Outsiders even within Islam, blackMuslims seek unity
DEARBORN, Mich. — In her job as a refugee case manager, Fatimah Farooq would come to work in a hijab and speak with her clients in Arabic.
Nonetheless, she found herself being asked whether shewasMuslim.
It’s not easy, Farooq says, navigating her dual identities as black andMuslim.
“I’m constantly trying to prove that I belong,” said Farooq, who now works in public health. “It’s really hard not to be an outsider in a community — especially today, in the current times.”
Many Muslims are reeling from a U.S. presidential administration that’s cracked down on immigrants, including through the introduction of a travel ban that suspendsnewvisas for people fromsixMuslimmajority countries and is nowtied up in court.
But blackU.S.-bornMuslims say they have been pushed to the edges of the conversations — even by those who share the same religion.
They say they often feel discrimination on multiple fronts: for being black, for beingMuslim and for being black and Muslim among a population of immigrant Muslims.
Farooq, whose Sudanese parents came to the U.S. before she was born, said her own family used to attend a largely AfricanAmerican mosque but then moved to a predominantly Arab one— yet in both cases still felt like “outsiders.”
Kashif Syed, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, grew up in a family of South Asian Muslim immigrants around Detroit that was insulated from black Muslims. Nowthat he’s part of a young professional Muslim community, he’s trying to honor the experiences of others.
“We’re seeing increasingly visible threats toMuslims across the country now — it’s an important reminder of what black communities have endured for generations in this country,” saidSyed, whovolunteers at Townhall Dialogue, a nonprofit fostering discussions aboutU.S. Muslim identity.
“I can’t really think of a better time for non-black Muslims to start examining how we got here, and what lessons we can learn from the hard-won victories of black communities from the civil rights movement,” he said.
Asha Noor, whose family fled Somalia’s civil war when she was a baby, helped organize a town hall after President Donald Trump announced his first travel ban in February, which blocked travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries and put theU.S. refugee program on hold. After that ban was blocked by the courts, a revised one affecting travelers from one fewer Muslim country was instituted before that, too, was blocked by the courts.
Noor said she feels there’s less attention paid to the plight of refugees from her native Somalia and Sudan, the two African countries in Trump’s executive order. She sees it as part of a “continuous erasure of the blackMuslim experience.”
“Black Muslims often face a two-front challenge, both within the community and the larger American society,” said Noor, who worked for Take on Hate, a campaign challenging discrimination against Arabs and Muslims. “You can never be too sure if assaults or micro-aggressions are coming because you’re black, Muslim, or both.”
Central to the issue, experts say, is that Islam is portrayed as foreign.
That’s a misconception University of San Francisco professor Aysha Hidayatullah encounters when teaching an “Islam in America” class where she looks at Islam’s presence in America from the slave trade to civil rights — something that is a surprise to many students.
“It’s a class that is focused mainly on recovering the black memory of Islam in this country,” she said.
Compared with the general population, U.S. Muslims aremore diverse with a larger percentage born abroad.
There’s disagreement on howmany millions reside in the United States, but it’s commonly accepted that blacks represent about onethird of Muslims in this country.
Many came to the religion through the Nation of Islam, which veers from mainstream Islam on several core teachings, leading many immigrant Muslims to consider it too divergent fromtheir faith.
But Imam W. Deen Mohammed transformed the movement after taking it over in the 1970s and gradually moved his thousands of followers toward mainstream Islam, while Louis Farrakhan took leadership of the black separatist Nation of Islam.
Despite the history of blacks in the Muslim faith, Tariq Toure, a Maryland writer, saysSouthAsianand Arab narratives still dominate the conversation.
“It’s disheartening, because black Muslims can’t even get aword in as to how they’re navigating all of this,” said Toure, who’s black.
Abdul Rahim Habib, a U.S.-born college student, said even his close friends assumed he converted to Islam because they didn’t associate being black with beingMuslim.
That’s even though 21-year-old’s Nigerian and grandparents Muslim.
While growing up in Chicago, he can remember when Arab Muslims refused to greet him with “As-Salaam-Alaikum,” an Arabic salutation of peace customary amongMuslims.
“A lot of our Arab brothers and sisters didn’t really care about being brothers and sisters until this point when they started having problems,” he said. the father are
Fatimah Farooq navigates her dual identities as black and Muslim in Michigan.