The Presence of Anti-Blackness in the Muslim Community
By: Eman Zahid
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ كُونُوا۟ قَوَّٰمِينَ بِٱلْقِسْطِ شُهَدَآءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ ٱلْوَٰلِدَيْنِ وَٱلْأَقْرَبِينَ ۚ
O believers! Stand firm for justice as witnesses for Allah even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or close relatives. The Holy Quran (4:135)
The Black Lives Matter Movement has swept the world by storm, forcing uncomfortable introspection on the ingrained anti-blackness rampant in racialized communities. For Muslims, it presents an opportunity for reflection on the anti-black rhetoric we have been so reluctant to address.
Anti-black racism is an unfortunate social reality within the modern Muslim world. Muslims make up 3% of the Canadian population, and Black Muslims account for 9% of the Canadian Muslim population (Hamdani 10). Despite this, Black Muslims continue to report facing discrimination in Muslim communities and places of worship. Black Muslims are often kept out of essential discourse pertaining to Muslims, and when these injustices are challenged, the uninspired example of Bilal A.S, the first mu’ezzin (the official who makes the call to prayer) of Islam, is invoked, because we are ‘one Ummah’ and cannot possibly be racist. Black Muslims are often tasked with the responsibility of addressing and finding solutions to anti-blackness, be it citing examples from the Qur’an and hadith (statement attributed to/made by the Prophet Muhammad SAW) or lecturing on the evils of racism. The work of fostering dialogue and community engagement falls on those who are most impacted, and we cannot expect Black Muslims to pick up the slack when we are the ones failing them.
As non-black Muslims, we must address the consistent lack of inclusion and recognition of Black Muslim experiences in our religious spaces, community engagement, interfaith events, and positions of power. In the past, any attempt to confront anti-blackness results in apologetic affirmations that fail to critically analyze the racism that has existed throughout the Muslim world’s history. The issue of anti-black racism, and its transnational margins, has become more urgent than ever, and the Muslim community must go beyond apologetics and create tools to analyze anti-blackness within its multiple contexts, given the forms of knowledge, privilege and power structures that are embedded within.
In order to combat anti-Black sentiments, we must place an emphasis on those in religious positions of power, such as Imams and other religious figures, to undertake anti-racist efforts. Additionally, it is imperative that religious figures are held accountable for perpetuating hate and anti-black views, with those who are unwilling to correct such views being removed from their positions. We must equip and educate our communities and leaders with the tools and knowledge to actively combat anti-blackness in our day-to-day lives.
There are many organizations doing great work to engage the Muslim community around the issue of anti-black racism, and their efforts to guide and support Black Muslim youth are more important than ever. The Black Muslim Initiative is a collective of activists working to raise awareness and help youth understand the intersection of being Canadian, Muslim, and Black. The initiative aims to confront Islamophobia and anti-Black racism through dialogue and community change. The Somali North American Business and Professionals Inc. has a Toronto chapter that focuses on peer-to-peer networking amongst the Somali-Canadian community, connecting Somali professionals through engaging events. Another essential initiative is that of the Somali Women and Children’s Support Network, which provides numerous programs and services for immigrants, refugees, and newcomers to gain employment and leadership training within and beyond their community. SWCSN programs work to alleviate the isolation faced by Somali women and children by providing language and leadership skills to help build social networks. These organizations, as well as countless other collectives, hope to combat anti-black racism within Muslim communities by providing consistent educational opportunities to those who are willing to learn.
There is much untapped power present in collective social movements, and as members of the Muslim community, we have dedicated our lives to following the equitable example set by our Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. In order to encompass the integrity and virtue of Islam, Muslims must actively fight to diminish anti-blackness from our communities. In order for the familiar notion of ‘one ummah’ to become lived reality, Black Muslims must be valued in the Muslim world, not in spite of their identity, but because of it.
Hamdani, Daood. “Canadian Muslims – A Statistical Review (Final).” MuslimLink.ca, The Canadian Dawn Foundation, 29 Mar. 2015, muslimlink.ca/pdf/Canadian-Muslims-A-Statistical-Review-Final.pdf.