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writing for godot

Inter-Muslim Racism

Written by Dr Mohammed Ilyas   
Tuesday, 12 November 2013 01:40
According a 2013 Pew Research Centre 23% of the world’s population are Muslims, which makes nearly a quarter of the human population Muslim, as well as making Islam the second-largest religion.

Today we can find Muslims in every corner of the world, some of them are born Muslims, while others have converted/reverted to Islam. Given the global nature of Islam, it is clear that Muslims will come in all colors, shapes and sizes, as well as having different cultures and understandings of Islam.

Having said this it is also reasonable to expect that Muslims like other communities will have ‘taboo’ issues, which they do not want to speak about because it may undermine the community, or are considered as washing ones ‘dirty laundry in public’. This is especially the case when Muslims are feeling that they are under siege and being attacked from all angles.

There are many ‘taboo’ issues that Muslims are uncomfortable tackling, among them there is a category that I call ‘Inter-Muslim Hate’. There are different forms of this hate, but in this article I want to address ‘racism in the context of Britain -Asian and Black Muslims’. The focus is a result of a number of conversations with a British Black Muslim comedian called Nabil Abdulrashid. Racism is the most visible type of hate because it is based on skin color, ‘racial superiority’ and slavery. However, this is does not mean that other kinds of hate, which are based on sectarianism, culture, caste, gender and nationalism are experienced in a less violent way. On the contrary, hate is experienced violently by all victims and therefore it cannot be measured and statistically demonstrated.

Racial hate often is hidden in stereotypes, and manifests itself through modes of identification that are used to establish communication and relationships with the ‘other’. In most cases it is unconscious, in the sense that, one is not always aware that they are evoking a vocabulary and tropes, which cause offense and in some cases leave a psychic scare on the victim. By this I mean that the victim may develop a trauma that may have an adverse impact on his or her life.

Racist tropes are not restricted to the micro level but are also used by the state to legislate against certain segments of its population. Historical examples of this are South Africa and United States. However, when we speak about state racism, there is a tendency to only detail the West, while the Muslim world is excluded from the conversation. However, in recent years, it is becoming abundantly clear that some Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have a rich tapestry of racism, especially in relation to migrant workers from Asia and Africa.

If one strips away the layers of justifications that are forwarded by perpetrators of racism, we see that the vocabulary and tropes are based on ‘racial superiority’. Al though notions of ‘racial superiority’ are condemned in Islam but it is clear that within ‘Muslim communities’ racism to some extent is normalized because of its existence in language. The clearest example of this is how different skin tones are spoken about and attributed with values, geographies and behaviors. I call this ‘skin tone hierarchy’ –light skin at the top and dark at the bottom. This hierarchy reverses the 1960s slogan ‘black is beautiful’ into ‘black is not beautiful’.

Black Muslim community in Indo-Pakistan

Gaining Islamic knowledge is very important to Muslims, such that Muslim children are sent to Madrassas every day by their parents to learn about Islam. However, during the classes there is little or no emphasis placed on learning about Muslim history. What is known about Muslim history in the main comes from Western scholars, hadiths and oral traditions. In recent history Muslims have been all too happy to destroy their religo-cultural heritage, rather then preserve it for future generations. It is this lack of appreciation for history that leads Indo-Pakistani Muslims not being aware that ‘Black Muslims’ have been part of their socio-cultural fabric for many centuries.

Indo-Pakistani Muslims need to realize that Pakistan and India do have their own indigenous Black Muslims, which are often referred to as ‘Siddis’. Colloquially, the term is used to differentiate the Siddi from other groups based on their skin color. The Siddi originate from Africa and were brought to the above-mentioned countries as slaves by Arabs and Portuguese traders. They live in Karnataka, Gujarat and Hyderabad in India and Makran and Karachi in Pakistan. In most cases the Siddi are Sufi Muslims, but some also follow Hinduism and Christianity. And in both countries the Siddis suffer from poverty and discrimination based on their origin and skin color.

British Black Muslim experience of Inter-Muslim Racism

Speaking to Black born and convert Muslims in London, it is clear that they do experience racism from their fellow coreligionists. In most cases the perpetrators are Pakistani and Bengali Muslims, which is not surprising because most Muslims in the UK do come from these countries. One British Black Nigerian Muslim who is married to a British Pakistani woman stated that he has been called -

Monkey: Bandar

The term is very offensive because it attributes ‘Blackness’ to animalistic characteristics. He further added that, there have been cases of Black Muslim women being turned away from Mosques. He gives one example that reveals a deep-rooted unconscious racism-

A black sister I know phoned a Pakistani Masjid looking for marriage,
they told her to call Brixton Mosque.

The one issue, more than any other that brings out the deep-seated racism among Muslims, even those that are British born and claim not to be racist is inter-racial marriage, especially between a ‘Black man and Pakistani and Bangladeshi women’. A second Black Muslim male I spoke to stated that –

A Black Muslim marrying a South Asian Muslim is taboo.

British Asian Muslim response to Inter-Muslim Racism

When I have asked Muslims in general about inter Muslim racism, they respond by saying-

Bro, in Islam ‘everyone is equal’, or they say ‘no real Muslim can be racist’, and ‘look at the example of Bilal’.

In all the responses to inter Muslim racism there seems to be ‘denial’ and ‘hiding behind Islamic text’. The issue of racism among Muslims can no longer be brushed underneath the carpet, and hope that it will some how disappear. Everyday there are more and more non-Muslims embracing Islam but Muslims need to ask themselves what kind of community are they coming into. Do Muslims want a community that sees and acts through color, or are they willing to leave these culturally inspired prejudices behind and embrace what most respondents for this short article claimed- In Islam ‘everyone is equal and Islam does not teach racial discrimination’. your social media marketing partner
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