Standing up for Black Lives "Living a Nightmare"
Blog Post 61
May 7, 2023
“Say: ‘I advise you only for one thing:
that you rise up for Allah in twos and singly, then reflect.
There is not any madness in your companion.
He is only a warner to you before a severe punishment.’”
(The Holy Qur’an 35:46)
The frustration of the moderator was felt in her body posture, words, facial expressions, persistence. The program was about Imam Husayn (a.s.) and justice for Black people. The ulama spoke eloquently about Imam Husayn (a.s.) and his rising against injustice and about the oppression that Black people in the US and the west have faced and continue to face daily since they were kidnapped, enslaved and brought from Africa. It became clear that Islam embodies the remedy against injustice and that Muslims must make the choice to stand up with the oppressed and against the oppressors whenever and wherever they find themselves in those situations. Which basically is everywhere and every day. Remember “Every day is Ashura. Every place is Karbala.”
So why was the moderator frustrated? Well, she stated that the program was supposed to do more than just voice Muslim solidarity and our desire to see an end to police brutality and systemic racism in America. The program’s goal was to “explore the black lives matter movement through the paradigm of Husaynian justice.” We want to “move beyond just saying that Islam is anti-racism and as Muslims we stand for social justice, as Muslims we stand against oppressors, always,” she said. The moderator was looking to explore the lessons from Imam Husayn’s (a.s.) uprising and “stance for justice,” the “similarities” and “universal themes” in today’s “struggle between oppressor and oppressed, oppressor and marginalized,” and what is “unique” about today’s situation. And she was looking for what all this means in terms of
“our responsibilities as participants, not only in the Muslim community,
but in America and the west where we live and reside
and what that means for what we should be doing in this moment.”
Of course, when I say she, I mean the organization(s) that put on the program, and all of us who were listening as a matter of fact. And while the individual ulamas’ lectures were relevant, personal, informative and true, and we felt that they care deeply and are concerned about injustice toward Black people and are knowledgeable about systemic racism, recognize that people of colour are “living a nightmare,” it’s a “lifestyle” and an everyday “burden,” and understand that this has “been happening all of the time” and people are just now “waking up,” but the “responsibilities” and “what we should be doing” and the answers to the follow-up questions were not so right on.
Essentially, what we got was:
Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala is Good and “wants good” for us and “is always going to be on the side of good and help.” We must rely only on Allah.
We should learn from every situation and take the positives from it.
The horrible massacre of Imam Husayn (a.s.), his family and companions “touched the hearts of people throughout the world” and the horrible murder of George Floyd has caused people “to be connected and feel a sense of humanity” rather than continuing in their indifference to the oppression of others.
The protests and the virus have caused us to come together and “be closer to one another” in the streets and on-line. “The quarantine has woken up the conscience and the minds of the people so they are actually able to see things now” and “think and use their intellect.”
We need to look at the positives of “the current social climate” and “take from that.”
What happened is tragic, the system that allows it to happen is tragic, but how do “we capitalize off of that”?
Imam Ali (a.s.) said that justice “is the foundation that the entire universe is built upon and balanced upon.” “If we move that, of course we’re going to have oppression and chaos.”
“We’re tired of hearing the slogans” of how “Islam is the solution, in theory, and social justice is a part of Islam, but we’re not seeing the results.” “Islam is the system of solutions for the problems of society and humanity.” Islam is the “guidance which maintains that balance of justice in society, in the world.”
The problem is the people who don’t understand, who don’t practice justice.
“Muslims have to be practitioners of Islam, not just people shouting verbal slogans.” “Muslims do injustice to themselves,” to other Muslims, within “their masjids and centres and they are no different than any person.” “We have to follow that true idea of justice, putting everything exactly the way it should be,” not following our own ego, “not ignoring problems in society” because we’re “benefiting from a system of racism.” Be just to yourself, your family, to everyone. Allah “has defined justice.” Allah has defined oppression.
In a nutshell:
We are in the time and place that Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala put us in. If we don’t understand that we will lose. We must rely on Him and help right the wrongs, do what is good and just and stand up for the oppressed. We need to understand the true meaning of Ashura. We need to understand the reality of oppression against Black people. We are supposed to live in peace and harmony and love, with justice, but people commit injustices and oppressions which makes the world unbalanced. We must understand what justice means as defined by Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala. We must understand that Islam has all the answers. We must understand that all the Prophets were sent to maintain justice. We must understand that we cannot be unjust to ourselves and others and instead we must try to help others who face injustices to get justice. And those others include everyone, not just Muslims. We must help others and not just wait for Allah to do something or for the Twelfth Imam (a.s.) to come or for the end of the world.
However basically, what I came away with was another lesson in what Muslims should be doing for themselves, what each and every Muslim needs to do to fix themselves, to be better Muslims, to “be saved.” And while doing all those things are great and need to be achieved, what happened to our responsibilities about the injustices committed against Black people? What are our responsibilities in the fight against systemic racism, white supremacy, mass incarceration, institutional racism in education, health care, food and housing, the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, police brutality and murder…? And how can we fulfill our responsibilities?
Let me tell you, if I was a Black person listening to the program, I would have been excited to hear what the Muslims were going to do to help out. I would have been excited especially if I was a Black Muslim because then I would have known what I could do specifically and I would feel proud that the Muslims were, in fact, doing something. And if I was a Black person who wasn’t a Muslim, but maybe interested in Islam, I would have been especially interested in hearing what the Muslims were going to do and perhaps that would be the turning point for me in accepting Islam as my deen. And if I wasn’t a Black person or a Muslim (astagfir Allah), I may have been relieved or even glad to hear that the Muslims were only concerned about themselves and their Hereafter and weren’t really going to do much for Black people after all. (I doubt many non-Muslim and/or non-Black people would be listening to the program anyway.)
What happened, unfortunately, is that the program that was about Imam Husayn (a.s.) and justice for Black people turned into a program about Muslims helping themselves or more precisely individual Muslims being responsible for themselves. Or it could be said the program was about the need for “an inner revolution” in everyone – including the whole of America!, the need to “create a movement in our heart.” The lesson of Imam Husayn (a.s.) was relegated to the margin, to the history books, to the unattainable, to the unrealistic. The lesson of standing up for justice was lost, simplified, chopped up, unobserved.
In my opinion, Black people listening to the program will be saddened that,
alas, the Muslims are only concerned about themselves
and Islam is not the answer for them.
And so many Muslims listening to the program will be relieved
that they don’t really have to do anything for Black people (astagfir Allah),
although they do have some work to do on themselves.
Just saying that Islam is the only “institution” that will solve the “evil institutions” is not enough. Since Islam is truly the panacea, the cure, the answer for every problem and since Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, brought the Final Message and he is the Mercy to Humanity, then we need to be able to stay on topic, stop isolating ourselves, formulate actionable steps and act on them and stop speaking solely to Muslims, focusing mostly on our inner jihad. We must also focus on Divine Justice.
No one thinks nor is saying that
“getting rid of those diseases of the soul is a small thing.”
Definitely, “it is a life-long journey.”
Allah’s Subhanahu wa ta’ala Words in the Holy Qur’an are, after all, addressed both to humanity and to the believers. And anything that is addressed to humanity also includes the believers. And people are gonna be surprised to see who the believers are when Imam Mahdi (a.s.) returns and again on the Day of Judgement when everyone is raised and brought before Allah, the Master and Judge. It may be that those who spent their days and nights engaged in self-building, focused on themselves and their relationship with Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala did so at the expense of engaging in social justice and assisting the mustazafeen, especially those people who live in their own neighbourhoods, towns, cities and countries. And neither should it be the other way around.
The two jihads have to be done in conjunction with each other.
Each of the jihads assist us with the other one, inshallah.
The moderator’s first question was: What do we do after the protest in the streets? What is our approach to this complicated “web of racism”? “Should it be sort of multi-layered? Is there a legislative approach?” “Of course, we should have an internal revolution and we should seek to reform ourselves and our own biases. But then what are the other steps that we should be taking?” Her second question was: “We can’t legislate racism away. We can’t put any law in place to eradicate these problems. Of course laws can help, but if the foundation, if the root structure of what we’re dealing with is at its core rotten, then what does that mean for our approach to the system? What is our role as Muslims in a place that has such rotten evil roots in all of its legislation?” A question from the audience was: “How does this revolution start? Is it individual or at a community level where our leaders demand change?”
Did the program do more than just voice Muslim solidarity and our desire to see an end to police brutality and systemic racism in America? Did it “explore the black lives matter movement through the paradigm of Husaynian justice?” Did we “move beyond just saying that Islam is anti-racism and as Muslims we stand for social justice, as Muslims we stand against oppressors, always?” Did we explore the lessons from Imam Husayn’s (a.s.) uprising and “stance for justice,” the “similarities” and “universal themes” in today’s “struggle between oppressor and oppressed, oppressor and marginalized,” and what is “unique” about today’s situation? Did we discuss what all this means in terms of “our responsibilities as participants, not only in the Muslim community, but in America and the west where we live and reside and what that means for what we should be doing in this moment?”
It seems to me we did not.
Allah-fearing, committed, intelligent Muslims need more direction,
more unity, more action to attack and “surgically remove”
this “ocean of problems,” this “firauni yazidi type of mindset
to dehumanize and keep Black folks marginalized,”
this on-going slaughter of mostly Black men and boys for generations,
this reformulated enslavement.
The lessons from Imam Husayn’s (a.s.) uprising should be very clear. Who the oppressors are should be very clear. Who the oppressed are should be very clear. That the oppression is “not by accident” should be very clear. What we should be doing is not so clear though. That is what we require. Otherwise, I fear we will lose the active youth, those who want to make a change, make a difference, lend a helping hand, change the system. I fear they will turn away from the straight path if we don’t provide guidance for them so they can believe and act as Imam Husayn (a.s.) did. Talking about what we “should have done” is not that helpful except perhaps to reveal the un-Islamic attitude, posture and practice of many or even most Muslims who did not “open the doors” because they “did not want” the regular people, the poor people, the random people, to invade their masajid and centres and were scared when they did “come in.” To pretend that this is not still the case is unfortunate and intolerant. Talking about what we should do now is mandatory. And this means doing for all the people, not just ourselves.
If we take a look at the Islamic Revolution in Iran, lessons can also be learned there. Did Imam Khomeini, may Allah be pleased with him, wait until the Muslims “fixed” themselves before he stood up to the oppressor? Did he give the call for everyone to stand up to the oppressors or just to those who had completed their “inner revolution”? Did Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him and his family? Did Imam Ali (a.s.)? Did Imam Husayn (a.s.)? Were the shaheeds really only those who had completed their jihad al-akbar? Or is jihad al-akbar defined as refusing “to be subservient to materialism, to these other lower-case gods,” and being subservient to only Allah? The two jihads must be performed together, always and forever. Not one at a time. The two jihads impact each other in positive revolutionary ways.
If we keep assuming that Muslims do not think,
do not seek knowledge, do not implement what they learn,
do not have spiritual guidance and assistance in overcoming their spiritual diseases
and do not act as mirrors for each other, sharpening each other,
and instead we sit back and wait until all the Muslims start practising Islam,
wait until everyone grabs hold of a “shaykh” and “fixes” themselves,
cures their souls’ diseases, we’ll be waiting until the end of time.
And the damn oppressors will take over the whole world.
One very practical step spoken about by one of the scholars on the program is for Muslims to stop working for the oppressors and profiting from the oppression of Black people by selling alcohol, lottery tickets, pornography, pork and haram products, etc., especially in Black and marginalized communities. Another very practical step, that was not spoken about, is for our local leaders to be at the forefront of demanding change, being visible, being active and being the most vocal agitators of seeking justice for Black people. Our local leaders are not just our spiritual guides and their “jobs” are not just to reform individual Muslims little by little. Without their voices and their presence, a vacuum is created that sucks us into spinning our wheels, losing hope and settling for doing nothing much or dragging us off to un-Islamic “solutions.” Perhaps we are waiting for our local leaders to take a stand so we’ll be able to gather around them. Perhaps our local leaders are waiting for us to take a stand or increase our iman or become perfect. Perhaps our local leaders are waiting to “build community,” a perfect community, rather than just doing it with who and what are available. People need a local leader to show up. We’re ready. But again, the Muslim community must address the situations of all people, not just ourselves. That’s what Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali, Imam Husayn, peace be upon all of them, and all the lovers of Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala did. That’s what Imam Khomeini did and the Islamic Republic of Iran does. The way it works is: the people are in need, Allah the Most Merciful sends a leader and the people gather around the leader. Not the other way around. It is a myth that the leader comes when the people are ready. We need to stop this waiting! What’s not a myth is the people reflect the leader they have. At the very least, we should start throwing pebbles now! Inshallah, the ripples, the circles, the energies, the waves they create will not just rock the boat, but turn the boat over and upside down.
(Guts and bones of this blog post was originally written on August 21, 2020)