Race Relations in America and what it means for Muslims

I was inspired to write on this issue coincidentally because of a question my younger cousin asked me. She wanted to know how I felt about race relations in America as it relates to African Americans. As I answered these series of questions and gave my humble opinions, I thought about how this issue of race is really an important factor in understanding the so called “Muslim” problem in America.

I believe if one was to study the effects and issues of racism and class in America it almost becomes crystal clear why many Americans have issues with Muslims.

Let me start out by saying that I believe racism is alive and well in America. Just a quick browse through the blogosphere or even some of my posts bear witness to that. However, I don’t believe it’s on the same level as it was not even 50 years ago here in America, but it is to a degree. Issues of race and class have become more covert and part of the subconscious then when it was blatantly overt and very conscious, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the urgency in dealing with this prevalent problem.

I believe that America’s biggest problem when it comes to race is that as a people we have amnesia about the black experience in this nation. We pretend as if slavery was just a bad thing that happened a long time ago. We don’t want to remember how brutal, demeaning, and immoral it was. We want to forget that even after slavery systematic discrimination, Jim Crow, and open terrorism was a part of black Americans daily lives. It is written that when forget the past,  you are destined to repeat it.  Today I believe we are repeating our history. Granted, there has been lots of progress, but some of the same issues persist.

I believe that what we see in the black community in general today is a direct result of the black experience in America. The problem is two fold: There is institutionalized racism and there is a self-destructive tendency in black communities. Both are equally important in realizing solutions.

Now some will argue with me that slavery and Jim Crow doesn’t have an effect on blacks today and I believe that is a truly false assessment. Slavery was not just “bondage” slavery was the systematic physical and psychological destruction of an entire people for over 4 centuries. Then after that there was about a century of systematic terrorism, discrimination, and psychological attacks. So now we are less than 40 years from the death of Dr. Martin Luther King and somehow, blacks in America are supposed to be better off?

That same generation that witnessed the historic events of the civil rights movement are still alive today. So I ask those who will say that slavery and Jim Crow is irrelevant today, explain to me how easy is it to repair psychological trauma, especially that which is learned and taught behavior over a period of many CENTURIES?

What I’m trying to do is briefly illustrate the pre-text to the problem concerning black Americans, obviously it would take much longer to do a better job and I plan to deal with this alone in the near future.

Now you have the fact that Islam is being heavily scrutinized in this country.  Obviously, there were Muslims living in America well before 9/11, but you wouldn’t know that by the reactions of many towards Muslims.  The interesting tidbit is that in many Americans believe that Muslims are only Arab, Pakistani, Iranian, etc. and as a result, whenever there is a discussion on Islam in the media the commentator or guest is more often or not, a Muslim from those ethnicities.  The reason why this is I believe, is to keep the idea of Islam as a foreign, incompatible with “Western ideals” religion.  Therefore, what you are now seeing these days are a rash of harassment’s, prejudiced behavior, etc.  toward those of “Middle Eastern” descent or pretty much “immigrant Muslims”, and Muslim women in general who wear Hijab or various “traditional” Muslim garb, no matter the race.  For the first time in American History their are groups and ethnicity’s experiencing bigotry, racism, prejudice, etc. similar to that which Black Americans have known for centuries.

Therefore, I strongly believe that Muslims, especially the non-black ones should lean on their black brothers and sisters and learn our history in this country to get a better grasp of the situation at hand.  Through this dialogue and understanding, we can not only build bridges, but learn to cope with and deal the many challenges ahead.

What many don’t understand is that as a black man even though I’m Muslim in this country I will never get discriminated against for being a Muslim, lest I wear a kufi or other “traditional” garb, but I may because of the color of my skin.  What I’m getting at is the distinct irony that is now being displayed in America is a “shift” if you will, targeted toward a group not because of skin color but religion.  Prior to 9/11 many non-black Muslims enjoyed the status of “white” by having fairer skin, in fact, not even a month ago I saw a human resources self identification checklist that included Arabs, Persians, etc. as “white”.  Having such racial definitions such as these over the years and even today did more harm than good in the sense that this in my humble opinion, corrupted the Psyche of many “immigrant” Muslims and tainted them with the same scourge that is white supremacy.  Now that they no longer belong to the privileged “white” group, even if they are in fact Caucasian, many can’t quite cope with what we black Muslims have been saying all along.

Therefore, we have to engage one another in the context of not only the former reality, but also the present and future realities.  The danger for the Ummah in my opinion, is far greater for “Middle Eastern” Muslims in America, then black Muslims, because we are not often associated with Islam.   Islam in America is often viewed as a “Middle Eastern” or an “Arab” religion.  I would hate to be proved right, but if there is another 9/11 in any capacity or even deadlier, we may see what we did that day and shortly thereafter in regards to hate crimes against immigrants from that region of the world, regardless of their religion.

What I’m proposing is a realization that we are in this together and if we are ever going to truly “fix” America’s race problem, it can start with us as Muslims, since we are not “supposed” to be fixated on race as our religion dictates.  If we can work together as one unit, then God-willing others will too.  Dr. Martin Luther King’s words about the most segregated time in America is Sunday morning still rings true.  Unfortunately, the same applies to Friday afternoons in many Masjids as well.

If there was a stronger push to include American born Muslims or indigenous Muslims of many ethnicity’s especially black, since we have been here the longest, Americans would begin to see Islam in it’s proper context that which is not foreign, but inclusive, peaceful, and able to reside in the hearts of all peoples and all nations, regardless of ethnicity or nationality.  Then as Americans we would be more willing to accept that all of us regardless of religion are one humanity and face the same fears and have the same hopes and dreams, no matter our skin color or religion.

Just some random ideas and thoughts….

As Salaam Alaikum,



One Comment

  1. Asalaam alleikum brother. What you say is so true. I can’t paint my skin black, but putting on my hejab has come pretty close!

    Alhumdulillah, many people are very surprised to meet me and discover that not only am I American and a revert to Islam, but that also my husband is from Minnesota, and an American convert as well. There are very few sisters like me not married to foreign men, especially the old cliche to be married to an Arabic man! (not that I know *any who have converted for their husbands’ sakes- every sister in this situation I know of converted first, then intentionally met/sought out a muslim man – of whom there are very few native Westerners).

    It’s really good for the general American public to meet women in Hejab…It’s definitely a form of Dawah. I’ve definitely learned a new definition to the verse in the Quran that commands believing women to cover with their cloaks when abroad, “so as to be recognized and not annoyed.” The hejab makes the whole “and what church do you go to?” a pointless question!!! (alhumdulillah).


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