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ISNA & #blacklivesDONTmatter

As a Muslim woman of Afrikan descent I have had my fair amount of frustrations being raised within a predominately Arab Muslim community. Like many other Black Muslims, I have to deal with many instances of subtle prejudices to sheer racism from first and second generation Muslims who hail from Asian and Arab backgrounds. This is my response to a recent press release that was distributed by Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in the wake of the Baltimore uprising. ISNA needs a point of reference, from a fresh minded Black Muslim woman, which I am here to offer. This press release only touched the tip of the iceberg in reference to the problems that exist within the Black and immigrant Muslim community in America. This letter is directed to ISNA and President Mr. Azhar Azeez.

On April 28th, ISNA issued a biased and politically infused press release that condemned protesters and “rioters” in Baltimore for resorting to violence after the death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody on April 19th. The umbrella organization, which claims to “foster the development of the Muslim community”, was heavily “disturbed by the escalation of violence in Baltimore”. Previously, ISNA had yet to mention anything about the incident in Baltimore or the consequential result of policing practices in marginalized Black neighborhoods. As a person who aims to acknowledge the truth, I don’t believe one Black person was consulted during the formulation of this misinformed press release. I firmly believe that if a diverse spectrum of Muslims was consulted before the distribution of this release there would not have been such an enormous backlash. Since then, Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) issued a stance and an independent online petition has been circulating attempting to hold ISNA accountable for their actions of negating Black life. ISNA, you lacked sensitivity and tactfulness with this deliverance. Whoever wrote the press release and assisted in editing it not only needs cultural sensitivity training but a dose on the reality of what Black folks have been enduring in America for centuries.

Maybe you aren’t aware but Black folks in America are under siege on a daily basis and being a Black Muslim adds another interesting element to the plot. Not only do I have to constantly assert and explain my Blackness to the outside world but I am finding myself in similar situations within the wider Muslim community. Black Americans live in a society where we are mentally and physically under attack and our religiously based institutions are supposed to serve as safe havens. People turn to faith and religious spaces for a sense of belonging, solace and understanding. These spaces are supposed to serve as safe havens for Muslims but in reality they are far from that. Black Muslim Americans must function in communities where we are consistently having to educate and redirect non-Black Muslims from biased and prejudice notions against Black people. It’s exhausting and draining having to educate you. Simply put, the Muslim community is absurdly prejudice but employ Islam and the concept of brotherhood as a guise for personal and institutional advancement. Behind closed doors, many Muslims and Islamic organizations promote the same ideas and attitudes concerning Black people that the general American population fosters. When those same institutions grasp onto biases and political interests then they have virtually lost their purpose. ISNA purports to represent Muslims from a wide array of cultures and ethnicities. From that, one-third of those represented identify as Black. With that being said, the recent statements produced by ISNA prove further than there is very little concern, for Black lives, which of course include Black Muslim lives which in turn is my life as a Black Muslim woman.

For many years, the immigrant Muslim community has tried its best to disconnect itself from the struggle of Black people. When you look at me as a Black person you do not see your own struggle as a person of color in a country that has neither of our interests in mind. You emigrate to this country in the hopes of assimilating into the White masses. You seek white approval and at the same time look at your brothers and sisters in the struggle with noses turned up. There has been an intentional negation of the Black fight for freedom and instead of learning and building with us you run away and condemn our actions. ISNA, unfortunately you are no exception and rather than attempting to learn from our Black brothers and sisters on the quest for justice you have burned the bridges of solidarity. Promoting sermons concerning racial justice and the mentioning of the Prophets companion Bilal will not suffice with me any longer. On that note, Bilal (peace and blessings be upon him) has to be the most exploited companion of the Prophet. I am not going to be complacent as my life and those of my fellow Black brethren get lost between your hypocritical words of equality.

In conclusion, distributing this press release and then attempting to apologize or as you stated “clarify”, not only brought to light ISNA’s main motivation of seeking political approval from the white majority, but in fact how many institutions view the Black community in general. ISNA, and Mr. Azeem, you do not understand the community who you claim to serve and you do not get a pass on this ridiculous and callous press release. You had time to clean yourself up but opted not to properly apologize. ISNA has been around for decades and should know how to master the art of racial affairs. Your organizations are not located in Black communities, you do not attempt to come to our neighborhoods and quite often we are not welcomed into your mosques and institutions. Black bodies are only of benefit to the immigrant Muslim community if there is monetary gain involved, such as fried food shacks, liquor stores, gas stations or increasing the attendance to your annual convention. In those instances, I am sure Black lives matter to you since we are financially contributing to your sense of comfort. Perhaps that is why you were so “disturbed by the escalation of violence” because we were in fact burning down your businesses in the hood that have exploited the Black community for years.

We are not profit, or a personal tool you can use to advance yourself. Black folks are people and many of us happen to have Islam deeply rooted in our families.

If you didn’t listen before, today is the day you learn.

Your sister in Islam and the struggle,

Ihssan Tahir

Please email ISNA’s Communication Director Edgar Hopida at ehopida@isna.net 317.679.6350 or 317.839.1820 to hold them accountable for their callous and racist remarks regarding Black folks and the Baltimore Uprising. 

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22 thoughts on “ISNA & #blacklivesDONTmatter

  1. Amina says:

    This is exactly what we needed to hear as a Muslim community. Thank you for taking everything that has been boiling in my mind for years and putting it into an eloquent article.

  2. Jilan Bakr-Armstrong says:

    Thank you for your truth. ISNA needs to have a long hard look at themselves. Are they supporting the ummah or trying to ingratiate themselves to white mainstream America? As of this time I will not support or involve myself with this organization.

  3. As a second generation Muslim American (born to Parents who immigrated to the US from Pakistan), I wanted to thank you for this incredibly important and insightful words. Every single Muslim American of immigrant (and non-immigrant) background needs to read your piece.

  4. Glenn Silver says:

    ISNA needs a history lesson in American civics. ISNA and similar organizations, as well as the immigrants who dominate them, owe black freedom fighters for the freedoms and privileges their organizations and its members enjoy. If it had not been for the courageous acts, that the ISNA spokesperson would call treasonous and traitorous, of heroes – from Nat Turner to Malcolm X and many other martyrs of the Civil Rights movement, then neither ISNA nor the Muslim immigrants that dominate it would enjoy the privileges it does.

    ISNA, similar organizations, and immigrants, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who have entered this country in the post – Civil Rights era, owe an incalculable debt to black Americans who paid, with their blood, for the political and social privileges they enjoy. It is sad to see that those who benefit from privileges paid for with the blood of black freedom fighters now perpetuate racial prejudice against descendants of those freedom fighters.

    The riots in Baltimore are neither traitorous nor treasonous acts of mob violence, rather they are courageous calls for the preservation of political and social equality for blacks, that is eroding, and the establishment of economic equality that, after the assassination if Dr. King in 1968, was aborted. The current riots are not acts of treason they are cries for inclusion and equality – economically as well as politically and socially.

    • Ruth McCall-Miller says:

      Well said…there is a real need to understand those who came before us that allows us and others to worship in the manner we choice….ISNA there is a debt that was paid in order for us to be MUSLIM and proud of it

  5. Thank you for writing this!!

    So true… I am of African descent and moved here for college. Being black in America is hard because we are shrouded by all kinds of stereotypes and racial bias. Being black, a woman and Muslim is 10 times harder. Instead of most of our masjids and Islamic communities providing a safe haven, they push us away and make us feel that the color of our skin makes us less Muslim than them and it sucks.. Muslims can be extremely racist.. There are mosques that I will not go to because I feel like everyone around me (through stares, body language words and behavior) Make me feel like I am not welcome. I have African Muslim friends who pretty much stopped practicing because the MSAs they found when they came to study in the U.S. Were not welcoming and Made them feel like outcasts.. I was lucky on that account and went to schools with inclusive and diverse MSAs. We move here with little or no family so we need this support system. I remember the last time I volunteered at a masjid in the U.S., I was with my late mother (Allah Yerhamo) and some woman came and made us feel like the help because we were the only black people there and that was the end of that. Now I just go for Jumah or taraweh and I leave. I am not saying all mosques or every Muslim community is like this but I can say firsthand that there are many out there that are like this so before we condemn marginalization of blacks by white Americans, we can look in the mirror

    Let’s not even get to the marriage issue and how we (black people) are at the bottom of the food chain even in our masjids that do endless khutbahs on island teachings on the issue.

    I go to halal stores all the time and my presence is rarely even acknowledged.. I start going with My fiancé who is half Arab and Lo and behold, I am worth saying hello to..

    I am not putting muslim communities on the spot. Every society has its own biases and the Muslim community is no exception. My problem is that we as Muslims do not practice what we preach.. I have heard more than a dozen khutbahs on the issue and off course everyone acts like they have taken in profound wisdom but wait until their non black daughter brings home a black Ibrahim. Hafidh doctor lawyer or not 99 out of a 100 times he will be sent packing. Islam is a religion of peace and inclusion but we forever hide behind this guise of “I’m desi or Arab and my best friend can be black because I’m not racist but it would be an abomination for my brother in law or wife to be black (not putting desis/ Arabs on the spot, I just needed to make a point)

    • I feel the exact same way and I have kept away from the masjid for many years because of this. Alhamdulillah, I decided that I would not let a group of people control my involvement in the masjid, so I became much more involved.

      I certainly question the authenticity of my relationships with people of desi/Arab descent when I know that I would not be warmly accepted if I wanted to marry their son/brother.

      • muslimnlove says:

        I overstand your sentiments but we need community to thrive Queen. There is a place for each and every one of us. ❤

  6. ), is to each his own. Most of the Muslims look at the African American Muslims in disgust and rejection, instead of realizing that we are suppose to be one umat, working together to establish Islam. But, unfortunately, that is not the case. The doors are shut on our brothers and sisters in these immigrant communities as though they are trying to integrate in a white community. We are stared at and sneered upon. When will we understand? This ugly, Jinn mentality does not exist just here in the US, but in the muslim communities in many countries in the East, also. The darker race of people, Africans, Africa-Americans and even their own musilms are treated inferior in Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries. We will not be successful in establishing true Islam here in America until we get it together and start treating each other as one human family, and stop judging a man by the color of his skin. We as African Americans must learn self-love, self-respect, and self-unity, and show it in our actions. We really can’t expect others to love us more than we love ourselves, or to understand our plight as a people here in America, when many of us don’t understand our own history and suffering for trying to please the white man, also. It’s a sad situation, but you are right about their attitude towards us, and as you say, they have not lived the life we live or traveled the road we’ve traveled, here in North America, so they don’t understand our flight, but we must understand that many of them have the slave master’s mentality, that’s why they have been accepted in America and it’s so easy for them to establish themselves. They care nothing about us as African-Americans, the poor or the minorities. They only care about self and their own selfish purposes. Their goal is to be seen accepted and applauded by the white man, and nothing else matters. They have sold out, become westernized, and turned their backs on their purpose for being here. May Allah Bless you again for your strength and courage. May the strong ones of us come together and unite as one to establish true Islam, here in America. May the Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon you. You have my support.

  7. Thank you sister. My view of this non islamic attitude came in full focus when my then 2 year old son began to ask me why no one wanted to shake his hand after Juma. We have worked to create an atmosphere where our children are welcomed and loved by their community. I feel that although there are many instances of self hate there are even more where the rug has been intentionally pulled out from under us as a people. Progress has been made yet the focus is only on seemingly shortcomings. Faked police shootings, biased news stories, food deserts, ignored land development bids, assassinations, framed political figures and homes broken purposefully by State agencies to name a few. All supported by people who believe the false images that are presented as representing the whole.

    For me I have found that there are answers that are working for many as Allah’s (SWA)blessings are all around us. It is we who have to raise our vibration to the frequency of our blessings so we can see them.

    The Shatan is master over illusion so if it seems like we are at all without answers we know his work and motivation for us believing such a thing.

    Identifying the challenges as you have is key and solving it begins and ends with us in my opinion. The Quran has the solution as it had when it was first revealed. It is we who have to adhere to it to gain the protections held within. For then and for now the truth burns through the lies.

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