Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Maybe next time..

I recently attended a lecture about Islamophobia and the war on terror. There were three panelists who spoke about different subjects; the depiction of Arabs and Muslims in the media, the legal aspects of the war on terror and one Muslim professor who talked about being a Muslim after 9/11. Overall I thought the lecture was useful and informative. I definitely learned some things. However, as time went on I noticed that the discussion turned towards the perceptions that Muslims in predominately Muslim countries have of Americans and vice versa (with immigrant Muslims acting as a kind of broker between the two groups). I just knew that someone (anyone) would put an end to this kind of binary, black and white conversation that was taking place. (After all, how could Muslims in predominately Muslim countries speak for those of us who actually live in America)? Unfortunately, the event came to a close with only a passing comment about the diversity that exists in the Muslim community. I left feeling a little upset; like I didn’t exist. Like an entire group of Muslims- African-American, African, Caucasian, Chicano/Latino, or West Indian- did not exist.

I started asking myself why there was no mention of African-American Muslims (who make up 50% of the Muslim community by some estimates). Why did no one mention the long history America has with Islam (including the voyages of Muslims to America before Columbus or that by some estimates 30% of the slaves who brought to America were Muslim?) There we were, at an American university, at an event co-sponsored by CAIR (the Council on American Islamic Relations), at the beginning of Black history month and no one even mentioned American Muslims. Eventually, my shock turned to anger. Once again, the Muslim immigrant perspective dominated the discussion. It became the only perspective.

When I was in the hallway I overheard two African-American brothers speaking. One of the brothers was asking, “How can you ignore an entire group of people?” I couldn’t resist. I walked over to them and told them that I didn’t mean to intrude but I was feeling the same way! We talked for a bit and I left feeling slightly better. At least I wasn’t alone in my thinking. I kept hearing the brother’s parting words in echoing in my head, “maybe next time sis.” I had my doubts but I smiled and said yes, “insha’allah, next time.” But I’m doubtful.


Charles Hassan Ali Catchings said...

Salaam Sister, I feel what you are saying. My contention with fellow immigrant Muslims during Black History Month is how brothers parade Malcolm's conversion around to prove that there is no racism in Islam. But what I have found in 18 years, is that what we (the Black people) often refer to as racism, many others hailing from other parts of the world call 'our culture' and 'our way'. Yeah, okay.

KiKi said...

ASA Sis - I hear you. If you haven't already seen this, you might be interested in this post. It's a little long, but worthwhile. Some of the feedback comments simply shocked me. But it explains a sick mentality and may also lend insight to the cause of some of the frustration you expressed here.

ZAYNA said...


Yup, you're dead on. And we both know what this means as African-American Muslim women. "The" Muslim woman is almost always a light-skinned, Arab (or Persian) women who has been repressed by her men. All discussion of the hijab is framed in this way as everyone awaits her dehijabing and the shimmering cascade of her dark, long luscious hair!

I wonder what would happen if we talked about the hijab and its meaning for African-American who CHOOSE to wear it?

Charles Hassan Ali Catchings said...

KiKi, I read that post you cited as I am familiar with the author. You're right, the comments were very disturbing. I ran into one of those brothers the other day that swore up and down his parents were from "North Africa"; don't know why he couldn't tell me the country instead of saying North Africa like I was geographically challenged or something. The brother is apparently trying to pass for a kinky-haired Moroccan. Muslims are definitely sending mixed signals about Islam's exoticism.