I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Muslims use Bilal (rA)’s name to support their theories on why racism cannot or does not exist in the Ummah. As if the Ummah is monolithic, as if it were a small community or a classroom or a place that could be static, even for a moment. As if the act of tokenizing a man as a one size fits all patch to the “non racist” racism that “doesn’t exist” is somehow okay. As if they were capable of naming another black Sahaba and not have to resort to Malcolm X in a desperate attempt not to be labeled the “R word.” As if Twitter and other social media platforms weren’t littered with the word abeed, as if in the mad dash to advocate and mobilize for Syria and Palestine we didn’t forget Somalia, and the war on black men, women and children and non binary folks that is occurring right now in our towns, our cities, our homes.
As Muslims we like to knock ourselves in the head with the idea that we aren’t susceptible to racism, that somehow because we were warned by the Prophet (saws) to beware of oppression and to remember that racial hierarchies are bullshit, we are spared from the parasitic nature of anti-black racism. We give the Ummah this projected identity of a safe and equitable space, void of aunties who want lighter-skinned daughters for their sons; uncles who won’t let black men marry their daughters; and masjids that actively work to keep out “urban culture”, i.e., black culture. As if there aren’t brothers and sisters who forget what private naseeha looks like when they see the blackness of someone’s skin, as if there aren’t entire countries being crushed by the foot of neocolonialism that go unsupported because a significant portion of their populations are black.
A few months ago I went to a masjid that was predominately Pakistani. I stopped on my way home from work, it wasn’t my normal masjid, but it was the closest one to me, so I decided to pray there. I generally have no qualms about praying somewhere on the side of the bus stop or in a quiet place at the subway station, but this day I had a little more time, and so I thought I’d check out this masjid I’d never been to before.
Immediately after I walked in, the women were staring at me. As a black woman, I’m used to this. I was also wearing a merlot colour lipstick and big headphones so I wrote off their looks as inquisitive, or disapproving of my chosen aesthetic (I can see how it may be an acquired taste). Either way, their prying eyes were inconsequential, because as a black woman who has experienced being the only black woman in her class, or at her place of work, staring is something I can generally ignore.