Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post by Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is an interfaith activist, blogger for Tikkun Daily and The Islamic Monthly, and a speaker on American Muslim issues. She lives in Houston, Texas and is currently writing a collection of short stories set in Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi
Racism, What Racism?
We are all created equal. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab. In the eyes of Allah it is our taqwa or piety that gives us distinction and not our race or material gains.
Sounds familiar? From childhood we Muslims learn these important ideals of justice and equality and sometimes even tend to feel superior in academic discussions with people of other faiths for the simple reason that Islam offers the only complete code of life. We are a source of guidance for the rest of mankind. We will bring about a revolution in the world one day. Who as a Muslim hasn’t learned and believed in these concepts? Yet the question remains that today, are we any closer to actually achieving any of these goals?
Black History Month
February is Black History Month and most Muslims I know don’t feel they have anything to contribute. The truth is that the average American Muslim today feels disassociated with the activities and news swirling around Black History Month in the news and social media. The biggest reason for this silence is that for the most part the current American Muslim narrative tends to revolve around the Arab or Asian immigrant experience, and often it seems as if our narrow worldview excludes any other type of Muslim or any other kind of problem. When Americans discuss the role of African Americans in our nation’s history, we nod our heads and smile. It was before most of us got here. When experts discuss issues of race discrimination during February, we look the other way. After all, we as Muslims have risen above issues of racism and discrimination, correct?
Wrong! Even though Islam brought the perfect message of equality and justice to the world close to fifteen hundred years ago, we should certainly not assume that this message is a reality today. Let’s not bury our heads in the sand: racism is still an issue in the Muslim world. From Arab Muslims calling their African brothers “abeed” or slave, to Pakistani Muslims refusing to marry their daughters into Bengali Muslim families, from cultural rigidities in community building to language barriers at mosques where sermons in traditional languages, we are a big racial mess. And that’s not in the Middle East alone, but here in the land of freedom and civil liberties, where we are all supposedly American and equal. It’s disheartening to see that not only do we find it impossible to implement Islam’s core values into our daily lives, but we also fail to acknowledge that a problem exists. That we refuse to give credit where credit is due: the creators and defenders of American Islam.
For those who say, there is only one Islam, let me explain what I mean. American Islam is a very unique and evolving way of life, defined first and foremost by the slaves who arrived here in the colonies and refused to bow down before their earthly masters. Despite mental and physical torture these courageous souls, who amounted to more than 10% of all African slaves, braved much to continue their religious way of life. Later came the Nation of Islam with its lofty goal of lifting the physically free but mentally and spiritually enslaved black people towards God even if their methods weren’t acceptable to all.
By the time Pakistani and Arab immigrants arrived here in the United States, Islam was already firmly entrenched and had a very distinct flavor that many of our immigrant forefathers found alien. Personalities such as Malcom X and Louis Farrakhan, Elijah Muhammad and Muhammad Ali are now waved aside by the mainstream Muslim communities but the fact is that once upon a time, these brave people and their communities were the only ones worshipping Allah on this continent. Today Arabs and South Asians think of ourselves as the sole representatives of Islam and conveniently forget African American Muslim contributions to our religion not just in the theological sphere but also in terms of the civil liberties we enjoy.
Thankfully, this February, times may be a-changing. Many in the American Muslim community have begun to acknowledge the contributions of black Muslims to the overall betterment of American society as well as to American Islam. African American Muslims themselves are making more of an effort to create awareness of this issue, with masjid events that highlight African culture and discussions about African origins of Islam in the U.S. More importantly, many Muslims of different ethnicities are coming together to stand up for the rights of their black brothers and sisters. Understanding that racism is a reality of the world today, organizations such as the very newly formed Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) are using virtual spaces and social media to promote the black Muslim experience and tell their stories. Included in these discussions are issues of discrimination in the United States as well as abroad, for instance how poorly African immigrants in Saudi Arabia as well as other parts of the Arab world are treated, or how American Muslims cry for justice in Syria but not in Africa.
The good news is that I at least can see a light at the end of the tunnel. After all, having a problem isn’t the problem, but refusing to acknowledge or correct it certainly is. MuslimARC is just being birthed, with many organizational struggles sure to be faced along the way. But their nascent social media efforts have proved not only that a racism problem exists among Muslims, but more importantly that a new generation of internet-savvy youth are eager to set aside their differences and welcome the African Muslim community into their embrace. That’s something to talk about this Black History Month.