The Stores and Restaurants
Chicago is not the only place where Muslim immigrants have set up convenience stores. I’ve lived in South Florida, the Twin Cities, Ohio, and in Southern California. I’ve also visited other cities where I’ve seen the same thing. Sometimes Pakistanis or Indians own the stores, other times it’s Arabs. I’ve even met a few Turkish immigrants in corner stores. (And I’m excluding non-Muslim store owners like Koreans). Whatever the ethnicity of the Muslim immigrant, one thing was clear to me- there are Muslims who are making a profit off of selling haram to people in historically oppressed communities. Rather than using their presence in the community to empower people, give dawah and build alliances they are taking advantage of people, exploiting them and mistreating them all in the same breath. And even if they don’t mistreat people in terms of the way they interact with them, Muslim store/restaurant owners are selling Black and Chicano/Latino people products that they wouldn’t even eat, drink or use themselves. How Islamic is that? It shocked me to see Palestinians participating in this nonsense. After all, every Palestinian Muslim I’ve met has talked about the oppression of their people and the need for me, as a Muslim, to lend my voice to their cause. How can some of them turn around and exploit people in my community when they know what it feels like to be oppressed? And then they expect people to be sympathetic to their cause? I’m just sayin’…
As a result of the way they’ve been treated in the ‘hood, some Black people have come to despise Arabs, Indians/Pakistanis and/or Muslims. After 9/11 and the subsequent targeting of Muslims (esp. immigrant Muslims) many people in the Black community had little to no sympathy for them. (Us?) I’ve heard my own family members or friends of the family say as much. “Now they know what it’s like to be treated like us” was the common response I’d hear. Though I try to explain that it’s unfair for them to blame all Arabs, SE Asians or Muslims for what a few individuals are doing, I know how difficult it is for some of my family members and friends to see it that way. The only contact they have with Arabs (who they usually see as Muslims whether they are or not) has been through the corner stores and fast food restaurants. I cannot completely blame them for the way they feel even as I try to connect the mistreatment of Arabs, SE Asians and Muslims to the larger struggle against racism.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
A friend of mine called me from the west coast. She had something very exciting to tell me; a diverse group of Muslims (including immigrant and second generation immigrant Muslims) were formulating a plan to approach the Muslims who were selling haram and exploiting the people in predominately Black and Chicano communities. The group was going to give the owners a choice- stop selling haram or they would be shut down. The store owners would not find any support in the Muslim community. They would be boycotted. (My friend told me that she’d heard a similar movement was taking place in Chicago).
I couldn’t believe it! For years African-American Muslims had talked about it amongst ourselves. I’d heard about different groups of people (from specific neighborhoods) approaching store owners in New York and Philadelphia. The only missing piece for me was for immigrant and second generation immigrant Muslims to step up to the plate. I’d been in masjids where wealthy store and restaurant owners were proudly accepted into the community. People knew how they made their living but no one said anything. They even contributed to the masjid with their haram money! But now my friend was giving me hope.
So I suppose that is what needs to happen. As Muslims we cannot simply shake our heads and say, “how unfortunate.” Or worse, live in a state of denial. We have a responsibility to speak out against the injustice that Muslims are committing against other people. I think we will find that different cities and communities are at various stages of development in regards to this issue. Some people need to start by “outing” Muslim business owners who are committing the wrong. No more protection, acceptance, denial or burying heads in the sand. It might mean venturing out into poor communities to witness the harm they’re doing. Some people, who are aware of what is going on may be at the stage where they have enough people to support the cause and can approach Muslim store and restaurant owners about their behavior. The bottom line is that I want to see something happen and I want to be a part of it...