Margari Aziza

May 16, 2013

Muslim Youth are in the Crosshairs of a Culture of Violence

Filed under: Muslim Communities in America, Muslim Minorities, Social Justice, Street Violence — Margari Aziza Hill @ 9:41 am

Margari Aziza Hill addresses our collective denial about the dangers Muslim youth face and create. soapbox

Media coverage of the mass shootings of Sandy Hook and Aurora Colorado theatre should make Muslims worldwide aware of the proliferation of guns and the culture of violence in America. These tragic events have sparked a national dialogue about gun control, the culture of violence, and mental health. But the American Muslim voice is surprisingly absent from the gun control debate. Muslims often think that they are immune to the problems in broader society. This has led to a magical thinking about our children’s safety and lack of support for policies that could curb gun violence.

Muslim youth in the inner city are just as vulnerable to street violence as non-Muslims. But, outside of honour killings and hate crimes, the issue of gun violence and its effects on inner city Muslim communities are rarely talked about. Most African American Muslims know a friend or family member who has been injured or killed in gunfire. Last semester, my young African American Muslim student asked me to excuse her absence so that she could help her family make arrangements for her brother’s janazah. The 19-year-old had been shot following a verbal altercation in West Philadelphia, an all too frequent occurrence. My cousin Ara Hayward, who is also Muslim, recounted the story of her husband who survived getting shot four times in front of her house. Their stories, as well as the many janazahs I have attended while working in the Philadelphia Muslim community, have raised my awareness that gun violence is a problem. As mums, we have to stop thinking that Arabic names, hijabs, and kufis will shield our children from danger.

According to the Philadelphia Police Department, there were 331 homicides and 1232 shooting victims in 2012. Although the police reports do not indicate the religious identities of the victims or perpetrators, it is clear that there are many Muslim names on both lists. In order to understand the effects of gun violence on the Muslim community, I began to survey Muslims and contact hospital chaplains and masajid. Several respondents to my survey stated that they know of as many as 10 to 15 Muslims killed since 2001. One mother has created QAAMS Hajj foundation, to help facilitate the Hajj for Muslim youth in honour of her son, Qa’id Ameer Abdul- Majeed Staten. He was gunned down in 2003. In the past five years in Philadelphia, I have seen a number of Muslim families devastated by gun violence. Some victims are caught in crossfire like Qa’id, including the young mother of four, Hafeezah Nuri-Deen or the 18 year old Shakuwrah Muhammad who had plans to attend college to become a forensic scientist. There are others who were shot in robberies, such as the newlywed from Morocco, Quadii Soulimani, who was shot just outside the masjid doors on his way to the morning prayer and the 40 year Egyptian America old store clerk, Mustafa Shaker.

Patterns of street violence are not limited to American inner cities or African Americans. Media reports have shown that South Asian and British Muslim gangs exist, scholars have pointed to the rate of Muslims in French prisons, and some Australian reports claim that Muslim immigrants are five times more likely to be involved in crime. Perhaps we need to look at the problem of disaffection of our youth, globally.

Sometimes the magical thinking results in parents overlooking their children getting involved in crime. Aliya Khabir, author of the Islamic Urban fiction novel, Just Be Still, points out that inner city Muslim communities are not addressing gun violence. She observed, “We walk around like it doesn’t exist. We pretend like we’re not the perpetrators either.” She noted, “Looking at my third grade class picture from Clara Muhammad School, only four out of all the guys in a class of 33 have never spent any time in jail.” Muslims have been involved in robberies, cop killings, and even one child kidnapping. Some parents restrict their daughters, but they are much more permissive with their boys. Mums forget how persuasive popular media and peer pressure can be. Many of our youth are not involved in crime or gangs, but because they want to be accepted they may find themselves in harm’s way by hanging out with gang members. This is why we have to be vigilant about our children’s peer groups, regardless of gender.

Our communities also have to move beyond magical thinking. Many inner city mosques are located in areas of high frequency gun violence and crime. Some Muslim leaders have taken a stand against violence, participating in interfaith peace walks. But some of our communities have developed an insular approach and assumed that these are the problems of the kuffar. Collectively, communities have not developed programmes to make streets safer for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Instead, we long for the good old days when wearing Islamic garb would protect Muslims from harm. However, Muslims earned that respect from their commitment to developing the community and living exemplary lives. Our failure to address the social decay and blight surrounding our masajid in the past two decades has been the greatest blemish on our record.

We have to begin to think of programmes that can affect positive change in our communities, including economic development, neighbourhood watches and youth programming. This is where we need to think about programmes such as Cure Violence, which has been featured in the documentary The Interrupters. Ameena Matthews has courageously stood on the frontlines, positively impacting her community. Her work demonstrates that curbing violence is not simply pushing legislation, but also transforming the culture and communities in which we live. And this is the work we have to do to ensure the safety of our children and those who come after them.

Margari Aziza Hill is an adjunct professor, freelance writer, blogger and editor who resides just outside of Philadelphia.

You can read the full article and other great pieces in the May edition of SISTERS magazine.

 

My Muslim Woman Owned Business Showcase: Mohajababes

Filed under: Business, Fashion, Hijab, Interview — Margari Aziza Hill @ 9:35 am

Margari Hill talks to sisters and Mohajababes founders Afra and Eiman Ahmed about their colourful kaftan creations.

small business showcase

MH: Tell us about the day you decided to turn your own personal fashion sense into a business. What went into the decision-making process?

AA & EA: Mohajababes was launched in November 2011 by two sisters based in California and London. Ever since we started wearing kaftans in 2007, people kept asking us where we got our outfits from – every time we were at a wedding or a party! Usually, you’d either see women in traditional outfits or about five or six women in identical dresses that you knew they got from the same store. Buying a Mohajababes kaftan means you know you’ll be wearing a garment you can feel special in and be the only one at a party dressed that way.

All the ladies in our family (mums, aunts, girls) jumped on the trend and attended events in kaftans. We become so well known for it that we started to get orders from family and friends abroad. It was then, in early 2011, that we recognised that there was a gap in the market. One day, Afra decided to source beautiful, handmade, modest kaftans in a variety of colours and designs, each hand-embroidered with beads, sequins and jewels. We did this with the intention of bringing kaftans to the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, so Muslim women could have other options for evening wear. As a family we sat down, developed our brand and launched in November 2011. The response was overwhelming and this encouraged us to develop an online shopping experience and take it further.

MH: You handpick your special collection from Dubai every few months. What goes into your selection process?

AA & EA: We do take into consideration current fashion trends, but ensure our kaftans adhere to what our customers love most about them – that you can dress them up or down, that they are suitable for hijab wearers and non-hijab wearers, and that they are unique one-off pieces. We love working with high quality chiffon – it falls beautifully on the body, is an incredibly forgiving fabric and is easy to dry clean. We started by working with classic colours: blacks, reds and deep purples; but we pushed the boat out and have gotten people buying royal blue, green, yellow, teal, turquoise and peach kaftans too! Our colour choices change depending on the season, so we have a lot of bright colours for our spring/summer collection, but bring in more muted colours for our autumn/ winter collection. Most importantly, we make sure our pieces are affordable, which we know our customers really appreciate.

MH: The models on your website look like real women with real shapes and sizes. They are also diverse, so it is easy for women from various ethnic backgrounds to imagine themselves in your kaftans. How do you select your models?

AA & EA: We think it’s very important to showcase what the kaftans will look like on women with varying shapes, body sizes and skin tones. We don’t think we would be doing our brand, kaftans or customers any justice if all our kaftans were modelled on the same 6 foot 2 inch slim model – the reality is that most of our customers and most women simply do not look like that. We work very hard at ensuring our models represent our customers and are happy that so far this has made their online shopping experience with us easier. Our models are from the US to as far as the Middle East, Africa and Indonesia!

MH: What trends do you see being big for Muslim fashionistas this spring/summer?

AA & EA: Long shirt dresses, maxi skirts, tops with uneven hemlines at the back, slim short jackets of various fabrics that work well with anything! We also see an immensely popular trend in studded clothing, shoes and bags. We love it – Afra is so crazy about it – she has been looking for the perfect studded iPhone case!

MH: What are some must haves for Muslim women in evening wear?

AA & EA: We like to keep it simple and let the outfit stand out. Always wear a plain hijab or one with a pattern that compliments the outfit – not competes with it – and a fairly simple hairstyle (if you don’t wear hijab). Jewelled hijab headbands, which we sell, can be used to dress up an outfit too. A pair of black flats in whichever style (pointy, round, studded) and a belt to shape the outfit. Chunky bracelets with some neutral coloured necklaces and rings are great accessories!

MH: You have a blog on your website. How have blogs and social media impacted your business?

AA & EA: Social media has been absolutely crucial to the growth of Mohajababes. Being an online business means reaching out to your customers primarily through social media, and it has been a steady uphill climb garnering followers and fans on various social media platforms. We recognise the importance of blogging too and the additional reach that this gives us, as well as an outlet to express more of who we are. We are about to hire a blogger to meet the growth in demand and intend to blog more regularly and reach out to the community much more by blogging on issues that are important to our followers.

MH: How do you feel about online fashion collage tools such as Polyvore for the newly minted Muslim fashionista?

AA & EA: Polyvore is a valuable collage tool that we haven’t taken advantage of much as we only put together kaftan looks. However, it is absolutely brilliant for the Muslim fashion blogger and her readers – it allows the individual to creatively express and put together a combination of looks without having to purchase the items or model them herself, and readers can then take inspiration from that. One of our favourite bloggers that uses Polyvore is www. hijabiestyle.com.

MH: What is the future of Mohajababes?

AA & EA: We’re looking forward to continuing to provide beautiful kaftans to our customers and are looking at increasing our hijab collection and accessories that complement the kaftans. We’d also like to be able to offer custom-made kaftans to suit our customers and God-willing, we will be able to offer our customers this soon!

You can read this and other great articles in the May issue of SISTERS magazine.

April 7, 2013

Call for Muslim Men to Share Stories of Love, Sex, & Intimacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Margari Aziza Hill @ 7:50 pm




Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy
SUPPLEMENTAL CALL FOR STORIES: Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy

You heard from the ladies in Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, now it’s time to hear from the men! Announcing a call for non-fiction, personal stories by American Muslim men on love & loss, sex & intimacy for publication by Beacon Press, February 2014.

This is our extended call for stories – in response to requests, we’ve opened this up to American Muslim men of all ethnic/racial backgrounds and perspectives.

NEW SUBMISSION DEADLINE: MAY 6, 2013 



WHY MUSLIM MEN?

For every stereotype about Muslim women, there are as many about Muslim men, lacking nuance, reflection or celebration. The search for romantic love impacts men’s lives deeply and yet there is little space for men to address these issues, share their experiences, or feel less isolated when it comes to affairs of the heart.

In the wake of Love InshAllah’s global success, continuing scrutiny of Muslims, and growing recognition in both the American and Muslim communities of the need to address the critical role of love, sex and relationships in men’s lives, it is the right time for Muslim men to share their intimate insights.

What does it mean to be a man? To love well? To be faithful and constant? What do you do if you fail at love? How do you move forward after you’ve broken someone’s heart or had yours broken? This anthology will explore the human heart and these universal and imperative questions from a Muslim perspective.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

Stories must be autobiographical and written by men who identify as both American and Muslim. We are looking for contributors who reflect a broad range of religious practice and perspectives, from orthodox to cultural to secular.

Write about a transformative episode that defined your dating/relationship/marital experience. Did factors such as religion, ethnicity, race, class, family, etc., play a role in your story? We want compelling real-life storytelling with dialogue and self-reflection, not essay-like commentary.

We prefer that authors write under their real names, but recognize that some topics are sensitive, so we are accepting a limited number of submissions under pen names.

DIVERSITY

Contributions are welcome from American Muslim men of all racial, ethnic, sectarian backgrounds, sexual orientation, ages, born and convert Muslims, disabled, single, engaged, married, divorced, or widowed.

DETAILS

Submissions should be between 1,500 – 4,000 words, double-spaced and paginated. Please send your submission as a Microsoft Word document attachment to stories@loveinshallah.com by May 6, 2013

Also include:

*Your full name & contact information

*Age

*Your geographic location

*Ethnic/racial background

*Sect

*Whether Muslim by birth or conversion

Stories will be selected for inclusion based on literary merit. You already know what makes good writing: humor, drama, irony, triumph, and focus. Bring your anecdote to life with vivid characterization, plot, and surprising real-life details.

PAYMENT

In accordance with publishing industry standards, writers selected for the anthology will be offered a TBD payment, 2 free copies of the book and the copyright of their story will revert to them one year after the book’s release to develop as they wish.

CONTACT

Feel free to email the editors, Ayesha & Nura at stories@loveinshallah.com with questions.

March 13, 2013

The ‘Yin’ of Mosque Leadership: Bringing in the Feminine Side

The Islamic Monthly published the preliminary findings of my research on women and mosque leadership:

How do women fair in American mosques? How do fellow worshipers treat them? Are mosques accommodating the multiple needs of the female community?

These questions have been on the minds of many in the American Muslim community for a long time. Many women have complained that they are not treated well in their houses of worship. Some concerned Muslim women have even taken to “shock and awe” tactics to change mosque culture by entering mosques, wearing hidden cameras to document their experiences, post these videos online and expose various types of discrimination.

Nearly a decade after the Islamic Social Services Association and Woman in Islam, Inc. released its pamphlet, “Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers, ” which rated the friendliness of mosques, not much has changed for Muslim women.

To better understand how the American-Muslim community has faired in its treatment of women since this report was published, I decided to survey over 100 Muslim men and women and speak with female Muslim leaders, many of whom asked to remain anonymous. A number respondents argued that women have made only marginal gains in American mosques.   Female educators, scholars, activists, and community organizers are vital to the development of the American Muslim community. Yet, many mosques and community centersare not utilizing the intellectual and professional resources that Muslim American women have to offer.

Mosque attendance is optional for women, but so many women choosing to not attend raises some important issues.  I spoke with a female community leader who wished to remain anonymous about women-led organizations and traditional Muslim institutions. She highlighted what is at stake explaining, “When you lose women, you lose kids, and you lose the husbands as well. This is the crisis that we are in for the growth of Islam in America.” In addition, Ameena Jandali, a founding member, Content Director, and trainer of Islamic Network Group (ING) in the Bay Area, California, points out that not only women, but  “A lot of young people feel alienated by the mosque.”

Who could blame women for feeling alienated with the shabby carpet that is rolled out for them? Women’s accommodations are often cramped and poorly maintained. They enter through dirty back alleys, climb fire escape entrances, and navigate basement mazes to get to women’s sections. And many places do not prioritize women’s spiritual development or foster a healthy community life for women. “Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers” estimated that one out of five mosques do not have programs for women at all and just over a quarter have only occasional activities. An anonymous interviewee raised the issue, “How am I going to be engaged in the mosque if there is nothing for me to do there?”

Mosques that do not accommodate women often do not encourage them to take leadership positions either. Since I began my research last year, I discovered that many are dissatisfied with the lack leadership and decision-making opportunities offered to women.   Several spoke about the dismissal of female voices on governing boards. One respondent put it succinctly, “Even if women are in leadership positions, male opinions tend to be dominant.” Another stated, “There is a general level of discomfort with women who are too vocal, too active, too opinionated.” While discouraging women from taking general leadership roles, many mosques encourage women to teach children at Islamic schools, sit on women’s committees, and volunteer for cooking and clean-up.  One respondent wrote:

There needs to be an overhaul on how we view women in Islam. I am sick of hearing how Islam gave women their rights and how we as Muslims value women but in reality we don’t. Once we see the need for women to be more than the assistant to people in leadership positions or the people behind the scene, we will have women want to do more in our communities.

Many felt that Muslim women’s contributions were not appreciated.  Lack of leadership opportunities, hostility towards female voices, and lack of appreciation is turning away many women who could make positive contributions on an organizational level.

Yet, some women have the passion, drive, and assertiveness overcome institutional barriers to contribute to their communities. Aliya Khabir, has played an active role at United Muslim Masjid (UMM) in South Philadelphia, which is under the helm of Imam Shadeed Muhammad. The imam has pushed for women’s programming and female education initiatives. While no women serve on the board at UMM, Aliya has carved out a sphere of influence in a non-official capacity. Aliya commented, “In their head, they are justifying it with ‘men are the protectors and maintainers.’ Nowhere does it [the Qur’an] say that men are better at decision-making and execution. Women possess these skills that are needed and necessary to properly operate a masjid and meet the needs of all attendees, me included.” She remarked that other professional women ask her why she invests so much time in a community that has not afforded women official roles. Aliya explained,  “It is because of my passion. It’s not about titles.” UMM is not alone, a significant portion of American mosques do not allow women to serve on their governing board.

The ADAMS center in Virginia, on the other hand, welcomes women in decision-making roles. Yasmin Shafiq, a board member of ADAMS, explains, “It was clear that the leadership at ADAMS values diversity in its membership and makes efforts to include the voices of young people, women, and otherwise underrepresented populations in the community.” Others have also looked to ADAMS as a model for encouraging female leadership and the community boasts an erudite female resident scholar, Dr. Zainab Alwani.

As a vibrant Islamic Center, ADAMS Center’s progressive approach indicates what Muslim communities could stand to gain from the expertise of Muslim women.

Women have led many successful Islamic organizations and initiatives outside the mosque. Yasmin acknowledged, “Unfortunately, I don’t think such traditional institutions usually have a well thought-out plan for utilizing highly educated women.” All of my conversations with female Muslim leaders emphasized women taking an active role in creating spaces for themselves, whether in the mosque or outside of it. Many people urged women to take initiative in their communities. Certainly, the success of communities that have welcomed women who are willing to step up to the plate makes a compelling case for mosques becoming a strong base for women’s empowerment. But we are not there yet, and more work needs to be done, by both men and women.

You can read the full article  and other thought provoking pieces at Islamic Monthly. Please post your thoughts in the comments section below.

March 4, 2013

The Relevance of Black American Muslim Thought

The Muslim American community is held together with the belief that there is no God but the One True God and that Muhammad is His prophet.  Muslims share daily patterns of worship, rituals of birth, marriage, and death. As one of the most diverse faith communities, Muslim Americans come from various ethnic, socio-economic, and cultural backgrounds.   Sometimes there are various articulations of Islam  due to different political, cultural, and religious orientations. Over the years, many Black American Muslims have been at the forefront of articulating Islamic thought for the growing American Muslim community. But this seems to have changed as a dominant narrative has taken over.

Some estimates go as far to say that there are 5 million Muslims in America. According to census data and information provided by mosques and community centers, Muslims in America make up .5% of the total population in America. Keeping it conservative, that equals just under two million. This still represents a significant number. CAIR reports that the ethnicities of mosque participants can be broken down to 33% South Asian, 30% Black American and 25% Arab, 3.4% sub-Saharan African, 2.1 European (i.e. Bosnia) 1.6% White American, 1.3% South-East Asian, 1.2% Caribbean, 1.1% Turkish, .7% Iranian, and .6% Latino/Hispanic. Other reports indicate the number of Black Americans may be even larger. Regardless of the numbers, there is no clear ethnic majority in American Islam. But these numbers raise some important issues: Who has the right to speak for American Muslims? Who are the real Muslims? Who will define the agenda for American Muslims? These questions have often been central to a debate that has emerged about the Black American/immigrant divide.

In America, there is fierce competition over resources which has led to some voices getting silenced in deciding the agenda for American Muslims. Within mainstream media, the Muslim American experience is about the immigration and assimilation experience. There is little press coverage or interest shown in the media on converts or the multi-generational Black American Muslim families. Sylvia Chan-Malik uses the term, “foundational blackness” to describe how contemporary Islam in America can best be understood by transnational affiliations that link gender, class, and religion, but also with its relationship with blackness.   However Black American Muslim foundations go back further, with memories of African Muslims enslaved in the America, even predating the formation of the United States. There are  also Sunni communities dating back to the 60s, such as Dar al-Islam movement. Some communities have origins much earlier, such as Quba Institute with roots in the 1930s Izideen village in New Jersey. Yet, consistently, there continues to be a portrayal of Islam as a foreign religion, with only internationalist interests. For over a century, some Black Americans have looked to African cultural legacies, addressed local issues, and have maintained transnational networks and ties, to articulate religious thought that is African, Islamic, and uniquely American.

While it is true that Black American Muslims were often drawn to Islam in an attempt to articulate their own cultural identity outside of the dehumanizing ascribed identity of Black inferiority, Black American Islam is thoroughly embedded in the American tradition. From the proto-Islam movements of the early 20th century, to the Black separatist movements of the 1960s, heterodox communities, and orthodox communities with leaders from or trained abroad, many Muslim communities sought to address social ills in America and globally. In particular, racism, economic and social inequality, economic exploitation, and family instability are on the main agenda of many Black American Muslim leaders. Before 9/11, some of the most prominent voices in American Islam were African Americans, including Warith Deen Muhammad and Siraaj Wahaj. Their status as citizens afforded them the privilege to critique American society and foreign policy, without compromising their Americaness. The protest tradition of many leaders helped forge a space for the next generation of immigrant and descendant of immigrant Muslims Americans to assert themselves in the public sphere. Following the events of 9/11, there has been an increasing silencing of Black American Muslim voices: a combination of little to no media acknowledgment of BAM’s as well as a systemic neglect on the part of immigrant Muslims. Over time, Black American spokespeople were gradually eclipsed as national Muslim organizations with strong immigrant interests sought to assert their agendas and provide the dominant narrative of immigrants assimilating to American values.

In contrast to the hegemonic narrative that has rendered them invisible, Black American Muslims are  vital to the health of this diverse Muslim community.  They have also continued to make great strides politically, socially, and culturally. This includes two Black Congressmen, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson, the growing prominence of intellectuals and scholars, most notably feminist scholar, Amina Wadud, and Aminah Beverly McCloud, who wrote African American Islam,  Sherman Abdul-Hakeem Jackson, and Zaid Shakir. There are also many young scholars, such as Jamilah Karim, Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, and Intisar Rabb. There is a large wave of Black American Muslim leaders who have demonstrated mastery of Islamic sciences and have graduated from Muslim institutions of higher learning, including Abdullah Ali, who earned a degree from  Al-Qarawiyin University of Fes. Black American Muslims have made cultural gains including a feature length film, “Mooz-lum,” and prominent Hip Hop artists, including but not limited to Lupe Fiasco, and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def).  The Abdullah brothers shared their story of taking time off from from the NFL to perform the annual Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj). The fencer,  Ibtihaj Muhammad, was the first Muslim woman to compete for the United States in an international competition and win a medal. Black American Muslims are very much part of the fabric of America and often play a daily role in interfaith dialogue, as many of them have family and loved ones who are non-Muslim.

Black American Muslims have used their social capital to critique American foreign policy, Islamophobia, and erosion of American civil liberties. As a group, Black American Muslims are far from nativists, as many identify with and relate to  numerous international and transnational Muslim communities. They are much more likely to attend a mosque in which another group dominates, showing their willingness to assimilate into an immigrant dominant mosque. Black American Muslims participate anti-war protests, critique extra-judicial killings through drone strikes in Chad, Mali, Yemen, and Pakistan, raise money for war refugees in Syria and alleviate suffering in natural disasters in Somalia and Pakistan. Yet  pressing social issues in their home communities, such as economic inequality, street violence, and family instability, play a large role in their everyday lives. Crime, poverty, and marriage are common issues raised in the Black American Muslim discourse from the minbar to the lecture hall. These issues also shape their outlook, which in turn causes them to be empathetic to the plight of others at home and abroad.

Perhaps the flexibility of thought can be tied to the Black American  Muslim identity, which is comprised of multiple intersections.  They are connected to many faiths and ethnic groups as part of this nation building project that we call United States of America. They are connected to many faiths and people who were either forcibly or willingly migrated to other lands  as part of the African Diaspora. They find connections with people on the African continent, and Black communities in South America and the Caribbean. They are also connected to people all over the world in  a multi-ethnic global community,  ummah. These connections have given Black American Muslims a unique juncture to relate to and speak on various issues and causes. Black American thinkers continue to be influential in defining American Muslim thought, as they connect their day to day lives with Muslims globally.

It seems to be willful ignorance on the part of the media, scholars, and some organizations to overlook these important contributions and connections.  The occlusion of Black Americans despite the continual relevancy of Black American Muslim thought makes it especially important to document this  intellectual heritage.  Indeed, we must go beyond documenting the life histories of major Muslim leaders and begin to study transformations in Muslim American thought. I look forward to the next wave of scholars who study Black American Muslims, such as Donna AustonZaheer Ali, and others who will shed light on roots of Black American Islam. These scholars can help us look at the ways in which Black American Muslims drew upon their intersecting identities in their interpretations of textual traditions in ways that address their global and local issues. I look forward to future studies of our rich intellectual traditions and the insights  that these brilliant scholars can bring to the discussion about American Islam.

February 19, 2013

Why Black History?

I wrote the article below,  “Why Black History?” to commemorate Black History Month. You can read the full article and other great articles and references at  SuhaibWebb.com.

49_13

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.

49:13 Quran Sahih International

Black History Month is observed in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to remember important events and people  of the African diaspora. In North America, we observe it in February and the United Kingdom during the month of  October. In 1926, the noted African American historian, Carter G. Woodson (d. 1950), began  “Negro History Week.” He selected  the second week in February in order to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson felt that scholars ignored his people’s history and other cultures. Much of his work was intended to foster understanding between the races. Joan Novelli writes, “Woodson believed that if whites learned of blacks’ contributions to American history and humanity, this awareness would engender respect.”[1] This reminds me of Surah 13 in Hujarat, where Allah (s.w.t.) tells us that He created us as different peoples and tribes so that we may know another. Racial equality and intercultural dialogue are moral imperatives based on Holy Scripture and Prophetic traditions.  Black history month is an opportunity for us to get to know the rich legacy of Africans and their contributions to their societies, our ummah, and humanity. Importantly, Muslim Americans should commemorate Black history because it is our history.

 

 

Black history month is not about nationalism. The Quran acknowledges heritage and lineage, but it emphasizes that nobility is not inherited. The most noble are those who cultivate piety. This is the essence of Islam’s egalitarian message. Black history month is an education initiative intended to combat racism. Even during the time of our Noble Prophet (s.a.w.), anti-Black and anti-African racism was a problem. It still plagues Muslim societies and our own communities in North America. One way that we can combat racism is by educating ourselves, and others, about the contributions of various peoples to our ummah, society, and humanity in general. February  is an opportunity to eradicate ignorance and combat prejudice against African and their descendants.

 

 

Black History Month is an importunity to instill self-worth in our youth. When I was in elementary school, two factors played a role in my low self worth: first, the lack of education about my people’s history and contributions to society; and second, school bullies who made fun of me and called me a slave and the “n” word. Today, in many Islamic schools, young people are still called “abeed” by their classmates. Abeed is the Arabic word for slave and it is the equivalent to calling someone the n-word.[2] When I was in elementary school, I thought that all my people were was slaves. I did do not know of the many contributions Black Americans have made to this society, whether in the sciences, business, or institutions. Although I was in the Gifted and Talented Education program, I felt like I was incapable of achieving anything. It wasn’t until middle school that I began to learn about the Civil Rights Movement and the contributions that my people made.  It allowed me to imagine possibilities for myself. I could become a medical pioneer who saves lives like Charles Drew, a millionaire like Madam C.J. Walker, or a poet like Phillis Wheatley. I saw myself in those stories and I began to dream big. These stories about black scientists, inventors, explorers, doctors, and leaders can provide examples of how people triumph over adversity.

 

During Black History Month, I learned about Martin Luther King and, of course, Malcolm X. For many converts, regardless of race,  Autobiography of Malcolm X played a role in their interest in Islam. Without Black History Month, I wouldn’t have learned  about Malcolm X and it is unlikely that I would have learned much about Islam. Watching Eyes on the Prize in middle school helped me understand the Civil Rights Movement.  The Civil Rights Movement help end institutional racism encoded in segregation laws. It also create opportunities for Americans of all colors. For example, an outcome of the Civil Rights Movement was the 1965 Immigration Act, which  ended immigration quotas of  non-Europeans.[3] This is what allowed South Asian, Middle Eastern, Arab, North African, and African Muslims to immigrate in greater numbers and establish Muslim communities. We now have one of the most diverse religious communities in the country.

 

Black History Month is an opportunity to learn about the history of Muslims in America. Often, Muslim Americans see themselves as recent transplants with roots only a few decades long. Many Muslim Americans are first or second generation immigrants, but Muslims have had a long presence in America. It is estimated that 10 to 15  percent of the slaves brought to the New World were Muslim.[4]   While Muslim slaves were not able to pass on their religion to their descendants, the historic memory is significant. Many Black Americans look to this past as they reclaim some part of their identity ,which was erased under the brutal system of chattel slavery. Likewise, Muslims from all backgrounds can relate to the stories of Muslim who were enslaved, such as Ibrahim Abdur Rahman and Omar Ibn Said.[5] There was also Bilali, who led a community of Muslims on the Sapelo Islands during  the 19th century. [6] If we look at our history in North America, we can feel more at home knowing our presence dates back hundreds of years.

 

Black history if also part of Islamic history.  The 31st Chapter of the Quran is named after Luqman the Wise, who is said to be from Africa.[7] The first hijrah was to Abyssinia.  Five times a day, we hear the call to prayer and remember the first muezzin Bilal.  Islam has been in East Africa from the time of its founding and has had a presence in sub-Saharan Africa for over 1000 years. Just recently, King Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire was named richest person of all time.[8] There are also important Africans who stand out in the history of Islamic civilizations in the Middle East and Indian sub-Continent. Al-Jahiz, was a champion of Arabic and demonstrated that it is a possible to write beautiful prose in Arabic. There was also Malik Ambar who ruled the  Deccan Sultanate, a rival to the Mughal Empire.[9] Many people do not know of the complex connections between East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and India nor are they familiar with the trade routes that connected sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean. Black history can be our opportunity to explore the culture and history  of Afro-Arabs , Afro-Turks, or Siddis of India. By embracing our interconnectedness, we Muslims have a rare opportunity as Muslims to participate in Black history.

 

Interconnectedness is the strength of our community. In the borrowing and blending, and acknowledging what we have to offer, we can understand how our lives intersect.  We can take this opportunity to look for lessons in this past. We can also use this window of opportunity to begin a real process of getting to know each other’s histories and engendering a greater respect and appreciation for all peoples in our ummah.

 

 


[1] Joan Novelli  “The History Behind Black History Month”   Teaching Tolerance, 2007  Retrieved February 12,  from 2013http://www.tolerance.org/article/history-behind-black-history-month

 

[2] Anyone arguing that it no longer has negative meaning, must remember that the n-word was used common place in America also. See Huckleberry Finn.

[3] Devin Love-Andrews Immigration Act of 1965 Webchron: The Web Chronology Project retrieved from internet February 12, 2013

http://www.thenagain.info/webchron/usa/immigrationact.html

[4] Islam in America retrieved February 12, 2013 from http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/islam-in-america/

[5] John Franklin “Omar Ibn Said” Documenting the American South  retrieved February 12, 2013 http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/omarsaid/menu.html; Yusra Owais, “African Muslims: A Rich Legacy”  Suhaib Webb February 26, 2011 retrieved February 12 2013 from  http://www.suhaibwebb.com/personaldvlpt/character/african-muslims-in-america-a-rich-legacy/

[6] Ray Crook “Bilali-The Old Man of Sapelo Island: Between Africa and Georgia” 40-55 Wadabagei: A Journal of the Caribbean and its Diasporas Vol. 10 No. 2 Spring/Summer, 2007 retrieved from http://www.utc.edu/Faculty/Nick-Honerkamp/Bilali%20the%20Old%20Man%20of%20Sapelo%20Island,%202007.pdf

[7] Margari Aziza Hill “Luqman the Wise” August 18, 2010 retrieved February 12, 2013 from  http://azizaizmargari.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/rediscovering-luqman-the-wis/

[8] Erik Oritz “King Mansa Musa Named Richest Person of All Time” The Daily News February 18, 2013 http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/king-mansa-musa-named-richest-history-article-1.1186261

[9]A. Rangarajana “Malik Ambar: Military guru of the Marathas” The Hindu October 18, 2008  retrieved February 12, 2013 from http://www.hindu.com/mag/2008/10/12/stories/2008101250220700.htm

February 4, 2013

Nana Asma’u: A Spark Who Continues to Illuminate

Nana Asma'u-1

Living as a Muslim minority in the West, I have often felt frustrated by religious intolerance, but also from a community  that does not fully honor the rights that are accorded to women in Islam or provide many outlets for women to become scholars. This was the case in late 18th century West Africa, in what is now modern day Northern Nigeria, when  Uthman Dan Fodio criticized oppressive customs and encouraged female education. Nana Asma’u bint Uthman Dan Fodio was a product of her father’s commitment to quality Islamic education for women. She became a legend in her own right and through her writings and education movement, ‘Yan Taru, she has inspired countless women for generations.

 

As a Nigerian with dual American and British citizenship, researcher Rukayat Modupe Yakub is aware of the legacy of Nana Asma’u. Rukayat points outs, “For so many Muslims Nana Asma’u is still unknown, but for those who are familiar with her she was an educator, writer and poet who was passionate about education, For this reason you find schools in places like Nigeria named after her.” In addition to her poetry and education movement, Nana Asm’au is also considered an Islamic leader who was known for her ability to mediate political disagreements. She was fluent in Arabic, Hausa, and the Tamasheq language of the Tuareg. Like her father  and brothers Muhammad Bello and Abdullahi, Nana Asma’u was a prolific writer who left a tremendous literary legacy. She wrote to keep her father’s memory alive in the minds of the people and in support of her brother Muhammad Bello’s  Caliphate. At 27, she was given the task of organizing her father’s corpus of works, all while overseeing a household of several hundred people and ensuring that they were provided for.

 

Jean Boyd gained access to her works in 1975 and later wrote The Caliph’s Sister, which provides a detailed biography of Nana Asma’u’s life and legacy. Jean Boyd collaborated with Beverly Mack to compile her poetry and religious treatises in Collected Works of Nana Asma’u, Daughter of Usman dan Fodio (1793-1864). The book compiles her impressive body of poems and treatises in Arabic, the Fula language, and Hausa. Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd also co-wrote a book which analyzes the social and political function of many of her poems titled One Woman’s Jihad: Nana Asma’u, Scholar and Scribe. 

 

Rukayat says that Nana Asma’u continues to serve as an important inspiration because “She was involved in social work and had political clout, she was a mother and wife, sister of the head of state, daughter of a legendary a political and spiritual leader, she could have had any life she wanted but she choose to be of service.” Around 1830, Nana Asma’u trained a group of women to travel around the Sokoto Caliphate to educate women. Each woman in this cadre held the title jaji  (leader of the caravan) to designate their role as female leaders.

 

One hundred and eighty years later, Dylia bin Hamadi Camara is one such Jaji who explains, “We have the name of all the jajis before me so mine comes after a long line of the unbroken chain of scholarship and service to women, children and the Ummah at large.” Jaji Dylia explains that the methodology of learning that Nana Asma’u develop still educates men, women, and children. In the United States, the ‘Yan Taru Education Foundation and Charitable trust has chapters in Pennsylvania, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and California with 33 women in intensive training and intensive seminars and classes which are open to the public.* Teachers like Jaji Dylia travel internationally and use email, teleconferencing, and text messaging to educate their students on classical Islam. Preparing for a trip to Guinea, Dylia stated her next goal is to translate Nana Asma’u’s teachings into French because the Francophone world has largely been unaware of this rich legacy. My hope is that we begin to learn more and more about the named and unnamed women who have been responsible for educating our ummah. They have passed on a rich legacy, one that reminds me that even when faced with the greatest challenges, we  as women can be brilliant and provide guiding lights for others.  

You can read find other stories of inspirational Muslim women, along with this one,  in   the February edition SISTERS magazine 
*Jaji Dylia updated us and told us that Yan Taru trust has chapters in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland , Florida and Massachusetts. She also has some students in Toronto who are not Yan Taru. She is currently in Benin, where she also has students.
To date, Dylia translated Tanbeeh l Ghafileen  and prays that Allah grants her the himma to translate even more in the future, insha’Allah.

 

January 28, 2013

Engaging Submission within the Black American Muslim Marriage

Filed under: Uncategorized — Margari Aziza Hill @ 8:40 pm

Some of the most hostile discussions I’ve witnessed have been between Black men and women during their discussions about relationships.  It gets heated. It gets nasty. It gets dirty. Black American Muslims often get into heated conversations about gender roles, power struggles, and family instability. Black dysfunction is a sore topic and often people blame the strong black woman, the independent black woman, the mouthy and insubordinate Black woman for the break down of the Black family, and therefore community. That, as well as the men who don’t know how to be men. So, many find the answer within Islamic traditions, texts, and 1400 years of scholarship. This is the idealized version of an Islamic marriage where men are protectors and maintainers and women are devoutly obedient.

We don’t have statistics for success rates of Black American Muslim marriages, largely due to the number of Islamic marriages that are not registered with the state. In a major urban center, one counselor who does pre-marriage counseling told my husband that about 75% of the marriages end in failure. Has the advice we’ve been given worked in the past few decades? Will it work, even if everyone tries to comply with the traditional gender norms of the obedient wife and husband who protects and provides?  Our expectations  are not always grounded in our cultural, economic, and social realities. The truth is, most of us enter our marriages with poor relationship and communication skills. Instead, we talk about rights and obligations. As for skills, we tend to overlook that.

I know I’m going to get some push back, but I had some thoughts about infantile notions of marriage within the Black American Muslim community.  I think the notion that an adult Muslim women must obey their husbands, shut their mouths, provide sex, and cook food is a gross simplification of the formula for creating a happy husband. I’ve heard a number of Muslims cite works such as “The Submissive Wife” or “Fascinating Woman,”  advocating mythic submission based on the Bible without acknowledging some of the nuance in these books, and some of the problems. They are just proof that women should obey and stop complaining.   They catalogue gendered emotional needs, without considering that not everyone is the same.  For example, on the notion of respect. Both men and women want to be respected. A healthy marriage is built upon mutual respect and love.  One cannot disregard and disrespect the feelings of a partner without expecting a build up of resentment. And how does that resentment get expressed? Either through passive aggressive behavior or confrontational behavior.

Sometimes we tend to look at a hadith or Quranic verse and think that we have the entire prescription for a social problem. But without context, we may not understand the kulliyat (big picture). The other point that becomes important is that perhaps Muslims need to look beyond rights and rules and look towards ethics, or rather a way of being in the world that embodies the sunnah of our Prophet (s.a.w.) .  While I am not qualified as a mufassir (commentator of Quran), I am aware that some authoritative scholars have interpreted verse 4:34 in various ways, including in a way that does not entail that a woman has to obey her husband’s commands, but God’s commands. Many scholars have qualified what is allowed in with the “beat them” with a “lightly” in parenthesis, to others who have looked to the seerah (prophetic biography) to outright prohibit wife beating. The reality is that there are Muslim traditionalists who will still uphold the right of a husband to hit his wife with a miswak (a tooth brush), and even some Black American Muslims who would argue that a smart mouthed woman could get a back hand to the face.   I have even sat in a Arabic khutbah where the immigrant imam did say that a man can hit his wife, just not in the face. But the  majority of American Muslim scholars are against domestic violence. I personally cannot even entertain the idea of wife beating as part of a healthy marriage, let alone a right that would help foster love and mutual devotion.

I think that some men are taught that their spouses only  respect them if the wife is immediately compliant. At the same time, this expectation leaves many intelligent women who may have legitimate reservations also feeling disrespected by their partners. Men are not the only ones who need respect. Everyone wants respect.  We feel respected when someone listens to us and takes our feelings into consideration.  So, while the Quran acknowledges the degree that men have over women, it does not mean that they always wield their privilege over their wives in a way that belittles them, infantalizes them, and emotionally harms them. If you really like your spouse as a person, would you treat them in a way that makes them feel like a child or treat them in a way that you wouldn’t treat an animal?

This raises the question as to something being allowed in Islam, but not necessarily being the best thing to do. Commanding someone and making demands, from a point of privilege and entitlement can breed a lot of ill feelings. Just as a woman may find that an indirect approach  to her husband will yield success, a man may find out that asking his wife, “Do  you mind making dinner?” may leave open some space for her to say that she feels ill that day, she is tired after a long day of work and maybe take-out would be best. But the demand for dinner may leave a woman feeling a yoke of oppression, as opposed to the husband appreciating the home cooked meal, rather then feeling entitled.

While some people choose to conform to the idea of an obedient, subservient, and submissive wife, some of us choose to have an engaged surrender, or submission. And there are happy marriages where the wife is an equal partner and the husband does not feel his manhood threatened by his wife telling him something is a bad idea or to occasionally pick up take out. In fact, one of the most pious women I know has a marriage built on a model of mutual respect and consultation.

 

January 13, 2013

Advice to Converts to Islam and those new to discovering their faith

Filed under: Gender Relations in Islam, Islamic Education, Muslim Communities in America — Margari Aziza Hill @ 7:27 pm

bridge

“We’ll cross some bridges when we get to them…”

القرآن
۞ قَالَتِ الْأَعْرَابُ آمَنَّا ۖ قُلْ لَمْ تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَٰكِنْ قُولُوا أَسْلَمْنَا وَلَمَّا يَدْخُلِ الْإِيمَانُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ ۖ وَإِنْ تُطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ لَا يَلِتْكُمْ مِنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ شَيْئًا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
Al-Quran 49:14

THE BEDOUIN say, “We have attained to faith.” Say [unto them, O Muhammad]: “You have not [yet] attained to faith; you should [rather] say, ‘We have [outwardly] surrendered’ – for [true] faith has not yet entered your hearts.1 But if you [truly] pay heed unto God and His Apostle, He will not let the least of your deeds2 go to waste: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.”
–Translation by Muhammad Asad

So, you are full of zeal and excitement. Everybody wants you to pray for them because your slate has just been wiped clean. This is your rebirth, your new start.  It is not just a new chapter, but a new book, and in fact a new series. Now the community has a vested interest in your success. You have just crossed a bridge to find that you are not only in a new land, but a new world and possibly an alternate universe.   This faith has so many layers and oceans so deep that you feel you can implode from all the pressure.   There are the prayers, the rules, the regulations, the language, the culture,  the disciplines to master,  the 1400 years of scholarship to study. Everyone is telling you this or that and you’re trying to figure it all out. You feel like you’re in a vacuum. It is all mind blowing.

My advice is to take your time, because you have a long road ahead.  I’ve seen some converts full of anxiety because of all the things they needed to learn. You’ll cross some bridges when you get to them. And some of us were once full of zeal,  so super excited to discover this tradition, and  so excited to proclaim that we believe. But the verse quoted above is to point out that like the Bedouin, we should rather accept that developing faith is a difficult journey. Rather, we should say that we submit to God’s will. By obeying God and the guidance given to His Messenger (s.a.w.), faith can enter our hearts. In some ways, this is bringing us back to a certain humility about our relationship with our Lord. In this stage of newness and zeal, we can be easily mislead into some destructive things. Remember, many people are misguided and will capitalize on your naiveté in their own misadventures. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes and the mistakes that others have made. I’m still learning.

So here is a brief list of some pitfalls to avoid. The  list is in no particular order.

  1. If you are in college, stay in college. Do not drop out of school, travel to some dusty village to learn the basics of your faith. You can learn a lot of stuff by reputable online classes and institutions or by attending a class at your local Muslim community center. Complete school. Do not listen to somebody who is slanging oils on the street corner or a privileged kid who has had his college bankrolled by affluent parents tell you to drop out because of student loans. Those same people will not be able to support you when you are unemployed.
  2. If you have a job, do not quit. Unless  you are a stripper or bartender, but even then, you probably need to make a gradual transition to halal gains. But if you work in corporate America, do not let some zealot make you feel guilty because you work for “the man.”
  3. Your parents have known you for nearly two decades  or more by one name. Do not force them to call you by your new Muslim name, especially one they cannot pronounce. It will weird them out.
  4. Don’t start debating your family members and chastising them about their “mushrik,” “kafir” faith. It is better to live by example and if they have questions answer them to the best of your ability. But maintain respect for your family ties.
  5. Don’t dress like you’re going to a costume party. Even if you choose to wear hijab (which has nothing to do with Middle Eastern culture), you may want to start out with western-style modest clothes. But if you  wear shalwar kameezes or long all black chador as a woman  or pajama outfits or what appears to be man gowns as a guy, your parents will think you’ve joined some commune or have gone all Lawrence of Arabia on them.
  6. Don’t act like you’ve joined a cult. Maintain ties with your non-Muslim friends and family. It may also be a good idea to keep saying praises and thanks to God in English. If you get all weird and stop talking to people, your family may want to send a specialist deprogram you.
  7. Don’t take it all on. Pace your learning so that your practice matches your knowledge.  This is not a race. Don’t know or feel like you have to memorize the Quran and become a muhaddith tomorrow. Look for creative ways to contribute to your community that doesn’t overburden you, but gives you a sense of place.
  8. Avoid hypercritical analysis of everything around you. Just because you found God, doesn’t mean that the whole world has gone to pot. The Prophet (s.a.w.) said that people’s faith ebbs and flows. Just because you’re on a spiritual high now and willing to give up all your material possessions and become a dervish, doesn’t mean that in 15 years all you’ll be thinking about is how you’ll finance your kids’ braces.
  9. Don’t adopt delusions of grandeur. Chances are, you are not the Mahdi or savior for all Muslims. There were a lot of people who came before you and many  who will come after you that wanted to challenge the established order. It is not your job to start the Caliphate. In fact, you may find yourself frustrated by dealing the board of your local masjid and your own break away group will probably run our of funds before you can kick start your movement. But,  you can do your part to help make the world a better place, by being a good person with a moral compass.
  10. Avoid rushing into marital decisions. Nothing will freak out your parents more than a stranger marriage. But above all, it can be very damaging to you as a new Muslim. Some people will rush to marry a new shahadah because you don’t know anything.  Take your time to develop yourself both as a Muslim and as a human being. You should be prepared to take on all the religious and real world responsibilities of being a Muslim partner. Also, you should make sure that your potential partner knows his/her responsibilities and is willing to be a supportive partner.  You want this decision to be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make and it will determine the course and direction that your Islam will take. Even if you became Muslim through the process of marriage, you need to take ownership of your faith and your religious development.

Well, that is my list of ten. I am sure there are many others. Feel free to offer your advice in the comments.

January 6, 2013

Gun Violence and the Philadelphia Muslim Community

Filed under: Black Families, Muslim Communities in America, Uncategorized — Margari Aziza Hill @ 7:58 pm

Philly Muslims kill each ova
Are Philly Muslims involved in gun violence? How many Muslims are getting killed? How many Muslims in Philly have had friends and family members killed? What is the impact of street violence on the lives of Philly Muslims and their families? I need your help in answering these questions and help in creating some solutions.

I am doing some preliminary research on gun violence and the Philadelphia Muslim community. I am looking for respondents in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. You can also be a commuter from Jersey or Delaware or from the Philadelphia area and living elsewhere. Please take five minutes to fill out this important groundbreaking work.

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