by Fatimata Cham
Edited by Lia James
Walking down the bustling streets of New York, it is easy to spot me. The purple hijabi with big white rimmed glasses. When I spot another Muslim woman, I begin my daily routine with the islamic greeting As-Salam-u-Alaikum. The woman stares ahead and there’s no response. I immediately try to make excuses for her. Maybe she didn’t hear me. Maybe the streets were too loud. Maybe she had headphones in. These excuses that I try to make up for the fellow Muslim sister are far too familiar. Time and time again whether I am outside with my mother, or father or brother or sister when we offer Salam to a Muslim person who isn’t like us, there is no response. It is as if our existence doesn’t matter to them. They wouldn’t even bat an eye in our direction. Not because they didn’t hear us, or because it’s too loud, or because they have headphones in, as much as I try to make those excuses. It’s because we’re Black.
“The woman stares ahead and there’s no response. I immediately try to make excuses for her.”
Anti-Blackness in the Muslim community for many is a touchy subject, but I’m staring in the face of the atrocities happening to Black people in America, and I have no choice but to speak up. The anti-Blackness manifests itself in many ways. Sometimes, it’s the denial that I am a Muslim just because I don’t look like an Arab, or like someone from the Middle East. Sometimes, it’s denial in marriage because many don’t want their sons or daughters to marry a Black person. Other times, it’s a lack of equal representation when it comes to brands and media. Or even the automatic assumption that many Black Muslims are reverts or that we lack knowledge in Islam. Like I said, anti-Blackness is real. The truth is, being a Black and Muslim Hijabi woman in America is a struggle. My existence comes with some tough pills to swallow: the reality that I may be targeted because of the color of my skin, because I’m a woman, because I identify as Muslim. The world simply does not love me, and it’s solely because of what I look like, and the religion I choose to practice. I live daily with the reality that, even in the Muslim community where we pray to the same God and believe in the same pillars, I am not loved, and that’s because of the color of my skin. And outside of the community, well, I know that I will have to work ten times harder because I am likely to face job discrimination on two fronts: my Blackness, and the scarf I choose to wrap around my head. It is hard feeling like I’m not enough.
“It is hard feeling like I’m not enough.”
Combating anti-Blackness in the Muslim community won’t happen overnight. It starts in our homes, the conversations we have with one another, the jummah khutbahs that shy away from the topic, the imams who are willing to use their platform to talk about it. It starts with really understanding the history of Islam and what our Phrophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) stood for. After all, we love to talk about Bilal Ibn Rabah who was one of the most trusted and loyal Sahahbah (companions) of the Phrophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) but we likewise love to forget that he was Black, a former slave, and was one of the first muazzin who had the honor of calling people to prayer.
“We likewise love to forget that he was Black, a former slave.”
When we think about all the injustices facing Black people around the world and the injustices facing Muslims around the world, we have to remember that these are not separate issues. None of us is truly free until all of us are free. When we say Black Lives Matter, it includes our Muslim brothers and sisters, too. Growing up, my mom always reminded me of the Hadith and the history of Islam, and while this one, of course, is speaking of prayer, its inherent message always stuck with me:
“There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.” -Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) I am Black. I am Muslim. I am a woman. And I belong here, no matter how many people try to convince me otherwise.
“I belong here.”