“The most disrespected woman in America, is the Black Woman. The most un-protected person in America is the Black Woman. The most neglected person in America, is the Black Woman” Malcolm X
This quote from brother Malcolm X is not only revelatory, triggering, shaking and a symbol of where we are at as people, but it divulges another far more basic a point. If a group who claim to love Malcolm as one of the most powerful and historic Muslim figures of the modern era, then they will in no doubt realise that he was not for folly when he declared such a statement. It also should reveal to us the place we must begin when we understand whose cause we need to fight and how. We need to look at the oppression of not only the woman but indeed the black woman. It must be there that we need to find our own cause. Because to extract the roots of systemic racial injustice, we must learn it at its very core.
That’s the lesson. So it is baffling to observe that while we as Muslims are so quick to post every other Malcolm X quote to empower ourselves, to relate to our figureheads as believers of Allah, you will rarely if ever find Muslims using this quote. You will in fact rarely if ever find the struggle of the black woman ever be mulled, discussed or pondered over. Far less, Arab and South Asian Muslims will not even know of this quote. Far less, such Muslims will not even understand that Black Muslim women are indeed at the centre of an oppression which goes beyond just her Islam through anti Muslim hatred, but lays at the core of her blackness which has always been a source of oppression for her. Far less, black Muslim men and their experiences are not discussed. Far less, black Muslims are not discussed. Far less, Black people. And worst of all. There is in fact an outright gas lighting and denial of a rabid angry anti blackness which exists in our Muslim communities and in fact mirrors, the wider structural one which underpins white supremacy.
It has become all too clear that while there seems to be a distinct over use of Malcolm X as some figure for the Muslim cause especially within the UK by non-black Muslims, you will see the use of his image as a starter pack for activists and the laity for a feeling of empowerment against anti Muslim policies or a struggle against powers that be. This use of him stops way short of actually understanding that Malcolm’s X primary legacy was in fact to free black people. His cause was to understand that the black struggle for liberation in the United States was a specific and nuanced call for their emancipation in a world which post slavery regarded the black man’s legal standing as still enslaved.
Unfortunately many non-black Muslim communities here in the UK, have failed to not only understand this fundamental point, but deeper, ignore that while they rightfully wish to challenge Muslim hatred- all systemic racism towards Muslims is founded upon an anti-blackness. One which tells us as it did that black people are uncivilised, barbaric, hyper sexual, ugly, criminal and unable to exist peacefully. The language emanates from the same source. This disconnect may exist because desi and Arab Muslims who are now established in the UK over many many decades, established integrated and have become economically powerful within the British context. This slow but present rise of status and social standing has allowed the rooted psychology which existed from a colonial past of co-opting whiteness against black people continue unchecked.
Muslims who are second and third generation immigrants have continued in this mentality which culturally regards black skin as inferior. So it comes as no surprise that when Muslims who would regard themselves as practising and ‘woke’ are some of the worst perpetrators of anti-black sentiment and more specifically misogynoir. Their disregard for the struggle or voice of black Muslims is also now met with weaponizing Islam as a means to silence black Muslims.
The reaction by Muslims to black Iftars and black Eid events is one such example. Social media threads are littered calling such events unislamic, racist in nature. The cry of ‘kufr’ and ‘unislamic’ or the label of ‘liberal’ has now become the go-to phrases whenever black Muslims try to assert themselves.
All of which leaves black Muslims who wanted a safe space to celebrate, think feel, breathe, discuss -feeling violated and further oppressed and who only carved out such spaces because that feeling of anti blackness met them wherever they went. Black Muslims are continually suspected of promoting nationalism or liberal values when they point out discrepancies in how them and their faith are treated. Such attacks deny them their faith but equally and dangerously promote a version of Islam which reinforces culture centric Islam. In this case the dominant cultures of South Asian or Arab.
There are also countless tales of young black Muslim boys and girls in Muslim Schools and a normalised trail of anti-blackness and mockery. Comments about hair and skin colour. Comments about food and disbelief they are even Muslim. One mother tole me her son didn’t want them to adopt a young Syrian refugee child, because his classmates in school would mock him for being so black and having such a ‘white’ sister.
The treatment of black Muslim women must not be ignored. Once again black sisters once passed over for marriage, comment, intelligent discourse, opinion- have been subjected to sexual comments in their private messages (feeding into the hyper sexualised view of black women which white supremacy espouses) When sisters reject such depraved advances- it isn’t just their womenhood which is under attack. Their blackness becomes a point of abuse more often than not. Many sisters experience being called monkey, black b*tch, black and ugly etc etc. It seems incredulous that the comments made by the wider public to high profile black women such as MP Diane Abbott is being replicated behind closed doors in Muslim spaces to Muslim women.
The reaction when these examples are raised has also become standardised. Mostly met with denial, anger and fragility by non-black Muslims who refuse to accept this as an issue. They become more fixated with black brothers and sisters who show public displays of hurt and anger than perpetrators of normalised anti blackness. In fact non black Muslims will and have employ the very same language as white supremacy when it attacks Muslims. They will talk of calming down, denial anything it that bad, calling for peace, pointing out the mistakes of how things are reacted, tone policing etc etc. All the tools of white supremacy against minorities.
Let’s take some high profile cases in point: The fiasco that ensued when a dawah carrier named Abu Ibrahim commented about the sin of ‘acting black’ in Ramadan 2018 on the streets of Birmingham. After the initial furore raised by mostly black Muslims, people became more outraged at the anger at this than his comments, and ready to accept his semi apology
The celebration of black Muslims to the film Black Panther. There arose a very public need to out the film as Islamophobic by Muslims. When this was exposed as being a problematic and could potentially feed into anti blackness, It was met with further gaslighting. It seemed odd that most black Muslims who should be the first to feel Islamophobia did not. It seemed only a response once again expressed by dominant cultural groups.
Finally the most glaring proof of how this is denied is the fact that outside pockets of a few people discussing this publicly- anti blackness is never discussed within Muslim communities or khutbas as a serious issue which needs tackling. There is a wall of silence. No leaders, no speakers, no activists. Not because they do not know it exists. But the unpopularity of this discussion when Muslims do not wish to draw attention to their own failings is the main cause. When they fail to see that anti blackness MUST be the place where any oppression is struggled against.
This same anti blackness which has firm roots in interaction between the groups of Muslims here in the UK would also include the racism and mockery faced by darker skinned South Asian/ Arab communities by lighter skinned. The way that it is readily a feature of Pakistani banter to mock Bangladeshis and their short stature and darker skin. All anti blackness. The fact that in Islamic organisations which established the leadership of those is rarely ever black apart from a few faces, there is little to no interaction or invitation by the majority communities to black Muslims. And the raft of anecdotal painful experiences of black Muslims entering those spaces to be stared at and spoken about or questioned regarding when they converted when they have been Muslim all their lives. These stop becoming anecdotal when most black Muslim have experienced some form of anti-black aggression of this nature.
One may now ask what could be the solution in ridding this pervasive attitude and toxicity. This is not an easy answer as the problem itself requires deep introspection and honesty. At this stage neither seem forthcoming. However the division that has now encapsulated Muslim spaces now faces a potential problem. Where they can claim black Muslims having their own spaces is divisive yet never calling out their own hand in this division and segregation- it is also becoming all too apparent that black Muslims are thriving and young black Muslims are actively carving out aspiring places in the arts, politics, social enterprise and literary expression. Take Pearls of Islam, Young Black and Muslim, Baraka Boys, Magid Magid s etc to name a few. The works of these Muslims is in fact seeking to tackle some harder issues faced by Muslim such as feeling disenfranchised, a loss of spirituality and social exclusion
Young black Muslims are discussing issues of faith in a pertinent and wholesome way. Something which no doubt will grow and is potentially the way forward for Muslims in the UK. But where anti blackness is ignored accepted and goes unchallenged, the only people who will be left behind when it is all too late, is those who refused to tackle anti blackness as a major fitna for our community. Be under no illusion that when anti Muslim hatred continues to grow and we require strength unity and a strong Islamic basis- our own racism will cause us to fail.
– Sultanah Parvin is a public speaker, anti-racist activist and educator. She has worked extensively within the Muslim community in London over the past 20 years, speaking on issues of race, misogyny and political engagement. She is currently involved in an online platform for Muslim women across the globe that seeks to find safe and viable spaces where Muslim women can discuss and lead conversations and critique on social and political issues.