By Shameel Ibrahim
10th June 2020
America has been burning with protests for the past few days over the death of 46-year old George Floyd. The video of Floyd being choked to death by a police officer has infuriated the public and has led to a country-wide protest against racism, racial inequality, and the system of injustice against Blacks, through the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Muslims, while voicing out for the injustice of that has been committed to the black community, should also remove the poison of racism from their minds and hearts.
Hong Kong’s Muslim Community
can’t say much about other Muslim communities but I can tell you about the community in the city of Hong Kong, where I live. The city’s Muslim population is mixed, with a sizeable population of Muslims from the subcontinent (present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), from the Malay Peninsula, the Middle East, and from the African continent. Muslims make about 4% of the city’s population.
Keeping the demographics aside, I think it’s high time that the South Asian community, not just in my city but worldwide, should re-evaluating ourselves on how we view and treat our fellow black brethren in faith. I’ll start with my own experiences with black people.
Before discussing the topic, I want to make it clear that these are just my experiences in Hong Kong and this does not mean the entire South Asian community is neglecting the importance and significance of black people. Also, I am not trying to generalize the South Asian Muslim community throughout the globe or in Hong Kong. I am simply pointing out some of the problems that are affecting my community here in Hong Kong, and that it is possible that many people worldwide can have the same or similar problems as well.
My Experiences with Race and Racism
As a young kid, I have been exposed to many different races. My parents came to the city in search of greener pastures and I grew up in Hong Kong almost my entire life.
By the time I was a teenager, I had friends from a multitude of races – Filipino, Indonesian, Thai, Nigerian — you name it. And Islam played a huge role in my life thanks to my parents, who would often listen to lectures regarding many different matters relating to race in Islam. As a family, we would discuss discrimination and racism within our communities. Due to this transparent communication, I learned to accept people for who they are without any preconceived notions. And my diverse friend circle helped in unimaginable ways in breaking stereotypes and weaving bonds of friendship. So, racism, for the most part, was unthinkable for me.
However, during my studies and research, I came to know that one country has its entire foundations based on racism – which is, of course, the so-called “land of the free” – the US. The fact that there have been multiple massacres, killings, tortures, and rapes for simply being Black — was shocking to me. As I matured, I learned that it was for the sake of economic domination – to rule and earn over a group that is considered inferior in the eyes of the white European.
And naturally, after witnessing so many incidents of shootings of Black men and women in my Facebook feed, I felt heartbroken and I would often think – “can we actually do something for the Muslim Black community?” Or “what can we do for the Black community in general?” But that thought just wavers away for some reason, But then, I realised that my community hasn’t done much for the Black community in Hong Kong, in fact, we’ve “subcontinentized” our Muslim community.
The “Subcontinentization” of Islam
Due to the predominance of Indo-Pakistani population among Muslims, we have effectively made Islam into a cultural product of the subcontinent (which includes present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), which has led to indirect racism. There are six official mosques in the city, out of which the biggest mosque does not have a resident Chinese Imam (religious leader) to translate the Khutbah (religious sermon) or to help with consultation and communication between the local Chinese and the Muslim community. The organization responsible for managing the mosque are filled with people from the subcontinent — and not one is a Chinese imam. Out of the six mosques, four mosques have imams from the subcontinent and only two have Chinese resident imams.
And in these three mosques, the sermons are primarily given in Urdu supplemented by English (which is oftentimes in a 90:10 ratio), even though a sizeable amount of non-Urdu speakers, including a lot of African brothers, attend the Friday prayer and sermons. Are we really following the Prophet (SAW)? Don’t we realise that we need to let people of all races hear the message of the weekly Friday sermon?
I have yet to see a black Muslim Imam here in Hong Kong under the current situation — and I find it ironic that many Muslims still talk about Bilal (RA) while in practice, it is nowhere to be seen.
And for years, I struggled to learn Urdu (because I come from the Southern part of India, where Hindi or Urdu is not the lingua franca of the region) and trying to understand the language. Alhamdullilah (Praise be to God), I managed to learn it thanks to my friends from the subcontinent. But what about those who cannot afford to learn a language just to listen to a 30-minute sermon?
Through the predominantly “subcontinentized” mosques, we are essentially ignoring the needs of Muslims who come from other nations and refusing to connect and communicate with them on a deeper level. We are also alienating young people who may have a lot of questions regarding Islam, but due to the language barrier, they might throw away their questions and linger in doubt, thus, WE are part of the problem.
When a conversation on racism comes up among the social circles of Muslims, inevitably, the name Bilal ibn Rabah (RA) pops up, and as we know, he was the first muathin (the person to call out the prayer) and a former slave who was tortured for believing in Islam, later freed by Abu Bakr, the closest friend and companion of the Prophet. But he’s not the only Black companion of the Prophet, there are many others, like Abu Dharr, Ammar Bin Yasir, and Umm Ayman (who was also the caregiver of the Prophet) all of whom suffered torture and persecution for their belief in Islam and all of them were what you would call “Black”.
Yes, the Prophet (SAW) stated the following:
“O people, your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. There is no favour of an Arab over a foreigner, nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness. Have I not delivered the message?”
However, there is a profound lesson that the famous pre-modern scholar Ibn Taymiyah mentions regarding acting upon knowledge. He says:
“Abu ‘Abd al-Rahmaan al-Sulami said: Those who used to teach us the Qur’an, ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Uthmaan and ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood and others, told us that when they learned ten verses from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), they would not move on from that until they learned what was in them of knowledge and put it into practice. They said so we learned the Qur’an and knowledge and practice altogether.”
So, before we put Bilal ibn Rabah on a pedestal making him an example of racial tolerance and before quote the popular Hadith (sayings of the Prophet), we just need to ask ourselves one question: are we genuinely ready to change our perceptions towards people of different races? (and this does not only apply to black people, it refers to all the races that Allah has created).
Undoubtedly, we need to stand with the victims of oppression whether they be Black, Asian, Hispanic or any other race for that matter as we are obligated as Muslims, to “stand firm for justice”, be it against ourselves, our parents, our relatives, whether they are rich or poor and that we should NOT let our personal inclinations impede our judgments.
As Malcolm X had said:
“I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda.…I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole”.
Finally, we Muslims should remember and internalise the following verse of the Quran:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” — The Holy Quran, 49:13
We need to include black Muslims in our communities. Connect with them and talk to them. Prioritize them in positions of leadership and scholarship. Include them in our conversations and respect them as dignified individuals just as we consider Bilal (RA) or any other black companion of the Prophet to be the symbol of racial equality. More importantly, we need to go beyond just paying lip-service to the racism that occurs within our communities and that’s when real change will occur — within ourselves and our communities.
Original Headline: Muslims Should Solve Their Racism Within — While Standing in Solidarity with the BLM Protests
Source: The Muslim Vibe
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