It’s all “One Ummah” until a black Muslim is murdered, then in the main, it’s caveats for solidarity and tumbleweed from Muslims who are not Black.
Why is it that we as non-black Muslims are noticeably muted in our response to the murder of Black Muslims, but will tell anyone who will listen that it’s “One Ummah, stop causing division”?
Why, when Black Muslims point out the institutional anti-blackness in parts of the Muslim community, the response is “There is no racism in Islam” or “I can’t possibly be anti-Black, one of my favourite companions of the Prophet (PBUH) is Bilal (RA) and he was Black.”
So why the stark contrast? Why does the merest hint of an Islamophobic attack on a South Asian Muslim result in a collective amplifying by Muslims in a way the murder of three Black Muslims simply does not?
Why were we so quick to rightly name it an Islamophobic murder when Mohammed Saleem was killed in Birmingham by a far-right white supremacist, but the death of black Muslim Sheku Bayoh barely registered within the wider Muslim community? Why did I have to Google Sheku Bayoh’s name to check I spelt it right, in a way I didn’t when writing Mohameed Saleem?
Part of the issue is respectability politics within the Muslim community, a camp I’m ashamed to admit I regularly albeit subconsciously fall into.
Respectability politics within the wider Muslim community mean that the first question being asked upon reading about the horrific murders of three black brothers is, “is this an Islamophobia related murder, or is it just ‘other stuff’?”
I’ve stamped the allyship checklist like a Starbucks loyalty card. I have black friends, I write for a site run by a black woman, I’ve never said the N word in public or private, so why can’t I be sure that my inner voice that instantly said “other stuff” is not me using coded language for gangs, drugs and drive-bys or in plain terms “Black people stuff”?
Respectability politics within the body of the Ummah is never overt. It is the instant snap judgements, the assumptions not said out loud when reading about a black Muslim. It is never something as blatant as the N word, but it is the A word and the K word.
It’s the profiling of black bodies without critical analysis. We didn’t accept the media’s cropping of Mark Duggan’s picture beside the grave of his daughter to make him look like an angry black gangster. So why should we accept it from ourselves or the Muslim organisations who claim to represent all Muslims?
What I should be asking is, why so little coverage for three black Muslims so brutally slain at the start of their lives? Why let my internalised respectability politics get in the way of advocating for them just like I would without a second thought for someone who looked like me?
I shouldn’t be falling for respectability politics – I am a One Ummah fan, I would like to think I’m nothing like the group within the wider Muslim community whose only response to black Muslim activism is to start tweeting All Lives Matter and Fox News segments.
So what are the solutions? Well, listening to Black Muslim voices without being so reflexively defensive would be a start. Don’t argue with black Muslims online, dictating to them what the parameters are on anti-blackness. If you still disagree, ask yourself this: would you as a Muslim, let a NeoAtheist dictate to you what does and does not constitute Islamophobia?
Instead of building walls like Trump suggests then sticking a dome on it, if you are a non-black Muslim, build bridges with black Muslims, open up Muslim platforms that rarely have black Muslims on their boards, let alone panels for talks and lectures.
Don’t get me wrong; I sincerely believe in the concept of One Ummah and it’s for this reason that I want to challenge anti-blackness within my community and myself.
Being able to recite Tupac’s first three albums, having a picture of Muhammad Ali in his prime and a well-thumbed copy of Malcolm X’s autobiography isn’t going to cut it. This does not insulate you from being anti-black, nor is it enough to just tackle anti-blackness within ourselves. Mosques have to start tackling it. Platforms for guest speakers should contain more than middle aged south Asian men.
When black Muslims ask you to say their name, say their name, without caveats, without provisos and disclaimers, say their name without buts, but most of all say their name because it is in the prophetic tradition of One Ummah and Adam, Muhannad and Mohamedt were “our three brothers.”
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Raf is a vegetarian Muslim who does current affairs with jokes. Follow him on Twitter @1Rafz
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