We recently saw the recent news about Charlottesville events where the ugliest part of America showed itself to the world. Hundreds of white supremacists, neo-nazis and bigots rallied to protest what they saw as an erasure of their “heritage” and a threat to their existence as White Americans. While the images and videos from that event broke our hearts and shocked us we must as Muslims look within and look at the reality of our community when it comes to racism, ethnocentrism, hate and bigotry against people different than us. We may not be rallying and protesting, but some elements within our community exhibit the same level of hate, racism, bigotry and prejudice as those neo-Nazis and white supremacists exhibited in Charlottesville.
It’s easy to point White supremacy and racism in America. It’s easy to post about police brutality against our African American brothers and sisters. It’s easy to type the hashtags about Black Lives mattering, but do they really in our community? Do we truly believe that African American lives matter? If so what steps have we taken as a community to make our communities more warm and inclusive and welcoming to our African American Muslim brothers and sisters in our communities and masjids? It is really time to have a real conversation about racism in the Muslim community within each and everyone of us and the biases we have against those who are different than us. Not just a discussion, conversation or dialogue for the sake of academic exercise or entertainment, but we must have a discussion about how to practically counter racism, hate and bigotry in our community and come up with practical and viable solutions to this illness in our communities and masjids.
Racism in the Masjid
It’s unfortunate to say this, but we don’t need to look far to see our own type of supremacy from our masjids. As much as we reject White supremacy and racism in White America, we must also repel and reject it from within each and every one of us. Racism and ethnocentrism in our families and our masjids are destroying our communities. There should be no such thing as Arab-only masjids or Desi-only masjids. Some of our masjids have Arab Supremacy or Pakistani Supremacy or Indian Supremacy or (insert ethnicity) Supremacy. This isn’t to say that having a majority of one ethnic, racial or nationality in one masjid is a bad thing, but to be exclusive and not inclusive is something totally against all Islamic values, morals and ethics. If your masjid leadership and staff is unwilling to be open to other ideas or methods of doing things at your masjid simply because it goes against the culture of the majority of the community that’s problematic. Also, if your masjid board lacks ethnic, cultural or racial diversity that’s also problematic. Again, it’s not necessarily bad to have a community that is predominantly one cultural, ethnic or racial demographic, but a concerted effort must be made to ensure that the minority cultural, ethnic and racial groups that do attend your masjid feel welcomed and included in the community.
Far too many times we hear of stories of the unmosqued who don’t attend masjids due to the heavy ethnic, cultural or racial influence on the masjid operations, programs, events and environment. We must do better when it comes to ensuring all ethnic, cultural and racial groups in our communities feel welcomed and included in the community. If your masjid leadership or staff lacks diversity demand it and also run for your board if possible.
Racism in Getting Hitched
When it comes to potential spouses for marriage there should be no such thing of rejecting a brother or sister based on the color of their skin, ethnic or racial background. It breaks my heart to hear so many stories of personal friends of mine—both men and women—who are rejected solely for their the color of their skin, or ethnic or racial background. There was a conversation I had with a friend I had and he had said that a potential sister’s father had told him “I wouldn’t even let you marry my daughter if you were Bilal (RA).” SubhanAllah. I literally was heartbroken when I heard that. Hearing that statement really shook me to my core. How can we have such ugly traits and mentalities embedded in our hearts and minds? How can we say such a heavy statement so flippantly—about one of the most noble and respected companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)?
As much as we despise and seek to rid America of its racist and White Supremacist ways we must look within ourselves and our communities first. The ugliness we saw in Charlottesville resides in each and every one of us at some level or another. The key is to identify it at whatever level it is in ourselves and counter it and remind ourselves of its’ evil. We must purify our hearts and ask Allah for His help to cleanse us of racist and bigoted beliefs and views.
We must also have candid discussions with parents and our elders about the un-Islamic nature of rejecting someone simply based on the color of their skin, racial, ethnic or cultural background. We also must speak to our youth and millennials who also are unfortunately victims of this same mentality. I’ve personally known individuals who wanted the same ethnic and cultural background and doctor only. I was blown away with how specific their potential spouse’s description was. It was sad that this individual was only 24 or 25 years old and held these bigoted and racist and had rejected potential suitors based on their ethnic, cultural and racial backgrounds.
We must remind ourselves and our loved ones of the statement of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.”
Racism at National Conferences
It’s honestly embarrassing to say this, but most of our national conferences and conventions lack much ethnic, racial or cultural diversity. We see the same speakers and celebrity Muslim scholars who often talk about socio-cultural and political topics of which they have zero background or experience in talking about. For example, it makes zero sense for a Muslim speaker or scholar who isn’t African American to speak on behalf of the African American Muslim community on the issue of racism or #BlackLivesMatter. It takes humility and maturity to decline speaking requests and defer to experts on the subject matter—unfortunately we aren’t seeing that and have some individuals seeking to pose as experts on racism and African American Muslims’ struggles.
We have plenty of well-qualified African American brothers and sisters in various fields who can speak on a variety of topics and subjects—we must elevate their voices and call for national conferences to have more diversity on their panels and speaker line ups—especially on discussions of race and racism in the Muslim community.
Giving Space (and Platforms) to Our African American Brothers and Sisters
This goes with the same point above, but must be reiterated. What does it mean to give space and platforms to African American brothers and sisters? It means allowing them to take the lead on how to counter racism in our community. It means allowing them to take leadership positions in our Muslim non-profits at both a national and local level. It means not speaking on the behalf of the African American Muslim community, but allow them to speak for themselves. It means elevating the voices that typically are not heard or are ignored in our community. It means having those uncomfortable conversations about racism in our masjids and in our families.
Ending Racism in Our Community
The last reflection I would like to share is that racism in our community not only is against African American brothers and sisters but also between various ethnic, racial and cultural groups among each other. Racism in our community may not be blatantly obvious, but it may show up in the way some of our community members joke about certain races or ethnic groups, or the perpetuation of certain stereotypes in comments about community members, or it may be more subtle or hidden in not allowing for certain ethnic, cultural or racial groups to have their voices heard or be given space to grow and thrive in.Racism and ethnocentrism is not just destroying our community, but driving people away from the masjid, the community and in some cases Islam itself. Imagine—our racist actions are repelling people away from Allah. What excuse will we have when Allah asks us on the Day of Judgment what our excuse is or justification is for repelling a believer from Him because of our racist or bigoted actions or words? The thought of it makes me shiver.
The truth is most of us, including myself, are complacent in either perpetuating these stereotypes or brushing off these jokes or microaggressions against people in our community as not being that big of a deal, but the truth is if we think it’s ok or not that big of a deal we’re a part of the problem not a part of the solution. We also cannot think that the imams or scholars or masjid board members need to solve the problem of racism in our community. The onus lies on each and every one of us. When you see racism or racist comments being made call it out (in an appropriate manner). Work towards having more diversity on your masjid boards and leadership. Demand that panel discussions and town halls be setup in your community to discuss the issue of racism in the community and what proactive measures you can take as individual community members and as a community overall to solve the issue of racism in your community. We can no longer think that someone else will solve it.
There is no more waiting for Superman. You need to become the hero. Step up and serve the community. Help counter racism and just as fervently as you did when you saw the ugly events of Charlottesville unfold. Be as disgusted at the display of racism, bigotry and hate in Charlottesville as you see it in our community and in our masjids. Make a decision from today that you will do your utmost to ensure that racism or bigotry or hate is first no longer in your heart, then your family, then your friends and then your community. Ask for Allah’s forgiveness for any racist or bigoted feelings or views you have in our heart and ask for Him to cleanse your heart and allow love for others with different cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds than your own to increase in your heart. Once this is done take proactive steps to counter racism and promote diversity in your community and masjid. Give space to those who don’t have space. Give space to those who don’t have a voice. Empower those who have been neglected or are being neglected in your community.
This is going to require a community wide movement. We must work to make our communities more warm, inclusive and inviting for all ethnic, racial and national backgrounds. We cannot simply say we are “one ummah” while not actually working towards unity in our own communities. We can complain about how fragmented and divided our community is on ethnic and racial lines or we can work towards uniting our community.
Our community needs to do better. We need to do better. We must do better.