Submitted by Lela Ali.
Dear Mama, Baba, Khalto, 3amo, Tunt, and the rest of my beloved Arab Muslim community,
Anti-Blackness in our community is real and it is something we have to address!
Black lives have to matter to all of us. Black people are our friends, our coworkers, our teachers, our family, our Ummah, and most importantly, our fellow humans!
Our dear Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Quran express tolerance and humility and teach us that no race is superior to another — but we are not practicing this in our community. Yes, the lives of Muslims are not valued. Yes, Islam has been demonized for a very long time. Yes, we know that the massacres happening against Arabs and other Middle Eastern people show us how Brown bodies are dehumanized and criminalized. At the same time, we also cannot deny that when we talk about Islamophobia or imperialism, it is often centered on the lives and experiences of Arab and South Asian men. African/Black Muslim men and women are often left out of the narrative. We get vocal when it’s Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, but silent when it’s Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, and Black America.
Colonialism and Imperialism have led us to aspire to what is powerful and rich, and the images of that power and wealth have light skin, skinny bodies, and straight hair. Anything different, even if we find these differences in ourselves, is rejected and despised. We care too much about what the West thinks of us and yet, when funding was cut off to UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) for its vote to admit Palestine, it was the African nation of Gabon that stepped up with a $2 million donation to help with the offset of the loss income. Do we know that? Do we know that some of us are the sons and daughters of African women who were kidnapped as sex slaves?
These aspirations, however, are not recent. Our ancestors desperately pursued whiteness, especially after seeing the Japanese be placed in internment camps and because the law officially mandated whiteness as a prerequisite for U.S. Citizenship. Although we are designated White by law, we are not extended the privileges associated with whiteness. We are persecuted and subordinated by the same system we seek to be a part of.
This is why I am speaking up. I will not stay silent when my community or my family say or do things that demonize Black people anywhere and everywhere. I am truly not trying to attack any of you and I am not trying to “expose our dirty laundry.” I’m waking you up because I love you and I love our community. I want you to stand for all communities that suffer injustice and violence. I want you to stop using dehumanizing terms like “abed” and “abeed” that feed into the branding of Black persons as slaves. I want you to stop using the “N” word and not be complicit in the demoralization of Black persons and communities.
It was great to see the Arab-Muslim community recently get more involved in the movement following the ban on refugees, but it’s also very concerning that this didn’t happen until Arab bodies were threatened. Why didn’t the refusal to give indigenous peoples clean water on their own land…or the mass deportations of undocumented immigrants…or the killing of Black people trigger this outrage before? We need to be better than this!
Again, I love you. I love Islam and proudly value our Arab-ness. I know that you may be scared and I know that you are only trying to survive. I can never belittle the struggles you face as you combat Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism. We, however, will never be free nor safe until we are all free and safe. Allah taught us that we were made into nations and tribes so that we may know each other and never despise one another- and this is what we should all want.
I hope you will share this with your friends and family. I encourage you to consider what I wrote and to encourage others to do so. I ask that you translate this to your family members and friends who are not fluent in English with patience and respect.
Thanks for the opportunity and for providing a platform for Muslim women to amplify their voices!