In the midst of fighting for Black lives, I think its important to remember that we are fighting for black lives in every corner of society. That being said, it is really crucial for all people of colour out there to understand that this movement is a call for you to change your attitudes towards us as well. The Black Lives Matter movement, like many others that get a lot of attention on social media, has brought out a lot of performance activism from people who want to be on-trend, or who understand that black people need equal rights, theoretically, but who don’t actually want to commit to seeing those rights fulfilled in their own communities. That is the case with a lot of non-black Muslims, particularly in the UK at the moment. Black Muslims are ostracised three-fold in Western British society. They get hate from the white community at large for being black, they get hate from Western societies in general, for being Muslim. And then, they are ostracised within their own faiths- a place that is supposed to be a refuge for them, especially if they are living outside of major cities where Muslim communities are smaller, and where forming community bonds with your fellow Muslims is more crucial than ever.
The paradox is that Islam has a concept of ‘Ummah’, one people, one unity. The same people who preach “one ummah” will scream that black lives matter and yet never let their children marry a black man, even if he is Muslim.
Black Muslims get excluded from spaces within the Muslim community all the time. Maybe not physically – tickets will never be denied to them for events, and they won’t ever be barred from shops- but these spaces that invite black people in for-profit or education, will not speak on black people’s issues or allow black representation in British Islam. The problem then is that those who are overwhelmingly represented in British Islam tend to be seen as more genuine Muslims. Thus Islam becomes understood as naturally incompatible with blackness. No matter how covered up, a black Muslim woman is, she still gets asked if she’s Muslim. People look at black Muslims and assume that they are converts, even though studies by the Pew Research Centre have shown that in 2017, countries like Niger, Senegal and Sudan had Muslim populations that rival or surpass that of countries traditionally thought of as Muslim like Pakistan and Syria.
And there is always the assumption that black Muslims must have come to The Deen through some sort of stereotypical hardship- drug dealing, or prison. In Britain, Black people and blackness are entirely at odds with Islam, whereas Asians (or Arabs, but particularly Asians), are seen as the rightful inheritors of the religion.
Therefore, there is this unspoken assumption that if you are not Asian or Arab, you will never be a true and proper Muslim and you have no right to the religion as they do. As a result, these Asian communities in the UK tend to stick together. They create spaces dedicated to Asian Muslims only, or facilities that say they are for Muslims, but really only apply to their own communities. For example, when organisations like the Muslim Women’s helpline refer to ‘Muslim women’, they mean Asian women
And yet, no one bats an eyelid because, in Britain, Asians are the inheritors of Islam, the default Muslims; the real Muslims. As a result, they really don’t see how singling out their own community for pastoral care can be wrong, because, as far as they are concerned, there are only Asian Muslims, everything else, is Other – less than.
But in the same way that black people get criticised for having things like the BET awards because they centre around black people only, black Muslims continuously get trouble for creating spaces that cater to, and represent us, alone. We get told that doing this creates more division and separates the Ummah. Essentially, people ‘all Muslims matter’ these situations and ignore the fact that if we were being represented by the wider British Muslim community more, then there would absolutely be no need for these spaces.
I was born into Islam – half Jamaican half Lebanese, so I know what it feels like to be shunned by family and other Asian Muslim groups because you’re too black. I was excluded from friendship groups in college, called a slut, for nothing more than being black. I behaved no differently from any of the other Muslim girls there, at the time I even covered up more. Still, I was black- and no amount of religious education (and I had more of it, as well as more reasoning than many of the Muslim girls there, thanks to my black mum) could absolve me of the atrocious crime of being black. A relative of mine lost his Pakistani fiance because her parents threatened to disown her if she married a black man. My mother lost her business because her Asian Muslim colleagues thought that they could do what she was doing better than her. My friend was spat at by his Asian Muslim girlfriend’s family and driven out of the house because her family did not want her to be with a black man. And the people doing these things will never admit that they are racist and that they drive people away from this ‘Ummah’ that we are apparently trying so hard to preserve. These ideas are so deeply ingrained in them from their colonial past and from the caste-system embedded within their culture, that they cannot separate it from their faith and cannot separate themselves from it. But it will never be admitted to because to do that would be to admit there’s a problem in the Islamic UK community. And rather than tackling that problem, they’d rather sweep it under the rug.
Calling for one Ummah and supporting Black Lives Matter are not performances to be put on simply because the world is watching. You can’t just post a black square or talk about one Ummah in a sermon, get your likes and your praises and then allow your aunties, your uncles or your sisters, to be racist to the people you claim to be in unity with. It is a disgrace to the faith that calls itself unified, and it’s a separation that is not a part of the creed of Islam, but a man-made one and made by those who want to feel like they are at the top of some part of a society that has historically put them down. The abused kick downwards, that is always the case, but you cannot pretend to care for black people only when it is convenient for you, and then go back to disowning your sons and daughters for bringing home black people while using black culture for clout and profit. In doing so, you become no better than those you claim to be oppressed by.
When we say black lives matter, we’re not just talking to white people. We are talking to every community who deliberately sets out to ensure that black lives cannot be lived to the fullest. And that includes other people of colour; South Asians, East Asians, Arabs, Latinos, and anyone else who thinks that they can disregard and abuse black lives and go unnoticed simply because they themselves have been Othered by white people.
And Black Muslims, please, we are one Ummah, we always have to remember that, but we also can’t wait for others to decide when we are good enough Muslims to be apart of their clique. We need more events, more talks and more helplines, for ourselves. And we need more celebrations of everything that makes us proud to be black and Muslin – because if we don’t help ourselves and fight for our own rights to be seen as human beings, trust me, no one else will.
Shout out to The Black Muslim Girl Podcast for also shedding light on this issue and for unashamedly continuing to give black women a space to discuss important matters without being side-lined and looked down on.
Shout out to, my Jamaican Mum for always giving me pride in my blackness, even when I was told at school that any goodness I possessed was despite my blackness, rather than because of it.
Shout out to my best friend Dica, for getting me through College and helping me find myself.