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Black Muslim Woman: Discrimination and Identity

We are Muslims before we are *insert nationality*!
No! We are *insert nationality* first!

Usually when ever I hear this argument brewing, I proceed to engage in the biggest full handed face palm I can muster up. While I understand the logic behind this argument, I often times hear this discussion AFTER some sort of racial situation has happened or when we as Black Muslims are speaking about our contributions to American society.

While many people struggle with identity, I think we, black Muslims born in America, suffer from identity crisis more than most all as this society and some non-black Muslims would have us believe we have no identity ourselves.

Growing up, there was no confusion about who I was or where I came from. I was a black Muslim girl who grew into a black Muslim woman. Being black and being Muslim existed in one space for me. I never felt like I had to choose one over the other. We celebrated Eid and Kwanzaa. We studied Malcolm and Muhammad. We went to Salatul-Jumuah on Fridays (schedule permitting of course) and ate Fried Fish sandwiches and drank that special masjid lemonade afterwards. When the adhan (call to pray) was called, we would pray and when we were done my father would either turn Stevie or Tony Brown’s journal back on. I went to African-centered and Islamic schools. I attended summer camps. Through all that, I never questioned my identity. I may have questioned why Muslim girls couldn’t do certain things or wear certain clothes as a part of my teenage years, but I always knew who I was and where I came from.

Then came college. Then came the real world.

I was born and raised in Detroit, neighbor to Dearborn which has the highest concentration of Arab Muslims in the country and also is home to the largest masjid in the country. I also went to Wayne State University, which is located in Detroit (the actually city, not the suburbs). The campus wasn’t huge and much of it included the city of Detroit itself, however I knew WSU had a lot of Muslim students so I was looking forward to meeting fellow Muslims.

Yeah well…

Outside of a handful of exceptions, many of the non-black Muslims looked at me as if I walked around with an animal or something on my face. The first Muslims on campus that I met where a Somali family from Canada who I love dearly (Shout out to the Haji-Jama crew). After (semi)joining the MSA I met another sista who was kind to me, treated me like a normal person and actually asked me about my community and my teacher. I met another few Muslims after joining Delta Sigma Pi who were cool also. Other than that, I stayed with my own.

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The “haram” letter in question. Girl bye…

It’s safe to say that my entry into my college years was a cultural shock. The few times I went to an MSA event, I could feel eyes burning down my back. Every now and again a sista would question me about my style of khimar (as their friend with NO khimar on stood by and watched the interrogation). I would walk around campus and give sisters the greetings and they would either ignore me or just give me a half-hearted “salaams” in return. I volunteered at a dawah table during Islamic Awareness Week and none of the sisters at the sisters’ table would speak to me, even when I tried to be social and involved in the conversation. I once had a sista who saw me with my BANGIN’ KhaliqArt skirt on, saw the letter “Kha” and asked me if it was haram (prohibited in Islam). Mind you, it’s a letter….of…..the alphabet. That’s a kin to asking if wearing the letter K on your shirt is un-American.

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Because Khaliq-Art deserves a full picture.

My blackness was being challenged. I couldn’t understand why and for a while I felt conflicted. In order to be a real Muslim, you have to fight for Palestine, Iraq, and Iran? OK. I have no problem speaking out against injustices being inflicted upon humans in the Middle East,  but I often wondered why the same importance wasn’t given to the humans in Africa or their distant relatives in America? Safe to say the realization of the racism in the Muslim community had materialized in my existence. I had expected to feel welcomed in a global community I had been part of since birth, and yet I was being treated as the black slave that just happen to share the same beliefs.

The denial of blackness in Islam is not a new phenomenon. Just as American textbooks would have us believe that our history started on plantations, some in the Muslim community would have you believe that black Muslims don’t exist, or we’re just relegated to being an abeed. Mind you, the richest person EVER IN THE HISTORY OF MAN was a African Muslim King. One of the most influential men in American history was a Black Muslim Man. However you rarely hear non-black Muslims speak of Mansa Musa, and when Brother Malcolm is mentioned, often times it is in a light that seeks to separate him from his activism. Brother Malcolm to be exact, was firm and stable in his blackness, even AFTER he made Hajj. Yes, Hajj introduced him to a broader, global view of Islam, but that in no way prevented him from continuing to fight for the justice of his people. You have to be in tune with your blackness to even fathom the plan Malcolm had for his people.

When I was younger, I sometimes tried to understand why some non-black Muslims would look at me with such disdain. But the answer is simple. While Islam does not condone or promote racism, cultures do. And the fact of the matter is me being a proud black Muslim woman scares some people. Why? Because it denotes pride and resistance. It says that I don’t need to assimilate into someone else’s culture in order to be Muslim. Islam IS NOT a culture. As my father always says “I didn’t giving up one slave master for another.” Black Muslims have been contributing to American society and culture for centuries, and many a Muslims have begun to adopt what is culturally mine. You can not be Muslim and treat black Muslims as if we are beneath you.

I know who I am and where I came from. I have no shame in my history and no one will prevent me from expressing my culture through how I dress, talk , walk, live.

I am a black muslim woman. I’ve been here, and will continue to be here.


 

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Celebrating And Mourning At The Same Time

This is tough and probably will come off as a rant.

I struggled to write this during a time when I should have been celebrating. Tuesday night, as news of the sighting of a new moon spread through the Muslim community signaling the start of Eid-ul-Fitr  and I prepared to post my Eid Mubarak meme throughout my social media, I noticed the hashtag #AltonSterling popping up on my timeline. My first thought:

Not again.

Following was a video of a murder that I didn’t want probably won’t watch. I personally can’t handle it. So imagine my anguish when the next day news of another murder began rolling down my timeline, this time, the aftermath was broadcast live on Facebook.

Oh yeah, Eid Mubarak.

For most of Eid I kept it together. Posted pics of my outfit. Added pics pf beautiful black Muslims during Eid to the Bilalian Experience timeline. But once I was back by myself, I began researching the incidents and all those emotions that I had kept at bay for the majority of the day came back to surface.

To be Black and Muslim in America is to have to celebrate and mourn at the same time. (click to tweet)

With the murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and two others over the July 4th weekend, we are once again reminded of our status as black people in this country. There are so many delicate layers to this that have to be tended to with care. However there are a few things that I want to point out:

Separation of Black from the Muslim Community
During Ramadan, some so-called Muslims decided to murder fellow Muslims in Turkey, Iraq and Mecca. News spread like wildfire after each attack with Muslims around the world grieving and in disbelief that this would happen during the month of Ramadan. We were all hurting in the Muslim community. Fast forward to Eid. Four African American and Latino American citizens were murder at the hands of the Police.

And a hush fell over the crowd.

This isn’t a new phenomenon for Black Muslims. Our struggles in America are constantly ignored by the greater American Muslim community. Normally I don’t let it bother me but after these recent killings it got to me. We as black Muslims are expected to promote and champion everyone else’s suffering before our own. We saw it with the Chapel Hill/Fort Wayne cases. The three college students in Chapel Hill were murdered and the Muslim community rose to the occasion. The three brothers in Fort Wayne were murdered and the Muslim community fell silent except for a few people. It’s the same hypocrisy I dealt with in college. Let be clear, before 9/11, when non-black Muslims thought they were assimilating into American culture, we were fighting for our lives. After 9/11 when the greater Muslim community got a taste of true American discrimination, instead of the Muslim community getting a wake up call and using this as a way address the racism within the Muslim community, the abuse of our middle eastern brothers ans sisters was put in the forefront of all Muslim issues in America. Granted their have been some organizations that have released statements in support and against the current uprising, I don’t think there is consistent inclusion of the Black American struggle within the American Muslim Community. Should we be outraged about the way Americans of Middle Eastern descent are being profiled? Of course. And if you go to any protest for *insert middle eastern country* you see black Muslims representing. Can the same be said for protest regarding the murders of black men in America? During the Jumuah khutbah after we make du’a for Syria and Palestine, do we make one for Baltimore and Minnesota?

And yes, there is racism within the American Muslim community. But let’s save that for another post.

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In the age of modern technology, everyone has a phone. As a result, more and more police attacks are being recorded and shared all over the internet. There are those who feel that by recording these events it will lead to court convictions and “justice” for the victims. Apparently, we’ve all forgotten about the 1991 assault on Rodney King that was filmed in a time where video cameras used tapes. And those officers still got off. However now with everyone having cameras in their pockets, more and more of the killings are being documented and police officers are not being punished. What does that do to our psyche as a people? I’ve seen many debates online about whether the videos of Alton’s and Philando’s killings shouls be viewed. What do I think? Should we share these videos or should we refrain from showing these images?

My answer is simple: Yes.

The decision of whether or not someone wants to share these images has to be made on an individual basis. Both sides of the arguments have valid points. I understand that people want the world to see what is happening hear. To show the actual events before the police try to cover it up. On the other hand, there is a psychological side to all of this. Continuously seeing images of our bodies being beaten in a public space with no consequences can subconsciously create this false notion that black bodies aren’t valuable. We know that’s how society feels but these images can further perpetuate that stereotype within the minds of those who haven’t seen anything else. We must be careful with sharing these images as when we consume them we don’t always process the emotions that come with it, which brings me to my next point.

When/Where/How can we emotionally handle this?
Since we got here, African Americans have been traumatized mentally, physically and spiritually. We’ve never recovered. We’ve never been given the chance to recover. We are dealing with centuries and centuries of systematic and overt trauma. Our institutions are attacked, our people killed. And we are expected to go about our normal days as if nothing happened. My black folks, we have to find a way to deal with the trauma. For my non-black friends, when you see us mourning, give us space. Don’t tell us it’ll be OK, don’t tell us the system will fix it, because both of those do nothing but patronize us and serve to try and prevent and control our rage. We as African Americans, descendants of slaves, builders of this country have the right to be angry. We have the right to be furious. And we have the right to express ourselves in our limited spaces without someone coming and dictating how and when we should be angry.

Look at it this way, when other tragedies happen, i.e. an innocent journalist is killed while reporting overseas, there is a school shooting, etc, folks are given space to grieve. People crowd around TVs at work and console each other. People are allowed to go home early. People are given time and space to grieve. What do we get? A news story running down the victim’s past transgressions in order to convince the public he deserved to be murdered. We can’t leave work. We can’t gather and talk about it. No one is checking for updates on the news. Where is our space to grieve, mourn, cry? Where is our space to be human?

James Baldwin once said “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Today, being conscious is no longer a prerequisite. The disenfranchisement of black people in this country is enough to make you want to holler and being able to survive in such a situation is truly a gift embedded in our DNA. But despite the stress and obvious disdain fro our lives, we rise and we survive. K. Dot said it best. We gon’ be alright.


 

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Ramadan Reflection: Mind Ya Own Bidness

If there is any time of the year when most Muslims are doing the same thing collectively, it’s Ramadan. For the most part, we’re all fasting, increasing our salat, reading more Qur’an and just all around focusing on increasing their deen, haqq, and nur.
While many of our non Muslim family and friends know we are abstaining from eating they may not know that there are circumstances where we as Muslims are exempt from fasting. Someone is ill, taking medication, traveling, if a woman is pregnant, nursing, or is on her menstrual cycle — all those situations excuse a person from fasting. So imagine your co-workers confusion when you walk in the office enjoying that medium iced caramel coffee with almond milk and extra caramel.

But Muslims? We should know better.

Yes there are some folks who are new to the deen and may not know about the exemptions, but many of us know. And while Ramadan is a time for self reflection and introspection, the haram police never take a vacation and some Muslims are just nosey. And to you all I have one thing to say:

Mind Ya Own Bidness.

For me, Ramadan is a personal time. I don’t need you asking me if I’m praying. Especially some of these brothas. I remember in undergrad I knew a sista named Mona. Cool as ice. I saw her on campus one time and she had this concerned look on her face. She said she was hungry. I kinda of chuckled because as a fasting person we all know that feeling. But when she told me she wasn’t fasting I asked her what’s stopping her from getting some food. She was concerned about some of the brothers on campus seeing her eat. I was flabbergasted. While some brothas may genuinely forget since menstruation isn’t something they have to deal with, some are just nosey and nasty for that matter.

If someone isn’t fasting it isn’t our responsibility to determine whether or not them not fasting is acceptable. We don’t know what people are going through physically or spiritually. If you want to be beneficial to a Muslim while fasting, then invite them to an iftar, be kind to them. Don’t walk up to them with a Super Ramadan checklist asking them what they’ve done for the day. They aren’t perfect, and neither are you. Focus on your own fast and that may just encourage some else in their own fast.


 

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Ramadan Reflection: Honor Your Ancestors

This past weekend I was fulfilling my coordinator duties for Soul Science Lab at Weeksville Heritage Center’s Garden Concert Series. The weather called for thunderstorms throughout the day but Al-Hamdulilah it didn’t rain until after the show. That meant it was HOT. Probably the first really hot day this Ramadan. Not only did I have on a black shirt, but I didn’t drink enough water during and after iftar (meal to break the fast) the night before or during suhoor (meal before starting the fast) the morning of. Needless to say, I was dehydrated. I had cotton mouth, I was sweating and I was loosing energy. But I was blessed to make it to Maghrib time and I took an entire liter of water to the head. Demolished it. As I swallowed my last swig of water I had a reflection:

Reflection 1: Your actions have reactions. Be prepared.
This is a concept my father taught me as a child. Truthfully, the night before I had some water. Just not enough. And to add insult to injury, I had a pop. Carbonated beverages actually strip your body of water due to the high sugar content, leaving you thirsty even after your drink it. I knew better and I drank it anyway. I didn’t follow it up with the amount of water I should have. When I got up that morning, I didn’t drink the amount of water I should have because I figured “it won’t be that hot today.”

Hmph.

So after I got home, I was sitting under my fan drinking my 2nd liter of water and my 2nd reflection hit me like a ton of bricks:

Reflection 2: Your ancestors didn’t have this.
Our foremothers and forefathers who built this country worked on those field from sun up to sun set everyday. They had no fans and could not drink liters of water at their disposal.

And they survived.

We come from a mighty people. This country would have us believe that to be the descendants of slave is a terrible lineage to be inheritors of. On the contrary, we should be proud of our ancestors who survived the devilish brutality of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Be proud of those who fought back on those ships before they even reached the Americas. Be proud of those who rebelled once we got here. Be proud of those who fought for us even after we were legally freed. Be proud of those who stood up as black men and black women and demanded respect. Those who marched and protested. Those who created rebellious art.
Not only should we be proud of them, but we should honor their memories and legacies by continuing the work they started. They sacrificed so that we may have the leisure we have today. They fought for rights they knew they wouldn’t see in their lifetime, but they knew we, their future, would. It is our responsibility to ensure that the generations after us also have the things we don’t I.e. our own communities, our own schools, property, etc.

So the next time you enjoy that tall glass of water, or that juicy watermelon, or that cool A/C, stop and say a quick prayer for your ancestors. Then get up and get to work.


 

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Ali. You may love him, but HE WAS OURS. 

The world is still mourning the loss of The Champ Muhammad Ali. My social media timelines have been flooded with various quotes, pictures and videos of The Greatest boxer ever. While the out pouring of love for him and his legacy is beautiful, let’s be clear about something:

HE WAS OURS.

And by ours I mean Black Muslims. Black people.

America (and some Muslims) have a tendency to try and separate Black Muslims, black athletes, black well-known figures, etc from their blackness. We see it constantly with Malcolm X and Dr. King, and it’s happening with Ali. But make no mistake, Ali was for the people by the people.

Malcolm was our Black Shining Prince, and Ali was our Black Dynamic General.

He was a strong black man and proud.

He was BLACKITY BLACK BLACK BLACK.

Originally I wasn’t going to post anything about this because my sista Nadirah Angail pretty much handled it but I still see some folks still trying to say he “transcended race” and blah blah blah. The main reason why American society grew to love Muhammad Ali so much was because he could no longer speak. Before Parkinson’s Disease ravaged his body, Muhammad Ali was quite vocal about the status of Black Americans. He was proud to be black and spoke out about the injustices being done to us. He was a fearless and unapologetic Black Man.

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Muhammad Ali with students from Sister Clara Muhammad School in New York. Courtesy Fawziyyah  Muhammad

Furthermore, he was a part of the community. Especially the black Muslim American community. There are many a stories of Ali coming to our schools, our businesses, showing up at our conventions, and he was ONE OF US. No hoopla, no bodyguards, just him and us. He would build with the parents and playfully spar with the children. He was part of our community. And that expanded to the rest of our brothas and sistas. He believed in, invested in and fought for his people here in America. He gave little black children all across this country the encouragement to also proudly proclaim their greatness and not be ashamed of who they are. He didn’t waver in his beliefs, and at the time in which he was living, that was a revolutionary act. Truth be told, if Muhammad Ali made the statements in 20-whatever that he made in 197-whatever, I’m willing to bet the price of 30 bean pies that he would not be as loved and revered as he’s become in the past 72 hours.

Study him. Love him. Be inspired by him. But make no mistake, Muhammad Ali was a strong Black Muslim Man who knew who he was and was confident about it. That can not, should not, and will not EVER be forgotten, over looked, or ignored.

Know your history. Know MY history.


 

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The Great Dowry Debate: Cut It or Up It

If you’re Muslim and have any sort of connection to the Internet then I’m sure you’ve heard of Deen Squad. Deen Squad, comprised of Canadian students Jae Deen and Karter Zaher, take popular rap songs and remix remake them with “halal lyrics”. Their version of Fetty Wap’s Trap QueenMuslim Queen , at the time of this post has over 1.4 million views on YouTube and has catapulted them to Internet stardom.

Deen Squad has been making their way through the current popular rap catalog putting their own “halalified” spin on monster tracks such as OMI’s Cheerleader, Drake’s Know Yourself, and Desiigner’s Panda. O.T. Genisis’ Cut It has been been making its way around the globe as one of this summer’s most popular tracks. True to form, Deen Squad released their own version of Cut It addressing women’s dowry. The song boasts lines such as:

Her dowry way too hide she need to cut it.
All of the Akhis been broke. All of us tryna get married.
We’re all tryna find righteous sistas, but we’re always just dealing with parents.

Oh boy.

So apparently brothas are meeting sistas who want extraordinary dowries? I don’t have any friends (that I know of) who want/wanted a milli for dowries but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Here’s the problem though, all the blame CAN NOT be put on the sistas. Every brotha isn’t broke. And every sista isn’t asking for a small island. Are we to believe that all the men are broke and all the women just want those dolla dolla bills y’all? Yes we marry someone for their righteousness and taqwa (G-d consciousness), but I have yet to figure out how to pay rent with righteousness. And what do sistas have to say about it?

Enter Miss Undastood.

The Queens – emcee spared no feelings in her rebuttal to the Deen Squad. The sista has bars. And while her punchlines may be funny and witty, her response introduces the other side of the Great Dowry Debate and raises some valid points. Some brothers are trying to get over, and unfortunately some sistas are falling for it. Brothas approach sistas with the intent of marriage and only have Qur’anic recitation to offer. Bet he won’t offer Baqarah, just Falaq and Nas. (I kid you not, when she said that I HOLLERED). Brothas promise certain things as a dowry and don’t follow through. (I need to look up if a sista really had to take a brotha to court in order to get her dowry. If that’s a true story……bruh…….). Nonetheless, Miss Undastood highlights not only hypocrisy that has crept into the Great Dowry Debate, but she also makes note of the sistas’ importance to the relationship itself.

From housework to childbirth, put some respect on our name.
I’ve heard of sistas getting rocks. I’ve heard of sistas getting socks.

The issue of dowry comes up often and there seems to be a constant debate between the sexes causing a severe imbalance. If a sista has a certain standard of living that she is accustomed to, you can’t fault her for choosing to be with a brotha who can maintain that standard of living. Furthermore, all Muslim women do not have that train of thought. There are sistas who will consider a brotha who can only accommodate a certain standard of living, but brotha you have to come correct. You can’t come to a sista with no goals, no plans, no job and expect her to just fall into your arms.

But I’m in college. I’m broke. 

You very well may be, however within the next year or four (depending on your academic standing) you will have a degree  and the expectation is that you will find employment from which you can support your family with. Yes I know the job market is terrible but your goal isn’t to be unemployed. Your education is an investment and serves as a good reason as to why you are marriage material.

Sis, I didn’t go to college.

And that’s fine. College isn’t for everyone. However you have to support yourself somehow, yes? I don’t know your particular skill set but I do know that if you’re looking to support a wife and eventually a family, you need income homie.

Sis I’ve been in between jobs. It’s hard out here for brothas especially in this economy and….

I hear you brotha. If you can’t support yourself let alone a family, then maybe you shouldn’t be looking for a wife right now, ya know? I know you have physical needs but bruh, you’ve got financial needs that need some attending to before you start asking about dowries.

Truth be told, maybe the sista is just out of your league. It is what it is. This needs to be analyzed on a case by case basis though. Every sista isn’t trying to break your bank. And if you present yourself to her correctly, she may be willing to work something out with you. There are many a sista who married a brotha who didn’t have a boat load of cash. She had a modest dowry and she and her husband have built wealth together. That DOES NOT mean, brothas, that you should step to a sista and her father like “Aye, I’m broke. I may get money later. Marry me anyway.” Furthermore asking women to lower their dowries is suspect when we see brothas ballin’ out, chains swinging, rims shining and so forth. Once again, all brothas aren’t ballin’, and all sistas aren’t expecting you to be.

But my dear brothas, be very careful when you make these generalizations. Every sista isn’t out to get a check. Every brotha isn’t of pure intentions. Yes, some sistas may have more pricey dowries as the Deen Squad mentioned, but at the same time some brothas also aren’t doing right by the sistas and are just cheap, as MissUndastood so eloquently reminds us.

Check Miss Undastood’s response here:

 

Seriously though, did a sista really have to take her husband to court to get her dowry? TO COURT? My goodness….