Why Muslim Americans Should Care About Trayvon Martin

George Zimmerman’s trial has dominated headlines for weeks now. In the wake of the not guilty verdict, I’ve had time to deeply reflect on its relevance and why it garnered the national attention that it did.

For those that aren’t up to speed, a 17-year-old boy named Trayvon Martin was walking home from the store one day to watch the NBA All-Star Game. He was unarmed and carried with him Skittles and Arizona iced tea; his hoodie was up, it was raining, and he was on the phone with his friend, Rachel Jeantel. George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch guard, spotted him and began to follow him, armed with a 9 mm handgun. He called 911, and although he was clearly told not to follow Martin, continued in the pursuit. Here, the details get hazy because of what evidence suggests and what Zimmerman claims to be true, but the two got in an altercation and Zimmerman shot Martin in the heart, killing him.

A toxicology test and background check was done soon afterward — on Martin. Surprised? It gets worse. Zimmerman was left at large for over a month after the incident, and was only arrested after national pressure mounted for an investigation. He was tried and was found not guilty.

Martin was racially profiled. That much we know for sure. I’ve heard every excuse and justification in the book: That there had been multiple burglaries in Zimmerman’s neighborhood, that the burglars were rumored to have been a group of black kids, that Martin was taking a back alley and so seemed out of place, the list goes on. The fact remains that Martin was unarmed and doing a perfectly harmless thing. But he was black. He was wearing a hoodie. Those two characteristics were enough to catch Zimmerman’s attention and earn his (soon to be murderous) spite. On the 911 tapes, Zimmerman can clearly be heard saying, “Fucking punks. These assholes, they always get away.”

A more sensible course of action, perhaps, would have been to ask the teen whether he was lost, if he knew where he was going, to alert him that the police were coming, to ask him to wait, to hear out (at the very least!) what he had to say.

Instead, an innocent was killed that night.

Not only was Martin racially profiled during the incident itself, but he was heavily judged and slandered by the media. He was called a thug, among a number of other things, for doing the very same things that several white celebrities are doing and being readily excused for (smoking, wearing gold teeth, etc.) Some have even gone as far as to suggest that he had it coming, have even had the gall to say that he deserved it or that the world is a better place now.

This vicious treatment is so familiar to us as Muslims:

  • When 9/11 occurred, and an American Muslim firefighter who died saving lives had his reputation smeared for months after the attack.
  • When six innocent Muslim men were kicked off a flight and detained for what others deemed “suspicious” behavior.
  • When the Boston bombings occurred, and a hijabi pushing her child in a stroller was punched in the shoulder.
  • I could go on, but the message is clear. We should care about Trayvon Martin because his story is representative of a larger epidemic, one that demonizes people based on appearance (and social stigmas attached to such appearances) alone. We should care about Trayvon Martin because Muslims commendably work so hard to fight against oppression in our own communities — but that battle is incomplete if it does not extend to any and all injustice.

    And with that, I’d like to touch on racism within Muslim communities. What troubles me most is not that it exists (if you disagree, you either aren’t paying attention or aren’t looking hard enough), but that Muslims so often direct the finger of blame outside the Ummah, when indeed anti-black racism is also deeply rooted in cultural mindsets. In the wake of Martin’s death, we should not just speak out against what happened and the societal dynamics that led to it. We should also question our own hearts, our leaders, our families, and alleviate any ills that might exist there. Because racism is rooted in arrogance, and the Prophet (PBUH) said:

    “He will not enter Hellfire who has in his heart a mustard seed’s weight of faith; and he will not enter Paradise who has in his heart a mustard seed’s weight of arrogance.”
            -[Sahih Muslim]

    In His (PBUH) very last advice to mankind, the Prophet’s final suggestion serves to highlight the importance. He (PBUH) said in his last sermon:

    “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”
            -[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

    Ramadan is a time of reflection. Reflect on what happened to Martin, and why it is crucial that we eradicate any behaviors or mindsets that may be in line with the kind of rhetoric that excuses or celebrates his death. Remember that it is our mission as Muslims to speak out against injustice, (read: racism) wherever it may exist.

    “And never think that Allah is unaware of what the oppressors do.”
            -(Quran 14:42)