As many of us have heard by now, this past weekend was the “Reviving the Islamic Spirit” (RIS) event for 2016. This convention is quite widely known for hosting thousands of eager attendants from across Canada, the United States, and as well as over 350 cities worldwide for a jam-packed weekend of inspiring stories and knowledge from our Islamic leaders. Founded as a youth initiative, RIS strives to address issues pertinent to Western Muslims and cultivate a strong identity through reviving the classical Islamic traditions of knowledge and education and striving to strengthen ties between all faiths, races, and ethnicities as to bridge together an promote ally-ship across”cultural lines through points of commonality and respect”
Now, this years event has caused a lot of ‘controversy’ as it has so been lazily named; something that I personally see as a tactical statement to absolve the responsibility of admission that there is justified anger and frustration that we as Black Muslims feel towards the Ummah’s selective solidarity to the intersectional oppressions we face as being both Black and Muslim; especially those oppressions that conveniently ignore the very tangible anti-Blackness indoctrinated within the modernity of Islamic Institutions.
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, a prominent Islamic theologian and guest speaker at RIS2016 has been dragged and called out by many prominent Black Muslim activists and Islamic leaders towards his comments on Black Lives Matter and the politicizing of Islam by specific Muslim political groups.
There is one quote that stuck out to me and truly encapsulates the overall sentiment of Sh. Hamza Yusuf speech and the apology to follow suite as it speaks on behalf of the anti-Black body politic who belittle and police the Black experience.
During his speech he was cited for saying;
The United States is, in term of its laws, one of the least racist societies in the world. We have some of the best anti-discriminatory laws on the planet… We have between 15-18,000 homicides a year, 50 per cent are black on black crime… There are twice as many whites that have been shot by police but nobody ever shows those videos. It’s the assumption that the police are racist and it’s not always the case…
Setting aside that lazy claim of the reverse racist woe is me, “I am a straight white male and your complaining is oppressive to my existence!” rant, let me lay down the carfax for this ridiculous and all too familiar comment.
The United States has in fact been one of the most prominent world leaders to uphold, and implement institutions of hegemony and bodies of law that have allowed for systematic racial violence to exist today. This is policy hidden behind coded language that asserts a positivist statement that there is a shared protection of enumerated and equalized rights for all, but has truly been created to allow for well established right armed institutions imbued with narrow racial, ableist, religious and gendered privileges to protect one faction of society over others and enable those institutions to intrude, intervene and criminalize the proximity the state has over the lives of those whose lives where never considered protecting. This is mainly to sustain the nation building projects of the state.
Our current ranking on the social ladder holds a long history of the intergenerational passings of systematic oppressions and genocide. From the creation of the police state, conceived from the establishment of slave patrols on plantations, and the legalization of human chattel slavery which created racial caste systems relegated by pseudo-scientific racism which claimed the biology and ecology of Blackness was diseased and inferior to that of the superior white race are examples of the sheer ignorance to claim as fact that the United States has a clean record of friendship with Black Americans. To say this is to claim our experiences as not only fictitious but also non-existent.
Indeed, the paradoxical nature that exist regarding the concept of social justice within a society that claims to abide by human rights and fight against injustice is strange to me because of how primordially linked the U.S. has always been regardung the establishment of systematic policies and social orders of violence and disenfranchisement upon a black bodies to secure its legitimacy and sovereignty. The reality is within the space of justice the very language we use to describe our oppression have been co-opted and framed as an experience lateral to characteristics that challenge whiteness rather whiteness as a structure built upon paranoia and anxiety.
When social justice is juxtaposed to recognize these so called structural inequalities plaguing white America such as the supposed “white genocide” sweeping the nation or the economic anxieties that claims immigrants are taking all their jobs, we as Black American’s who are disenfranchised in comparison to White Americans lose any “right” nor position within such a paradigm to seek justice unless we settle our grievances to convenience their “organic” elitism and their white anxieties and paranoia; an anxiety rooted in losing their positions of power. We must appease to the consciousness of white America through creative and nonviolent means if we want our basic rights to be recognized. These are the experiences they do not want to have a genuine reckoning with.
This is the reality. We must settle upon their narrow rationalizing of what aspect of our pain is grievable enough for them to logistically latch onto. This to me is the prime time showing of how liberalism exists in relation to being an oppressed body in the western world that which establishes a criteria of recognizable patterns of neat and digestible oppressions that the citizenry of that liberal state can be galvanzied to either support or fight against (whatever benefits the states nation building projects)
This is where that analogy “giving with one hand and taking with the other” is quite fitting in this circumstance as it results in making the intersecting and multilateral reality of our suffering invisible and erasing its severity by recognizing one aspect of our pain instead of it’s entirety and that is so the hegemony of the state and the inheritors of that power may still defend and hold onto their privileged positions as it is structured around our elimination and our demise. Because to truly recognize our oppressions in full is to be a recognized through a humanist and positivist framework of human intellectualism. We instead must establish ourselves as an obstructionist obstacle of resistance that will topple white supremacy as it exists within the very fabrics that keep this society intact.
We must stop assuming that white/white-passing and in this regard Arab Muslims are unaware of the reality that western civilization and the mythic disillusionment and quandary of whiteness and Arab supremacy at its core maintains the status quo of these hegemonic systems if power through the inspiring unwitting participants to be engage and contribute to the continued history and legacy of our ongoing pain and loss. We must stop assuming that White and Arab people are unaware that they are the inheritors of racial caste systems within society, and just as those who lead this institution, White and Arab people hold within the very fabrics of their being a bias, and deep resentment or anger of the obstructionism and resistance as we push for our liberation. The support of our fallen, those who have escaped the generational suffrage, but more importantly they can’t fathom to be challenged against what enabled there smug entitlement over the trajectory of of our lives as we push to force the traumas we carry each day into the folds of their imagination. Even those who call themselves our allies are often willing to resort to violence against us for the common good of the people as hey engage with institutions of violence, or gentrification that displace or eliminate our bodies and our existence
America’s fear of Black success and progress has fuelled and protected the established white-lash, white redemption and white anxieties that helped to violently break down the reconstruction of the Black mind and body. This breakdown was felt from the time of the Emancipation Proclamation that aimed to free all slaves after the Civil War through the establishment of abolitionist laws but failed due to rapid growth of the cotton industry in the South which greatly increased demand for slave labor, and effectively mutilated, tortured, raped and murder our men, woman and children for capitalist interests.
The Emancipation Proclamation brought forth by President Abraham Lincoln established the many reconstructive amendments, more notably the 13th amendment which abolished slavery, that is wherein it was justified only as a punishment for crime. Fast forward to the Jim Crow era, and the legacy of claiming an unprecedented number of Black Americans who were unjustly criminalized and transferred to these prison-plantations to work as slaves for corporate entities there has been no era to which the Black life in America has not been subject to brutality and oppression; the nation was built on the backs of Black and Indigenous bodies, we mean that quite literally not poetically.
What about the fact that while Sh, Hamza Yusuf was so busy criminalizing Black people’s lived trauma he so conveniently forget about the born-again rising influence of white supremacist terrorist organization such as the Ku Klux Klan as they were actively militarized against us, and actively killed us as to push down Black progress that was ever so prominent in America in the ’60s from radical Black organizations such as the Black Panthers.
The rise in Black civil rights and Black power movements here in the United States that got the ball moving was only yet met with white-lash enabling the state to create arbitrary borders that blocked out Black communities from the rest of society. They viciously separated and broke the nuclear family structures of Black America and established a specter of black pathologies of violence to claim that we are responsible for the violence inflicted upon us by law. They committed mass genocide by dropping bombs on our heads such as in the case of Tulsa, Oklahoma which has been cited as the richest Black community of its time. Moreover our communities were disenfranchised, segregated from the major city and access to instituions such as health facilities, or schools, and instead we were riddled with drugs, weapons, poverty and violence. All of this was inflicted upon us yet the state claims it as a national crises which was established by the infamous ‘Reaganomics’ rhetoric of the ‘Tough on Crime and ‘War on Drugs’ propaganda.
As of today the intergenerational traumas and memory DNA of those who had ancestors subject to slavery and the general Black diaspora in America coming out of this history not only carry those traumas with them but those traumas as they exist in our constitutional and legal modernity still kill, rape, and murder our people. All of these instances of the American white consciousness continues the states legacy and relationship with Black folk to exist, to destroy and to kill any progress we have attempted to make. This is because our success and our liberation structured around the conscious awakening of the intersectional facets of Blackness been framed through a narrow lens of suspected criminality, of radical leftist communism and in turn an immediate threat to their control on us. It’s why so many of our leaders have been assassinated. Its why so many of our people are so quick to adopt the white-gaze for fear of that backlash and to move closer to salvation; courting sympathy by virtue signaling. This is more so an indicator of who America is; Black progress is one step forward, whilst the institutionalized justification for white-lash, has set us two steps back.
Here’s the problem that I have and perhaps what has been most disconcerting from this mess. My concern lies in how fast people jumped on to forgive and excuse the things that Sh. Hamza Yusuf and others have said which directly inflicted pain on us, while at no point truly and sincerely showcasing active solidarity nor seeking out to find out how we felt. But still, even when we spoke out, so many felt that they had the right to decide for us, as if they had the esteemed right to evaluate our pain and suffering, to belittle our traumua to ungrievable deaths based on what they perceived as the ‘Black Man’s Problem” and at no point was there a full and honest conversation that aids in our liberation.
Sh. Hamza Yusuf brings up a very common tactical narrative of the “Black on Black Crime” trope that in my view, is an active reflection of underscoring and plundering the multiple complexities and conversation to the layered history and legacy of racism and structural oppressions that we endure, from the extrajudicial killings induced by militarized police presence in proximity to our communities, the healthcare system facilitating in the premature deaths of curable diseases, right to the education system engourged with violent racial tactics to make the Black mind inferior to that of others. This has always been and continues to be the reality of being Black. Any protest or critique of our oppressions has no right to exist because our injustices does not align with neo-liberal theories of human rights or social justice. Our namesake and our existence is to be insitionalized and structurally monetized so that the Black mind, body and existence has less so to do with active resistance to state sanctioned violence and oppression but rather projected as a living and moving culture of chaotic treason and a danger to the body politic of society.
Although, as he stated, there are nearly 18000 cases of homicide each year, to which he secured this fact by singaling out one specific demographic and moreover asserting that 50% of those homicides were committed by Black people within their own communities, does nothing to awaken the American consciousness about the tenants and repracautions of violence, as it does by arbitrarily placing the blame of the omnipresent violent boogeyman as the essence of Blackness and our proximity to others. This erasure of our structurally mandated and lived experience must be recognized as a tactical and weaponized statement to invisabalize and delegitimize the counter arguments which attempt to critique the social, politcal and legal implications which have allowed such lateral violence to exist. Yet again, how convenient of him to use our struggles as a vehicle to secure and legitimize the anti-Blackness propoganda in his statements.
If non-Black Muslims really care for the violence that permeates our lives, then ‘activist’ such as Sh. Hamza Yusuf, and just any regularly decent human being wouldn’t deny that although 17.9% of Americas population is Black there is an over-represented case of racial fuelled quotas of violence and profiling that targets us.
In 2015, 1134 young black men were killed by the U.S police at its highest rate as of yet, meaning we are 9x’s more likely to be killed in compassion to our white counterparts. According to “Mapping Police Violence” a website that tracks cases of police brutality out of all the cases to which Black people were murdered by police, 30% of Black victims were unarmed. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics Blacks constitute 37% of the prison population whilst making up 17.9% of the American population whilst whites make up 32% of the prison population whilst making up 63% of the American Population, meaning they are only arrested only half the rate. Moreover, we are 7x’s more likely to be killed in Oklahoma than in Georgia, and in states that had the highest rate of police murders of 2015, it had surpassed the overall U.S murder rate in 2o14. We have to come to admit that these are not cases not rooted in actual crimes committed. 1 in 3 Black people killed in America were only suspected of crimes to which 69% of that were non-violent and 13% were allegedly armed. To top it all off, 97% of all police officers involved in the murder of Black people were not held accountable.
So what does this tell us? The failure for Sh. Hamza Yusuf to stress the sheer gravity of modern-day, state sponsored lynching of Black men, woman and children in America and in the Muslim world is to engage with blatant White/Arab supremacy in comparison to how he sees it, as more so a symptom of the Black communities failure to allow such institutionalized violence to infiltrate our community. This fails to shock me because of how common this argument is used to ignore the core issue at hand. Wherein the question of why so many of us are critical of the historical relevancy of policing as a system designed to manage our social mobility and existence and as an agency to which our lives are justifiably killable and experimental is not simply a myth; and supports the repeated counterargument of “Black on Black” crime as it takes centre stage to claim that police killings of Black Americans are linked to supposed increases in lateral crime and violence. This is an issue seeded into the folds of the collective Black reality and white or white-passsing consciousness.
The final storyline to avoid believing is the notion that the real problem is “Black on Black” lateral crime rather than the symptoms of the white supremacy as contextualized by the states influence in changing the anthropocene of Blackness and subsequently enabling those intergenerational abuses to permeate our communities as it works in tangent with the acceptable anti-Blackness seeped into the environment that surrounds us.
Don’t be fooled we are aware of the violence within our communities, but to police our voices whenever we challenge the abuses from external forces, is to ignore the history of anti-Black racism as an institution, a structure and not an event. This is a lazy claim of truth and showcases how these rationalized forms of micro-aggression stunt any real progressive conversation to liberate our people.
Sh. Hamza Yusuf’s hurtful ignorance to police brutality in America and legitimizing such ignorance by claiming that; “there are twice as many whites that have been shot by police but nobody ever shows those videos, it’s the assumption that the police are racist” is an all to familiar narrative of using our pain as a vehicle to enforce Black Pathology (the idea that Black people are by nature unable to think and behave normally, and are inherently flawed) as the core to which we find ourselves lost within spaces of social justice and traumatized when we see one of our own the killed on T.V. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention of Sh.Hamza Yusuf, but I make this claim as evidence of the anti-Blackness and elitist mentality within the Ummah when the crowd erupted into cheer when he spoke of Black violence and Black crime.
This comes from a place of privilege. If he so truly cares for us as he claims, then he’d understand that he must truly admit his privileges, and submit his ignorance over our lived realities as Black people and work hard within the Ummah to divest and dismantle those toxic mechanism of anti-Blackness that support our oppressions and learn to inherit langauge that respects and recognize the intersectioanlity of our inequalities.
For me, this has always been the paradigm of the intersectionality of being both Black and Muslim within the Ummah and how it translates as being something sinful. Those loud cheers to Sh.Hamza Yusuf unacceptable and hurtful remarks shows me the deep seeded micro aggressive hatred of Blackness and the need to create the pan-Arab nationalism of Islam by eliminating narratives that the characteristics of Blackness and how Islam works through it can be synonymous with tenants and pillars of our faith.
I think the most important question to ask is why does this exist within Muslim spaces, especially when we have been taught that Islam holds no man nor any race over another as we have all been created equal in his eyes?
I can only speak of the threads of my experiences. The only Black scholar I was ever taught to which I could sense the fake appraisal for was the notable Bilal (RA). Just as their praise of him rolled off of their tongues so easily, in that same instance I could sense the quick snap of their neck as their cold glaring eyes pinned at the back of my neck; I knew I was their new subject caught within their disgusted gaze. What about my Blackness was so disgusting to them that they would praise one of my own people’s as an incredible man of Islam but still look at me with disgust? I’ve come to the conclusion quite confidently now, a few years wiser, that his Blackness was transcended and erased because of his scholarship; as if to be a Black Muslim, one must drop the “B” and capitalize on the “M”
Just as those examples show, there is a clear structural disconnect of education within Muslim spaces. It’s important to learn the historic legacy of anti-Blackness within Islamic institutions and how our shared history due to our “relationship” with each other can be weaponized to oppress, marginalize and ostracize Black Muslim narratives and world-views.
Moreover Islamic nationalism piggybacks off of the common rhetoric of pan-Arab stereotypes of Muslim-hood and is used to pedestal, benefit and switch power to the hands of Arab Muslims to which all other bodies must be compared too. This is made possible through forged and primordial myths of Nationalism (as we would like for it to work) as characteristics of unity and strength. These characteristics create a space of claimed kinships by co-opting narratives of our differences as compared to the dominant culture and claiming there is “strength in diversity” yet using our difference as performative and dispossesive single stories of “truths” that combat the obstructionism or political correctness of our identities that at its core is genuinely resisting and challenging the brutal legacy of our oppressions.
Political and social orders as it relates to state sanctioned or institutionalized Nationalism is a system of control made to establish digestibale, predictable, neat, tidy behaviours or patterns of though that support the nationalist and nation building projects of the state or governing body as characteristics of unity, pride, and strength projected upon, and made organic of the dominant faction of society and their automatic hierarchal privedges over others. This method of “unity” becomes a legitimized system of branding nationalism and enabling a measurements model to which all others who do not biologically fit within that mold must aspire to become if they so do wish to be a true member of the society. The issue arises when that dominant group are given the authority to engage as the enforcement mechanism of straight forward identity and cultural politics as they manage the conducts of targeted groups whose differences become de-politicized and forced to shed their distinct differences that do not assimilate to the values of the dominant body politic because if these differences are untamed, they become an obstacle to dismantling the mythic shared guise of nationalism.
This method of “unity” becomes a legitimized system of branding nationalism and enabling a measurements model to which all others who do not biologically fit within that mold must aspire to become if they so do wish to be a member of the society. The issue arises when that dominant group are given the authority to engage as the enforcement mechanism of straight forward identity and cultural politics as they manage the conducts of targeted groups whose differences become de-politicized and forced to shed their distinct differences that obstruct the dominant body politic, because if these differences are untamed, they become an obstacle to dismantling the mythic shared guise of nationalism.
Racism within Arab or non-Arab Muslim spaces has successfully integrated this very notion to which Islam has become perceived within our own communities and in non-Muslim communities as an ethnic nationalists religion prioritizing a hierarchical conflation of Arab culture as the essence to Islam to which all other cultures must assimilate into to be relational to Islam.
Arab colonialism was an insidious, residual, and ever-present reality shaping our collective identity as Black Muslims. The advanced social, political, economic and survival structures that sustained our people’s since time immemorial, was decimated due to Arab settlers claimed our lands as their ancestral stomping grounds, creating a caste system, and raping our woman who even to this day we are shamed if we talk about it. There has always been a lack of admission that Black Muslims have been vital to the success of Islam, from economics to civil rights movements, the ever evolving conditions of Blackness has enriched and made better the spaces of others whilst we find ourselves exploited and abused.
The fabrics of such a history continues today when Islamic leaders such as Sh. Hamza Yusuf deny us our truth that anti-Blackness is real. These micro-aggressions of grouping us all into a monolith and assuming we are all “gangsters” or referring to Black people as ‘abd’ (“slave”) saying it just means ‘Black’ as if we don’t understand what is being implied means you are point-blank racist and your language is racist as-well.
For the Ummah to insist racism is only a white Christian spiritual problem erases the historical specificity of racism and race as rooted during Arab colonization that today influence narratives that still claim Black people are be a subclass of human especially in the Arab world. Pan-Arab mentalities downplay the real grievances of my people’s, and simply assert a complicity in our oppression. It’s contradictory to be supportive of us by citing Malcolm X or Mohammad Ali as revolutionary hero, rather than heroes for Black lives but still spout on the daily micro and macro aggressive anti-Black sentiments so casually.
I’ve always found that it was odd that Black Muslims would be silenced if we ever spoke about the racism that exists in our community, moreover how some are so quick to call out people who commit sins that only harm themselves, like drinking or gambling, but let racists go on tangents within their homes, or in mosque; spaces not far from earshot from those they are directly harming. Parents will tell their children not to go outside because they will become “dark”
To me, the worst are those who see what is happening but refuse to acknowledge nor correct their behaviour, but rather do nothing and turn a blind eye, or give justification to their racism, and say they are not bad people, just ignorant, or they have that “back home” mentality, as if that should ease my anxiety and make it okay.
So, what is the take away from this long rant? Well, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, to be Black and Muslim is to not have the right nor agency to exist within both realms because they have been framed to exist separately from each other. I don’t know who this Islamic scholar is, nor do I honestly care; I am sure he has done much work for the Ummah and is intelligent in his work as a scholar of Islam, but what I am not here for is the bluntly disgusting disregard for our trauma as Black Muslims. You cannot claim that Allah has placed us into tribes and nations so that we may learn and thrive together and conveniently abuse us and unjustly rationalize our structural oppressions both in the Ummah and within white supremacy as a fault of our own, that we created these divisive race wars not the state. We must come forth to the reality that even as a community; as Muslims who are oppressed aswell, but Non-Black Muslims and people of color are not exempt from being anti-Black nor exempt from being implicit to our struggles.
So what can the Ummah do to change this? First there must be an admission that If you’re not Black, chances are, you’re anti-Black even in ways you may not realize.Instead of becoming defensive when someone checks you, why not unpack your prejudice and move forward in solidarity. Do not speak for us or act as if you know the daily struggles of being Black. Secondly you must question how your everyday actions must inherit a language of fluid intersectionality that is committed to justice that is organic and protects our right to be and right to exist; a type of justice that is radical and transformative deconstruction to the relationships we have with those who oppress and kill us. Lastly to deconstruct and ponder upon the revelations and connections of your society and its place in our history as a space that contributes to our pain and be prepared to be thrown in an “existential crisis” and “struggle” that distrupts the very context of your existence as an oppressive body. Do not turn from that but become engulfed by it and descend not into a place of white-lash but rather one that eases our wounds. Acknowledge to your own kin and community of the mythic lens that frames the society and its status quo as a space of justice, joy, growth and opportunity for all, but has now been exposed to how this narrow and elitist perception of our society has contributed to more terrible actions upon others that which has made possible the context of those who are not of the marginalized society to be so implicit, disillusioned, and desensitized to the context of our oppressions and how that context supports your privileges.