Islam In Fact Does Do Race

اسمعوا و أطيعوا و إن استعمل عليكم عبد حبشي كأن رأسه زبيبة

الراوي أنس بن مالك والمحدث البخاري

من باب السمع و الطاعة للإمام ما لم تكن معصية

“Listen and obey, even if an Ethiopian slave is appointed as your leader and his head be like a raisin.” — related by Anas Bin Mālik, collected by Imām al-Bukhārī.

Last week I gave a talk at the University of Pennsylvania, in conjunction with CAMP-Philadelphia and the Muslim Student Association at Penn entitled, African American Contributions to Islam: Bridging the Gap. When the event was posted on Facebook, one brother responded, critiquing Islam’s involvement in anything “racial”:

“salamon ulaikum…i am attending…but I think this event is a bit racist and historically incorrect. Why are we focusing on ‘African American’ contributions to Islam. Correct me if I am wrong, but there were no ‘African Americans’ during the time of the Prophet. They were all Arabs. Not American, Not African. Only one African, Bilal, and his contribution was minimal compared to Abu Bakr (r) and Umar (r) and Osman (r) and Ali (r)” — Abdul Basheer.

The person’s comments enraged and offended many if not most who read his reaction. While being equally offended by the ignorance of the gentleman’s statement, I feel that his words reflect a broader audience, black, white, Arab, or in the case here, Pakistani, who continue to labor under the delusion that “Islam,” simply “does not do race” (Sherman Jackson). However, there are a number of Qur’anic, or as the case above, Prophetic narrations, that support that “Islam,” as Dr. Jackson said “does do reality”. I concur that Islam does not do racism, but it does do race, and in fact, Islam recognizes the ills of racially-hierarchical thinking and its pitfalls. In fact, if we continue our conversation with Abdul Basheer, we must ask ourselves, who was the immediate audience of the Prophet when the above hadith was uttered? If Mr. Basheer’s thinking has any credence to it—specifically the majority-Arab theory, then it becomes even more interesting that the Prophet would clearly demarcate this social space for non-Arabs. But without a doubt, this message was directed at the Arab majority that made up his beloved Companions, may God be please with all of them.

In the end it is clear that Islam does do race and that having discussions about race in no way jeopardizes one’s commitment to Islam. I believe this to be an integral part of the development and maturation of Muslims in their religious worldview. This is especially important if Muslims have hopes of engaging America in meaningful dialog. Any such interaction must engage America on her level, which will involve coming to understand what race is in America on America’s terms and not simply dismissing race in the name of some misplaced sense of religiosity.

“The absence of race [from society] enables the powers that be to hide their intentions.” — Dr. Sherman Jackson

Nationalism

  1. national spirit or aspirations.
  2. devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation; patriotism.
  3. excessive patriotism; chauvinism.
  4. the desire for national advancement or independence.
  5. the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation, viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.
  6. an idiom or trait peculiar to a nation.
  7. a movement, as in the arts, based upon the folk idioms, history, aspirations, etc., of a nation.

African American Contributions to Islam

CAMP Philadelphia is organizing a panel on the topic of African Americans and their contribution to  Islam. The event will feature yours truly as the keynote speaker as well as spoken word artist, Seff Al Afriqi, author of a new volume of poetry entitled, A Gathering of Myself. The talk will also feature a panel discussion, “Bridging the Gap”, with members diverse cultural backgrounds, in which Muslims and non-Muslims can exchange thoughts on the topic of Islam in America, Islamophobia. The talk will be held this Sunday, Feb 27th, from 3-5:30pm in Griski room, Houston Hall, on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus. Sign up on Facebook as well for any changes/updates to the event.

The panelists, organizers, speakers and artists are as follows:

Salima Suswell

Salima Suswell is the current President of the CAMP – Philadelphia chapter. Between 2007 and 2009, Salima served as an advisory board member. Salima is a Senior Litigation Specialist with the United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania and over the past ten years worked as a Senior Litigation Paralegal for several prestigious national law firms. In addition to her duties with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Salima is the Founder and CEO of Evolve Litigation Solutions, LLC., which provides litigation services and staffing in the Delaware Valley area.

Adnan Zulfiqar

Adnan Zulfiqar is the Law & Policy Fellow at Annenberg’s Center for Global Communication Studies. Among his activities he sits on the board of Masjid Quba and is also a member of the Zones of Peace Taskforce and the Administrative Committee of the Religious Leaders Council of Philadelphia. Adnan received his B.A. in Religion and Anthropology from Emory University, his M.A.L.S. in International Affairs from Georgetown University and his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Penn.

Carolyn Baugh

Carolyn Baugh, originally from Indiana, is in her final semester of graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, where her focus is gender issues in early Islamic law. She holds a master’s degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Penn (2008) and a degree in Arabic and Arab Literature from Duke University. She currently serves as Interfaith Fellow and Campus Minister to the Muslim Community through the Office of the Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania.

Margari Hill

Margari Hill-Manley is an educator and writer with an MA in history from Stanford University where she specialized in Islam in Africa and Muslim social networks. She earned her BA at Santa Clara University where she specialized in European Islam and Medieval-Renaissance Studies. She has lectured on a variety of topics relating to Islam, African history, and Black American Muslim communities at universities across the nation and has traveled extensively in the Middle East as a student and researcher. Her blog, “Margari Aziza,” has been featured in international magazines and noted as one of the outstanding female blogs for the 2008 and 2009 Brass Crescent awards. She is currently a high school instructor in Philadelphia where she teaches writing and grammar and literature from around the World.

Seff al-Afriqi

Seff Al-Afriqi spoken word artist Seff Al Afriqi, author of a new volume of poetry entitled, “A Gathering of Myself,”. beyond the mechanics of what makes a great poem. He delves into the most important factors, the rhetoric, the truth, the healing, the content, the conviction, and the person