For the first time since 9/11, I am afraid to leave the house.
Even when the bombs started dropping on Afghanistan and Iraq, my naive 20-something self at the time was certain I’d be safe here in the U.S. Especially here, in Southern California.
People always tell me how laid back and “West Coast” my vibe is, right down to the relaxed cadence in my speech. I was confident and comfortable in the knowledge that I was from here. Those distant wars were not about me.
Today, things feel different.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Muslims use Bilal (rA)’s name to support their theories on why racism cannot or does not exist in the Ummah. As if the Ummah is monolithic, as if it were a small community or a classroom or a place that could be static, even for a moment. As if the act of tokenizing a man as a one size fits all patch to the “non racist” racism that “doesn’t exist” is somehow okay. As if they were capable of naming another black Sahaba and not have to resort to Malcolm X in a desperate attempt not to be labeled the “R word.” As if Twitter and other social media platforms weren’t littered with the word abeed, as if in the mad dash to advocate and mobilize for Syria and Palestine we didn’t forget Somalia, and the war on black men, women and children and non binary folks that is occurring right now in our towns, our cities, our homes.
As Muslims we like to knock ourselves in the head with the idea that we aren’t susceptible to racism, that somehow because we were warned by the Prophet (saws) to beware of oppression and to remember that racial hierarchies are bullshit, we are spared from the parasitic nature of anti-black racism. We give the Ummah this projected identity of a safe and equitable space, void of aunties who want lighter-skinned daughters for their sons; uncles who won’t let black men marry their daughters; and masjids that actively work to keep out “urban culture”, i.e., black culture. As if there aren’t brothers and sisters who forget what private naseeha looks like when they see the blackness of someone’s skin, as if there aren’t entire countries being crushed by the foot of neocolonialism that go unsupported because a significant portion of their populations are black.
A few months ago I went to a masjid that was predominately Pakistani. I stopped on my way home from work, it wasn’t my normal masjid, but it was the closest one to me, so I decided to pray there. I generally have no qualms about praying somewhere on the side of the bus stop or in a quiet place at the subway station, but this day I had a little more time, and so I thought I’d check out this masjid I’d never been to before.
Immediately after I walked in, the women were staring at me. As a black woman, I’m used to this. I was also wearing a merlot colour lipstick and big headphones so I wrote off their looks as inquisitive, or disapproving of my chosen aesthetic (I can see how it may be an acquired taste). Either way, their prying eyes were inconsequential, because as a black woman who has experienced being the only black woman in her class, or at her place of work, staring is something I can generally ignore.
Eds. Note: Read columnist Deonna Kelli’s response to this piece: “Dating White, Dating Brown”, here.
“I have some questions about things you’ve written about,” John asked last week. We were chatting during happy hour at the annual conference where we meet and catch up. He is one of few white folks in my circle of friends.
“It was an article in which you talk about how difficult it is to date,” he continued. “I don’t understand. You’re smart, attractive, and confident. Do you feel like its Los Angeles? Do you only date Muslim men?”
“Dating in Los Angeles is harder than other cities I’ve lived in. And no, I haven’t dated Muslim men exclusively. Though, when it comes to choice, which is what online dating is all about – that’s what I would prefer. But I am open.”
“What about dating white guys?”
“I don’t date white men,” I state frankly.
Great TED Talk by Yassmin Abdel Magied!
“I can walk down the street in the exact same outfit and what the world expects of me and the way I’m treated depends on the arrangement of this piece of cloth. But this isn’t going to be another monologue about the hijab because, Lord knows, Muslim women are so much more than the piece of cloth they choose, or not, to wrap their head in. This is about looking beyond your bias.” – @yassmin_a
It was a rainy and cold night in Los Angeles. The rarity of the rain added a sheen of intrigue as I drove up the 101 freeway through downtown. I glanced at the overpasses above, nearing the place where I’d been told the signs would be. Sure enough, there they were – jankier than I expected, but still expressing their intended hatred. In black pixelated letters one sign said No, and the other featured the image of a crescent and moon.
I took the next exit. After circling around for a few minutes, I finally found the exact overpass on Alameda St., between the city jail and Union Station. I rolled by, slowly. The signs were four laminated, letter-sized pieces of paper forming a larger rectangle. From the grommets at the corners of each sheet, plastic zip ties kept the signs fastened to the chain link fence.
They ask me why I always wear black.
And I answer, “I am in mourning”.
They ask me who am I mourning.
I’m mourning my grandfather, I say.
They found his bones 10 years after his head was cut off, Quran in hand.
I’m mourning my uncle too; his remains still not found. I wonder how much he suffered.
I’m mourning my grandmother, killed by the grenades that left her son handicapped.
I’m mourning the thousands of Ahmeds, Aishas and Fatimas massacred for being Bosniaks, for being Muslim. I’m mourning my Bosnia, the land of milk and honey.
I’m mourning Palestine and her olive trees. I’m mourning Palestine and the land my friends will never get to see.
I’m mourning Palestine and her rascal children, now gone.
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fr mariam , khadijah, fatima, hajar, alla , yall,
fr our communities that hold us,
recite algebraic formulas against evil eye
2 × al fatiha plus 3 astaghfirallahs =
your eyelashes wont fall out
written with such love and concern
fr when we struggle w them
against islamophobia ,
racism , the revolution
do our dawah n make
dua fr you, me, the deen
thinkin abt the dirty linen
we spent all night
folding with our teeth clenched…
Read the rest of this amazing poem, here!