Muslims told: this is how you can be actively anti-racist

Image; Islam and Racial Justice Conference 2020

By Basit Mahmood

British Muslim groups have launched an initiative to tackle anti-black racism within the community. It is both a moral and religious obligation, they say.

Nations and Tribes: Striving Towards Racial Justice Within British Muslim Communities was a three-part online training session organised by the Muslim Council of Britain in collaboration with the Black Muslim Forum, Black Lives Matter Redbridge and Everyday Muslim.

The 2011 Census indicated that 10 per cent of Britain’s Muslim population are from black African or Caribbean origin, yet a briefing last summer heard that many Muslim organisations do not have black representation on their leadership groups and research has thrown up stories of racism within the community.

A digital booklet by Everyday Muslim, one of the initiative’s organisers, says: “Muslims in Britain are diverse, hailing from the UK itself and all over the world. Yet the term ‘Muslim’ in Britain has often been synonymous with south Asian communities.

“Black Muslims are often overlooked, both within the Muslim sphere and within society in general and their voices and histories are repeatedly subverted and lost within the wider, if limited, narrative of British Muslim histories.”

A number of projects have been launched, especially in the past five years, to address the issue. The second module of Nations and Tribes focused on how British Muslims can actively tackle anti-black racism within family settings as well as at an institutional and organisational level.

Muhammad Habibur Rahman, chairman of East London Mosque, highlighted how racism had been challenged by the Prophet Muhammad. In his last sermon, the Prophet said: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”

Sultanah Parvin, a founding member of BLM Redbridge, who works on a range of issues, including tackling anti-blackness and colourism within Muslim communities and is studying race and post-colonialism, said: “Whenever we talk about racism, it’s not enough for us to say we’re not racist. It is actually the duty of a believer to be anti-racist, to actively take actions which are in line with our faith and with serving humanity.”

Ms Parvin said Muslims were expected to “enjoin the good and forbid the evil” and drew upon the hadith — sayings of the Prophet — one of which condemned tribalism, saying “leave it because it is filthy”.

Recalling another hadith, where the Prophet said that whoever fought for tribalism had died a death of Jahiliyyah — ignorance of divine guidance — she said this applied to those who felt a sense of superiority over another group of people.

She went on to set out a range of actions Muslims should undertake, including parents teaching children specifically about anti-black racism as well as using brown privilege to challenge anti-black racism. “Speak to children about anti-black racism, teach children about these topics when they are young,” she said.

Addressing the issue among the older generation also required work, she said, including setting aside the notion that one must respect the older generation no matter what and proactively asking those who expressed racist views whether what they were doing was in line with the teachings of Islam.

Ms Parvin said Muslims had a duty to listen to those within the community who had experienced racism and discrimination based on their skin colour, and the responsibility was on others to make black Muslims feel included and heard.

“We need to do more to build allies. There needs to be a fundamental sea change in the way organisations are run,” she said.

“If we accept that anti-blackness is real within our communities and wider society, if we accept that from that point, then there should be nothing wrong with you trying to work against that and actively show how the [faith] of Allah and the tradition of Islam actively has always included black people.”

Ms Parvin also highlighted how some Muslim sheikhs had even spoken about halal hairstyles, which was more often than not applied to afros and black people’s hair, which showed how entrenched racism had become.

She highlighted how some black Muslims who had reverted to Islam faced repeated questioning about whether they were Muslim and if their parents were Muslim, which also made them feel excluded.

The three-part training sessions were designed to equip participants with the tools to recognise and challenge anti-black racism in whatever way it manifests itself.

Contacts

Sultanah Parvin, a founding member of BLM Redbridge. She works on a range of issues including tackling anti-blackness within Muslim communities and is studying race and post-colonialism

Muhammad Habibur Rahman, chairman of East London Mosque

MCB event organisers