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Podcast: Priorities and Protest | On Muslim Activism with Shaykhs Dawud Walid and Omar Suleiman

Islam teaches us to stand up for justice, to enjoin good and forbid evil, and to help our brother whether he’s the oppressor or the oppressed, but how?

To help us fully understand the answer to this question, we have the honor of speaking to not one, but two subject matter experts on Muslim activism. Dr. Omar Suleiman and Shaykh Dawud Walid are both scholars, authors, and Imams internationally known for their work in civil rights and social justice.

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Excerpts from the interview:

“You can’t say I don’t believe any bad things about black people because I love Sayyiduna Bilal. We have to move past, and move beyond the tokenization of Bilal and talk about the haqeeqah (reality) of America and how the broader super culture really has influenced a lot of anti-black frameworks inside the Muslim community of those who are not black.” – Shaykh Dawud Walid

'We believe very deeply that our deen calls us to stand for the sanctity of life and to stand against oppression, and to stand against state violence and all that it represents in this regard.' - Imam Omar SuleimanClick To Tweet

“We can never elevate any other cause to where we equate it to anti-blackness in America, we can and rightfully should point to the fact that the same frames that have been used to justify state violence and white supremacy embedded in state policy towards black people in America is what guides America’s foreign policy and imperialism as well.” – Imam Omar Suleiman

'When the Muslim community stands up for the importance of black life, it is standing up for itself and with itself.' - Shaykh Dawud WalidClick To Tweet

“You know your name, and you know what land your family came from and you know the language that they spoke. Imagine the centuries of trauma that African Americans have gone through in this country, where we were brought here as chattel, like a cow or a chicken, our children were separated from our parents, our names were taken from us, our language, our culture, our religion, and then we were forced into the religion of Christianity, and the psychological warfare and violence of then having to look at a picture of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus that looked just like our slave-master, and to be told that our slave master looked more like the embodiment of civilization and purity of Jesus. And then we looked at ourselves and we saw the exact opposite. And then this dehumanization, being baked into every single system of the socio-political life of black people in America.

Anyone who is named Jones in America, it’s because their great, great grandfather was owned by someone named Jones. It has nothing to do with their lineage or their culture. And people like me, who are lighter skinned African-Americans – there’s no one from Senegal or Gambia indigenously who looks like me – it’s because my great grandfather’s mother was raped by a white man on a plantation in South Carolina. What we face in America isn’t just a moment or two of discrimination here or there.” – Shaykh Dawud Walid

'Why should cops with a list of seventeen prior violations of excessive force still be on the force? Why is it that penalizing of everyone but the police exists?' - Imam Omar SuleimanClick To Tweet

“Many Muslims feel very stressed when they’re driving across the border to Canada or flying back into the country. They’re very fearful about CBP or about being interrogated or held. Take that feeling, multiply it by about three, and imagine every day of your life living in America feeling that way. That’s about the best way I can explain it, but if you’re black AND you’re Muslim, that’s double trouble.” – Shaykh Dawud Walid

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#Society

Non-Black Muslims Will Need To Do More Than Post Hashtags And Attend Rallies To Combat Anti-Black Racism

The events of the past two weeks have highlighted the disastrous outcomes that emerge when racism and white supremacy interplay with police brutality. The unbridled aggression by the police results from ineffective and insufficient sanctions on police power and authority. The casual murder of Mr. George Floyd by a police officer, filmed by bystanders and security cameras, is the spark that apparently allowed for more citizens to galvanize and echo the cry that “Black Lives Matter.” In response to this, various Muslims and Muslim groups and organizations have come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and have attempted to raise their version of awareness.

Data from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) in 2020 show there is a strong support from the Muslim community towards building coalitions with Black Lives Matter movements, with 65% of Muslim respondents to a nationally representative survey indicating support, more than any other faith group measured.

 

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Although another ISPU survey administered in 2017 indicates there is strong Muslim support for the Black Lives Matter movement in general (66%, higher than any faith group measured that year, and the general public), there are questions around how much of this is performative, perfunctory and merely playing to the popular theme of the moment. Black Muslims and Black Americans – in general – have consistently experienced anti-Black treatment at the hands of non-Black Muslims in business, social and religious spaces. In ISPU’s 2017 American Muslim Poll, 33% of Muslims who identify as Black or African American reported experiencing racial discrimination at the hands of another Muslim. Although Black Muslims are more likely to report racial discrimination from outside their faith community (56% vs. 33%), one cannot ignore the issue of intra-Muslim racism, especially since the experience is often far more painful when it comes from a fellow believer.

Since protests began in late May, various non-Black Muslims and non-Black Muslim-led organizations have attempted to speak up and lend their voice to the issue. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are just a few of the organizations that have made statements, hosted events or co-sponsored events to help raise awareness of racism. Muslim organizations have over the years consistently addressed oppression – mainly in other countries. There have been hundreds of rallies and protests against oppression that have occurred in non-White Muslim countries. Additionally, Islam as a theology, calls on us to depise oppression and challenge it. Therefore, it is understandable that non-Black Muslims and non-Black Muslim organizations would eventually see the need to speak out against oppression of minorities in America, and now specifically African American and Black Muslims. But it has taken many generations to get here, even though oppression has been a bedrock of this nation for centuries.

For many years, non-Black Americans championed the causes of non-Black Muslims but seldom the Black Muslims. For many decades, Black Muslims have called the Adhan, raised money for foreign causes and highlighted foreign issues. The support and respect have seldom been returned or reciprocated to the Black community. Although the faith and approximated-shared experiences may at times allow for empathy from non-Black Muslims toward African Americans and Black Muslims, non-Black Muslims and organizations continue to fail to be real purveyors of justice when it comes to the oppression of African Americans and Black Muslims in America.

For years, various organizations have hosted or publicized events that do not have Black Muslims on their panels. The line-up changes once the community pushes back. In a number of cases, there is a connection between anti-Black racism and the exclusion of Muslim women, particularly Black Muslim women. The exclusion of Black Muslims from the public and national discourse on the American Muslim experience, is an example of the anti-Black racism that is not interpersonal, but systemic in the Muslim community. This is important to note, because an event is seldom conceived or approved by one individual.

In one example from less than a month ago, two national organizations were prominently featured as co-hosts. We can then safely say that at least two people (we can assume with a fair degree of certainty that it was more) saw the line-up and the final ad for the event and still chose to publicize the event. One of the speakers then chose to decline to participate and recommended an African American Muslim woman replace him on the panel. That multiple Muslims were involved in the planning of this event and approved the final list of speakers while choosing not to correct or be more just in their representation of Islam in America points to this issue of anti-Black racism as not merely being interpersonal, but systemic. This is just one example of many. ISPU data collected in 2017 illustrates that Black Muslims experience a higher rate of intrafaith racial discrimination than non-Black Muslims, with 33% reporting that a fellow believer discriminated against them because of their race in the past year at least once. (Figure 2)

Muslims Experience Racism From Other Muslims as Well as from the General Public.png

In this past week alone, I have had to personally deal with acts of anti-Black racism while talking about the importance of addressing racism in this country. In one incident, I was invited to be part of a newly formed coalition. Attendees were majority African American Muslims, but there were also non-Black Muslims (white and minorities) scheduled to be in attendance or helping to organize. One non-Black Muslim was effusive in how they communicated with me during the day. However, once I began pushing back on how the event was being organized, their tone shifted to dismissive and rude. I struggled with naming this anti-Black racism because, as a communication scholar, my default is to look at the theory behind why we communicate how we do. So even as we experience it, we still try to find reasons not to believe it.

In a second incident, a number of individuals with religious duties were discussing the topics of engagement for our upcoming meeting. A non-Black Muslim of color indicated that they wanted to discuss another topic in addition to Black Lives Matter and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. I responded stating that the way in which the statement was worded was hurtful and represented an erasure of the lived experience of Black individuals in this country. The response was further dismissal and glossing over of the experience, even after other non-Black Muslims attempted to redirect the individual and encourage them to focus on anti-Black racism. The person’s initial response was clearly rooted in anti-Black racism–even if unintentional–as to this moment, it does not seem like the person understands how their initial statement and subsequent responses continue to perpetuate anti-Black racism. In the end, the individual did agree that they will also focus on Black Lives Matter in our next meeting as long as we were willing to focus on other issues in future meetings.

These various types of aggressions against Black Muslims in Muslim spaces continue to place a burden on the Black Muslim community, particularly the African American Muslim community. I am a Black Muslim who has spent over half of my life here in America. However, I also know that as an immigrant, I sometimes experience a different level of privilege as a result of my immigrant status.” It feels like I am seen as different from African American Muslims at times. Anti-Black racism among Muslims is layered, insidious, systemic and interpersonal. The approaches to addressing anti-Black racism and to supporting Black Lives Matter Movement cannot be sporadic or occasional. It will require painful discussions, robust analyses and purposeful action to continue the changes that have gained some momentum in this moment.

There are many who are already doing the work to bring meaningful change and awareness. Non-Black Muslims will need to do more than post hashtags and attend rallies. To address racism, it is important to use valid tools, invite and connect with the appropriate people and support active organizations. Supporting any Black organization is not the approach. There needs to be a seeking out and supporting of organizations, individuals and tools that do or support anti-racism work in our communities.

  • Organizations to research, work with and/or fund long-term: MuslimARC (Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative), Muslim Wellness Foundation and the Black Muslim Psychology Conference, Black Muslim COVID Coalition and Sapelo Square. These are just a few to begin with. There are more. Research. Find them. Support them.

  • Individuals to learn from and grow with: Ms. Margari Hill, Dr. Kameelah Rashad, Dr. Donna Auston, Imam Dawud Walid, Sr. Ismahan Abdullahi, Imam Mik’ail Stewart Saadiq, Imam Nadim Ali and many, many others. Many of these individuals are currently engaging in a lot of scholarly work, community support and community keeping. Research their work, look up events when they are slated to speak and give talks, and engage them in that way as a start. If they or their organizations have opportunities where you can pay them to do a presentation that is in the normal scope of their operations, then do that. I would urge you not to offer them a mere stipend. See what it takes to have professional development for an organization and compensate accordingly. There are many other non-Muslim intellectuals who are doing work and have written extensively. We have intentionally named Muslims and Muslim organizations in this piece.

    • There are some non-Black Muslims of Color who are also doing significant work that can help individuals of particular cultural backgrounds understand the underpinnings of their own anti-Black racism.

    • Dr. Mona Masood is doing great work facilitating discussion on anti-Black racism among diasporic populations from South Asia particularly.

    • Dr. Sylvia Chan-Malik also researches Black Muslims and offers classes on combating racism. These classes are specifically targeted for a non-Black cross-section of the community.

  • Tools to employ:

    • The Black Islam Syllabus, developed and curated by Dr. Kayla Renée Wheeler, is an extensive list of scholarly research and writings, movies, poetry, TV shows, websites, essays and hashtags. This is a great place to begin.

    • Identity Politics podcast, co-directed by Sr. Makkah Ali, can provide insight into issues around race and identity in the Muslim community.

There are many other resources available that can start or enhance the process of working to combat anti-Black Muslim racism, bolster support for Black Lives Matter initiatives and draw us closer to being a community and nation that truly values each other with equity.

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#Life

9 Steps To Re-opening Your Masjid Safely

When COVID-19 hit, Muslim communities across the world were faced with some of the most painful decisions that we’ve had to make – to close our mosques down. Worldwide, from Malaysia to Montreal, mosques closed their doors and the Muslim community felt bereft at the time when we needed spiritual solace more than ever. 
 
Having got through this difficult period and then following that with Ramadan at home and Eid under lockdown, the Muslim community across the world has a lot to be proud of.
 
However, we now face one of the most difficult tasks ahead of us. How do you reopen the masajid while the pandemic is still out there? How do you do so in a way that protects the public, prioritises safety, shields the committee from liability and is sustainable?
 
There are dozens of guides produced by many organisations and countries available for reference. Many are excellent, mashaAllah. 
 
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has been looking at all the guides and collated the best bits of them along with their partners in the Muslim Council of Wales (MCW), Muslim Council of Scotland (MCS) and the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) to develop this simple 9 step guide on how to do so in a systematic way. Although made for the UK community, it is adaptable to most other countries.
 
It is important to note that each community, each masjid and each phase of this pandemic is different, therefore each step needs to be implemented according to the local context and after consultation with local scholars and specialists.

STEP 1: Plan When and How

1.1 Appoint a COVID safety officer & team – This is absolutely crucial as clear leadership and responsibility is key to ensuring the other steps work.

1.2 Get legal advice Identify a local lawyer who will give good legal advice if and when needed.

1.3 Get medical advice Most mosques will have at least one Muslim healthcare professional as a member of the congregation who they can refer to for medical advice.

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1.4 Get insurance advice – Speaking to your insurance company beforehand is best practice and can identify steps that they want you to take to keep your insurance valid. 

1.5 Have Mosque Covid-19 policies It is best practice to draw up policies. You can use the downloadable guides.

1.6 Undertake Risk AssessmentThis is a walk through the mosque and identifying + categorising all potential risks and then identifying ways to mitigate that risk. Download an editable version here.

1.7 Make a final decision when to open After all the above steps, a formal decision needs to be taken when to open. Do not feel rushed or pushed by those who want to go faster or what other Mosques are doing. Each mosque is different. Go at the pace that the mosque committee/board and community is ready for.

1.8 Decide how and what to open – When you decide to open, decide which aspects are going to restart and which will wait till later. Will you do Jummah only or will you do only certain prayers? It is very much up to your risk assessment and your risk appetite.  

STEP 2: Plan The Space

2.1 Plan outdoors v.s. indoors – Praying outdoors is an ideal way to maximise capacity in an environment that is safer than being indoors. However, finding a suitable space that is easily available is the real challenge.

2.2 Calculate maximum safe capacity – Maintaining 2 metre (6 feet) distance between worshippers reduces risk to less than 3% compared to nearly 15% at 1 metre. What this means is that it is ideal to not just leave the space in front and either side of a worshipper empty, but also the diagonal too. You can download here.

2.3 Mark prayer spaces clearly – If you want to improve compliance with social distancing, put markings down to make it easy for the people.

2.4 Close non-essential spaces – Reduce the chance that people will hang out in meeting rooms or other communal spaces. Put up a closed sign.

2.5 Close toilets/wudhu areas – Toilets and wudhu areas are more likely to transmit infection since they involve bodily fluids in their use. A thorough clean after each use (i.e. each wudhu/ toilet use) is not practical. You can leave one toilet open for emergencies.

2.6 Ensure good ventilation – Open the windows and let the air flow as this is shown to reduce the risk of transmission in many cases.

2.7 Plan entrances & exits – Having set entrances and exits enables the smooth flow of people in and out of the building. If you assign them in advance, this will make life easier.

2.8 Plan the cleaning – There are many different types of cleaning that can be undertaken from a deep clean that may be needed after a confirmed infection in the mosque to a general surface clean between each prayer. Plan who and how this will be done to make sure the masjid is adequately cleaned.

STEP 3: Plan The Equipment 

3.1 Plan equipment for the building – Print signage (click here to download), getting marking tape and consider other equipment like closed-lid pedal trash cans.

3.2 Plan public health information – Print posters giving advice on the new rules of the mosque and public health information. Can be given out as flyers or social media messages.

3.3 Plan for fundraising – A contactless card machine or a sign with the online link on which to donate to the Mosque would be ideal compared to collecting cash and coins. Check out supportourmosques.com

3.4 Plan for PPE – You’ll need to get some PPE for staff, but some Mosques may want to have a store of some available in case an attendee forgets to bring their own. Hand sanitisers would also be useful.

3.5 Plan for cleaning products – Consider what you need to do a basic or surface clean. For a deep clean, you may want to consider hiring professionals.

3.6 Plan for worshippers equipment – Educate worshippers on what they need to bring in order to get into the mosque (mainly their own prayer mat and a covering for their face, but some Mosques may request a reusable bag for their shoes etc…) 

3.7 Consider medium/ long term building improvements – Some mosques may use this as an opportunity to make improvements to their building such as getting sensor taps in the toilets / Wudhu area or setting up automatic doors.

3.8 Plan for online service delivery – Many of the mosques functions will still continue online especially for those who should not be coming to the Mosque. Consider getting the equipment needed to deliver a quality online service e.g. Wi-Fi router, wireless microphone, tripod etc…

STEP 4: Plan the Space for Safety Officers and Volunteers

4.1 Train COVID safety officer & volunteers – The COVID safety officers and their teams need to know how to do their role and deal with any potential emergencies. 

4.2 Set rota for COVID safety officers – It is unreasonable for one person to be on-call all day, every day. Having a rota means that at least one safety officer is on site for each prayer.

4.3 Consider volunteers for crowd control – If possible, some volunteers should deal with the managing the crowds building up outside the mosque before and after each prayer. Even one marshal could make a big difference. 

4.4 Train on COVID screening – Each volunteer needs to know what they need to be looking out for when admitting people into the building. Please see attached document by clicking here.

4.5 Train on educating the community – Explain to volunteers and mosque staff on how to educate the community on the new systems in place. Lack of compliance is often not a result of rebellion, but miscommunication. Therefore ensure your team are on the same page and not making their own versions of justifications for actions.

4.6 Train on PPE – Putting on and taking off PPE requires a set process. Just like washing hands to prevent COVID isn’t a simple 2 second job, neither is removing PPE.

4.7 Train on queue management – Managing a queue is important and requires a combination of being firm and polite that ensures that people follow the rules but don’t feel patronised.  

4.8 Train on cleaning – For the surface and simple cleaning, it would be ideal to explain exactly what needs cleaning and how.

STEP 5: Prepare The Community

5.1 Educate on who should come to the mosque – This is absolutely vital. If the community don’t know this information and accept it, then everything else will be an uphill struggle. Download it, read it and talk about it. Yes, it will be tough for those who should be praying at home, but even if they want to take the risk – it is not their choice to make for others. Please click here to download.

5.2 Educate on bring your own prayer mat No prayer mat, no prayer. Carpets are known to be a fomite which can have a higher rate of transmission than normal surfaces.

5.3 Educate on bring your own Quran – Now that there are hundreds of Quran Apps on mobiles, this should be even easier.

5.4 Educate on bring your own tasbeeh/ misbaha – Again, most people have their own or better yet, use your own fingers.

5.5 Educate on face covering – Some will say this is not necessary, but there is growing evidence that it is protective especially at close quarters and especially in closed buildings. It is simple and easy to do so we would highly recommend it.

5.6 Educate on performing wudhu at home – Avoid using Wudhu facilities at the Mosque and that way prevent the spread of the infection.

5.7 Educate the community – All the above points need to be understood to be accepted and then followed. Have a plan for how you will do this. Click here for a template plan.

STEP 6: Plan The Pre-prayer

6.1 Consider pre-booking system – Having a pre-booking system for each prayer would be ideal. Some have thought about tech solutions to this, but most will struggle with this.

6.2 Plan the queues – Have (temporary) markings outside the mosque to enable socially distanced queues. This is being done outside most stores.

6.3 Plan entrances and exits – Clear separate entrances and exits are ideal. This would reduce the risk of choke points and hence transmission. Also, having entrances and exits kept open with a door stop is ideal to prevent the need for everyone to use the door handle.

6.4 Consider basic screening – It is useful having a basic screening system at the entrance to filter out those who did not know that they should not be coming to the mosque or refuse to comply with the advice. This does not need to be anything formal and should not take more than a few seconds to prevent crowding. You can download a guide to it here.

6.5 Plan a one-way system – A one way system of movement through the mosque is ideal for preventing crowding or chokepoints. 

6.6 Plan on wudhu/ toilet area – Keep these areas closed and identify only one toilet to be used in case of emergency.

STEP 7: Plan For Prayers

7.1 Limit opening times – There is evidence that increased time in a closed space = potentially more exposure to the virus. Keeping opening times short discourages lingering.

7.2 Remind about sunnah at home – After the prayer, people should not attempt to sneak in a sunnah. They should go home and pray in a more safe environment.

7.3 Ensure adequate spacing – Adequate spacing means a gap in all directions and not just next to the person praying. The attached graphic gives some ideas on how to achieve this.

7.4 Leave empty row – Ideally an empty row will allow for adequate social distancing. Yes, this reduces the number of people who can fit in the prayer hall but that risk has to be weighed against the benefit of not spreading the infection in your community.

7.5 Keep khutbas and prayer short – There is a time and place for reading long surahs and delivering even longer khutbas. The mosque during a pandemic is not it.  

7.6 Plan for multiple congregations – Some mosques will attempt to have multiple congregations in order to overcome the capacity challenge. This is understandable, but give yourself time to vacate the previous congregation and undertake a swift surface clean between each.

STEP 8: Plan The Post Prayer

8.1 No handshakes or socialising – The temptation will be real especially as we may not have seen each other in a while. Avoid it and do the Ertugrul hand on heart thing. I believe they call it the EyVallah.

8.2 Keep reminder/lectures online – After prayers is usually a chance to do a short reminder. Try keep these online please to avoid lingering in the prayer hall.

8.3 Ask for donations on supportourmosques.com Many mosques are struggling with the financial hit of COVID-19. The #SupportOurMosques campaign was developed specifically to help Mosques in Britain fundraise effectively and in a united way with others. Having raised more than £400,000 something is going right so if your mosque isn’t part of it – what in the world are you waiting for?

8.4 Lock mosque between prayers – To discourage any rogue behaviour or jamaats. 

8.5 Clear disposed PPE – These need to be collected in a bin near the exit and then disposed of in the proper manner.

8.6 Clean area after each prayer – As discussed previously, cleaning post each prayer should be a systematic and well organised affair.

STEP 9: Plan For Problems

9.1 Plan for if someone tests COVID +ve – Someone in the Mosque could still test COVID positive. Having a plan in place makes the whole thing a little less stressful. Download here.

9.2 Plan for complaints – It is guaranteed that some people will think the mosque is doing too much, too little or just plain angry that they were advised to pray at home just because they are 75 years old and have more co-morbidities than the average medical text book. Having a system for dealing with complaints that is open and transparent will save you a lot of headache.

9.3 Plan for keeping authorities in the loop – Tell the local authorities including the city, police and community associations about your plans. This way they could give advice on how to adjust and they feel in the loop. They are more likely to be helpful if any issues develop.

9.4 Plan for contact tracing – If someone who prayed at the mosque was later found to be COVID +ve, then it would be ideal if there was a way to identify who was in the congregation with them so that they could be informed. This is complicated because it involves taking down personal details when people enter the mosque which has privacy, ethical and data protection implications. But at least be transparent and inform people about the information you are privy. This can save lives.

9.5 Plan for supporting those who cannot come to the mosque – For the significant chunk of the population that ideally should not be coming to the mosque, the heartache is real. It is important that we have a good plan in place to make up for the mosque sized hole in their lives through the programmes, online lectures and quizzes that we saw in the past months. Just because the Mosques are partially open, doesn’t mean our online game should be shut down.

9.6 Plan for other services – Mosques are not just places of prayer. They are places for Janazah, for marriages, for teaching Quran, for community gatherings and so much more. Having a plan for what happens with these other services would be prudent.

9.7 Plan for being fair – There are many fiqh reasons about who should be prioritised when space is limited. However, we would urge that mosques should take measures to ensure they do not reopen in a way that disadvantages women, the disabled or other segment of societies. This may create issues that are not just societal, but create divisions within society at a time that we need to avoid it like the plague. Pun intended.

9.8 Re-assess and review – Situations change quickly during a pandemic and a 2nd wave can materialise in a matter of days. Therefore, it is very important that the situation is reassessed and reviewed on a set basis to ensure that it continues to be safe.

This may seem very extensive, but hopefully it makes it easier for all those involved in reopening mosques. As mentioned earlier and throughout the document, this is generic advice and needs to be implemented according to the local context and based on advice from local authorities and medical experts. Please share any thoughts you have in the comments. May Allah help us return to the Mosques in health, happiness and unity and may He lift this pandemic from us.

To get a downloadable copy of the FULL guide, please click here:

bit.ly/MosqueReopening

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Civil Rights

Daughter Of Hagar: A Mother Reflects On The Cry That Has Shaken The World

Beware of the supplication of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and Allah (Sahih al Bukhari 4090)

“Mama!”

“I can’t breathe.”

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A gut-punch and a sudden rush of panic erupted in my body. I was watching yet another Black Man transition from this life. I heard the voices of my sons echo in my ears. I felt helpless because I could and not run to his aid. Where were my sons? Nightmares all unfolding on the heels of reports of Breonna Taylor, then Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, my spirit was broken.

This time instead of breathing for him, we collectively screamed. I heard his cry, and I knew this country would have to respond.Click To Tweet

As the video flooded my social media accounts, I made a conscious choice, not to watch. I couldn’t. I would watch it in my own time, at my own pace. Two days. I could smell the desperation. The anxiety, giving me dry heaves a familiar feeling since the day my sons were old enough to enter the world without my presence. Now, the same fear arises for my daughters. As a Black mother, my hopes were for them to not experience the loss of their brothers, fathers, or uncles at the hands of another. Today, I simply want them all to make it back home safely. I accept this country’s apathy for the death in my community was stalwart, especially at the hands of law enforcement.

George Floyd’s lynching provides a graphic and poignant portrait of the blatant contempt for the lives of Black men and women. His pleas linger in my heart alongside the anger and outrage. It was the knee. The actual knee to the neck of Mr. Floyd, by a white officer and his nonchalant demeanor, echoed the historical torment of African American men; allowing the world to witness a modern-day lynching. What is the value of life?

In 1791, Benjamin Banneker questioned Thomas Jefferson on the merits of slavery, not as a question of ethics, but of faith. The paradox, while Jefferson and many of his contemporaries believed Africans were inferior, they recognized them as creations of God. Banneker’s letter challenges Jefferson to justify the institution of slavery by simply asking this question:

       …which are that one universal Father hath given being to us all, and that he hath not only made us all of one flesh, but that he hath also without partiality afforded us all the Same Sensations, and endued us all with the same faculties, and that however variable we may be in Society or religion, however, diversyfied in Situation or colour, we are all of the Same Family, and Stand in the Same relation to him.

(Banneker’s Letters of Jefferson, Africans in America, November 2016)

Banneker’s question is one we have yet to confront as a country or as a community of faith. We live in a paradox wrapped in an enigma. We say we don’t see race and color, yet divisions exist when it comes to race and color. If we are all divinely created by The One, should they separate us? They do, directly questioning Allah’s very creation. He created us male and female, dark and light- each a unique expression of His Mercy and Grace.

This is profoundly different in how geographic, cultural, and ethnic variations are expressed in American society. Race as a descriptive sociological construct in the history of America seeks to justify the superiority of those who describe themselves as White and the inferiority of Blacks. Adherence to this belief emboldened America’s continuation of slavery long after their European allies abandoned the practice.

The value of the lives of enslaved Africans, similar to property and monetary value based on skill, age, and skin complexion. There were no rules, ethics, or moral standards, those who enslaved Black persons, could do anything, at any time, and in any manner. It is here we find the pattern of abuse and mistreatment of Black people. Almost sixty years after Banneker’s letter to Jefferson, the Civil War, which resulted, brought the end of slavery, but not the end of the devaluation of Black lives.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 sought protections for men born in the United States, during what is known as the Reconstruction Period, immediately following the Civil War. During this period significant efforts for integration were made but were quickly met with a renewed Southern sentiment to reclaim what was lost during the war- property and economic standing.

America witnessed an escalation in the passing of laws of segregation and exclusion. America created two worlds, one for Whites, the other for Blacks; any violation or challenge to this distinctive line was met with violence and intimidation. To put it all into perspective, it took almost a hundred years from the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1886 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since then, we have witnessed the loss of life of Sandra Bland, Trevon Martin, Eric Gardner, and countless others.

America created two worlds, one for Whites, the other for Blacks; any violation or challenge to this distinctive line was met with violence and intimidation. To put it all into perspective, it took almost a hundred years from the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1886 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since then, we have witnessed the loss of life of Sandra Bland, Trevon Martin, Eric Garner, and countless others.Click To Tweet

The existence of laws in black and white does not negate what remains in the heart. While we believe this a post-Civil Rights America, recent events reveal a different story one Muslims cannot ignore. Currently, this country is led by an elected official, who panders to those in our midst who hold animosity and hatred in their hearts and minds. Each day race-baiting tactics and imagery are employed to fuel their actions and we can no longer sit by the wayside.

This is an issue of race, plain and simple and it speaks to the very fundamentals of our faith. If Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) hears our cries, when will those who stand with us at the masjid as well?

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