According to research conducted by Black Muslim Forum between June and December 2019 whereby 100 Black British Muslims responded to our survey exploring the racialized mistreatment they had undergone, 53.95% of participants felt that overall they generally did not belong to their local mosque, 63.41% of participants felt that overall they did not belong to the UK Muslim community and 48.98% of participants faced anti-black discrimination or colourism within a UK mosque or religious setting. Finally, 46 of the 100 participants could give a rough estimate of discrimination they had faced over the year 2018 alone. Whilst 100 participants is a small sample size making it difficult to generalize trends for the entire UK Black British Muslim population, these statistic are nonetheless alarming and require immediate attention and intervention.
Anecdotal reports over time to Black Muslim Forum have included Black British Muslim individuals feeling marginalized, ignored and undermined. More specifically, from our research, the ways in which Black British Muslims are racially mistreated are as a result of Arab and Asian cultures superimposing colourist ideals onto Black Muslims; additionally, the subversion of African Caribbean cultures as being “impermissible”; mistreatment in mosques and especially Islamic schools and finally difficulties within the institution of Marriage.
Proposed solutions from our survey centered around two themes: education and awareness.
Our solutions are several:
- 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 and appointing Black Muslim leaders.
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 necessary exercise which leads to a healthy heart and conveys a sound message to listeners. Appointing Black Muslim leaders will allow for speech which causes little to no offence as well as allow for events and programming throughout the year to include topics on Black Muslims and Islam in Africa to help the leadership to be more representative of the British Muslim community.
- Choosing words wisely, being aware of one’s 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 mandatory workshops and trainings 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. To organise a training, please contact Black Muslim Forum.
- Making use of Black History Month in October and celebrating it throughout the year
Black history month in the UK is an annual October event in celebration of the history and legacy of Black figures and Black culture. We seldom see 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. Speakers should regularly be invited to educate and inspire the ummah about Black Muslims/ Islam in Africa and undo the ignorance that has been taught. Speakers to invite include Hafsah Dabiri, Mustafa Briggs, Momodou Taal, Ismael Lea South, Saraiyah Bah, Habeeb Akande, Rakin Fetuga, Khadijah Kuku, Dr Azeezat Johnson, Mohammed Mohammed, Nafisas Pearlz and Rashidat Hassan amongst others. Black Muslim creatives to include in events are Pearls of Islam, Rakaya Fetuga, Funmi Abari, Muneera Pilgrim, Sukina Pilgrim, Amaal Said & Ahmad Ikhlas.
Major Obstacles to Implementation
Challenges to implementation include a lack of incentive on the part of leadership to take action. If this is not a problem that affects the majority of the congregation, why tackle this? The answer is that if one part of the collective is suffering it is the religious obligation of the leadership to address it. Incentive also stems from the fact that the Prophet (pbuh) mentioned the issue of race in his last sermon, that racial arrogance is a satanic sin which it is imperative the ummah be cured of and that the Muslim congregation should be encouraged to exchange good words.
Black Muslim Forum’s 2020 report: “They had the audacity to ask me if I was Muslim, when they saw me – a black woman in niqab”- Report on the experiences of Black British Muslims https://blackmuslimforum.org/2020/04/05/they-had-the-audacity-to-ask-me-if-i-was-muslim-when-they-saw-me-a-black-woman-in-niqab-experiences-of-black-british-muslims/
A Brief Guide for Muslim faith leaders to tackle anti-black racism and colourism within the ummah https://blackmuslimforum.org/2019/05/14/a-brief-guide-for-muslim-faith-leaders-to-tackle-anti-black-racism-and-colourism-within-the-ummah/