Umar Lee has a recent post and links to other blogs on some important issues regarding racial issues in the Muslim community. Check it out here.
Despite what some Muslims may tell you, or to those who say I try and insert American notions of race in the Muslim World where they do not belong, race is very real in the Muslim World and particularly in the Arab World where black skin is seen as a sign of inferiority and this is something that predates colonialism.
Umm Zaid rightly pointed out that racism and discrimination is not limited to people of Arab origin but people of all backgrounds and religions have this problem. I agree. To clarify, If anyone got the impression from the previous posts that I was stating that such racism exists only amongst Arabs then I apologize. This was not my intent and that is why I always added the prefix SOME whenever I talked about racism and discrinination. I had saved the discussion about racism amongst desi (South Asian) Muslims for later on but the comment made me realize that I should discuss it now. This is a phenomenon which cuts accross religious communities so that we find it amongst Muslims, Hindus, Christians and even Sikhs. Thus the following excerpt from Indian Currents (found via Baithak) is applicable to all of the above communities.
We are desis in a foreign country. Indian-Americans raised in the United States are promptly tagged ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis). And for a certain population of desis, the Chinese become “Chinkis,” African-Americans become “Kallus,” and white people become “Goras.” We see nothing wrong in making casual use of these names. We permit ourselves to do the very thing that would likely offend us if we were on the receiving end. If one were to ever refer to us as “brownies” or, even more disturbingly, as “rag heads,” we would be screaming “racism!” from the rooftops.
To the outsider, desis may look like a homogenous bunch but this is not really correct as regionalism and region based discrimination exists amongst the desis also, as the following excerpt demonstrates
Then there is the even more disturbing regional bias among Indians themselves. I once sat through a three-hour flight listening to a Bengali professor lecture me about why and how Bengalis have higher intellect than the rest of the nation. Among his empirical evidence was the fact that West Bengal has had two Nobel Laureates and even one Oscar winner. Compared to other regions of India, he opined, that was a much higher statistic.
“So Americans are probably smarter than Indians, right?” I asked finally, feigning wide-eyed intrigue at this line of thinking.
“No, no of course not!” he immediately exclaimed, hurt and shocked by the mere suggestion.
“Why would you even make such a gross generalization!” he chided me, angrily pushing back the glasses on his nose.
I surveyed his incensed face and enjoyed a brief moment of irony before proceeding to explain myself. Applying his very logic, more Americans had won the Nobel Prize than Indians, and if that were to be the measure of intellect, then Americans should probably be smarter than Indians. He grew red in the face as I stated this conclusion.
As for the specific instances in the desi Muslim community, that is a topic that will be explored later. For now lets just say that sometimes some of our Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi brothers also have ‘issues.’
Umar Lee has interesting observations regarding the phenomenon of some African Aamerican Muslims going to Morocco to get married. It reminded me of the phenomenon where the ‘local Muslims’ hold their brethern to be of lower stature than their Arab counterparts even in cases when there is evidence to the contrary. Thus one sometimes sees absurdaties like seeing the Arab Muslim brothers reprimand non-Arab Muslims for listening to “Un-Islamic” music (read local music) and then you will see the same people at concerts of Arab Musicians. Again I would emphasize that this is not a generalization for all Arab Muslims but only a tiny few.
The word Ajami means ‘silent’ or ‘mute’ or ‘one who is illetrate in a language’ in Arabic. Over the course of time this word acquired some derogatory connotations and so even now this word does surface once in a while with all its negative meaning. What do I mean? It resurfaces when sometimes the non-Arab Muslim is literally silenced or is presumed to be mute. Saying someone brother is not enough, one also has to act like one.
“O Mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah is he who has most taqwa among of you. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”
Surat Al-Hujurat, (verse 13)
Muslim Apple notes that racism hurts and it especially hurts when your ‘own people’ do it to you. The story that she narrates has been repeated countless times but the difference is that it in this instance it does have a positive ending. From the Muslim Apple blog.
A few years ago, several sisters and I volunteered to help set up before a fundraiser at a school during Ramadan. As we were preparing the table settings, one sister asked a sister that had moved away from the community what was the best difference in her new school and neighborhood.
Three words: No black people.
She (nbp) said it again with stronger emphasis: No black people.
Ok, so sitting at table are mostly indo-pakistani (i-p including nbp) sisters, one sister of mixed ethnicity (m-e), and one black sister (muslim apple).
The i-p’s didn’t say anything not that they necessarily agreed as it was a really awkward silence as if they did not know what to say. The m-e rebuked her and said, “It’s Ramadan, you’re fasting, and you’re Muslim”. Muslim Apple lowered her gaze to avoid getting angry.
The good thing is that the sister positive attitude and forgiveness made the other person reconsider their views.
Over the next few months the sister and I begin working on projects together and then we both go on trips and don’t see each other for months. When we meet again, there are genuine warm salaams excahnged and to my surprise the biggest and longest bear hug, I’ve had in years. Dua answered, there is no rancour at all, only love. Alhamdulillah.
There is a lesson for all of us to learn here. Positive thinking and positive actions that make other people rethink their racist stance, especially since equality of people is such an important part of Islam.
People usually talk about the negative influence of local cultures on the practice of Islam, however one element which is usually not taken into account is the negative effect of some elements in the Arab culture to Islam. All cultures have beneficial as well as detrimental elements. It would also help if we defined culture so that everyone is on the same page regarding culture, so here is a definition of culture from Wikipedia.
Culture’ (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning “to cultivate,”) generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significant importance.
Thus for example, singers like Haifa Wehbe (image above) may be part of the Arab culture but not part of the Islamic culture. The reason that I am pointing this out is because many people, including some Muslims, have the mis-perception that Arab culture equals Islamic culture. The negative consequence of this mis-perception is that some people think that acting like Arabs will make them more Islamic. Especially when some Arab Muslims perpetuate this misperception then it makes one wonder, “What’s another name for Imperialism?”