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Kawthar Alli: An interview with a Nigerian Muslimah

Where are you from?

London

 

What does your name mean?

Abundance and also a river in paradise

 

How do you identify?

As a Black British Nigerian Muslim

 

Did you ever witness any racist incidents growing up?

Yes, I remember my first experience of direct racism I was probably in year 1 and I went to an Islamic primary school. A younger child said that I looked like poo. At the time I didn’t really understand why or what she was trying to say.

 

What was your experience growing up as a black Muslim girl?

I have always been the odd one due to my West African origin, I felt that I had to prove my ‘muslimness’. Fellow Nigerian kids at secondary school would say I can’t be Nigerian because I wore hijab that I must be Somali. When I was at Nigerian events I felt odd because I and my mum would be the only hijabis at family events. So I was very lost in my sense of self and identity; over the years I have used poetry and reading novels as a coping strategy. I’m very happy that now there are lots of events about Black Muslim identity so I don’t feel that I have to choose.

 

Are there problems of colourism within your community?

Yes there is. Lighter is seen as better in the South Asian and Black communities. I remember a particular experience in which a Pakistani friend of mine in high school was bragging to me that she would get married early because she was light. I remember thinking why are you saying this to a Black person, but it didn’t occur to her that she was making me uncomfortable because it’s just taken as a fact.

 

Do you think there are issues of Arab and Asian supremacy within the Muslim community?

Yes, in the UK, Black Muslims are a minority within a minority, therefore South Asian culture dominates a lot of our Muslim events. Even for example if you go to a marriage talk, they will talk about arranged marriages and living with in laws, these are issues that don’t affect me and I can’t relate to, but they talk about it as if it’s part of Islam rather than culture. To even the food that is served in most Muslim events its always biryani, although it sounds insignificant and I love biryani. When I went to my first Black Muslim event and we had curry goat and Jollof I felt so happy and I realised that I hadn’t been fully allowed to express my culture in must Muslim settings.

 

Why do you think people believe being lighter skinned is better?

Colonialism and the Arab trade slave, these two events made a lot of people in the East associate blackness with inferiority and servitude. They have passed on these attitudes to their children, therefore it’s made many people and even some black people themselves associate lighter skin with intelligence and other positive attributes.

 

What do you think we can do to tackle anti-black racism?

Through educating ourselves and our children about Black Muslim history and that there have always been Black Muslims- we aren’t the new kids on the block. Also do workshops with children suffering from self-esteem issues due to colourism and also provide workshops for teachers and community leaders.

 

 

What solutions do you think Islam holds for racial inequality?

Islam provides a basis that we are all equal in the eyes of God and that we were all created by his perfection. The Qur’an says we created you differently so you may get to know each other and that racial diversity is one of Allah’s signs.

 

What does it mean to be black?

It means that I come from a lineage of struggle resilience and strength

 

What does Malcolm X mean to you?

He is a beautiful example of a rose that grew out of concrete. How being in touch with how you are and having the right guidance can change a heartless criminal into a righteous leader.

 

Are there any other black leaders who are your inspiration?

Maya Angelou, Iyanla Vanzant, Patrice Lumumba

 

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