By Amal Matan
Black History is being written today. You may not think that you are a part of it, but you are. Whether you are positive part of the story or a negative one, know this: Black Muslims don’t choose where they fall on this reality — we have it chosen for us.
We are forsaken by the social construct of racial hierarchy, cast to the lowest bottom. As Muslims our strife is amplified, subject to the skyrocketing Islamophobic hatred of the past two decades. We are irrevocably visible, from our melanin to our names. There is no opting out of our identities, no opportunities to slip into assimilation.
It means our history and our present interests are devalued, discriminated against and erased.
It means as Black Muslims, we are often denied peace in the House of God by our fellow Muslims.
Claiming Islam as a Black Muslim means that you will be denied acceptance in it at every corner (unless it is convenient to palatable brownness) — something no Black Muslim truly ever is.
It is a constant mandatory negotiation on every aspect and intersection of your identity to survive. At your mosque. At your schools. Amongst your peers and colleagues.
At its best, this negotiation is self censorship — at its worst, it’s self-asphyxiation.
To be Black, and Muslim is truly a difficult thing. To believe and to believe on your own accord, while actively being pushed out and away from these spaces you are entitled too, is painful. It’s really to the detriment of Muslims everywhere that Islamic leadership continues to aspire to whiteness, and colonial power. Muslims find themselves in Mosques that have done everything but putting a physical White idol as God.
It’s time for the impractical, immoral and un-Islamic participation in racism to stop. To contribute to, excuse or erase experiences of racism in any manner is against the very spirit and intent of Islam, which self-proclaimed Muslims supposedly gate-keep.
Ideologically, and even more so, emotionally, the antithesis to White supremacy has been Black Spirituality in all its respective forms. Black Spirituality, very simply, is a reassertion of belief in that Blackness is included in the core of humanity; that Black people are human and worthy of, and afforded the full freedoms of personhood. Note: To believe in this is contrary to the basis of racism.
Consensual Black spirituality and involvement in spiritual and religious spaces is revolutionary. For Black people to participate in these spaces, they must be explicitly and implicitly anti-racist. But for Muslims who are not Black, it’s a different story.
Access to the uninhibited exploration of belief and knowledge are human necessities. It’s unconscionable that Black Muslims are still erased in their identity, let alone able to access such spaces without being inhibited because of their identity.
Ideally, spiritual spaces for Black Muslims, and Black people as a whole, are a replenishing source of healing, dignity, love and community in a world where our humanity is degraded through the certainties of future ritual racialized trauma, and systemic community disenfranchisement.
When specifically speaking about my experience as a Black Muslim woman, I’m more and more convinced that if decolonial and political activism is not prioritized by our spiritual leadership, the ideological and physical ostracization of Black Muslims is certain to continue.
Muslim leadership is unequipped, or worse, unwilling, to ask the questions that grapple with this spiritual and political catastrophe; nor do they have the tools to actively decolonize and examine. Just think about the language the political language they purvey in a nuanced way. When Black Muslims speak we are met with silence, or worse, we are met with reactions of disgust as we assert our humanity.
Popular scholars simply are more likely to be asked about whether the latest cute hijab style is haram or halal. The fact is that most of popular Muslim discourse is obsessed with looking respectable while appeasing White supremacy. It is focused on being right. They even in asking questions regarding the decorum of respectability – which drapes over everything like a stinky old curtain.
Black Muslims cannot afford to aspire to be a model minority in a system that makes survival for us almost unattainable.
Among friends I often jest and say, “Asking real questions has become haram.” It’s a joke that only works because of how it punches at the truth. To my dismay it only continues to elicit laughter because it is a long-held silent truth that the institutions in Islam are only truly accessible to a privileged few.
Yet, the true beating heart of Islam itself, perhaps may not be found within those institutions – but in the margins. It is not those who steer and slip in with the strategic grooming from Muslim Student Association to mosque. It is not those who continue to turn the other cheek or trust intentions.
The true beating heart of Islam comes from those who risk to ask the questions regarding what makes taboo taboo in the face of physical, emotional and social risk. It comes from those who continue to believe, when everything and everyone is telling them otherwise. It comes from those who continue to search for knowledge in the face of scoldings, anti-intellectualism and social ostracization when racist, homophobic, misogynistic and classist Muslims proliferate every level of involvement in Islamic institutions.
It is unfortunately now, where Muslims are collectively experiencing historic levels of persecution, displacement and genocide where the consequences of the anti-Black, anti-intellectual, colonial bastardization of the Ummah will become increasingly apparent.
It is now, where we truly need leadership to be imparting the deep well of anti-oppression strategies found in the spirit; to be the example and have the intent of the respective Prophetic traditions found in Abrahamic Religions. The odds seem to be that without leadership that embodies these strategies, there’s a profound risk of failure.
Unfortunately, it is the most marginalized identities, and those who are the most visible amongst Muslims, who will bear the brunt of the consequences of these sharp failures.
The first and foremost reason I write this now is simple: I suspect that I am not alone in this sentiment, and the only way I can validate this belief is by voicing it. It is for the hope someone out there reading this will not feel as alone in their struggles. To let them know that the emotions they have are valid. That someone sees the same self-proclaimed Muslims denying Black Muslims spaces they are entitled to.
You’re not the only one hearing the linguistic violence — nor are you the only one asking “haram” questions. This piece is written for those young, inquiring Black Muslim minds, that I ask never to let the anti-intellectualism, so commonly found in these spaces, win.
Make Black History. Dare to think it. Rise speak it. Will it to become a glowing ember of the past fueling our ascent. Know that even if self-censorship sets in, that there will be feelings and thoughts that will not leave you because they are imperative to your moral core.
For you I leave you with this thought:
To be a willing believer is innately powerful. It means you believe in justice. It means you believe in retributive, reformative overdue structural and immediate justice. Moreover, that the full weight and horror of racial injustice is witnessed.