Faizah Olu: My experience as a Black Muslim

I was asked to write an article on either how I think we can solve anti-blackness in the Muslim community or write about my experiences as a Black Muslim.

I immediately shuddered at the thought of suggesting methods of solving anti-blackness. My reasons were, I was not ready for the backlash because I think anti-blackness comes in the form of one race versus another but also within the race i.e colourism. Secondly, I just do not have an answer. This is a genuine problem and I personally think it stems from the generations before us and has trickled down. Unfortunately, I think it will continue to filter through to our children and children’s children but I do think at some point in the distant future, it won’t matter anymore.

My amazing Asian friends welcome me into their homes. Their parents love me and feed me (yum) but I can only imagine the horror they would experience at the suggestion that I marry their eldest son. I must make this known that I do not want to marry the brothers of any of my friends lol! I must say however, that as Black Muslims, we are not innocent either. If some of us were to introduce an Asian man to our families in the hopes of marriage we too would witness all hell break loose. Now I must say, this is not true to all of us. Some of us have very welcoming parents, mashaAllah.

The reason I mention the above is not because I have changed my mind and will be writing about anti-blackness but because it forms part of my experience as a Black Muslim.  But please do not think that I see myself as a victim. I certainly do not. It works both ways, I’m sure my Asian friends may feel a sense of anti-Asian-ness in some situations.

My experience as a black Muslim has been both positive and negative but far more positive. My experience is generally that people don’t believe that I am a Muslim, regardless of what I say. Last year I attended a friend’s wedding and I wore a gorgeous Asian suit that I bought from Tooting for £40. I cannot express how many aunties approached me saying that they thought I looked lovely. I felt so welcomed, as one of two or three Black people in attendance. When my friends and I left the hall to pray, I felt accepted. I didn’t get looks of confusion, shock or disbelief. It was and is normal.

Iftar with my friends is amazing. Muslimahs of all races meet up and we laugh, talk, pray and eat. Together. However, when I meet a fellow Muslim for the first time and I introduce myself as ‘Faizah’ I am always asked if I am Muslim and they respond with surprise and shock when I respond that I am. Always. Some may say “it’s because you don’t wear the hijab”. I disagree, many different women of different races do not wear the hijab but the more ‘common’ image of a Muslim woman is an Asian or Arab woman. They do not receive the same shock when they identify themselves as Muslim.

This weekend I was asked by some young teens with a mission to “spread the gospel of Jesus”. I explained that I was Muslim and I was very confident that they would appreciate this and move on. However, they went on to ask me whether I was born into Islam or whether I converted and then they asked whether Islam was in my heart. I was offended by this because I can’t help but think that they didn’t believe me. I sensed that they thought I was born into this religion and didn’t really have it in my heart. I was most offended when they asked me if I thought God loved me. At this point I started my speech about Islam and why I am happy and how I know that without a doubt I am loved by Allah. This caught the ladies by surprise and the conversation was brought to an end. I am not a person that would ever think that things happen to me or don’t happen to me because I am Black. In my line of work, you can easily be deterred from pursuing your hopes and dreams if you think like that. With this in mind, I am not oblivious to it and I do not turn a blind eye to it and I can’t help but ask: if I was Asian, would these ladies have interrogated me in that way? Would they have even approached me?

What do I think we as Black Muslims can do to improve our experience? Continue to be unapologetically black and Muslim! The more noise we make and the more visible we are, the more likely ‘they’ (being those who cannot understand how you can be both black and Muslim) are likely to recognise and accept us.

I do not see any trend or pattern with my experiences. Some have been strange some have been amazing. I just see them as experiences that shape me, shape my life and shape my reactions. I hope that at some point in the future, we won’t be shocked by a black Muslim but we will always be welcoming and inclusive.

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Faizah Olu: My experience as a Black Muslim

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