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Racism Is A Disease of the Heart And Other Epiphanies In A Journey Towards Anti-Racism

I thought I wasn’t racist. I grew up in Sudan and the humanity of my friends and neighbors was something I took for granted. Muhammadain taught me how to drive, Mrs. Bashary was a beloved teacher and the twins next-door were chatty Safiya and Summaiya, who shared my secrets and whose mother smelled heavenly. Race was an American conversation I was introduced to after coming to the United States. I counted my blessings and  thought, what if I was raised in Indo-Pakistan and if I had not been raised around people with black skin?  Would I have seen them in the same way as many South Asians do? 

I thought I was okay. I was well-read, trained.

I thought I was not racist, but we all have internal biases which come out. Admitting this is imperative to moving forward.

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A few years ago, I wrote a news story for a local paper about a mainly South Asian youth group who delivered Ramadan meals to the inner city masajid. My tone came across as very “desi savior,” even if I did not consciously attempt to write it that way. The youth did not stay to break their fast with the community, I didn’t comment on that behavior and covered dilapidated mosques and did not give the same attention to the organized and well-run masjid in the center of the city.  Black elders in Baltimore checked me, and I tried to explain it away until I realized I needed to stop. They were not being oversensitive; I was being oversensitive. I was just as biased as anyone else – my perspective was influenced by my own experiences and position of privilege. 

I have been checked a few times since. My sister, Romana Muhammad, checked me when I wrote a news article  in which I quoted  a woman from a housing project I had interviewed, verbatim. “E tu brute?” said Sr Romana, expecting better of me. I thought I was relaying authentic vernacular. But I had fixed the grammar of many immigrant leaders that I had interviewed; why didn’t I fix her quote?

These are times when your intentions don’t matter as much as the effects of what you say, write or do. In these examples, I was perpetuating stereotypes of Black Muslims, which can cause real harm.

Nice people can do and say racist things.

If someone points out that something you said or did is an act of racism and you take it as a personal attack on your character, you’re making the situation all about you – not the bigger picture of how all of us can take responsibility for our own role in white supremacy. Really good people can do this. Really nice people can do this.

I knew I had to work on myself.

My dearest nonBlack family,

We need to have a hard conversation. We have come a little way forward but we are nowhere near where we need to be in learning how not to be racist. 

Many of us come from colonized lands where our parents and grandparents were forced to hate themselves for their own identities- we carry this baggage with us. We have negative feelings about our own selves, our languages, traditions, culture. This is called internalized racism. We are taught to value white culture and white values over our own through television, movies etc. So much so that when we are told Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was a Black man we gasp, as if hearing blasphemy. We have to analyze ourselves and learn to filter that out before we react to people and the world around us.

“And among His wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colors. For in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of innate knowledge!” (Quran 30:22).

We have to admit that many, many times we aspire to whiteness—maybe because that is where power and wealth lies— many times over piety, even over doing the right thing. What does this mean for those of us who live in the West? We move into white neighborhoods as fast as we can afford them, as far away as possible from black people. We choose white schools and label black areas as bad.

We coo over light skinned babies, bleach our skin, and dismiss the idea of marrying into black families as if it is a haram act. Whiteness is a norm. So much so that we sometimes even stop treating Black people as humans.  

It is a learned behavior and we can unlearn it. If we have been miseducated, we can educate ourselves. 

Race 

What is interesting is that many scholars who study race believe that race is a social construction with no true or absolute biological basis. “Americans of European descent invented race during the era of the American Revolution as a way of resolving the contradiction between a natural right to freedom and the fact of slavery,” explains historian Barbara J. Fields in the PBS’s series Race: The Power of An Illusion

Many of us don’t know that the word “white” in the United States has more to do with regulating marriage, property rights, citizenship, and voting than it has to do with actual ancestry. Mexicans were considered white until the 1930s. Historically,  many people of differing skin color were placed in the category of “white.”  

Racism to Anti Racism

According to Dr Anneliese A. Singh, in her book on racial healing, the term “antiracist” refers to people “who are actively seeking not only to raise their consciousness about race and racism, but also to take action when they see racial power inequities in everyday life.” Being an antiracist is much different from just being “nonracist,” writes Black antiracist Marlon James.

Dr Singh also urges us to keep in mind that we have internalized White supremacist notions about our own race and others, so we have to keep a lookout for how those internalized attitudes show up and provide an obstacle to us joining forces with other people of color groups.

Start your education on racism

Racism occurs between individuals, on an interpersonal level, and is embedded  in organizations, institutions and countries through their policies, procedures and  practices.

Interpersonal racism 

The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: These lineages of yours do not make you superior to anyone. You are all sons of Adam. No one has superiority over another except in piety and consciousness. It is sufficient shame for one to be foul, evil, or stingy.” 

As a Muslims,  dealing with interpersonal racism is incumbent on us. Many people say they do not see color, but Allah asks us in the Quran, “Do you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky? With it We then bring out produce of various colors. And in the mountains are tracts white and red, of various shades of color, and black intense in hue. And so amongst men, and crawling creatures, and cattle – they are of various colors. Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants, who have knowledge. For Allah is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving” (Quran 35:27-28).

As a people of “color” and a minority, we don’t want people looking at us colorblind, do we? We all have vibrant, beautiful histories, some filled with pain of colonialism and neocolonialism. When we don’t want this for ourselves, then why do we take the “colorblind” approach to our black brothers and sisters? We can’t erase their histories. 

When you find yourself in a situation when you know racism is the cause of a marriage proposal being rejected, or someone not being offered a job, then for Allah’s sake speak up. Speak up when you hear people use a derogatory slur even in jest. It is incumbent upon you.

How many times do we fail to speak up when racism is happening because we do not want to draw attention to ourselves?. It’s our job to call it out when it happens, even if it feels uncomfortable. We had to have these difficult conversations with our families. You’re not “ruining” an otherwise peaceful occasion—they’re ruining it by being racist. 

You have the truth with you and this is so powerful. Sīdī Aḥmad Zarrūq said that “the truth has the power to penetrate the hearts of people, including those whose hearts have a seal. Humanity has the right to have among us witnesses to the truth, those who are willing to defend the truth no matter how unpopular it may be.” We are all creations of Allah. 

Structural Racism

Systemic Racism includes policies and practices entrenched in established  institutions, which result in the exclusion or promotion of certain groups.

Many of us who live in the United States need to study the life of Al Hajj Malik Shabazz  (Malcolm X), if we haven’t already. He was Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) blessing to this nation for a reason: to cure the cancer of racism, before his life was snatched. He wrote in his column in the Eygptian Gazette, “Racism: the Cancer that is Destroying America,” in Aug. 25 1964. “The common goal of 22 million Afro-Americans is respect as human beings, the God-given right to be a human being. Our common goal is to obtain the human rights that America has been denying us. We can never get civil rights in America until our human rights are first restored. We will never be recognized as citizens there until we are first recognized as humans.”

If you can not understand why people are protesting right now in so much anger, read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which shows how the criminal justice system perpetuates racist oppression, or Cornel West’s Race Matters, or watch 13th by Ava DuVernay. 

I remember my first visit to DC and witnessing the abject poverty under the shadow of the Capitol of the most powerful nation in the world. Nothing made sense. Venture into parts of Baltimore city with large presence of police and the state of the schools, playgrounds and empty buildings reemphasize how little resources are channeled into certain areas.

So I read up on housing policy and department of transportation, drug enforcement policies , use of force policies that destroy Black neighborhoods. I am educated everyday. 

I learned about the the vicious policies that forced some Black fathers to leave their families from Ustadha Zakia Amin, the wife of Imam Hassan Amin and cofounder of the Muslim Social Services. She shared stories of the 60s, when governmental aid was only given to single women and the department of Human Services would conduct a raid of laundry baskets inside homes to make sure no man lived in the house. Many fathers who could not find jobs in their wrecked neighborhoods had to walk away from families because they faced the difficult choice of watching their children starve or to live with them. How many Black fathers are imprisoned for petty crimes while white men get away with much worse crimes?

Remember this, the next time people talk about broken Black families, which is such a gross stereotype. 

Understanding Race and Whiteness 

It was important to study and read about Whiteness. “Racism is based on the concept of whiteness—a powerful fiction enforced by  power and violence,” writes Paul Kivel in Uprooting Racism, “whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary  separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white.”

During university in New Orleans, my white roommate shared that there was white side of Lake Ponchatrian and a black side and that I should not go to the black side. This was a defining and very jarring moment for me in a superbly divided city. I had no place in it as a dusky South Asian international student. “Hena, you are white,” she drawled. I most certainly am not. But her binary way of thinking, made me pick up some reading. American philosopher, Dr Cornel West explained it all in his 1994 book Race Matters, “Yet the enslavement of Africans—over 20 percent of the population—served as the linchpin of American democracy; that is, the much-heralded stability and continuity of American democracy was predicated upon black oppression and degradation. Without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be “white”—they would be only Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and others engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity. What made America distinctly American for them was not simply the presence of unprecedented opportunities, but the struggle for seizing these opportunities in a new land in which black slavery and racial caste served as the floor upon which white class, ethnic, and gender struggles could be diffused and diverted. In other words, white poverty could be ignored and whites’ paranoia of each other could be overlooked primarily owing to the distinctive American feature: the basic racial divide of black and white peoples. From 1776 to 1964… this racial divide would serve as a basic presupposition for the expansive functioning of American democracy, even as the concentration of wealth and power remained in the hands of a Few well-to-do white men.”  I realized how whitewashed my U.S. history books had been. 

There is plenty of literature that you can study that considers whiteness — most notably by W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison. In his 1984 essay, James Baldwin provided an excellent description of the nature of whiteness in the United States as a social construction. Writing about how European immigrants to this country (Irish, German, Italian, Jewish, French, Polish, and so on) began to define themselves as white — sometimes not by choice and other times by choice in order to gain privileges — he explains how this new way of thinking and this new category changed the immigrants’ mindset: “Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers.” In conclusion, he writes: “However — ! White being, absolutely, a moral choice (for there are no white people), the crisis of leadership for those of us whose identity has been forged, or branded, as Black is nothing new.”

Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, is an essential read as it explains for profit prisons, how Black communities are punished with harsher prison sentences for minor crimes and the “caste system” as she calls it. “The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that’s why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.”

Racism in Muslim Communities

There are many articles on Muslimmatters on this subject. Here, here, here, here, and here, and especially by Umm Zakiyyah. Read them with an open heart, willing to purify yourself and your community.

I have often stood on the port in Annapolis, where they used to dock slave ships. There is a memorial to Kunta Kente. We don’t know or teach our children that Muslims have been on this soil from the  time they were brought on slave ships from Africa, or even before that when Moors traveled on Spanish ships. By doing this we erase the history and justify why the Black struggle is not a “Muslim” issue. I urge people to visit America’s Islamic Heritage Museum in Washington DC, run by Br Amir Muhammad with their family and then spend the day at the African American History Museum.

Another segment in Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, is an aha moment, especially when it comes to the Muslim community. She writes that when we think of racism “we think of Governor Wallace of Alabama blocking the schoolhouse door; we think of water hoses, lynchings, racial epithets, and “whites only” signs. These images make it easy to forget that many wonderful, goodhearted white people who were generous to others, respectful of their neighbors, and even kind to their black maids, gardeners, or shoe shiners–and wished them well– nevertheless went to the polls and voted for racial segregation… Our understanding of racism is therefore shaped by the most extreme expressions of individual bigotry, not by the way in which it functions naturally, almost invisibly (and sometimes with genuinely benign intent), when it is embedded in the structure of a social system.”

When you understand this, then you understand that we do the same in Muslim communities. Just because we may not be actively banning Black people from the masjid, or harming them physically doesn’t mean we are not consciously or subconsciously not voting for them for board positions or not inviting them to speak at our events, not donating to their causes. When we do this we uphold similar power structures in our own institutions.

Many NonBlack Muslims, especially immigrants, buy into the model minority myth – hook, line and sinker. We were allowed to come to the United States because of the sacrifices Black people made in the civil rights movement.

Nearly 60 years ago, four African-American college students sat down at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina and started a movement that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Congress then passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, abolishing the race-based immigration quota system and replacing it with a system that prioritized refugees, people with special skills, and those with family members living in the United States. It also forbade discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas on the basis of race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.

Most of us or our parents were allowed to come because we were highly educated. We fail to see the inequities or learn history, and blame Black people for not working hard, after all we made it so why can’t they? This point of view fails to take into account the systematic dehumanization that Black people have faced during slavery and continue to face today. 

 “It is from the unseen world that the phenomenal world emerges, and it is from the unseen realm of our hearts that all actions spring,” writes Shaykh Hamza. Muslim communities and institutions run by non-Blacks (we often forget that upto ¼ of our community is Black) must reflect on this extremely important communal spiritual state. The well-known civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. said that in order for people to condemn injustice, they must go through four stages. The first stage is that people must ascertain that indeed injustices are being perpetrated. In his case, it was injustice against African Americans in the United States. The second stage is to negotiate, that is, approach the oppressor and demand justice. If the oppressor refuses, King said that the third stage is self-purification, which starts with the question: “Are we ourselves wrongdoers? Are we ourselves oppressors?” The fourth stage, then, is to take action after true self-examination, after removing one’s own wrongs before demanding justice from others.(Purification of the Heart)

We are going through a time when we are faced with openly anti-Muslim administrations in many Western countries. The Muslim community has to examine our collective wrongs, and racism (both personal and structural) is a wrong doing in our communities.                                                       

How many times do we fail to speak up when racist events are happening because we do not want to draw attention to ourselves.

Self-reflection is a crucial part of the journey 

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned us over and over again: “Narrated Uqbah Bin Aamir: The Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: These lineages of yours do not make you superior to anyone. You are all sons of Adam. No one has superiority over another except in piety and consciousness. It is sufficient shame for one to be foul, evil, or stingy.”

Racism is a disease of the heart

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) didn’t create racial disparity, society did, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect the way we live in this world.

I believe Racism is a sin. No one can tell me that they don’t sin ever. No one can say they are not a liar. You may not lie today, but you could lie tomorrow. You may try never to do gheebah, but could slip tomorrow. It is a sin that we fight against our nafs. We try not to do it but we acknowledge that we are weak and that we can fall. We accept our mistake and learn from it and promise Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) not to do it again. We apologize to the person that we have harmed and try to be better. It is as simple as that.

Racism is a disease of the heart. Mufti Menk taught me that. You think you are better than another person, which is directly against the orders of the Quran.

The heart can be purified. I learnt that from a beautiful book, Purification of the Heart, many years ago. Sh Hamza writes that “purifying the heart is a process. First, one must understand the necessity of having courtesy with God and the importance of fulfilling its requirements, as noted above. Second, one must be aware of the diseases of the heart—aware of their existence, their ailments, and the deleterious complications and troubles that ensue from them, and recognize that these diseases prevent one from attaining this courtesy.” 

Racism of the Tongue

Be careful with your tongue. Words like Abeed (which literally means slave) and Ka$%u are not just words.  They carry poison for you and the people you say them to. If you are in the habit of saying the N word, please pay especially attention to the taubah section and cure yourself.

These are Prophetic teachings: “Abu Malik al-Ash’ari narrated Allah’s Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who said: Among my people there are four characteristics belonging to pre-Islamic time of ignorance which they do not abandon: boasting of high rank, reviling other peoples’ genealogies, seeking rain by stars, and walling (Sahih Muslim, #934). 

So make sure you do not say a word about a person based on his or her race or the color of the skin(1). 

“Whoever debases others is debasing himself.”James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

How to make Taubah and erase the disease

Imam Ali is quoted to have said that the tongue is the interpreter of the heart. We have to purify our hearts to perfect our relationship with God. 

Allah commands us to be upright in our speech, which is a gauge of the heart’s state.

According to a Prophetic tradition, each morning, when the limbs and organs awaken in the spiritual world, they shudder and say to the tongue, “Fear God concerning us! For if you are upright, then we are upright; and if you deviate, we too deviate.

Engaging in the regular remembrance of God (dhikr) safeguards the tongue and replaces idle talk with words and phrases that raise one in honor. The tongue is essential in developing courtesy with God, which is the whole point of existence.”” (Purification of The Heart)

Sit with those feelings. This part of your education and development as a servant of Allah.

We can’t control what others say and do but we can control what we do.  “In essence, what is forbidden to do is likewise forbidden as an object of reflection. Included in this is thinking about the weaknesses or faults of others, whether they are present or not. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “There is a tree in Paradise reserved for one whose own faults preoccupied him from considering the faults of others.” Spending time thinking or talking about other people’s faults is foolish. Time is short and is better invested in recognizing one’s own shortcomings and then working consistently to eradicate them.”(Purification of the Heart)

Another hadith states, “One of you will say a word and give it no consideration, though it will drag the person [who uttered it] through Hellfire for 70 years.”

Listen

When a person with dark skin color comes to you and shares their pain- for example that they were not allowed to give adhan at the masjid even though their recitation is amazing. Or they were passed over a raise or called angry for expressing their views, Listen, and do not try to explain their own experience to them. They are not ignorant or wrong about their own experiences, nor are they overly sensitive. Just give them some brotherly or sisterly love and hold space for them — which is the process of witnessing and validating someone else’s emotional state without interfering with your own feelings.

I still get confused because there are a variety of voices in the African American/ Black Muslim community and they don’t always agree with each other, but that’s like any community no? Can’t we afford to give them that- the space to differ? We differ all the time. Learn to learn. Listen. Be okay with being checked.

Don’t traumatize Black People

When you start realizing how racist society is and you see it everywhere, at this point resist the urge to share those stories with your Black friends. I do not relay anti-black racist incidents to my Black American or African friends or colleagues. See I can feel angry about the incident and vent. When I share it with you, a non Black person, we will be collectively upset for a while. But then we can move on. We don’t have to live it. That incident will not bring up lived memories of similar experiences that Black people have gone through or go through everyday.

We don’t share the pain of being dehumanized or internalizing that pain, especially from our own brothers and sisters in Islam. 

In the same vein, don’t share dehumanizing photographs and videos of death by cops. Black people will stay the same color their entire life, they cannot take off their skins. 

The Anti-Racist Grind

Anti-racism work is a continuing pursuit of acknowledging where you are on the spectrum of oppression, which is why I’ve made so many different choices since my  earlier mistakes. Each of us should be striving to be an anti-racist- in word and in action. I urge you to get trained by Muslim AntiRacism Collaborative. 

When you start actively becoming an anti-racist then do not make it about yourself. Many people who do this work all day and do not have time or the energy to educate you, to discuss racism that you start seeing it everywhere — once you see the matrix, you can’t unsee it.

My work with RashidunDC and CEPA forces me to witness the reality of these policies. When you work with the families affected by these policies it become so much more personal- you build relationships. I share all this to show you that everyone needs to constantly work on themselves and then do something with what they have learned. 

There are a lot of strong figures within Black and Black Muslim communities that lead initiatives, show up and support their leadership. Be comfortable in taking their lead about issues that they are intimately familiar with. 

Step out of your bubble. Volunteer for organizations that are doing solid, transformative work. Do work behind the scenes on a consistent basis. Don’t look for gratitude. 

…….

We need spiritual remedies and social remedies, we need just policies and breaking the structures that support racism, like police accountability, like abolishing private prisons, dismantling the school to prison pipeline. We need love and we need seeking forgiveness from Allah, from each other.                                                      

This is hard, lifelong work. It is a test. It is not a selfie and a rant on social media. Let’s get to work. In the words of W. E. B. Du Bois, “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”

Those of us who have made the journey to this land – a settler colony – and now call it home must reconcile with and love our Black and Native siblings deeply, and adopt their struggles, for the sake of Allah, before we lose our souls to the devil. 

It is a lifelong journey- let’s ride together.

with salam

1. Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The faith of a servant is not upright until his heart is upright, and upon him, said, “The faith of a servant is not upright until his heart is upright, his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright. A man will not enter Paradise if his neighbor is not secure from his evil.Source: Musnad Aḥmad 12636

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَا يَسْتَقِيمُ إِيمَانُ عَبْدٍ حَتَّى يَسْتَقِيمَ قَلْبُهُ وَلَا يَسْتَقِيمُ قَلْبُهُ حَتَّى يَسْتَقِيمَ لِسَانُهُ وَلَا يَدْخُلُ رَجُلٌ الْجَنَّةَ لَا يَأْمَنُ جَارُهُ بَوَائِقَهُ

12636 مسند أحمد باقي مسند المكثرين

2554 المحدث الألباني خلاصة حكم المحدث حسن في صحيح الترغيب

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

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#Current Affairs

Open Letter To Muslim Activists And Organisations In The US On Engagement With The Structures Of Policing

Recently, I have been messaged privately by a number of activists in the US, who are concerned about the ways in which prominent Muslim institutions in America engage with various forms of law enforcement, whether it might be the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the FBI, or even with programmes within the rubric of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Although based in the UK, I have had the privilege of being involved in the legal and political defence of those detained in the US as victims of the global War on Terror. This has led to a journey of understanding the role that is played by law enforcement agencies in the construction of these cases, but also within a wider security industrial complex. 

I write this letter because I want us to think about the ethics of engagement with law enforcement. When it comes to the policies and practices of the global War on Terror, the extent of cross-fertilisation between the UK and US is profound, making their pathology of securitisation one that requires us to learn lessons in resistance collectively. 

In the US, even more than the UK, there exists a violence within policing that is almost unparalleled. This violence does not uniquely impact Muslims, but has a long history that is tied to the ways those outside of the white majority in society are deemed ‘Other’, and is most manifestly apparent in its anti-Black racism. If we start from the premise that the law itself, and the administrators of the law, the police, prosecution services, judges and indeed juries, all play a role within the structure of racism and discrimination, then to what extent can we actually seek to engage with that system? 

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As Muslims, what is our own positionality in relation to the work that we do? For those of us who claim to be involved in the work of defending Muslims and Islam, we must recognise that we are not doing anyone any favours by doing this work. This is a unique opportunity and blessing that we have been privileged with, one that any number of other people could have been invited to do. Furthermore, we do not own this work or our institutions, the collective body does, and so we are answerable for all that we do, at all times. Expectations of trust without scrutiny are unwarranted, as we cannot claim to represent the interests of our communities, without first holding ourselves open to being held to account. Whether it is money, engagements, positions, or whatever the matter might be, we have an obligation to answer the concerns of the community when they are being raised because we cannot claim to represent them while there are doubts over us. We do not own this work, we are responsible to it. 

There are arguments that are often made by those who seek to build relationships with law enforcement, that ultimately without engaging, there won’t be any chance for changing the system. Thus, they claim that meetings with the FBI and DHS serve the purpose of correcting the flaws within the system. I want to think through the efficacy of these interactions, because ultimately, I think this is where many disagreements may exist. I hope to capture the usual arguments that are made, and to provide brief responses that I pray can help us think more acutely about the problem, and the solution.

  • “The police are necessary; they keep us safe.”

Before we take on any other subject, we need to think about policing, and the claim that it is a necessity, that it keeps us safe from those who might wish us harm. Largely, police do not stop crime from taking place, as much as they are part of a process of criminalisation after crimes have been committed. Keeping society safe requires addressing the root causes of crime, a prospect that goes well beyond the notion of policing – in fact, particularly within the context of the US, it could be argued that the structurally racist system of policing and punishment has only served to increase levels of disenfranchisement. Saying that we need the police to keep us safe, is akin to passing the buck, it means that we are less interested in doing the hard work that needs to be done for the whole of society to become safer. Resorting to the police, only serves to solidify its structure as a necessity. My own organisation CAGE has been attempting to provide some leadership in this regard, and our work has shown that there can be ways of reducing the threats to society as a whole, that exist beyond surveillance policing.

  • “Some law enforcement institutions are safe to work with, while others are dangerous.”

When thinking of the institutions that are responsible for policing, we need to consider their functions, and the way in which they fundamentally approach communities. The FBI, as just one example, has spent incredible resources in undermining what it deems to be subversive activities since the inception of COINTELPRO. Coming into the War on Terror, that programme found its way into every aspect of policing Muslim communities, but particularly through the use of entrapment. For those who make a favourable distinction between the way the FBI operates as opposed to other institutions like the CIA, then they only need to speak to my colleague Moazzam Begg and many others who have related the ways that the FBI have been entirely complicit in programmes of arbitrary detention and torture

The above only begins to touch on the functions that other institutions serve, particularly in the post 9/11 period. Perhaps the most galling example of an institution created for the purpose of securitising Muslims is the DHS, which in its conception, inception and practise, has legally discriminated against Muslims whether citizens or not. It is important to remind ourselves, despite our own normalisation of the harm, that nearly every single profiling stop whether coming into or leaving the US or UK, is an act of racism – even if they provide you with a sandwich or prayer rug to ‘soften’ the experience. Yes, the system is the way that it is, but we suffer a daily collective amnesia that results in us normalising the systemic discrimination we are forced to endure.

  • “A more diverse or culturally aware police force that includes Muslims will improve the system.”

As in the UK, we’re told feel-good stories about the non-Muslim community police officer who is willing to fast a day in Ramadan and even to break fast with the community at Iftar time. The thing about this token police officer, is that he really has no ability to overturn the structure that he is a paid up member of. Three roads away, his colleagues are profiling young black men on the streets, but equally worrying,  his colleagues are placing pressure on some of those same black men and other congregants in the mosque to spy on the community in order to extract information. The point is, that attempting to normalise relations with institutions that fundamentally not only mistrust us, but are actively involved in harming us is not engagement, it can only be seen, at its most generous, as pacification. Yes, maybe that individual officer you engage with might think twice before brutalising a member of the community, but think of what we give up in that moment too…we hand them the excuse that they (institutionally) have met with us, and heard our concerns. 

  • “CVE exists to tackle all forms of extremism!”

With increasing calls for the defunding of policing taking root, this opportunity should not fall short of pushing towards abolition of the security, military and prison industrial complexes. These structures reinforce one another in the way that they understand the communities they primarily focus on. In that sense, we have already seen a shift towards the marketing of Countering-Violent Extremism (CVE). This is a programme that is rooted to a DHS narrative of securitisation – in both its conception and practise, it is about Muslims. There is a stark difference, between those who are structurally racialised and marginalised feeling aggrieved, as opposed to those, within the majority of society, whose disenfranchisement is supported as a narrative within all the institutions of power. The source of White supremacy is mainstream. 

Claims that CVE is there to tackle all forms of ‘extremism’ are simply a marketing tool, otherwise every single racist statement that was ever uttered by a conservative or liberal would be covered. When it comes to white supremacy, the bar for what is considered to be unacceptable, is effectively at the point of violence. With Muslims, the structure of CVE operates at the point of belief or overt markers of ‘Muslimness’. This is important, because the idea that CVE funding can be flipped so that Muslims can do good with it is nonsense and should never be opened for discussion by any Muslim individual or organisation that claims to represent the rights of Muslims. 

  • “Muslim cooperation with law enforcement is about harm reduction.”

Ultimately, engagement is a calculus of risk that is being made by those who are engaging. The claim that they are working with law enforcement suggests that the specific and limited needs they are hoping to raise or change, are worth the normalising of relations with these violent structures. This is often presented as a benefit over harm calculation, that in the minds of those engaging, there will be a tangible benefit that emerges from the interaction. The question is, however, for who? From my working life and many studies that have been conducted on law enforcement, there has never been any reversal of policy that has been so significant as to justify such a relationship – the system largely remains the same, and in fact it is normalised and built upon further with the next piece of legislation or policy. 

  • “Are you suggesting engagement is always wrong?”

The point of this call is not to claim that there is never any point in engagement, but rather that any engagement should take into account the structural violence that is taking place, and so the calculus of risk should be based on discernible change, rather than limited to brokering understanding and good feeling. Increasing understanding might help to make a single law enforcement officer, or a few others potentially less hostile in their interactions, but they are still part of the system. 

Recommendations on transparent engagement: 

  1. What I would propose in terms of interacting with the state, is that any interaction should only ever take place with those who have the ability to actually implement a structural change at a policy level, if it is to ever happen at all. 

This should only ever take place with policymakers and legislators, and my suggestion is not with anyone within law enforcement itself while the structures remain as they are. The reason I say this, is because the greatest harm is in the structure of legislation and policymaking, not within the carrying out of the duties that have been imposed. At the very best, working with law enforcement might ameliorate the conditions of a small minority, but it is the structure that turns us all into second class citizens. So ultimately, this is a call for a radical approach of total non-engagement with law enforcement officials, and a call to unite towards more meaningful approaches of change. 

  1. Communications should be made in writing to accompany any meeting, and the response should also be given in writing – this is to ensure that the communities we claim to represent are aware of our interactions, and the interactions that are being made are transparent. 

The process of transparency with the community is crucial, because it will inevitably keep us honest in our approach and hold us up to the scrutiny and ethics of our entire communities. It will also provide a necessary barrier with any representative of the state if they should ever try and use divisive colonial tactics of preferential treatment of one group over another, as they attempt to maintain their hold of power over us. Furthermore, for those who are most harmed by the violence of the state, they will understand better why an individual or organisation has chosen to interact with a structure that harmed them, and so will be able to make a better informed judgement on whether any engagement might normalise the harm they previously or continue to suffer. 

  1. While transparency is important, it is crucial that before any engagement takes place, that those with expertise in these areas are consulted. Communities have a wealth intellectual resources and well-informed critical voices – these voices should be consulted by any community leader, imam or organisation prior to any communication with authorities. As mentioned in point B, victims and survivors bring their own lived experience of being impacted by these institutions, and so consulting them too will always be crucial to providing a human insight into how policies and laws are harmful. Without consulting those who have been impacted most heavily, we risk losing the nuance of the ways in which harm can occur. 
  1. A final recommendation for those who claim to represent the interests of Muslims, but have a background that was part of the system of violence against us: they must make their current position in relation to their previous work clear, and do it publicly themselves. This is integral to their claim to transparency, and therefore to their credibility. While forgiveness and growth are important in the work we do, trust and confidence are both far more important. Without being able to trust those who represent us fully, the community will always feel undermined by the system, and those involved in its defence. It is possible for someone to have worked in projects that were harmful and then to change their mind or opinion, but they must also make clear what they were involved in, and publicly state its wrongfulness. Expectations of trust without clarity, are unreasonable. 

Ultimately these points can be summarised into: transparency, consultation and accountability.

Concluding remarks 

As discussed throughout this letter, the first premise that we need to challenge, is one that thinks of policing (in particular) as existing in a benevolent or neutral space. We need to appreciate that in its identity and creation, the very function of surveillance policing is not to keep society safe, but rather the function of policing is as a form of disciplining society, through arrest and ultimately prosecution. Considered at its most fundamental level, our relationship to policing should start from a position of questioning the practise and ideology it is built on.  

As Muslim individuals and organisations seeking to assist the oppressed, there is a duty that comes from being in this space that means any claims of representation cannot take place in the absence of understanding how our decisions have an impact in the complete structure of oppression. Small wins for one town or local community are meaningless while people continue to be arbitrarily detained, tortured and even killed. The oppression that is taking place is a structure, and without centring our responses to the entire edifice, we will continually risk normalising this system by reaching for small changes that only serve to temporarily make us feel less hostility from the state in the course of its violence. 

Finally, I pray that these words are taken in the spirit they have been written, from a brother who has benefited a great deal from the long history of activism and radical thinking that has emerged from the US. Inshallah I hope that we can all advise one another towards what is better based on our knowledge and experience, but chiefly, that we can work with one another in order to protect all those who are oppressed, ameen. 

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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.

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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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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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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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