“Let me tell you what a common mantra in the Black community in America today is. There’s a statement that goes around, and it says, ‘These African-American Sunni Muslims – they haven’t done anything but get off the back of the bus and get on the back of the camel.’ That’s what people are saying. How can you spread a religion among a people when that’s your reputation?! How can you spread a religion among a people when the very fact of becoming a member of that religion makes you an ethnic, racial apostate?! You don’t even belong anymore!
…And this is the truth: brothers and sisters, you can’t guide a people you don’t care about.”
~Dr. Sherman Jackson
For better or worse and much to the dismay of some prejudice souls whose minds and hearts are planted elsewhere in the world, the door to belongingness for Muslims in America is painted Black, but in the nearly six years of my Islam, I’ve seen with my own young, sad, dark, and cynical eyes little or no willingness to acknowledge this fact and its implications as a reality to be engaged, much less embraced, due to the prejudice, hubris, down-right ignorance, or quixotic agnosticism concerning crucial American realities on the part of certain contingency with the American Muslim community; or, perhaps I should say that is door is being ripped off its hinges and its Black paint removed with harsh chemical, in so far as the status and prestige Islam has so enjoyed among indigenous Blackamericans for so long now appears to be diminishing in the minds and hearts of the selfsame people: now, the tides are changing in an ill fashion – waning, receding back to alterity: to be Muslims means to be one of them, not one of us: to be Muslims means to be from somewhere other than right here. It means to be the Other.
And yet, why shouldn’t they feel as they feel? Despite all the claims of racial harmony, egalitarianism, and the need of Islam in America as a suitable panacea for all her social woes and idiosyncrasies, Blackamerican Muslims – the indigenous progenitors of Islam in these lands by far, the one’s who got the damn ball rolling in the first instance, the one’s who paved the way for others to come and enjoy the fruits and “promise” of America – are situated at the back of the dromedary, as second class citizens among second class citizens, playing a broken second fiddle, if even that. The powers that be would have Islam depicted as a foreign entity – an invader, un-America – and the one group of people best equipped to disabuse them and their ilk of their xenophobic theses is riding at the back of the damn camel, which thereby gives credence and vindicates their absurd notions in first place! Subhan’Allah, this is an irony of Niebuhrian heft if there ever was one, besides America herself!
Listen to me (or read me), very carefully, because I don’t want to be misunderstood in the least bit. I don’t write this as one who endorses the primacy of Blacks over any other group nor do I write this as one who brandishes the banner of Black Nationalism. To endorse the former is utterly asinine given the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural state of America and is utterly and completely anathema to the essence of the Qur’an and to the message of Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسل; and as for the latter, as far as I’m concerned, those days are dead and done. Anyone who knows me can testify that I don’t think on these terms at all. These are the words of a lay soul who wants to see Islam succeed in America, but one who knows that Islam cannot succeed and will not succeed without recognizing the role that indigenous Muslims have to play in repelling the sense of Otherness that our enemies are attempting to attach to Islam. I have used this analogy before: imagine what would have been the fate of Islam if the Muhajirun (“people who makes a pilgrimage,” those who made the pilgrimage from Mecca to Medina with the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسل) had completely ignored or relegated the Ansar (“helpers,” refers to the natives of Medina) to an inferior position for some reason or another: do you think the Prophet would have been able to execute his mission had the two communities not been willing to learn from one another? What we can take from this is that the process of learning is at the very least a two way street, among other things. Don’t our leaders have the wisdom to draw parallels within even our own history?!
When people see me and with my tasbih, my prayer beads, they don’t ask me where I’m from. They don’t ask me where my parents are from or where my grandparents and so on because they know, implicitly, within their conscience, where we’re from. Even White American Muslims or native “White-looking” Muslims (I have Hispanics and some Native Americans in mind) sometimes get asked where they are from, but not Blackamerican Muslims. Why is that? Shouldn’t we ask ourselves what is it – or what was it – about Blackness, about the story of Blackamerica, that enabled this sense of belonging for Islam and Muslims in America? The current mores of America is ashamed of its racist, bigoted past and would not like to see itself in this light ever again as it relates to Black folks. Shouldn’t Muslims capitalize on this aspect of our country’s moral conscience? I swear there’s a lesson to be learned from our story, and it behoove all us Muslims, Black or non-Black, for the sake of our collective interest, to invest in it. We do not want Islam to become the Other, especially after it had already found a home here, for if it does become so, then I’m afraid Islam might further lapse into obscurity and irrelevance, whereby the powers that be might be given free reign to translate their dark, fascist designs into a cold and bitter reality.