In preparing to write this piece, I thought about my Black Muslim experiences. I dug deep into my memory, trying to think of a time when my Blackness and my Muslim identity, on full display, intersected and meant something. I wanted the perfect story to demonstrate how the complexity and weight of my multiple social identities were perceived and understood in the public eye, and from there, I wanted to easily share a vision of what AfroMuslim futures could look like.
I got stuck before I even got started.
I got stuck because in most situations where my multiple identities are relevant (or not), my Blackness trumps all other identities. So no, I don’t have the perfect anecdote, because my whole life is emblematic of what Black Muslims face in America on a daily basis: erasure.
So if I can do anything solid and real in this moment, it has to be to confront and expose how that erasure happens and how you can help me fight it.
My whole life is emblematic of what Black Muslims face in America on a daily basis: Erasure.
Anti-Blackness thrives in every seam of clothing and every particle of air, and faith is not exempt. Anti-Blackness operates by making Blackness a target and flattening human experience into a finite game of winners and losers that we never consented to play, a game in which the rules are written so that in fact losing is the only option. If we claim our Blackness, we lose our other identities, but if we claim our other identities, we lose our Blackness.
I know that the truth is that I can always win, every day, by continuing to say I am Black and I am Muslim, and the Black Muslim experience is real, we matter and the positive futures of Black Muslims will help build a brighter world for everyone. But I need people to hear me out and to commit to doing something to help change the current situation.
My particular Black African Muslim experience is grounded in a specific and unique combination of the effects of colonialism, war, displacement, lack of access and privilege and anti-Blackness in both my community and in my religion. At the same time, my experience has themes that are common for many like me. Experiences of anti-Blackness, within and outside of Muslim identity, are reflected by both public sentiment and in the political realities of the United States.
The latest and most terrifying executive order is an attempt to pass off an anti-Black, racist policy as an act in the interest of the safety of Americans. But in claiming to be an attack on “radical Islamic sentiment” against the U.S., the Administration has actually targeted some of the most war-torn and the poorest countries in Africa. Nearly half of the countries named in Trump’s executive order fact sheet are Muslim-majority African countries, from which none of the 9/11 attackers hailed. According to the United Nations, these three countries, Libya, Sudan and Somalia, face ongoing refugee crises. And refugees already constitute one of the most heavily vetted groups of people to enter this country. Hashtag anti-Blackness.
The latest and most terrifying executive order is an attempt to pass off an anti-Black, racist policy as an act in the interest of the safety of Americans.
At the same time, liberal sentiments in vogue today about the U.S. being a nation of immigrants, while well-intentioned, are reckless and do not reflect history. Not all of us are immigrants. Indigenous peoples do not share this immigrant story. You may be surprised to learn that many of us who are Muslim are also not immigrants, having ancestors who were kidnapped and forced into slavery. You see, Islam did not recently find its way to America, and Muslim does not necessarily equal Arab. The truth is that Black Muslims have played an important role in the history of the Americas for hundreds of years. In the face of common stereotypes, we must tell another truth – that today one-third of American Muslims are Black. And simultaneously, Black immigrants – yes, that’s a thing, too! – are nearly three times as likely to be detained or deported. Hashtag anti-Blackness.
While anti-Blackness obfuscates, Blackness and being Muslim continue to exist in the bodies of my people. These identities cannot be peeled away from each other. We are AfroMuslims and our experience is complex.
And no, the deletion of Black Muslims is not new, nor is it rare. We saw Black Muslims targeted repeatedly by the federal government through COINTELPRO in the 1960s, in former iterations of the Black Liberation Movement. More recently, even the Obama Administration had a hand in the targeting of Black Muslims, having already labeled the seven nations named in Trump’s current executive order as “countries of concern” and setting a roadmap for the action we are seeing taken today.
It is critical, as we build movements and political power, that we create and lift up narratives that unify us, but that also reflect the true ways in which oppression and the State operate. We do not serve ourselves, our people or our futures otherwise. We must lift up the reality that what is happening in our country and around the world is the growth of fascism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism and more – AND we must lift up the reality that all of these forms of hatred are based in anti-Black racism and white supremacy. Without making these critical connections, we do not do the important work of connecting our struggles and fighting the real enemy – white supremacy.
Black Muslims have played an important role in the history of the Americas for hundreds of years.
This means supporting, loving and protecting those on the frontlines, especially youth, Black femmes, Black trans folks and AfroMuslims. This also means supporting local fights. In Minneapolis, Black Muslim youth are fighting against a program the federal government claims addresses youth radicalization, but that has been used to criminalize Somali youth.
And as we explore and learn what it means to survive, what it means to live under the current presidency, we have to take very seriously who among us they will come for, and who they have already been coming for. It is critical that we hold elected officials accountable for complying with Trump’s anti-immigrant, bigoted policies, but also for their previous support for policies that have harmed immigrants, especially undocumented folks, refugees and asylees.
Survival requires making Black Muslims visible and honoring our humanity in its fullness. Survival will also require thinking about Blackness when you are out there fighting this executive order, protesting at an airport, rejecting a Muslim registry or speaking out against Islamophobia, without also succumbing to the singular vortex of anti-Blackness.
We must acknowledge fully that we are not in normal times – and never have been – and respond with innovative, complex and intersectional ideas. We must find ways to resist and to be resilient every day, so that we can bring all of ourselves along. We must be noncompliant with anything that threatens our values in our homes, in our schools, in our governments and in our streets. To cooperate with with what the current Administration is establishing is to be complicit in the deaths of our friends, neighbors, coworkers and loved ones.
Noncompliance, standing up for all Black lives, including Black Muslim lives, allows space for Muslim folks in this country to survive and thrive as well.
Mutual support and strong community bonds allows for love and accountability to guide and protect us.
And movement work for Black lives allows for the recognition and love of the humanity of all Black people, and all of our identities.
We are a movement led by queer and trans folks, by immigrants and undocumented people, by Black women and femmes and with the support of those who believe in and love us. Our movement was made possible by the actions taken by those who came before us, is steeped in the wisdom of our elders, and our movement is winning because of the unapologetic Blackness of our youth.
Today, I demand to be seen for all of who am, for I am part of a movement anchored by Black people who literally put our bodies on the line for our liberation.