Race, Social Justice

An open letter to non-black Muslims

The Prison Industrial Complex in North America does not harm bodies like mine the way it harms black lives.

I am writing this with explicit knowledge that I am a light skin child in diaspora. I often reflect that although my identity as a Muslim woman who is Pakistani and Moroccan may be marginalized, I have many privileges as someone who can sometimes pass into the white world.

I am also grouping non-black people of color with white people in this letter because I do strongly believe in regards to police brutality locally, we fall more within the same categories with white people than we do with black people. This letter will be both uncomfortable and unapologetic, because if we want to work towards more cohesion in our own communities, we have to face our complicity in anti-blackness that we often avoid.

I am writing this as a fierce supporter for the dismantle of Guantanamo Bay Prison, but with the knowledge that my people, my brothers and sisters, will never be Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, or any black man shot as a result of police brutality or black woman abused by a system that was not built to protect them. The Prison Industrial Complex in North America does not harm bodies like mine the way it harms black lives.

I am writing this letter in response to the derailment I have seen within my own community of an issue that is not ours. The criminalization of black bodies and black lives benefits our own existence and we are accomplices in that brutality. I want to express my gratitude and love for the black Muslim community who has been so patient with the non-black people of colour communities, the black Muslim community that will stand for every cause, be at every protest and rally. I am apologetic and forever grateful for the free labour and education you have bestowed unto my communities, unrequited and under-appreciated.

I am sick and disturbed by the amount of white and non-black people of color I have seen relating this issue to Gaza, and trivializing America’s ongoing genocide of black bodies. I am disturbed that in the Ummah, one where Muslims know that social justice is a backbone in our religion people, are using derailment tactics and co-opting in the same way our oppressors do during discussions of Islamophobia.

Over the last few months I have seen actions not reminiscent of solidarity but instead a manifestation of selfishness. I have seen non-black people in the Ummah who white people would love before a black person, say and tweet things as disrespectful as “Americans are upset about the little situation in Ferguson, look at Palestine.” How selfish can we be as non-black people to constantly insert our narratives and co-opt? How many black people need to die before we realize ourselves to be beneficiaries of this system? How many times are we going to cause erasure in saying this is entirely a people of color issue, when really it is not?

This is far from a little situation, with anti-blackness permeating every pore in our community. This “little situation” is the anti-blackness that extorted free labour and spilled blood on stolen land to give people like me, “model minorities”, an existence on this land. Imperialism may hurt us but right now is not the time to derail. This “little situation” is what you call the amalgamation of anti-blackness that has built an America where a school-to-prison pipeline thrives and every 28 hours, a black person is killed by someone employed or protected by the government. Let me know how many white and non-black people are being killed HERE while playing, walking down the street, sitting on a couch.

Erasure has continued with “we are all in this together” signs with “don’t shoot me I am Arab” or a Quran verse hastily pasted to a photo of Mike Brown from non-black and white people. Many allies were upset when protests asked non-black people rightfully not to center themselves and stay at the back. In Toronto, I witnessed my people, South Asian people, fight their way to the front and stay at the front against explicit instructions. These same South Asians want to make sure on social media that you know they are not anti-black by posting copious statuses and photos. This paradox is being regurgitated throughout North America of people who look like me ignoring black voices while they scream “Black Lives Matter!” The irony is real, in trying to do good – non-black people along with white people can often do more harm.

The hypocrisy thriving in Muslim social justice work right now is nauseating. We are witnessing countless individuals co-opting anti-blackness to relate to our non-black lives. On the #Muslimsforferguson tag and beyond, I’ve witnessed concern trolling in the form of posting quotes from the Quran or Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the mere addition of #MikeBrown. This is egregious and violent in and of itself. This iteration of concern trolling is erasure and marginalizes black voices while trivializing their lives to a hashtag to add to someone’s religious agenda.

We Muslims who are non-black, and non-black people as a whole – we need to move away from constantly wanting to center and insert our own identities. I want to see solidarity with our black brothers and sisters be genuine and authentic. I want to witness non-black people unpack our benefits and complicity. I want to see us raise black voices in this discourse instead of inserting our own thoughts or letting every black individual relive trauma by presenting ourselves as special snowflakes.

During the Grand Jury press conference, I was in a Shawarma shop that has a following all about social justice when in reality, it is about Islamophobia, Gaza, Orientalism, etc. But during the disgusting retelling of how the Grand Jury came to their decision, no one watched the television except myself and my father. In this Shawarma shop that so anxiously watched the television during other injustices, no one cared. People laughed and smiled in their own non-black worlds as they ate.

When we live in a community riddled with anti-black sentiment not identifying our own prejudices, our own complicity, when we live in communities that also actively surveillance black bodies, we fail at this social justice we claim to live and die for. When we avoid realizing that we, too, are oppressors, we fail to stand for values we claim to uphold. The whiteness we claim sustains the Darren Wilsons of the world, is not merely whiteness. It is largely among our own communities too, when we fight to have a spot in these struggles, when we obliterate the real issues and take photos with our hands up and slap on a universal “we as people of color,” we have morphed into the monster we call the oppressor and fail to realize how here, in this America, no one is shooting at our bodies every 28 hours.

The bastardization of forcing our Islamic beliefs into this discussion right now is unproductive and disrespectful. I want to see discussions of how our communities, the non-black people of color communities, much like our white peers, profile black bodies. It is uncomfortable to realize that we may not be the most oppressed but in the name of integrity and authentic commitment to social justice this is a basic step forward.

This discussion is only about black people and for black people to guide. If you are unable to see that without inserting some Islam-related text or centering Palestine you are part of the problem. Respectability politics are also conditioned into our communities and we often socially police black lives, black lives that have made our lives here in North America easier. Black blood that has been spilled to let me thrive as a model minority. Black bones that broke making the infrastructures I float through in the name of “diversity.”

We need to move away from saying, “it could have been us, we are all Mike Brown.” I keep seeing this trash be peddled as solidarity. As a model minority, I will never be Mike Brown and I will check people in my communities making such sweeping claims.

I want us to move forward with integrity and with genuine commitment to authentic solidarity. I want us to realize that black lives matter without us referencing Bilal ibn Rabah, a companion to Prophet Muhammad who was black (may peace be upon both of them). If people have to bring up the Prophet’s companion to make black people human to them, they have no place in social justice work.

Black lives matter and they matter without making them proximate to something in Islam. We don’t always have to feel related to an issue to care. When we benefit from the system that creates the issue, we should not feel comfortable with it or make it palpable for us.

Black lives have become collateral damage. Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham all are considered collateral damage now. Abner Louima and Rodney King needed riots to ensue for them to have some recognition of their sexual assault and beatings at the hands of police officers. Tarika Wilson, Yvette Smith, and Eleanor Bumpurs, all women who were killed by police officers. Aiyana Stanley-Jones a seven year-old girl shot while sleeping on the couch while her grandmother watched TV, was shot in the head by Detroit SWAT. Doing them justice is not by co-opting their lives to fit into our Muslim non-black people of color ones.

They have names, lives and stories and making this a people of color issue is disturbing eradication of what is actually going on. America may have problems with the “other” and we may fall into that as non-black people. However, what we don’t fall into, what does not impact our humanity, is America’s genocide of black people.

Let us move forward with integrity and not a washed up version of pseudo-solidarity. Let us use our privileges to lift voices of black people. Let us understand where we fit in, our benefits, and leverage them to create a more equitable playing field. Let us call in members of our own community who continue to surveillance black people, Muslim and not. Let us understand that this is not about us.