Race In The Ummah-Cultural Confusion

“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…”

The quote above is from a comment left on a previous entry by Mariyam, a fellow ex-Muslim. Mariyam’s words hit home with me, for it was a sentiment I understood all too well. When thinking of topics to address in my series on race, this was definitely one of them. I’d like to think Mariyam for bringing it up, for her remarks were the catalyst for me finally getting around to writing this particular entry. And with said, away we go.

Now this is going to be a tough one to write. Addressing the cultural confusion that converts-Black Americans in particular-experience can be tricky. When I look at the situation it provokes a variety of emotions. The strongest feelings, however, are disgust and anger. And please don’t think I’m simply pointing fingers, I am including myself in this condemnation. But if I’m honest with myself I have to say it: the way that some Black Americans are willing to turn their back on their own identity and adopt all things Arab is pretty pathetic. There is really no other way to put it. We shouldn’t do it!

Considering our experiences in Diaspora, you would think Black Americans would be the last people to willingly give up their own culture in the name of religion.   Marcus must become Muhammad and Tasha must become Fatima. Out with ‘Western’ clothes, even if they are modest, and in with black abayas and thobes. We reject our Southern, East Coast or West Side dialect in favor of a faux Arabic accent. Somehow being a good Muslim seems to translate to living like an Arab. For Black Americans, this quest to be an ideal muslim/muslimah tends to mean a loss of one’s own culture and estrangement from your own community.We do this to ourselves and we don’t have to. And the real irony? These same Black American Muslims(self included) will rail against Western Christianity for the cultural imperialism it inflicted upon our ancestors. Yet in the way some of us observe the deen, we are choosing another form of cultural imperialism, and it is just as harmful and degrading to us as the previous one.

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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.

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