On Friday, March 11, Black Muslim women will take to the internet, posting selfies and sharing how the erasure of Black Muslim women from the Muslim narrative has affected us, using the hashtags #BombBlackHijabis and #BombBlackMuslimahs.
When this idea was first introduced, I was immediately overtaken with excitement to participate, but my reasons were not the ones you might expect. This isn’t just about sharing selfies through the void of social media. This is about taking back our narrative.
When I decided to get involved, my first thought was of my daughter; a lively dark skinned girl, with an infectious laugh and an insatiable appetite. I thought about the year she started school and how much I agonized over making the right choices for her.
I didn’t enroll my daughter in an Islamic school. Not because there were too few of them, because there are four private Islamic schools in my area. And not because the quality of education at the Islamic schools was bad, because students from these school go on to earn degrees from prestigious Universities across the country.
I chose not to enroll her in Islamic school because she would be one of the few dark-skinned girls enrolled, and I didn’t want to have to explain why her teachers and “friends” constantly referred to her as a Abed. I didn’t want little boys to tell her that she wasn’t pretty because she was dark-skinned.
I didn’t want her to struggle in finding a place within the tapestry of our Ummah. An Ummah where South Asian, Arab, and– to a lesser extent– Persian expressions of Islam pass for orthodoxy, but her own cultural and historical roots are often ignored.
I chose not to enroll my daughter because I wanted to delay her first experience with overt racism. I wanted her first experiences of Islam outside of her home to be ones where she was welcomed and celebrated as an equal. I didn’t want to have to make excuses for fellow Muslims. I didn’t want to have to fight that battle on top of all the other battles that come with raising a Black Muslim Female child in America.
To this day, when she imagines figures from Islamic history, she imagines them as brown like her. She has no reason not to. The masjid we attend is full of women of African, Caribbean and American extraction; whose brown skin and colorful clothing look like hers.
She is still excited whenever she sees other Muslims in public, regardless of ethnicity, and only slightly baffled when certain sisters don’t return her greetings. She is one of only three girls in her school who wears hijab, but she is not the only Muslim. Her friends, mostly Black and Hispanic, have never explained to her that she can’t be beautiful because she is Black. Her teachers, mostly Black and Hispanic, have lovingly tucked her locs back under her hijab when they flop out during recess, without pausing to make her explain why her hair is like that or question whether or not locs are clean. The ummah, as she knows it, is a place where she belongs, full of people who, as she explains it “can be anything or anyone.”
Unfortunately, my daughter is an exception to the rule. Too many young Muslim girls’ first experiences of racism are at the hands of other Muslims.
Muslim women have made amazing strides in the last 100 years to reclaim their rightful place in the world. We are Nobel Prize winners, Olympians, pop stars and fashion icons. The one barrier that we have yet to break down is one of color.
Hashtags like #UnfairAndLovely and #BlackinMSA have called attention to the fact that colorism and anti-black racism are still real problems in our communities.
In the conversation about Blackness in Islam and about Women in Islam, the intersection of Black Muslim Women’s issues are often ignored. While South Asian and Arab women have many struggles in common, the struggle of the Black Muslim woman is unique. Often, speaking about us makes others uncomfortable. They aren’t sure how to relate. They want to sweep us away under the rug of an Islam that is “color blind”.
The intersectionality of race, gender and class that #BombBlackHijabis occupy, present too many challenges to their world view. They don’t yet have the language to articulate the fact that they have internalized the European colonial mentality about color, race, and class. They aren’t ready to admit that they see Black Muslim women as a necessary evil, but not a thing that could be beautiful, honorable, desirable, or strong. After all, you can’t stop people from practicing Islam, can you?
On March 11, I am going to participate in #BombBlackHijabis, because I want my daughter to uncover an Ummah that is ready to hear her story. I want millions of other black and brown skinned little Muslim girls to see more images of Black Muslim women in all our variations and profundity. I want to be able to enroll my daughter in a Muslim school without fear that they will call her a Abed, as if slavery is the natural origin of Blackness.
I want other Muslims to know that there were, and continue to be, more Black Muslims in our Islamic history than Bilal, Ibn Battuta and Malcolm X. I want the world to see that at every turn, at every step, in every way, black Muslim women have held the banner of Islam high. Even today, we hold together families and communities with grace and dignity.
I want the broken hearted women whose marriages were torn apart because their skin was the wrong color, to voice that pain and start healing. I want the millions of women who had to endure glib remarks about “preferring” fair skin to drop kick the small minded haters who said it with a stunning selfie. I want the ummah at large to recognize the unimaginable debt that they owe Black Muslim women for laying the groundwork for a truly global Islam. I want to reclaim my space as a Black woman in Islam. I want to remind everyone that we, Black Muslim women, have always been a part of the story of Islam.
I want to celebrate you, the originator of Muslim swag, an innovator of Muslim expression, #BombBlackHijabis and #BombBlackMuslimahs.
Written by Safura Salam
Hashtag movement started by @safuratumbles and @afrohijab.