I don’t often speak on this subject….well at least in the public sphere, because it’s a weighty and emotion filled discussion to have. In American society these days one couldn’t even begin to understand the shoes one like myself have to wear everyday. I don’t even have to go into the negative effects of being a black man in America (or worse a black woman), but add into that mixture the identity of Muslim and then you have something truly volatile.
I read the other day that polls suggested that 39% of Americans were in favor of Muslims carrying a special identification. My wife and I joked “I guess they want us to wear crescents on our clothes.” This of course, was an obvious reference to the ugliness that the Jews of Germany had to endure. It wasn’t so much a “ha ha” joke, but more of a satirical joke that really had us disturbed at the direction this country is going. Not just in race relations but in religious relations.
My words can’t even expound on how disturbing it is to know that everyday you have to be continually challenged. It’s one thing to get used to being challenged because of your skin color, but to add your beliefs into the mix, well that makes it that much more difficult.
What makes matters worse is that in the Islamic community itself, oftentimes, believe it or not, black Muslims are treated as second class citizens. It hurts at times it seriously does, because as a convert, I expected so much more from my Muslim brethren. As a Baptist, I knew very well the most segregated hour in America. As Dr King, once remarked Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, I was used to that, to a degree. Everyone knows that you have black churches, white churches, and even Asian churches these days. I came to Islam, with the belief that this would be something different. In many ways yes, I guess, because when I go to the larger Masjids, I pray next to all sorts of individuals regardless of ethnicity and oftentimes Fiqh. I couldn’t tell you who is Sunni, Shia, Sufi, etc. if you paid me. However, I have also been to Masjids where there are predominately black or immigrant Muslims and you know the various differences. For the record, I haven’t run into too many white Muslims, go figure…
Either way, many may be angry with this “airing” of dirty laundry, but it is the truth. I’m not going to say I have experienced direct prejudice in the Islamic community, but I will admit there are a lot of indirect things going on. Between my wife and the many black Muslims I have met over the years, one thing is for certain, something is going on. Muslims don’t tend to speak about this, but it does happen. When you come across Muslims that immigrated from the Middle East or Asia and you tell them you are Muslim, they look at you like your an oddity, the first thing they ask is “Where are you from?” most assume I must be from Africa, when I say NJ, then I must be one of those “black Muslims”, you know the Nation of Islam…When you address racial “issues” in the Muslim community, you get the standard “Islam doesn’t care about race” speech, which is true, but like most things in the “Muslim” community these days, what Islam actually teaches and what Muslims actually practice, tend to be two separate things.
I’m don’t want to expound on this much further, but if you don’t believe me, try being a Black Muslim and offer to marry a Muslim woman whose parents are Arab, Persian, or even Asian and see what happens. I had a landlord once who is an Arab Egyptian woman, who in complaining to my wife about the sadness she felt because her daughter wanted to marry a Muslim brother from southeast Asia (I think Indonesia), say ”I can’t believe my daughter wants to marry that non-Arab guy, he looks like a monkey, but Alhumdulilah, at least he’s not a black man!”. Now of course this is one incident, and she doesn’t speak for all Arabs, but I have heard many stories as it relates to Arabs and Blacks. This is not an urban legend either, even non-Muslims in the inner cities who know somewhat about Muslims, know what I’m talking about.
But I digress….
Outside of the problems within my Muslim community, the double-negative weight that I wear on my shoulders is one that is bearable, but certainly heavy. Many don’t know what its like to have this double-negative, or worse triple-negative if you’re a black woman who is Muslim, and I suspect many don’t care.
I guess what bothers me the most is that just as blacks in general are written off as having contributed little to nothing to American or world history in general, the same is also applied to Islamic history in America. I have found that the more you know about a people the more you understand and respect. In this current reality, because Muslims and non-Muslims alike know little or nothing about black people and/or black Muslims, our burden seems to never get lighter.
I look at how Islam is growing inAmerica and it’s almost as if black Muslims had nothing to do with it. Everytime an “expert” on Islam is interviewed in the news, on the radio, etc. I rarely if ever see a black face. Then we wonder why Islam is stereotyped as an Arab religion. Muslims tend to feed into this madness. Now we have Bridges TV and soon Al-Jezeera in English, and I wonder how many Black Muslim anchors are there or will be there?
For those that don’t know, Islam in America was here before anyone in the Middle East ever came to America. Black Muslims are the indigenous Muslims in this country. We helped build this country. We made it OK to be a Muslim in this country. Whether it was Sunni Islam, Noble Drew Ali, Master Fard Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad, etc. it was black people who were the face of Islam in this country. Why is this important you ask? Well, one cannot know where they are going, until they understand where they have been. Part of the complexities and hardships that face those that are black and Muslim come from the lack of knowledge of who we are. If we were known, we would be understood, and therefore it would be a little easier for my wife and children to go grocery shopping. While they may still get uneasy looks from non-Muslims, maybe, just maybe, they could at least avoid uneasy looks from fellow Muslims.
Granted, this whole post is akin to a long rant, and yes I do that from time to time, however I felt it in my heart to communicate that while it is admirable that we support the Palestinians, or the Pakistani quake victims, the Iraqis, and Indonesians, I felt that if we understood black Muslims we would also care about what we care about too, like the African Muslims in Darfur for instance, who for one reason or another seem to be missing from the protestor and charity collectors agendas. I felt that if we understood black Muslims we would also know that brothers Malcolm Al-Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) and Muhammad Ali, wouldn’t have been who they were if it were not for the teachings of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad’s father, Elijah Muhammad. If we understand how this relates and why it is important we might understand why black Muslims get offended when all things “Islamic” tend to have an Arab face, we might understand that in this we are truly together and we are brothers.
The pain that many immigrant Muslims are feeling now after 9/11, know that we have been feeling it since the day we were born. Since the slave ships first arrived on these shores, since Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) was crushed between rocks, and beyond we have known this pain. Know that after 9/11 that pain that you are beginning to know is a familiar and increasing pain to us.
I wanted to share all these things and more, not to be divisive or controversial, but to hopefully bridge the misunderstanding gap, that at times stagnates our unity. In this Islamic community we have many cancers that plague us and this is one of them. My issues are your issues and your issues are my issues. The Prophet (saw) said that the believer wants for his brother what he has for himself. If I am weak so are you and vice versa. No house divided can stand, and if you don’t believe me, look around you. 1.5 billion weak. The sleeping giant who is supposed to be the best for mankind, what are we now? I wanted you to know that its hard for all of us and most of all I wanted to share how hard it is being Black and Muslim.
30:22 And among his wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colours: for in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of innate knowledge!
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافُ أَلْسِنَتِكُمْ وَأَلْوَانِكُمْ إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّلْعَالِمِينَ
49:13 O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ