Islam In America Needs A Revival By Those Who Understand Racism Best
On May 25, 2020, in just 8 minutes and 46 seconds, America’s original sin of slavery and the persistent oppression of those who have descended from slaves appeared at the forefront of all news media. The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer catalyzed protests around the globe. Yet it was the ongoing murders of so many black Americans by law enforcement that seemed to all culminate in that moment of rage—one that demanded America engage in a serious and meaningful conversation about the obvious effects of systemic racism.
In those early days of unrest gripping the country, it seemed quite possible that America might finally start to consider what would need to be done to begin repairing Black communities. That scenario, however, never materialized during the conversations that took place. And the possibility of transformative change which many of us had hoped for was instead substituted with incremental, half-thought-out solutions like “Defund the Police”. As a Muslim, it was particularly upsetting to see how, in the same way that America at large failed to use the moment to effectively grapple with the problem of racism, so too did reactionary and pointless elements within the Islamic community.
Nowhere was this failure more apparent than in a Lamppost debate titled, “Black Lives Matter & Systemic Racism”, where Lamppost founder and so-called Islamic scholar Dr. Abdullah Bin Hamid Ali essentially argued that racism was a thing of the past and that it no longer existed. Plus, who can forget the utter disrespect of Zaytuna College’s professor Hamza Yusuf exhibited towards the Black community by claiming that the real problem facing Black America is not institutional racism but the breakdown of the Black family, as though the two can be disconnected?
Such a notion is, of course, demonstrably false. To take what is the most obvious indication of how America’s history of exclusionary, racist policies continues to manifest today, we need only compare the present wealth data of black and white America. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the median wealth of black Americans was slated to reach $0 by 2053. As it stands now, the median wealth of black households is a mere $1,700 when you subtract for depreciating assets like the family car or couch. By contrast, the median wealth of white American households is well above $100,000. No doubt the coronavirus has only hastened our trajectory toward rock bottom.
A consequence of this extreme lack of wealth is that black Americans today—while making up only 13 percent of the population—make up 40 percent of the homeless in the United States. With respect to families that are homeless, black Americans comprise half of that total figure. Black women in the U.S. experience the highest rates of eviction and maternal mortality. And it is well known that the incarceration rate among black men in America is the highest anywhere in the history of the modern world. Given these realities, how can anyone not recognize the singular and systemic disadvantages faced by American Descendants of Slavery? How can they not see how our specific lineage—after 400 years of exclusion—has made us uniquely vulnerable among black people in the United States?
This latter point was certainly lost on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as she delivered a speech at George Floyd’s memorial. In that speech, Omar spoke of police brutality as a systemic atrocity that plagues all black people. She failed to address, however, how the specific 400-year history of American Descendant of Slaves marginalization is what led to the situation in which black communities in America are hyper-policed. And while the crowd celebrated her words as she combined her immigration story with the story of a lineage of a people who were sold and brought here as free labor, the two experiences are in fact wholly dissimilar. This much is evident in how policies that had been enacted to benefit refugees—policies that made it possible for someone like Omar, who arrived here in 1995, to become a congresswoman in less than three decades—have never been afforded the George Floyds of America. And by suggesting a shared experience of oppression, Omar helped encourage an erasure of the specific suffering and neglect experienced by American Descendant of Slavery.
This is, unfortunately, all too common among black immigrant Muslims, a group whose numbers in America have steadily climbed since the passage of the Hart-Celler Act of 1965. Prior to that time, over 99 percent of black Americans descended from slavery. And owing to that, our group’s concerns remained at the forefront of black institutions. With the influx of non-African Descendants of slavery into American society, however, there were those who recognized the potential for serious political ramifications in aligning with a foreign group who did not prioritize the issues of their new homeland. Minister Farrakhan—himself concerned with our misplaced politics—once reprimanded the African American Islamic community by saying, “We’ve gone from the back of the bus to the back of the camel.”  While many would criticize Minister Farrakhan for his lack of adherence to Islamic orthodoxy, the fact remains that he continues to be a more relevant figure to Black Americans due to his ability to offer the black community valuable social-political commentary and offer a poignant critique of white supremacy in a way that many Sunni Imam have not. And to see the truth in Farrakhan’s rebuke, we need only consider which national political issues (particularly in the post 9-11 era) the Muslim community has most enthusiastically rallied around. The two that come readily to mind are opposition to the Patriot Act and Executive Order 13769, or what is more commonly known as “The Muslim Ban”. Indeed, today it is often the case that black Muslim immigrants abandon the historic plight of our families who, for generations, have been fighting for our group’s inclusion into America. Black Muslim immigrants instead prefer to prioritize issues specific to their group as recent arrivals. And while ADOS Muslims have continually supported the causes of our immigrant Muslim family, there appears to be little to no reciprocation shown us for our efforts. Importantly, this imbalance directly contradicts the core principles of Islam.
When Prophet Muhammed migrated from Mecca to Medina seeking refuge, he established the Constitution of Medina. And one of the many laws that he introduced was The peace of the Believers cannot be divided. That is, it is either peace or war for all. It cannot be that part of the population is at war with the outsiders and a part of the population is at peace. Knowing this, how can Muslim immigrants, when they arrive in America, not recognize this very dichotomy at play here in the United States? How can they not perceive the relative peace for one portion of the community, and the constant conflict endured by another?
In America, Islam has been established for centuries. Masjids have fruitful community relationships; they enjoy the same liberties as churches. Muslim women can wear their hijab in public. And universities and some workplaces have prayer rooms or offer a quiet space to make salaat. There is no doubt that Muslims who come to America do so seeking life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the wealthiest nation in the world. However, when migrating to a country, a person cannot just avail him or herself to the benefits it offers, especially when immigration has a uniquely adverse effect on ADOS. He or she must also assume a responsibility for whatever debts that country might hold. And America’s greatest debt is reparations to American descendants of slaves. And since Muslims immigrants are here and joining good—and because forbidding evil is part of the Islamic creed—then they are necessarily obligated to align with American descendant of slavery, a people from whom everything has been denied in order that Muslim immigrants might have so much available to them when they and their families get here.
Native Black Americans cannot, of course, simply expect immigrants to know how to remedy our situation as ADOS. How we practice Islam in America has to be redefined. It seems like so long ago were the days when a charismatic figure like Malcolm X could describe the presence of racism in America, articulating its horrors to the masses of people and explaining to them the necessary steps that would heal a group that comes from chattel slavery and still carries the burden of 400 years of accrued disadvantages. Today, however, given the significant change in the country’s black demographic, the task is more difficult. Nonetheless, we must be bold in our advocacy for justice and use our Masjids to speak truth to power. Black Americans’ humanity has been weaponized against us. Our kindness has allowed immigrant Muslims to anchor themselves in our history. And for too long now they have cloaked their advocacy for immigration policies as authentic Islamic politics of justice all while eschewing the righteous cause of AmericanDescendant of Slavery Muslims fighting for reparations.
Practicing Islam should not mute one’s ability to have challenging conversations about racism in America. ADOS have been fighting white supremacy in this land since 1619, and that fight should not cease when we enter our places of worship. Not being able to communicate your oppression in a meaningful way is a true sign of captivity. You must teach a person how you want to be treated. We always talk about racism within the Muslim community, but we never identify those Islamic institutions and individuals that align with racist America to suppress the American Descendant of Slavery demand for repair. I would rather the native black American Muslims create places of worship in our homes, and speak truth to power there, than join expensive Islamic social clubs parading as Masjids. These so-called places of worship ignore the continuation of America’s original sin in keeping American Descendant of Slavery as the bottom caste in our society. And as a bottom caste, we must recognize that we have no permanent allies, just permanent interests. We must have these conversations about the onerous and unjust conditions in which we live. We must be brave enough to challenge our immigrant brethren by asking them directly: “Why are you here?” And we must be willing to set boundaries according to their responses. Black American Muslims have extended ourselves to the detriment of our own community. And if we survive this pandemic, our priority must be redefining our relationships with all groups. We must become self-interested and put our issues first, just as everyone else in America does. There’s a lesson that American Descendant of Slavery should learn from the Mother Emanuel Church massacre. Just because someone prays with you, doesn’t mean they’re not preying on you.
The spirit of Islam in black America must be revived by those who understand racism the best.
ADOS Indianapolis President
 Black Dawah Network is based upon the school of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah. However, this does not preclude some of our writers from seeing the value in some of the commentary offered by Minister Farrakhan on certain issues.
This article was originally published for Black Dawah Network, an African-American Muslim organization dedicated to fighting structural racism in America. It is reposted here with the permission of the author, Ibrahim Tanner.