Black History Month is a month to celebrate and honor the achievements, actions and experiences of Black individuals. While we honor icons such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks, let us honor icons from our own community, our Black brothers and sisters.
Being both Black and Muslim is no easy feat. You have twice the barriers, twice the stereotypes and twice the discrimination. There’s Islamophobia and racism, and sometimes that racism doesn’t stop at the door of the masjid or the MSA meeting room.
In honor of Black History Month, here are 10 outstanding Black Muslims who inspire us every month of the year.
1. Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem Olajuwon is a Muslim household name. My Islam textbooks for school had pictures and bios of him. Every student in my class knew the story of how he came to a parade in honor of his team late because he wanted to pray Jummah first — and how he fasted every Ramadan, even if he was on the court. I mean, we also knew of his impressive stats, but we loved those stories about faith in action, even when in the public eye.
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon is a Nigerian-American basketball player who played on the Houston Rockets, leading the team to back-to-back championships. Olajuwon is the first player in NBA history to win the Defensive player of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and Finals MVP awards in the same season and is remembered as one of the greatest centers.
2. Nzinga Knight
I first heard of fashion designer Nzinga Knight when she became the first hijabi contestant on Project Runway. After reading about her, I was surprised I hadn’t heard about her sooner. She is an accomplished designer who showed at New York Fashion Week, sells her line all over the globe and has inspired knock-off versions of her dresses — and in the fashion world, that signals you’ve made it.
From her website, “Nzinga was selected as a member of Design Entrepreneurs NYC, is the recipient of a DCA Grant and NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) Award, is the first ever Elevate Culture award winner and grant recipient, Winner of the Power UP Business Plan competition sponsored by Citigroup, and was selected as a featured designer at New York Fashion week at Lincoln Center by HFR.” She also won an award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Knight is an innovative designer, who never sacrifices her religion’s code of modesty.
3. Margari Hill
Margari Aziza Hill is an educator, giving lectures at universities and Muslim organizations and is the co-founder as well as the Programming Director of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. Aiming to bridge the Muslim and black activism movements, her mission is described in an interview, “By amplifying voices, building bridges and challenging racism, I believe that we can build a stronger community that is more true to the egalitarian ideals we are taught in Islam.”
The MuslimARC is known for launching viral hashtags (#BlackinMSA, a hashtag encouraging Black Muslim students to share their experiences in MSA) and viral campaigns (Respond with Love, a campaign to rebuild black churches). Palestine and Syria are worth protesting for, but so are Ferguson and Baltimore. And so is the inherent racism many members of our faith possess. We need much more solidarity and cross-movements then we have now in order to truly live up to our Muslim ideals of anti-discrimination and justice. Margari Aziza Hill and people like her are leading us to that movement.
4. Dawud Walid
“I’m black. And I’m Muslim. And those two identities are not at war with each other.”
Walid’s principal role is the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He is also cited heavily and called on to represent Muslims in numerous media channels. He also co-founded Muslims for Ferguson. Walid gives lectures on Islam, interfaith dialogue and social justice. He notes often times of the implicit racism of Muslims towards their fellow black sisters and brothers and their causes. Islam is an accepting religion. Some Muslims are not. Like the MuslimARC, he aims to fix that.
Walid has studied extensively about Muslim history, Islamic jurisprudence and the language of Arabic. Just looking through his Instagram, I learned something new — the first martyrs of both the Battle of Badr and Battle of Karbala were black. How’s that for Black Muslim History?
5. Yassmin Abdel Magied
Yassmin Abdel Magied does it all — she’s a writer, a speaker, a founder of an organization — she opened up Youth Without Borders, an organization that aims to enable youth to work for positive change in their communities — an engineer and a worker on an oil rig as the only woman out of 150 men.
She received the 2015 Queensland Young Australian of the Year award, in recognition of her leadership and drive. This may seem all out of the ordinary, but through talks, lectures and her organization she’s on a mission to make it less so.
In her hilarious, eye-opening Ted Talk where she talks about unconscious bias (which I think should be mandatory viewing for every Muslim Girl), she said, “Ladies and gentlemen, there is a problem in our community with lack of opportunity, especially due to unconscious bias. But each and every one one of you has the potential to change that… because diversity is magic. And I encourage you to look past your initial perceptions because I bet you, they’re probably wrong.”
6. Ibtihaj Muhammad
This fabulous lady is all over the news these days. In case you haven’t heard, Muhammad will become the first American to compete in hijab at the U.S. Olympics this year. Her forte is fencing, which she chose partly because of the modest uniform. She’s already a fencing world champion and a U.S. Sports Ambassador and has amassed many awards for her skills (gold medal in the women’s saber team event at the 2014 World Fencing Championships, and two bronzes in the 2011 and 2012 World Fencing Championships).
“After I graduated from college [where she double-majored in international relations and African-American Studies at Duke University], I saw there was a lack of minorities in the sport,” she told TeamUSA.org. “I recognized that I had a skill set, so I started to pursue fencing full-time. I felt that it was something the squad needed. There were barriers that needed to be broken in women’s saber.”
With her race, religion and gender, she has already broken three. We can’t wait to root for her, come August.
7. Keith Ellison
In 2006, Keith Ellison made history as both the first Muslim congressman to serve in the U.S. Congress and the first black politician to serve from Minnesota. To much controversy, he was sworn in using the Qur’an, an unprecedented move. While in office, he supported stem cell research and raised the minimum wage. He is also an active advocate for Muslim Americans. Back in September, Ellison had something to say to certain candidates who had choice words to say about Muslim politicians.
“The freedom of religion is a founding principle of our nation. Our Constitution gives this right to all Americans — including elected officials. For Ben Carson, Donald Trump or any other Republican politician to suggest that someone of any faith is unfit for office is out of touch with who we are as a people. It’s unimaginable that the leading GOP presidential candidates are resorting to fearmongering to benefit their campaigns, and every American should be disturbed that these national figures are engaging in and tolerating blatant acts of religious bigotry.”
8. Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali is a legend.
To Muslims and Non-Muslims alike, he is one of the most beloved athletes of our time.
He isn’t known just for his many titles, 1960 Olympic gold medalist and the 1964 world heavyweight boxing champion among them. He is known for his outspokenness, his unwavering self-confidence and his faith in one God. When drafted for the war in Vietnam, he refused to go, and was stripped of his titles and sentenced to prison. That didn’t change his mind.
He gave us cocky lines like “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and “I’m so mean, I make medicine sick,” but he also gave us heartwarming lines that acknowledged his strong belief in God.
He told us “I don’t smoke but I keep a match box in my pocket. When my heart slips towards sin, I burn a match stick and heat my palm with it. Then I say to myself: ‘Ali, you can’t bear this heat, then how would you bear the unbearable heat of hell?'”
When asked if he had a bodyguard, he laughed and replied, “Allah is my only Protector.”
“Allah is the Greatest. I’m just the greatest boxer,” he said in an interview with Sound Vision.
These two qualities make him so endearing. A powerhouse of a man who acknowledges that even he is no match for his Creator.
9. Asma Hanif
Asma Hanif is a real life superhero, her signature purple hijab is her cape. In 1987, Hanif started the nation’s first Muslim woman shelter, Muslimat Al-Nisaa. Muslimat Al-Nisaa is a safe haven for women and children who are homeless, often times running away from abusive partners. The only catch is that to stay in the shelter, the women must agree to participate in the many training programs provided.
Originally a nurse, Hanif started the shelter when she bought a house in a residential neighborhood in Baltimore. There were many shelters in Baltimore, but she noticed how they weren’t adequate for Muslim women. There were no spaces to pray and the food wasn’t always halal. Hanif wants to give these women a safe place to stay and help them acquire skills that will enable them to be self-sufficient, all in a Muslim environment.
Recognizing her leadership and commitment to helping others, NFL Charities and Ravens Foundation Inc awarded her the 2014 Community Quarterback Award. Clad in all purple, and sporting an also purple Baltimore Ravens jersey, she took the field to receive her award.
10. Our Black MuslimGirl readers
You know who you are! The girl who is proud of her faith and stands up against injustice, battling both racism and Islamophobia. The girl who has to convince the world, and sometimes even her fellow Muslims that #BlackLivesMatter. The girl who powers through hurdle after hurdle, barrier after barrier. It seems like a lot to handle, but not for you — you do it everyday. When you uplift yourself, you uplift, and inspire, all of us.