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Muhammad Ali and Anti-Blackness in the Muslim Community

Muhammad Ali and Anti-Blackness in the Muslim Community

A few days ago, I woke up that morning with my newsfeed flooded.
“MUHAMMAD ALI DEAD AT 74,” the headlines read.
Many people were posting/tweeting their condolences, and honouring the “great Muhammad Ali.”  
They mentioned that he was the “greatest boxer of all time,” while simultaneously completely disregarding his political work on the fight for human rights for all black people.
His death is telling during a time when Islamophobia is on the rise, and the likes of Donald Trump tweet that Muhammad Ali–a Muslim–will be missed, whilst continuing to preach anti-Muslim rhetoric.  
As I scrolled through Facebook, I noticed many non-black Muslims posting about how great of a Muslim Muhammad Ali was, how great of a man he was, and honoring him through long online posts.

I couldn’t help but think…so now you say our names?  Now we are Muslims; now we are important and included.  Now you remember us.  When we become Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Ibtihaj Muhammad–legendary icons–this is when we are important to you.

An example from Muhammad Ali’s own life–it’s like when he was “American enough” for inclusion in the draft for the Vietnam War, but not “American” enough to have basic human rights.
We–Black Muslims–only matter when we’re popular.  In my day to day life as a Black Muslim woman, I–and many other Black Muslims–experience anti-Blackness as the norm in the Muslim community.  
This is not a new issue.  In April, Eman talked about the anti-blackness that occurred when the news broke regarding the deaths of Mohamedtaha Omar, Adam Kamel Mekki, and Muhannad Adam Tairab, three young Black men, who were murdered. Students from the University of Ottawa created a documentary discussing their experiences of racism in the Muslim Community.  Riya Jama wrote a wonderful tweet calling out the non-black muslim community.
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This is just a handful of the many anti-Black experiences we as Black Muslims face.

In Muhammad Ali’s case, they seek to erase his Blackness; the Blackness he was so proud of.  

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If the non-Black Muslim community thinks that we are good enough to be remembered by the likes of you, yet continues to have non-Black masjid boards and Muslim student association boards, continues to not raise funds for donations for Black Muslim countries–only Arab ones– and continues to be a voluntourist to “poor black African children,” then guess what?
You are part of the problem.
You are the ones who continue to only teach about the Arab sahabas (companions of the Prophet) and not teach us about the many black Sahabas ( and also Black prophets)  that were integral during the time of Prophet (saw).
How sad is it that as a kid, the only Black Muslim I knew was Bilal (RA), who yes did wonderful things, but–true to anti-Blackness typecasting–was a slave?
We don’t need your empty gestures of thanks; we need you to sit and listen and to help dismantle the anti-Blackness in the Muslim community.
Non-Black Muslims, I want you to support Black Muslims, and to always remember and acknowledge the privilege that you possess within the Muslim community.
Don’t honor and remember Muhammad Ali today, only for you to silence me when I speak out about the truth.

View Comments (2)
  • Sometimes
    we just don’t know how to put things in a proper perspective and this
    article is one of those times. The key thing we have to understand is
    that racism as it is manifested in America is a serious problem as it
    relates to ‘power’, police brutality, economic opportunities, and issues like that.
    However, it is totally irrelevant when it comes to ‘racism’ or better
    defined as ‘prejudiced’ as it relates to some Arabs or anyone else who
    don’t “like’ black people. As a Muslim, unless you somehow have tickets
    to paradise that you wont sell me because I’m black, then please explain
    to me why I should care about whether or not you ‘like’ me?
    Ali was a man who displayed a character that transformed people…we
    need to learn and take a lesson from how Muhammad Ali went from one of
    the most hated to one of the most beloved figures in American history

  • Discussing racism within our community is extremely important. We like to pretend it doesn’t exist. It does. It’s a huge problem in our community, and it is disgusting. And if you don’t discuss a problem, it won’t get solved on its own. Why did Prophet Muhammad PBUH chose to say that Arab is not superior over a non-Arab and that White is not superior over Black? And vice versa. We are all equal. This was said in his last speech for a reason.
    I’ve heard Muslims of different races and ethnicities say comments like, “Don’t hire someone black because they steal or are lazy.” Or a variation of something like that. It’s truly disgusting. This directly effects Black people including Black Muslims.
    I am South Asian ethnically. If someone calls you “black” in Urdu/Hindi it’s considered an insult. It’s ridiculous. None of us choose the skin we are born in, and it’s ridiculous we let the color of our skin divide us. We should be better than that!!
    But, I want to say to the author that unfortunately there are race divisions within the Muslim community. I’ve heard Muslims of other races say horrible things about South Asian Muslims. I’ve also been treated differently when people realized I was South Asian when I travelled for Umrah. It’s extremely demeaning. I’ve heard people say the most awful and false statements.
    Every race is equally important in our ummah. Discussing race issues is important and I’m glad this article was posted. I just want the author to understand that there are problems other races face within the Muslim community as well. I can only think of one South Asian Muslim that’s a role model and that’s Malala. I just think the author should realize that many people especially in America grow up learning about famous Black American Muslims. At least, I did in my household. Muhammad Ali was unapologetically black, we all respect him for it!

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