As the video of George Floyd’s murder began to surface on my social media feeds, I started thinking to myself - How is this allowed to happen? How far has the dehuminisation of the black community reached, for an officer to treat a Black man in such an inhumane manner knowing that he is being recorded? The look of pride and confidence he displayed whilst kneeling on the man’s neck as he was begging for his life felt like a direct challenge to our humanity.
Should I be surprised? Afterall I have been in gatherings where negative stereotypes about the Black community have been used as facts and the disadvantages that they experience as a result of a long rooted systemic racism have been used to define a whole race. As a Muslim woman I find that talking about Black matters within the Muslim community is often responded to in a defensive way and at times either denied, blamed on individuals or compared to ‘more serious’ examples of discrimination happening to the Black community around the world. Even though Islam clearly states that no individual has superiority over another based on race, wealth or background, unfortunately there is often a disparity between the teachings of the religion and the way that people practice, especially when Muslims themselves use cultural ideas and norms to justify their racism and conflate these ideas and judgements with the religion itself.
A sermon which was delivered by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated that: ‘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 a Black nor a Black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.’ As a Muslim Arab living in the UK I’m aware of at least three layers of discrimination targeting the Black community, firstly the racism that the Black community in general face here in the UK, secondly the discrimination that Black Muslims face from fellow Muslims as a result of the intersectionality between race and religion and lastly from Arabs towards fellow Black Arabs who treat them as inferior.
My first awareness of discrimination towards the community was through the language and stereotypes that were perpetuated in the home and within my community. Later when I started attending a private Saudi school there was a clear divide in friendship groups, White Gulf Arabs were the elite and other groups followed. In High School I realised that my Somali Muslim friends had different experiences to me and would often be targeted for their skin colour as well as their religion. In my everyday work in schools and through conversations I have with young people I know that these issues are raw and present, I’ve had students reflect on incidents from an early age at primary school where they were excluded because of their skin colour.
I often find it difficult to maintain a positive and hopeful mindset for the future when hearing raw and painful stories of individuals and groups suffering and being treated inhumanely by other humans. However, we need to all address the elephant in the room, conversations about religion, race and sexuality amongst many other topics are difficult to facilitate, they can often be awkward and uncomfortable, but we need to put a conscious effort to educate ourselves and challenge those around us about such issues, especially when we know that a person’s quality of life is impacted by our thoughts and judgements.
What can Muslims do to stand in solidarity with the Black community?
● Educate yourself - I cannot stress the importance of this, instead of denying that racism exists within the Muslim and Arab world, read about the involvement of Arabs in the salve trade and the treatment of the Black community in the Middle East today.
● Learn about the involvement of the Black community in the spread of Islam and the important contributions they made, Bilal Ibn Rabah is an important figure but is often the only individual referred to when reflecting on Black Muslims in Islamic history.
● Call racism out when and where you see it - Challenging generational views may be difficult, especially within the home, but these thoughts should be questioned and broken down, so that they are not passed on.
● Amplify Black voices within the community - It’s really important to understand the powerful contribution that the Black community provides to Islamic and Arab communities, this includes intellectuals, poets, and artists who bring in unique and rich experiences about identity. Often the Black community is only brought in to speak about specific subjects, most of which surround racism.
● Address your privilege - The battle against racism towards the Black community is not a White vs Black issue, instead it’s a global issue, non-Black Arabs clearly have a privilege that they need to address, take the responsibility to understand why this privilege exists and how it affects other people within the community.
● Stand in solidarity with your brothers and sisters - As Muslims we are taught by our religion to stand against all forms of injustice, listen to the specific struggles that the community faces and support them to overcome them.
We need to address and tackle discrimination towards the Black community when and where we see it, starting from the conversations we have every day, addressing societal and cultural misconceptions of the communities and standing in solidarity to end institutional racism. Black Muslims are marginalised further on the basis of religion as well as race, these intersectionalities should be recognised and addressed appropriately as this is the only way we begin to understand the seriousness of the issue and the impact it has on individuals. I cannot claim that I fully understand what that is like, but my experiences of feeling alienated and outcasted due to race and religion have provided me with the understanding that fighting injustice cannot be an individual journey. Through my work I have been fortunate enough to be able to support other communities in their fight and practice allyship, whether that is to tackle racism, antisemitsim, sexism or homophobia. Equally, I have seen the effort from non-Muslims in calling out Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry, I’m a firm believer that through education and by standing together we increase our chances in being able to succeed and move forward, as Jo Cox has previously said "We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us".
Zaynab is a project coordinator for Stand Up! Education against discrimination. She is a psychology graduate and is passionate about creating social change, which is coupled with her interest in interfaith work. Zaynab aims to inspire young people to speak up and become Upstanders in society, developing the resilience necessary to tackle all forms of discrimination.
- Zaynab Albadry, Project Coordinator at Stand Up!