Race In The Ummah-Denial

For practicing Muslims and apostates alike, simply trying to broach the subject of racism can be a frustrating endeavor. Some Muslims can’t(or won’t) admit that race is even an issue among Muslims. Their line of reasoning usually goes like this:


  • The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu wa’salaam, was not a racist;
  • There is nothing explicitly racist in the Quran;
  • In his farewell sermon, the Messenger of Allah condemns racism: “All mankind is from Adam and Hawa, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims consitute one brotherhood”.

Therefore,race can never be a problem for Muslims. Oh wait, let me be specific: race can never be a problem for true Muslims. Some Muslims who don’t want to admit to racism in their community love to employ the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy. Bigoted Muslims cannot be true Muslims because ‘Islam prohibits racism’. And khalass, that’s the end of the discussion for them. The experiences of those who have suffered racism are discounted. Sometimes they are even blamed for it. “Sister, you’re just being too sensitive!” “Brother remember you are supposed to think the best of your brothers in Islam”. “Sister remember to make seventy excuses for your family in Islam”. Instead of confronting and challenging the bigots for their behavior, the onus is(unfairly, in my opinion) placed on the victim. And denial sets in. Though I dislike it, in a way I can understand it. It’s easier to stick your fingers in your ears, plant your head in the sand and tell yourself that Islam is this wonderful, colorblind, Benetton ad.

But denial can’t cover up the reality. People can repeat the mantra of non-existent racism in Islam all they want, and maybe it makes them feel good. But repeating this like a broken record does nothing to affect what victims of Muslim-on-Muslim racism experience. “No racism in Islam”? Really? Tell that to the following people:

The white female convert who is simultaneously made a fetish out of due to her color and criticized because of her culture…

The black male convert who notices that some of his Arab and South Asian brothers in the masjid would rather have a gap in the prayer line than stand closely next to him…

The black female convert whose attempts to befriend non-black sisters at events are met with icy glares and turned backs…

I could go on and on with this, but I am sure you get the picture. In the masjid, at lectures, at community events, scenarios like this occur and it’s far from isolated. It’s not a phenomenon that is unique to my city or my experience either. It’s not a new trend. It’s alive and well within the American Muslim community, and pretending that it’s not there is no solution.

As someone who has left Islam, I obviously don’t consider myself part of the Ummah at this point. But for benefit of those still practicing, I do wish that this subject would be dealt with. I have sympathy for those who are still on the deen and going through this because I know all too well how much it hurts. As a convert in particular, having to deal with the backlash from your family, friends and society at large is difficult enough. Yet having to simultaneously deal with racism and bigotry from within your own religious community just compounds the pain. So for those who deal with racism in the Ummah by acting like ostriches-please stop and think about how your denial affects members of your faith. As someone from a nation that has it’s own tortured racial past I can tell you this: ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You must ‘grab the wolf by the ears’ and face it head on. There is no other alternative.


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A native Seattleite and 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.

2 thoughts on “Race In The Ummah-Denial

  1. LOL, I remember the united colors of benetton ads!

    I definitely notice this coming from the immigrant communities, especially those coming from cultures and lineage that is historically tribal. I think racism is HUGE in some of these communities. If you want to have fun and test it, go to different Mosques that serve different communities, there are stark differences among some. Actually, just notice the racial makeup of these different Mosques. In my city there is the Mosque that is mostly Palestinian, and the Mosque that is Pakistani. Anyone in these Mosques who are not of the majority group are usually treated differently. I cannot say this is fact, I have not researched it, this is merely from my own personal outings and experiences, but I would love to have the time to treat this issue as a subject of research.

    I see it as really cut and dry, that we need to read between the lines of what people say. Living in a diverse community means there will be racism, denying that fact only sheds light on the ignorance of the person speaking.

  2. Thank you SOOOO much for writing this article. As a black ex- muslimah who converted, I can relate to everything… the feeling of alienation from other in the masjid, cold icy-glares from others when i said salaam. I would watch all my desi, arab friends find marriage partners,while i was still single. Most importantly, I think that many feel the need to adapt to a “muslim-arab” culture and discredit/ reject their own identity. I started to see myself, my skin as a curse so to speak, and secretly wished that I was arab to be desirable to the ummah.
    Even today, If I were to walk into a church I can bet that I would be greeted with at least a hello or smile from a stranger. In the musjid?- not so much…

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