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Your Black Muslim Friends Are Not Okay, America’s Knee Is On Their Neck

Nikia Bilal

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Your Black Muslim friends are not okay. Your Black Muslim relatives are not okay. Your Black Muslim coworkers are not okay. Your Black Muslim congregants are not okay. When we are witness to yet another modern-day lynching, this time with a knee instead of a noose, we are not going to be okay.

Being a Black American Muslim in non-Black Muslim spaces is to constantly be reminded of your otherness, especially at times of great upheaval in this country. 

Being a Black American Muslim amongst large populations of immigrant Muslims is a living, breathing, testament to the Qur’anic promise that Allah will make some of us a trial for others of us. Though those verses were revealed in the context of war, they are just as true in other contexts as well. 

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Where are the unapologetically loud, unified voices of consistent protest from the non-Black scholars, imams, and shuyukh of America? With the exception of a notable few, why aren’t there more of those voices unflinchingly condemning police aggression, unwaveringly supporting the victims of this oppression, and steadfastly working with Black Americans to bring about change? Some of the most prominent voices of Muslim America have either been silent, or have only shared a few social media posts here and there, addressing the trauma Black America is constantly reliving before promptly returning to their regularly scheduled programming, as if their job as Muslim leaders is complete. To witness this disconnect between the purveyors of Islamic knowledge, and the ethos at the heart of Islam is jarring. It is enraging. It is disheartening. It is the ongoing reality of Black Muslims in America. 

To be a Black Muslim in America is to have the first mass communication from your suburban mosque after the death of George Floyd and the righteous anger that has spilled into the streets of America be a forwarded message from a home owner’s association warning mostly white, and white-adjacent residents to go into their homes, lock their doors, and be on the lookout for rioters and looters supposedly on their way from one of the few nearby towns with large Black populations. To be a Black Muslim in America is to have the second mass communication from your suburban mosque be more of the same. To be a Black Muslim in America is to have the third communication from your suburban mosque on this subject finally be a condemnation of the senseless killing of another Black man at the hands of the state, along with condemnation of looters and rioters. Even in our death, we cannot simply be mourned and fought for without others of us being admonished for perceived wrongdoing. To be a Black Muslim in America is to continuously be told in a myriad of overt and subtle ways that “you may be with us, but you are not of us.” These reminders are not only soul-crushing, they are iman-stealing; They are death by a thousand cuts. 

So to my non-Black Muslim brothers and sisters, the ones who don’t seem to realize that these issues should be front and center for all of our communities, have you reflected on the fact that the story that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) calls the best of stories, is the story of a boy, stolen from his land to be transported and sold into slavery in a foreign land? A land where his enslavement means he has to endure all of the indignities inherent in that position, including the attempt at sexual violence that so many of the world’s enslaved have endured. A boy who becomes a man, unjustly imprisoned and forgotten by all but his Lord and his God-fearing father. A man, who when finally freed and given a chance by the elite of his society, is able to save that society from utter ruin. Have you considered that Allah in His All-Knowing Wisdom and Mercy, knew that that story would hit differently for those of us who are actual descendants of people ripped from their lands and forced into slavery?

Have you reflected on the fact that the Qur’an revisits the story of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), over and over and over again, more frequently than any other Prophet? A story about a Prophet, born and raised in Africa, sent to literally speak truth to power, and to break the chains of oppression shackling a community of people who had been unjustly enslaved, demeaned, debased, and whose sons were routinely executed by the State for no other reason than fear for more than 400 years!

How are you reciting this Book daily but failing to make these connections?

I am no exegete of the Qur’an, but it has become clear to me that my people, Black people, are Abdullah ibn Umm-Maktum, and this ummah, by and large, is in a constant state of turning away. Turning away from us, to focus on America’s Utbah ibn Rabiahs, Ummayah ibn Khalafs, and Abu Jahls. If you don’t realize that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) placed that scene in His eternal book as a warning and guide for all Muslim leaders to come, then something essential is missing in your process of reflection, and if you don’t ask yourself about it in this life, Allah will surely ask you about it in the next.

Why do you think Allah saw fit to include story after story of Prophets preaching to their societies, just to have the power-players of their societies reject their messages while the first and most numerous of their converts were ALWAYS from amongst the most rejected of their societies? How much clearer can Allah’s signs be before America’s Muslims wake up and act? What are your readings of Qur’an for, how are they benefitting you, your family, and your society, if you fail to see its modern equivalents when they are tweeted and broadcast straight into your homes? Who are the most rejected of your society, and how are you treating them, if you’re bothering to deal with them at all? There are only two paths in these fights, the Prophetic and the Pharaonic. I guarantee you, you’re on a path. For the sake of your dunya and your akhirah, you need to figure out which one. 

For as long as I’ve been alive, the people turning to Islam in America at the fastest rate, and in the largest numbers are my people. Black people. But for America’s Muslim elite, like the Quraysh elite of the Prophet’s time, and the elite of every Prophet before him, we are not good enough. We are too poor. Our place in society is too low. Our power (in this dunya) is non-existent. And Shaytan’s creed— “Ana khairan minhu [I am better than him]” —is stamped so deep in so many of your hearts that you don’t know where that persistently toxic superiority complex ends and your God-given fitra begins. 

In the past few weeks, I have found myself repeatedly thanking Allah that I am the daughter of converts, but not a convert myself. Not at all because there is anything to be despised in being a convert. In fact, anyone who has undertaken even the most rudimentary examination of our faith has to see that our deen was revealed to a community of converts, sustained by a community of converts, and spread by a community of converts. Converts are truly the best amongst us, if for no other reason than the fact that every single one of them have absolute knowledge of a firm date in their lives on which their Lord wiped every, single, solitary sin out of their book of deeds. Who amongst the rest of the Muslim ummah can say the same with certainty? 

No, my prayer of thanks for not being a convert was the sinking realization that I don’t think I could have continued to survive and thrive in the modern ummah of the Prophet [aw] if I were doing this on my own. It would be so much easier to return to what I’d known before Islam for no other reason than to find the genuine love, support, care, and camaraderie we find amongst our closest family and friends. Because when your adopted community not only shows you none of that, but consistently, in big and little ways, shows you their disdain, or their indifference, the familiarity of the dark becomes more comforting than the hollowness of the light. 

To my Black Muslim brothers and sisters, those of you who are new to Islam and those of you who are oldheads, the young of us and the old of us, the male of us and the female of us, you are not alone even though depending on what community of Muslims you worship amongst you might feel like it. If no one else is feeling your pain, to the extent that you are feeling this pain, the rest of us are. If no one else is hearing your cries, the rest of us are. If no one else seems to see what’s happened, what’s happening, and what will happen for the personal tragedies that they are for you, the rest of us do. Even if we’re not together in physical community, we are out here, and we are your community too. We are hurting together. We are struggling together. 

For some of you your community’s response, or lack thereof, will be the last straw. You will want to separate yourself from people who don’t see you, or your pain. The people for who your Islam will never be good enough, for whom you will never be good enough. I feel you. Take whatever time and space you need, but please hold on to Allah; He is always near. He is with you whether you’re in the streets, in the boardroom, in the workplace, in the classroom or at home. He’s with you when you’re the victim of microaggressions and outright aggression. He hears you, and in His infinite Mercy He has promised to answer the call of the oppressed. Not the Muslim oppressed, or the Arab oppressed, or the South East Asian oppressed, but ALL of the oppressed, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. Our God has got us even when the people who claim Him do not. 

Know that He hears us, and He’s with us, so hold tight to Him, His messengers, and His Book. The Qur’an is speaking to us, our condition, our history, our present, and our future. Mine it for its gems. Use it for its support. Take comfort in its promises. We do matter, to each other, and to Allah if to no one else. Our lives matter, and our deaths matter. 

So while you struggle to free us, whether you’re in the streets or on your prayer rug, keep praying for us. We aren’t just the children of Adam, we are the Adams of our time. The ones made of black clay, living in a world of arrogant beings who think that they are better than us for the most inconsequential and ephemeral reasons. May we be gifted the strength of Adam, the wisdom of Adam, the faith of Adam, the humility of Adam, the consistency of Adam, and the reward of Adam. Ameen.

Pray for the Yusufs of our time; the ones who are being locked away as the cameras roll, and the ones who are already sitting in dank cells throughout the country, calling on their Lord. The ones who were recently released or are soon to be released. The ones who are now desperately searching for the community of Believers who will not only help them stay firmly on the siratal-mustaqim, but give them the support they need to allow them to ascend in their societies, to the benefit of their societies, the way that Prophet Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was blessed to ascend in his. May they be given the depth of faith of Yusuf, the mental fortitude of Yusuf, the patience of Yusuf, the wisdom of Yusuf, and the reward of Yusuf. Ameen.

Pray for the Musas of our time. The ones who may have made mistakes in their past and have good reason to fear death at the hands of the state, but call on their Lord, ask for His assistance, grab their brothers and sisters, and get to work, knowing that whatever gets thrown at them, He’s got them. May they always speak truth to power as Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) did. May they be given the knowledge of self and knowledge of community that Musa had. May they be given the patience of Musa, the resilience of Musa, the bravery of Musa, the conviction of Musa, and the reward of Musa. Ameen.

Pray for the followers of Muhammad, Peace and Blessings be upon him. All of us. May we be given insight into the Qur’an and the ability to see that it is a guidebook not just for our inner lives, but for the lived experiences of all of those we live amongst. May we learn what enjoining the good and forbidding the evil looks like in an American context. May we come to understand that these things are not limited to the good and evil of our day to day lives, but the good and evil perpetrated by the society we live in as well. May we be guided towards upright action that allows us to roll up our sleeves and get to work continuing the legacy of the Prophets in speaking truth to oppressors and rooting out oppression, wherever it is found, and if we don’t know where to find it, may we be blessed with the humility to turn to the leadership of those who do. May we reflect the status of the Beloved as a Mercy to this world in our every word, our every post, and our every action. Ameen. 

Pray for our people. ALL of our people. Not just the ones who have found Islam, but the ones who may never get the chance to because they’re too busy trying to survive America’s knees on their necks.

Ameen

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Nikia Marie Bilal is an African American Muslimah, born and raised on the south side of Chicago. She earned her B.A. in Communications from Loyola University Chicago and her J.D. at DePaul University College of Law. A married mother of five children, Nikia currently resides in the northern suburbs of Chicago where she homeschools two of her children.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Shamis

    June 4, 2020 at 12:27 AM

    Ameen. Ameen. Ameen. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this beautiful article and may Allah reward you for all your efforts. As a Black Muslimah i truly felt seen reading this and am so thankful for all of the reminders to always hold Allah in our hearts because he is the only one who will always be there for us, listen to our pleas, and respond. Thank you for inspiring me to read the Quran more, and understand the stories Allah has written as a guide for us. Wallahi all the answers I am looking for, we are looking for are there for us. Thank you for reminding me that we are reflected in these stories and through reading and understanding them will we be able to truly transform. May we become Muslims worthy of standing amongst our Prophets who fought for justice and freedom on the day of judgement and may we follow in their footsteps in this life. May our oppressors fall, may white supremacy fall, may all perpetrators of injustice fall. May they face their doom on the Day of Judgemnet. Ameen. Indeed I am not okay right now, but Allah has got me, thank you for this reminder and thank you for this article <3

    • Avatar

      Nikia Marie Bilal

      June 4, 2020 at 7:07 AM

      Ameen! ❤️

  2. Avatar

    Osman Umarji

    June 4, 2020 at 1:10 AM

    JazakumAllahu khair for this wonderful piece.

    • Avatar

      Nikia Marie Bilal

      June 4, 2020 at 8:46 AM

      Wa iyyakum!

  3. Avatar

    Khadija

    June 4, 2020 at 1:09 PM

    I am so sorry. I pray Allah (swt) expunge our hearts from all evil and make us better muslim following his religion with clear conviction.

    • Avatar

      Nikia Marie Bilal

      June 5, 2020 at 4:56 PM

      Ameen, thumma, Ameen! JazakAllah khair, May Allah lead us all to the best of Prophetic practices.

  4. Avatar

    Tahira Matin

    June 4, 2020 at 11:00 PM

    Thank you for writing this. This piece speaks to me and for me, and captures much of what I’ve been feeling lately.

    • Avatar

      Nikia Marie Bilal

      June 5, 2020 at 4:54 PM

      Alhamdulillah, May Allah make it easier for you and for all of us!

  5. Avatar

    Nikia Marie Bilal

    June 5, 2020 at 4:55 PM

    Salaam!

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Books

Podcast: David’s Dollar | Tariq Touré and Khaled Nurhssien

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We often preach about our children learning the importance of money, group economics, and developing healthy spending habits. How awesome would it be to have a fully illustrated picture book that explores how a dollar travels from hand-to-hand?

Join Khaled Nurhssien and award winning poet and author Tariq Touré as they discuss Tariq’s new children’s book David’s Dollar. In this Interview they touch on art, Islam’s approach to community and Tariq’s creative process.

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#Society

Beyond 2020: Grounding Our Politics in Community

Kyle Ismail, Guest Contributor

Published

As tense and agonizing as these unending election days have been, it pales in comparison to the last four years.  I plainly remember how it all began on the night of November 07, 2016. I watched as the political map of the US became increasingly red late into the night. All the social media banter, conspiracy theories and left-wing critiques of candidate Hillary Clinton, formed an amorphous blob of white noise as I heard Trump announced as the next president. Now that Trump has run for re-election, half the country was hoping for a repudiation but will have to settle for the fact that despite a small margin, Donald J. Trump will not have a second chance to erode our democratic institutions and divide us. But we can’t move forward until each of us acknowledges our own pathological role in what we’ve become as a deeply divided country. 

We need to grapple with how we can gradually improve the circus-like reality that has become our ordinary, daily politics. We’ll relive more and perhaps improved “Trumps” if we don’t accept our own responsibility in creating a divided America. This starts with being better members of local communities. Here are a few of Trump-induced realizations that I’ve come to accept:

  1. Caring about our immediate neighbors and listening to their challenges and concerns is the part of political engagement that we all have to embrace above and beyond actually voting if we hope to be more than a 50/50 nation.
  2. Social media and its profit-driven algorithms are actually eroding how we see each other but could also be altered to help better educate us about our local social/political landscape.
  3. Local Politics has direct impact on our lives and is also at the heart our religious obligations to our neighbors. It also sets the tone for where the federal level derives policies that prove to be best practices (some examples are included below).
  4. Agitation and protest are not the same as being politically organized on a local level. Protest is sometimes needed, but it will never replace consistent and patient work. We learned this lesson with the Arab Spring as that movement failed to transform into a movement that was able to govern effectively. And the same appears to be true about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The voting is over for now. But voting is really the smallest part of being committed to bettering our communities. It was Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who gave the most specific definition of community/neighbor and encouraged his followers to guard the rights of the neighbor:

“Your neighbor is 40 houses ahead of you and 40 houses at your back, 40 houses to your left and 40 houses to your right” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Support MuslimMatters for Just $2 a Month

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.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Why does this relate to being politically organized?? The need for political organizing comes when any group of people want to create change in accordance with their values. We’ve all watched protest after protest that change little to nothing at the neighborhood level. This will continue to happen without organization, which span school boards, block clubs, nonprofits, and religious community outreach.  How can Muslims enjoin right and discourage wrong in any meaningful way? It comes through having authentic relationships with neighbors and turning that into organized and engaged communities.

Rosa Parks

Nothing illuminates the value of such relationships better than the story of Rosa Parks in her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. People often think that she was the first brave soul to defy the custom of allowing whites to sit before African-Americans could be seated on her city’s buses. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difference was that her sets of relationships were so interwoven into her local community that it forced a massive response. Park’s connections spanned socioeconomic circles as she had close friendships from professors to field hands. She held memberships in a dozen local organizations including her church and the local NAACP. She was a volunteer seamstress in poor communities and provided the same for profit in wealthy white circles. When someone with her relational positioning was able to leverage the political organizing ability of MLK and Dr. Ralph Abernathy, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was sparked.

When something happens to Muslims, who can we mobilize to respond? Who becomes angry? Who do we work with in our communities to create policies that reflect our values And what are our internal barriers to such cooperation?

“Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart—and that is the weakest of faith.” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Our Predecessors Organized Locally

At some point in time voting became the sum total of political engagement in the minds of many and is now deemed by some as worthless. We quickly forget that the organizations that battled for voting rights were first locally organized to improve communities. SNCC, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and the Urban League all formed to create change in various ways and the fight for voting rights was a component of these local agendas. So when we’re tempted to believe that voting doesn’t matter, it’s likely due to our lack of engagement in local issues that form the contours of our community life. If you’ve ever heard of Ella Baker or Fannie Lou Hamer (worth researching!), you probably never bought into this type of logic.

One of the many lessons we can pull from this rich history is that we cannot pursue policies, seek alliances, or negotiate a position with political parties (see Ice Cube’s debacle in negotiating with Trump) without first being organized from within. No set of friendships or outside philanthropic support can supplant the need for internal organization. This lack of organized political engagement has weakened Muslims in general but has fatally weakened African-American Muslims as voices within the larger Black community – a voice that gave Islam its first fully accepted and influential place in American society.

Immigrant-based Muslim communities could also benefit from a local approach because despite being several generations in America, their American bonafides are still not set in stone. Concerns about Islamophobia will not change outside of developing authentic relationships with non-Muslims.

This also pushes back against a culture shaped disproportionately by social media algorithms that promote isolation and division for the sake of profit. Our attention to the national news cycle also takes our attention away from local communities where our power is formed. In this type of political malaise, re-engagement in local politics and community relationships can bring us back to important principles that resonate with the values of Islam.

Local politics help shape federal policy

The final word on any law or policy rests with the federal government, but much of what becomes orthodoxy begins with a few concerned citizens in local communities. As with community policing, criminal justice reform, climate sustainability, or any issues that has not caught on, the federal government will often step back to see how a new law plays out at state and local levels. Illinois didn’t wait for Obamacare but has a well-established program to ensure that anyone 18 and younger in Illinois has health insurance through a program called All Kids . Colorado has, in the midst of protests against police brutality, altered their law of Qualified Immunity to make police more accountable. And California has advanced the conversation on reparations  by sanctioning a study to understand how the state could benefit by redressing the descendants of American slavery.

By advancing issues and electing representatives who support the causes we believe in, we insert ourselves into a narrative that would’ve otherwise been forged without us. There’s no shortcut in this process short of rolling up our sleeves to understand our local systems and existing organizations. Moneyed interests are prepare to control the narrative regardless of who the president is and we have to remake this system from the ground up. Our history provides us with a roadmap to do this and it goes far beyond being citizens who only argue over national issues while standing on the sidelines. Remembering our 40 neighbors as advised by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the best place to start.

Some helpful links:

Local Elections

State Legislatures

School Boards

County Prosecutors

Mayors

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Podcast: Imam Connect | Muddasar Ahmed and Omar Usman

Omar Usman

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In this episode, we interview Muddasar Ahmed from Imam Connect about their innovative approach to providing Islamic services for the community. This episode goes into what the Imam Connect platform does, as well as working through some of the challenges involved in launching a new solution like this.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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