New blog! New address! New residency!

The husband and I seized the opportunity to relocate back to his hometown of Abu Dhabi. I’m officially an expat of the UAE and will be documenting my experiences abroad at my new blog. Check it out šŸ˜‰ http://www.amirainabudhabi.com

“Abeed. Slave. N***” – On Racism and Prejudice in the Muslim Community

This is my personal blog, though, I have not posted anything remotely personal on this in years. In fact, perhaps my last few personal posts have been immediately upon my conversion to Islam in 2008. Since then, I have been learning, feeling, absorbing, and processing all that goes into adopting a new way of life.

I have had very little creative output, in these last 4 years, even though I am an artist, a writer at heart. I have shared little with the world of myself, but instead, allowed my experiences to paint and tamper with the many blanks of my own canvas.

Let me first preface this post by stating that I have been blessed to have met and made dear friends from all ends of the world in my life. After living in Brazil for one summer, traveling throughout Europe for a semester, and subsequently stepping into a faith with some 1.5 billion followers, I have made my fair share of global friends. And while I lived in the Muslim community of Arlington, Texas my first year out of college, I had 3 moms (1 Chinese, 1 Hungarian, and 1 Palestinian-Jordanian), and many big sisters who took care of me in such a magnitude that only Allah (SWT) can repay.

But, in the height of Ramadan, in this blessed month, I, unfortunately, witnessed what can only be rectified, I now understand, by open discourse, and mature conversation. I will post the catalysts of this blog post, and then raise a few points of concern that have lingered in my heart for a few years now. No longer a “baby muslimah”, I am four years of age in my Islam, and like most 4-year olds, I will not be silenced.

One morning, I stumbled across these tweets on my timeline. I promptly let the authors know that this was offensive. I retweeted the message, shocked at what I had just read. Though it was extremely early, many other followers replied back, equally at awe at what they had witnessed.

The person’s friends then began to join in, with even more racially charged rhetoric. The comments below surprised me in such a way that I feel compelled to share, after not sharing much these years. I will let you see for yourself.

**Disclaimer** – The language shown in the posts below may be highly offensive.

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The person’s friends then began to chime in and rally behind her:

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I felt a need to call this out, not to direct to a specific person, but to address a larger issue, often swept under the rug: racism amongst Muslims. It has many manifestations, most of which are the direct effects of colonialism and the successful indoctrination of white-supremacy that goes along with it. But many of its manifestations are unique to the people and cultures themselves, supporting traditions, and sadly, stereotypes older than the many countries they so fervently represent.

Many people replied to me confused and shocked that such language and flagrant racism would be posted in 2012. It is surprising. But perhaps, what was more unsettling were the responses from many of my peers who were not surprised at all. Who shared their own dealings and experiences, to the point that they have concluded: in Arab countries, you will hear and be called far worse things than even the above.

Is this so? Is this possible? Like all religions, Islam has sectarian differences, and critical distinctions in the interpretations of our religious texts. We understand this.

But can we have such clear divisions, based on skin color, to the point where it is quite okay for an Arab to playfully or even affectionately refer to a person of African descent as “slave” but when such people stand up against such language they are to be corrected, disciplined?

And to be clear, the term “abeed” was not used affectionately in the scenario above. No. This was meant to be used in the way any hate speech is: to infect, to degrade, to dehumanize. The people who posted this hateful language explained themselves to me several times.

The first question I was asked was:

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One person tried to dilute the issue, explaining that it’s an “Arab” thing, and not to be confused with “real” racism.

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The people using this speech self-identified to a particular culture and nationality of which country I shall not name. But, it can be agreed upon that their people are going through great turmoil having been displaced in the millions, and many of them now refugees.

I ask them, and any other person, are you not diminishing the integrity of your cause for the liberation of your own people by furthering such ignorant views of another?

I called it for what it was. It is racism and it further feeds into the stereotypes about Arabs as being racist.

The reply?

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If only this was the case. If only every Muslim, every Christian, every Jew, truly followed its teachings. I imagine, this world would be a much more peaceful place. But the reality is, we fall short. We fail everyday. We fail ourselves and oppress ourselves. And God forgives us. But we oppress others too.

And in this instance, they oppressed this human being. Sure, she may not like Muslims. She may have even insulted Islam. But, any Muslim living on earth knows that you cannot defend Islam by doing something un-Islamic. Not only is it ineffective, but it is wrong, prohibited, sinful.

Unjust killing is unlawful. Suicide in any circumstance is unlawful. And racism, in any form, is unlawful. The fact that, when this individual purportedly attacked Islam, the immediate line of defense was by attacking her skin color, her race, and her people’s history, is troubling at best, psychologically and emotionally scarring at its worst.

Racism is FORBIDDEN in Islam.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) made this very clear in his life example, and felt strongly enough about the subject to make it one of the points in his final sermon.

First, he ordered us to abstain from riba (interest). Next, he commanded us to treat women fairly, and to be kind to them, honoring their rights over men. He then instructed us to adhere to the pillars of Islam and fulfill our obligations to God.

And then, in his characteristic eloquence, clearly spoke out against racism, colorism, and prejudice:

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, 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 a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.”

Fast forward 1400 years later and where are we as an Ummah (community; nation)?

TheĀ Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) also said: ā€œThe similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.ā€

And so I ask my fellow Muslims, are we one body?

I have seen black faces, myself included standing in rallies to Free Palestine, to end the oppression in other Muslim lands. We, African Americans, know oppression, enslavement, genocide, and apartheid all too well. The enslavement and systemic dehumanization of Africans in the Americas have been well-documented as one of the most extreme, and darkest moments in human history. So extreme that we remain the only group in human history that have lost all ties to our native countries of origin, languages, religions, and lineage. No other people can claim such loss.

And yet, pioneers for justice, like Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, have dedicated their lives to seeing the end of racism and prejudice against any and all people, regardless of creed, nationality, or skin color.

And so, it seems pretty illogical to me that if someone attacks your religion, your natural rebuttal would be to attack their skin color. The authors of the tweets above tried to explain themselves. Stating that it was done to defend Islam; that the person was bad-mouthing Muslims. Point taken. But that does not make their actions excusable.

Moreover, this theĀ use of the word “abeed”, to my own disgusted astonishment, is not used to refer to anyone other than Blacks WITHIN the Muslim community, be it in the Middle East, or even right here in the US.

Some African-Americans have even started a now-widespread campaign to end the use of the term, starting with their own native city, Chicago, home to one of the largest and most diverse Muslim community in the country.

I invite you to check out the links below, like the page onĀ Facebook, support this cause, and stand up against racism and oppression, even if you have to stand alone. That is Islam.

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Like the Facebook page for: We are all ‘Abeed’:Ā Campaign to end the use of the word “abeed” in reference to the black race.

Check out the posts by vloggers such as Dina Toki-o

Any good from the words above is from Allah (SWT). Any faults in this is from my own self.

Just,

Amira

It was written.

The past few days, in the midst of discovering bus routes to avoid taking the Tube, work, and class, I have been anything a student continuing to learn about Islam and hopefully strengthening my Din, Alhamdulillah.

I had always known Al-Islam. but to accept it. To believe it as Truth. This is my new way. New to me. I just hope I can keep up with my own growth, inshaAllah. So, in the following post, I have just outlined some of my recent experiences and emotions.

Tuesday morning, I rise before the sun, mashaAllah. When I finally made it out the door, I thought I had dressed myself pretty well. Jeans? Yes, but loose and mostly covered by a gray long shirt that I’m so thankful I purchased a year ago. Like my other 2 long shirts, I find myself wearing it now every week in an attempt to fulfill the requirements of hijab. I had a purple-ish shawl to cover my hair, ears, neck and draped it over my shoulders and bosom. It was certainly a lot of fabric to organize in such a way. But, I felt fine because the beautiful purple made me look anything but drab.

Fast forward 1.5 hours on the bus, a class in which the teacher told me gaily “Each week I can’t wait to see what you’ll wear next,” and me replying, “Me too!”, and making it to work, and the tense feeling of being afraid of representing this new-found beauty incorrectly resurfaced. And I have so many examples to reference.

My job, in Brixton, is full of Muslim women and girls wearing hijabs, but usually a full jilbab, a long draping coat extending over the entire body. Many of the women who attend the Baytree Centre, are women who wear their jilbabs.

Well Tuesday I saw one sister. I smiled, not seeing any opening in her face for me to do anything more. As I walked past her, I could feel her eyes move down my ensemble grudgingly. I continued walking away, hoping it was just my imagining things. A few minutes later I walk back into the hallway and saw her speaking with another sister in full jilbab. Optimistic, I approached them smiling, when I was close enough, I said “As Salaam-u-Alaikum”. To my surprise, I received a grunting sort of nod from the second sister and I’m pretty sure the first just stared at me.

Furious, I returned to the IT Room. I tried to remember one lecture I was listening to about avoiding anger and seeking Allah when we want to get angry. It worked intermittently, mashaAllah, but then the anger turned to disappointment and then sadness. I guess, because I feel so new and I have so much to learn, any bit of criticism or negativity completely ruins my day. I thought, with a saddened heart, “Am I not your sister too?”

As I walked to the local market to get the cooking materials for our class this afternoon, I phoned my mom, asking her about this. She responded nonchalantly, indicating that this is quite common.

I told her that this was not reason to say this is a feature of Islam. No. Not at all. This is a feature of our humanity or lack there of. Not of what has been perfected for us.

We agreed to disagree.

“Mom I’ll call you back.” As I hopped on the bus.

My doubts quickly subsided when an elderly Muslim lady sat next to me. And not only faced and smiled me, but greeted me in the Muslim words of peace “As Salaam-u-Alaikum.” Ahhh, my heart filled once again as I eagerly returned, “Walaikum As Salaam.” God is good.

And to further that blessing, yesterday, I was helping in the adult class for job search. The two ladies I was working with were Muslims, one from Turkey, and the other from Paris. As I sat down to help them, no greeting was needed. I could feel the peace. Once I asked them where they were from, I shared that the end of this month I am going to Istanbul and that this weekend I will be in Paris, inshaAllah. They were both happy for me, and the French-Algerian sister even joked as she touched my knee, “You are going to Algeria too then? When I go back you can come with me.” She was so nice. I appreciated the kindness from the two mothers.

But then again, the other French-Algerian sister I had met, only a few weeks ago was probably the nicest person I’d met since I have been here, buying me sandwich and brownie as we sampled cheese in Borough Market. In addition to discussing London, Islam, and France, she told me of her struggles and of the overt racism in France. Again, I listened and learned, mashaAllah.

And then yesterday evening! Oh, by the grace of God, a sister I met through a facebook event group (Global Pink Hijab Day) invited me to her university’s Somali Society’s Soo-Mal. Last night at the event, they raised over 1,000 pounds to go towards Medinah Hospital in Somalia. It was absolutely inspiring to see the young women from Somalia speaking their British English and donning beautiful hijabs and bangles and skirts. At dinner, I met two of the sister’s friends and they were as welcoming as they were hilarious. I had a good time with them after everyone left, sharing my experiences of growing up in the Nation, being African American, taking Shahada a few weeks ago, Alhamdulillah. They were, surprisingly, very very interested. To the point where all eyes were on me and after the slightest interruption in our conversation, they replied, “Continue”. We discussed the many cultures and people who share Islam and I was happy to see how excited and positive they were. It was like, all the small joys I have been experiencign these past few weeks, they knew so well and were happy to remind me of how beautiful Islam truly is.

It felt good to be around good people. Two Somali sisters and one Malay sister and we chatted just like that (sisters) all the way to the Tube.

So much more in store, Hamdulillah šŸ™‚

Perfect Peace,

Amira