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Mustafa Mattan: Selective Mourning and Ideal Narratives

Mustafa Mattan: Selective Mourning and Ideal Narratives

Disclaimer: This piece in no way intends to diminish the death of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, nor does it intend to prioritize one over the other. My deepest condolences to their families and loved ones and all victims of recent events of violence against Muslims. May Allah cleanse them of their sins and grant them jannah and may He protect the ummah. 

Tensions and fears are escalating amidst Muslim communities in the West as attacks on innocent civilians increase. Islamophobia seems to have reached an all-time high and nobody seems to be on our side. For many, the only source of solace is prayer and tawakkul (reliance on God’s will). Wearing hijab in public has become a political statement and apparently paints a big, red bull’s-eye on our foreheads. A “Muslim-sounding name” is enough of a reason for the government to keep tabs on you. Hell, speaking Arabic or even carrying Arabic flashcards on a plane is basically a confession to terrorism. The situation seems bleak and Muslims are increasingly feeling unsafe in their own homes.  American Sniper certainly shares the blame. 

However, amidst all the tragedies, the heartwarming solidarity and support, shown by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, are what keep our hopes alive. With that said, journalism and activism aren’t free of biases and –isms. News stories are a reflection of what we demand. They are a filtered collection of narratives that we actively choose to amplify. Every story being shared has a reason behind it, and the same is to be said for the stories that go unheard.

As much as we like to believe in #oneummah, ethnic hierarchies exist in our communities. Taking a closer look at which stories make headlines and attract the most shares, we are once again reminded of that sad reality.

“Mourning is as much an act of honour as it is remembrance. A primitive act, communal mourning symbolises that the dead’s life had value and meaning. The overwhelming, global mourning for the three Chapel Hill victims testified to their value to Muslims everywhere […] In life and in death, Arab and South Asian Muslim lives seem to matter far more than the lives of black Muslims.” – The Colour of Muslim Mourning 

One might say that, due to the fact that Levantine Arabs and South Asians make up a large percentage of the Muslim populations in the West, it may seem as though their stories are given priority over others, especially those of black Muslims. However, black Muslims alone make up 1/3 of the American Muslim population so there really is no excuse. It is no secret that our communities are rampant with anti-blackness. Many of those chanting “Muslim lives matter” right now were nowhere to be seen when the same was proclaimed for black lives. They co-opt black narratives, but still refuse to stand in solidarity. White people are not the only perpetrators of antiblackness. Many black Muslims can testify to the feeling of isolation so many have experienced within our own communities and masjids.

Why is all this relevant?

Sixteen hours before Deah, Yusor, and Razan were shot, Mustafa Mattan was killed in a similar manner in his apartment in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Some of you might want to pause here and Google his name.

Mustafa was a 28-year-old Somali-Canadian Ottawa University alumnus. He graduated with a degree in health sciences but was only able to find a job as a security guard. He was saving up for his wedding. He had no criminal record or any history of dispute or violence. He was described as a peaceful and honest soul by his community members. He was a supporter of the Muslim youth and encouraged them to attend prayer and stay away from the gang life.

No arrests have been made. Other than his own community, there have been no outcries for justice.


Mustafa, unfortunately, didn’t fit the Ideal Western Muslim Narrative. He was neither light-skinned Arab, nor South Asian. He wasn’t a doctor/engineer/entrepreneur/etc. with a “bright future.” He did not have a picture-perfect family or story that the media could exploit. For those who claim that the setting of the event, Canada, might be the reason we didn’t hear much about it… well, what about the recent murder of 15-year-old Somali-American Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein in Kansas City? The story is virtually unheard of. Abdisamad was ran over by a car while leaving the masjid. No news. No hashtags. No vigils.  There’s too much “coincidence” to believe that nationality had anything to do with it.

Muslims in the West are painfully aware of the emotionally-taxing process of having to prove one’s humanity. As soon as the story of a hate crime against Muslims hits the stands, we all begin the uphill battle of trying to create a narrative that is acceptable to the general public. There is no time to mourn, as it is imperative to ensure that the stories do the innocent deaths justice and do not tarnish the victims’ names. A similar pattern can be observed with the Chapel Hill shooting.

It was constant reiteration of the bright futures of the three victims in medical fields and architecture, the tragic story of newlyweds and their shared interest in philanthropy, a loving family, and the immense loss to their communities. It was heartbreaking to watch Deah’s sister have to go on national television so soon after losing her brother in order to accomplish the arduous task of humanizing the victims. We are assumed guilty until proven innocent, if ever. Our stories are twisted around and hate crimes are passed off as “parking disputes.” We essentially have to market ourselves to a neoliberal public that is constantly looking for ways to demonize us. It is no surprise that most stories do not fit this mold.

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However, there are certain groups in our ummah that not only have to convince the general public, but find themselves trying to convince their own brothers and sisters that, yes, their lives mattered, too. We as an ummah have failed them.

As Muslims, we should be upholding the idea that every single life has value and deserves the same amount of respect and mourning. We cannot afford to pick and choose which victims deserve our hashtags, activism, and tears. We cannot afford to be jaded by bombardment of the oppression of our brothers and sisters. We must be in the front lines chanting for every unjust death. We need to take a good,  hard look at ourselves and ask why we put certain narratives over others. We need to unlearn those toxic ideas. We need to stop prioritizing the validation of the Western public and stay true to our values. Who cares if Buzzfeed won’t pick up the story? Make it matter to Muslims. This is the only way to do their lives justice.

If you want to help out any of the recent victim’s families, please check out these fundraisers, insha Allah.

Keep all the victims and their loved ones in your prayers.

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View Comments (5)
  • You took the words out my mouth whenever some Muslims are called out for being anti black they scream one ummah. Black Muslims have been ignored a lot in our communities and the more we talk about it the more it will raise awareness

  • You’re right. And we also need to rmemeber African-American Muslims who are marginalized within black Muslim communities as well. Anti-blackness is so deeply rooted and internalized that we’ve managed to ignore the pioneers of Islam in the nation we call home

  • I can’t speak to why other Muslims don’t consider black Somalis “part of the group” in the sense you ask, but as to the question why the media has been silent, that might have to do with the huge number of Somali men who move to Alberta from Ontario and are killed. 23 killed over three years in a jurisdiction where 100 total murders in a year would be a shock.

    Mustafa may indeed be an innocent victim caught up in an act of violence. He may be, as so many of the others like him who died, turn out to be involved in criminal activity. If it’s the former, expect the cries for justice to increase. If it’s the latter, then his murder won’t have anything to do with him being “marginalized”: whether from the larger community or Arab Muslims or anybody.

    • It’s wrong and frankly highly offensive and borderline racist to assume that Mustafa Mattan was involved in criminal activities after explicit description of his life and character by his community that proves otherwise. And maybe we should also be discussing how young Somali men are targeted in Canada instead of dismissing yet another death to “that’s just how they are.”

      • It’s already been well discussed. They are almost always “targeted” either by rival gangs or fellow Somalis.

        We don’t know why Mustafa was killed, but if you take 20 Somali men’s deaths and say “they were involved in criminal activity” before knowing a single other fact, you’d probably be right at least 15 times. It’s offensive to try to pretend otherwise.

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