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How We've Failed our Black Brothers & Sisters #BlackLivesMatter

Posted on Jul 11, 2016
Melanie Elturk


I try not to get political under the auspices of Haute Hijab but after the past week of violence the issue of race is one I can no longer be silent about. The truth is, we have failed our black brothers and sisters and it's time we speak openly and honestly about how we can rectify this wrong. Let me give you a bit of context so you understand where I'm coming from - before co-founding Haute Hijab, I worked for a private civil rights firm that filed civil cases on behalf of predominantly African American claimants who were victims of false imprisonment, police brutality and government misconduct. I interned at the NAACP and Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and worked as a TA for Race in the Law during law school. Needless to say, issues of civil rights predominantly within the African American community are hugely important to me not only as an attorney but as a Muslim.

As someone who is mixed-race, I've always been sensitive to issues of racial injustice. I particularly empathize with the African American community and the undeniable and grave injustices they face starting from childhood with inequities in education and access to proper healthcare, to residential steering meant to further de facto segregation and keep blacks out of certain neighborhoods, to blatant injustices including racial profiling and vastly disproportionate incarceration and prison sentences to subtle yet devastating institutional and subconscious racism.

As Muslim Americans of immigrant parents not only do we fall prey to the dominant views of the society around us (forgetting somehow, that we too are minorities) but we also carry our own baggage of cultural racism and bigotry that often stem from our immigrant parents who harbor and pass down racist beliefs and tendencies. We are doubly culpable for succumbing to the society around us as well as being infected by the cultural racism of our families.

Not convinced? Imagine the scenario of an Arab or Desi girl asking her parents to marry a black Muslim. Now imagine the same scenario, but instead the man is a white convert. Not enough for you? Think of your mosque. How many African Americans are in your congregation? Twenty-three percent of Muslim Americans identify as 'black' - that's over a million black Muslims. If there are only a few you can think of at your mosque - where are they? I can speak for my own community in Detroit where 'black mosques' are often the most underfunded and run-down of all mosques in the metropolitan Detroit area. If I ask someone in my community if they've even been to a 'black mosque' or know where they are, the answer would be an overwhelming 'no.' The fact that we even have 'black mosques' is telling in and of itself.

This is problematic for many reasons - not the least of which being that there is so much to learn from the black Muslim community. They've suffered injustice after injustice and know and understand the system here in America. In this political climate of fear and uncertainty, we need to stand together and gain strength in numbers.

Like many of you, I watched in horror as police officers murdered Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in cold blood. I joined the nation in shock as police officers were gunned down in Dallas. I too ask myself what I can do and what my role is in all this. Here are my call-to-actions that all of us as Muslims must take heed of and think carefully about:

1) START AT HOME. If you're a first generation child of immigrant parents, chances are there's some sort of racism going on at home. The sad reality is that many of our parents brought their biases and stereotypes with them from their home countries and passed them down. LET IT STOP AT YOU. Remind your parents that these cultural prejudices have no place in Islam and need to be eradicated. Lastly, and most importantly, look inside yourself to see what prejudices you harbor.

In his final sermon, Prophet Muhammad (S) said, “O people! Your God is one and your forefather (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a white person is not better than a black person and a black person is not better than a white person except in piety.

2) GET INVOLVED. We must be just as passionate about the #blacklivesmatter movement as we are about injustices in Syria. We should be just as quick to join an anti-black racism rally as we are a Palestine march. Injustice is injustice no matter who the victim is and as Muslims we always stand with the oppressed. Whether it's being vocal on social media, speaking out at school or in the workplace, or praying for the fallen victims and their families, it's imperative we do our part. (And please, stop using the hashtags #MuslimLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter - it dilutes and diminishes the efficacy of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.) For more info on how to get involved, donate, find a local chapter or event, visit

"O you who believe, stand out firmly for Allah, be witnesses to justice and let not the enmity of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed Allah is acquainted with all you do" 
(Quran 5:8).

3) BE CONSCIOUS. Whether you like it or not, if you witness a racial injustice and do nothing about it, you are complicit. If you see a wrong being committed in the workplace, at school or even in your own home - speak up. Know and understand the injustices the African American community face; the disadvantages they endure be it education, healthcare, voting rights, law enforcement and workplace discrimination, and so on. Understanding these issues allow you to empathize rather than victimize. Also remember that part of racism is systemic, so be aware of the privileges you may be benefiting from to the detriment of others.

The Prophet (S) said, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”

4) GET TO KNOW YOUR BLACK NEIGHBOR. It is not enough to be empathetic. Take it upon yourself to find the black Muslim (or non!) community where you live and interact and befriend them. Take your kids to jumuah at a predominantly black mosque, volunteer and genuinely get to know the black Muslims in your community. Invite them into your homes and break bread. This is the only way we're truly going to overcome the biases and prejudices we all harbor.

"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)" (Quran 49:13).