This is a brief solution-based guide addressing the problem of anti-black racism and colourism within the Muslim community which proposes ways to positively counteract this locally.
The PDF version can be accessed here: A Brief Guide for Muslim Faith Leaders to tackle anti black racism and colourism within the ummah
1 Contact info
Black Muslim Forum is an organisation dedicated to tackling anti-black racism and colourism within and outside of the Muslim community.
Defining anti-black racism
The Movement for Black Lives defines anti-black racism as a ‘term used to specifically describe the unique discrimination, violence and harms imposed on and impacting Black people specifically’
Oxford English dictionary defines colourism as ‘prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.’
Why specifically address anti-blackness and colourism?
Simply put, Black people are in many societies at the bottom rung of the social ladder. The Muslim community is not exempt from observing this racial hierarchy and are in some cases some of the worst perpetrators of racial superiority complexes. Whilst other forms of oppression and discrimination undoubtedly exist where many have suffered the atrocious consequences, anti-black oppression is a global phenomenon which does not garner the attention and reconciliation that it deserves especially within the Muslim community. While colourism is an issue coming from other racial groups towards another it is also an issue within the Black community and rife within the South Asian community.
Islamic perspectives on race
Abrahamic faith especially Christianity has often been guilty of promoting a false white supremacist warping of Prophets and their teachings. Similarly, we find in Islam that many myths have been adopted by medieval Muslim scholars to propound false doctrines such as Ham the son of Nuh having his colour changed and having Black descendants in response to the curse of his father. Additionally, many scholars of the past have adapted and interpreted hadith to condone racist ideology and extend Arab supremacist thinking. An example is a scholar exempting Black women from wearing niqab because that race of women are not attractive and are therefore not a fitna.
Such warping of the Islamic tradition is unequivocally and categorically prohibited and against the fitrah of Islamic teachings. It goes without saying that Islam permits no form of racial superiority or hierarchy. ‘Islam, in its foundational teachings, seeks to eradicate the attitudes and prejudices that lead to the emergence of racism and bigotry in human society.’ Race is something to be celebrated and just as the varied species of flora, fauna and the diversity in languages, racial difference serves to highlight the Glory, Magnificence and Might of Allah as well as point to His many beautiful signs. “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colours. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.” Similarly, “O Mankind! Surely we have created you from a single pair, a male and female. We then made you into nations and tribes that you come to know one another [not that you despise one another]. The most noble of you with God is the most pious.” Imam Zaid Shakir writes that ‘this verse emphasises that the values that are meaningful with God are rooted in the content of a person’s character, not in any physical features or distinctions.’
These are some brief proposed solutions to enact within your local community / masjid to help counter the issue of anti-black racism and colourism.
- Acknowledging that the problem of anti-blackness and colourism exists
Though this may seem self-evident, the issue of anti-black racism is frequently dismissed within and outside of the Muslim community. Black people are often viewed as playing the ‘race card’ when their grievances are brought up and characterised as ‘victims’ when legitimate stories of oppression are spoken of. Still yet, within the Muslim community claims of anti-black oppression are often dismissed with words such as ‘Islam has no racism’ or ‘there is no racism in our religion’ which however true, does not address the oppression that occurs. Choosing to acknowledge the reality of such occurrences as well as the reality of anti-black Muslims within the ummah is a positive step towards countering this phenomenon.
- Understanding it is curable
Understanding that racist attitudes are rooted in ignorance means that they can in many cases be undone with the application of knowledge. Ignorance is a disease which can be cured with knowledge. In this case, knowledge of Black achievement and history, the harmful effects of arrogance, Islamic manners and morality can remove ignorant mindsets and instil correct attitudes towards race within the community.
- Being aware of the unconscious bias you hold as a faith leader
Sometimes, it may be that we are socialised to hold certain values we have been taught at a young age which allows dangerous stereotyping. This is especially harmful in the case of faith leaders who have the power and influence to disseminate knowledge to the masses and directly access hearts and minds. Having a bias whether conscious or not against a race of people when you are a faith leader means that this bias is also instilled within the minds of the listeners. For example, in a widely shared video, a UK faith leader while reprimanding the young members of his local Muslim community “to stop acting like gangsters” told them to do so as “we are not Black”. This message was not challenged by any of the listeners and was no doubt accepted by many. Working to rid the heart of a racial superiority complex and arrogance is a difficult but doable exercise which leads to a healthy heart and conveys a sound message to listeners.
- Choosing words wisely, being aware of ones tone and reducing inflammatory language
Words chosen unwisely despite a sincere intention to cause no harm, can in fact hurt and offend Black members of the ummah. For example, an Imam at a large, well reputed London mosque gave a sermon where his intention was to highlight the problem of families being very selective with what race their child is permitted to marry. His wording went along the lines of ‘we can even marry black people, there is nothing wrong with them’. Despite his intention, the Imam’s wording and tone came across as framing black people as the anomaly which he was reassuring the congregation is ‘marriageable’. This angered a male African member of the congregation who tried to report this to the Imam to no avail. Planning the wording of such speaking engagements can help to significantly reduce such occurrences.
- Addressing historical Black Muslim figures and history as examples within sermons / speaking engagements
When addressing the problem of anti-black racism, Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) holding the position as the first mu’adhdhin of Islam is often cited as an example for the racial equality that Islam promotes. While this is a good thing and positively represents the Black Muslim demographic, there are other figures (Mohammed Ali, Malcolm X, Mansa Musa, Usman Dan Fodio, Lady Fidda, Nana Asma’u, Umm Ayman, Sumayyah, Al Miqdad bin Amr, ‘Ubadah ibn as-Samit, Salim Mawla Abi Hudhayfah, Zayd b. Haritha etc. (may Allah be pleased with them)) that may help to diversify sermons and speeches. Additionally, there are many African Muslim empires (Mali, Sokoto, Songhay etc) which can be used to educate listeners. Addressing these empires and the work, history and legacy of these above mentioned figures will undoubtedly paint Black people/ Black Muslims in a more positive light than the general media or society does. To receive resources to teach the legacy of Black Muslim figures and Black Muslim History, please reference Black Muslim Forum.
- Facilitating workshops to educate the congregation / community on colourism
Unfortunately, colourism is a major issue within the Muslim community. However understanding that this issue stems from ignorance means that it can be eradicated with knowledge. Interactive workshops for children and adults can be facilitated within masjids and community centres to counteract this trajectory and provide new information to re-educate the community on Islamic values concerning race, beauty standards, Islamic manners and respect. Regularly putting aside a weekend every month to organise such workshops will significantly shift the mindset of the community and help to alleviate ignorance. Please reference Black Muslim Forum for resources on combatting colourism.
- Making use of Black History Month
Black history month in the UK is an annual October event in celebration of the history and legacy of Black figures and Black culture. I have seldom seen this being celebrated in the Islamic context and such a month provides a great opportunity to bring to light the many achievements of Black Muslims and shift understandings of how Black people are seen.
I am aware that there are more urgent issues affecting the ummah such as war, famine, many forms of internal and external oppression as well as sickness that occupies the time of an Imam’s sermons and the speeches of faith leaders. However, time needs to be taken to address current diseases in the community which are rarely discussed and left to fester. We should renew our intentions and find the incentive in our collective plight to undo trajectories of ignorance.
- It is striking that of all messages to deliver within the last sermon of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him), he said: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action”. Actively tackling anti-blackness and colourism within the community means that we are fulfilling a prophetic legacy and obeying the advice in a sermon that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said the later people would understand more than the former.
- Arrogance and racism is a satanic sin which it is imperative members of our ummah be cured of: [Allah] said, “O Iblees, what prevented you from prostrating to that which I created with My hands? Were you arrogant [then], or were you [already] among the haughty?” He said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from clay.” [Allah] said, “Then get out of Paradise, for indeed, you are expelled. […].” The purification of the heart is our aim here on earth and one of the ways to help the community do so is to rid their hearts of racial arrogance.
- We should encourage the Muslim community to exchange good words. “O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.”
- In a world grappling with how to effectively counter racism, truly the observance of Taqwa and Islamic morality is the root of all cures. In Malcolm X’s letter from hajj, he wrote “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. […] During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions and in the deeds of the ‘white’ Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana”.
 Habeeb Akande, Illuminating the Darkness, (Ta-Ha Publishers, London), 2012, p.19-20
 Islam, The Prophet Muhammad and Blackness Zaid Shakir, p,9
 The Holy Quran, [30:22]
 Ibid., [49:30]
 Islam, The Prophet Muhammad and Blackness, Zaid Shakir, p.5
 The Holy Qur’an, [38:75-77]
 Ibid., [49:11]
 Malcolm X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992) p. 340-341)