Tuesday, March 18, 2008

anniversary of the 1977 dc "hanafi" muslim siege

These few days are the 31st anniversary of the DC "Hanafi" Muslim Siege (March 9-11, 1977) led by Hamaas Abdul Khaalis. I started a blog entry on this subject ages ago but never finished it before now. Basically the points I wanted to hit were:

1. The "Hanafis" are yet another piece in the history of Blackamerican Muslims outside of the Nation of Islam.

2. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar entered into Islam (at least in part) through contact with Abdul Khaalis and the Hanafis.

3. Like Malcolm X, Abdul Khaalis was a prominent former member of the Nation of Islam, who was became a critic, and suffered greatly at their hands, although in his case, he was left alive while members of the Nation killed his five children, and his infant grandson. (see also Black Mafia) On a much more negative note, there was some indication that Abdul Khaalis was mentally disturbed even before this incident while the tragedy with his family probably pushed him over the edge.

4. Those injured in the siege included the, then councilman, yet-to-be-infamous-mayor of DC, Marion Barry.

5. On another negative note, this time in terms of how Islam is portrayed in popular culture, I thought it was rather bizarre and out of proportion how some descriptions of the thousand plus year old Hanafi school would toss in a casual mention of the siege is if it were something typical or representative of the teachings of Abu Hanifah. (e.g. GlobalSecurity.org's article on Hanafi Islam)

6. The siege was apparently resolved mainly through the efforts of certain ambassadors from Muslim countries who were able to remind the hostage-takers of the merciful and compassionate side of Islam.

The Hanafi siege certainly wasn't the highest point in Blackamerican Muslim history, but it does provide some food for thought and reflection.

Grenada's past:
how kareem abdul-jabbar embraced islam
radical african-american muslims

keith ellison speaks against terror in the name of islam

From Tariq Nelon's blog:

This is the kind of balance that I am speaking of. NEVER condone the insanity of the indiscriminate blowing up and killing people in the name of Islam, while acknowledging that the plight of the Gazans is bad. You can do both. Condemnation of terror does not equal support of oppression. Keep repeating that until it is understood

The text of the speech is below:

Mr. Speaker, today I voted in favor of House Resolution 951 to condemn rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel and the death and fear those attacks have caused. These rocket attacks must be condemned, and they must be stopped. I’ve been to Sderot, and I have seen how these rocket attacks cause fear and suffering among the people there, where it is extremely difficult to carry on anything approaching a normal life. The residents of Sderot and now Ashkelon face a daily barrage of rockets, and that is intolerable. Terrorists are bombing citizens, not soldiers. There is nothing in Islam to justify hurting innocent civilians. Bombers cannot use religion to justify what they’re doing, and I condemn it.

But this resolution is not enough. If we want to be morally consistent, we must condemn rocket attacks on Israel and also condemn the humanitarian crisis in Gaza too. The 1.4 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip exist in a state of dreadful isolation, quite literally cut off from the world. Basic supplies and necessities are at a minimum. Ninety percent of the industry has closed down. Unemployment is rampant, and poverty and disease are endemic. Only a few weeks ago, the people of Gaza broke through walls to buy groceries in Egypt. I regret the resolution we voted on today did not devote adequate attention, in my view, to the plight of the people of Gaza.

To suggest that this is the Gazans’ just desserts for voting the wrong way in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 does nothing to improve the quality or alleviate the human suffering on either side of the border. We in Congress need to show compassion for the people of Gaza, Sderot, and Ashkelon and the tremendous human suffering they are undergoing. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he does not want the humanitarian crisis in Gaza to continue, and the Bush administration should do all it can to help him meet that commitment.

This resolution criticizes one of the leading advocates for stability and peace in the region: Egypt. The Egyptian Government has made it clear that it is doing all it can to close off smuggling. What’s needed is a greater degree of cooperation with Egypt. This resolution does nothing to advance that cooperation. We need to engage Egypt, not pass resolutions that publicly offend or diminish our relations with them. Absent strong evidence that Egypt is complicit in allowing weapons smuggling to occur, I am not in favor of Egypt bashing.

I understand Egypt is doing what it can to control the border despite restrictions on its security forces imposed by Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. If Egypt had direct contact or diplomatic channels with all parties involved in the conflict, the United States should prevail upon Egypt to help effect a prisoner exchange, stop the rocket attacks on Israeli citizens, and improve the humanitarian conditions for citizens of Gaza.

It’s a fortunate coincidence that the Secretary of State is in the region right now, and I am supportive of her taking an active role in resolving this conflict. Beyond resolutions and expressions of sympathy, we need real actions from the Bush administration to solidify and advance the commitments of leaders in the Middle East to a lasting peace through the two-state solution envisioned well before Annapolis. I ask my colleagues here in the House to join me in urging the Secretary of State to highlight the humanitarian needs of ordinary citizens of Gaza alongside the fear and death among ordinary Israelis as she seeks to mediate the situation so tragic for all involved.

Finally, as a Member of Congress, I am concerned about the resolution’s references to Iran. Now, I agree that Iran is playing a negative role in the region, but we have seen what the Bush administration has done with past congressional resolutions. I want to repeat that there is nothing in the resolution that should be construed as a justification for military action. I remain opposed to military action against Iran. We need to start a bilateral dialogue. That has been and will continue to be my position. The most effective way to stop Iran’s harmful activities is to engage them directly.

Mr. Speaker, though I wholeheartedly condemn the rocket attacks on Israel, I urge my colleagues to consider the suffering of all of the people, including the people of Sderot, Ashkelon, and Gaza.”

Saturday, March 08, 2008

to be black, female, and muslim: a candid conversation about race in the american ummah

Also from the blog, All history as reconstruction of the past is of course myth is the paper: To Be Black, Female, And Muslim: A Candid Conversation about Race in the American Ummah


This article analyzes African American Muslims’ experiences of discrimination as they share a common religious community, or ummah, with immigrant Muslims in the United States. Both African Americans and immigrants make up a substantial part of what I refer to as the American ummah. Ideally a symbol of religious unity and solidarity, the ummah in America is marked by ethnic and racial divides. While both African Americans and immigrants contribute to these divides, this article shows how immigrant Muslims enjoy a level of privilege and power over African American Muslims. I demonstrate this through a conversation between three Muslim women: one African American, another Pakistani American, and the third Eritrean American. In this heated discussion, the African American Muslim woman articulates her experiences of racism and discrimination in the American ummah. The way in which the two immigrant women respond only reinforces her sense of exclusion and isolation in contexts in which immigrant Muslims dominate. Her struggles to define and articulate her experiences as black, female, and Muslim position her voice within the broader tradition of black feminist thought and resistance.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

dr. sultana afroz

Dr Sultana Afroz is a researcher who has been documenting the presence and role of African Muslims in the West Indes during slavery. Here is a brief sample of some of her work. from the oddly named blog, All history as reconstruction of the past is, of course, myth. She is a Lecturer in History at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica. She completed her doctoral degree in American History with a specialization in US Foreign Policy in South Asia. She is the co-author of The Political Economy of Food and Agriculture in the Caribbean, and is working on a manuscript entitled Invisible Yet Invincible: The History of the Muslim Umma in Jamaica.)

It includes:
2. Islam and Slavery through the Ages: Slave Sultans and Slave Mujahids
3. The Ummah Slowly Bled: A Select Bibliography of Enslaved African Muslims in the Americas and the Caribbean
4. The Jihad of 1831–1832: The Misunderstood Baptist Rebellion in Jamaica

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

a paler shade of black

A Paler Shade of Black by Nesrine Malik

Arabs like to imagine that their countries are comparatively free from racism. But it exists, nonetheless. Nesrine Malik is a Sudanese-born writer and commentator who lives in London and works in the financial sector.

The word 'abd - Arabic for "slave" - was often used in our household when I was a child. In fact, it was so common that I had no awareness of its negative connotations until well into my teenage years. My father's family, a proud northern Sudanese clan, used it to refer to anyone who had darker skin than themselves - from southern Sudanese house servants to migrants from Darfur. Sometimes there was a clear intent to demean, but at other times it was used almost affectionately - for example, when addressing a particularly dark-skinned or thick-lipped child.

This was a kind of racism that no one ever challenged or addressed, and it was, through a child's eyes, very straightforward: on a scale of colour, lighter was good, darker was bad. The word 'abd, although strictly meaning "slave" or "servant", became synonymous with negritude. Even my Islamic heritage reinforced this with quotes from the Prophet Muhammad such as "You should listen to and obey your ruler even if he was an Ethiopian [ie black] slave whose head looks like a raisin" (Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 89, Number 256).

When we moved to post-colonial East Africa in the 1980s, 'abd was seamlessly transferred to the locals with whom we interacted only in their capacity as domestic staff or grounds-keepers at international schools. While I myself was "black" of North African descent, my family believed its Arab roots were somehow genetically dominant, giving us smaller features and a marginally lighter skin tone - thus deeming ourselves to be an entirely a different race from the "pure" Africans.

Our next move was to Saudi Arabia, where the Arab ethnicity with which I identified so strongly was suddenly cast into doubt: now it was my turn to be the "slave". My belief that I was an Arab, racially superior to non-Arab Africans, became laughable in the heartland of Arabia - a place where "Arabness" was not only determined by skin colour but by whether you could uninterruptedly trace your lineage back to the founding father of your clan. In fact, ancestry is so important in Saudi Arabia that courts have the power to annul a marriage if gaps are later discovered in a person's lineage, opening up the possibility of blood line pollution.

Beneath the unforgiving scrutiny of such standards, my proud North African Arabic identity crumbled. Somehow, however, it still made some sense and fell into place in a racial spectrum where, at least, I was not on the bottom rung. I could scarcely complain, since among Saudi women themselves there was a brutal selection process where lighter-skinned women were preferred as wives, who in turn were trumped by the blonde blue-eyed babes from Lebanon who dominated satellite TV and the second-wife market.

Eventually, back in Sudan, I was introduced to another logic that negated all that had gone before. In some inverse double bluff, a new word was added to our lexicon: halabi, a pejorative term for Sudanese who are much lighter-skinned than the rest. Halabi actually means a person from Halab (Aleppo) in northern Syria but for some curious reason it was applied to the descendants of Egyptians or Arabian Bedouins who had settled in Sudan.

Apparently, the halabis were just as contemptible as "slaves" and the categorisation of individuals as such seemed even more arbitrary. A marriage suitor would be dismissed if he came from a tribe of slaves, regardless of the colour of his skin, but would equally be frowned upon if he were of Levantine or Egyptian origin. The former was due to his race (irrespective of its physical manifestations) and the latter to his dubious ancestry. There seemed to be such a limited optimal colour/race/culture combination, all underscored by some vague definition of honour (which, naturally, everybody else lacked) and rooted in an even more intangible notion of "origin" (asl), the dubiousness of which implied a lack of breeding. Never mind bemoaning the lack of a common Arab identity, there seemed to be categorisations ad infinitum and constantly moving goalposts. The prejudices cannot even be explained away as reflecting different cultural perceptions of beauty. Throughout Sudan, halabi girls are universally regarded more attractive than their darker counterparts; it is the whiff of a questionable origin - a visceral suspicion of difference - that condemns them, somehow, as less than honourable.

All this plays out against a backdrop of political and media messaging within the Arab world asserting that the Muslim Arab man, in human terms, is far superior to the occidental man. Bilal ibn Rabah, a black disciple of the Prophet Muhammad and first muezzin (caller to prayer) of Islam, is often held up by religious clerics as a symbol of the inclusiveness of Islam, while much is made of the perceived plight of African-Americans in the US.

Egyptian and Syrian soap operas set in colonial times paint the western colonisers as one-dimensional pillagers while western media and films are accused of depicting Arabs in a poor light. Historically, the lack of a modern institutionalised slavery system in the Arab world in addition to the absence of laws enshrining racial segregation (like those that existed in the US until the 20th century) enhances this sense of superiority in comparison to what is perceived to be the "modern" occident.

This sentiment in turn precipitates its own racial stereotype: that of a white man who is fundamentally racist ... polite and patronising ... but ultimately arrogant and fastidious in his belief that all other races are inferior.

Even if that were the case, it is a welcome relief to know where one stands.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

imam zaid shakir: should muslims use the “n” word?

From Should Muslims Use The “N” Word? by Imam Zaid Shakir

Do not call each other by demeaning nicknames: How foul is a name connoting vileness… Al-Qur’an 49:11


Words in this regard are part of the forces that engender a healthy human consciousness in us. Furthermore, individual words do not stand alone, in terms of the reality they define. They are part of a system of meaning that informs a conceptual worldview. In affirming the acceptability or even the desirability of freely using the term “nigger” we are not endorsing a single term, we are endorsing a verbal culture that collectively works to dehumanize our youth. For example, popularizing the term “nigga’” has been accompanied by the enhanced acceptability and widespread usage of bi_, ho’ (whore), dog, motherf__, sh__ and a host of other terms that historically were associated with vulgar language. Collectively, they are part of an integrated culture characterized by nihilism, hedonism, self-hatred, and an increasingly alienated disconnection from mainstream society.

God declares in the Qur’an, You are the best people raised up to benefit humanity. You enjoin the right, forbid the wrong and believe in God. (3:110) Enjoining right and forbidding wrong are part of the mission of the Muslims. Doing so requires a well-established standard of right and wrong. Part of the effort to undermine religion lies in the undermining of revealed or widely accepted moral standards. In the ensuing confusion, many things long held to be blameworthy and in many instances almost universally condemned become acceptable. Illegitimate children, foul language, uncouth and slothful comportment, open displays of sexual affection (both heterosexual and homosexual) and sloppy dressing have all become acceptable or even encouraged behavior, as we move ever further down a slippery slope in what amounts to a moral race to the bottom.