Thursday, September 22, 2016

Terence Crutcher, May God grant him the highest level of Paradise

Yesterday morning, I cried as I prepared my body, mind, and soul for the dawn prayer. My tears were for Terence Crutcher. I admit, I do not always cry when innocent lives are taken, not even every time a black man’s last breath is snatched away by a bullet. But this time, I could not stop.

I felt the urgent need to write to the women with whom I regularly share my life struggles. They are Muslim women, except for one Christian. They are mostly African American women, except a third of them are the daughters of Muslim immigrants, of South Asian and Arab descent.

But this urgency to share my burning feelings and to call us to some form of action was tempered by the fact that it was time to turn to God, literally. The dawn prayer, and the remembrances of the Divine that I carry out every morning, could not be put on hold. It was a keen reminder that there is no help, no assistance, no mercy, no justice, no truth, no peace except by God, through God, and with God.

Once I completed that which I owed God, I wrote this letter to my circle of women, women like me--prayerful women, educated women, mothers, wives, aunties, activists. Women who are shaping the world, starting with our own children. It is within this context that I wrote these words:

The night before last I read to my sons the story of the first man who died a martyr in the Battle of Badr. Later that night, I read the news of Terence Crutcher. Anger overcame me: “How is it that they manage to keep alive an armed man whom they suspect set off bombs to kill people but shoot down an innocent, unarmed black man?”  

Then I remembered what I read to my sons. My anger quickly turned into hope, the only possible bright side at that moment, that Terence Crutcher died a martyr.

Turning to God and active protest against injustice and inhumanity have always characterized my people's fight in this country.

At ISNA, I talked to the mostly immigrant and second-generation American Muslim audience about Black Lives Matter and how it related to our unique struggles and hopes in this country. Tariq Ramadan spoke after me and referred to my talk more than once. He reminded us that as Muslims, who carry the prophetic legacy to improve our own character and to bring good to the world, to be spiritual requires that we be political. We have no choice except to be a part of the movement for black lives.

It meant a lot for me to hear a distinguished leader in our community say this because years ago I complained that immigrants and their children did not see African American struggle as “a Muslim cause.” My Muslim peers focused on struggles abroad, I wrote in my first book, “believing that Muslims in the United States needed to support Muslims suffering in Palestine, Bosnia, and Kashmir. I accepted these as legitimate struggles for which I should show some concern. But I also found that many of my peers were not willing to see the African American cause as a Muslim cause.”

Much has changed since my research conducted in 2002. Nonblack Muslims have taken on social justice issues in ways that continue to surprise and impress me given my early observations and have been at the forefront of Muslim involvement in Black Lives Matter.

Still, the reminders that Dr. Ramadan and I gave are needed as we grow into seeing the Black cause as a Muslim cause. Many of us, black and nonblack, struggle with answers and strategies to address the violence and injustice against African Americans in this country.

Oprah likes to say, “Start where you are”:  A prayer for African American people, Black men, women, and children, our ancestors, our progeny; a prayer that we remove from our hearts our prejudice and hate against black people and blackness; believing that the legacy of slavery continues to impact us in profound ways and reading history and literature about that legacy; making sure that our children love themselves and love black people; inundating our shelves with beautiful children’s books with African American characters.

(Personally, though, I have not introduced literature highlighting slavery and segregation to my children under 9 years old as I believe, as do many experts, that children should be able to live freely as children; at an early age, their hearts should not have to struggle with the hate that others have inflicted upon their people as introduced in books addressing the heavy aspects of black life; I choose to build their hearts and minds with books on African culture and history and everyday African American children’s experiences; award-winning titles that come to mind are The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey and The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci, and even Muslim literature like Cinderella: An Islamic Tale and Bismillah Soup; and of course Uncle Remus and the Tales of Brer Rabbit, based on the folktales told by enslaved Africans.)    

As did our ancestors, resist and build in your own way. For me, that means joining the homeschooling movement and not placing my children in an institution that has become for too many black boys a pipeline to prison. That's my way, not necessarily your way, but find your way while you first ensure that you keep yourself, your family, and community well and sound.

We cannot afford to be silent; we must pray; we must act.


* Act now by joining the National Muslim Call to Action for Black Lives.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Our Black Mothers Wrote, Fought, and Died for Us

I once explained to an Arab Canadian Muslim friend, "The black freedom struggle is spiritual for me." I am reminded of this as I prepare for a conversation at Duke on "Islam as Black History" and listen to the words of Black women scholars like Nikki Giovanni. 

Their words kindle emotions and aspirations to be a part of something higher akin to the way reading the Qur'an and listening to the lovers and friends of God leave me in yearning for the Beloved and His beloved, the Prophet Muhammad, prayers and peace be upon him.

Here is the parallel: My yearning for God comforts every part of me as it grants certainty of why I am here and where I want to go. Similarly, the words of the great African American women and men before me touch every part of me, assuring me that their words were written for me to claim and make my own, infused with the sweetness of my faith and struggle. I am here to continue their thoughts. I am humbled. I am flowing with joy.

So much so that I post on fb:

The defining concept in black feminism/womanism that has shaped my work, expressed cogently by Nikki Giovanni:

“When we look at the history of slavery, we have a whole situation where no one cared if you were woman or not; you had to get out into the field. After freedom, no one cared if you were woman or not, you had to work to support your family. So for black women--that’s one of the problems with women’s lib in relation to the black woman; they look at themselves as woman but we’ve had to look at ourselves as black.”

And here are my words; I shared them Sunday at Northeastern University as I've shared them with you before:

"During slavery, our foremothers worked alongside men in the fields sun up to sun down, even as they endured the critical phases of motherhood. Their babies kicked in their wombs as they were forced upon, beaten, and hung.

By leaving work, I saw myself inheriting the legacy of women who were forced to do it all and, therefore, I embraced the privilege of not having to do it all."

I now see it. I am claiming and declaring my womanhood. I am a woman, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a teacher, and a scholar. And I seek to experience all of it profoundly.

Our mothers prayed for us to be seen and treated as women. They fought for us. They died or were ready to die. We inherit their words, we inherit their work. We ask God for our success. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My HuffPost Piece: Why I Expect African American Families to Stand Against Islamophobia

My sister, Ayisha Karim, and my cousin, Mareisha Reese
In the fight against Islamophobia and racism, I collaborated with my aunt Mary-Frances Winters, owner of diversity and inclusion firm The Winters Group, to contribute companion pieces to HuffPost Religion Blog.

Mine: "My Cousin Is a Muslim/Why I expect black families to stand against Islamophobia":

Aunt Mary's: "My Muslim Family Taught Me That Love Is the Foundation of All Faiths":