When The Islamic Monthly published an article titled “Islamophobia is the New Black,” I could feel my stomach turn with both rage and disgust. Even before I read the article, I knew it would be another example of those in privileged positions in the Muslim community denying the intersections of being both Muslim and Black. Individuals who hold both of these identities are subjected to anti-Black sentiment within the Muslim community as well as outside of it, while simultaneously being subjected to Islamophobia. Although the editors at The Islamic Monthly have since changed the wording of the title, the issue extends far beyond semantics. The Muslim community’s larger habit of denying the existence of identities of being both Black and Muslim is an act of violence; it is an act of violence to erase our multitude of experiences and trauma.
As a Black Muslim, ethnically Somali, I have experienced an intense amount of discrimination on both levels. I remember my mother (during a period while I was wearing the hijab) telling us to be back home before a certain time — not only because she did not want her children to become victims of Islamophobic attacks, but also to protect my brothers (who love to wear their hoodies) from being killed by another Zimmerman or targeted by the police that patrolled our neighborhoods. As a visibly Muslim woman growing up, I endured the stares of commuters on the train in the mornings, the random frisking at airports and the questioning of my feminism.
I was raised to believe that being Muslim comes before everything else, and so I never thought much of the anti-Black comments that would come from my non-Black peers at the mosque. I didn’t question why our mosques in Boston were segregated by ethnic and racial backgrounds. The casual throwing around of the N-word from Desi and Arab teens did not bother me. The stories that my Desi and Arab friends told me when we giggled about future husbands, when they’d casually say, “My family would never allow me to marry a Black person” — none of these experiences really fazed me. I mean, we were all Muslim, right? What does it matter that the only time Black Muslims were ever talked about was either Bilal (RA) or Malcolm X? We were all Muslim, monolithic in our faith.
As I entered my twenties and chose to remove my hijab, I came to realize that while discrimination based on my Muslim identity was no longer as prominent, the sight of police officers would still make my skin crawl, and the uncomfortable stares persisted. In the uproar of the Black Lives Matter movement, I had to confront my Blackness more than ever before. The microaggressions became more and more pronounced as I became more vocal on the importance of Blackness, and oftentimes those aggressions came from friends and peers — including Muslims. You can imagine the exhaustion I feel when I have to tell privileged Muslims that using #MuslimLivesMatter is unfairly co-opting a Black movement, and then also have to explain why it was appropriate to use #BlackMuslimLivesMatter when a community member was killed by the Boston police. Yes, he was Muslim, but he was also a another Black body that was targeted and labeled as the aggressor instead of a victim.
So here is my point: When a Desi editor decides to write an article called “Islamophobia is the New Black,” it is yet another case of the Muslim community drowning out our voices and our experiences as Black Muslims. Even though the title of the article was changed, its discussion of President Barack Obama and Ahmed Mohamed (the teen who was arrested for allegedly bringing a bomb to school to when it was in fact a homemade clock) dismissed the fact that these individuals are also Black. The article may have been trying to accuse society in the U.S. for its bigotry towards American Muslims, but it has instead actually proven the much more salient point that the wider Muslim community continues to deny Blackness. It’s interesting that Black people and our experiences are brought up only when it is convenient to get a point across, but our voices are silenced when advocating for our own stories of existence within the Muslim community.
The reality is that Muslims are not monolithic. The Qur’an acknowledges our vast diversity, but even if Muslims are forbidden from blatantly discriminating, there still remains the reality that non-Black Muslims continue to be completely ignorant of the reality of the unique Black Muslim experience. Here is what the Muslim community must understand: when it comes to getting a point across about Islamophobia, do not deny the intersections of our identities. Allow us to tell our stories without being forced to choose one over the other.
I am Black and I am Muslim, and my identities exist together.
Written by Hallima Docmanov