Immigrant Muslims, The American Dream, and The Value of Black Life.

In March 2018, Dorian Harris walked in a Memphis Top Stop Shop went straight to the cooler and took two cans of Spiked Watermelon beer.  Seven seconds later according to security footage he was out the door and dropped one can on his way. Anwar Ghazali, the store clerk grabbed a handgun and chased him into the dark night. The store clerk Anwar Ghazali then pulled out his gun, took aim and shot Harris several times. Afterwards, Ghazali returned to his store. Dorian Harris was found dead days later in a yard where he bled out from a gunshot wound to the back of his leg. Mr. Ghazali was found guilty of second degree murder and will be sentenced later this month.

This case like Latasha Harlins in 1991 involved immigrants overreacting to black people whose presence in this country dates centuries back to before the Republic. It is akin to foreign occupiers killing native children. All to protect merchandise and commerce that displaces profit from black community. There is nothing novel here. However, unlike Harlins who was shot by a Korean store owner Harris was killed by someone of Muslim hertiage which has a  religious tradition that explicitly forbids both murder and the sale of alcohol. This is the issue: To what degree have immigrant Muslims bought into the American project which is predicated on anti-blackness?

Anwar Ghazali had no claim to Harris’s life anymore than Harris had claim to the can of beer. However, Ghazali’s actions are far more egregious because in addition to taking a life he did so to protect a detestable merchandise. One that is forbidden is Islam. Alcohol is deemed haram. It is a taboo. This sin is explicitly mentioned in the Quran such as Surah al Baqarah (2:219): “They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them there is a great sin and means of profit for men, and their sin is greater than their profit. And they ask you as to what they should spend. Say: What you can spare. Thus does Allah make clear to you the communications, that you may ponder.”

The Arabic word for alcohol is khamir which means ‘to veil.’ The nature of alcohol is that it dulls the senses and impairs judgment. In correspondence to its root, it veils the intellect. This has social and not just personal effects.  

The Prophet Muhammad (saws) taught that there are seven sins on alcohol. “Allah has cursed alcoholic drinks and: the one who drinks it, the one who serves it, the one who sells it, the one who purchases it, the one who squeezes [the fruit to produce it], the one for whom it is squeezed (the brewer), the one who carries it and the one to whom it is carried.” (Abu Dawud). Harris was not Muslim but Ghazali’s family was. Islam gives the a message that promotes the sanctity of life and so prohibits those things which damage and harm life. The selling of alcohol and other haram items by someone who has accepted revelation is beyond hypocritical it is socially damaging and impedes the customer’s personal growth and their ability to return to their best self. It obstructs the path back to al fitrah or the higher self.

Ghazali’s actions speaks to the subject of Black death as an ornament of the American project. 

The dissonance of many Immigrant Muslims who sell alcohol in desolated Black communities is that they do not realize that the depressed urban areas where they set up shop are little different from the countries they came from. Both are reeling from the effects of direct white rule. Both have recapitulated the literary violence that came from such rule experiencing criminality, violence, and structural malaise. The pathologies found in both have parallels. Militant groups tend to attract the most downtrodden and disenfranchised much like inner city gangs. The family structure exists but is often aggravated by the economic and political conditions. For immigrants like Ghazali, leaving their country for America was akin to people ‘making it out of the hood.’ But, achieving this “success” often entails buying into the unspoken credence: ‘Die Nigger! Die!’

“Die Nigger! Die!’ is the title of the book by H. Rap Brown (now Jamil Abdullah al-Amin). The words signify what Brown along with many others believed was America’s engaging in Black genocide. A soft genocide if there was such a thing involving the systematic ways of killing, enervating, suppressing Black people making them a permanent underclass. The American project was made possible through Black enslavement. 

As long as slaves were necessary for the success of the settler-colony Black people in America had purpose, and therefore value within the New World. After industrialization took over Black people lost their utilitarian value which was the only value they had to White America. Since then Blacks have comprised a hinderance and a nuisance. They were perceived as less than outdated furniture and more incumbering. Whites settled America to build a paradise they could not have in Europe and they brought Africans here to build it. The question of the black race in the political history of America after emancipation has been what to do with the blacks?

The cheapness of black life is affirmed in entertainment, media, and the judicial system. Everywhere one turns the precariousness of black existence is evident. It was never intended for Black Lives to Matter within colonial modernity. Who gets to be apart of the citizenry of humanity was only recently extended to non-whites at the same time that grotesque forms of cultural and physical violence. Acceptance within American project has included the extent of one’s anti-blackness. If immigrants are to obtain an honorary “whiteness” then they can not see themselves in America’s oldest “other.” They must buy into the domestic idea of colonization even as they sought escaping its legacy overseas.

This is the context that Ghazali was operating within, regardless if he was aware of it. He subconsciously or maybe consciously acted out the intrinsic anti-blackness that comes with the American project. But what about Ghazali’s Islam? It is what should have safeguarded his mind from accepting participating in anti-black violence.  There are many immigrants who are the most conscientious Muslims who find stores like Ghazali’s deplorable. These immigrant Muslims who devoutly observe the dictates of Islam are not the face of the foreigner born Muslim in economically deprived areas. The dominant representation of immigrant Muslim in these neighborhoods are those who peddle in the vices of the community. The same vices that Islam seeks to free the human being from. The money that Ghazali earned from his store was haram. There was no virtue in his defending that money or his merchandise. On the oter hand, Dorian Harris was just like so many young black males in the hood who embrace Islam after receiving proper dawah. Yet, the opportunity to hear the message of Islam was taken away by someone of a Muslim background who offered beer instead of dawah. This tragic story should motivate Black Muslims to be more active in dawah in their community so that our young black brothers stay away from vices such as alcohol. At the same time, we must also hold Arab Muslim store owners accountable for the vices that they peddle in the hood and work towards removing all food and liquor stores from the hood.


 

Professor Shareef Muhammad

Shareef Muhammad (Frank Beane) is a content curator and historian who teaches history and Islamic Studies as an adjunct within the college and university system in Georgia. Shareef currently works with the Black Dawah Network as  the director of the theological department of Black Dawah Network. Shareef believes that Islam is a force for change as well as spiritually transforming and that the religion can serve as the bulwark for ameliorating the social conditions of African-Americans.  In 2015 Shareef was chosen to be a chief consultant on the After Malcolm Project which is a digital oral history archive that conducted interviews with African-American Muslims from the Civil Rights Era and collected artifacts. Their work was featured in exhibits at both Kennesaw State University and at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta Georgia. In 2018 the project project was adopted by George Mason University. Shareef holds a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in History from Central State University and a Masters degree in History from Kent State University where his thesis entitled The Cultural Jihad in the Antebellum South which details how enslaved African Muslims preserved their religious and cultural identity in bondage.

 

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