Race In The Ummah-Introduction

This week I read Kaleema’s latest post with delight. Kaleema’s observations on life as a convert remind me that I’m not crazy and I’m not alone, as some people would have me believe. Kaleema converted to Islam when I was a toddler, yet so much of what she witnessed echoes my brief sojourn into Islam.

The title of Kaleema’s post is“When Racism Becomes Normal”. As I read it I found myself shaking my head in agreement with everything that she wrote. But what struck me was her use of the word ‘racism’. It wasn’t that I felt she used in inappropriately. On the contrary, it was the perfect word. But it wasn’t until I read this blog that I fully realized that’s what the phenomenon actually was. When I heard female converts derided as less than born Muslim women, when people made disgusting comments about non-Muslim(and Western ones specifically)women, it infuriated me. But I didn’t initially identify it as racist. Stupid? Yes. Arrogant? Certainly? Frustrating? Hell yes! But racist? I didn’t make the connection, and I questioned myself for this.

The answer was not long in coming. My problem was that at the time I was still thinking of racism in a very American and politically correct way. Growing up the 1990s, racism was taught to me as something that white people usually inflicted upon people of color. Some would even go further than that, saying that in our American context it was literally impossible for a member of any racial and/or religious minority to be racist towards anyone else! Given this mentality, I didn’t immediately see the way that converts, especially white ones, were treated by some Arab and South Asian Muslims as racist. But racism is exactly what it is, and it’s just as ugly and sickening when ‘people of color’ do it.

I want to explore this topic in detail. It’s not that I lived in some colorblind bubble prior to converting to Islam. No, issues of race and culture were present in my life long before I took my shahadah. Yet when I became Muslim that added a new layer to my identity. My ideas regarding race, kinship, culture and nationality were challenged in many ways, and it wasn’t always comfortable. Instead of doing one huge post(which would be way too long), I’m going to break it up. For the next week I am only going to post about this particular subject.

*Note: I do realize that the subjects of race, culture and religion can easily become contentious. It is not my intent to offend anyone. However I am also not going to sugarcoat my experiences and observations either. As for the comments on these posts-participation is welcome as always, but be forewarned: any racial bashing and/or use of racial slurs is not going to be tolerated. If anyone ‘goes there’, I will happily modify and/or delete their comments as I see fit.

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A native Seattleite and recent East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been. I reside in the suburbs of NYC with my husband, daughter, and our two feisty but deeply loved cats.

4 thoughts on “Race In The Ummah-Introduction

  1. Sister (in kufr, of course), while racism is a problem in the ummah and I would like nothing more than finding proof of its origins in Islam, I just don’t see it. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t address the race issues in the ummah, but I don’t see Muslims being any more racist than others nor do I think we have to tie the issue to the religion.
    I think most of us have been brought up in this racist world and thus it is a challenge to overcome our own racism no matter how unprejudiced we may think we are.
    I like it when you admit that racism has no color. But does it have a religion? IDK

    1. Hello my brother in kufr :-),

      I certainly agree that racism itself did not originate within Islam. Mankind can always find some silly reason to engage in hatred. My point with this series is not that Muslims are any more racist than any other religion; we can obviously find such nastiness in any faith.

      However I do feel that Muslims don’t do a particularly good job of even honestly discussing and dealing with the issue. Also, given the triumphalist claims of Muslim apologists I feel they open themselves up to such questioning and criticism. I have often read and heard Islam offered up as the “answer” to racism and as being particularly superior to Christianity in this aspect. The alleged non-racism of Islam is often one of the huge selling points made,especially to converts, so it’s only fair that the faith gets taken to task for it.

  2. Very true what you say about denial, I hope that Muslims learn the difference between “the way things should be” and “the way things really are” in al-Islam.

    Regards,
    Alex LM

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