My first recollection of Islam was with my family who are of a muslim background- you grow up in that environment and you acquire whatever you are being taught at that time. However, it was a limited knowledge about Islam because there were no books around to deepen your knowledge- more cultural- the moroccan culture more than anything else.
When I went to study in Bordeaux I met a whole new community, the senegalese community which I found very beneficial. I started understanding Islam more, what it meant and why we were here, where we were going as human beings. I met this man Mukhtar Kamara who explained more or less everything and we had access to more books and the Quran itself which helped me to understand why we are muslims and I started to practice from there.
People have their own understanding of Islam, they interpret it differently, in their own away according to their own culture according to their own sphere of references so sometimes there is a disparity between Islam and the way that people practice it.
I haven’t witnessed any issues myself to do with race within the community but I remember my husband (who is Ghanaian) witnessing some issues about race at the mosque. He was treated differently and obviously had some issues with it because as far as he was concerned, Islam is a brotherhood and there shouldn’t be any difference of treatment according to race. This is not what the Quran teaches. He had encountered some people that were either difficult with him because of his skin colour or they assumed things about him straight away. In the case of my children, I think people did appreciate that I had mixed children. They appreciated a mixed couple with mixed children. I think it has always been a positive for me.
Within Islam we should acknowledge different cultures because this is what creates the beauty in Islam; different languages, different cultures, different colours, people from different backgrounds. Identifying with one category such as black shouldn’t be seen as something negative or somebody feeling superior to another person because of his language or because of his colour. It has to be seen as something beautiful and a positive to have this diversity. When we go to Mecca, when we go for Hajj, its something that is beautiful and something we should be proud of; to be in different races and to appreciate that. Its the same outside of Islam, to have diversity is a positive. Anything that is different will always bring another point of view or another way of seeing.
There are probably Arabs who feel superior at times because of the language- this is their own language so maybe Arabs have some superiority about that. But there’s always the last sermon of the prophet (peace be upon him) which always reminds us that no Arab is better than a non Arab and vice versa so we should go back to the sayings of our prophet. I witnessed instances of Arab supremacy when I married my husband. He is a black man, he is not an Arab or a Moroccan so obviously there were issues about that with my mothers community, the moroccan community around us. Its not that they disapproved of it but they were laughing at him ‘she married a black man! hahaha’. It never got to me because I wasn’t living in La Rochelle (where my family lived), my life was in Bordeaux. For me it wasn’t that shocking because I just took it as people being ignorant. When people are ignorant you can’t take them seriously, you just say to yourself ‘here’s something they haven’t understood until the future’. And they do now, there are loads of mixed marriages in La Rochelle. So things did evolve and society evolved along with people’s mentalities. It was painful for my mum because she had to go through all of this but at the end of the day she’s understood something that they haven’t understood which is great. That’s why I’m proud of her. Even though my parent’s would have preferred me to marry a Moroccan- everybody prefers their own culture- they had open arms for my husband.
I’ve witnessed colourism in the case of my children. My husband was saying that when he and Soraya (my daughter) went to Ghana the fact that Soraya was much lighter than my husband gave her open doors for certain things, so obviously there are some issues there. I know in other countries there are the same issues. This is something we need to get rid of- this idea that the whiter you get the better it is for you. Its one of those things that needs to be wiped out. It dates back to historic times and this through colonialism has been engraved into peoples minds.
Within our ummah its not difficult to combat racism colourism and anti-blackness. You just have to go back to the sunnah of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). If you follow his sayings you will find that he (peace be upon him) has always been determined to erase these issues which have stemmed from Jahiliyyah.