This piece was originally written for The Muslimah Diaries on anti-blackness and the hypocrisy in the Muslim community.
‘An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.’ – Prophet Muhammad (saws)
When someone brings up a conversation about anti-blackness, the above quote is meticulously recited. A spectacle of denial ensues. Stories about the piety of Bilal (ra) are used to shut down any conversation about anti-blackness in the Muslim community. Those examples are great, perhaps even progressive, if they were at all a representation of what our community actually practiced.
It’s time we had a real look at ourselves and realised that we are racist. This isn’t down to Islam, it’s down to us failing to understand Islam. It’s down to us thinking that dark skin is an issue and that the lighter you are, the more superior you are. We can rehearse the ‘One Ummah’ talk but until we internalise the meaning of this, we will never break free of racism that Muslim communities perpetuate.
We see this on an everyday level. Whether it be the fact that many South Asian or Arab Muslim families would not allow their daughters to marry Black men, or the disgusting treatment of Black Muslims in the Middle East, or when the term ‘kaali’ (meaning black) is used as an insult, or the fact that the murder of three Black Muslim males in the US did not generate the outrage that the murder of three Arab Muslims did.
The Black Lives Matter movement in America has not gained much prominence in Muslim communities, yet every Muslim is ready to protest and become activists (and rightly so) when it comes to the plight of the Palestinians. Our activism needs to be consistent, unapologetic and ready to call out injustice wherever we see it, in any instance where an entire community is being demonized. This is the way of our religion, the example that we have been set.
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Muhammad (saws) said:
‘Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.’ [Muslim]
We only claim particular Black voices when we have something to gain from it. Think of Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali; their achievements are proudly showcased in Muslim communities, whilst South Asians and Arabs simultaneously look down on black people, use derogatory language and internalise a superiority complex. Why do we only accept them when it benefits us?
We are failing our Ummah, ourselves and Black Muslims. Speaking as a young South Asian woman, I can’t help but wonder why we have strayed so far from the lessons of equality, from loving one another and from having compassion. Why have we failed to follow the commands of our Prophet (saws)? In his last sermon he told us to be fair and recognise that we are not superior to one another based on our ethnicities.
Under any society, where national identities are held supreme, racism will always exist. In a post colonial world, where the white man is still placed on a pedestal, this will be even more prevalent, and so it is unsurprising that fair is still falsely equated to beauty, progress and success. Islam eradicated this understanding by uniting us upon the Deen of Allah (swt) first, rendering all other bonds secondary. Until we truly return to this understanding, recognising the value of Islam in every aspect of our lives, we will never be able to overcome such ugly, divisive attitudes.
“Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves” – Prophet Muhammad (saws)
Haleema Akhtar is an undergraduate student at SOAS who is interested in social issues facing minorities and wants to work to create a fairer world in which minorities are not scapegoated or vilified.