masse.” We do not aspire to be Middle Eastern/Arab, Desi, African, Asian, etc. via our religious adherence to al-Islam. We support #Blacklivesmatter. – Gareth Bryant, Chaplain, Muslim Afro-American, New York
    • I want all Muslims, and people in general, to know and understand that Islam and Muslims are not “new” or “foreign” to America. In fact, Muslims have been in America since BEFORE it was even a nation by way of over 400 years of the African Slave Trade. Some scholars have estimated that between 30%-40% of the Africans brought to this country were Muslim. Slave traders actually identified those who were Muslims and sold them for higher prices because they were educated. Therefore, African American Muslims were the first Muslims in the United States of America. So, there are African American Muslims who have been Muslim for generations here. Kyosanim J., Assistant Martial Arts Instructor and NASM-CPT, Maryland, USA
    • Another thing we would like everyone to know and understand: Just because we are African American, and not from a “Muslim country,” do not assume we know nothing about Islam. Do not think that our knowledge is somehow “less than” someone from a “Muslim country” or that of our Arab and southeast Asian brothers and sisters. Many of us are well educated in Islam; many times even more so. Especially when it comes to areas of how to navigate being Muslim in America. We are way more equipped to answer these questions than someone coming from outside who does not understand the subtle ins-and-outs of this country, its laws or its history. The majority of African American Muslims, mainly those of us who have slave-trade ancestry (not with an African homeland e.g. Nigerian, Somalian etc.), don’t get caught up and lost in semantics, culture and traditions considering the Quran and Hadith. Therefore, we take the message as it is. Islam is Islam period. No cultural or traditional baggage attached. No matter what time you live in whether it is 6th century, present, or future.  Kyosanim J., Assistant Martial Arts Instructor and NASM-CPT, Maryland, USA
    • We are not new to Islam. Our ancestors were the vanguard of Islam in the Americas, starting with the Spanish occupations of the Caribbean in the 1500’s to the mass exodus of African Americans into Sunni Islam in the 70’s due to the influence of Islamic leaders such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, W. Deen Muhammad, and even members of the Black panthers. Abu Yazid Dumas, IT Tech, student of religious studies, Detroit, Michigan
    We are not new to Islam. Our ancestors were the vanguard of Islam in the Americas, starting with the Spanish occupations of the Caribbean in the 1500’s to the mass exodus of African Americans into Sunni Islam in the 70’s due to the influence of Islamic leaders such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, W. Deen Muhammad, and even members of the Black panthers. Abu Yazid Dumas, IT Tech, student of religious studies, Detroit, MichiganClick To Tweet
    • I want people to know that Whites, Pakistanis, Indians, and Arabs do NOT speak for me as a Black American Muslim Woman. I have my own voice. WE have our own voices. Furthermore, I am tired of news outlets and reporters thinking that THE ABOVE ETHNIC GROUPS, especially Arabs, Pakistanis, and Indians are the ONLY voices of Islam. Moreover, NOT every Black American MUSLIM embraced Islam via the Nation of Islam or the Warith Al-Deen community. Barbara L., Islamic & ESL/EFL Teacher, Chapman University Graduate Student, Anaheim Hills, California
    • If you are truly sincere about helping in the battle against oppression in this world (and only Allah knows the hearts of His servants), I’ll say this: Whatever you do, understand that truly standing up against oppression has two battlegrounds. your internal world, and your external world. There is no standing up for justice in the truest sense without both of these aspects working together, and simultaneously—at all times. This is true for all social justice work, anti-racism or otherwise, and it is true irrespective of your “work experience” and ethnic background. If a single one of us—whether Black or non-Black, privileged or underprivileged—subtracts any one of these two components in our fight against oppression, then our efforts are false, insincere, or steeped in harmful self-deception. There really is no exception to this rule. Not a single one. This rule applies to every ethnic group, even amongst those who are underprivileged and oppressed, but it applies most especially to those who are benefiting from the system of oppression, even if they wish to live in self-denial about this. Umm Zakiyyah, Author/Educator, Baltimore, Maryland (Read more about how you can help fight oppression and anti-blackness in “First, Remove the Chains from Your Heart” on her blog: uzauthor.com)
    • Because our people were once enslaved, does not make us “less than” and somehow not worthy of marrying your son or daughter. Which, unfortunately, is how many of our other immigrant “Muslim brothers and sisters” view and treat us. Many of our Muslim “Brothers and Sisters” need to go back and read the last sermon of our beloved prophet Muhammad (SAWS) where he touches on many points, one of which is race relations, where he says plainly, “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab…a white person has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” (Agreed upon) Kyosanim J., Assistant Martial Arts Instructor and NASM-CPT, Maryland, USA
    • As Autochthonous American Muslims, we deserve respect because our struggle has carved out a space for you among a predominantly White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christian hegemony that would otherwise reject your Muslim immigrant identity. Join us now in the fight against anti-Black racism, anti-Muslim bigotry, White Supremacy, and Imperialism. Help us reach White Americans in the academic and medical institutions we have been locked out of with the message of la ilaha illallah instead of choosing the decadence of wealth acquisition, suburban comfort, and cozy seating  at the banquet table of White Supremacy. – Elenia Norman, disabled, former Educator, Baltimore, Maryland
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    According to a 2017 Pew Research Center Survey, non-Hispanic or mixed-race black people accounted for 20% of the Muslim population in the United States, meaning 1 in every 5 Muslims is Black, and that is not counting Afro-Latinos or Americans of mixed-race backgrounds. Just a little under half of that 20% are converts to Islam, and this also highlights the obvious fact that Black Muslims are not newcomers to our communities. In fact, they are pioneers who have been here since before the establishment of this country and paved the way for immigrant Muslims to migrate here to settle and build Islamic centers and schools. To deny our brothers and sisters fair treatment, companionship, or support based on the color of their skin is delusional and self-destructive.

    If we are not pained and haunted by the images of African American victims of police brutality and hate crimes, then we need to take a long look in the mirror and really check ourselves. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, clearly defined true brotherhood when he stated, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” (Bukhari and Muslim) Right now, we should all be breathless, we should all be restless. Until anti-Blackness is eradicated from our own families and communities, we should not feel comfortable to worship freely and go on about our lives. We may not be able to extinguish the ugly flames of racism worldwide, but we can start with ourselves.

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