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.
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.
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.
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.