A Black Muslim Voice on Islamophobia

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SHAFAQNA  – As a Black-American Muslim who feels deeply connected to both the Black and Muslim communities, there is a perspective that I want to share from my personal experiences that I know are not uniquely mine, but also not widely shared.

Reports of hate crimes against Muslims in America are rising following the horrific Paris and San Bernardino attacks. Islamophobia is real and it is serious. Muslims all over are speaking out in different ways. Muslims are demanding hateful rhetoric from the likes of Trump to be condemned and for it to stop. But let’s be clear, it didn’t begin with Trump; and it didn’t begin with 9/11.

Islamophobia is a symptom of a larger problem that exists in America as well as other societies. It is that deep-rooted illness that goes back to the enslavement of Africans in America and European colonization of many areas around the world.

It is the ideas of white supremacy that beget racism and bigotry. Those same ideas that devalue a group of people based on race are the same ideas that allow for an indictment of an entire religion vastly made up of people of color. Like racism, Islamophobia devalues a group of people based on beliefs rooted in falsehood and ignorance.

However, these ideas don’t spread without active participants.

I don’t want to discount any harm that my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters are enduring. Again, Islamophobia is real. As a Muslim, I understand the worry and frustration from anti-Muslim rhetoric. But, you can be both a victim and a part of the problem.

This is my message to my Muslim community, but more specifically to my non-black Muslim brothers and sisters:

As a Black-American in the Muslim community, I have observed and been subjected to racism and micro-aggressions that exists among non-black Muslim populations perpetrated on one another and the Black community.

I have seen how “Black Lives Don’t Matter” in our communities. I have seen the concern for only issues in the non-black parts of the world. I have heard the “you’re too dark” comments in regards to a standard of beauty. I have witnessed the nationalistic pride that creates disunity. I have seen the poor treatment of people in our community that comes from the hierarchy mentality of the lighter you are, the better. And, the notion that Black Muslims are religiously inferior in practice and knowledge. I have observed the disconnectedness from issues that impact the larger Black community.

I have also seen the euphoria from some Muslims relishing in the privilege that comes from not being black, having lighter skin, straighter hair, and for simply not being the lowest on the racial hierarchy. I, myself, have experienced what this looks like.

Because it is often assumed that I’m not Black due to my headscarf, I have experienced how some white Americans expect me to commiserate with them as they share negative and racially offensive views of Black people. After all, I would understand since I’m not Black, or so it’s presumed. I have experienced the excitement from some as they ask what other language I speak and what kind of food I cook at home. Then, I observe the loss of interest in who I am when I tell them I am a Black-American. So, I know the white privilege branch has extended itself fractionally to non-blacks.

Just as that branch can be extended, it can conveniently be rescinded because the root of the illness persists.

My Muslim American community is now really feeling the symptoms of this illness. But if we want to see an improvement in Islamophobia, there has to be a consciousness and indignation from the non-black Muslims for issues impacting the Black community. Where is the outrage when it is suspected that an unlawfulshooting by a white cop has killed a Black youth? Where is the condemnation when other races are mistreating Blacks within our local communities? Where is the mass effort to unite with our Black brothers and sisters?

As the famous quote by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. states:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

It is time for the non-Muslim black community to acknowledge how they may uphold notions of superiority of the dominant culture. We have to unlearn those thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate white supremacy. It is past time for us to address the racism in ourselves and the wide acceptance of it in our communities.

It is past time for the non-black Muslim community to unite with and look for guidance from the Black community to fight injustice. The Black community has suffered real oppression over many years from slavery to segregation to the new Jim Crow. Blacks know hate and bigotry, and know what it means to demand change, protest in the street, and risk their lives all for justice. The Black community has had to and continues to walk through life without apologizing for who we are.

It didn’t start with Trump and it doesn’t end with the eradication of Islamophobia. It ends where it began. I am reminded of the verse of the Qur’an that states:

“Verily, God does not change condition of the people until they change that which is in their hearts [13:11].”

To change our hearts, our community must get back to the tenants of our faith. The tenants that remind us of the oneness of humanity and the importance of humility, and to want for another what we would want for ourselves.
By Sajdah Nubee

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