“There is definitely a reason why my cousins and friend are not getting as much media coverage, and it is because they were black,” – Ibrahim Dahab (Cousin to two of the victims)Okayafrica
In February 2016, the hashtag #ourthreebrothers was started on social media in response to the tragic murder of three Sudanese-Americans; 23-year-old Mohamedtaha Omar, 20-year-old Adam Mekki and 17-year-old Muhannad Tairab.
The hashtag formerly #ourthreeboys was an adaptation of #outhreewinners which was a campaign following the Chapel hill shooting that took the lives of three Muslim students in North Carolina in 2015. Whilst #ourthreewinners was used by thousands on social media to bring to light the islamophobia and sense of foreboding that was taking shape in America, #ourthreebrothers was used to highlight how very little media coverage and Muslim support the aftermath of the murders of the three Sudanese-Americans received.
It does not come as a shock to Black Muslims that Muslim media, institutions and public figures were and have been invariably silent. Like the many senseless losses of Black people in America, Mohamedtaha, Adam and Muhannad have largely disappeared from our minds and the public discourse – the initial loss of their lives barely causing even the slightest upset to American and Muslim society.
Almost four years on, what has changed within our ummah, what have we, on a global scale learned? Though the loss of our brothers made many newly cognisant of their/ our community’s problem with anti-blackness what has been instituted to ensure this awareness prevails? What structural change has been effected in global Muslim society to eradicate anti-black racism at governmental/policy level? What about societal level?
Whilst some mosques such as Lewisham Masjid in South London, UK have taken the initiative to celebrate Black History Month to bring awareness to the rich and complex reality of Afro-Muslim history, most of our mosque’s lag behind and have not grasped this limited but inceptive opportunity to help undo ignorant and misinformed trajectories. Fewer still have sought to directly tackle the issue of racism and colourism with external organisations such as the Muslim Anti-Racism Collective based in the US having to set the agenda within faith bodies to address this.
The problem is there is no incentive for the large majority of Muslims to question the foundations of their distorted judgement. When the hegemonic reflex of our ummah is that of apathy concerning black pain we have to ask ourselves why this is the norm. Why do we feel the trauma of every other people except those with Black heritage? Islamic scholar Yasir Qadhi himself felt as though the Black struggle in America did not become his struggle until he found out a family member had been a victim of Jim Crow. He has since been a vocal presence in Western Muslim society on the issue of racism saying in a Facebook post:
“In the face of such blatant injustice, and with the rising movement of #BlackLivesMatter, American Muslims needs to understand that it is not ‘their’ problem, it is ‘our’ problem. This is especially true of privileged American Muslims, such as those of us in the immigrant community with Indo-Pak or Arab backgrounds. Although we have not experienced anywhere near the type of racism that is endemic against African American, we are getting a small dosage of that in the current climate of Islamophobia.”
Despite his activism, the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’ remains firmly rooted in the minds of his targeted audience. Ultimately, there is no incentive for community introspection when several things occur:
• Muslim history in America is divorced from African-American history despite Islam coming to America through the hearts of captured slaves
• Afro-Muslim history in general is subverted, ignored and hidden
• Colourist and anti-black mindsets entrenched in the minds of immigrants and instituted in the Western ummah are not challenged by mosques and faith-based social justice organisations
• Anti-racism is not emphasised as being synonymous with tazkiyah (purification) and social justice – two components of a healthy Muslim identity
• Little existing support behind movements trying to change policy in MENA society to reflect the rights and dignity black people should be afforded in our times
• Racist thinking is not taught to be understood as a microcosm of satanic thinking and a fast track to spiritual asphyxiation
When these factors occur, incentive is decimated and the pervading thought pattern is this: Black Muslims are unequivocally and intrinsically illegitimate. The same visceral fear of blackness that resulted in the loved ones of Malcolm X being rejected from the American Sunni Muslim community and having to conduct his funeral in a church remains prolific, unchanging, unchallenged and resistant to reason. Regressive media archetypes of the Black man, woman and child are absorbed by the wider Muslim community and subconsciously superimposed onto unassuming members of the congregation to the extent that hashtags such as #ourthreebrothers are established.
In answer to my own question, very little has changed. Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are still rife with anti-black sentiment and lacking legislation protecting Black citizens. The Gulf region is still a stronghold for the ill treatment of immigrants- the lowest of the rung being Black women who go there to seek a better life. Libya’s Tawerghans and Afro-Mauritanians are still persecuted and systematically humiliated unapprehended by the vast majority of Muslims. African-Americans Muslims are still forging a path through the legacy of a barbaric history and suffering in ways sometimes even impossible to identify much less articulate- from the prison industrial complex to state securitisation and the pacification of dissent.
While this is a bleak and uncomfortable reality, some positive changes, largely on the part of Black Muslims have begun to unfold. Though policy change pertaining to Black people in Muslim society has seen little improvement, it is safe to say at least that the conversation pitch has increased with more people paying attention. Women’s based organisations rooted in Black Muslim unity such as The Black Muslim Girl and Being A Black Muslim Girl have been established and ever increasing in followers – providing a solidarity and representation for Black Muslim women worldwide. Mustafa Briggs’s ‘Beyond Bilal’ tour has combatted ignorance pertaining to Islam and the African continent, educating and inspiring on an international scale and much new content on social media has mirrored this shift. Muslim ARC, The Black Muslim Intiative, The Black Muslim Psychology Conference, Black Dawah Network and Yaqeen institute have been vocal in their respective campaigns for racial justice, Black uplift and unity. And finally the work of Black Muslim Forum- which was started exclusively for the purpose of improving the condition of Black people, specifically Black Muslims.
Almost four years on from #ourthreebrothers little has changed in terms of ummah-wide sentiment. This is especially in America were loud whispers of black trauma are still woven into the tired fabric of a threadbare society. We can hesitantly say however that some seeds have been planted.
Soukeyna Osei-Bonsu is a researcher and writer for Black Muslim Forum. Her research interests cover the African diaspora, Islam and race, inter-generational trauma, African political thought and Black minorities in North Africa.
Our Three Brothers: Nearly Four Years On From The Tragic Murder Of Three Sudanese-Americans, Has Our Ummah Changed?Tweet