mosque, personal, segregation, stories

And then she sang…

The sun was still beating down.

It was early evening in Senegal and my plane had just landed. I looked out at the vast landscape. It was bursting with colors of the Earth, every hue of green and brown imaginable to the eye. The sand swirled in the wind as my heart fluttered in my chest. I took in a deep breath of relief as the wheels of the plane jolted the sand encrusted African pavement. I was back in the Motherland.

No one could tell me nothin’.

I am a mixture of a lot of things and damn proud. A true daughter of the diaspora. My lineage is rooted in Africa, from the East all the way to the West. My round face, small nose and almond shaped eyes scream East Africa, the birth place of my beautiful father. My bright outfits and chunky bracelets make sure folks are well aware that I am a sista from Chicago and always down with the revolution. All of these identities are carefully wrapped into a hijab, that mind you, are always well coordinated with my over sized earrings.

My passport is almost full and my heart repeatedly bursts with joy every time I set foot back on the Continent. I have travelled across Africa. From Mali to Ethiopia then back to Ghana and Sudan. Each one of these countries has unique cultural traditions that set them apart from one another. All of these differences I appreciate. From my experiences traditional cultures offer something the West does not. There is a collectiveness, a tightness between the people even though many of these countries have suffered from issues related to colonialism and imperialism. Ties such as family and lineage are an integral part of African society. I wish that every Black person could have the experience of traveling back home, yes I said home. My experiences of traveling back to Africa continue to be a mind opener and with each visit I continue to grow and learn something new.

One thing that continues to surprise me about many Muslim countries in Africa is how relationships between men and women are carried out. Growing up in Chicago my experiences and perceptions of Islam were heavily shaped by being in predominantly Arab communities, who were a tad bit on the conservative side in regards to their practice of Islam. For most of my school life, I attended an Islamic school that was gender segregated. Nearly everything was hyper-sexualized and male/female interactions always seemed out of place and unnatural. Teachers would hawk the hallways and personally call you out if your behavior was deemed inappropriate. Within that cultural context many times I felt that my presence as a young woman was either viewed as a problem or in some cases a temptress. Now as an adult, I understand the community elders had sincere intentions with separating the boys and the girls. Though unfortunately, this practice became problematic when many of us went on to college having a difficult time interacting with our counterparts.

A sista must make it clear…

I believe there are certain instances where men and women should be separated but for the most part I don’t see the need. In a majority of African cultures both men and women function together, side by side without any issues. I think the Arab world could take note of this because gender relations seems to be an ongoing issue in many Arab communities. Along with that women in many parts of Africa are an integral part of society and their status is recognized.

So this brings me to what inspired this post…

Recently in Senegal, I attended a Friday prayer where a woman busted out in nasheed (religious/spiritual song) in the middle of the mosque. Her infant lay in her lap with an oversized scarf draped over him. She batted the persistent flies that kept landing on him. I was shocked that no one stopped or scolded her for singing. My eyes were fixated on her. As her voice echoed throughout the mosque I waited for someone to scorn her. Her melodic voice was strong but had feminine undertones. Her eyes were closed as her body swayed to the movement of her voice. She was wrapped into the moment, almost as though she was in the comfort of her own home. I looked around, expecting some old looking dude to start yelling and to my surprise no one said anything. She sang while folks kept going about their business. All she got were a couple curious glances and a group of giggling girls in the back corner. It was very refreshing for me to witness this moment as she claimed her space and looked so natural doing so. I was determined to meet this woman. So for the next several days I attended the mosque at the same time. I knew language would be a hindrance but I had to meet her. Later, I found out that she came from a family of Nigerian (Hausa) women that were all religious singers. She travelled to Senegal for the month of Ramadan. She had been singing since she was six years old, a tradition solely passed down to the women in her family. With a shy smile she told me it was reserved for them.

DSC_0609
I’ve left a little piece of my experience for you.

Enjoy.

Standard
brothers, love, mosque, personal, segregation, stories

Black + Muslim + Woman

“It’s because you’re black.”

He repositioned himself in the chair, then looked down at his cup of coffee and grabbed the handle. I could tell this conversation made him uncomfortable.

He was from the subcontinent but had the swag of a black brotha. He said he was having a hard time find a sister from his background because he couldn’t relate to them.

“I’m sorry, it’s just my family wouldn’t be happy…” He said this apologetically while taking a small sip from his drink.

I looked at him from across the table before proceeding to give him a piece of my mind. But then I stopped myself.

Why was I shocked?

I thought about how this would have played out totally differently if I was a white girl, and laughed under my breath. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand my white sisters have their own set of problems when it comes to marriage. With that being said, I firmly believe that Black women get the shorter end of the stick. Bottom line.

Muslims like to boast about how Islam is such an accepting religion. We refer to the Prophet’s (pbuh) Black companions, such as Bilal, all the time. The stark reality is that many Muslim communities across the U.S. are blatantly prejudiced, insular and unwelcoming to Black folks. The rhetoric we hear in Friday sermons – being brothers to one another and one united family – is often absolutely hypocritical.

As a result, many Black Muslim women remain unmarried and chronically single.

I know many of these sistas.

I am one of them.

In many communities, Black Muslim women are viewed as the most undesirable women as far as marriage prospects. Black people are plagued with stereotypes and generalizations, and these attitudes have seeped into the fabric of our communities. Growing up in a predominantly Arab community, I understood racism at a very young age. As a girl, I was told that Muslims should marry from their “own people.” I realized early that I would not find a husband in that community but thankfully was able to disassociate my negative experiences with my understanding of Islam.

But the question still remains: who is accountable for the horror stories involved with being a Black Muslim in certain communities?

I hold the leaders responsible. Muslims are notorious for sweeping serious issues under the carpet, turning a blind eye, and pretending as though problems such as racism do not exist. We would rather focus on interfaith dialogue than address intrafaith issues or admit that we are the source of some of our problems.

Community leaders need to properly address race relations specifically when it comes to marriage. The Islamic concept of equality needs to not only be spoken of but actually implemented through the support and encouragement of interracial marriage. Leaders need to take a hard look at the demographics of their mosques and address diversity gaps and segregation. Open dialogue and constructive criticism is the key when it comes to addressing this crucial issue.

Like the brother I met over coffee, I know there are many Muslim men out there who prefer chocolate sistas but refrain from venturing further with those prospects due to family and cultural expectations. It is ok to have preferences when it comes to potential spouses but at the same time one must be open to new possibilities.  If your preferences are solely based on race, that’s a huge problem. Remember that Allah might send you what you need rather than what you want.

Don’t block love. An open mind and receiving heart will never lead you astray.

Standard